No Language But A Cry

"Nearby is the country they call life; you will know it by its seriousness." -Rainer Maria Rilke

a list for when fear feels more real than You

  • You know me more intimately than I know the hurt. Even when it feels like the heaviness owns me, You know me deeper, closer. Truer.
  • Loneliness can’t compare to the way You’ve never left me. And yet neither truth nullifies the other.
  • Invisibility – the long, painful arm breaking through the years – cannot withstand Your steadfast love that makes me real.
  • “I believe; help my unbelief.”
  • I don’t need to know that You’re big enough, great enough, mighty enough, like the song we sang in church today. I need to know that You’re small enough to meet me where I am.
  • Sometimes worship songs reach the volta, the turn, too quickly. Psalm 88 never reaches the volta, and it’s still significant enough to be in Scripture. Hope is hopeful and truth is true, but that doesn’t mean each does not also have its time and place.
  • You get less tired of hearing me say I’m terrified than I do of saying it.
  • I would rather hear about God’s tenderness than His power. Power is language I am familiar with, language that floods contemporary culture, reminds me of politics and my own powerlessness. Tenderness takes the walls of the world around me and climbs over, slips through the shell of protection that I try to maintain, does not shatter the shell so much as melts it from the inside out, the liquifying wax of a candle.
  • “And what you thought you came for
    Is only a shell, a husk of meaning
    From which the purpose breaks only when it is fulfilled
    If at all. Either you had no purpose
    Or the purpose is beyond the end you figured
    And is altered in fulfillment.” -T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding
  • God sends people into our lives to do for us (speak, touch, hold, laugh, cry, love) what He cannot yet do Himself without shattering our sense of self. But the love of human beings is foreshadow for the coming love of God that will be profoundly tangible. 
  • If I had to put into a sentence what I want my life to accomplish, at this moment at least, it is this: I want to love otherness until it is no longer other.
  • And this, again, every time: “The tears of God are the meaning of history.”

things i’m learning, in the form of a hymn

Deliver me, Lord, but not before my time
Your glory first, however it may be
I will wait while Your wisdom humbles mine
And cling to this: Thou remembers me

Deliver me, Lord, but not until I grow
To likeness Christ, His Spirit found in me
Tender my stone heart till again I know
Though wayward I, Thou remembers me  

Deliver me, Lord, but first in love reproach
Love of sinning, till love of Savior frees
And strength of self, no longer shall I boast
My strength in this: Thou remembers me

Deliver me, Lord, to Thy carefree arms
Homesick I, for wand’ring wearies me
Yet hardship, toil, and darkness mild can harm
Alone not I, for Thou remembers me

a poem about giraffes

I’m working on a project for one of my classes, and part of the project involves taking news headlines and trying to write a poem about them. This particular headline I found amusing and poignantly human.

“Enthusiastic Giraffe Frolics in Unseasonably Warm Chicago Weather”

He tapdances his freedom on prancing hooves,
not the least ashamed of showing his ankles,
only drinking in as much of the El Nino blessing

that he can; meanwhile, his fellow giraffes look
on in mild contempt, and I smile from my spot in the library corner,
smile because there is always somebody to frown,

(they covered their eyes when Daniel danced at the altar);
we cannot get around our hardwired embarrassment of joy,
turning our face from what we find most beautiful.

Warmer weather makes more than giraffes antsy,
awakens our hibernating harmatias,
makes our headlines explode with news of death

and disaster, terrorist and Trump, but also of morning,
life, human goodness that, at first glance,
seems as bound toward extinction as those Potoka giraffes,

meanwhile, the dichotomy frustrates our most respected philosophers,
reverses all we thought we knew of cycles,
reminds the frolicking giraffe and Brussel’s mayor alike

that we must hold life gently in our hands,
like egg shells with mosaic cracks,
out of whose painful breaking comes, finally, spring.

a life update (still trying to believe it myself)

“It might be time for you to go. It might be time to change, to shine out.

I want to repeat one word for you: Leave.

Roll the word around on your tongue for a bit. It is a beautiful word, isn’t it? So strong and forceful, the way you have always wanted to be. And you will not be alone. You have never been alone. Don’t worry. Everything will still be here when you get back. It is you who will have changed.”

-Don Miller, Through Painted Deserts: Light, God, and Beauty on the Open Road

 

Yesterday, I officially committed to a year of ministry and teaching English at a university in Morocco.

If you’re surprised, I can only say me too. 

One month ago, I had never heard of ELIC (the English Language Institute in China, though misleadingly named since they have teams all over the world.) I had never thought twice about Morocco, couldn’t find it for you on a map, and had absolutely no idea what I was going to do after graduation (which is in less than two months.) I thought that I’d likely be working in some publishing or editing company, or perhaps working at the local Starbucks like my dad thought all English majors do. Instead, I sat in my C.S. Lewis class while one of ELIC’s directors–and a former Wheaton alum–told us about teaching abroad. The next day, by random chance, I ran into the director and she asked if she could buy me coffee. A few hours later, still not thinking much of it, I started the application for ELIC. Two weeks and a lot of emails, phone calls, and interviews later, I was accepted to the program; yesterday, I committed.

I’m still trying to process this turn of events. It’s all happened so quickly it feels like one chaotic whirlwind of conversations and interviews, and the sheer magnitude and risk of what I’ve just signed up for is still hitting me every few hours. Even as I try to explain it to other people, I realize I can’t quite explain it to myself. Perhaps the truest way to put it is this: God opened a door when that director stepped into my classroom, and I stepped through and kept stepping through, and He kept opening more and more doors until now I have committed to standing on this terrifying threshold. In a few months (and really starting now), the unfamiliar will rush forth, will sweep over me like waves and I like a child still learning to swim, but also with a Christ who calls me onto the water and takes my hand when fear takes me.

Someone told me a few days ago that you can be at peace without feeling peaceful. That’s an apt way of describing where I am. Truthfully, I have too many questions and fears and doubts to say I feel peaceful, though I wish I could say all those things evaporated as soon as I felt like God was “calling” me to do this. Instead, the fear is alive and well, and every time I hear of a bombing in the Middle East or ask a question about the program only to hear “I’ll let you know once we know,” I question my decision. At the same time, inexplicably, there is a peace that does transcend all understanding. This decision that I could never have predicted, that feels utterly strange and terrifying, also somehow feels like the quiet freeing of a puzzle piece that one had jammed into a cramped place for fear of incompletion. I can explore what God may have in store for me because I no longer fear that incompletion, that loneliness, the way I used to.

This is just some beginning thoughts for what is coming, a way to introduce you (and me) to a still-new reality. More thoughts will come and official requests for support will be made. For now, though, I would appreciate your prayer as I accept this new season of my life and begin the long process of logistical preparation. There is a lot to do and a lot to be afraid of, but there is also excitement, and hope, and most importantly, there is a God who has promised to be with me always, even to the ends of the earth.

etymology of gospel (a poem in response to a joke)

In Bible class, standing in front of a blackboard
With the word “GRACE” etched in chalk,
The professor hands out a Greek introduction on John 1
And a suicide joke.
He says he made CNN yesterday for trying to kill himself
By stepping behind a train;
He packages the two together–exegesis and suicide–
As if he’d run out of wrapping paper and couldn’t
Distinguish between these two entities anyway—

The Logos ribboned with the scarlet lives
Of people who step in front of trains; next time,

I’ll ask for a gift receipt to go with.
His words, returnable as I wish they were,
Remind me of the etymology of ‘Gospel.’
Good news, from the Old English gód spel,
Surviving enough broken translations
And modern misuses to make one believe its longevity
Has indeed a certain speck of magic at its core:

“And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness
Comprehended it not.”
The darkness lacking the etymological roots
To make sense of such luminescence,
lacking a God who embodied its shadows and burst asunder
Its mortal linguistic framework.
But the Word-Who-Came came in the sunlight of the Son
To shine “GRACE” into the train wreck ideations,
The nighttime temptations, the pyroclastic nightmares.

The Word came and lived–“the embedded Logos”
Who stretched out his arms and
Swallowed death in his body so that,
When darkness can’t comprehend the light,
the Light already comprehended the darkness.

because wounds were meant for communion (but we hide, and we hurt, and we stave off healing)

Here’s my confession, Lord. Do You want them all at once? Would You rather I gave them to You one at a time, gave You a coffee break in between? No, You’d rather have them all at once, as many as I can think of? Okay. I’ll try. It may take a while. I’ll just make You a list. Is that okay? Here’s my list, Lord.

  • I confess that I usually find You more beautiful than true.
  • I confess that I’m not sure You have a plan for me.
  • I confess that I look around me and I so profoundly glimpse the terrible back and it drains me with its darkness, and I look around me and I so profoundly glimpse the noble face and it smites me with its beauty, and I find such antithesis too great, too much… Too much for my smallness. I do not know, Lord, if I can hold the tension of both these realities in my hands and not be crushed by such seeming contradiction. I am so small, God… My hands are not big enough. I am not big enough. (But “Be comforted, small one, in your smallness,” and so I will try, Lord, You know that I am trying.)
  • I confess that I am afraid of Your sweetness. As much as I am compelled by the name of “Tender Pioneer,” so also I am afraid, because how can such tenderness not burn? How can it not cost me more than I know how to give? Worse, how can it not gift me with more than I know how to receive?
  • I confess that I am addicted to my own self-condemnation. It feels safe, Lord, safer than You. Safer than hope. It means You can whisper ‘belovedness’ to me over and over again and I do not have to struggle to believe what I have declared untrue.
  • I confess that intellectualism has become my mask. (I didn’t know what Mom meant that day, when she said the same thing about him, but I do now…I do now.) It’s not simply about pride though, about looking smart in front of other people. It’s not really about that at all. Most of the moments I’m most deeply immersed in intellectualism are private, are moments of loneliness. It isn’t pride so much as control – and barriers. There’s so much I don’t know. There’s so much. And the not knowing, sometimes it threatens to undo me, but more deeply, more honestly, it is less the fear of not knowing and more the fear of not being known. So I learn. I gather information like bread crumbs, like a horde of secrets that will establish worth in my hiding place, I horde knowledge because maybe, maybe then, when I know as much as I possibly can, I will not feel such a splintering need for someone else to know me.
  • I confess that I have never once in my entire life loved something without at least part of that love being an idol, or a mask, or a mirror, or a safety net. (But I want to… How I want to.)
  • I confess that I have never been as scared of confession as of loneliness, and the cost of honesty has never been as deep for me as the cost of isolation. (Is this only me? Do you, you reading this, not also feel that we wall ourselves in, hide under masks of shallowness, pretend that surface-level relationship is the longing of our hearts, when all the while we are dying of superficiality, isolation, constantly digging holes to hide the very things we have been given as entryways into each other’s stories – always staggeringly lonely, yearning for intimacy, and wondering how anyone else can stand it? He gave us us our wounds as communion and we sew it up with ribbon and wait till the day He returns so we can ask Him why He made it so easy to hurt alone.)
  • I confess that my wounds are nothing compared to Yours.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

a poem for the ones who doubt (in other words, self-preaching)

The jazz quintet is a lesson on apologetics.
Theirs are a decade of hands, a quarter-century of calloused fingers,
synchronizing their way to a bass-line theodicy.
In the glowing auditorium with acoustics like German syllables,
rows of senior citizens from the Alpine Home nod heavy heads and
a few even find themselves mumbling along to the articulable beat. 
The guitarist’s face is nearly animalistic in its intensity
while his fingers hike the pentatonic scale, feral in their hunger for beauty,
a private intimacy that we turn our eyes from.
Something alive moves through the strings and snare,
a raw and terrifying power manifested in the symbiotic affair
between instrument and musician,
and we color our doors scarlet so the spirit

of jazz passes over, leaves us alone, alone with our sins unplayed.
I am two weeks worth of muted nightmares, hazy chase scenes
and stray bullets, hours spent reading about reading about writing,
chasing Oedipus and Aristotle out of my pulsing prayers,
looking at anything and everything through the lens of tragedy or comedy
and knowing only that I am both, neither, rather I am the paraplegic
confession of the bass strings as they lower themselves down a Sunday roof.
Somewhere in the Middle East, Ashraf Fayadh faces execution for verse too perfectly executed, but here too, art does not always resolve.

Maybe, I think as the band baptizes the audience with Duke Ellington,
maybe the secret of the world is this: dialectic crafted in the moment.
Improvisational belief within a community of grace notes,
fearing not the creed but the crescendo of human isolation.
For jazz chords, like truths, are defined within a progression;
We identify by what surrounds. No theologian has perfect pitch.
We need leading tones, root notes, dominant sevenths,
poetry, metonymy – aesthetics for the Socratic skeptic.
The velcro timbre of the trumpet tosses out “Come Sunday,”
renews our failing faith in the chromatic,
remembers a time when belief had once been art.

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