Foreshadowing

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Merry Christmas  from the Silanders – 2014

Every year, the onset of Advent brings with it a small degree of (self-imposed) pressure to make the most of the season. We’ll never have another Christmas when the children are their current ages. I want them to remember. To capture smells of peppermint cookies and fresh pine, sights of white lights and red bows on the trees, and sounds of Yo-Yo Ma, Sufjan Stevens, and Andrew Peterson’s Christmas music. To tuck away their experience in an emotional time capsule – one that can be excavated when life down the road gets hard and they need to remember.

We may not have another Christmas when we’re all in good health. Or in our current home. The list of what could, and probably will, change in the next twelve months is longer than Santa’s scroll filled with names. Once the season slips by, it’s gone forever. I want to live fully in the moment – in the story unfolding before me – but I can’t help grieving the little (and big) lost opportunities.

This year, we won’t be sending out Christmas cards. I just couldn’t pull it together to get a reasonably good family picture taken, much less to order color-coordinated cards, then address, stamp, and get them in the mail. It’s a small thing, really. But there will never be another Christmas 2014 – the last one with a ten-year-old in the house, and the last one before our eldest son gets married. And I missed capturing it in a glossy 4×6. The calendar flips and the children grow up and we say goodbye to a season that’s gone forever.

It’s hard not to look back.

Among the many decisions to be made each Advent is, no surprise, is what we’ll be reading. This year, it will be a lesser-known Christmas story by Charles Dickens and a re-read of This Way to Christmas by Ruth Sawyer. But of particular importance is the choosing of an Advent devotional. We’ve accumulated quite a selection. Personally, I keep returning to God is in the Manger by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. And for the family, despite the countless options available, we keep returning to the Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones.

Our children are hardly wide-eyed little ones anymore. There will be no baby doll paraphernalia or Rescue Hero action figures found under our tree. Rather than spending these days reading (and rereading) cherished Christmas picture books, we’ve been wrapping up school projects and tweaking papers. Much to my enjoyment, my thirteen-year-old has been taking a Literary Analysis class from which much of our daily dialogue flows. Words like “protagonist, conflict, and foreshadowing” pepper our conversation. I miss the fair-haired little boy sitting on my lap while we read, but I’m sure having fun with the larger version’s rascally smile and quick sense of wit.

Earlier this week, in order to catch up with the reading schedule (yes, running chronically behind), we read a few chapters out of the Jesus Storybook Bible. Then we read a few more. Here’s how they ended:

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As we closed the book, my boy turned his face toward me, and rather pleased with himself, proclaimed, “Foreshadowing.”

This year, he has learned a new word that represents a much more complex concept. Through months of example, analysis, and practice, my son has developed the skill of reading words on a page – then looking beyond what is seen to anticipate what is to come.

Perhaps that’s the purpose of the Advent season: to prepare the eyes of our heart to look beyond what we can see. To anticipate the coming of the One who makes all things new.

If it’s been a hard year, take heart. Advent is for you.

For you, friend, who feels the pressure of having to get it right. In your relationships, your career, your parenting, your choices. In the million minor daily details like creating and sustaining holiday traditions.

For you, friend, who’s grown weary of longing. Who feels paralyzed in the twilight between hope and despair. Who flirts with the temptation named numbness, which protects from pain, but suffocates joy.

For you, friend, who is fighting for your marriage. The marriage that felt so solid to you and looked ideal to others. The one that is gasping for life in an atmosphere running dangerously short on oxygen.

For you, friend, who received the diagnosis. The diagnosis that’s only supposed to be delivered to “other people.” The one that brought life to a screeching halt and has permanently rerouted your plans for the future. The one that terrifies to the core and steals dreams.

For you, friend, who is broken and wounded. Who feels too tired to move forward. Who is weary and losing hope, because life isn’t what you’d thought it would be. Who lives in regret of lost dreams and what could-have-beens.

It’s hard not to look back and remain tethered to the past. It’s hard to believe that life is more than the joy, sorrow, hope, fear, delight, regret, love, and loneliness we experience.

But Advent is here. Readjust your eyes. The text is pointing to a Truer Truth than the sum of what we can see.

Foreshadowing.

Light will drink up darkness.
Hope will snuff out despair.
Love has already won.

The stories are true. 

He’s been whispering them since the beginning of time.

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A Musing on Divine Love

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I’m grateful to introduce you to Jennifer Kennedy, our guest writer for the day. It took a bit of urging for Jennifer to share her thoughts with you. I’m so very glad she did.

I’m quite ambivalent about posting this – so uncomfortable that I searched for another poem about which to write. I looked in three other collections. There were many evocative and beautiful verses.  But no other shook me as this one has. Four days after I read the poem, I saw this passage from Chapter 9 in Breath for the Bones:

“Tame it, make it predictable and palatable, overlay it with a veneer of orthodox respectability, eradicate its irony and wit, control its passion and force, and maybe, maybe, it will be allowed to slip inside the sanctuary and be shown into a back pew. The sterility of such a domesticated art shows us the dire results of ultimate control.”

So I find myself without defense or reason for withholding it from this forum – save my discomfort in doing so. And the level to which it has disturbed me has no bearing upon the truth of it.

I was thumbing through a collection of Shaw poetry, Listen to the Green, and came across this one. I read it once. Then again. And yet again.

Bride

The thin smooth eggshell of her
rigid , indrawn by a private gravity –
her convex surface
offers no toe-hold for analysis.
But perhaps the perfect smile –
the self-assured sheen –
her insularity’s bright
white carapace that shuns another’s touch
ask of you:
Is it her coolness or her cowardice
(or are they one) that closes in –
ward on itself
denying entrance?
The probes of God’s sharp grace
his bruising mouth (and yours)
threaten to broach her brittleness.
And heaven’s breath, hot,
see how she shrinks from it
on her ice palace
as from all passion that seeks
center
in her hidden hollowness.

Not knowing she’s destined for shell
shock
vainly she shields her vulnerable vacuum –
postpones the breaking and entering –
love’s emptying of
her chilly emptiness.

-Luci Shaw

After the first reading – I guessed it was a metaphor for Christ and the Church – and perhaps it is. But I also saw that irrepressible, irresistible Grace – the one that compelled the “kicking, struggling” Lewis to his knees, the Hound of Heaven pursuing an individual soul.  But, now – here, in the most (I cannot this of a more discreet way to put this) sexually charged images. I held my breath and my face burned.  I hastily flipped the book over to the back cover – the one with all the testimonials – looking for some validation, wanting to ask someone, “Is it ok to read this?” Somewhere amid the words from Christianity Today and Madeleine L’Engle was this: “There are some poems that make you catch your breath. This happens over and over when I read [Luci Shaw’s] poetry. – Ruth Bell Graham.” If Mrs. Graham could find herself breathless and keep reading, then I felt I was in good company.

As I pondered the verse, my mind seized upon an image of Bernini’s sculpture Apollo and Daphne. I suppose it was my psyche’s way of finding some comfort zone – an image of passion I could look upon without dying of embarrassment. It’s such a magnificent work – emotion and energy and mythical magic captured in a moment. I imagine it’s what that bride feels beneath her cool immaculate exterior – fleeing in terror at the real possibility of being possessed and wholly claimed. She’d rather be wrapped forever in a column of wood, unmoved and unmoving but for her waving branches and the fluttering of her green and shining tresses – safe from the consuming and consummating love of a god.

I had a chance to actually see this statue – almost. I was in Rome with a small group of humanities students from Milligan. We walked up to the Galleria Borghese – and were stunned to find it closed indefinitely for a sweeping renovation. My art teacher kicked the corrugated steel barricade in frustration and then said some words I cannot repeat.  The object of our desire was within, and we were hopelessly without.

I still cannot read this poem without feeling unsettled. It’s sometimes frightening to see the God you worship in a startling way you never considered before. To be honest, I will never view the expression “the God-shaped void in your soul” the same again. But I have this strange idea that divine love is very different from what we mortals can perceive. It comes to us in fractals – split into components we can comprehend – storge, eros, phileo, agape – love in different hues. But within its Source they combine and flame with the white-hot intensity of a star – a passion that no steel barricade or bright white carapace can shield – a Love to overcome and complete us. I cannot adequately explain this, but I do believe this – that He loves and desires us THAT much.

But my cheeks are still burning. Maybe yours are, too. If so, I’m sorry to have disturbed you. But you’re in good company.

Jennifer Kennedy finds interest in just about everything in the wide world (except perhaps vector calculus and heavy metal music.) But she claims expertise only as a motherfluffer, baby wrangler, and lactation diva in the wee hours. When she’s not pishing in the hedgerows or practicing Bach cantatas on YouTube to annoy the three men in her life, she loves reading and writing about such wonders as skink tails, elven folk, winged horses, and canoeing in the lost forests of the Lord God bird.

– – –

This post was written in response to reading Breath for the Bones by Luci Shaw. You can catch up with what we’ve read here:

Graffiti Art and Repentance (Intro, Chp 1-2)
Tell Me a Story (Chp 3-5)
Pressing Into the Quiet (Chp 6-7)
A Musing on Divine Love (Chp 8-10)
Week of October 6: Chp 11-12



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Fools and Jokers

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“Noah built an ark, the prophet Hosea married a prostitute, poor suffering Job refused to curse God, and John the Baptist ate bugs in the wilderness. They all experienced doubt. They all had things to learn. Yet their unconventional behavior drew attention to their vision, which conveys essential truth.” Jeffrey Overstreet

Welcome to our discussion of Through a Screen Darkly by Jeffrey Overstreet. Feel free to join in the discussion, even if you’re not reading along. We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Week 3 – Fools and Jokers
Movie of the Week – The Fisher King

Webster defines ‘the fool’ as “One who is destitute in reason, or the common powers of understanding; an idiot.”

We see ‘the fool’ everyday. In the neighborhood, at work, on the highway, in our families, and if we’re honest, in the mirror.

When I meet ‘the fool’, I should pay close attention. My reaction to him reveals a great deal about the state of my heart.

Am I quick to judge?
Grateful that I am not him?
Offended by his choices and behavior?

Or am I willing to pause and see that the fool has something to teach me. . .

“Some of the great fools, as Hamlet proves to be, behave in the manic fashion more deliberately and strategically in order to unsettle those around them and lure wrongdoers into exposing their devices.” – p. 210

“If I’m confronted with bizarre behavior on the street or on the bus, I am likely to cross at the nearest crosswalk or get up and move closer to the bus driver. But in the safety of my theater seat, I sometimes find that these characters reveal a great deal not only through their ranting but also by the way they provoke people around them to all manner of revealing behavior.” – p.201

“In One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Finding Neverland and Nurse Betty, these characters stir up trouble for the strict, the proud, the upright and the overly rational.” – p.208

1) What character comes to mind when you think of “the fool”?  What truth did he/she reveal?

Take a few minutes to read “Why Honey Boo Boo is Like a Flannery O’Connor Character” by Jonathan Rogers(Rumor has it that Jonathan may have a few things to add to our discussion in the upcoming weeks.)

2. What do you make of the Honey Boo Boo article? How does it relate to Overstreet’s take on ‘the fool’?

 

“The healthiest laughter is that which recognizes our shared fallibility.” -p.226

“Many of us are laughing because we see and reject the errors on display and because we are admitting our own culpability in such folly, without despairing from the shame of it. The laughter is release: I’ve been there, I recognize that, I acknowledge the folly of human behavior, and I know there’s a better way.” – p.220

We enjoy comedy streaming from the TV or movie screen.
Our laughter is spontaneous, involuntary and without invoking further reflection.
We move on to the next scene, sitcom, or to decide what we’ll have for dinner, grateful for having been given a break from the “real world.

But occasionally. . .
As we’re gulping in prime-time lightheartedness,
We ingest traces of something more substantive.

We discover that the comic elixir wasn’t a mixture of well-timed stunts, clever puns, or sticky situations. It was concocted from the most basic ingredients. Those that represent the truth of who we really are – the good, the bad, the obvious, the unspeakable.

Have a taste.

3. How can comedy convey eternal truths? What does laughter (even at ourselves, or perhaps particularly at ourselves) have to do with Hope?

 

* * *

For further reading:
Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale by Frederick Buechner

If you’d like to join us or to catch up on the conversation:
Introduction/Schedule
Week 1 – How We Watch
Week 2 – Saving the World

 

 



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Unlikely Places


He had traded in his Armani suit for a bright orange jumper.  Rather than dining at five star restaurants, he now waited in line for standard institutional meals.  His daily interactions no longer took place in the oak-paneled boardroom, for his domain had been reduced to a ten by ten foot cell.  He had worked his way through school, climbed the corporate ladder from the bottom rung, and had arrived at a coveted position of wealth and status.  But through the years, the cocktail of success had numbed his conscience.  He was abruptly awakened from his drunken stupor as the cell door clanged shut. The echo resonating down the long cement corridor served as a haunting reminder of his long chain of life-changing choices.

Although he had traveled throughout the world, this was a foreign country for which he could not have time to prepare. He sat quietly digesting every morsel of information that would help him understand this new land.  The culture, language and customs of this place were alien to the life he had known.

His new neighbor, an intimidating hulk of a man, had gained his citizenship through taking the life of another.  He observed that very same man tenderly giving his new, hard-labored-for shoes to one who needed them more.  Time after time, he witnessed acts of kindness, selflessness, and courage within this world set apart from acceptable society.  He slowly discovered that all he had previously believed about “these people” was not accurate.  Yes, they had made poor, often devastating choices, yet in each man resided a more complex story.  Another side.  Alongside the obvious, well-documented depravity was the irrefutable existence of dignity.

Over time, his relationships shifted from that of outcast to friend, and he grew to love these criminals.  These undesirables. These prodigals. Together, they had found the strange peace that comes when many layers worn in the world are stripped away, and the naked truth remains. Life’s circumstances had leveled the playing field for these men of extremely diverse backgrounds.  There was no plotting to manipulate the future.  No fortune to be made or social ladder to climb.  No pretense.  No attempts to explain or defend. Locked away behind bars, he was able to find freedom.

The countdown of years droned on, one slow minute following another.  From the outside, his life looked painfully monotonous compared to the stimulating world that he once knew.  Yet the simplicity of his days allowed space for movement and growth of a different kind.  He found and spoke words of truth about the realities of his life without fear of judgment or condemnation.  As his scrambling to control and manipulate life was no longer a viable strategy, there was an ease and relief that settled in his soul.  Room was made for a new inhabitant – One who would never leave nor forsake.   One who restores the years that poor choices have taken.  One who makes all things new.

Trapped in the worst of situations, there was no way out.

He lost all that he had in the world.

He gained Life.

*******

You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope.  With less of you there is more of God and his rule.

You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you.  Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are –no more, no less.  That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.

You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God.  He’s the food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.

You’re blessed when you care.  At the moment of being “care-full,” you find yourselves cared for.

You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family. 

You’re blessed when you get your inside world – your mind and heart – put right.  Then you can see God in the outside world. 

You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution.  The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom. .”  

The Message



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Lessons from the Master: A Study in Contrast

The grande marble halls were lined with majestic columns standing guard.  Although my steps were steady and dignified, I had to work hard to contain my right-before-present-opening-Christmas-morning giddiness.  Then it finally happened.  After months of anticipation, a budding (albeit one-sided) friendship was culminated.  I found myself face to face with my first Rembrandt.

I knew that the collection would be focused on the life of Jesus, but didn’t know what specific paintings we would be viewing.  As we finally turned the corner and entered the exhibit,  The Woman Taken in Adultery commanded center stage.  I’m not generally quick to become teary-eyed, but in that particular moment, I found myself struggling to appear only appropriately, moderately interested.

The Woman Taken in Adultery by Rembrandt

So much about the painting is captivating.  The richness of color, diverse cast of characters, anachronistic costumes, and barely distinguishable shapes lurking in the darkness create a scene steeped in tension and drama.  But perhaps the most startling artistic element, that which is so very Rembrantesque, is the way in which light and composition are used to guide the viewer’s eye methodically through the story.  We’re drawn immediately to the woman… then to the Source of Light…. and eventually back through the crowd ultimately leading to the Jewish officials.

I know enough about art (very little) to be dangerous.  But this is what I do know…

Oil paint applied to a simple 3 ft X 2 ft  oak canvas 367 years ago brilliantly summarizes the ministry of Jesus, as well as the world that he came to rescue.

Take a long look into the painting.  You’ll be touched in different places of the heart than am I.  I wish we could stroll through the gallery together, pause, reflect, and process our experience over a hot cup of Starbucks.  As you’d share with me, I’d be given the gift of seeing the painting with different eyes.  Here are a few of my own observations that in turn, I’d share with you:

~Light is experienced most intensely in the presence of darkness.

~We labor to hide our deepest, darkest selves from others.  But look into the painting.  Ultimate rest and blessing are a result of stepping into the light.

~Those lurking in the shadows “have it all together” in the eyes of their world – they are the bankers, lawyers, board members, elders of the church.  They spend their lives grateful that they aren’t needy.  They have figured out how to make life work, and aren’t about to let their hard-earned stability be disrupted.

~The folks “in charge” have colluded to trap the woman… in order to trap Jesus… yet he turns the tables.  The people or circumstances which seem to have control over our lives serve merely as a backdrop for real life.  There is only one who holds the position of ultimate authority.  And he is good..

~The woman caught has no defense.  She is guilty.  Blame shifting isn’t an option.  All pretense, social standing, worldly security is doomed, and she has absolutely no control over the situation.   She is at the mercy of another.

The Woman Taken in Adultery is a study of contrasts:

Between pride and humility

Between judgment and grace

Between self-sufficiency and dependency

Between control and brokenness

The Woman Taken in Adultery summarizes the entire ministry of Jesus:

“He disturbs the comfortable, and comforts the disturbed.” Tim Keller

Daily, we’re given the choice of where we insert ourselves into the painting.  If we’re really honest, most of us spend more time lurking in the shadows rather than giving up the control required to bask in the warmth of life and grace.

Are you willing to look into the painting?

Where would you place yourself?

Where do you want to be?

Yes, my new friend, Rembrandt, has given me a new perspective from which I can hope to see myself a bit more accurately.  As I discover dark areas in my life of which I’ve been previously unaware, I find that I’m guilty as well – of pride, judgment, self-sufficiency and control.  And I can’t shift the blame.  Yet when I’m willing to risk exposure and emerge from the shadows, I’m grateful to find grace, not judgment.  From the one who is ultimately in charge.  Who has all authority.  Who is good.  Who came to earth to rescue his children from the darkness of despair, sickness, broken relationships, and loneliness.  Who came to shatter the dark with light, rescue the lost, and redeem the broken.

Sometimes we need friends to point us in the right direction… and sometimes a work of art does the trick.

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Although we weren’t allowed to take pictures during our visit to the Rembrandt exhibit, we were able to bring home some beautiful sketches from three different portraits of Jesus.


by Caroline – age 7


by Sam – age 10


by Will – age 12

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A few resources to consider if you’d like to begin your own adventure with Rembrandt:




The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming by Henri Nouwen
.  Highly recommended.  This was my introduction to Rembrandt, and one of the few books I own that I’ve read more than once.




How Rembrandt Reveals Your Beautiful, Imperfect Self by Roger Housden
.  Worth a read.  I’m at the end of this book, and it’s given me much about which to think.




The Night Watch: Adventure with Rembrandt by Isabelle Lawrence
.  This is a piece of historical fiction which takes place in Rembrandt’s home and studio while he is commissioned to paint the Night Watch – a fun read with children). This book is out of print, but fairly easily found on Amazon or addall.com used books.




Art Museums for the Uninitiated by Russ Ramsey.
  A great article about venturing into the world of art.

Picture Study Portfolios by Emily Cottrill.  A practical, easy to use method of becoming familiar with great artists and their work. Each portfolio comes with a portrait and biography of the artist, eight laminated full-color works by the artist, step-by-step instructions for doing a picture study and recommended books for additional learning.  This methodology and information are equally applicable for adults and children.





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