Tag Archives: faith

Part II: Arches and Spires

Last month, my family and I spent ten days in Europe, gallivanting around Germany, France, and Austria. It was a whirlwind trip we had spent almost an entire year planning, mapping our course of nearly 1,500 miles, a dozen different cities, twice as many landmarks, and approximately two metric tons of French pastries and German everything-else. (Beer! Brats! Wine! Chocolate!)

It was a trip we’ll all remember, one that left me exhausted, dazed, and deeply inspired. And because I’m a girl who writes love letters to people, places, and food (definitely food), I came home with pages of a red composition notebook FILLED. Don’t worry, I’m breaking it all up into parts. You can read Part I or keep scrolling or skip it entirely, I’m not the boss of you.

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After crossing a few time zones (six to be exact), we were understandably pretty exhausted for the first couple of days. As soon as we got in the car, I would promptly fall asleep (don’t worry, guys, I wasn’t driving). So when we left Champs-Élysées to head to Sacré-Cœur Basilica less than 5 miles away (plus another 20+ minutes of trying to navigate the narrow, hectic streets of Paris in an 8-passenger van), I was snoring/drooling on my little airplane pillow while we (my dad) made the short but scenic drive up Montmarte, the highest hill in Paris.

I woke up/wiped the drool from my cheek just as we came around the final curve to see the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris rising from the hillside. Yes. It was as dramatic as it sounds. It was the stuff sonnets are made of.

A Sequence of Events: I woke. I wiped drool. I looked up. I gasped and breathed aloud something like, “Oh, my heavens.”

When I was in college, I wrote a thesis on mathematical induction in ancient architecture. (It was riveting, PROMISE). I included a few paragraphs about cathedrals focusing on the innate geometry of their arches. (Yeah, are you still with me?)

Here’s what I learned in college: the angles of a cathedral’s arches have to be meticulously calculated, or else the roof will cave in. Here’s what I did not learn in college: the angles of a cathedral’s arches will floor you, steal your breath, send shivers down your spine.

Don’t get me wrong – I’ve been in many American cathedrals and other beautiful, sacred places. But the sheer magnitude and divinity of Sacré-Cœur was nothing, not a thing, like I had seen before.

And then, after we had toured her glorious sanctuary, we walked out and saw the entire city of Paris laid out beneath us. We got lucky – it was sunset and it was breathtaking. I stood on the top step of Sacré-Cœur dumbfounded, and I wanted to stretch out my arms from one end of Paris to the other and literally hug that beautiful, twinkling City of Light. I was starstruck.

The next day we had another glorious cathedral on our agenda: Notre-Dame de Paris, built sky-high on an island in the middle of the River Seine. We got there a few minutes before noon mass began, waiting in line just as the bells began to toll the hour. Notre-Dame has earned every bit of her fame and praise, with the stunning stained glass windows, the intricately sculpted façades, the fascinating chimera (un/fortunately none voiced by Jason Alexander), the thousands of years built and lived and worshipped within her walls.

Within Notre-Dame, they have learned to cater more toward the tourist, offering interesting tidbits on previous popes (and one who’s interred there I think? I don’t know, the placard was in French), the history behind the famous Rose Window, and what is kept in the cathedral treasury. I ALMOST stole from the Roman Catholic Church when I breezed into the Treasury, unaware there’s an entrance fee. Within the Treasury is the (alleged) Crown of Thorns and a sliver of wood from (allegedly) the cross upon which Jesus died.

This might surprise like, no one, but I love actual, physical touchstones. I still have the extra party favors from our wedding. I’ve kept the hospital bracelets from both my children’s births. I’ve kept every journal I’ve ever written in (SHOCKER).

So knowing these relics exist, soaked with meaning, kept behind locked glass cases and a stern Frenchwoman collecting Euros – regardless of whether or not they are the ACTUAL Crown of Thorns or fragments of the Cross of Crucifixion – awakens that too-often-dormant awe of Jesus Christ: who we as the Church believe He is, and what we as the Church believe He did.

From Sacré-Cœur and her view of Paris to Notre-Dame and her ancient religious history, touring these two awe-inspiring cathedrals were downright worship services, as meaningful and enriching as any sermon I’ve heard. Even though I’m not Catholic, the belief system I hold so dear descended from the Roman Catholic Church, and from the teachings of the apostles and saints, and from the very life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

It is certainly no small, brief thing. And standing on the steps of Sacré-Cœur or before the high altar of Notre-Dame helped drive even my faith deeper.

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Good Friday: The Darkness Gathering

I’ve heard the story a thousand times. It never gets old, even as it never changes. Every time I hear it, I know how the story ends. I know that third day miracle, the impossible making believers around the world and throughout the centuries.

I still hold my breath between John 18 and John 20, my heart skipping beats in my chest. Every year I settle deeper into Good Friday, into the bone-breaking, veil-tearing darkness gathering. I close my eyes and try to feel what those first disciples felt, their very lives, their every breaths staked on the man hoisted upon that cross.

I know so well my own darkness, my own bleeding need for saving. I know the twisted bitterness sitting cold and hard in my gut, the slash of the whip and the drive of the hammer my own doing. I let the darkness in me loose, clutching this part of the story because this is the part of greatest tragedy, of greatest recognition.

The created world, favored by a creative and attentive God, suddenly godless. Suddenly without the hope that lingered in the back of our minds, at the tug of our hearts. This dark Good Friday a hitch in our throats, every fear, every demon clawing to get out, to spread its ink over this godless world. My own darkness home here.

I settle in. I listen to the earth groaning for salvation, to the wailing of defeat. I cannot look to the end of the story, to the prophetic words and the hope-filled promises, not yet. I need to let my darkness do its deed; I need to know my part.

I need to know it is finished.

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Maundy Thursday: This is Our Cup

The words are familiar to me, to many of us who believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

This is my body, broken for you.
This is my blood, poured out for you.

When I am most aware, I whisper those aching words with reverence, the weight of them pressed against the inside of my cheek and held there. I take the bread solemnly, the silence echoing louder than betrayal.

The words of Jesus at the Last Supper often hold heavy for the Church, whether Communion is a weekly ritual or reserved for the holiest of occasions. The Church sits quietly, stilled, as the bread is raised and broken, the wine poured and blessed.

We hear those words again, some of the very last words of Jesus, Son of Man, and we hold our breaths in remembrance of Him.

During this ritual, we feel the holiness. Somehow, a few words, a couple of poetic sentences that surely made little sense to the men who heard them first, spoken with a heavy, hopeful heart centuries ago still manage to capture us, steady our attention.

If we close our eyes and open our hearts, if we really focus, tilting an ear to Heaven, we can hear these words of Jesus. We can hear his hands breaking the loaf into pieces, hear the sound of wine splashing into an empty cup. We might even hear the desperation in Jesus’ voice.

His time is near. It must be done. He watches as bread and wine — his body and blood — are given out to the twelve he has chosen. Men who bicker, men who falter, men who just don’t get it, not yet.

I can picture Jesus watching, looking around the table at his closest friends. His last supper, his final feast with his most devoted followers. Unassuming men he chose, not because of power or influence, but because of their simple faith. He called; they came.

And his body and blood, broken and poured out, entrusted to these twelve men and for the whole world.

What an image, just as powerful yet more subtle than the image of the cross. Around this table, with bread crumbs in his palm, a wrenching reminder of what is in store, Jesus could still turn back. No doubt this last supper sounds like bones breaking, like blood and water pouring out. The bread tastes dry in his mouth, the wine bitter enough to bring tears. And only Jesus knows it, feels it, tastes it, gets it.

Now, today, on this side of the Crucifixion and impossible Resurrection, we get it, at least a little. As his Church that understands the meaning of that last supper, as his people who celebrate and remember Jesus’ words, we break the bread and we pour the wine and we invite those whose reverence still settles them in their pews and draws them to the altar. To come, to dip the bread in the wine, to partake in the holy feast, the New Covenant. To know and trust and remember his broken body, his blood poured out.

It is a ritual well-known and cherished by the Church, a pointed understanding of what Jesus was truly offering when he offered his disciples the broken bread and shared cup.

The body of Christ, broken for you. The blood of Christ, poured out for you. For me. For the whole world still unaware, still wondering if there’s more.

What a beautiful, tragic night that was in our faith history.

And what a call for us the Church to follow Jesus, to share in his brokenness, to be the new body of Christ so willing to pour out and down and into the cracks of this hurting world.

We are the Church. And this is our cup.

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The Dust in These Bones

Today is a sacred, symbolic day for the church. As a proclaimer of Jesus (with a long history of irrational sentimentalism), I place ALOTTA importance on this day, Ash Wednesday. The emotional youth group kid still trapped inside me absolutely LUVS this somber kick-off to Lent, the heavy meaning behind burnt palm branches and anointing oil, the grounding reminder of the dust in our bones.

“For dust you are and to dust you will return.”
(Gen. 3:19)

Those words still me every time.

But today, and maybe for this season of Lent, I want to land on a different piece of Scripture calling us back to our beginning.

“Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.”
(Gen. 2:7)

I think of those first passages in Genesis, the pure poetry behind a creative and involved God. I think of the light and the earth and the sea spinning into existence, the glory of God stamped onto every atom of this created universe. I think of the magnitude of God, and the smallness of our galaxy, our sun, our world, in all of it. I think of our outright insignificance, and the pure beauty of every tiny thing in our tiny lives.

I think of God, an infinite and uncontainable God, and his illogical interest in us, in me, right here and right now.

I think of how the story goes, how God saw this world and declared it good, from the sun and the moon and the stars to the mountains and sycamore trees and untamed oceans. How God filled this world with created life, wild, beautiful, bizarre animals to run and swim and fly. How God took his time and fashioned in his way every big and little thing that catches my eye and breath.

And then, after all of that perfect detail poured out straight from God, he crouched down in that created dirt, the smallest grains of sand in this grand and glorious earth, and thought, “Just one more thing before I’m done.”

I think of how God, creator, artist, poet, scooped some of that dirt into his infinite hands and formed eyes, hands, legs, a brain, a heart, arms, knee caps, eyelashes, ears, hips, lungs, bones, marrow.

And then, miracle of miracles because creation was not yet complete, God leaned in close and breathed his infinite breath into this dust cavity, awakening every handmade inch.

Today, as I close my eyes and remember the dust from which I came, I will press into the God who wakes it up in me.

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The Season of Jesus

When Jesus saw him coming he said, “There’s a real Israelite, not a false bone in his body.”
Nathanael said, “Where did you get that idea? You don’t know me.”
Jesus answered, “One day, long before Philip called you here, I saw you under the fig tree.”
Nathanael exclaimed, “Rabbi! You are the Son of God, the King of Israel!”
Jesus said, “You’ve become a believer simply because I say I saw you one day sitting under the fig tree? You haven’t seen anything yet! Before this is over you’re going to see heaven open and God’s angels descending to the Son of Man and ascending again.”

John 1:47-51, The Message

It is the rising crest, the building climax. This is the season of Jesus, his final years on earth, packing eternity into one held breath.

I’ve tried, for many years now, to wrap my mind and arms around Lent, to bear hug what it means to draw closer to Jesus as he draws closer to the cross. This season of remembrance, of following his dusty footsteps to Golgotha, to death, to the excruciating trade for eternal souls.

I lose a bit of myself each time, and gain so much more of Jesus.

Each year I get pulled in deeper. The hitch in my throat grows thicker when I think of Jesus, of his short time on earth and even shorter time drawing in as many as he can as he heads back toward Heaven. The knot in my gut tightens as I think of what it means to follow Jesus up that hill and onto that cross. I try to understand what it means to love so thoroughly it bleeds one dry. On honest days that thought makes me shudder.

I wonder often what it must have been like to be called, touched, seen by Jesus on earth. To be one of the first who saw who he really was, no matter how dimly. To stare astonished as miracle after miracle rolled along behind him, a wake of healing and loving and letting in.

So here we go, another Lenten season, another chance to focus more wholly on Jesus and his journey, to taste his presence and soak up his words. To walk alongside him as he hands out fish and bread and sight and salvation.

To know, even as we dive in head first, that we haven’t seen anything yet.

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The Good Promise

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Here it is. Here we are: Advent, this first Sunday of hope, of a season recognizing and remembering how God came in after us. The more attention I give to this time of anticipation, the more heart space it takes up.

I try to remember my anticipation is nothing – not a thing – compared to the waiting and hoping of God’s people before Jesus was born to us. I try to remember God’s silence leading up to his promise fulfilled. I try to remember a people whose very identity was weighted by the attention and direction of God sliding into emptiness. I wonder if they noticed at first, how the God who spoke to them in fire and wind had grown quiet.

I wonder when their laws and rituals took the place of any intimate relationship with God; I wonder if their blood sacrifices were nothing more than duty, before leaving the temple no closer to holy ground.

Hundreds of years passed between the final prophecies of Malachi promising God’s deliverance and the first chapter in Matthew setting up the story. Generations born and gone with no new word from the God of their ancestors, the God of their history. The history of their people and their favor from God little more than legend.

We are lucky; we flip those few blank pages between the Old and the New and we jump right on in to the catalyst, the coming of Christ.

This season I hope to settle into those blank pages, the silence that stretched for centuries. I hope my heart swells with the anticipation of a promise fulfilled. I hope you’ll join me.

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My Advent devotional Long Lay the World: Essays & Images to Prepare Him Room is now available as an instant download. Grab your copy and meet me back here each day in December. I’ll bring the hot chocolate.

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Easter Sunday; Oh, the Bliss!

It was still dark when the women rose that morning. But even if the sun had been up, their days would still feel black as night.

It was their new reality; after weeks or months or years at Jesus’ side, drinking in his goodness and his warmth so filling it spilled out onto the desert sand, they were suddenly parched. Drifting. Fearful and grief-stricken and hopeless.

At least today they can put their grief in motion.

So they go to the tomb where Jesus lay, both anxious to get there to anoint his body and fulfill their holy rituals, and dreading the brutal finality of his death.

How close did the women come, in the dusty pre-dawn light, before they realized someone had gotten there first? And who could possibly have beaten them there? They had left before anyone else had awoken, everyone who loved and mourned Jesus as thoroughly as they had and did had been left behind. These women were the first to go, the first to visit Jesus’ grave. Who could possibly have gone before them?

Those who followed Jesus during his ministry were no strangers to the supernatural. Though they witnessed countless miracles, had seen demons overthrown, nothing could have compared to walking beside Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God with us, the unseen Yahweh with skin on, with calloused hands and dirty feet and flashing eyes and desperate conviction and untapped love.

But none of them could have known, not fully, who they followed, from whom they learned about God and man and God’s pursuit of man. Even as close as they stood, they couldn’t have known.

Not until the stone was rolled away. Not until they came face-to-face with Jesus the Resurrected, the payer of our debt, the conqueror of our penalty.

Their faith had been so shaken. The very foundation of their beliefs and their new, fragile knowledge of God had crumbled beneath them, settling into the cracks of the earth as it shook open. Their hearts had been broken; their hope had been lost.

But then they saw the tomb. They heard the angel sitting on the stone. They held the cast-aside burial linens, they searched the barren, empty walls, they felt the frailest breath of hope catch in their throats, and they ran to tell the others what strange things were happening.

They’re still happening.

We still come face-to-face with Jesus the Resurrected.

The tomb is still empty.

And hope, if we let it, still catches in our throats.

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A Prayer for Your Passion

“As the time drew near for Him to ascend to Heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.”
– Luke 9.51

My God, there are hardly the words for this little verse. “Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” There is so much power packed into this single line of Scripture, so much purpose in less than 140 characters. I want to understand what Jesus was going through; I want to ask for help in feeling what He felt. But, oh, that feels like a dangerous prayer.

The intensity of His journey, the necessity of it borne from this overwhelming, overtaking love. I try to imagine how consuming Your love must be for this broken creation. I try to put words — any words, all the words, the most eloquent words I have — to this image of drowning in Your love, floundering, unable to even see the bottom, much less touch my toes to it. What a small way our small minds can quantify such love.

O God, I want to experience Your love in such a way that it fills my lungs and swells my heart and steals my breath. I want to be so full of You that Your love pours out of me, gushing from my fingertips and over this parched land.

These few words tucked quietly in the gospel of Luke moves me in such profound, unaired ways.

Your Word is already so full of Your deliberate plan to rescue us and redeem us, to turn Your creation back to You, to reconcile this world with what You envision it to be.

But these particular words draw so much hope from me, such gratitude and shame, all at the same time, honest emotions for once that twist in my gut. Something expands in my chest, leaving me breathless and doubled over, and I think, why haven’t I been hearing this? Why haven’t I been paying closer attention?

Jesus, there was nothing unknown to You. You knew the plan. You knew the cost. As the man You fully were, You fully became, how terrifying it must have been, the knowing. How You must have dreaded every dusty step closer to the cross, every sunset one more day spent. To weep blood from Your brow in desperation for what was to come, the burden pressing heavy and hard against Your back and driving You to Your knees. I can only pretend to imagine the tightness in Your chest, the knot in Your stomach, Your heart and pulse pounding out a desperate rhythm, “Take this cup; Thy will be done.”

But as the Christ, the Holy Son of God who was there from the beginning, whose hands shaped the formless void, You witnessed our downfall, You wept as we split wide the chasm between Heaven and Earth, all the while knowing the price of our redemption, all the while knowing You would willingly pay it.

How clearly this verse shows us Your passion, Your purpose. How real and how near is Your spirit, Your will and Your want for us. You offered Yourself up and into the greedy hands of the very ones You longed to draw back in. We didn’t understand; how could we? How could these dry and dying bones even recognize the life abundant You were pouring out over us, reviving us?

You set Your feet toward Jerusalem, Your eyes to the cross. You never once wavered but spilled as much of Yourself along the way — Your love, Your healing, Your mercy and grace and Your call for us to do the same — until all that was left was a final breath: “It is finished.”

What is left to say but a whisper, “My God, my God.”

What a journey, Jesus, the descent into Your darkest hour on this earth, all so we wouldn’t have to go too. You invite us along, to follow You, not into despair or dread or to our rightfully earned deaths, but to follow You back to the kingdom of Heaven, back to God Himself.

I would walk that journey to Jerusalem with you, if I could, if only to squeeze Your hand and promise I’ll do better, to be better, so can we just call the whole thing off?

But You died so we wouldn’t have to, not really, not fully.

Jesus, how passionately You died for my disobedience; help me to live as passionately for Your love.

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God’s Reality

“My dear children, let’s not just talk about love; let’s practice real love.
This is the only way we’ll know we’re living truly, living in God’s reality.”
1 John 3.18 (MSG)

So I tend to make the season of Lent a very private one. (Could you tell? #sarcasm #OMGshetalkstoomuch)

Not that I don’t talk or reflect or write about what I’m reading and learning and praying over. But that I tend to make the focus just Jesus and me. The necessity of Jesus’ life and death in contrast to my utter depravity and desperate need for rescue. Jesus’ holy perfection and my hearty disobedience. His eternal life, my ashes.

I don’t usually leave a whole lot of room in my head and my heart for much else to that story; it’s hard enough swallowing just how ridiculous the gap is between God and me.

But as introspective and inward-focusing as Lent can be, as it was designed to be, it’s only part of a much greater story.

When I intended to sit in silence this season, to step back from all the words I like to string together, to shut my mouth so God could speak, I don’t know what I was expecting really — probably not to hear from Him so clearly.

But how often God surprises me. Not by being full of truth and wisdom and eloquence and love and all of these things with the utmost tenderness. But that God would be all of these things to me. Specifically me. Who am I to not just witness but to experience His truth and wisdom and eloquence and love and quiet, powerful, moving tenderness, and in such a personal, real way?

I can believe and trust in God’s love for the world; God is love — so He loves. He so loves this world and I understand that because of everything I have seen Him do in and for it. It’s a corporate love for His creation, a cradling of the whole world in His hands.

But maybe if He’s asking me to stop seeing my sin as the general, generic sinfulness of mankind, then maybe He’s asking me to do the same for His love.

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I love people. I love people’s stories, I love hearing about their lives, I love discovering what makes them tick. I’ve been getting in trouble since Kindergarten for socializing because you guys, I love people. (#ENFJ #letsbebestfriends)

But I know I don’t love every single person I come across. Sometimes there are people I don’t even really like. But more often and more tragically, there are people I don’t even really see. And that might be the saddest thing of all. As much as I think I love people, I do not live or operate or even subscribe to God’s reality.

Every single person is an eternal soul known and loved and forgiven by God. I can talk all day about how that’s true despite my own behavior dismissing that, and it won’t make it any more (or less) true.

But maybe if I practice love — real love, God’s love, His personal, intimate, interested, transforming love — His reality will be so much clearer in this dark and desperate world. His voice will be that much louder, much more prevalent than any other noise I make with all my other useless chatter.

That’s what Jesus did; He brought the kingdom of God that much closer to us, to where we were squandering and drowning in our own broken selves. He peeled back the veil and said, “Would you look at how My Father loves you? How He sees you?”

No. Not quite. Not fully.

But I want to, and I want to help you see, too.

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Heirlooms of Our Faith

“Do you think the Scriptures have no meaning? They say that God is passionate that the Spirit He has placed within us should be faithful to Him. And he gives grace generously.”
– James 4.5-6

I sort of hate when the Bible asks me questions so boldly: do I think the Scriptures have no meaning? I don’t dare say yes, but do I approach His Word with the reverence and respect it commands? Maybe one day.

Be Still, and Know that I am God (Psalm 46:10)

Maybe because I’ve been paying more attention, trying to tune an ear to God and an ear to His people, I have heard a lot of flippant things said about the holy texts recently. That the Bible is outdated and irrelevant, that it ties the Church down and restricts her, how, sure, it is a beautiful book of our history and lovely metaphors for our lives, but see how far we’ve come? Such enlightened speak makes me scoff and disagree and go get my poster paints for a picket sign.

No. I do not think the Scriptures have no meaning.

But.

(There is always, always a “but” when you ask God to change you.)

But I know I don’t rest and rely on His life- and hope-giving words. Wait, let me back up. The Bible — indeed full of history and visions and prophecies fulfilled, directives and instructions and examples of loving well — is His Word; it isn’t The Word. The Bible gives life and restores hope, but not like Jesus, The Word Made Flesh. #theologyorsomething

So if Jesus is the visible image of the invisible God, then the Bible is the language of that image. The Scriptures give words and structure and plot lines to a very big and uncontainable God. Snippets, to be sure; the Bible has a beginning and an end describing a God who is eternal and infinite.

The Bible gives us a hearty glimpse. It shows us the saints and sinners who have gone before, how they saw and heard and learned about the same God breathing life into us now, how God moved in and interacted with His creation, how this earth has experienced Him.

It is His story and it is how we came to be invited into it.

This story — a collection of thousands of stories about one God — digs deeper. It invites us to dig deeper, to bury ourselves in the articulated God. These words — ancient things passed down from generation to generation, spoken and written and translated into words we all can use, through time and across the world — are the heirlooms of our faith.

This holy text, scrolls of wisdom and life and truth, tell us of a God intimately interested in our world. Passionate, this particular text says. Faithful and generous. And to think how unable our most eloquent speech is to fully describe Him.

I love the words, obviously (have you met me?). I love having the ability to be precise about what stirs my heart, to move my fingers across the page or my lips around syllables, and just like that, you know how I feel; suddenly, I am known.

That God would give us the words to describe (sort of) His goodness (to a degree), that He would shrink down (enough) to fit into language like so loved the world, and slow to anger, and leads me by still waters.

Not only do we have a way to see God, a way to name Him and speak of Him and to Him. We also have His own Spirit. What a generous God, to make Himself knowable in our limited language; to make Himself visible in the life and death of the Christ; to make Himself small enough to fit inside us, His Spirit residing in us, making room to hear the Spirit in each other, to hear and respond to the available God who craves our awareness.

I believe the Scriptures are Spirit-breathed, divinely inspired. But I have to come clean about how little time and attention I give them. The clearest, most straightforward way to know God and I barely give them a second thought.

But God’s got that covered too. When I am forgetful and distracted, when I choose a hundred other things above God, when I do actually think, despite myself, Scripture might possibly have no real meaning, no relevance to my modern, busy life, His grace is given generously.

What an extravagant God, to provide every way to wrap my simple mind around as much of Him as I can manage, and then the grace for when I squander that.

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