The Cross

geralt/24190 images, Pixabay

“I see no alternative, each of us must turn inwards and destroy in himself all that he thinks he ought to destroy in others.  And remember that every atom of hate we add to the world makes it still more inhospitable.

And you, Klaas . . . dismayed and astonished at the same time, say “But that – that is nothing but Christianity!”  And I, amused by your confusion, retort quite coolly, “Yes, Christianity, and why ever not?”    From Etty Hillesum, An Interrupted Life

 

Etty Hillesum was a Dutch Jew, an author who recounted in her diaries the story of Jewish deportation to German concentration camps in the second world war.  Her journals grapple with the evil perpetrated on helpless victims, and the complexity of those who collaborated.  Caught up in the relentless Nazi machinery, she was sent to Auschwitz where she was murdered in 1943.

On Good Friday, the only truly innocent man the world has ever known was sentenced to death.  But Jesus himself knew he could not take on fully the human condition unless he carried our sin, bore the brunt of its consequences in his own person.  He came for that purpose, and determinedly set his face towards Jerusalem to die there.

As Christians, we often try very hard to avoid the way of the cross, for ourselves and for others.  I remember once realizing with sinking heart that I’d crucified someone in my desperation to be free.  A vision of Jesus appeared, laid down on the boards of a cross, being nailed into place.  As much as, in that moment, I wanted to turn back and take him off,  I knew that this had to happen, that it was the only hope of a way forward.    Jesus hangs in our place, blocks punishment and vengeance, and gives us all the undeserved grace of new life instead.  It’s so amazing that it’s beyond my comprehension.

Etty did not survive the war, but her words did.  She became “the chronicler of this age” that she had wanted to be.  Not only as a victim and witness of evil, but also a victor who loved her fellow human beings.

Like a true Jesus-follower.

 

 

 

 

The Teacher

 

Reigi, Google Translate
“Truth, like love and sleep, resents
Approaches that are too intense.”
            W.H. Auden, The Double Man
When we were waiting in the Calgary airport a number of years ago, we witnessed two Japanese women in kimonos greet each other, bowing in turn a great number of times. It’s clear that Japan values this courtesy and politeness to a degree that we don’t usually see in Canada.
As preparation for his high school student exchange term in Japan, my son-in-law learned some rules of Japanese culture.  He was taught to never ask a question for which you don’t already know the answer.  For a person to say “No,” would mean someone losing face.  Needless to say, this requires time and a great deal of tact and diplomacy.
Communication across cultures or hierarchies can be difficult, especially when the person to be addressed is in a position of power, or when we prefer not to have open conflict on major issues.   In medieval times, a court jester or fool could use sly humour to get across a point to a monarch.  Hamlet used theatre to confront his murderous stepfather-uncle, and the prophet Nathan told a simple story of injustice so that King David, in effect, pronounced sentence on himself.
Jesus’ parables, too,  have multiple layers of meaning, characters with different viewpoints, stunningly illogical endings at times.  As we grapple with them, we gradually absorb their concepts.  In so doing, we are introduced to ourselves.  It is a kind way to address complex and difficult topics.
This circuitous route is eye-opening, not only to confront wrong or to highlight what is actually happening, but also when the beauty of truth is too overwhelming, when we have to cover our eyes at the brightness and glory of it.  Some experiences can’t be described in our limited vocabulary, they elude ordinary senses.  There are worlds of wonder, but we can only glimpse the splendours.
Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise . . .
Emily Dickinson
We are given great gifts in analogies, experiences, metaphors, juxtaposition, similes: “The kingdom of heaven is like . . .”   It requires a poet’s attentive eye and the courtesy of listening with unstopped ears for the lessons that are all around us.  It is God’s gracious stooping to bow down to our level, and we in turn bowing in our acknowledgement of Him.

For Whom the Bell Tolls

 

With thanks, ddzphoto, pixabay.com

“Any man’s death diminishes me, for I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

– John Donne

If life has taught me anything, it’s that we are connected, not only to our own little circle, but also to someone who may be living half way across the world.  In our digital age,  pictures of war in Ukraine can be beamed by satellite in seconds, and we all experience their tragedy.

Our connection is also evident when you study the history of great inventions.  Many times the original inventor comes up with only a germ of an idea.  But that idea gets picked up by another person who greatly enhances it so that it is now relevant and marketable to the general public.    We’ve seen that, as all the small practices of our household can contribute to a giant problem with waste that now affects everyone’s environment.

Scientists connect galaxies and all living things as coming from a single point before the big bang 13.7 billion years ago.  So it makes sense that what I do may have consequences for someone far away from me in either place or time.  And spiritually, as part of humanity, we are children of God who can reach out to Him and each other through unseen channels of prayer, love and grace.

“From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.  God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.  For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, `We are his offspring.’            Acts 17:26-28

Our being here is no accident of random chance.   Many of those we knew of the older generations have passed on, but each person was unique.   We remember their kindness or perseverance, or quirks.  There are no replacements, and so we grieve.

If we are diminished by those we have lost, it is also conversely true that we are gifted whenever there is new life.  A friend sent a happy text this morning to announce the arrival of her new grand-daughter.  Several degrees of separation away, I can still share her joy.

Our local hospital has a custom of announcing the birth of a new baby by broadcasting the bells of a lullaby over their intercom.  It’s a cheery note of hope that makes us smile when we hear it.  Bells were messengers that announced departures,  and it’s a nice touch to have them proclaim new arrivals.  Either way, it’s a reminder that life is a very precious gift.

 

Dancing

Sing the Poem

It’s in the rhyming,
Or maybe in the timing,
But the throbbing of the beat
Sets to tap-tapping my feet.

Poet, ply and play your trade
With poetry you have made.
Come sing with us, sun and moon!
Come dance on the lilt of the tune.  

Spring is still several weeks away, but there’s something about its approach that already lightens my mood in anticipation.   Soon heavy winter gear and wool sweaters can be stored away for another season.     And I look forward to a resurrection of new life as plants and trees rouse themselves from their long sleep to again fill the world with riotous colour.

Spring has its own challenges, true.  The force of nature in springtime can feel wild and chaotic and determined.  It will be wonderful to see the birds building their nests, but our resident woodpecker began yesterday, once more, to drill into our deck siding.  There’s work to be done in springtime, planting of gardens, grass to cut.

Winter has its icy dangers,  but I am always aware of our vulnerability in spring and summer as we move outdoors.  Life seems teeming and reckless in its abandon.  At least once in springtime, I will feel an overwhelming wave of sadness.  Spring and summer, when we are freer, can feel dangerous.  It’s more difficult to enclose and protect our loved ones from harm.

But in spring, sorrows don’t stay for long.  They recede in the warmth of the sun, in the breeze that caresses us like a lover and invites us once again to live our own lives fully.    Eternity is forever, but our time here is so limited that we want to take in all that we can.  As the poet Mary Oliver asked, “what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

And even if no one else is around, we can turn up the music and dance while we do our household chores.   We can dance in the dark, under the stars, in sacred solitude.

 

Echo

“There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known.  What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs.”         Luke 12:3

Jesus is speaking to the Pharisees, the learned men of his day, who appeared respectable in society, but whose corrupt inner lives would eventually be exposed for all to see.   This Bible story is thousands of years old, but it’s amazing how much it can speak to our internet era, how more and more our voices can be broadcast from the rooftops (or cell towers, even).

With an eye to the future, our son presented us with an Amazon Echo as a Christmas gift.   Certainly it has potential to be a help in our senior years.  Alexa is truly very smart and can cheerfully search for any information we need.  She can play our favourite music,  and turn on the light.   She can respond to our whisper with a whisper.

It just feels as if there’s not much privacy left.

Cell phones track our movements, financial transactions leave a trail, photos have geographical co-ordinates encrypted within them.  Laptops have webcams.  When away from home, you can turn up the heat, start your laundry online.  Our car is monitored by afar by the manufacturer, and we receive regular e-mail notifications after checkups. Advertisers track our Google searches and Facebook notes our lingering on a post.  It’s as if the whole world is now like a small village, where everybody knows everybody else’s business.

In this kind of environment, we have a real responsibility to live lives of  integrity, consistent in both inner and outer lives.  More than ever, we also need to be cautious of a careless word, or of airing grievances.  It can be amplified instantaneously over the world, echoing off satellites and affecting many more people than ever before.

“You never can tell, when you send a word,
Like an arrow shot from a bow,
By an archer blind, be it cruel or kind,
Just where it may chance to go.
It may pierce the breast of your dearest friend,
Tipped with its poison or balm.
To a stranger’s heart in life’s great mart
It may carry its pain or its calm . . . “

From You Never Can Tell, by Ella Wheeler Wilcox, 1850-1919