the Passion is not pretty – an epistle

I am a sensitive person. I also have a visual memory. I have learned over the years that there are images and words spoken that will stay in my mind for a long time. As I have grown up, I have tried to limit certain intake that I knew would bother me.

I did not see “The Passion of the Christ” when it was released. I was thankful that someone had tried to make something that represented the story of Christ’s death and resurrection for all to see. I knew that I couldn’t watch it…it would be too real for me. And so I saw a couple pictures and realized I was probably right.

This year Lent came into my radar. Perhaps not for the first time, but the first time that I gave any thought to making it part of my spiritual life. And so after reading some very challenging posts by Margaret Feinberg in which she asked us to consider not only “to ask God what He’s calling you toward” but also “What do you want to lay hold of during Lent?

In some sense I had a good heart going in, but didn’t really know what it would look like. I have not been devoted in my reading of Scripture or of seeking what God is calling me towards in this specific 40 days that have been set apart. I have seen God challenging me in my pride, showing me my brokenness and bringing new life to scriptures I have seen previously. I am thankful that despite my unfaithfulness (as usual) he is faithful.

My church is a ‘church in a box’ which means we rent a property and upack and pack up church every Sunday. We have been doing this for 10 years or more. As a result we have had to be creative with our services, especially when days like Christmas Eve and Christmas lay on days we don’t have access to the school. So this year we are doing Easter a little differently, ‘Good Friday’ service will be this Sunday and ‘Easter Sunday’ will be on actual Easter Sunday.

as a means of getting our hearts ready to understand the horror and grace on Good Friday (the crucifixion of our Lord) a short video was shown in church. It made my stomach twist. I wanted to throw up. Every whip stroke on the back of the depiction of our Lord made my eyes well up with tears. The nail strikes and agony cries tore something deep within me and i realized that I had painted a picture that was somewhat more ‘pretty’ that the horror that took place that day. One of the images was something like this…

Passion Flogging-closeup-colored-web

and I wanted to turn away in horror. And i wondered, if i had been in the midst of those in the crowd, if I had been one of the followers at that time, if I would have turned away. If I would have abandoned my Saviour as what he went through was just ‘too much’ for me.

We have been reading through Genesis and exploring it in sermons for the past several months and its come alive in ways like never before. But the one thing that has most recently struck me is the story of the flood. It was created as such a fun, sanitized story growing up that the complete devastation of the World and God’s wrathful judgement upon the world were never something that were brought to light. Noah and his family being saved was grace, but that story is not all fun and games and brightly colored pictures. there is horror.

the same is true of the passion of Christ. While perhaps it wasn’t written in such ‘fun’ terms, it was certainly sanitized for those who are perhaps ‘faint of heart’. Very little blood, agony erased from his face, the destruction of his bodily form not found in too many depictions. And yet i wonder, was it people like me, who didn’t want to ‘see’ the true picture, turned away because it was just too horrible, that made a way for these depictions to be qualified as being true to the experience?

I gave up something for Lent. 40 days has been a long time. but 40 days was spent in the desert, without food and drink for the Lord. I am not sure the purpose of this time in the wilderness but i do know that his purpose in coming to earth was never far from His mind and as the time drew near, it was even more of a wrestling that his soul encountered. i can’t imagine the soul and body weakness that 40 days of fasting entails. i can’t imagine the depth of the agony and pain that his soul bore previous to the wrath of God being poured out on him for our sins. I can’t imagine that night in the garden where he was in such agony that his sweat turned to blood as he poured out his desire ‘that is there is another way, let it be. if not, they will be done’.

and i think about how ‘hard’ its been for me to give up what i have in life. How i’ve given in every now and again and turned my back on what i ‘gave up’. I haven’t pursued more of the Lord in this time, and I haven’t really sought what he’d have for me. and in the midst of this Lenten journey i’ve made it more of a ‘pretty’ and fun thing then the precursor to the cross that it is. And it took something very heart convicting and stomach churning to remind me of the cost. of the journey. of the days before this journey.

DSC_1346

Ann Voskamp has shard this image of a tool her family has to remind them of the journey of the cross. It lies in circular form with candles for each of the 40 days…and as the days progress the image of the Christ and his journey with the cross is moved closer to the center. Such a vivid reminder that this weight was on him, even in the 40 days as he faced the true testing of his humanity and spirit form.

yesterday I heard a song by Chris Tomlin called ‘White Flag’ and it was a rousing called to surrender all to Him. at the end there is a chorus chant that states ‘we lift the cross, lift it high’ and it struck me. Do we KNOW what this looks like? Do we understand the significance of the cross? of the suffering? of the complete agony suffered? the song was catchy, and I’m sure an amazing anthem of change in the hearts of many, but i wondered in the hype of singing such a song, if we truly understand (other than that one passion and tearfilled moment of singing) what that means. Do we even comprehend what taking up our cross looks like? what it might entail?

would it entail the change that the 40 days of Lent would turn into a lifetime of living changed…of a life always turned towards and revolving around the horror and the gift of the cross and what Christ accomplished in being THE sacrifice for our sins, the ONE AND ONLY complete means of satisfying our God’s wrath towards sin in the hearts of his created ones.

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Isaiah readings

today when doing my Women’s bible study I ended up reading Isaiah 52-53 and it was pretty brutal. it talks about what Christ looked like after being punished for trumped up claims, and also that though we so often seem to misunderstand what was taking place he died for what WE have done, he was spotless, there wasn’t sin IN him and yet he paid for ALL of our sin, covered each drop, not one was misplaced or forgotten. How easy it is to think of the cross being a semi grisly event and  not come to know that it was disgusting and painful as a way to die, but then the WEIGHT of God’s wrath was visited upon Christ, who was the ONLY one who could stand it (we as humanity would have been annihilated in a moment) and emerged victorious in the end. Lord thank you for this reminder as I walk towards EASTER time and attempting to wrap my head around the agony you endured on my behalf and the love you had for me that led you to say yes to this, and the love you have for all of your created humankind. thank you Jesus.

Lenten journey reflections

I went into this journey having no idea what to expect. But looking back I see that I had some unackowledged expectations if what would happen. While I knew that giving up something would be difficult, I think I thought that my relationship with God would be all butterflies and sunshine. Ah yes, such a delusional place.

Instead, and I am thankful for this, tge depravity of my sin has come to be revealed to me over and over again. I see the darkness of my heart, the mistakeness if my reactions and simetines the unhelpful nature of my words.

I have not been wallowing in this (I don’t think) but it has definately become more apparent to me. I am ever so thankful for grace. I am thankful for the studies this year that the Woman’s leadership team thought we should go through, stretched and shaped me and turned a mirror on those thibgs that are in constant need of change.

So this journey has been much different than I expected and perhaps for sone its a cleansing fast which seems to be what I’ve stumbled into, though not ohysical but spiritual.

And I have come to.see in part that I have been deaf and blind as Isaiah speaks of…and that I have been astray in spirit snd am on the journey to understanding.

Isaiah 29:18-19, 24 ESV

In that day the deaf shall hear, the words of a book,and out of their gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind shall see. The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the Lord, and the poor among mankind shall exult in the Holy One of Israel…And those who go astray in spirit will come to understanding,and those who murmur will accept instruction.”

lenten begins

Lent has never really been something that has appeared on my spiritual life radar much.

My dad grew up in the Presbyterian church (in NY state) and so when we visited my grandparents one year (perhaps march break) I remember helping my grandma serve Lenten luncheons at her church. I had no idea what I was doing, but I loved serving people (pretending to be a waitress) and I got to have my own little plate at the end of the day and eat with all the ‘dressed up’ ladies.

my friend is studying to be a United church pastor, and she often informs me about the ‘ways’ of the mainline church. She also informs me about the reading ‘schedule’ that many of those churches follow for the church calendar, which is a wonderful way of being introduced to similar ideas throughout the year and yet continues to delve deep into the Lord’s word.

so this year I decided I needed to do something different. alot of the blogs that I read had been mentioning Lent and I was particularly struck by Margaret Fienburg‘s statement:

Originally, Lent was designed as a time of preparation and worship for the believer. The forty days before Easter were set aside for penitence, prayer, and self-denial….But maybe the question we need to ask as we enter Lent isn’t, “What are you giving up for Lent?” as much as “What do you want to lay hold of during Lent?”  The wonders of God are waiting for you during Lent. This season is laced with opportunity that will stir your hunger to know God more. How will you lay hold of the wonders of Lent? Beginning on February 13, we have the opportunity to spend 40 days passionately pursuing God. How will you choose to seek God during this time? What expressions will your desire for God take? What do you want to lay hold of in greater measure through Lent?

When I begin something that I’m really excited about there is always the tendency to want to get it right. I mean do it the right way the first time. I’m all about perfection, i know, something that I’m still working through. And so in some sense I think that part of the giving up, besides an actual physical think that I will notice missing in my life (facebook) that perhaps it will also include a surrendering of the desire to be perfect, to do things perfect and to just BE and to just learn…and while that probably looks messy, there is no idea of striving for perfection in reflecting on our Lord’s journey towards the cross, that perhaps this will refresh my heart in its desire to know that there is a fallen-ness that is only redeemed through the beauty and horror of Easter’s celebration and mourning previous to the Lord’s resurrection.

she further states: take some time today to ask God what He’s calling you toward. and to me there is quiet in this. Staying quiet and listening are to things that I have a hard time doing. I know that to be a good friend that listening to hear what people are truly saying (not just their words) is an important thing. And I’m not too fond of silence, for some reason I often feel the need to fill up the space with words. But sometimes I find that I’m so busy talking at God that I don’t have time to stop and listen to Him. and then I wonder why it seems that its been so long since He and I last communicated in a way that I thought I began to even understand where He’s coming from.

some other thoughts that I’m reflecting on today:

Consolation of Mirth’s Ash Wednesday poem:

The ancient ash marks a weary brow.
This is not shame but blessing.
Line on line a simple cross;
Marked as one of God’s own. […]
Throw off the coverings.
They weigh you down.
Dust swirls in the light.
To dust, to dust, to dust…
you shall return.
We buckle under the weight,
and forget the blessing;
The miracle of what God can do
with the old dust.
Where the cosmos was gathered.
God-breathed, man-born.

and from Common Prayer:

O Love that keeps the heavens turning : draw us to you in all our yearnings.

a good reminder:

…so rare to have the opportunity to be intentional about seeking the Lord.