Radio Silence

I’m planning on going dark on social media over the next day or so. Partly, it’s for my own sanity; once in a while, I just need a cleanse. Need to stop being bombarded by the constant noise of online interaction. I love it – don’t get me wrong. My extrovert comes out in full force on social media; likes and comments, retweets and interactions are her drugs and she just needs a fix. But sometimes I realize that I’ve been living so much through my online interactions that my soul has begun to fray around the edges. And so I go dark – maybe for a day, maybe for less, maybe for more – and I shut off the noise, and I detox.

But this time it has a secondary purpose. I’ve done this radio silence at this time of year before. It is especially meaningful now, this weekend, more than others.
For this is the time when God went dark.
I wonder what it must have been like on the day of the crucifixion to see the sky growing dark in the middle of the day. I wonder if there was silence in the Temple after the priests heard the veil rent from top to bottom. I wonder how John must have felt, this woman, his Teacher’s mother, commended to his care, with no more chance of hearing the caring tones of the One who brought them together. I wonder if Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea spoke as they took the Christ’s body from the cross and moved it to a tomb. I wonder how Peter longed to hear his Lord speak words of forgiveness of his denial.
There is silence in death. Whatever commotion comes before it, when the last breath is breathed, quiet falls. Whatever grief and keening comes after it, there is a moment – however brief – as the realization settles in, when silence reigns.
There is darkness in death – both spiritually and physically. The eyes close, light no more to enter or exit them. The light that is personality, life, spark – the beaming smile, the sparkling eyes – goes dark. Before candles are lit in memory there is the closing of a casket, shutting out the light.
The Tenebrae service recognizes the darkness of death, the quiet of it. One by one, as the passages walk us through the darkness of betrayal, the darkness of Gethsemane, the darkness of denial, of accusation, of death, of burial, candles are snuffed and the light goes slowly from the room. And in the end, we sit, silent, in the darkness.
I’m going dark this weekend to meditate on the darkness of the death of Christ. The silence of God in a time of need.
I am fortunate to know what John and Mary, Joseph and Nicodemus, Peter and the Priests did not know. I am fortunate to know that light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. That knowledge changes my purpose as I take part in the silence, as I consider the darkness. Darkness now is not hopelessness. Death is now not an end.
The extinguished light in death is still real. The silence after the death rattle is still real. But I see them differently with what I know about the first fruits from the dead. A walk through a graveyard is a different experience when you know about resurrection.
Russ Ramsey, in “The Last of a Generation,” writes:
Over the years, as this church’s property has yielded to progress, the original sanctuary has expanded to add a wing of classrooms, offices, and the small chapel where we gathered to remember Nana. Filling the yard to the east of the sanctuary is a cemetery with ghost-white limestone markers dating back before the Civil War. They stand tall, thin, and rounded. I see one that actually bears the inscription “R.I.P.”
When it came time to build a fellowship hall, the land to the west was already developed to capacity. So they built a stand-alone structure on the east side of the cemetery. The strange effect is that for a person to go from the fellowship hall to worship, they have to pass through the center of this garden of graves.

As we walk, my cousin points at a headstone bearing my mother’s maiden name-Aspinwall…Just like the others, this headstone offers nothing but a name and a date. Yet for every pilgrim moving between the fellowship of men and the sanctuary of God, these headstones-like a choir half buried, half rising from the dead-sing the same refrain: For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, a time to die, and a time for the life that happens in between…

I don’t have all the time in the world. One day I will leave this fellowship of the saints I love so much, and I will step across that threshold into an eternal sanctuary of exultant praise in the presence of the Maker and Lover of my soul. Between the two I will be buried. People will gather and offer words in my memory. They will lay my body down in a grave and my headstone will rise from the dirt and join the chorus in the land of the living, singing: “A time to be born, a time to die, a time to live again.”
Nate Wilson says that in death we are planted, that graveyards are a garden planted with seeds.2 “These are seeds, these are human seeds waiting a long time to break the earth, to grow…As Christians with faith, we know that when we walk a graveyard we are walking a Farmer’s field. And we’re not the Farmer. This is not our field. This is Somebody else’s field. This is His crop we’re walking on…the entire globe has gone from one little garden to an entire sphere that has been planted. This world is God’s garden. This world is His field, and there is going to be an enormous harvest. The corn will see the springtime. When the end does come, I think we’ll see an eruption. I think the resurrection is going to come with thunder and it’s going to be more dramatic than any spring has ever been.”3
Where, O Death, is now thy sting? Swallowed up in victory.
I’m going dark for a time this weekend. Radio silence. I am taking time to consider the darkness, to listen to the silence.
For anticipation is part of the gift. Crocuses bloom through dead leaves, making them beautiful again.
Easter is all the more beautiful when examined through the lens of Good Friday. Resurrection morning is coming. It will be all the brighter if I consider what it took to get there.
Notes:
1 Ramsey, Russ. “The Last of a Generation.” The Molehill, Vol. 1. Nashville: Rabbit Room Press, 2012. p. 189-191. 

2 Wilson, N.D. Notesfrom the Tilt-a-Whirl. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2009. 

The Center Point

It often seems that my Advent meditations center around a single idea – often something meaningful to my reflections on the past year. Sometimes they’re painful meditations. Sometimes they are joyous. Sometimes they are revelations. Sometimes they’re old truths.

This year’s meditations have focused the coming of the Christ as the center point of history. From creation to new creation, it all revolves around this one moment, in a little town in Judah, when the Redeemer of the world arrived as a newborn infant. Creation, Fall, Redemption: all wrapped together in skin and laid in a manger.
Jesus: the Lord saves. Emmanuel: God with us.
This has been, for me, a Rabbit Room year. Yes, technically my sister introduced me to the place more than a year ago, but this is the year when I’ve really experienced the community: had my eyes opened to the life being lived in that community and joined it myself. The Rabbit Room had a community Christmas gift exchange this year, and, while I didn’t have the time to get involved myself, I wanted to share my thanks for the gifts the Rabbits have given me.
The artists who lead the community have blessed me beyond measure with the liturgy they’ve worked. Their songs, their stories, their essays, their insights have opened my eyes to new ways of looking at the world God has made and our role in it as Christians.
The people who populate this cyber community have impacted me in ways they may not know. They’ve guided my steps as I’ve started this journey of discovery; they’ve shared their stories, their lives, their sorrows, their risks, their hearts. I have been encouraged. I have been challenged.
Without these groups, I may have considered Christmas differently this year. I may not have seen a Boy’s birth as the center point of all history. Perhaps this was what God intended me to see this year anyway, but He used the members of the Rabbit Room to point and say, “Look.” So here are some glances at the Christmas story as I’ve experienced it this year. May you see the Center Point and never look away.

from N. D. Wilson’s Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl:

“Plan the event. Arrange the reception. The King of kings is coming. He will shoulder governments. He will be called the Prince of Peace, Wonderful Counselor…

“The Lord of all reality is coming to your hemisphere. And He, the pure Spirit, will take on flesh and need to eat and breathe and move His bowels, and have His diaper changed…

“He will be a carpenter, with splintered and blistered hands and cracking nails. One of His grandmothers was a whore of Jericho. He will enter the womb of a virgin and expand in the normal way. He will exit her womb in the normal way. And then she will suckle Him as the cows do their calves. Because, well, He will be mammal…

“The Lord came to clean the unclean. He brought the taint of Holiness, and it has been growing ever since. He was born in a barn and slept in a food trough. Maybe the livestock all took gentle knees, cognizant and pious, like the back page of a children’s Christmas book. Maybe they smacked on their cuts and continued to lift their tails and muck in the stalls.

“The angels knew what was going on even if no one else did. They grasped the bizarre reality of Shakespeare stepping onto the stage, of God making Himself vulnerable, dependent, and human–making Himself Adam. And so, in a more appropriate spirit, they arranged a concert and put on what was no doubt the greatest choral performance in planetary history.

“Were the kings gathered? Where were the people with the important hats? Where were the ushers, the corporate sponsors?

“The Heavenly Host, the souls and angels of stars, descended into our atmosphere and burst in harmonic joy above a field and some rather startled shepherds.

“But the crowd was bigger than that. The shepherds were a distinct minority. Mostly, the angels were just singing to sheep.

“I’m sure those animals paid attention, and not just because there was a baby in their food bowl.”

from Russ Ramsey’s Behold the Lamb of God: An Advent Narrative

“Though no one could have known all of this at the time, Jesus was the priest who became the sacrifice, the king who took on the form of a servant, the prophet who was himself the Word of God. He was Immanuel, God with us–Son of God, Son of Man.

“But the death and resurrection of Jesus only makes sense through the lens of his birth. God’s eternal Son, who was present at creation when God made man in his likeness, humbled himself and took on flesh, born in the likeness of man. The Maker knitted him together in Mary’s womb, fearfully and wonderfully forming each tiny part in the depths of her waters. God saw his unformed body. Every day ordained for him was recorded in his Father’s book of life before a single one had come to pass.

“And now he has come.

“Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”

from Andrew Peterson’s Behold the Lamb of God: The TRUE Tall Tale of the Coming of Christ

So sing out with joy for the brave little boy
Who was God, but He made Himself nothing
He gave up His pride and He came here to die
Like a man

So rejoice, ye children sing
And remember now His mercy
And sing out with joy
For the brave little boy is our Savior
Son of God,
Son of Man

Starry Nite

The evening’s activities put me in mind of the event a year earlier. The tone both similar and worlds apart – a celebration of the start of the Christmas season, but this year without the aching heart and scratchy eyes of the day’s grief. As I walked away, the voices, amplified by microphones, echoed off the trees, the strains of the violin soaring above them.

I walked toward my car, alone in the deserted lot at the far end of campus. The tenor, the alto, and the violin together, haunting echoes of the originals, rode the chilly, crisp air: “O night, O Holy night, O night divine!”

And alone, I wept at the beauty of it all, that the Conqueror came in peace1, on a quiet, holy night, to be pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; to take upon Himself the chastisement that brought us peace, to turn our sorrow into joy and our mourning into dancing. The power of Death was undone by an Infant born of glory2.

1 Jason Gray. “Easier.” Christmas Stories: Repeat the Sounding Joy.
2 Andrew Peterson. “Gather ‘Round Ye Children, Come.” Behold the Lamb of God.

Mystery


A child was born on Christmas Day
Born to save the world
But long before the world began
He knew His death was sure
The pain and strife secured

Mystery, how He came
To be a man
But greater still
How His death was in His plan
God predestined that His Son would die
And He still created man
Oh, what love is this
That His death was in His hands

The Christmas trees
They glow so bright
With presents all around
But Christmas brought
A tree of life
With blood that sacrificed
The greatest gift in life

Mystery, how He came
To be a man
But greater still
How His death was in His plan
God predestined that His Son would die
And He still created man
Oh, what love is this
That His death was in His hands

I am just a man and
Can?t begin to comprehend
When You look into this traitor?s eyes
What do You see that justifies the Lamb

God predestined that His
Son would die
And He still created man
Oh, what love is this
That His death was in His plan
Mystery, mystery


Music and Lyrics by Selah

Extravagance

“What Jesus said to [Mary in John 12], and those around Him as well including Judas, was ‘she has done a beautiful thing and wherever the Gospel is preached what she has done will be remembered.’ That is an amazing commendation for someone like me who tends to work from the heart, who tends to work with precious and costly materials. I remember that the extravagance of Christ’s love for me prompted an extravagant response. Eventually, I came to connect what I do as an artist with Mary’s devotional act. Maybe that is the one act we can look to as the centerpiece for a paradigm of creativity.”
~Makoto Fujimura

Men will grow in the oven.

A few weeks ago I needed to make cookies, and I had a hankering for gingerbread. And I also had molasses in the cupboard. And in the back of my brain was a memory that the best gingerbread cookies I’d ever had were from a Christmas recipe book that my uncle and aunt gave my mom for Christmas about 15 years ago.

So I called up my mom and described the book and the recipe I was looking for…the description went something like this: “It’s the one Uncle Paul and Aunt Elaine gave you one year. Sort-of country-ish? Christmassy, though. Yeah, and there’s a recipe in there. It’s either for molasses cookies or gingerbread cookies. I don’t remember what they’re called. Oh, gingerbread? Yeah, with molasses in the recipe. Yep, that’s them. Can you email me that recipe?”
I ran by the store and picked up a couple items I was missing and I came home to print off my mom’s email – and opened it, and read through, and began to laugh.
The final instructions read like this: “Add more flour if making gingerbread men. Cut them out and place them on the sheet. Men will grow in the oven.”
And my mom had added: “(yes the recipe says just that) 🙂 See if any men grow in YOUR oven.”
None did. Much as I tried. Instead, cookies came out. And they were a hit. A HUGE hit. All the college girls that ate them loved them. More than men.
I need cookies again this week. So I decided to see if men would grow in my oven again.
Still no men. But awfully good cookies.

Why He Came

For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

Crazy, Small-Town Parades

I thought that the small-town parade had been left behind me in Glennallen when I moved here from Alaska – really, who could compete with the shutting down of a main highway for 45 minutes at the height of tourist season so that the Electric Company and Parks Service can drive big trucks down the road and throw candy to the crowd.
But Newtown almost compares. There is a whole lot of character – and a bunch of characters, too.