when no one else can believe it for me

We were back at a church we love this past Sunday. I’m a long-road Anglican, winding my way along a path from childhood and pink dresses at First Communion to that St. Michael and All Angels confirmation, a swirl of the Spirit descending and those words, this is a new anointing, my daughter. This particular church, where the light spills in across the altar, where the choir and the electric organ sing bold to hymn and spiritual alike, where there sits this beautiful banner I stare at every time I go in – yellow, gold, that proclaims: Yours is the glory, Risen Conquering Son. is where I first saw my husband in the midst of being deeply and irrevocably in love with God. This is where I learned that there are ways of being traditional that sing spirituals and pray for the Spirit to come and fall upon us. This is, in short, where I relearned how to encounter the Lord Jesus.

On Sunday the pastor preached on fear.

On Sunday, Jesus came and sat down beside me.

We sat together, my eyes on my hands, hearing what by now feels so familiar – that anxiety is not our nature, that we are fearful from the first moment of disobedience, that perfect love, who is the person of Jesus, casts out fear. And you all know, in your journey with this rambling heart, that I am acquainted with fear. I’ve lived and wandered inside it often. It’s the kind of dark where my eyes adjust quickly, my adrenaline kicks in, I feel my way through the blackness and so often think I’m doing just fine.

And you all know that I’ve been thinking about that a lot. I keep writing about it. I’d say it was some kind of theme or meditation for the season, but I think it’s more likely that God is content to dwell with us where our hearts most often go to hide from Him, and so He waits for us, comes out into the dark after us, beckons us into the midst of His very self.

So here we are, me and Jesus, and I’m counting the invisible threads in my skirt and I’m hearing again that Jesus will cast out fear, I am hearing that the Holy Spirit lives in me, I am hearing, I am hearing… Jesus, just the stillness of Jesus, is near me.

Then the pastor says, “I cannot believe this for you.”

I bristle at the thought. Aren’t we carrying each other? When the road is long and we are weary aren’t we leaning hard on the faith of each other, on the promises kept generation to generation, of the stories others tell us when we cannot tell ourselves?

But then there is this moment, where I think about it again. I close my eyes, stop counting the threads.

Jesus desires relationship with me. Me, without helpful scaffolding or hiding behind the true things someone else has said. And having faith isn’t just assenting to what someone smarter has said. Jesus doesn’t desire my agreement with someone else. He is too in love with the being of me to want less than my self. My whole self. My whole self, believing.

I do believe we should lean on each other. I believe we should carry each other. Oh, but how we must believe this without hiding from the nearness of God to each of us, in the just-us-ness of our being?

I told my mother once I was doing something because of the lightness of me. I think God’s answer to that question, the one we keep asking, the one we keep hiding from, the one not about God’s goodness or qualities or cosmic salvation or any of that, but just the one about how God loves -

because of the being of you. 

Because of the you that is so gorgeously alive. And you are enough of a reason for all the nearness of God. It is our whole self that must believe. It is our whole self, believing, that God is desperately in love with.

That kind of love is so particular, no one else can believe it for us. We have to believe it, too.

Love,
hilary

God is speaking joy

“And I think to myself, how long has God been speaking this joy over my life, and I have been too filled up with anxiety to hear it?

I tell this to her on the phone pacing outside the building where I spend most of my time as a new graduate student. I try to let my feet carry me where they will on the winding paths of campus, past library and other classroom buildings and people on skateboards and scooters, past trendy backpacks and BPA free water bottles.

I am relaying a conversation I had with Preston about callings, about anxiety about the future, about what is happening in our lives and what it will mean and how it will happen, and it’s in the midst of telling her about the conversation (not even the conversation itself) that I realize it:

God has been speaking joy over my life.

Anxiety is an unruly substance – it fills up the spaces wherever you let it in. It creeps into the corner of yourself and becomes the drumbeat and gives the marching orders.

And I fill myself up with anxiety so much that I cannot hear God speaking. And it is in the very act of resisting anxiety that we will find, that we can hope to find, the ears to hear.

Be astonished! Be astounded! For a work is being done in your days that you would not believe if you were told. 

Habbakuk, 1.5.

When was the last time I was astonished at the Lord? When was the last time I was astounded? When was it that I stopped and marveled and felt my knees go weak from seeing the wonder and the blessedness?

When I resist anxiety, even for a moment, I can catch a glimmer of the song God is singing over my life: joy.

In resisting the anxiety there is promise, there is purpose, and no, it’s not a new life plan with a bigger God stamp on it. It’s purpose that is drawing nearer to the Father and purpose that is becoming more like Jesus and it is purpose that will lead you to a new city in a new state in a new marriage so that you might know God better and love him more. The places where we live out our vocation have a tendency to substitute their purposes for the ultimate purpose: we think that we’re here to become a certain kind of scholar or a certain kind of teacher or a certain kind of electrical engineer, and that’s the real reason God said go. But in that we forget: we forget that Jesus first and always and finally calls us to be a certain kind of human being, one who is made glorious by the Spirit dwelling and moving inside them, one who bears God’s image, resplendent, made new, gracious and graceful and alive.

Before Preston and I got married, I memorized Romans 8. I don’t know why, except for the ways that, daily, I have had to remind myself of it. Remind myself that there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Remind myself that you are in the Spirit. Remind myself that those whom he called, he also justified, and those whom he justified, he also glorified. 

And here again, I remember: nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love that is in Christ Jesus. 

In the midst of what is unknown, we are not apart from the love of God. In the midst of what can make us anxious, we are not apart from the love of Christ Jesus. In the midst of hoping and praying and waiting and raging, in the emptiness and the fullness, the silence and the singing, we are not apart from such love.

Be astonished! Be astounded! For nothing will be able to separate us from the love that is in Christ Jesus. And thus, rejoice.

Love,
hilary

along the dark and twisty road

Did you know, that there is such a thing as becoming more confused by your obedience?

The things I wish someone had told me.

Obey, and the road will get darker and twistier. Obey, and the clarity you prized will vanish. Obey, and the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living will become the prayer for water on a desert highway, the simplest, most desperate question - is there manna for me today, Lord? - with no thoughts of hoarding it or storing it up or anything but the one meal, the daily meal, the crumbs from the table meal.

Obey, and that sweet daydream you had about what you would be like and sound like and do, the person you glorified in your mind, you in maxi skirts sweeping through your life with such grace and such ease, she is crying on the couch, yet again, making lists, yet again, asking again for a manna she doesn’t know how to find on her own.

And you think about how to say it because you think there is nothing more embarrassing than admitting it, that you don’t have it together on this dark and twisty road.

I keep thinking about Jacob.

I keep thinking about all the moments when I have likened myself to Jacob, wrestling, strong, prevailing through the night. I keep thinking about all the times that I have said I have wrestled with God and yet my life is being delivered. Or even because I am wrestling so my life is being delivered.

It was night when Jacob wrestled. I never noticed that before.

Jacob wrestled until the day broke open.

Jacob went out into the dark and twisty night, into the utter unknowing, and wrestled until there was light.

I will not let you go unless you bless me. 

I will not let you go.

I am saying this in the dark. I am saying this to a God who I grasp for and hold onto, praying that I have, in fact, found God, that the wrestling is a holding fast, that in the midst of the darkness is the closest kind of encounter.

The things I keep inscribing on my heart and the sides of my notebooks during class, that this is the place of closest encounter and Jacob, he walked with an ache in his hip because in the ache is the remembering of how we wrestle with God, all of us, and how in that is the closeness, the hope.

I’m out here on the dark and twisty road of obedience, and if you’re there, too, then can I whisper a hello, I can see you? And together we will wrestle until day breaks open.

Love,
hilary

in the land of the living

I keep thinking about prayer. I keep wanting pray in this space, to tell you something, to lean over and bend knees and heart with you. 

This is what I pray over us, we who live and move in the ragged tumble towards heaven, on the outskirts of certainty, we who have thrown off the confidence we used to wear so timidly - 

I would have lost heart, unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. – Psalm 27.13

In the land of the living. The goodness of the Lord in the land of the living, the present, the here and now that builds and begins and springs forth under our feet. I cry it out in between stoplights, as I cross under the highway in the middle of fearing that I will never know the goodness of the Lord because I am not enough. 

I pray this wildly over us, abandoning for a moment the usual lilting words, the customary blog post format, the worries that you’ll think less or differently of me - 

I pray that King Jesus, in whom we are more than conquerors, will cast forth from you all that keeps you from the hope of the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. 

I pray that Jesus will show up, right in the middle of wherever you are, disrupt the everyday where we become so good at avoiding him, and remind you that nothing in this world and nothing to come, nothing in heaven or on earth, can separate you from Him: 

not exams nor papers written late into the night

not a messy house nor a missed deadline

not a broken heart nor a mending one

not what you have nor what you don’t 

not fighting nor going silent nor raging nor the thing you shouldn’t have said but you did nor the thing you meant to say and forgot nor the misunderstanding nor the awkward afternoon nor the time wasted or well spent…

None of it can separate you from the love of God in Jesus.  

I would have lost heart tonight between stoplights. I would have lost heart in the beginning of doing a new thing and being so afraid of failing at it – I would have lost heart in the promises of God, right there three blocks away from home -

But I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. 

We will see this goodness, this year, this month, this week, because we are in the land of the living and we are walking with a God who covenants with a people the promise of His presence. We are in the midst of God, of the goodness of God, of the love of God. I believe you will see it stretched wide and loud over your life. I believe you will find that God comes into the midst of you, disrupting the comfortable patterns, the way you think at stoplights or when you’re folding laundry, the quiet despair that creeps into our days that what we do is not enough. 

I believe the goodness of the Lord will be seen in this land of the living.

I pray that we stumble into this believing until it has nestled between our bones. I pray that we call out to God to keep His promises to us. I pray that we get on our knees often, preaching the power of the love of God, preaching the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. 

I believe it tonight; that I will see this goodness. I’m whispering it over us.

Love,
hilary

there is no safe gospel

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 13.47-50)

I read this in a room full of light, warmth trickling across my palms on the table. I’m wearing a favorite grey dress. I’m in a circle of thoughtful and kind people, and we are bending our heads in morning prayer, coffee cups nearby, open notebooks. I’ve been asked to read the Gospel lesson.

I read that there will be a separating of the righteous and the evil, that there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

And the warmth seems to evaporate from me as I let the words spill forth, proclaimed into the spaces between our rolled up sleeves. The Word of the Lord is living and active, we say – and I speak and Jesus stops me, my comfortable dress, my comfortable coffee, my comfortable posture in a comfortable room full of light.

This is an uncomfortable parable.

I start to pray in something between a condescending and a wishful-thinking tone of voice, something he is unamused by. I tell myself I am just asking why he preaches to us in stories. But the truth is I’m asking, Why did I have to read that parable? Why couldn’t I have gotten to read the one about the pearl of great price or the mustard seed or the treasure in the field? 

It isn’t just that I wonder why he teaches in parables -

it’s that I don’t really want to proclaim the teachings that I don’t like or understand

that I don’t really want to be linked to something uncomfortable

that I don’t really want to be that close to some of the teachings because speaking them out makes me uncomfortable.

Jesus just looks back at me.

My junior year of college I memorized the first chapter of John in French, a project for a French class. I recited it in a brightly lit room in the morning, wearing a comfortable dress. If I close my eyes now, the words can sometimes still appear – my favorite sentence -

Le lendemain, il vit Jésus venant à lui, et il dit: Voici l’Agneau de Dieu, qui ôte le péché du monde. 

Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.

There is no safe Gospel. There is no encounter with the Word that will leave us comfortable. Comforted, perhaps, but only first through the upheaval of our worlds, the collapse of our presuppositions, the relinquishing of our desire to have the easiest story to tell. We cannot claim Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of world if we are clinging to a tamer, easier version, without the uncomfortable parables or the uncertainties or the radical promises or the hardest questions. The power of the declaration is in how unsafe it is, how transforming, how world-shaking.

I cannot say, Voici l’Agneau de Dieu, qui ôte le péché du monde if I am always searching for a way to make Jesus safer, or find Gospel passages easier to read in a brightly lit room in morning prayer.

I have to give up my search for the safe Gospel.

I’m still wrestling the parable of the nets, still going back again and again for an explanation, for understanding, for the right way to read it.

And in the midst of that wrestling, not on the other side of it, not beyond it, not anywhere but the sweating tired mess of giving up the idea that I’ll wake up to a comfortable, non-radical Jesus, and trying to learn what it means to preach this unsafe and life-changing Gospel in my life, in my heart, in the world -

Voici, l’Agneau de Dieu, qui ôte le péché du monde. 

Behold.

Love,
hilary

the gift is given

It’s a slow morning, the kind that you take a long time to wake up fully, not sure if your dream has shifted into sunlight or if you’re still in the midst of it. There is a quiet to this kind of morning and an unrest, too, and the heart is full, always, achingly, full.

I’ve been trying to sit with the Bible more lately. I’m a lover of the liturgy, prayer book guidance to the Word. I’m more likely to trust what someone else appoints for me to read than I am to trust my gut telling me where I need to go. So when I sit, alone for a few moments, on the familiar porch, and God says, read about washing the disciples’ feet, I’m almost too quick to resist it.

Isn’t that always the giveaway? We find a reason not to, a reason it’s out of order or our sermon series has us meditating on something else, we must consult a calendar and a guide to be in the Word the right way?

So I slink towards John, chapter 13.

And Jesus got up from the table.

He got up from the table and took off his outer robe and took a basin and knelt and washed their feet. These, whom he loved until the end, these, whom he cherished. These, who knew so little about what they had seen. These scattered sheep. He washed their feet.

“You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

I am only the first few steps along the cracked cement of understanding, and I’m holding my arms out to balance myself as I read out loud these words.

So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 

Is there anything more beautiful?

Is there anything more precious than this? That we were taught by his way of living. That we were known in the washing of our feet, and this morning I need Jesus to wash my feet again.

I need Jesus to show me how he will come into the midst of everything that is still a mess inside me and he will hold it tenderly, he will change it, he will do this wild act of grace on my heart and set me free. I need Jesus to make the lesson alive in the doing of it, not just the thinking or the idea-making or the understanding-seeking that so often and so quickly becomes misunderstanding. It wasn’t about the prayer book appointed reading today, it was about Jesus coming to me and taking off his robe and washing my feet.

And I do not understand one thing about this love but that it is gift and it has been given to me.

These mornings I go to the Word because the Word is life because the Word is a lifeline in the days where the joy meets the ache and it collides in my heart. These mornings I sit and shrink away but I keep going back because I am sold out to this Jesus, who washes the disciples’ feet, who tells us again and again to love as he loved us, we whom he calls friends, not servants. I go back, again and again, to King Jesus because King Jesus is life, because he is freedom, because he is the fullness of beauty, because he knows me.

And I do not understand one thing about Jesus’ love but that it is gift, it is washing my feet, it is meeting me on my familiar porch, with such tenderness, with such freedom. It is gift, and it has been given.

Love,
hilary

go free, prisoner

I find myself looking at Jesus out the window of the borrowed Highlander in the midst of Waco.

He is there clearly in my mind, maybe car windows can be like the iconostasis some days, that piercing window into heaven, that stirring up of your spirit to meet the Spirit.

It’s just a few days before Pentecost.

I have been in the midst of telling Jesus that I am trapped in my mind, lost in the sea of obligations. I have been telling Jesus with the bold and arrogant assumption more often made by the accustomed Christian that Jesus is mild-mannered and so tolerating this rant, and that eventually the emotions will subside and I’ll go on, and Jesus will go on, both of us mostly unchanged.

Let me tell you something: that is not Jesus.

Instead I hear the thought ripple – no, that’s too gentle – rip into my mind, hurricane wind, not just a little bit of fire in the voice. I am telling you, go free, prisoner. 

I don’t know what you’re talking about, Jesus, the easiest lie, the lie of pretended incomprehension, because a God that we say is so beyond our knowing surely cannot be speaking so clearly to us, to me, as I stare out the car window hoping against hope that I can find my way around the words.

I am telling you, go free, prisoner. 

It takes nothing less than the Spirit to shake us out of our assumed ignorance back into the obvious truths, the who we are before and afters. Because I am so much of the time a prisoner rattling the iron walls when the door behind me is swinging open and it is Jesus who stands there, arms open, waiting. I am the too busy noticing my own struggles to see that the shackles are at my feet, that the sun through the window is the first day of the week and I’m living in the time of the resurrection.

I do this with the story of how eating became harder, or how I don’t know how to stand up for myself, or how I am too people pleasing or too quick to worry or how I don’t know when to allow myself to feel grace because I worry that if I give myself room to not be perfect I’ll collapse altogether. I rattle the walls of the prison of I should be better or I should do more or I am not good enough at 

and then there is Jesus, calling for me - go free. 

Me, in that car, driving through Waco, and there is Jesus, caring so much more than I imagine he does. Not mild-mannered, not indifferent, not unconcerned. No, I meet Jesus who says, Go free, prisoner, and who keeps calling out to me, who is relentless in the message that my heart is no longer bound anymore, but freed. That there is no need to rattle the walls because the door is opened, because life is beginning.

Just a few days before Pentecost I hear again the old story, the Gospel of the radical concerned grace of God – that God will not be mild-mannered or indifferent with us, but come to us, driving through Waco or when we are in front leading worship or as we glance back at the iconostasis, and Jesus will keep saying, go free, prisoner. I have loved you, I have freed you, you are urgent and important to me, you belong to me. 

Oh, how the Gospel needs preaching again and again to this tired heart.

And oh, how good God is, to still come shout it over me.

Love,
hilary