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Thoroughly Alive

We must hunger after the beautiful and the good...

 

Wishes Like Ships

My new year opened unexpectedly with a funeral in Denmark. 

Because of a death in Thomas' extended family (he is half Danish), we changed our flights so that we could attend the funeral with his family in Copenhagen. Thus, on the first, windy weekend of the new year I found myself sitting in a small, medieval church on the outskirts of the city. The hope and love suffusing the service was tangible, so much so that not knowing the language wasn't a real barrier to participation. But my eyes did wander a bit during the sermon; up into the white arches with medieval etchings of saints and angels, out the simple arched windows, and up the aisle to where a sturdy, full-rigged model of a perfect little ship hung over the heads of the congregation. Yes, a ship. This is, Thomas informed me, common in Danish churches, a vivid symbol that embodies the mission and hope of the church as it sails through the rough waters of the fallen world, offering shelter and salvation to any who enter its refuge.

 
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The sight of that little ship captured my imagination and it has greatly shaped the first post of the year I want to write to you here. I love to start a new year here on the blog with a list of wishes; the graces and joy I hope will come your way in the following year. I don't think the list usually changes that much; I'm always hoping you'll find beauty in the ordinary, a sense of wonder, the joy of friendship, the companionship of great books. But this year, the wishes that formed in my heart are a little different, shaped by the sobriety of the funeral, by my own pondering of the little life that is growing in me (and the Braxton Hicks contractions that have made a fierce appearance and forced me to rest), and my sense of this war-torn, noisy world as a pretty wild place in which to raise a little one, or be a lover, or hope in ultimate redemption. 

To that end, here's a shorter list of three new year's wishes that are a little like ships, meant to carry you safely through the doubt and confusion, the turmoil and work of faithful life in a stormy and fallen world.

I wish you clarity with quiet

  The Window Seat,  by Julian Alden Neer

The Window Seat, by Julian Alden Neer

The din of the world seems louder to me in the past couple of years. If there's one thing I know after a study of theology, it's that there are at least 10 sides to every argument. But a scroll through Twitter will teach you the same (only there, its more like 100). We live in a world suffused by voices, cluttered with unceasing information, our minds almost inescapably crammed with competing opinions, causes, warnings, and claims. Further, we have to fight for quiet. I still haven't quite figured out my quiet time rhythm now that I'm married and mornings begin early (and let us not yet even consider what a newborn will wreak!) and the world around me thrums with music and voices and people's needs and deadlines I haven't yet met and headlines I don't know how to process. My wish for you then, and for myself, is that we will discover both by grace and choice, clean, clear moments of hush in which we can listen to the single and defining voice of Love within our hearts. I wish you the clarity that comes from a fresh grip on Scripture, even in a brief, snatched moment, that 'testimony of the Lord' himself that 'makes wise the simple'. I wish you the quiet not just of absent noise but of present Love as it grips you and you know it so that you do not have to be strong to decide or discern alone. The truth is that nothing (not even political debates or family entanglements) is too difficult for our lover God; may you remember that when the twitter feeds scream and your own heart rises in anguish. I wish you the psalmist's 'composed and quiet soul', resting against the breast of God as a child rests against the heart of its mother, not concerned with 'matters too difficult' but easy in the care that never leaves us to battle the storm alone. 

 I wish you defiant creativity.

 
  The Weeders,  by Jules Breton. I love the women in Breton's paintings; hardworking, dancing round campfires, arm-in-arm, at prayer. They are full-hearted, full-bodied souls.

The Weeders, by Jules Breton. I love the women in Breton's paintings; hardworking, dancing round campfires, arm-in-arm, at prayer. They are full-hearted, full-bodied souls.

 

I sometimes think that if the voice of God is the one always saying 'let there be light', the voice of the devil must be the one that says 'there's only darkness'. I think these voices contend in our hearts every day, dealing not on the scale of cosmic creation but in human, daily experience. The darkness can seem so small scale - a weary heart, a lonely week, a sick body, an untended home - not worth the fight. We are slow to perceive that the coming of God's kingdom into the fallen world has much to do with the nit and grit of our daily struggle. But where else will the kingdom come? The Incarnation is all about God invading the smallest corners of human existence. Salvation invaded time and landed in the musty straw of a Bethlehem manger; it waits to invade our smallest moments as well - whether mine in the freezing morning air of my little Oxford house as I sit down (yet again) lest my bump tighten, and wonder if I will get anything done today - or yours in whatever little struggle or daily disaster you face. I wish you, my friend, a holy and fierce defiance of the voices that work to convince you that the darkness and discouragement just are. I wish you a fire-eyed creativity that looks into the shadow and commands it to be full of light. May you take hold of the same Holy Spirit that spoke creation into existence and in its power create... a new friendship, a spate of reading, a meal, a prayer, a moment of recognised beauty, a home that is a shelter. I wish you the vision to recognize that these tiny acts are the ones in which Love invades the fallen world moment by moment, that they are gathering into a great song, a flood of love that will restore and remake the cosmos. 

And... I wish you laughter. 

  Two Women at a Window,  by Bartolome Esteban Murillo. One of my favorite of his paintings. I love the impish fun. 

Two Women at a Window, by Bartolome Esteban Murillo. One of my favorite of his paintings. I love the impish fun. 

That quickened, delighted laughter that is, in a single breath, an instant of disbelief engulfed by a moment of absolute assurance in the reality of joy as it seizes you in an unexpected gift, a glimpse of some beauty (like sunsets blazing or daffodils burgeoning), or the touch of a love so deep and real it turns the fallenness of the world on its head. I wish you good humor; the capacity to see the world in its enduring fun, in the childlike splendor of its small, funny, giggling-baby moments. And I wish you amusement at yourself. I'm pretty sure that among the many other things he has, God has laughter every day, because friends, humans are ridiculous and I believe God sees that as a downright precious thingWe're frail and noble in a single breath, we're epic in our loves and petty in our dislikes, we come in every variety of shape and size, hope and dream, and we bear in the broken clay of this earth and in our many eccentricities the image of deity. To laugh is to acknowledge the surviving glory of our creation, the utter depth of our need for redemption, the present, breathless grace of a perfect God coming to patch us back together and set us on our saved feet. In the immortal words of the wise Dr. Seuss: Humor has a tremendous place in this sordid world. It’s more than just a matter of laughing. If you can see things out of whack, then you can see how things can be in whack.

In sum, I wish you a strong sense of the sturdy ship of Love in which you're kept midst the roil of the worlds rough waters. I wish you joy in the voyage.

And a very happy new year!