His feet are clay.
As has ever been true of kings.
Some might say there is nothing in this to grieve. Nothing to cause fear. Certainly no reason for surprise.
What was true of Daniel’s king, was true of David, and true of Solomon, too. Has, in fact, been true of every man or woman to whom we have bowed or pledged our allegiance.
But I have heard the bitter weeping of the envoys of peace, and I am not satisfied with explanations or arguments or platitudes.
I go on dreaming. I go on singing. I go on telling tales of a better king.
This king “will take pity on the weak and the needy.”
This king will “defend the afflicted among the people.”
This king will “will be like showers watering the earth.”
My eyes have seen the king in his beauty.
I have glimpsed a land that stretches afar.
It is a peaceful abode and a place of broad rivers and streams.
No galley with oars rides them. In this place, even the lame carry off plunder.
Because the loaves and fishes are ever being broken and passed on, they multiply. Because the jar of oil is always being emptied, that jar is never dry. There is more than enough for me and my neighbor.
There is even enough for my enemy.
This is the song I sing, yet I cannot always be singing.
When I pause my song, when I wake, or when my story reaches its end, I weep.
I weep because the king we hold in our hands falls so very short of the king who ever walks on the edge of my dreams.
I sit by the river, and I weep when I remember all that I have seen. I weep when I remember the prayer of generations:
Thy kingdom come … on earth as it is in heaven.
*my own song is inspired by Psalm 72, Psalm 137, and Isaiah 33
Recently, someone wrote a blog post about a terrible injustice happening in our world.
I hear your deep sigh of recognition. Who wrote the post? What was the injustice? You know it almost doesn’t matter.
Aren’t our facebook feeds and blog readers and twitter accounts spilling over with painful stories of injustice? There is so much darkness. In our own small towns. In our own familiar cities. And in countries so far away we sometimes forget that they are more than just the names we hear repeated on the radio news.
When this blog post popped up in my email inbox, I read the title and then quickly shut my laptop. I told myself, I do not want to feel this. I cannot handle any more grief. Any more anger.
Especially when there is nothing I can do.
My daughter has been learning about the Holocaust. What began as a teacher-assigned classroom project has shifted into a personal obsession. Her bedroom walls are pale pink, there is still a doll on the center of her bed, but the bedside table is stacked with The Hiding Place and Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl.
After a difficult beginning, she has been processing it all fairly well. Stories of heroes and rescuers, especially, are helping her navigate the deep waters of our history.
But I am not doing so well.
It is a terrible thing to watch a child’s eyes being opened. Opened to terror. To darkness. To some brokenness in our world that began, I suppose, with Cain and Abel but simply Will. Not. Quit.
She would like to visit the Holocaust museum. I’ve told her no. Not yet. It is possible that she could handle it, but I feel sure that I cannot.
Is it ever okay to look away? To close the laptop? Plug up our ears? Maybe yes. Maybe no. I’m not really sure.
I did go back and read that blog post. It was as horrific as I had imagined, but there was also a clear call to action. There was a way for people to help, and many responded with a yes.
As I confronted my own feelings of powerlessness, I remembered that no one who prays is powerless.
I may never be able to rush around the world dispensing sure-thing solutions, but I can pray. And that is not a little thing.
Even prayer gives me hope. I have seen, again and again, that when we feel a tug to pray then God is already at work. He is the source of that tug. It is his invitation to join him in the great and beautiful thing he is already doing.
And as overwhelmed as I am, as weak as I feel, I hope I never say no to that.
My daughter’s eyes have been opened. But they have been opened to more than darkness. She is beginning to recognize the seed that has been planted inside of her: the seed of a rescuer. A lover of justice. A champion for rightousness.
Her mother is not those things. You do not want me to lead your campaign.
I am an observer. Once, I might have written that I am only an observer. But I have come to understand that those of us watching, quietly, from the edges, we are the ones who, when the moment is right, climb the high mountain and shout the good news of what we have seen: “Here is your God!” (Is 40:9)
We are unique, and our responses to suffering will be unique.
But may our prayer always be the same:
“… let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream” (Amos 5:24).
There is a river. How does that stream flow through you?
In our home, Friday night is for pizza. I imagine that is true for many of you as well.
For ten years, we lived in pizza heaven (also known as Chicago.) Late on Friday afternoon, we would decide which neighborhood pizza place was calling our name.
Within a few blocks of our apartment we had two long-time pizza restaurants that served traditional, deep-dish Chicago pizza. I still dream about that spinach pizza pie. One slice would make you grab your belly and groan. Every once in a while my husband managed two.
There was also the little Italian restaurant on 53rd Street with its gourmet, thin-crust pizzas. We loved a version with thinly sliced potatoes and fresh rosemary, but I made the mistake of eating it early in my pregnancy with my firstborn. It was years before I could eat that pizza without remembering first-trimester suffering. Every few months, my husband would ask, plaintively, “How do you feel about potato pizza?”
Toward the end of our decade in the city, a new “bake-at-home” takeout place opened up. It was a little more affordable than the other options, and the ingredients were incredibly fresh. Baby spinach, large leaves of basil, golden, caramelized shallots, rich, briny olives … I think we tried a new combination every Friday night.
Then we moved to Florida.
In Jacksonville, we sampled every pizza place in a 15-miles radius before accepting that things had changed. We’ve been making our own pizza ever since.
Our homemade pizza is cheap, quick, easy, and, oh my goodness, is it delicious. It may not be Chicago deep dish, but it is good.
I’m sharing a story of homemade pizza, practical hospitality, and prayer over at Grace Table today. I am also sharing our recipe.
Won’t you join me?
When I was invited to write about “quiet hospitality” at Grace Table, I knew just what I would say.
I meant to tell you all about the loud hospitality we used to practice. About the parties and events and big efforts. Those days were good, but they are long gone.
I meant to tell you about the daily rhythms of our current life at Maplehurst. Those quiet practices, like a cooked breakfast every morning and homemade pizza every Friday night, that are easy and natural to share with others.
But all the while a very different story was unfolding at my own kitchen table. And that is the story I’m sharing today.
Grace Table is about love for God, love for neighbor, and love for the table. If you haven’t yet spent time there, I suggest you do. The storytelling is excellent, and the recipes are mouthwatering.
It’s a delicious combination.
Find my story here.
I know that the killing freeze arrived later this year because I checked last year’s date in my journal. I understand that the cold air pouring in even as I type is, if anything, overdue, and yet I wish it had held off longer still.
Winter approaches, and I find myself afraid.
Most of the maple leaves have fallen, but the trees still wear a few. They look like dabs of watercolor paint. It is autumn’s last deep breath before the descent of winter’s gray veil.
Last winter was long, and the memory is still heavy. I love snow falling past the window, and I love pulling my children on a sled through the Christmas tree farm, but winter is not only that. Winter is also dark afternoons and ice in the chicken’s water and snow turned to mud.
We have all been sick for weeks, and I keep getting better only to get worse again. The baby’s eyes are red and infected, and our whole house shakes with bone-deep coughs.
I am too weary for bad news, I have kept the radio turned off, but terrible tidings slink in, like that draft around my office window. First there was a text from my friend. Such a devastating loss. A week later there was a phone call from family, and that one was so much worse.
They aren’t my stories to tell. Perhaps they aren’t stories at all. They are ruptures. Faultlines.
But you don’t need the details. I’m afraid you’ve heard them before. You, too, have received a text. You, too, have picked up that phone. These are the things that should never happen.
These are the stories every atheist mentions when he or she says they cannot, cannot believe in a good and loving and all-powerful God.
And I find I have no desire to argue with them. Such things should not happen. My atheist friends are absolutely right about that.
When the text came in, I started praying a prayer I’ve never prayed before. I think every true prayer is given, but the given-ness of this one was more apparent than most.
I prayed Let there be light.
I was still praying that prayer when the phone call came. And now I see no reason to stop. Lord, let there be some light. Dear God, please.
It is a winter prayer, and it beckons me toward spring promises:
For as the days of a tree, so will be the days of my people …
They will not labor in vain, nor will they bear children doomed to misfortune.
– Isaiah 65:22-23
I want to believe that these words are true, but I am thinking of two mothers. One labored in vain. One bore a child doomed to misfortune. At least, that is what appears to be so.
But what if death was no more the end than winter is the end? What if these words are yet true for these mothers and their children? All hope seems lost, but maybe that is a lie.
After the cross came an empty tomb in a springtime garden.
Winter is near. They say it will be long and cold. I know for certain that it will be dark. But I also know that on the other side of winter is spring.
On the other side of death is life.
I tend to think of seasons as four separate compartments to the year. Like nesting boxes in graduated sizes.
I forget that they are more like the Lego blocks in my son’s latest creation. Interlocking and overlapping. Difficult to pry apart.
Recently, I stood over the sink and ate a peach. It tasted perfectly peachy, and the juice ran in rivers down my right arm. Like a sunset, melting.
I held the fading summer sun in my hand, and watched gray clouds hauling themselves briskly across an autumn sky. Yellow leaves somersaulted across the grass.
I also tend to think of prayer in separate compartments. Like the paper trays I keep on my desk.
There is the inbox and the outbox. There is a spot marked urgent and one for the less pressing overflow.
If I think long enough, I can assign each prayer a neat label. Answered. Unanswered. Ongoing. Expires in five days. The paper trail of prayer is clearly defined. Requests move in one direction. Responses in the other.
But of course prayer is nothing like my paper tray. Of course, of course, I tell myself. Of course it is so much more like standing in a chill autumn wind while you hold summer in your hand.
The truly astonishing thing about prayer is not that our prayers are sometimes answered. The thing that never fails to startle me, to wake me up and scatter the paper piles of my mind, is that even the prayers themselves are given.
First, the prayer like one falling leaf.
Then, the answer, like the taste of that sweet peach.
On Friday, I breathed out the heaviness of the whole week with the thought It has been a long time since someone prayed for me.
That sort of thing was once a regular occurrence. I lived on a cushion of tightly knit community, and I rarely went more than a week or two without someone reaching out a hand. Someone holding out a prayer.
But two cross-country moves in four years have disrupted so many once-regular things. And every so often I let myself feel the jagged edges. Every so often I lean into them and breathe my own jaggedness.
Which is one way I know to pray without ceasing.
On Saturday a friend drove thirty minutes to come sit on my porch. While our children played, we talked. And we prayed.
She reached out her hand. She gave me her prayer.
I responded, with surprise and with gratitude, Amen.
Which came first? Like chickens and eggs. Like seeds and flowers. Prayers and answers are a puzzle I hope I never solve.