Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Hungering Dark

I opened a package Thursday to find a book I had ordered a couple weeks ago and forgotten about. Even without remembering why I ordered it, tears sprang to my eyes at the title, clearly an indication I needed to read the book right then. So I sat down and read the first half that night, with a heart so swollen and tender each chapter was like a cup of cold water.

Consider the end to chapter 3:
Jesus said, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God," and 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 brothers we are called to. That is the vocation, the destiny to which we were all of us called, even before the foundation of the world.
The first day of school this week there were half a dozen students in my room, some studying their summer work for tests in other classes, some robot team students just looking for fellow nerdy introverts, some old students just dropping by to say hello. My heart that had been quietly stirring for weeks, felt like it just might burst from being exactly where it was supposed to be. Ever since my bitter battle with self-doubt a few weeks ago, I've been pondering what it looks like to be Christ where I am and what it means to make Christ the only stumbling block, but it has been a pondering without answers, a storing up of tiny moments in my heart.

This is Buechner's prayer at the end of chapter 3, and I must have read it a dozen times Thursday night, but since then I've been praying it for myself as well as for my students.
O Thou, who art the God no less of those who know thee not than of those who love the well, be present with us at the times of choosing when time stands still and all that lies behind us and all that lies ahead are caught up in the mystery of a moment. Be present especially with the young who must choose between many voices. Help them to know how much an old world needs their youth and gladness. Help them to know that there are words of truth and healing that will never be spoken unless they speak them, and deeds of compassion and courage that will never be done unless they do them. Help them never to mistake success for victory or failure for defeat. Grant that they may never be entirely content with whatever bounty this world may bestow upon them, but that they may know at last that they were created not for happiness but for joy, and that joy is to him alone who, sometimes with tears in his eyes, commits himself in love to thee and to his brothers. Lead them and all thy world ever deeper into the knowledge that finally all men are one and that there can never really be joy for any until there is joy for all. In Christ's name we ask it and for his sake. Amen.

Monday, August 10, 2015


The Old Testament never fails to convince me that we serve a capricious God, or at least capricious from our perspective. When God says in Romans, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion," he really means it. Mired in 1 Kings and 2 Chronicles as I am right now, I wonder at how God doles out both his mercy and his wrath. It leaves my head spinning and my spirit trembling and my mind uncomprehending. How does one love such a God as this or come to his altar in worship?

Perhaps it is not a coincidence that I have been unusually plagued by thoughts of self-doubt and self-recrimination. Sneaking in under the guise of conviction, such thoughts have stabbed my conscience like a thousand little fleas burrowing into my soul. After days of hearing my worthlessness whispered incessantly in my ears, I finally got fed up with the voices and started answering out loud with a resounding, "You're right, I'm not. But I don't have to be, because Christ was. So shut up." And they did. There followed a quiet in my soul, and I wept over the Psalms as I haven't in a long time.

I read Brendan by Frederick Buechner recently. It's a fictional account of the life of Saint Brendan. Buechner, master story teller that he is, contrasts the grit and obscenity of pagan life with the struggle of a man to live for Christ. Brendan the priest travels the world with his distraught soul, only to realize near the end that "perhaps we've given all but what he truly wants." The adventures, the self-loathing and self-deprivation, the monasteries he built - none of these is truly the work of Christ in him so much as the transformation of his heart from a loud mouthed braggart to a quiet servant of those around him.

Habakkuk is my favorite prophet because he asks for justice and receives faith. I'm beginning to realize that is how God has been answering all my requests, with faith rather than answers. So as I read through the histories this time, I'm seeking less understanding and more faith. Perhaps, just perhaps, that's what he truly wants.

Brendan by Frederick Buechner