We much and poorly love you, Lord.

Some time ago, I stood with a congregation of Christians not of my denomination. To name it would distract from the point. I stood and noticed their differences, and how their differences could lead either closer to God, or if handled poorly by the human heart, could lead into distraction.

But, I  thought, is not every denomination full of such perils? Where one breaks away to avoid a pitfall, it only runs until it stumbles into another. Everywhere, there are those who seek and find God through the particulars of their tradition, and there are those who do not, though they have the same tradition. In every life, there are times we seek and find God through one thing or another, and then there are times we get distracted by the things we find him in–prayers once alive becoming dry words, motions and images and music that once drove our minds and hearts to humility and glory now only playing on our emotions, or not even that.

And I thought, how? How is it that we can love the Lord our God so much, and yet do such a poor job of it? As a Church, as fractured denominations, each seeking to be more deeply and truly Christ’s, as struggling local congregations, as stumbling families, as broken individuals… how is it that we who love God so much should love him so, well, badly?

And as I wondered, I watched a child, perhaps two years of age, running around on lovely marble floors, past holy symbols, babbling to himself about whatever he found. And then as prayers and incense rose before us, as we stood hushed with heads all bowed, this child turned and saw his mother, doing the same.

The toddler’s face lit with a happy light, and with a scream of gladness that pierced through the worship, he ran to her and flung himself against her legs, wrapping his arms around her and looking up with adoration.

And I thought, ahhh. That’s how. How sweetly, how truly and strongly, and yet how full of tantrums and forgetting and impropriety and lack of understanding, do we love the Lord our God. How at the wrong moments do we scream it, and cause others to cringe. How at the wrong moments do we clumsily toddle into the wrong places and do what he might not have us to do. How at his correction do we fuss and misunderstand.

How poorly do we love the Lord, and yet how much and truly.

And God, like the ever-patient parent, however poorly we show our love, (and even at those moments we forget him, or are upset and decide for a time that we hate him), so much and perfectly loves us, loves we who have not learned to love so well.

As my priest preached this morning, reminding me of these old musings: If we try to listen to God and follow him, we’re going to fail and get some things wrong. But as the good father whose small child has industriously taken part off of the car, and given it to his father as a Christmas gift, he does not rail and spurn our attempts, but is delighted at the dearness of our attempt, however poor, to show our love.

The good father says, “Thank you so much! That’s so sweet of you, and you must have worked so hard… But sweetie, even when we want to give Daddy a gift, we don’t take the steering wheel off of Daddy’s car.” And then he fixes up the mess, or helps the child to do so, and explains how better to give, next time.

We much and poorly love you, Lord,
We much and poorly love;
We scant and poorly give to you
That giv’n us from above.

We much and poorly love your face,
We much and poorly seek;
Your Kingdom come, your will be done,
Through hands so poor and weak.

We much and poorly love your sheep,
We much and poorly try
To call them to your feeding grounds,
As yet we’re drawing nigh.

We much and poorly love your will,
We much and poorly strive
To see your blessed building built,
Let your Life in us thrive.

You much and richly pour your Self,
Your Spirit and your Son,
Upon and through our weakling loves,
Until your Kingdom come.

(For more such poetry, here’s my website.)

Why not be utterly changed into fire?

 

Abbot Lot came to Abbot Joseph and said: “Father, to the limit of my ability, I keep my little rule, my little fast, my prayer, meditation and contemplative silence; and to the limit of my ability, I work to cleanse my heart of thoughts; what more should I do?” The elder rose up in reply, and stretched out his hands to heaven, and his fingers became like ten lamps of fire. He said: “Why not be utterly changed into fire?”

—Saying of the Desert Fathers

Great Physician and Lord of Time

Okay, I promised I’d keep my Doctor Who posts to a minimum. I’m doing that, I swear, but I had to post this one. If you don’t watch the show, you might not understand what I’m going on about. Sorry.

Why do I love the Doctor? Why am I absolutely obsessed with the Doctor? I’ve been trying to figure it out as I’ve found my love of Doctor Who creeping into every area of my life. What is it about that madman and his bigger-on-the-inside blue box? Why do I wish so hard for him to show up in his TARDIS and show me the universe—and to help him save it?

Well, I can’t speak for everyone, but speaking for myself, it’s for the same reason that I love most of the incredibly powerful hero types I love. They stand as human (or humanly relatable) icons of that great and wonderful God of mine, for whom the universe is awash with the grandest of titles, but whose true name none know nor can speak.

Sometimes, he’s so very human, in his errors, in his failings, in his never knowing quite where he’s going or what his plan is.

And all that is very endearing and sweet and relatable, and without those things he would be too perfect to build a television show around.

But then, there is that in him that is beyond humanity, there is that enormity, that awe-inspiring size and age and depth and breadth of his being.

“He’s like fire and ice and rage. He’s like the night and the storm in the heart of the sun. He’s ancient and forever. He burns at the center of time and can see the turn of the universe. And… he’s wonderful.”

Time Lord

Why do I love him so? It’s in the mercy and the justice.

It’s in the love so very big, and the mountains of pain to match.

It’s in how he finds a way to do the impossible when it seemed all was lost. (Even, wouldn’t you know it, when Roman soldiers are dragging him to his doom and the seeming doom of the universe.)

Pandorica Opens

It’s in that he saves people, great masses of people all the time, and still the individual tiny little persons that mean so much to him.

It’s in that you never know everything he’s seen and fought and won and done, and you can never understand what goes on inside his mind.

It’s in how he invites you to abandon life as you know it and run with him into the wildest rollickings of the universe, and makes so much more of you just by being there.

NineTenElevenDoctorsInvitation

It’s in how very much he wants his people at his side.

He’s not God, no, not by half, and his worst moments are those when he seems to suppose that maybe he is. But he’s nearer to God’s heart than many of us little humans, and there is so much in him that reflects so much of God so very dazzlingly, and that is what I would follow through the twistings and turnings of the time vortex, into danger and out of it until my very death.

And that’s when I thought, oh, my, God. This is so exciting. You have no idea, how excited I was when I realized this, how excited I am now.

I’ve already got a Time Lord. I know a Great Doctor who has invited me into his time vortex, and maybe I’m only traveling mostly forward for the most part, but so what? I am the companion of a Time Lord, THE Time Lord!

Do you know what I see when I look out of the window of this coffee shop he’s brought me to, full of people I’ve never seen before? I see dusky blue skies and curling whitish clouds gone pink with the last fading whispers of the sun’s jubilee, the humming purples that promise a beautiful night ahead. In front of these I see trees, great spreading trees with leaves gone lovely brown or orange-over-green, all of it swaying and trembling in the excitement of the autumn breeze. I see the gleam of light on the metallic curves of cars, row on row in parking lots or whizzing past in the street, I see their lights and the lights of signs glowing everywhere, evidence of man’s seemingly impossible harnessing of fire’s rage, and now the light of that same fire in the form that roils at the center of our galaxy brightens on one cloud, a breathtaking hurrah, then the sky goes soft shades of red as everything begins to darken into evening…

My Time Lord is showing me the wonders of the universe every day. He shows me marvelous creatures and plants and scenes that will take my breath away and bring tears to my eyes if I’ll only let them. I’m going to spend my whole life seeing things I’ve never seen before!

I’ll see all kinds of faces, their inner workings so familiar and yet so alien to me, every one important, and he cares about every one and he would have me to care about every one, to touch their lives with him and to add to their pile of good things as we explore this universe, to turn their faces to its wonders and to see them become what he sees that they can become!

And I’ll see him, and his marvelousness, I’ll see him laughing at the hilarious things that spring up around us, I’ll see his love so marvelous, find his words, so profound, everywhere I go.

I’ll watch that  pain, as deep as his love, cross his face when suffering and death and all evils rack the universe, when humanity is less than what he dreams it can be, knows it can be, when people say goodbye, and he knows he’ll never see them again. And when I see it, I will cry with him.

I’ll do things he tells me to do that don’t seem to make any sense, but I’ll trust him to work things out for the impossible good, even when all seems lost again and again. Because I’m his companion, and I’ve seen his fingerprints throughout history, and I know he pulls it off.

There’s a Time and Relative Dimension In Space.

It stood before the foundations of the earth and it can touch everywhere and everywhen.

It’s old and new and beautiful and the truest true ever.

It’s small and simple and made of wood, but it’s bigger on the inside.

Inside, it’s more complex and impossible an powerful than anything else in our reality, and it belongs to the Time Lord.

It brings hope wherever it goes, and it is the nightmare of every nightmare.

And I will go anywhere with my Great Physician and his Cross.