Friday, March 30, 2012

At Sunrise

The sun's slow arc breaks the horizon's purple rim,
its rise as slow and certain as the dimming stars in brightening blue.
The shy light of daybreak slants a seabird shadow over powder-pink sand.
Early in the morning, I shall seek You.

The air moves, quiet as God's whisper to His war-weary prophet, breathing:
His name, His glory, His presence, His peace.
What more do I need, here on this slender curved finger of sand,
as I look out to the edge of the world?

The tidal pool barely ripples, a guarded sanctuary, 
as only meters away, salted foam
relentlessly, repeatedly, scours the brilliant shore.

In this sheltered place, sandpiper and egret and ibis
with backward knees and delicate necks,
bend and bow for breakfast. 
Their posture resembles reverence. Do they know 
by their instinct what I know by Your revelation?
You open Your hand and satisfy the desires 
of every living thing.

Peace is Your long light, 
the covering of Your wing,
the colors of Your glory, 
the sound of Your gentle voice,
the opening of Your hand, 
the sureness of Your faithfulness,
more certain and steady than the sand and sun and sky.

The heron flaps low, seeking, watching, 
casting broad shadows across my notebook page.
I look up and gaze at Your beauty in this sanctuary,
having already found what I seek.

As near as Your breath and as long as eternity,
is the refuge I find beneath the shadow of Your wing.
Peace is Your open, ageless hand, cupped beneath me,
Your great nurturing wing, covering my bowed head.

You will keep in Your perfect peace 
the one whose mind is set upon You,
the one who trusts in You.

Recommended reading: 
Pilgrim at Tinker's Creek, by Annie Dillard
Psalm 63:1-8
Psalm 27

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Jesus' Kind of Love

"A new command I give to you, that you love one another as I have loved you." (John 13:34)

Does this stop you in your tracks, as it does me? I mean, the Golden Rule I can grasp: I can envision treating others the way I want to be treated. But to love someone the way Jesus loves me? I'm stepping onto grace-saturated ground here, painfully aware that my love is a dusty shadow of Jesus' rock-solid love for me. (And yet, I'm convinced that His Spirit living in my changed heart means that I can, indeed, love others the way He loves me!)

So what does Jesus' kind of love look like? Here's one glimpse, from John 8:

The religious leaders shoved through the crowds, jostling bodies, vying for position before the soft-spoken Teacher. When they tossed the woman in front of him, a sudden quiet fell. Every watching eye turned to the shamed woman, to the men who'd brought her.

Except for the eye of Jesus. He didn't even turn around.

They pressed harder, louder, the crowd watching, waiting. What do you say, Rabbi? She was caught in the act! The Law of Moses required the death penalty for adultery, for breaking the seventh commandment. Would Jesus ignore God's Law and show the mercy he was so well-known for? Or would he point a finger and reach for a stone?

Jesus stood and spoke one sentence -- not to the woman, mind you, but to the men pelting him with questions. The one who has no sin may cast the first stone at her. He turned away again.

Surely the men were not expecting this response? But as they turned it over in their minds, looking for a way to ensnare him, their own hearts instead were ensnared. People in the crowd, bending to collect rocks, loosened their grip as their hearts, too, were exposed. Heads hung, one by one, they walked away.

When only Jesus and the woman remained, he raised himself up and looked straight at her, this one who'd broken his Father's Law.

Where are your accusers? he asked her. Who here has condemned you?

No one, Lord! she whispered, scarcely able to believe it.

I do not condemn you either, Jesus gently told her. Return to your family and don't sin again.

What kind of love is this? Three things that I see:

1. Jesus did not point his finger a the religious men and rebuke them on the spot for their hypocrisy. Instead, he spoke one sentence that revealed their hearts to them and turned their accusations inward. Throughout the gospels, Jesus stands against the religious leaders' view of the law and says in effect, "Go and learn what this means: I desire mercy and not sacrifice." And, "All the Law is fulfilled in one word, even this: Love your neighbor as you love yourself."

Jesus' concern did not appear to be with following the letter of God's Law, but for displaying God's character to each person -- to the adulterous woman, but also to to her accusers, and to the crowd. It took one brief sentence from him to prompt people to recognize that they, too, stood condemned.

This is Jesus' kind of love: Composed. Wise. Penetrating.

2. He did not concern himself with making an example of the woman for the sake of the watching crowd, or for the sake of his own reputation as a Rabbi. While her accusers saw in her an object lesson, a means to their desired end, Jesus saw a person, an individual. His concern was not with sending a message about sin to the community, but with showing his mercy to a sinner.

This is Jesus' kind of love: Other-centered. Kind. Personal.

3. Most beautiful to me, Jesus did not condemn the woman, although the Law of Moses commanded it. Instead, he released her from accusation and restored her to her family. He clearly named her behavior sin, but his actions toward her were replete with grace. He gave mercy where man would assume justice was required; he showed compassion where we might see room only for law. He saw to her heart and knew what would draw her toward himself -- not the letter of God's law, but the gift of God's grace.

This is Jesus' kind of love: Liberating. Restorative. Life-changing.

"Christ was without sin, and might cast the first stone,
but though none more severe than he against sin, for he is infinitely just and holy,
none more compassionate than he to sinners, for he is infinitely gracious and merciful..." (Matthew Henry)

Oh, Jesus, may we love one another as You have loved us.