Tag Archives: mystery

The Sun Also Rises

It’s between the rock and the hard place.  Between the devil you know and the devil you don’t.  It’s at the crossroads of unanswered prayers and thwarted desires, deeply held but conflicting priorities, impending doom to the one side and catastrophes to the other.  It’s where ironies tumble one upon the next and paradox makes your head spin.  God is working the intersections.

Here where what you hoped for proves to be a nightmare, you might yet catch a glimpse of Him.  Or there, where the worst has happened and it seems to be strangely turning out for the best.

You’d think a benevolent God would show up with a third choice when you’re stuck between two equally abhorrent options.  So often He doesn’t.  Through the agonizing pros and cons, the Wise One teaches wisdom.  We learn to cry out for help when we stumble.  And the church always shines brightest, grows strongest, in the throes of persecution.

It shouldn’t surprise us.  After all, this is a God whose greatest moments seem to coincide with the ugliest history:  the drowning of an army, the murder of a king.  This is a God who gave us Job and Ecclesiastes, who doesn’t flinch at the hammer and anvil, but pounds out blessing with a weighty thump.

But this is also the God who, right from the beginning, spoke light into the darkness.  “And there was evening, and there was morning, the first day.”  Dawn, as it’s been said, always gets the last word.

This is no distant, clean hands God, but a born-in-a-barn God, a get-down-in-the-muck God.  He doesn’t dole out suffering nonchalantly, He is a weeping God, a longing God, God of passion and compassion.  Whatever else we know, we know He is Love.

It doesn’t do us any good to downplay the obstacles, to trade in fortitude for fluff.  But it’s not any better to sink under calamity like a broken boat in a storm.  Listen, if the only thing you know for certain is that God is good, and God is in control, that’s enough.  Hope will be an anchor for your soul.

Should CNN batter our hearts with relentless bad news, we can hang on to that hope, grip the ropes, ride the waves.  Healing follows pain, beauty’s born in ashes, grace always bends to meet us in our brokenness.

Maybe this will be a year for beatitudes.  Listen to Jesus’ words from Matthew 5.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

The Fray found God at the corner of 1st and Amistad.  I say we can find Him between a rock and a hard place, under the mercy, in the mystery.  And hey — what’s that gleaming in the shadows?  I’ll be darned.  Hope leads straight on to joy.

We’re not home yet, not by a long shot.  But one day soon(ish), the sun will rise and just keep on rising.  (There is evening, and there is morning, the Last Day.)  image

In which we establish that rock ‘n’ roll is from the devil… sorta.

So you’re driving down the road, scanning the radio for a decent song and you come across “holy, holy, holy.”  Must be a worship song, eh?  Not the way you might expect.  Let’s see what happens if we put together a little mashup of three tunes you could have heard on the radio this week.

“Somehow baby, you broke through and saved meimage
You’re an angel, tell me you’re never leaving
‘Cause you’re the first thing I know I can believe in
You’re holy, holy, holy, holy
I’m high on loving you…
You made the brightest days from the darkest nights
You’re the river bank where I was baptized
Cleanse all the demons
That were killing my freedom
Let me lay you down, give me to ya
Get you singing babe, hallelujah
We’ll be touching, we’ll be touching heaven” (“H.O.L.Y.” by Florida Georgia Line)

image“I should’ve worshipped her sooner
If the Heavens ever did speak
She is the last true mouthpiece
Every Sunday’s getting more bleak
A fresh poison each week
‘We were born sick, ‘ you heard them say it
My church offers no absolutes
She tells me ‘worship in the bedroom’
The only heaven I’ll be sent to
Is when I’m alone with you
I was born sick, but I love it
Command me to be well
Amen. Amen. Amen
Take me to church
I’ll worship like a dog at the shrine of your lies
I’ll tell you my sins and you can sharpen your knife
Offer me that deathless death
Good God, let me give you my life…
No masters or kings when the ritual begins
There is no sweeter innocence than our gentle sin
In the madness and soil of that sad earthly scene
Only then I am human
Only then I am clean
Amen. Amen. Amen” (“Take Me to Church” by Hozier)

“Roll the windows down and turn up the dialimage
Can I get a hallelujah
Can I get an amen
Feels like the Holy Ghost running through ya
When I play the highway FM
I find my soul revival
Singing every single verse
Yeah I guess that’s my church” (“My Church” by Maren Morris)

Now there’s a lot we could say about these songs.  Right off the bat, they are all three catchy, the kind of songs that get stuck in your head for hours.  They are clever, using the unexpected metaphor of the sacred to make ordinary earthly loves and freedoms seem transcendent.  And that’s nothing new — since Herbert and Donne were writing in Shakespeare’s day, English writers have done the same; pop singers, too (Madonna, Bon Jovi) have been doing this for years.  We could make a good Public Service Announcement that if you play these songs backwards… wait, you could just play them forwards.  But humor me for a minute.  Let’s dig a little deeper and ask why.

Why is it that church — church, with its pews and organs and tiny wafers — is a go-to analogy for passion and ecstasy?  Why do songwriters want to subvert traditional worship and replace it with something else?  Why is it that human beings are so prone to worship in the first place?

It does get a little old, I’d imagine, to come up with a fresh metaphor for a love song.  Love is a rose, a dance, fireworks, a waterfall.  Love is super awesome.  How do you say that in a new way?  So writers, reaching for the highest, the ultimate idea to represent this mind-blowing human experience, turn to God.  Hallelujah.  But is that the end of the story?  Anthropologists argue about why exactly the belief in the supernatural is so pervasive around the earth, but clearly there is a human impulse towards worship.

Back in 2001, Thomas T. Clegg and Warren Bird put out an insightful little book called Lost in America.  They postulate that all people have three basic desires: for transcendence, significance, and community, and prove their assertion with a lot of fascinating statistics about what makes us tick.  They say, “Everyone, at some point in life, wants to know God — to know the mystical and the divine, to solve the dilemma of life’s God-shaped vacuum, and to know the great beyond.”  They point out some of the top-grossing movies of all time:  Star Wars, E.T., The Sixth Sense, Independence Day.  We might add all of those Batman movies, Harry Potter, even Indiana Jones.

It’s like the old preacher postulates in Ecclesiastes, “God has set eternity in our hearts.”  We have a built-in longing for something… more.  To borrow a lyric from Switchfoot, “There’s got to be something more / Than what I’m living for / I’m crying out to You.”

So you’re a lyricist and you’re reaching for words that get to that longing, that transcendence — what are your options?  Life is a highway, a party, a song… or life is sacred, holy, a beautiful mystery.  There is no more epic story than the imagination and creation of the world, the sacrifice of a King for all of humanity, and the ultimate vanquishing of evil.

December in particular offers up a smorgasbord of soundtracks for life:  you might be rocking around the Christmas tree, letting it snow, or roasting chestnuts.  Or you can lean into the wonder:  the holy night, the miracle in the manger, the creaky old shepherds privy to a celestial flash mob.  Trade in the mundane for the mystery this year.

Take me to church.

The Habit of Seeing

Annie Dillard has mastered it.  To see — to see closely and to see expansively — to see the habits of crickets and the wide-wheeling stars, behind them both wisdom, and grace, and fearful purpose.  And there are those who see people — see the quirks and the guiding passions, behind them the yearning for God or power.  And there are those who see God, who see a bigger story, who see angels and demons, light and dark, truth and lies.

I want to see, to see it all.  I want to understand.  Joy comes from understanding, said Solomon. Understanding — the ability to embrace the particular set of dominoes you’re dealt, to nurture that overflow of faith, patience.  Awe.  And gratitude, not only for the future, but for the intricate, beautiful, now.

Even the ability to see swallows, aspen, bear tracks, cumulus clouds, contribute to understanding this human condition, contribute to joy.  To perceive the incredible complexity of life in an acre of Colorado forest is to know how vast, how incomprehensible, is the universe, how staggering the intellect of the one who sustains it.

I love mystery.  I love unanswered questions, paradox, mind-boggling enormity or microscopic detail, and even more, vast love, the purpose behind the mad tragedies of the world.  Funny, the mystery section of the bookstore isn’t usually regarded as the place to head for great literature, but somehow I think the best mystery writers, in the pages of a good whodunit, tap into that greater mystery of the universe:  what is it that motivates the human heart?  And how, set next to evil, can there be light?