Rooted and Grounded, Paul’s Love Poem

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I had to take this scripture into myself this weekend. To let it work on me, to feel the poetry of it. The kneeling, the bowing, the praying, the astonished heart of one who has been overcome by the fullness of God, of God’s love. This text reads like a love poem to the Damascus road experience. The astonishing moment where a bright light shines lovingly on all the dark and hidden corners of one’s soul and changes everything. This river of grace and love which flowed through Saul the persecutor changing him, altering him forever; breaking open his heart, enlightening his eyes, drawing forth love and compassion from one who was, who had been a persecutor.

And then he is no longer that, but something new. Love paints all things with a new light and his life is transformed. One might wonder if Paul ever regretted it, this move from wealthy pharisee with political power and prestige to hunted revolutionary speaking and preaching the gospel of Jesus to a hurting and lost world. But if we wonder then perhaps we have missed the love poem written in this text. So many years after the Damascus road incident, so many years and experiences later, Paul writes:

Kneeling before the Father,
The archetypal father from whom all fathers
On earth or in heaven (perhaps even the third heaven but who can say? In the body or out.)
Take their name

And I

I only a simple child
Moved by the love of the Father
Moved by the love which,
Is beyond my knowledge

Yet

Somehow I feel
A new experience
An abundance of glory
(can you not feel it? )
This then
Is the love of the Father

A love which has no height
No depth
No width nor circumference
With which to contain it.

(can you not feel it?)

An abundance of glory, an earth shattering, life changing, unexplainable fullness of God. All these years after Damascus and he’s still in love with God. Paul is given to some rebukes in his writing; he is given to some self promotion, but mostly, he is given to love and surrender for the sake of the gospel. And Paul knows that this is not an easy love, it is not a comfortable love but one which will change you, which will shake up your life and take you to places you cannot at this time imagine. Even as he prays that we too might have the experience of God’s love he also prays,

But be strengthened
Be rooted and grounded
In love
Because you’re going to need it
Because this love,
It will change everything and change is hard
Even when it’s good.

(Love lives in your heart now, can you feel it?)

Be strengthened
In your inmost being
In the depths of the dark inside places
Of your soul.
Be strengthened
Because hope grows.
A new light
A new potential
Future possibilities expand
And
Love says yes
Be strengthened
Because your heart
Just might break open
To wondrous new possibilities
And you may find yourself
Opening up to impossible people
And impossible situations
Which are quite possible now

(how cool is this? But do you dare believe it?)

Paul who had been Saul, who had been replete with all the signs of success that one might hope for in his day, must have spent a lot of time shaking his head, wondering how he came to be in the places he ended up. How did this upright pharisee end up running from the law, hanging precariously in a basket as it was lowered down the city walls. How did he end up shipwrecked on an island. How did he end up in prison? He must have been shaking his head in wonder at times, because no matter how bad it got, it was better than anything he had ever known. It was a fullness of God’s presence, of God’s love, of God’s Spirit that he could not put into words. It was the love of God in Jesus Christ which he could not contain, could not encapsulate such that he could somehow convey it.

It was beyond the height, the depth, the width or length, of anything he could hold up and show. It was uncontainable, this love which flowed through his veins and remade him, which rebirthed him, a whole new creation.

Paul threw it all away. All of his privilege and his influence, his respectable position in society. All gone. He was no catepillar refusing to become a butterfly, creeping around on all those legs, staying safe and remaining in all that he knew. He threw it all away, entered the chaos of the chrysalis and was reborn, remade, because this uncontainable, unknowable love shattered every preconception and expectation that he had. And in this love poem that is our Ephesians text he prays the same for us. “In the abundance of his glory may he, through his Spirit, enable you to grow firm in power with regard to your inner self, so that Christ may live in your hearts through faith.”

In the abundance of his glory, that unrestrained, indomitable, life-changing, life-altering glory, which no person can witness and not be changed by-

Be Changed! Grow firm and strong, be brave, so very brave, because this will change everything; it will take you to new places and new roles, new positions in society, it will change everything!

This is no prosperity gospel! This is not a promise that if you believe God will give you everything you ever wanted, but rather that God will fill you with good thing you’ve never even considered, never imagined, never even knew you needed. You may find yourself dangling from the city walls in a basket, on the run from the police because you fed the homeless, because you protested the violence, because you stood with those who suffer and demanded justice. You may find yourself walking away from a life of prestige and privilege and yet feeling somehow deeply fulfilled and not lacking anything at all.

But it is an act of bravery, an act of trust to open one’s heart so fully to Jesus. To surrender so deeply and let God remake you. Because, if you are like me, then you know what it is to say, ‘I have plans. I know where I’m going and I know what I want to achieve, so the sooner God gets on board with my plans, the better we will get along.” It’s an act of bravery to let go of our expectations, our hopes and dreams and let God bring something new and unknown into our hearts.

I wonder if you will try something with me. Hold your hands out and clench your fist tight. White knuckle it for a moment. All that God longs to give you, the goodness and abundant life that Jesus came that we might have, is not something that God will force upon us. Go ahead and release your fists, turn your hands over, palms up, feel the openness, the release, the surrender of an outstretched hand, an open palm.

When Saul was riding down that Damascus road he was holding tightly to all he knew. He was a white knuckle pharisee, trying his very best to do every right and correct thing. He was in control, till God knocked him for a loop, unseated him, and offered him an opportunity for growth. Paul, courageously opened his heart, released his grip, and surrendered. God does not pry our hands loose but offers us opportunity, after opportunity. The pain of a tight-fisted grip on life is unnecessary and therefore sad and painful. God asks only that we will release our grip on our preconceptions, our plans, our insistence on safety and being right, and let God fill our surrendered, up-turned palms with good things!

God longs to fill our lives with good things, with a rich, full, abundant life. Jesus looking down over Jerusalem, that city which kills its prophets, where he would meet his own death, was filled with compassion. “If I could,” he said, “I would take you all under my wing, like a mother hen.” If you will let me, I will love you, I will care for you. What more do we really want, than to know we are loved, we are accepted, we belong?

Glory be to him who, working within us, can do infinitely more, than we can ask or imagine. Infinitely more, and yet we struggle to allow this, to let go of our plans, but Paul says, let go, let God work within you. It will be more and greater than anything you could ever imagine! It will bring you to places you never thought you would be, you never thought possible! Infinitely more. Just let that sink in. God will do infinitely more than you can imagine.

But be filled with the fullness of God, that incomprehensible, life-changing, life-altering love and then watch what happens!
God who is at work within us,
will not abandon us,
will walk with us as we go,
leading us, bringing us to a new land,
a new way of being.

This new way of being that is not rooted in fear and self protection, but is rooted and grounded in love. It is not rooted in white knuckle sobriety or propriety, but in deep surrender, faith, and trust in the One who loves us. This new way of being that insists we be rooted and grounded in love, that we act with love, that we open ourselves up to love, that we release our fear-based grip and allow God to fill our lives with good things.

Paul, in his deep-rooted love, in the rich abundance that has flowed into his heart and soul, changing him, taking him to unimaginable places, opens his heart with deep compassion for the church, for that beleaguered, struggling community and he prays:

Kneeling before the Father, from whom every fatherhood in heaven or on earth takes its name: in the abundance of his glory may he, through his Spirit, enable you to grow firm in power with regard to your inner selves, so that Christ may live in your hearts through faith and then, planted in love and built on love, with all God’s holy people you will have the strength to grasp the breadth and the length, the height and the depth, so that knowing the love of Christ, which is beyond knowledge, you may be filled with the utter fullness of God.

Glory be to him whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine; glory be to him from generation to generation in the Church and in Christ Jesus for ever and ever amen

This prayer, this love poem, it is our prayer, is our love poem to God, to one another. May we be rooted and grounded in love, may we speak with love, may we act with love, and may we be strengthened in our inner selves, may we have the courage to release our tight-fisted, fear based grip and allow God’s grace and love to flow through our veins, remaking us, re-birthing us, making us a new creation, that God might look down upon us and say, “I’ve got kin in that body.” May God who can do infinitely more than we can ever imagine forgive our fear and continue to work within us, remaking us, reforming us into the body of Christ.

Amen

Bearing the Light

Light bearers

“May Light always surround you;
Hope kindle and rebound you.
May your Hurts turn to healing; Your Heart embrace Feeling.
May wounds become Wisdom;
Every Kindness a Prism.
May laughter infect you;
Your Passion resurrect you.
May Goodness inspire
Your Deepest Desires.
Through all that you Reach for,
May your arms Never Tire.
~ D. Simone

be-the-light

We are the light bearers, the evangelicals, which literally means those who bring a good word, a word of hope, a word of healing. And there is so much need for light bearing, for the good word, the word of hope today.

John 1 tells us that just over 2000 years ago a light came into the world; a light that would change everything, a light that came into darkness. This Lenten season we have been talking about our own darkness, our own desert journeys. There is plenty of darkness, plenty of wilderness and shadows to explore, to get to know. It’s important to know our own shadow side because then we can take responsibility for it, we know it when we see it and we won’t find ourselves pretending that it belongs to someone else. Holding our own weakness tenderly we can also be gentle with others. We can remember not to judge lest we be judged, we can refrain from throwing the first stone.

This week I heard Toni Morrison in an interview talking about racism. “it’s insanity,” she said, “it’s the need to see someone else on their knees so that you can feel OK.” It’s not black people who have work to do on racism but all who are racist. The reaction to the Black Lives Matter movement says a lot more about those reacting than it does the protestors. Do we really want to say that Black lives don’t matter? We must look carefully at our own shadow, our own darkness if we are to be sure that we are dealing with it, that we aren’t pretending that our darkness is really only a reaction to what others have done, is really justified. Our darkness, our shadow side, properly cared for and transformed by the Holy Spirit becomes fertile ground. It becomes that place where we have empathy for others because we know how hard this work is. We know what resistance looks like.

We know the resistance because we can and we do overcome it! We know it because it is that urge to not do anything, to let someone else take care of it. We know it because we want to deny and defend and justify why we acted or didn’t act. We know it because we can bring the light of Christ to it and watch it change. This transformation is that glorious moment when you realize you can and you do make a difference, sometimes just with a smile, with recognition, a way of saying to others, I see you and I care. Seeing others truly we bring the light of Christ to them. “Beloved child of God, you are treasured, you are loved eternally and no one and nothing can ever take that away.” And the shadows lift, they dissolve.

We can see our shadow side leaking out when we see our nation mourning the brutal death of Kayla Mueller; who looking like everyone’s next door neighbor, was killed by ISIS and how quickly this was followed in North Carolina by the murder of three innocent Muslim students, who looked like “others” and the burning of a mosque in Houston. This is our shadow, come back to haunt us. It is out there when we hear news commentators crying out for the murder of all Muslims and there is no accountability for the American participation in the creation of ISIS. This is shadow work at its deepest and darkest. It’s hard to look at and if we really consider it, let it sink in, it can make us feel sickened and hopeless.

It is into this we must bring the light of Christ.

Bring the light of Christ into our anger and pain.

Our resistance to dealing with our darkness shows up when we hear people deride Obama for saying that Christians have committed atrocities too and we need to be careful how we judge others. We have quickly forgotten the Christian militias that terrorized thousands in Central Africa just two years ago, where more than 6000 were left dead in an ethnic cleansing, or the Christian justification of slavery that happened right here. Not us, we want to say, we would never, all the while students are shot and mosques are burned. It’s so much easier to see the wrongs, to see the shadow in others. Not us, we protest, we couldn’t do that.

Bring the light of Christ into our sorrow.

We feel our resistance in the silence and the turned gaze when we don’t want to see our neighbors in poverty or pain. When we want to walk by and not see, not know. As if to know would implicate us, would drag us into their situation and it feels too big, too scary.

Bring the light of Christ into our fear.

It is into this darkness, the darkness where might makes right and the powers that be can be as vicious and brutal as any we have heard of, it is into this darkness that a light has come.

Light of Christ come into our most hopeless situations.

A light that cannot be overpowered. This light that cannot be overcome, it cannot be eaten up or digested by the darkness. It sticks in the craw of the darkness and no one and nothing can swallow it up. This light changes everything.

This light which will not go away illuminates our very being and we are seen, truly seen and perhaps there is a piece of us that fears this, that says “if you really saw me, truly knew who and what I am, you would not like me.” It takes courage to stand in the light and be truly, wholly seen. All our mistakes and shadows visible. We are human, faulty and frail. We are human, bearers of the image of God, created good, so very good, and faulty and frail. Both are true. The light of Christ transforms our darkness, our human soil into the richest of compost, into the fertile ground of compassion and abiding love.

Pain that isn’t transformed, is transmitted and so we mourn with those who’s pain continues to live in them, who’s pain continues to isolate and distance them, those who are afraid to stand in the light of Christ because they are so sure that no one could ever truly love them, not after all they’ve done and been. We mourn with those who cannot bear to look at their own shadow, their own darkness for fear that it will all be true and it’s too big, and it’s too scary.

We bring the light of Christ to those who are lost in the darkness when we tenderly hold a safe space and invite those who fear, who rage, who hurt to dare to show up wholly and completely. We bring the light of Christ when we look past the painful behaviors and say I still see you, I still see you, child of God and God still sees you. You are treasured, you are loved, you are forgiven, you are made whole.

We bring the light of Christ when we love ourselves wholly and completely, all our faults and mistakes, and we honor our faults because they keep us human and keep us reachable. Can we say to ourselves, I see you child of God and God sees you; you are treasured, you are loved, you are forgiven.

We mourn and cry out against the darkness, the lostness, the injury and pain, but we don’t leave it there. We are called upon to bear the light of Christ into that darkness, into all the pain and lostness. We are called to show up fully, frail human, beloved child of God, and be with those who suffer. We are called not to judge but to be with, not to correct or fix but to love.

Mourn then and cry out, and rage against the darkness, but don’t leave it there. Go forth as the light bearers, as the image bearers, as the messenger of God and speak a word of hope, of truth, of light into the darkness.

Look deep into the darkness, because we might find part of ourselves there, some piece long forgotten, because we might find our sisters and brother there, and love deeply, love knowing that the darkness is the first wrap we put on our wounds, tucking them away when they are too painful for us to bear, to hold gently, tucking them away with the promise that we will release them soon, as soon as we can breathe through it and know we’ll survive. Love gently and deeply because sometimes, when we have covered a wound it is just to easy to let it stay covered and to refuse to heal. Love deeply because this is what it means to bring the light of Christ into the darkness; not a harsh, glaring, exposing light, but a soft, tender, loving light, a light which heals.

Love deeply because, as the poet Hafiz said hundreds of years ago, speaking to this eternal truth:

The heart is right to cry

Even when the smallest drop of light

Of love

Is taken away.

Perhaps you may kick, moan, scream

In a dignified

Silence,

But you are so right

To do so in any fashion

Until God returns

To

You.

And so yes, kick, moan and scream if you need to but don’t ever give up. Know that God is with you. And when you can’t feel God’s presence it is right to mourn, to cry.

Go into the darkness, because you bear the light of Christ with you, because you are the evangelist, because you bear the image of God in your very being. Go into the darkness because you are loved, you are treasured, you are never forgotten but loved eternally and no one and nothing can ever take that away. You bear the light of Christ within you, never forget that.