When a Child Reads Psalm 23

A tiny voice cut through the background of our conversation. My friend’s voice muffled as she responded to her daughter. I could imagine her standing there, her face serious as she laid out her request with all the rhetorical powers of a six year old.

“Diana,” my friend said into the phone, “she wants to read you Psalm 23. She’s been practicing.” 

A high little-girl voice came through the phone then: 

“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.”

I stared out at our stripped maple tree as it bobbed and twisted in the wind. I watched the rain fall, watched it bead and drip from the branches. The window glass was cool under my forehead. 

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“He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” 

The words came with mechanical precision. She was proud to read them by herself. But behind each carefully pronounced word were truths she had yet to experience. For her, they were words on a page. For me, they were anchors. They were lifelines that kept me tethered. They were deep desires in my heart.

I closed my eyes against tears and listened.

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” 

She didn’t know the power of the words she repeated. She hadn’t tasted the myriad pains that made them a comfort. She had not felt the ache of loss or the this-should-not-be of death. She had not wept through the dark valleys of shattered dreams, fleeting health, or the world’s marathon of injustices. She had yet to fear evil. She had not longed for those quiet, still, restorative oases of God’s presence. She had not discovered the hidden treasure of inexplicable joy. She had not felt the weight of faith.

“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.” 

When she finished, and I said an emphatic “good job,” I exhaled an amen to the unknowing prophet of a child’s voice.

Reluctant Spring: Friday Morning Coffee #60

"If you walk along here," he said, tracing the tip of his pen along the shoreline, "you should be able to see the seals lying out on the sandbar. And here," the pen stopped, "there's a little shack people have assembled over the years. We always point it out, but some recent guests told us that it's pretty dilapidated from the storms this winter."

A few minutes later, we were walking on the beach. A chestnut Newfoundland lumbered past us with his owner. The dog stopped beside me and stood still while I ran my fingers through his thick tangles, and then he quietly dropped to the sand at my feet. "Therapy dog," the man explained with a smile. "Apparently he thinks I might be talking for a while."

The wind was brisk and moist, and I pulled my coat tight around my throat. Fog hung heavy over the water. We wouldn't be seeing any seals.

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We did, however, find the shack. I found it to be a perfect picture of New England at the end of another long winter. A bit bedraggled, part of the fence leaning more like a ramp than a barrier, but still standing in all its quirky glory, defiantly (or desperately) waiting for the return of the summer sun. It made me chuckle.

We're biding our time here with a reluctant spring. It's always this way. It comes in fits and starts, sweet talking us with sunshine and the promise of warmer days, then sending me, resigned, back to my pile of thick winter sweaters. It will bud and blossom into a seductive New England summer at some point - and then we'll remember why we love it here. 

I love the surety of the shifting seasons. It may be cold today and threatening snow, but I know that one of these days spring will tighten its grip and life will return. Green buds will film on the skeletal branches of our neighbor's towering maple. Bees will dance over tiny white flowers on the hedge along my walk into town. I will throw open the windows to the warm breeze, and I will move my office outside to the small glass-topped table on the porch. We'll all finally stumble out of our hibernation into lines at the ice cream stand and a bonfire on the beach. It will come. 

In the beginning of this Easter season, I'm reminded of the surety of another life dawning. I am sure of the resurrection spring will bring. I am also sure of the resurrection God will bring when He restores all things, when He finally and ultimately makes all things new. Jesus' resurrection from the dead two millennia ago was simply the first fruit, the first budding, the first shimmering warmth of a New Creation. And, as much as I love a New England summer, it's this promise of Life I long for the most.

Happy Friday, my friends. And Happy Easter.

Spectacle of Too Much Weight: Friday Morning Coffee #59

Good morning, friends. 

Today is the day we call Good Friday, the day we commemorate the death of Christ. What a profound mystery, for the "author of life" to die. For the one who promised eternal life to stop breathing. For heart of the one who called himself the resurrection and the life to stop beating. What a mystery, that God would condescend to pave a way for our salvation, and that it would come in such a form.

Today it's making me think of John Donne's poem "Good-Friday, 1613, Riding Westward." Here's a snippet for you:

Who sees God's face, that is self-life, must die;
What a death were it then to see God die?
It made His own lieutenant, Nature, shrink,
It made His footstool crack, and the sun wink.
Could I behold those hands, which span the poles
And tune all spheres at once, pierced with those holes?
Could I behold that endless height, which is
Zenith to us and our antipodes,
Humbled below us? or that blood, which is
The seat of all our souls, if not of His,
Made dirt of dust, or that flesh which was worn
By God for His apparel, ragg'd and torn?

This "spectacle of too much weight," as Donne calls it, is the beautiful mystery that stands at the core of our faith. Because of the grace poured out for us on the Cross, we can look at this moment of cataclysmic tragedy as a place of hope. This is why we call this day of blood and sorrow "good." 

As we mark this somber day - and as we look forward to Easter on Sunday - may we remember that behind each pang of agony was a Love that would stop at nothing to work out redemption. May we remember this mystery of Love - and be thankful. 

Would I Have Mocked?

If I had been there on that day, as the Savior of the world hung on a Roman cross, would I have mocked him? Would I have mocked the strange work of God, this salvation in flesh tortured?

We read of more mocking than mourning at the Cross. The faithful are few, and they are the ones who are the misfits and the marginalized, the ones least likely to be heroes in the Kingdom of God. A crucified criminal. A cluster of women, a vulnerable group with limited rights and limited access to their own religion. The Gentile solider overseeing the execution, who can’t help but cry out “Surely, this man was the Son of God. Surely, he was innocent!” They are the ones who stood on the outskirts, but they are the ones who could see.

The disciples are conspicuously absent. Another criminal, slowly loosing breath and blood, scorns Jesus from his own cross. The chameleonic mass who had cheered Jesus only a week before throw insults at him. 

When Jesus prays, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do,” so many faces could have been before his mind. The Roman soldiers, hardened by violence, who have no idea whose body they are breaking. The Jewish leaders, too blinded by their need to be right to see the prophecies fulfilled before their eyes. The crowd, who are aimless without a good shepherd. The disciples, too afraid to stand by him.

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"Surely, we would have been different. Surely, we would have been faithful," we think.

But I wonder. I look at my own heart—the one that wants the easy way, the one that wants to be right and in control, the one that thinks I have the answers—and I wonder. 

We demonize the Jewish religious leaders, but I doubt we would have looked much different. They were the models of devotion. They took their faith seriously and meticulously applied it to their lives. They studied Scripture and had it seared on their memories. They knew their “theology” and had answers for the hard questions of faith. They knew how God worked. They were confident of their right standing with God and understood what it meant to be “saved.” They led respectable lives. They had it together. 

But at the foot of the Cross, they were the ones who could not see. For all the Scripture they had read and studied, memorized and applied, they mocked the One whose story filled its pages. The One they had waited for hung before them, his body broken, bruised, and bleeding, and their mouths shouted insults. They delighted in his downfall.

They couldn’t see God’s work in the foolish things, the weak, the lowly, the despised (1 Cor. 1:27-28). They couldn’t see victory in defeat. They couldn’t see that their need for freedom was greater than Roman occupation. They couldn’t see how small their comprehension was of who God was, of who He welcomed into His Kingdom. 

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven…” Jesus said. Lord, may we find You in our poverty, our hunger, and our mourning. May we find You in the lowly things. Lord, help us to see.

Why Weren't You Waiting at the Tomb?: Friday Morning Coffee #58

Good morning, friends. 

Do you ever have those moments when something you've read countless times suddenly surprises you with something new? You come back expecting the same story and there's a new detail or a new lesson you'd never noticed before? 

Here's one that hit me this morning as I was reading Matthew's account of Jesus' death and burial: 

"The chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, 'Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, 'After three days I will rise.' Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, 'He has risen from the dead,' and the last fraud will be worse than the first.'" (Matthew 27:62-64)

I've been overwhelmed this year by just how specific Jesus is in preparing his disciples for what's to come:

"[Jesus] said to his disciples, 'You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man [his favorite name for himself] will be delivered up to be crucified.'" (Matthew 26:1-2)

But his death wasn't the only thing he predicted. He also predicted that he would rise after three days in the grave.

He was so clear about it that even the religious leaders who hated him and had him killed knew about it. They posted a guard at the tomb not simply because of potential shenanigans of the disciples. They wanted a guard because Jesus himself predicted that he would come back to life.

Did the disciples not remember Jesus' repeated prediction - or dare we say, promise? Was it too far-fetched to believe? 

It would be easy to criticize the disciples. They fled in fear as Jesus was arrested. Peter betrays him. They're hiding behind locked doors on the day of Jesus' Resurrection. Thomas won't believe until he can touch Jesus' scars.

It's easy to say, "Why did this catch you by surprise? Were you so hard of hearing? Were the Jewish religious leaders listening more closely to Jesus than you were? Why weren't you there on that 'third day' waiting outside the tomb, watching this miracle take place?"

But their response is so...human. And when I look at my own heart, my words of criticism and judgment dissolve. I'm not so different from them. 

As I wrestle through the life of faith, I'm thankful I follow the same Lord that they did. Who appears beyond the locked doors. Who graciously allows Thomas to touch him. Who meets me on the road and helps me understand. Who, even when I'm hobbling along, is faithful to keep His promises.