there was God, of course

Just a quote, after all this.  Just a quote.

Both for the writing, and the content, a perfect example of why I love Frederick Buechner; from The Final Beast:

“Why should he stay?

There was God, of course, but God made Irma Reinwasser very angry.  He asked so much of His servants and rendered so little:  marry and bury, christen and counsel, joke with, solicit from, try somehow to live by Him, live with Him.  It emptied a man.  Yet skinny and bright-eyed in his black robe, he still had to stand up in the pulpit Sunday after Sunday and speak to Him and about Him to that big, white, half-filled meeting-house of a church with the turkey-red carpet, “And when they tell me he looks like Abe Lincoln,” Irma said, “I tell them after Abe Lincoln got shot is what he looks like.  If you got God for a friend, you don’t need any enemies.”  What did God give in return?  A dead wife, knots in the stomach.  She plucked up the bacon with a cooking fork and flipped it over.  It spat at her.  Why should Bluebeard stay for the sake of God?

Or was it maybe for the sake of God that he had gone?  Sobered by this possibility, she sucked her wrist gravely where the hot fat had scalded her.  You could never be sure about Bluebeard and God.  There were times when she felt that each must take the other as a kind of joke, and when every night just after her light was turned out Cornelia began with “Our Father who aren’t in Heaven” instead of “Our Father who art,” you could imagine both God and Bluebeard laughing as in fact sometimes Bluebeard actually did laugh, so soft you could hardly hear it as he sat there on the child’s bed with his eyes closed.  But his were closed; that was just it.  That was why you could never be sure what Bluebeard felt about God or what his lightheartedness meant.  It might not be a joke at all.”

waiting

“He watched the handful of people who stood motionless in the silvery air, waiting, as he found himself waiting . . . for more than the time when he would step up with his ancient words to the neat, square hole where a mat of artificial grass covered the raw earth and the urn had already been placed down inside by the undertaker and his assistant who stood at a tactful distance now, also waiting. Waiting for it to rain perhaps, waiting for it to be time at last to go home and forget . . . Waiting for you, he thought, always you, though half the time we hardly know it’s you or that we’re waiting. Come be with the living here and the dead and the ones it’s hard to tell about.”  –  from The Final Beast by Frederick Buechner

Please Lord, come and be with us. Please.

Help us to live like the truth is true and like it matters. Like we matter. Like life matters.

himself

I started this morning with a good cup of coffee and a friend, discussing the way we can know God’s direction and once we’ve known to be reassured of it as we walk in it.

It was a two-hour conversation, but the best I could come up with was something about taking a step at a time; walking together.

Following requires trusting the one you follow.  It doesn’t require comprehension of path or destination.  It doesn’t require unwavering righteousness or advanced skills.  Trust.  And maybe some patience.

At mid-day, while running on a treadmill, I enjoyed my usual dose of Law & Order and Cold Case, alternating between the two during commercials.

I was shocked and affected strongly by the story presented about a desperate, threatened, victimized single mother who jumped from a window with her daughter to avoid the perpetrator of violence at her door.  Her daughter died in the fall.

With visceral instinct, I cursed at the screen, at the fear and bondage and hopelessness, more in the violent prayer mode than the taking-the-Lord’s-name-in-vain mode.  Then prayed more fervently and appropriately, “Oh, Lord, have mercy on us.  Please, Lord, come quickly.”

I recognized that my prayer for his coming was much less about his coming in the typical manner we think of it, and more in the “please be here with us, please be near to us” manner; though I long for that reality in both ways, I’m sure.

I’ve ended the day with two things that have rounded out these others:  tea and conversation with my oldest daughter, Katie, and a few pages from Frederick Buechner.

Time with Katie is a gift that I treasure.  Hours such as these are an endangered species.  Through conversations about her friends and teachers, her plans and hopes, her opinions and faith, her pursuit of truth at the risk of temporal alliances, she gives me hope for the future; a wish for a long life, so I can be a witness to as much of the beauty of her experience and influence as possible.

And somehow, the passage from Buechner comes with his powers of alchemy, when I’ve had all of the day I can take, and rounds this out, and draws it together, and makes, of the many experiences, one:  fruitful in reflection and powerful in recognition.

Christ never promises peace in the sense of no more struggle and suffering.  Instead, he helps us to struggle and suffer as he did, in love, for one another.  Christ does not give us security in the sense of something in this world, some cause, some principle, some value, which is forever.  Instead, he tells us that there is nothing in this world that is forever, all flesh is grass.  He does not promise us unlonely lives.  His own life speaks loud of how, in a world where there is little love, love is always lonely.  Instead of all these, the answer that he gives, I think, is himself.  If we go to him for anything else, he may send us away empty or he may not.  But if we go to him for himself, I believe that we go away always with this deepest of all our hungers filled.  (“The Breaking of Silence” from The Magnificent Defeat, by Frederick Buechner)

So, from lessons learned on a Thursday, I offer a fervent and simple prayer:  May we know Christ, the breaker of bonds, the narrow way, the fulfillment of all our deepest and highest hopes and desires.

a christmas story

From the essay, The Annunciation, tucked humbly among the pages of many more like it in the collection, The Magnificent Defeat, by Frederick Buechner, an author who continually articulates the thoughts and intents of my heart – a place only Christ is supposed to know so well – with words I’ve never been able to assemble in similar fashion:

. . . The world waits.  History waits and labors.  Something draws near, and we love its being far away there rather than here, among ourselves.  Except, of course, that it is here among us too and within us as we wait for the story to begin, the story whose end we already know and yearn to know again and wish we did not know; the story whose meaning may be our meaning, as we wait for the child to be born.

For this is what Gabriel comes to announce, and Mary stands there as still as life in her blue mantle with her hands folded on her lap, and the terrible salutation is caught like a bird’s wing in the golden net of the air – Ave Maria gratia plena.  Dominicus tecum.  And then she hears him say, “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name . . . ”  But she knows his name before Gabriel says it, just as we also know his name, because the child who is going to be born is our child as he is her child.

He is that which all the world’s history and all of our own inner histories have been laboring to bring forth.  And it will be no ordinary birth but a virgin birth because the birth of righteousness and love in this stern world is always a virgin birth.  It is never men nor the nations of men nor all the power and wisdom of men that bring it forth but always God, and that is why the angel says, “The child to be born will be called the Son of God.”

Here at the end let me tell a story which seems to me to be a kind of parable of the lives of all of us.  It is a peculiarly twentieth-century story, and it is almost too awful to tell:  about a boy of twelve or thirteen who, in a fit of crazy anger and depression, got hold of a gun somewhere and fired it at his father, who died not right away but soon afterward.  When the authorities asked the boy why he had done it, he said that it was because he could not stand his father, because his father demanded too much of him, because he was always after him, because he hated his father.  And then later on, after he had been placed in a house of detention somewhere, a guard was walking down the corridor late one night when he heard sounds from the boy’s room, and he stopped to listen.  The words that he heard the boy sobbing out in the dark were, “I want my father, I want my father.”

Our father.  We have killed him, and we will kill him again, and our world will kill him.  And yet he is there.  It is he who listens at the door.  It is he who is coming.  It is our father who is about to be born.  Through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus.  Come quickly.

the calling

So, I’m sitting here falling asleep in front of my computer, with the screen beckoning me to “Add New Post”, while the little electrical neuron fellas scour my brain for the right subject and words.

I can’t stand thinking of going through a Monday without having shared some of the beauty.  There is a bunch of it around here.

French toast and cereal, running and biking, work and play, guitars and banjos, new songs and old, loud worship, and quiet picking; warm sunshine, strong breezes, cool rain, rattling thunder, gifts and special cakes, and turkey salad sandwiches, baseball and books:  that’s the recipe for a good Sunday.

The rain cleared this afternoon for a small window of time, and it was during those moments that Madeline raised her recurring request:  “Dad, can we all walk down to the park today?”

We did.  

We followed a rushing river through the wild forests and over the mountain passes to its place of origin, and we had a “Wild Rumpus” along the way, as we marched like the Wild Things.

We played Toilet Tag, which is just like Freeze Tag, except you’re supposed to stand like you’re a toilet when you get tagged and wait for someone who hasn’t been tagged to come and “flush” you so you can be free to move again. (Wouldn’t it be nice if it were that easy to “flush” each other.)

Then we played “Red Rover”.  It’s kind of fun that we have a family big enough, along with our friend, Paul, to make a game of Red Rover interesting.

You all remember this game right?  “Red Rover, Red Rover, send Henry right over!”  If you remember, it needs no explanation.  If you don’t remember, you had a pathetic childhood, and have likely had a disenchanted adulthood, as well.

Somewhere in there, among the calling back and forth and the laughter (especially as Ayda danced to her own beat and ran between the lines, grinning and shrieking, whenever she was struck by the urge), thoughts of a Buechner essay from my favorite-so-far of his books, The Hungering Dark, came to my mind:  The Calling of Voices.

In that essay, Buechner references the sixth chapter of Isaiah – the part where Isaiah sees the Lord on the throne, and the seraphim calling to each other:  “Holy, Holy, Holy . . . ”

I wonder if those angels know about Red Rover?  Who knows, maybe they invented it.

Buechner also references the fourth chapter of Matthew, where Jesus quotes the Old-Testament passage that says “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”

Buechner relates how the word “vocation” really means “calling”, as they come from the word “vocare”, which, of course, is related to the word “voice.”

Wow.  I wonder whether I’m a bit hard of hearing when it comes to heavenly callings.  Those voices, or that voice – that life-giving, holy voice – requires attention that I struggle to pay.  Yet, if I can hear it, it never fails to edify and make alive.

If he does ever say, “send Dale right over” to whatever, I hope he says it loud . . . or maybe I should say, I hope he repeats it, if I don’t catch it, or haven’t caught it.

If you happen to hear from him on my behalf, please let him know I’ll be down at the park with my kids, pursuing what I’ve imagined has been his calling for me – Toilet Tag?

Buechner closes the essay with these words, that move me to listen carefully, and acknowledge that I have heard, at least, something:

. . . in the end every word that proceeds from the mouth of God is the same word, and the word is Christ himself.  And in the end that is the vocation, the calling of all of us, the calling to be Christs.  To be Christs in whatever way we are able to be.  To be Christs with whatever gladness we have and in whatever place, among whatever [people] we are called to.  That is the vocation, the destiny to which we were all of us called even before the foundations of the world.

adeste addendum

(Note: I had a conversation early this morning with a friend who, obviously, is not managing her time well, given that by 6am she had already prepared for the day, and read the “adeste fidelis” blog post I had published only a few hours earlier.

I prefer to give myself a chance to see my blog post in the light of day, after a normally late-night writing session, before I’m prepared to discuss it, since I may want to publish a retraction or correction or apology before it gets much exposure.

That was not possible this morning. We discussed the post, and I related my inability to put a fine point on my gut regarding those thoughts. In my late night stupor, I couldn’t get the words to say what I felt, so I deleted a few sentences and toyed with it before giving up.

So, I was reprimanded this morning, rightly so, for not being willing to risk the expression of things that could be ill-perceived if not written carefully, when I didn’t have the energy or acuity to write carefully.

Anyway, reprimand duly received, and encouragement noted, I am issuing this addendum to the previous post without further ado.)

 

If Jesus is true – not whether he exists or existed, but if he is all of what he is supposed to be; that is, if the full weight of the truth of him and what it means about us and this world we live in is true; if the implications of the existence of such a man and such a God upon our world are fully considered; if Jesus is The Truth – then we ought to live in way that reflects such a reality.

Perhaps, on good days, in mystical moments, we do.  Perhaps subconsciously, inherently, in simple things and practical ways, we do reflect that truth.  Perhaps, as I suspect he does, Jesus slips, frequently uninvited and mostly unobserved, into our minutes and thoughts.  I certainly hope he is involved much more than I’ve recognized.

But the probability that I haven’t recognized it is what concerns me.  Maybe I just can’t recognize it – maybe it’s not possible for my humanity to be aware of such things – and if so, that’s a relief because it gives me an out, not an excuse for not peforming, but a comfort that I’m not missing him.  But what if it is possible to recognize, and enjoy, and glean from his every intrusion, and I haven’t done so?  What then?  What precious parts of life have I missed?

I don’t want to miss an opportunity to interact with him here.  Those moments are far too rare and precious to endure the thought that I’ve not made the most of them.

And that’s what I hear in my soul in response to Buechner and his call to “adeste fidelis” – to come and see, all ye faithful.  I hear myself saying, “Yes, I will come and try him; to take advantage of his beckoning of me, and the offer it presents to know him.”

I will come and see, because if he is true, and I believe he is even in ways we’ve never considered, then I ought to live in the light of that truth, or at least I ought to want to live in the light of that truth, simply because it is the fullness of life, the abundant life, the transcendent life, a life in Christ.  If he is true, and such a life is available, it is worth far more than whatever it costs.

adeste fidelis

I often find a lingering doubt in my soul as to whether or not I’ve really given Jesus a fair shake.  I think that thread of doubt is easily discovered in what I write.  It’s not a doubt, however, as to whether or not Jesus is real or powerful or meaningful.

Although such doubts appear in my mental meanderings occasionally, I seldom give them voice because they don’t carry enough weight in comparison to my more persistent doubts; that is, whether I’ve truly embraced the reality, power or meaning of Jesus – whether I’ve given him a fair shake as far as living in the light of those truths.

So, as I’m prone to do, I find myself reading something from Buechner that stirs me to that challenge once again.  Tonight, I thought I’d share that with you because Buechner says it better than I.

I’m guessing, though, that if you’re like me, you don’t like to read long quotes from some other writer included in something written by a friend or favored author.  I tend to check out when those quotes show up, thinking, “if I wanted to read Buechner, I wouldn’t have come to this blog,” or some such tripe.

Come on.  Just once, give Buechner a fair shake.  Maybe, in some small way, it will set you on the road to give Jesus a fair shake.  Come all ye faithful.

The following is an excerpt from Frederick Buechner’s essay titled Come and See, included in the collection “The Hungering Dark”.

So what is left to us then is the greatest question of them all.  How do we know whether or not this truth is true?  How do we find out for ourselves whether in this child born so long ago there really is the power to give us a new kind of life in which both suffering and joy are immeasurably deepened, a new kind of life in which little by little we begin to be able to love even our friends, at moments maybe even our enemies, maybe at last even ourselves, even God?

Adeste fidelis.  That is the only answer that I know for people who want to find out whether or not this is true.  Come all ye faithful, and all ye who would like to be faithful if only you could, all ye who walk in darkness and hunger for light.  Have faith enough, hope enough, despair enough, foolishness enough, to at least draw near to see for yourselves.

He says to ask and it will be given you, to seek and you will find.  In other words, he says that if you pray for him, he will come to you, and as fas as I know, there is only one way to find out whether that is true, and that is to try it.  Pray for him and see if he comes, in ways that only you will recognize.  He says to follow him, to walk as he did into the world’s darkness, to throw yourself away as he threw himself away for love of the dark world.  And he says that if you follow him, you will end up on some kind of cross but that beyond your cross and even on your cross you will also find your heart’s desire, the peace that passes all understanding.  And again, as far as I know there is only one way to find out whether that is true, and that is to try it.  Follow him and see.  And if the going gets tough, you can always back out.  Maybe you can always back out.

Doesn’t that make you want to leap over tall buildings in a single bound?  Doesn’t that make you want to follow him, really follow him, and see?