Lent VII – Passion and Glory

Holy Week begins tomorrow and, with it, the remembrance of Christ’s passion. What better motivation is there to abandon my rebellions and to embrace with whole-hearted devotion my God—what better motivation than this: to remember the sacrifice of the One who set aside unimaginable glory and honor to endure horrific suffering for my sake and the sake of the whole world—to love him because he has first loved me.

5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

~ Philippians 2:5-11

But as we know, the grievous road to the cross ultimately brought great glory and honor to God because Jesus conquered the grave by rising again, and the kingdom of God began to show through here on earth, as it is in heaven. Indeed, as Paul says, God has highly exalted Jesus for his humble obedience, and we are compelled to name him as not only our Lord, but the Lord of all things. This is not to say that Christ’s suffering merely pales because it served the greater good; on the contrary, it is to exalt his suffering because it came of true obedience and because it accomplished the healing of the world, which will become evident to all creatures in the end (I also wish to be clear here that there is much more to be said about Christ’s suffering than its end results). We, too, are encouraged to have the mind of Christ by taking on his humility, his obedient spirit, his self-sacrificial love—all to bring glory to God, which is our main purpose.

The Lord God has given me
    the tongue of those who are taught,
that I may know how to sustain with a word
    him who is weary.
Morning by morning he awakens;
    he awakens my ear
    to hear as those who are taught.
The Lord God has opened my ear,
    and I was not rebellious;
    I turned not backward.
I gave my back to those who strike,
    and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard;
I hid not my face
    from disgrace and spitting.

But the Lord God helps me;
    therefore I have not been disgraced;
therefore I have set my face like a flint,
    and I know that I shall not be put to shame.

~ Isaiah 50:4-7 (ESV)

The Lord, our God, will not leave us helpless before the powers of darkness. He has already conquered them, and it is by his power, his Spirit, that we continue to proclaim and embody his kingdom until he returns.

I thank you that you have answered me
and have become my salvation.
The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone.
This is the Lord’s doing;
it is marvelous in our eyes.
This is the day that the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Save us, we pray, O Lord!
O Lord, we pray, give us success!
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!
We bless you from the house of the Lord.
The Lord is God,
and he has made his light to shine upon us.
Bind the festal sacrifice with cords,
up to the horns of the altar!
You are my God, and I will give thanks to you;
you are my God; I will extol you.
Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever!

~ Psalm 118:21-29 (ESV)

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Lent V: Rejoice, O Jerusalem

Today is Laetare Sunday–rejoice, be refreshed, take nourishment–the weight of Lent is lifted briefly in a foretaste of the joy of Easter.

“Judah mourns,
    and her gates languish;
her people lament on the ground,
    and the cry of Jerusalem goes up…”

20 We acknowledge our wickedness, O Lord,
    and the iniquity of our fathers,
    for we have sinned against you.
21 Do not spurn us, for your name’s sake;
    do not dishonor your glorious throne;
    remember and do not break your covenant with us.
22 Are there any among the false gods of the nations that can bring rain?
    Or can the heavens give showers?
Are you not he, O Lord our God?
    We set our hope on you,
    for you do all these things.

~ Jeremiah 14:2, 20-22

The whole of Jeremiah 14 is a lament, God’s lament about the wickedness of his people and Jeremiah’s lament on behalf of the Israelites. When read devotionally, this chapter is a solemn call to confession, a reminder that every one of us must acknowledge our own sinfulness, the generational burdens we may be bearing, the offenses we have carried out against others and against God. But it ends on those beautiful, crucial words: “Are you not he, O Lord our God?/ We set our hope on you….”

In the historical context, Jeremiah is hoping in the Lord for an end to drought and its effects of famine and disease, as well as protection from the enemies who are striking the Israelites down in their weakness. But God is our hope for more than our immediate needs–although he cares for those as well–he is our hope for freedom from sin and its dreadful effects on us and the world.

…the present Jerusalem, … she is in slavery with her children. 26 But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother.

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

~ Galatians 4:25b-26, 5:1

If you have read many posts on my blog yet, you know that one theme I cannot help but return to is the hope we have in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ; the kingdom is here, freedom is ours, we are the ambassadors of Christ, who is God with Us. The Incarnation and Resurrection are the foretaste of the unveiling of the Holy Jerusalem, when God will be in the midst of us. This is the great hope and confidence of Easter, to which we look forward today.

Storm in Rockies

A Storm in the Rocky Mountains, Mt. Rosalie, Albert Bierstadt (1866)
God is our refuge and strength,
    a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
    though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam,
    though the mountains tremble at its swelling. 
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
    the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved;
    God will help her when morning dawns.
The nations rage, the kingdoms totter;
    he utters his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord of hosts is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress.

~ Psalm 46:1-7

Silence

On my list of to-dos this season: watch Silence (by Martin Scorsese, based on the novel by  Shūsaku Endō, which I should also read), read Makoto Fujimura’s new book Silence and Beauty: Hidden Faith Born of Suffering (check out the review embedded in this blog post at Hearts and Minds Bookstore), and spend some time with Fujimura’s Silence gallery. I invite you to join me.

 

Saturn is Subordinate to Jupiter

Concerning Saturn as the presiding “donegality” of The Last Battle:

…we should note that Lewis thought that art ought to meet psychological needs. That, in his view, was one of its justifications. Art (good art) very properly served to awaken or maintain or strengthen those parts of the human constitution which needed such ancillary support. As we have seen, he considered his own contemporaries to be in particular need of the spiritual nourishment that could be derived from imaginatively inhabiting the sphere of Jove. Too easily, in his view, the writers of his generation assumed that brains splattered upon a wall represented what life was ‘really like’ and that the consolations of religion were ‘really’ only a trick of the nerves, never reflecting on their equivocal use of the word ‘really.’

Lewis wanted to know why the former ‘reality’ was privileged above the latter and concluded the Jovial perspective had been selectively aborted. Of all the terrible losses inflicted by the Saturnine Great War, perhaps the most terrible—-from the imaginative point of view—-was this loss of belief in the kingship of Jupiter and the usurpation of his throne by Saturn.

Saturn  (From a Medieval book of Hours)

Saturn
(From a Medieval book of Hours)

… In other words, he thought that asceticism needed to have an account of the light by which it sees the darkness under reproach. Failure to recognise the uncondemnable wisdom inherent in the act of condemnation is itself a condemnation of philosophies that are wholly nihilistic. Such failure constitutes what Lewis—as early as 1924—called ‘The Promethean Fallacy in Ethics,’ a fallacy he found in Thackeray, in Russell, and in every ‘good atheist.’ The criticism or defiance that such a person hurls at an apparently ruthless and idiotic cosmos ‘is really an unconscious homage to something in or behind that cosmos which he recognizes as infinitely valuable and authoritative…’

Lewis thought that the Book of Job showed the legitimacy of such complaint, and his own angry lament for his wife’s death, A Grief Observed, is an example of the same thing. He fully recognised the human need to shout and shake one’s fists at God: but, equally, he recognized that, once the breast-beating was over and the passion was spent, there was something else to say…

Thus Lewis’s model of the universe has standing room for bleakness, but no throne. In this respect, as in so many others, he differed from the modernist mainstream. As he looked about him, he pondered the causes of the twentieth century’s poetical taste for nihilism and angst, such as he found in Roy Fuller’s line, ‘Anyone happy in this age and place / Is daft or corrupt.’ He traced its origins not to the obvious source (the Great War), but much further back, suggesting that it had its beginning in Keats’s praise of ‘those to whom the miseries of the world / Are misery, and will not let them rest,’…. His own belief was that the world’s woes were chronic but not absolute, because the resurrection of Christ had relativised them. One must do all one can to alleviate such sufferings, but need not be overcome by their non-disappearance in this life: ‘one’s own cheerfulness, even gaiety, must be encouraged,’ as must ‘the importance of not being earnest.’

… The truth of Joviality springs out of the chaotic remnants of Saturnised Narnia. It is at this point that we discover that Lewis’s fictional universe (like the one he believed himself to be living in) is not Saturnocentric, nor even interminably eucratic, but has a fifth act and a finale ‘in which the good characters ‘live happily ever after’ and the bad ones are cast out.’… At the end of the Narniad his aim is to make us ‘look along’ that spirit of open-heartedness as he orchestrates a grate cosmic eucatastrophe. Wave-like, Jove-like, it overwhelms those who keep the faith: for them, everything sad becomes untrue.

Quoted in Planet Narnia, by Dr. Michael Ward, pp. 210-212

Finale of the Last Battle

Finale of the Last Battle

In my mind, this chapter in Ward’s magnificent book presents one of the best (even if sidelong) treatments of the problems of sorrow, pain, and evil within the Christological view of the universe. When I read Lewis’s The Last Battle for the first time (which was recently, even though I had read the rest of the series multiple times over the years), I was taken aback by its tone and content. Yet through the lens of the medieval characterization of Saturn, the poiema and logos of this book come together in a profound expression and acknowledgement of the reality of the horrors and grief we encounter in life, which is nevertheless situated beneath the ruling sphere of Jupiter – the sphere of joy, courage, forgiveness, and active rest. We not only live in a universe like this, but also make our art in it. Accordingly art may (and should!) furnish us with support and encouragement by alluding to all of these things – not by negating the horrific and the sorrowful, but by situating them within the greater image of the Jovial universe. For “we are all between the paws of the true Aslan!”

Renewing the Ruined City

My reading today, Isaiah 61, beautifully describes God’s Servant coming to reconcile God’s people to himself. Jesus explicitly names himself as this Servant in Luke 4:16-21. He is the one who has come proclaiming good news, showing compassion to us – the mourning, brokenhearted, poor, imprisoned. It is He who, in his life, death, and resurrection is redeeming all things. He has set the new temporality of his kingdom in motion now, and even though it is only in the process of being fulfilled and overlaps with the temporality of sin, there will ultimately be a new earth and new heavens in which sorrow and despair and sin have no place.

And in his mercy, he has bestowed on us “a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair” (Isaiah 61:3a). Our grief at the horror we may experience in this world is replaced with the joy that Christ has conquered death and sin and that he is already making us new, for his glory. It is said of us in v. 3b:

Photo credit: Inspirational Storytellers

They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.

What follows, though, is the most profound part of my reading today:

They will rebuild the ancient ruins
and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities
that have been devastated for generations.

In the context of Israel’s history, this refers to the return from Babylonian exile and the rebuilding of Jerusalem. But in the context of the preceding verses, we can also recognize these words as referring to us, our role in the world now, and our ultimate place in the new Jerusalem (Revelation 21).

Are we merely passing time as we live here, citizens of God’s kingdom, sojourners on earth? Is not our very understanding of our future hope that it breaks into our lives now? Are we rebuilding those things that have been ruined by sin? Are we agents of restoration in broken places, relational, physical, spiritual? Are we renewing the ruined cities in which we live with the reality of redemption, through relationships, through study, through art, through life?

Am I?

Re-created

One of the blogs I follow is A Holy Experience (author Ann Voskamp, of One Thousand Gifts). Today, I read this journal post, in which she suggests to her husband that they leave the farm on which they live for a real vacation, and he quietly comes back with the suggestion that they go somewhere where they can serve rather than be served. At the end of the post, she muses on the beautiful ways in which God uses us, broken and insignificant though we are, to bring and become his kingdom.

And sure, we may all want anywhere other than suffering and ashes. But this is a dust-crushed world and Christ didn’t avoid it but chose to come to it. And the Farmer knows it. Why embrace dust and ashes? Because it’s out of dust and ashes, God grows the impossible.

Photo credit: Reigning Wanderer
reigningwanderer.blogspot.com

Because God exchanges dust and ashes for beauty and miracles and He cares so much that He doesn’t care that it’s not fair.

Because God raises whole people out of ashes and He writes mysterious grace in dust, and with Him, dust and spit and muddied things can still help us see.

Photo credit: Wikipedia

Photo credit: Wikipedia

Because though you are dust and will return to dust, though everything you know may be burnt to ashes, memory scattered to the wind — there is a God who can re-collect you, remake you, resurrect you and revive you with eternity.

When Lent & Valentine’s Collide 

I’m currently revising a review of Les Misérables (which will be posted here soon – hopefully next week). But Ann’s phrase “and with Him, dust and spit and muddied things can still help us see” is at the crux of my conclusions about the film – a muddied thing, how it can help us to truly see grace, to live it – to be new creations now.

Stay tuned.

An Artist in the Dark | Comment Magazine | Cardus

An article concerning spiritual darkness and its effects on the creativity of artists: some create many of their best works in dark times; others cannot create at all. Author Sørina Higgins ends the article with this glimmer of hope:

Darkness is not the end of the story. Perhaps God is making art of us when we cannot make art: St. John wrote that “It is just as if some painter were painting or dyeing a face; if the sitter were to move because he desired to do something, he would prevent the painter from accomplishing anything.” Darkness and desolation are often only identifiable in retrospect, after they have let go their grip. It is then that the curse becomes a blessing and the negation becomes a gift.