At the End of All Our Journeys

“We thank and praise you, Lord, for the gift of your victory over death, for the gift of holy awe that comes upon us as we enter into our Easter joy. Christ has passed from death to life, may we always know you as our way through the desert, our food and drink as we thirst. You are our safe passage through treacherous waters and the home that awaits us at the end of all our journeys.”

- an Easter prayer, from God For Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Lent and Easter

 

DSC_3851_1

DSC_3914_1

DSC_3938_1

Why I Will Not Set My Mind on Things (Too Far) Above

Today, I glimpsed the first haze of pink on the old magnolia tree that towers over one corner of our yard. It is a magnolia tree worthy of a fairy-tale palace, but it presides over a chicken coop and a child’s yellow plastic swing. In summer it becomes the world’s largest shade umbrella, but in April it is a miracle. Too impossibly beautiful to be true.

I have witnessed this tree in bloom only once. I have waited eleven months to bear witness for a second time, but I am scheduled to leave town tomorrow for five days.

I can hardly bear it. Five days of good books and good talk and good friends, but I would trade all of it to be there the very moment the first pink flower opens. I imagine that if I am there I will finally solve a great mystery. If I stand still, and I do not blink, perhaps I can determine once and for all whether the flowers open or whether they alight on the branches like a flock of pink birds.

Last year, I blinked and became sure a great crowd of delicate rose-tinted wings had settled in the branches overnight.

***

Painted in Waterlogue

***

Set your mind on things above. Those were the words I remember printed on the postcards and posters, magnets and bookmarks in the Christian bookstore I used to visit as a child. I do not remember any books in that store. But I remember Precious Moments figurines, and I remember those words.

Even as a child, I mistrusted them. And not only because they showed up on magnets meant to secure grocery lists to refrigerator doors.

They are good and true words. They are Scripture words, but they seemed at odds with my own way of seeing. As long as I can remember, I have been taken with the miniature flowers blooming in the crack of a sidewalk. With acorn caps like fairy hats. With the hollow spot in the trunk of the mulberry tree, just the right size for my small china dog.

In other words, I have always seen worlds at my feet. I have always seen infinity under a magnifying glass.

And if this great “above” is the blankness of the sky, if it is only a screen onto which I project my preconceived ideas about the Christ who is holding everything together, then I will stick with the things below. Not money or plans. Not ambition or to-dos. But the things we pass by in our rush toward all that does not matter.

Dead, brown grass beginning to creep with green.

Daffodil leaves like bunny ears reaching just a bit higher every day.

And even the heartbreak of tulip leaves chewed to the quick by hungry deer.

***

If I must set my mind on some thing above, I will not let it float too high. I will set it just there, no higher than the highest branch of the world’s most beautiful magnolia tree.

I will set it there, and remember what the stories say. That we began to walk with God in a garden. That Jesus the Christ gave the thief on the cross a great promise: Today you will walk with me in a walled garden, a paradise.

And I will turn my eye toward eternity in the very spot where eternity begins.

Which is the ground, the ever-flowing, ever-renewing, ground beneath my feet.

***

Painted in Waterlogue

***

This Is The Beginning That Has No End

I have seen the first snowdrop, and I have seen the first crocus. Eight baby chicks are cheeping away in our basement.

Seasons generally do not shift like clockwork. They tend to pour like water. But as I stood in the yard yesterday, ringing that snowdrop bell with the tip of my boot, I was fairly sure that this was spring’s beginning. It’s exact, precise beginning, almost perfectly timed with the calendar month.

If spring has a beginning, it also has an end. I could see it unfolding in my mind’s eye: from snowdrop and crocus through daffodil and tulip and all the way on to snap peas and strawberries ripening in June.

***

Three years ago, I was living in Florida. I had only ever been in Florida for vacation, and our two years living there felt like an endless vacation. Which sounds lovely but was, in reality, devastating. At a certain point in every vacation, if that vacation is long enough, you find that you want nothing more than to go home.

Living in Florida, I couldn’t put down roots no matter how hard I tried. And every day my longing for home grew. I cried rivers of tears, and my tears were a prayer: God, please bring me home.

Often when we pray, we have some object in mind. I certainly tend to. But this prayer was different. It was more desperate, and, I think, more powerful, because I had no idea where my home might be. I only knew I needed it. Wanted it. Could hardly live without it.

In my desperation, I began to hear God speak. There is a ballpoint-ink star in my Bible. It is dated three years ago, and it marks these words: “A fountain will flow out of the Lord’s house” (Joel 3:18). Beneath those words I wrote this: “Fountain House Dream.”

I can no longer remember what I thought those words meant. Quite likely I had no idea. Today, I am only beginning to understand them.

***

The day we found Maplehurst, our Pennsylvania home, we visited eight old houses. The only house with a fountain on the property was this one.

Since we moved here a year and a half ago, I’ve imagined that those words “Fountain House Dream” were a small but surprising confirmation. A way of knowing that, yes, this was the place for us.

But I am beginning to think these words mean more than that. I am beginning to think they point toward my true home, which is not opposed to this pile of bricks called Maplehurst, but somehow deeper. As if I could step inside my own front door, and into some other reality. Some endless place.

Spring at Maplehurst has a beginning and an end, and yet observing spring on this hilltop has shaped my imagination. I am waiting for my magnolia to bloom, but I am beginning to see a perpetual spring. Not simply a spring that returns every year, but a spring that is endless.

I believe we were made for spring. We were made for newness. We were made for a spring that never pours itself out. This is spring like a fountain. This is spring like living water – not still water – and it is always new.

I think, despite lying appearances, that we may be living in just this season. I think it began with the very first Easter. Jesus was a seed, planted in death and sprouted in resurrection, and that seed has been growing ever since.

And so it is spring, though early spring. We still see so much dead grass. But come further up. Come further in. The snow has gone. Spring showers water the earth. Flowers are stirring, and water is flowing.

Easter will soon follow. It is our annual reminder, our yearly celebration: we are living a spring with no end.

***

(photo by yours truly)

(photo by yours truly)

***

Lent: A Love Story

I thought there was only one way to tell the story. I was sure there was only one way to begin.

The beginning was the black page in my own little copy of the wordless book. The beginning was the black bead on the bracelet I made in Vacation Bible School. The beginning was the first bullet point in every gospel tract I’d ever seen. The beginning was that first brick on the Romans Road to Salvation: we all have sinned.

Sin, separation, estrangement: this is how the story always began.

***

the weight of knowledge

***

I thought I knew the story. I thought I had it right.

It began with a great debt. I owed this Christ everything. This is the story I was taught, and this is the story I believed.

This is the story that has shaped my whole life. And this is the story I still believe.

But I spent years crawling my way back to the beginning of the story. And ten years ago, I arrived. Desperate with pain and unmet desire, I let go of that black page. I let go of the blood-red, and I let go of the white.

I’d spent my whole life clinging to my own cleanness, my own goodness, trying to pay back the debt I owed, but it no longer mattered. The only things that mattered were these: was I known? Was I loved?

***

When belief unraveled, when it no longer seemed to matter if I was good, I heard this: I see you.

God didn’t care if I was good. And he didn’t care if I believed. But he cared that I was hurting.

Because he loved me like I love my babies. And he held me like I hold my babies.

He held me until I could say, like Job, “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.”

***

It is Lent, and I am thinking about sin. I am thinking about the Love I encountered ten years ago.

My prayer these weeks has been the same every day. It is brief and simple: search me, O God, and know my heart. The result has been surprisingly straightforward. It has felt like God placing a mirror right in front of my face.

I can’t help but see what the mirror reflects, and I cringe. I see something ugly, something so buried I would never have discovered it on my own, and I feel the expected shame. I’d like, just for a moment, to forget what I’ve seen. But then another thought occurs to me: it takes such love to hold up that mirror. Thank you, God, I whisper. Thank you for loving me enough to show me this.

It’s as if God is the friend who won’t let me leave the house with spinach stuck between my teeth or toilet paper clinging to my shoe. What a relief it is to have a friend like that.

***

And so, I have finally arrived at the black page. The black bead. The first brick. But I am not afraid. I am not ashamed. At least, not for long. Because I know what comes next. I know about the blood-red, and I know about the white.

And this story?

It is a love story.

***