The Edge of the Field

Brooding white sentinels stand in a blood-red mound, where their fallen comrades lie in decay. I can almost imagine wolves appearing from the birch forest to crest the mound, silvery phantoms with abysmally black eyes, soulless and hungry, tracking my progress through the field. They are nothing more than a mirage of the fog, I know, for there is no beast bigger than a coyote on the island, but still I cannot help but watch the gloomy depths.

If I make it past the sentinels (as I always do), there is a stump waiting for me at the edge of the field. This stump happens to be perfectly positioned between the trees, with a panorama I think God created with me in mind. Yes, I think as He seeded the earth with the forest that now grows at the bottom of the sweeping potato field, He thought, “Ah, she will like this, my little one to be. I’d better plan to have a stump where she can sit and pray and love what I’ve given her.”

I listen to the birds. I study the distant, lonely tree that looks as if sheep belong beneath it. I plan to enjoy a summertime picnic out there by the creek that surely gushes in the coulee. I watch light and shadow chase each other across the red dirt. My heart is full, even when my head is empty.

It is my getaway. My place to be quiet with my King, or to speak with Him as candidly as I do with my beloved. Most often, gratitude is the song on my lips. I thank Him for beauty, for goodness, for love. I give Him my heart, there on the edge of the field, and He gives me His. I know that when I open myself to Him, I am not opening myself to be wounded, but to be filled with His love.

This vulnerability is as necessary between God and us as it is between human and human. To love and to be loved fully, we must be vulnerable. Opening yourself is a risk, but it is a necessary risk, if love is to enter and fill you. I’ve known the gift of vulnerability with several people, beginning with my family. We are separated by nearly the entire breadth of the country, and yet we share a bond that few families do—because we’ve given our hearts to each other. At a thought, a teardrop, a memory, the distance breaks down, and suddenly we are close.

Everyone ought to have a stump where they can sit on the edge of a field and rendezvous with God. But if this is not possible, know that love does not need a time and a place, only an open heart.

Existence

Existence is like a mother and her child. She gives him life. Without her, he would never be. But she is as much to do with his creation as with his survival. Yes, she sustains him physically by feeding and clothing him, mentally by teaching him, and emotionally by loving him. All this grants him the ability to walk. But her part does not end there. No, the child needs his mother even to walk without falling. He grasps her fingers and does not let go; she never leaves him, walking behind him as he chooses to move forward, one wobbling step at a time.

God gives us life. Without Him, we would never be. But He is as much to do with our creation as with our survival. Yes, He is like a mother, providing our every need, providing our every breath, that we may walk. If He were to let go, even for a moment, we would fall. We would cease to be. It isn’t that He has taken over our will, reducing us to mere puppets on divine strings—no, like a mother, not only does He grant us the ability to walk but also to walk where we will. He does not control us; He sustains and supports us. Certainly, He hopes we do not choose to tumble down the stairs, and He will try to guide us to safer footing, but He will be there with us if we choose otherwise.

Some may say, “Does not the child eventually grow up and find himself strong enough to walk on his own?” Well, here is where the metaphor fails, because the truth is that we will always be children. We can never walk on our own; we never grow up, in a sense. When we try to walk down the stairs, we stumble; when we try to walk on our own, we fall . . . because human nature is fallen. What we can grow in is this: learning to hold fast when we stumble and to reach up to His hands when we fall, He who is always ready to steady us, to lift us up from the ground, and carry on.

Like the Monks

I’ve long said that if I had been born a boy, I would have become a monk.

This past weekend, I was at last able to take a peek into monastic life. A retreat from my world into another. I can’t say whether or not I actually would have become a monk (especially since the female equivalent has never called to me), but I can indeed say that I believe their rhythm of work and prayer ought to be lived beyond the monastery.

When one lives to that rhythm, a stillness encapsulates all that one does. I experienced that stillness before, when I visited Madonna House in Ontario. Simplicity births stillness. Life is simplified not so much by a steady schedule or less duties (because even monks are busy), but by seeking God in everything. Such is the monk’s way. God is the one ingredient to coalesce many duties, flowing one into the next, be it running the dairy or singing in the chapel. Stillness ensues, because one’s focus is not splintered, even if one’s time is.

And something happens in the stillness: kenosis. That is, the self is emptied to be filled with God. Life is no longer about you, but about Him—what He wants from and for you. You see yourself as you are: a soul created to love and be loved. This can be painful if you have failed to love or to allow yourself to be loved. But God desires this emptying only that He may fill you; He wounds only that He may heal. With every beat of the rhythm, His mercy is pumped into you.

Living in the world, it is very easy to be filled by things other than God. Yes, the monk struggles with this too, but in the monastery, silence and solitude close the door to many distractions. What is the layman, then, to do? Consider a child that desires a treat: nothing can sway his mind from the treat—not that he must first eat his supper, clear the table, and sweep the floor—because he knows that the treat is good. Despite being “busy” and bombarded by “distractions” (as the child would see his chores), the treat is still present and waiting for him.

God is good—He is the Greatest Good—but if you do not know this, seek Him to know Him. For the more you know Him, the more you will desire Him. Little by little, your mind will not be swayed from having Him. He will still be present (omnipresent) in the busyness, and the distractions will not deter you.

Whether monk or otherwise, we are all called to seek God in everything. No matter how many “chores” we have, He will always be waiting for us.

Potatoes for Meekness

This was supposed to be a very different blog, about how I am working at a potato farm, and though it is a dirt-low job (literally), monotonous, and chilly, I am determined to stick to it—for love of God and His will, in solidarity with those husbands who go off, day after day, to work jobs that are not their dream jobs, as well as those mothers who labor for hours away from their children if only to feed them. Pure self-sacrificial love.

Well, I attempted working at a potato farm. For two days I graded potatoes on the conveyer belt—and it broke my head. Potatoes, potatoes, potatoes, culling the bad from the good, hour after hour. I couldn’t do it. My temptation was to call myself a wimp, to force myself to do something that hurt more than helped, but then I realized—it is meekness that God is asking from me right now. And that may mean walking away from something I thought I could do but cannot. Yes, my pride was broken as much as my head was. Turns out, God’s will was not that I stick to grading potatoes, but to come face to face with my weakness.

I wanted to be heroic in the little things—each potato an offering for souls—but the truth is that our strength is not sufficient to accomplish even the littlest task. We need God’s strength even in this. For me, heroism means slaying my pride so that meekness may live. Self-sacrificial love means laying down my will and taking up God’s will. Trading my weakness for His strength.

I do not think I will work a third day at the potato farm. And I believe this is okay, because the potatoes have already taught me what I needed to learn.

The Gravity

This life is merely the blink of an eye, but the gravity of the blink is far greater than the blink itself. 

I believe the eye is in the moment before it will open; we are in darkness. What will the eye open to: light—or a deeper darkness than it knew before?

In this moment, we are given the opportunity to choose what we will see: our King in his glory or existence bereft of Him. We are given the opportunity to pass through the door of Mercy, to return to Him on our knees. But if we do not seek Him in this moment, if we do not humble ourselves, fall to our knees, and confess that we need Him, we will have chosen to open the door of Justice.

If we truly enter into Lent, it will reveal to us the gravity of this life. It will reveal to us our attachments, our fears, and those desires that draw us away from Him toward a false light. How do we enter in? By embracing stillness and silence in prayer.

We are afraid to be still, because in the stillness we would realize we are restless until we rest in Him. We are afraid to be silent, because in the silence we would hear the His voice, calling us to return to Him with our whole hearts. We are afraid because our hearts are fragmented, and we do not know how to begin picking up the pieces. And this is why we must be still and silent in prayer.

When we come to Him, He Himself will begin gathering the pieces, to restore the likeness in which we were made. Ultimately, I think we persist in our rebellion against a merciful God not so much in stubborn folly, but because we are daunted by what it would mean to repent. We believe it would demand too much, that it would require too much work to achieve the goal. Especially in a society that provides instant gratification through the Internet and consumerism, we haven’t the willpower (or the mental capacity) to amend what is broken, not when our lives can simply be bandaged—by pornography or Facebook or shopping. And if we find that the bandages do not work (as eventually we will), we simply buy new—we leave our spouse, we “change” our sex, and in the most tragic cases, we end our life. But these choices amend nothing, because we cannot amend ourselves.

God alone has the power to amend us. If only we truly believed this, we would be willing to fall to our knees—the one, simple act that grants God permission to begin gathering the pieces. I am too weak, this act cries out. I need you.

Falling to one’s knees is not easy, no, but it is easier than suffering with addiction, depression, hatred, with every other consequence birthed by sin. What makes humility harder to choose than sin is that the world tells us we are our own gods. We want to stand alone. But the truth (and the irony) is that it is God who sustains our every breath. Even the soul farthest from God is not untouched by Him, for no one can live without His life-breath.

During Lent, we must remember that we are dust—but dust infused with God’s life-breath. Humanity was never intended to remain in the dust, but to rise. Yes, if we pass through the door of Mercy, if we return to Him on our knees, He will reach to us, He will take our hand, and we will rise to dwell in the light that is waiting.

What will the eye open to?

Memories

Even when I was a child, I knew my childhood was good. A yellow farmhouse, forts, milking, horses, a cabin by the lake, traveling, imagination—I loved it in the moment. But now that I am an adult and memories surface daily, I find that I love my childhood more. How can I understand and appreciate its goodness more fully today, though I am no longer immersed in that goodness?

When on land, a man may love the color of the wheat field, the canopy of the tree, the fragrance of the garden, but not until he is at sea is he able to look back and see the landscape as a whole and feel drawn toward it in its absence from his life.

Memories ought not to be forgotten. I believe this is why Mary treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart, because she knew that one day, Jesus would be far from her. And when goodness is distant, we often find ourselves in desolation. Memories are what help to draw us through the darkness to the light, like a compass pointing from sea to land, for every sailor must eventually come home. When I remember what it was like to be a child, I am drawn to the care-free simplicity that was and can be again. Mary treasured and pondered living life with the Child Jesus in the hope that, despite the sword that would piece her heart, she and humanity would eventually know eternal life with Jesus.

Yes, memories are for hope.

One Soul

We live in a world that rates success by quantity: How much money have I made? How many people know my name? How big is my house? Even we as Christians fall into this thinking: How many devotions am I praying? How many hours do I volunteer? How many souls does my blog reach?

But the Shepherd was not thinking about quantity when He left behind the ninety-nine and went searching for the stray lamb. He was thinking about quality—the quality of one soul.

One soul. Naturally, if I write a book that I believe God called me to write, I want it to be read by as many souls as possible. But what if only one soul were to buy my book? What if thousands (or millions) were to buy my book but only one soul benefited from the message? Wouldn’t that be enough? If I truly believe that every soul is invaluable, irreplaceable, and worth dying for, it must be enough.

But what if no one bought my book? Should I then conclude that I wasted my time in heeding the Lord’s call? I say no—because by my obedience to Him, by my trust in Him, I am the one soul who benefits.

Salvation begins with me. With you. Yes, in suffering the Passion, Christ redeemed humanity—but He would have borne the Cross whether or not you were the only soul left on earth to redeem, because you are worth dying for.

Amon and the Bricks

Amon lives in a shrine, and his name means builder. His hair no longer glints as a raven’s wing does in the sunlight, for age and wisdom have revealed themselves.

When his hair was black and his back straight, Amon owned a brick. He loved this brick. He loved its burnt-red hue, its precise cut, its weight in his hands. Yes, he loved it, and yet he sensed that it alone could not satisfy him. And thus he acquired a second brick, identical to the first. Surely two beautiful bricks would satisfy. But as the days unfolded, that familiar sense that there must be more crept back.

Year after year, he gathered one brick after another, thinking surely the next would be enough. But it never was. By the time his temples had begun to turn silver like the frost that came every autumn to mark another year gone by, he owned more than a thousand bricks—but he was no more satisfied by these than he had been by one.

As he was passing over a bridge on an afternoon blue and brilliant, he paused to look down at the water below. He saw his reflection; he saw a face carved from torment as surely as his bricks had been carved from clay. Suddenly overwhelmed by the many wasted years he had spent seeking but not finding, he decided he would leap into the current and let it drag him to his death over the falls.

But as he was about to leap, something on the riverbed flashed as bright as any star he’d ever gazed upon. He felt a movement in his heart as he had never felt before. Leap indeed he did—but to dive into the depths to collect the treasure awaiting him.

It was the most beautiful stone he had ever seen—as pure as a mountain stream or a flute’s voice or a child’s eyes—far more beautiful than the bricks he loved.

And yet, even after the day that Amon found the Greatest Treasure, he still loved his bricks. They had not lost their value—but they had found their purpose.

Brick by brick, Amon built a shrine in which to place his newfound love. And the moment he set the Greatest Treasure at the heart of his every desire, he realized the bricks were indeed valuable—but only ever meant to lead him deeper to that which at long last satisfied him.

A Hopeless Romantic

Our God is a romantic—truly, a hopeless romantic.

We know this by creation: sea creatures that glow electric blue when touched by night, Everest rising ragged above all else, a sky awash with a thunderhead as if with ink. Or consider blue-green waves hushing against a red beach, trees suffocated by ivy, horses tearing over Scotland’s heath, a peacock flaunting its iridescent finery. Wildflowers, a brook in the woods, a wet-black calf emerging into a world of straw and light and its mother’s lowing. One could gush on and on, because creation is utterly romantic—because its Maker is utterly romantic. It is His love-note to us. He is a Lover who knows how to swoon His beloveds, does He not? I know my own heart squeezes when I look upon creation—in the same way that my heart squeezes when my gaze connects with the one who has captured my heart.

And so we must conclude that human romance was created to reflect our divine romance with God. Why else do we exist but because God’s love swelled to overflowing? Love begets love. Yes, His love overflows into us, and that same love overflows into each other. Romance is why we are. We were created to live romantic lives.

But how does this unfold?

In The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis wrote: The good of oneself is to be the good of another. 

And this is love.

Such hope dwells within that insight—fullness of life for you and fullness of life for another, not apart from each other, but precisely because your lives are intertwined. For if the Lord has designed you to be the good of another, you are not only liberated but called to become fully you. Every bit that constitutes you—your humor, intellect, likes, dislikes, dreams, even your fears and flaws—every bit is to lead the other to greater holiness. Just as they were designed for your good. Indeed, in a divinely inspired union, when you give yourself and love another, you will receive your beloved’s self and their love. And by receiving them, you are also liberating them to become fully themself and thereby bringing them joy.

But perhaps the most liberating, the most joyous thing, is that by the sheer nature of your union, those fears and flaws in you, in the other, will be ground to dust beneath your feet as you journey toward Heaven, hand in hand. For love liberates you to be the best version of yourself. 

It is a selfless calling, as you give your whole being to another, even as it is ultimately fulfilling. It is a calling that finds its origin deeper than your emotions, deeper than the other’s emotions, because whether or not you feel like giving, or feel the other’s need for you, they do still need you. You were designed to help transform each other into saints. Thus, even when your emotional love, or the other’s, lapses (as it will for we are weak), hope remains. For emotions were merely designed to stir spark into flame, to fuel your essential drive to give—which is to love always, no matter what.

But the essential is not dependent on the emotional. No, the essential is dependent only on Love Himself, on keeping your eyes ever fixed on who your beloved truly is, which is the image of Christ. No matter how tarnished the image may become, what lies beneath remains intrinsically beautiful. Christ, who is Truth, never changes, thus who the other person truly is never changes either. Your love for them, then, never need be threatened, even when it seems the fire has died and all that remains is ash. Believe that an ember yet glows, hidden but waiting to blaze again.

For the Lord desires that your love burn—because it is within the union of two lovers that His own love burns the brightest in all the universe.

Knowing this, I believe it is okay to be swept off your feet, to let the fireworks erupt—as long as your emotions draw you deeper into the heart of your beloved, where you will come face-to-face with that image of the Great Romantic. May newborn enchantment, then, give birth to true passion—that is, the passion that drove Christ to lay down His life for His bride, the Church. Just so, we must deny ourselves, pick up our crosses, and lay down our lives for the those we love. Only once we have died can there be resurrection. That is romance.

That is love.

Mushrooms

I was walking with my eyes on the way before me. Moss compressed beneath my feet and tickled my palms where it had spread to cloak the trees. Leaves ruddy with autumn were scattered through the forest in moist layers, like tiramisu. I held my breath so as not to miss the silence.

And then, just before the ground dipped into a tinkling brook, my gaze caught on pops of butter-yellow. I crouched. Mushrooms had pushed their button heads up into the world, to peer around at the dripping forest, to draw a young woman’s attention to those things that are small enough to miss were she not looking down. Small but beautiful things.

Why do I, at times, forget this? Why do I fix my eyes on the horizon—when it is only ever the step before me, and not the ones ahead, that carries me forward? Only now, having tripped over brambles and fallen flat on my face, do I remember that beauty is found in the moment.