Beautiful One

In my mind, I hold a blurry picture of my Savior’s form. Always before me, it appears as the synthesis of every image I’ve ever known. Every painting. Every cinematic portrayal. Every person who has ever inspired the resounding of His name within my heart. No matter what subtle differences there may be in how we each perceive Him, we tend to imagine the same basic features. Cascading dark hair. Olive skin. A face shining brighter than the first light of morning. We see His youth, and above all else—we see His beauty.

Yet, it occurs to me that, in all of Scripture, there is really only one passage that describes Him physically. It is a prophetic passage written, ironically, a great many years before He was born. It is incredibly poignant, and every time I read it, it makes me wonder all the more. “My servant grew up in the Lord’s presence like a tender green shoot, like a root in dry ground. There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance, nothing to attract us to him. He was despised and rejected—a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care.” (Isaiah 53:2-3, NLT)

Reading that will surely leave us with a much different picture in our minds than the one we’ve dreamt of on our own. It has to. And isn’t it just our way? Isn’t it just our way to assume that He must’ve been outwardly beautiful, given the truth of who He was? And wouldn’t it have been just His way to purposely veil Himself within a shroud of ugliness—if only to test our hearts? I think so. It reminds me of a fairytale.

But it’s not an easy idea for us to accept. The poison in our humanity won’t let us accept it. For us to do so, we must be in sync with God—joining ourselves to Him in body, mind, and spirit. For, only then shall we see as He sees. Only then shall we envisage true beauty. His beauty.

Don’t Cling to Me

It might be kind of late for an Easter post, but I’ve been thinking about this for a while. Jesus’ exchange with Mary Magdalene as they stand alone by His tomb on that morning is one of those simple passages in Scripture that has always haunted and puzzled me. I’ve never really liked it, and I’ve even found myself wishing that I could rewrite the scene—to make it more tender somehow.

On the surface, it just seems so cold. There she is, already lost in grief at the death of  the Man she loves. And that grief has just been made far worse for her upon her realization that she can no longer have the comfort of even drawing near to His body—because someone has apparently stolen it. Then, as she starts to cry, a stranger appears—invading her privacy and even asking her why she’s crying. That, alone, must have been so awful for her. But then, this stranger finally allows her to see him for who he truly is, and in her love and elation, she runs into His arms! She runs into His arms as He tries to hold her back. “Don’t cling to me,” he harshly admonishes, “for I haven’t yet ascended to the Father” (John 20:17, NLT). And that’s basically all that’s been written to describe the encounter between the two of them. The conversation comes to an abrupt halt. Then, He goes His way and she goes hers—back to tell the others what has just happened.

I don’t know. Maybe this is just me trying desperately to ease the discomfort I’ve always felt upon reading this—but I thought of something recently that I hadn’t considered before. This was probably the last time that Jesus ever felt Mary’s embrace—as a human being—before returning to God. In the Old Testament, we read all the time about how perilous it was for a human being to even see God’s face. But, for thirty-three fleeting years, God, Himself, was a human being. Not only could He come close enough to His creation to let them see Him, but He could actually touch them. Hold them. Kiss them—without causing them to die! For thirty-three years, He was able to be on their level, and to express affection for them in a way that they could understand. And He could feel their affection for Him, too—not just as God, but as man. He could feel their affection as His divinity lay ensconced in flesh and blood.

Mary Magdalene was no exception to this. Chances are, she probably enhanced the experience for Him—because He’d known her so personally throughout His time on earth. So, He awakes from His death, knowing that He cannot stay—that He has to leave His humanity in order for His Spirit to, at last, indwell the ones He loves. Knowing this, He comes upon her as she weeps at the tomb. And maybe the sight of her compels Him to reveal Himself—because He can’t bear to watch her cry. But when she goes to touch Him, He immediately relents. He feels the warmth of her flesh upon His. He feels the caress of her hands as she reaches up to touch His hair, and in that moment, just maybe—He can’t find the will to leave her. He knows He won’t be able to experience this again until He comes for her a second time, so instead of holding on, He pushes her away. He pushes her away because He loves her so much—and because it’s just too hard to say goodbye.

Like I said, I don’t know. I’m sure there are lots of other theories as to why Jesus reacted to Mary’s touch in the way that He did. As I pondered the question in my mind, this is just what came to me—as I felt the tears springing forth from my eyes.

When the Time Comes

The gospel of Luke tells us that Jesus was about thirty years old when his ministry began, and little else is recorded about those first thirty years. We know some things about the circumstances surrounding his conception and birth. We know that he spent a part of his early childhood living in Egypt, due to King Herod’s designs on his life. We know that his parents lost him in Jerusalem for three days when he was twelve, and we also know that he studied and practiced carpentry prior to his baptism. What remains beyond those things is mostly left to our imaginations, and I guess, in a way, that’s kind of nice.

I’ve always liked to imagine his life being simple—unremarkable to those with no wisdom of his true identity. I can picture him growing up with his brothers and sisters, making friends, and maybe even falling in love. I can see him going to school and learning the family trade. I can see him coming of age beautifully amid the joys and sorrows of daily life. But I think the hardest thing for me to imagine is the way in which, at some point, he must’ve begun to realize God’s plan for himself. How hard must it have been for him to discover how different he was from the people around him? How hard must it have been for him to discover who he was —and the reason why he’d been born? Did it happen slowly, across time and experience, or did he have some great, defining moment that led him to the revelation? We don’t know. But we do know that he eventually came of age. We can sense the separation between life as he’d known it and life as it began for him in his thirtieth year—as though everything that had come before were building to it all along.

Maybe we all have a separation like that; maybe not. But if we are willing to yield ourselves to God with each breath we take, how can we help fulfilling his plan? How can we help growing up beautifully?

Is Anyone Angry?

I’ve been thinking a lot about anger of late—probably because it’s one of those emotions that I’d like to have a firmer grip on. You know how it is. No matter how often we say we’re resolved to “turn over a new leaf” and stop behaving in ways we’ll regret, somehow that resolve goes straight out the window, especially when we find ourselves beset with anger. We can actually feel it rising to the surface from somewhere deep within us, its pressure relentlessly building until it seems that an outburst of violence can be our only respite. So, we give in. We unleash our inner tempest on the object of our rage, sometimes even managing to abuse an innocent bystander. And for a moment, we might feel some false sense vindication—even pleasure—at the release. But it doesn’t last for long. And afterwards, we’re likely to be more angry with ourselves than we were with the person or situation that provoked the initial storm.

I’ve always thought of anger as a kind of secondary emotion—a mask for pain and fear. It makes us feel less vulnerable in times when we can’t defend ourselves. The trouble is, though, that it harms us much more than it helps us. In His sermon on the mount, Jesus actually likens anger to murder, and that can be a really hard thing for us to accept. To us, there is a huge difference between the two, but God doesn’t want only to change our actions for the better. He wants to change our hearts, and, to Him, anger is murder within the heart. Murder is sin because life belongs to God. It is a sacred gift from God—Who Is the ultimate Lover of life—and what He has breathed into each of us, no human being should ever seek to extinguish. When I’m angry with someone, the one unassailable fact that I hope to always keep at the forefront of my mind is that this person—whomever he or she is—bears God’s image. No matter what else I’m thinking or feeling about this person in any given moment, nothing is going to change that. So, how dare I mount an assault on an image-bearer of the Most High?

In the knowledge that our Creator has loved us so fiercely as to turn His anger away from us and to take it upon Himself—murdering His own Life that He might rescue ours—we should love each other. We should seek Him in each other’s eyes, acting in defiance of our own conceit. When we do that, how can we possibly be angry? Please, pray for me, and I’ll pray for you, too.

The Majesty of Love

I recently stumbled across something I wrote about six years ago. I’d been lovesick and despondent for more reasons than one, and I’d found myself trying to make sense of my pain. Things have changed for me since then, but as I reflected carefully upon the words, I realized that they still hold true. With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, I know that there are many who still yearn, seemingly in vain, to be loved by the object of their affection. If you are one of them, I’d like to dedicate this entry to you, in the hope that it might give meaning to your pain. This is what I wrote:

 

I’ve been thinking a lot about love recently, and although I feel the need to add a disclaimer to say that my thoughts on the matter are of no greater importance than anyone else’s, I wanted to share them with you because in them, I’ve rediscovered a fundamental truth that could help us understand.

Sometimes, I wonder why it’s necessary for us to feel with such intensity when the love that we have goes so often unreturned. It would probably be next to impossible to count the number of poems and songs that we, as a unified whole, have offered up to our beloved in an hour of passionate longing. Dare we even try?

Love is, indeed, the most powerful force unseen by human eyes, and it makes me so sad to think of the innumerable tragedies that befall us when our love is rejected. I don’t think there’s really any need to discuss these in detail—I’m sure we’ve all heard mention of them if we haven’t experienced them in some measure ourselves.

To be denied by the one we love will bring a pain so indescribably real that we fear we may be crushed to death beneath our own weight. In our anguish, we turn our gaze to the clouds and wonder, why?

I have to confess that I have been guilty of this questioning myself, from time to time. But when I really stop to think about it, I find that I’ve known the answer all along: We have to know this pain so that we can understand.

At the risk of losing some of you with this next part…what if there’s a deeper meaning behind everything that we experience in this world? What if the pain that we feel for the want of those we love is not meant as a mark of cruel indifference, or even as a punishment? What if it’s actually bestowed as a gift?

I believe, wholeheartedly, that God exists. I also believe that He loves us more than we will ever have the capacity to know. He gives us so many things as a testament to His love—the way the flowers smell, the way the fireflies illuminate the summer with their tiny and twinkling lights, the way the warmth of the sun can soothe us gently to sleep—but more than all of these things, His greatest sign of affection is His willingness to suffer for the want of us. He loves us so much that He embraced anguish and death even at our hands. Many of us have heard the story, but is that truly enough to let us know?

Maybe God has another idea in mind. Maybe He knows that we could have no hope of understanding unless we experienced a piece of this anguish for ourselves. He so desperately longs for us to know the depth of His love, so He allows us to love each other in a way that emulates it. He allows us to know the pain of unrequited love not because He wants to hurt us, or because He doesn’t care, but rather because He wants us, in those moments of sadness, to turn our hearts to Him and remember.

Love is the single greatest gift that we have been given in this life—in our ability to give as well as to receive it. To receive it is such an indescribably wonderful joy, but only in giving it do we start to bear likeness to our Creator. Only in giving it are we clothed in majesty.

So the next time you love someone, be ever thankful for that precious gift…even if the one you love cannot love you back. Just take a deep breath, lift your eyes to the heavens, and remember…

I suppose that some might find my musings a little theatrical, and even I must admit that, most of the time, I find it quite entertaining to re-read the expressions of my younger self. But this one—well—in light of all that my God has spoken into me throughout the years, I can’t help but stand by it. And I know that every moment of my life I’ve chosen to pine for someone else, God has spent pining for me—waiting for me to finally turn my heart to Him and give Him the passion that belonged to Him from the beginning. He loves us all this way, and He deserves our love in return. So, when you find yourself heartbroken for another person, may you also find comfort in knowing that His heart breaks for you. And in that knowledge, may you run to Him—His lover overwhelmed to be His beloved.

 

God with Us

The story continues to amaze me. No matter how many times I’ve heard it before, I don’t think anything could take away its newness. People sometimes point out that, despite the pageantry of Christmas, it’s Easter that holds the deepest significance for Christians around the world. And, in a way, that’s true. Were it not for the miracle of that bright, Sunday morning, Christmas would hold no significance at all. Yet, in my heart, the miracle of Christmas still touches me, ever so slightly more than Easter ever could. Maybe it does have something to do with the pageantry of it all—the music and the tree, and the soft beams of light set against the crystal snow. Even for those among us who aren’t particularly spiritual, there’s something about Christmas that’s so completely enchanting. It makes us want to be different—better, somehow.

Maybe Christmas touches my heart more than Easter does because my secular culture tells me it should, but I don’t think that’s the reason. For me, I think it’s simply that within the Christmas story, there lies such a revolutionary thought. The word God, along with all words synonymous to it, is typically associated with unbridled power. When we hear it, we’re likely to imagine a force so strong that it could effortlessly crush us, if it wanted to. We think of a person for whom nothing is impossible, a person who could bend anything to his will—even death. The story of Easter certainly falls in line with that idea. But the story of Christmas? Who, in their wildest dreams, could’ve ever seen that coming? God. Almighty Creator of the world and all life within it, ensconced in the fragile form of a tiny baby? It’s just so unthinkable. To imagine for a moment that we could hold Him in our arms and rock Him to sleep with our songs. Have you ever wondered what it must’ve been like to be His mother? To feel Him growing inside of you—to look down and watch Him as He drinks from your breast? I mean, wow. What kind of God is this? What kind of God is this who would willingly submit Himself to this kind of vulnerability—at our hands? The careless hands of His created ones, whom He’d made for His pleasure, but who had spurned His affection again, and again? It’s incredible! And after all this time, the thought of it can still draw tears from my eyes.

Easter is the story of our triumphant Savior, coming on the heels of terrible violence and pain. But Christmas holds such a gentle beauty. What greater expression is there of the love of God for mankind than for God to make Himself vulnerable to us? I’m so grateful to have a God who loves me this way, and it was precisely this kind of impossible love that won my heart to begin with—this love which only our God is capable of rendering to us. So now, as the chaos of the season comes to a close once again, I pray that we’ll all find a moment to rest in the quiet. To gaze lovingly upon the lights of our beautifully adorned Christmas trees, or into the tiny flames of the candles still lighting our frosted windows. To hear the songs of His love and to feel its overwhelming warmth. Tonight. Tomorrow. All the days of our lives—on earth and in heaven.

Walk with Me

This will probably be one of my shorter posts. I have something to share, but for those who will receive it, I’ll spare the personal details and focus on the simple truth. I have often heard the testimonies of other people who speak profusely of the joy they feel in knowing that God guides their steps. God has given me joy throughout my life, but only in these recent days have I finally begun to understand this particular joy. I’ve come to recognize the difference between walking in my own will and walking in His. And this difference might seem pretty basic in a logical sense, but it’s not just about what we can perceive intellectually—it’s about what we can experience.

Regrettably, I’ve chosen to walk within my own will throughout the vast majority of the precious time I’ve been given on this earth. In consequence of that choice, I’ve experienced a lot of strife. I’ve been victimized by fear, I’ve stumbled in frustration and resentment, and I’ve grieved in terrible heartache. I’ve spent so much energy trying to break down the wrong doors and wondering why they won’t just open, when, all the while, He has been waiting for me to take His hand—wanting so much to lead me down the path He cleared for me long ago.

At a certain point, I hope we all become broken enough of our own stubbornness to finally take His hand, because when we do, we will all know what it is to experience miracles. We will see our fear give way to trust, our frustration yield to peace, and our heartache transform into the most wonderful joy—a joy born of love experienced both from and for our beautiful Creator.

We have a God who cares for us, I think, far more than we have the capacity to understand. The desire of His heart is to make us whole—to provide for us and keep us safe so that we’ll never have to know the pain of being without Him. “Look at the lilies and how they grow,” Jesus said. “They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are (Matthew 6:28-29, NLT).”

I have felt the hand of my God as He lovingly adorns me with all that I need for my warmth. In spite of every false security the world has ever seduced me with, that Hand is what I’m thankful for.