Contradictions and opposites

On February 14th this year we had what appeared a strange contradiction–a day full of sweets and greeting cards professing love with lots of big red hearts, but also a day featured by black cross-shaped smears on foreheads marking our humanity, a sober reminder that we will all someday die and return to ashes. Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day seem to be polar opposites. Actually, the ashes mark our need for the biggest heart, for a love that won’t let go, or let us go.

That day launched the Lenten Journey with the one walking toward death. Another contradiction? Rather than a downer, this journey can warm our hearts with sunlight that never ends.

This year, rather than focus on “giving up” for Lent, I felt drawn to “so much more.” Going in deeper. Spending more time with the one who hovers between both worlds and offers a hand to us who are mired in here and now.

Along the way, I spoke with a friend about the sense of holiness, the glimpse of eternity we may experience when we sit with a loved one in their last days. The line between this earthly life and eternity seems to blur as we usher them into the kingdom. When the end finally comes, it can be hard, even jarring, to leave behind the empty body and walk outside into the sunlight, drive into the traffic or stop at the grocery store, go back to “normal life.”

Eternity colliding with here and now, the opposites can physically shock us.

Palm Sunday, branches waving and hosannas bursting made me wonder if what we really want is jolly old St Nick to come riding in and give us everything on our wish list. (Good for us, he never does. In spite of another strange cultural juxtaposition on Christmas, Santa Claus and Jesus have nothing in common.)

As we leave the bright light of the procession, the Holy Week readings begin and we enter the gloom of betrayal.

Can you imagine a companion you have shared everything with for three years, day in and day out, going behind your back, taking a bribe and turning you over to enemies who want to kill you?

Can you imagine your closest friends falling asleep when you beg them to help you through your hardest time?

Can you imagine being lied about, tried without representation, spit upon, mocked, then suffering hours of beatings meant to kill you, all before the real torture begins—-for nothing you ever did, nothing you could ever deserve?

Where’s the justice in all that?

That leads to Good Friday. How can a day of death, especially an unjustified death, be good? How can we celebrate it year after year, and wear shiny crosses commemorating the worst form of execution?

In another strange contradiction, Jesus endures the horrendous in order to save us from the worst that we deserve.

And from ourselves.

Though we may work or love and care, serve or give, in spite of lovely and loving moments, we are always circumscribed by our selfishness. No matter what we face in our circumstances, isn’t our greatest enemy always within?
No matter how hard we try to do better, or how far we may run to escape, we are always contained by who we are.

When Jesus died, the reports says the sky turned black. The huge, heavy curtain in the temple that separated the Holy of Holies from the mass of worshippers was ripped open. From top to bottom.

The death of Jesus, God-Man tore apart the barrier that confined us within ourselves and our weaknesses. He opened the way for us to be the person we are truly created to be. To live as we were designed to live.

Then, sometime in the grave, all the molecules of that dead, human body were realigned, revitalized and given a new form. A resurrected body brought hope for us. Healing for us. New life now, and when we die as well.

This year, compounding the paradoxical days, Easter coincides with April Fools Day.

How grateful I am there is no rude surprise here, and that I don’t have to live the fool.

With the ultimate contradiction, death gives life.

This is the kind of life you’ve been invited into, the kind of life Christ lived.
He suffered everything that came his way so you would know that it could be done, and also know how to do it, step-by-step.
He never did one thing wrong, Not once said anything amiss.
They called him every name in the book and he said nothing back. He suffered in silence, content to let God set things right.
He used his servant body to carry our sins to the Cross so we could be rid of sin, free to live the right way.
His wounds became your healing.
You were lost sheep with no idea who you were or where you were going.
Now you’re named and kept for good by the Shepherd of your souls
.

1 Peter 2:21‭-‬25 MSG

Where has your journey led you?

Not a happy Valentine’s Day?

Facebook is filled with snapshots of happy Valentine’s breakfasts, dozens of roses, sweet cards and smiling faces. And everywhere, hearts. What if your valentine has passed away, leaving a huge heart-shaped hole in your chest? Or have you recently discovered your significant other has been cheating on you? Or the one who should be kind and caring wounds you with looks or words, or worse? Or your physical condition, or of one you love, through disease, injury or pain, prohibits fully entering into any celebration? Or are you are simply alone?duct tape rose
What if you feel you have more in common with the original Valentine, whose ending was pretty gruesome, than the pink-red-chocolate day so celebrated now?

A pity party seems more in order than a Valentine’s Party.

The truth is, even people who are doing their best cannot love us enough to live out the language of all those cards

Can’t fill the love-need we all experience, and on holidays like these, in greater intensity.

hearts and love drawing

At a low point during my college years I discovered T.S. Elliot, and sobbed over these lines at the beginning of his poem “Ash Wednesday”

Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope
Because I do not hope to turn
Desiring this man’s gift and that man’s scope
I no longer strive to strive towards such things
(Why should the aged eagle stretch its wings?)
Why should I mourn
The vanished power of the usual reign?

In junior high I wrote a poem full of young angst, concluding with:
“Teach me how to love, and yet not care.
Teach me how to love, and yet beware.”

When I reached the final page of “Ash Wednesday,” I came unglued (causing quite a disturbance in the library).

Although I do not hope to turn again
Although I do not hope
Although I do not hope to turn
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks,
Our peace in His will
And even among these rocks.

(Emphasis mine)

T.S. Eliot’s poetry began my journey to peace. It started with learning contentment among the rocks.

That’s pretty bleak, I’ll admit, but that is where I was.

Maui rocks

It took many years of whisperings of Love for the Spirit to heal me to the point where I dared leave the rocks. Launch into the water. Swim with gusto.

Jane body surfing in Bahamas, JHT
Jane body surfing in Bahamas

There are still days when my desires don’t sync with my life, and I ask for peace to sit among the rocks.

I have it on good word that request is not useless.

I’ve picked you. I haven’t dropped you.’
Don’t panic. I’m with you.
There’s no need to fear for I’m your God.
I’ll give you strength. I’ll help you.
I’ll hold you steady, keep a firm grip on you.

Isaiah 41:9-10 MSG

The good news about our circumstances causing pain is we find out what our hearts are trusting.

When we are left chasing the wind, empty-handed, we’ve found an idol we are best rid of. Not necessarily rid of that person, but we recognize we have made an idol, one we’d hoped to be the source of our heart needs.

There really is no greater blessing than knowing the only true Source of deep, complete love.

after glow

I’ve never quit loving you and never will.
Expect love, love, and more love!

Jeremiah 31:3 MSG

And that love never fails.
I remember it all—oh, how well I remember—
the feeling of hitting the bottom.
But there’s one other thing I remember,
and remembering, I keep a grip on hope:
God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out,
his merciful love couldn’t have dried up.
They’re created new every morning.

How great your faithfulness!
I’m sticking with God (I say it over and over).
He’s all I’ve got left.
God proves to be good to the man who passionately waits,
to the woman who diligently seeks.
It’s a good thing to quietly hope,
quietly hope for help from God.

It’s a good thing when you’re young
to stick it out through the hard times.
When life is heavy and hard to take,
go off by yourself. Enter the silence.
Bow in prayer. Don’t ask questions:
Wait for hope to appear.
Don’t run from trouble. Take it full-face.
The “worst” is never the worst.
Why? Because the Master won’t ever
walk out and fail to return.
If he works severely, he also works tenderly.
His stockpiles of loyal love are immense.

(Emphasis mine)

Lamentations 3:20-32 MSG

Maui waves, JHT
Maui waves

How do you feel about Valentine’s Day?

Got hope?

What do you do with despair? When the wounds of childhood make trusting hard? When the pain of living steals hope?

When I was in the ninth grade, I wrote this poem.

Poem by Jane F Thompson
Poem by Jane F Thompson

Though I wasn’t aware of it, that ambivalence followed me through life. Until I finally embraced myself (see Fine Wine), my own pain in childhood, I was caught like a starfish on the Oregon coast, clinging to a rock, waiting for the tide to come in.

When I was a sophomore in college, floundering, wondering how to continue to live, I opened a book of T.S. Eliot poems to work on a paper for an English class. Going beyond my assignment, I discovered a division in the book (like between the Old and New Testaments in the Bible), beginning with “Ash Wednesday.” Eliot expressed my thoughts, doubts, hopes, fears and attempts at faith.

Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope
Because I do not hope to turn
Desiring this man’s gift and that man’s scope
I no longer strive to strive towards such things
(Why should the aged eagle stretch its wings?)
Why should I mourn
The vanished power of the usual reign? . . .
Because these wings are no longer wings to fly
But merely vans to beat the air
The air which is now thoroughly small and dry
Smaller and dryer than the will
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still. …

Line after line, Eliot transcribed the agony I experienced in just living. When I reached the last section, I wanted to holler, to cry, to run out under the sky.

Although I do not hope to turn again
Although I do not hope
Although I do not hope to turn
Wavering between the profit and the loss
In this brief transit where the dreams cross
The dreamcrossed twilight between birth and dying

Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks,
Our peace in His will
And even among these rocks
Sister, mother
And spirit of the river, spirit of the sea,
Suffer me not to be separated
And let my cry come unto Thee.

Somehow, Eliot’s finding peace in spite of identical ambiguity comforted me, gave me hope to go on. I was not alone.

That began my true faith walk, and what a long road it has been!

But then, life is a journey, isn’t it? In spite of the switchbacks and setbacks, push-backs and throwbacks, we drive onward.

Even the Israelites, led by God in the desert escaping Egypt, had to make the trek.

At this point on the way, I no longer pray to love with detachment.  I have no need to be alone to protect my heart. My cries are heard. I’d rather spend my life caring, than freeze alone on the rocks.

I can reach out to the one who experienced my pain, who walked the trail, who knows what it means to love and be hurt, to reach out, yet be be shunned, to cry alone.

We who have run for our very lives to God have every reason to grab the promised hope with both hands and never let go. It’s an unbreakable spiritual lifeline, reaching past all appearances right to the very presence of God where Jesus, running on ahead of us, has taken up his permanent post as high priest for us, in the order of Melchizedek. Hebrews 6:19-20 The Message (MSG)

And I have hope because my journey is into His arms.

They hit me when I was down,
but God stuck by me.
He stood me up on a wide-open field;
I stood there saved—surprised to be loved!

God made my life complete
when I placed all the pieces before him.
When I got my act together,
he gave me a fresh start.
Now I’m alert to God’s ways;
I don’t take God for granted.
Every day I review the ways he works;
I try not to miss a trick.
I feel put back together,
and I’m watching my step.
God rewrote the text of my life
when I opened the book of my heart to his eyes.
Psalm 18:18-24 The Message  (bold mine)

Where are you on your journey?