Those Puritans had it goin’ on

“Help me to hold out a little longer

until that happy hour of deliverance comes

for I cannot lift my soul to thee

if thou of thy goodness bring me not nigh.”

– From “Need of Grace” in The Valley of Vision

I love reading and praying the prayers of saints who have gone before me. The Psalms, for example. Another one of my favorite books is The Valley of Vision, which is a collection of Puritan prayers and devotions. The beautiful language of the prayers illuminates truth to my soul and inspires me to pray and write deeply. The Puritans had faults—no doubt. But the writers of these prayers also had the Spirit. For anyone, but especially for my fellow Christian writers, I highly recommend you get this book.

What books (or articles) do you recommend on Christian art, poetry, or prayer?

(I also just got Awed to Heaven, Rooted to Earth by Walter Brueggemann, but I haven’t read as many of the prayers yet.)

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“A Thousand Worries”

For every drop of trust, I hold a thousand worries
I have a thousand wants, a thousand needs
I bring to You
while making my own plans to get them done.
Thinking the peace comes from the thing received, achieved,
rather than You,
my flimsy patience begs me hasten,
encouraging my DIY plans to control my own fate.
But fate proves a heavy load
for my fragile hands, which now,
I see, hold a thousand worries once more.

So I come again, Lord,
making known my request.
You’re not just my backup plan;
You’re my peace.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

– Philippians 4:6-7

2017: Listen

“Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” – James 1:19

In addition to setting some specific goals each year, for the past couple years I have also chosen a theme/word for the year. Last year my word was “share,” and this year my word is “listen.” I hate to admit it, but the truth is I’m a pretty bad listener. So there is a very literal aspect to my theme word because I do want to become a “better” listener this year. (Side note: I hate all the “betters” that New Year’s resolutions often entail because they are so difficult to measurably achieve). Still, I think of my theme words more broadly. Listening is an integral part of loving and empathizing with others. Listening involves humbly receiving criticism. Listening is inherently other-focused, and I think that’s the hardest part for me because I’m so self-focused. Additionally, I want to listen to God. I believe the primary communication tool God uses is His Word, the Bible. And similar to how I don’t want distraction to detract from my listening in conversations with others, I don’t want distraction to infiltrate my time in the Word.

I want to hear the pins drop in Scripture, and I welcome the truth to change me.

So 2017, I’m pleased to meet you. And I’m excited to hear what you’ll teach me.

~~~

My New Year’s Prayer

Faithful Father,

I know You are good.

I see You are good.

I hear “You are good.”

I feel You are good.

I sing “You are good.”

Quiet my heart with Your grace

Still my mind with Your peace

Close my lips with Your power

that I might listen

that all the praise that flows from my mouth reflect the truth of knowing You

Teach me to love with my ears first

Teach me humility from my ears,

receptive to correction,

open to wisdom

And Lord, I pray that the more I listen to You

the more I read Your Truth

the more I seek You

that my ears will grow accustomed to the sound

ringing more and more beautifully

that I resemble You more,

You who always hears my prayers

Lord, make my words a product of listening

make my thoughts entirely unoriginal and fully originating in You

This year I begin with open ears, an open heart, and an open Book.

“Christmas Tears” (A Christmas poem)

Some tears will fall this Christmas day
Though baby has been born
Because we wait the other day
When tears will be no more.

The Second Advent, He descends
To take us to our home.
God with us ‘til very end,
He sees you and shall come.

So hope is real this Christmas day
Although some tears may fall,
For God did do as God did say
And He’ll restore us all.

~~~

I wanted to write something to acknowledge the many griefs magnified during the holiday season for many people. God sees your tears. Christmas proves God keeps His promises and comes to us. And He will come again and wipe every tear from your eye.

Breath of God (Merry Christmas)

Love is in the air as the Messiah takes His first breath.

Inhale: This I so love.
Exhale: Peace.

By His breath He made the world; now in this world He breathes it in.

Inhale: Sorrow.
Exhale: Hope.

Love is in the air as the Messiah takes his last breath.

Inhale: Wrath.
Exhale: It is finished.

From his breath-inspired Word, catch a glimpse of glory giv’n.

Inhale: Truth.
Exhale: Hallelujah!

~~~

The first reference to God’s breath in the Bible is in Genesis 2 when God creates humans. Verse 7 says, “then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” He breathes out, breathing into us, our very sustenance.

Then in Genesis 8 the Lord smells the pleasing aroma of Noah’s sacrifice to God after the flood, and God promises to never curse the ground or destroy all living things. He breathes in, intaking praise.

The God of the Bible contrasts with manmade idols, including all lifeless things to which we give our devotion. The psalmist in Psalm 115 mocks such idols: “They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. They have ears, but do not ear; noses, but do not smell.” But our God is alive. Moreover, He breathed in the most literal, human sense.

When Jesus first breathed in and out that Christmas night, it was, I’m sure, perfectly ordinary. His breath wasn’t a different color. And I doubt it smelled like a box of Altoids. He didn’t blow out magical shapes like a wizard with a pipe. There was a normal exchange of molecules in the air: nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide, plus some others.

And yet what is ordinary about God in human form? 

What is ordinary about a king taking the form of a servant?

What is ordinary about choosing to endure pain?

Yet so it began in the stable. Love is always more than ordinary.

Christmas highlights the great paradox. The beautiful irony of the Incarnation.

Christmas brings us the perfect gift. The only solution to our sin.

I love Christmas. I love the quiet commencement of substutionary atonement (starkly contrasting the consumeristic fanfare that overtakes stores and homes alike). I envy the shepherds more than I should, pondering how they breathed in the scientifically insignificant but spiritually symbolic air full of fresh breath from heaven.

I come to the stable, breathe in deep, and behold the Breath-giver.

“Advent” – by Sr. Christine Schenk

Advent

by Sister Christine Schenk

I wait
with quickened hope
for crooked paths
to straighten,
with tough-soul’d
anguish,
while blinded
keepers of the keys
shut out
God’s own.

(If such a thing were possible.)

I wait,
and will not be
dismayed.
I wait,
and will not be
dismayed.

For tiny shoot
of Jesse tree
took root in me
to love
transform,
give sight
set free.

“Throne of Glory” (A Christmas Poem)

Throne of glory filled with hay, there in a cattle stall
Majesty, on it was laid, our King and Lord of all.

Lifter of my head as babe who couldn’t lift His own
Latent power, love displayed, the King lay on his throne.

Manger held the King that night whom cribs did not accept.
He who has so loved the world, the world would still reject.

Good Shepherd slept among the sheep for that was his path
to willingly lay down his life for lambs deserving wrath.

Humble Savior, King enthroned upon a mound of hay
Star awakens souls to sing Him everlasting praise.

When the busyness wins the day . . .

I had been hoping to post an original poem every Advent Sunday in addition to Christmas, but unfortunately, I am extremely busy at the moment with final exams. I will post again sometime next weekend, and I hope to post several times a week during my break.

In the meantime, here is stunning Advent poem by Richard Wilbur. Also, here he is reading it and talking about it.

“A Christmas Hymn”

by Richard Wilbur

A stable-lamp is lighted
Whose glow shall wake the sky;
The stars shall bend their voices,
And every stone shall cry.
And every stone shall cry,
And straw like gold shall shine;
A barn shall harbor heaven,
A stall become a shrine.
This child through David’s city
Shall ride in triumph by;
The palm shall strew its branches,
And every stone shall cry.
And every stone shall cry,
Though heavy, dull, and dumb,
And lie within the roadway
To pave His kingdom come.
Yet He shall be forsaken,
And yielded up to die;
The sky shall groan and darken,
And every stone shall cry.
And every stone shall cry
For stony hearts of men:
God’s blood upon the spearhead,
God’s love refused again.
But now, as at the ending,
The low is lifted high;
The stars shall bend their voices,
And every stone shall cry.
And every stone shall cry
In praises of the child
By whose descent among us
The worlds are reconciled.