The way you win the prize

rebirth-1

So I’m…

Slowly approaching the Throne, the
Queen is in her Glory, I’m approachin’ alone;
She loves me dearly, but she still wears the Crown, so my
Head and my knee, I take and bend them on down.

She rises from the Throne, and walks so regal,
Beauty, Truth, Goodness – there is no equal,
Giver of Life, she does it all for her people, if
Lovin’ her’s a crime, I don’t care – I’ll be illegal.

She stands in front of me, so close but so far, ‘cuz I’m
As nothing before her, while she’s shining like a star.
She lifts my head and looks me in the eyes, and says
“Living in humility’s the way you win the Prize…

“Won’t you have a seat with me?” She gives a hand, I
Arise like a new knight in a new land, we
Walk back to the Throne, lover and Beloved, and the
Sky is no limit, ‘cuz there ain’t nothing above it.

(Dwayne Polk)

No coward soul is mine

BronteSisters I’ve known of the Brontë sisters (mid-19th cent) for years but only recently picked up a volume of Emily Bronte’s poetry. It’s stunning. Knowing the difficulties Emily Brontë faced, the struggles of her day, her family trials and losses, the stiff opposition she and her sisters overcame, besides dying at age 30 of tuberculosis (3 months after her brother died of alcoholism), some of her poems are nothing short of miraculous. I have one or two others I will share, but “No Coward Soul is Mine” will do for now.

If you haven’t watched the 2-part TV series Walk Invisible: The Brontë Sisters, please do. You won’t be sorry, unless of course you don’t appreciate good literature or the English language at its best and most beautiful!

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No coward soul is mine
No trembler in the world’s storm-troubled sphere
I see Heaven’s glories shine
And Faith shines equal arming me from Fear.

O God within my breast
Almighty ever-present Deity
Life, that in me hast rest,
As I Undying Life, have power in Thee.

Vain are the thousand creeds
That move men’s hearts, unutterably vain,
Worthless as withered weeds
Or idlest froth amid the boundless main.

To waken doubt in one
Holding so fast by thy infinity,
So surely anchored on
The steadfast rock of Immortality.

With wide-embracing love
Thy spirit animates eternal years
Pervades and broods above,
Changes, sustains, dissolves, creates and rears.

Though earth and moon were gone
And suns and universes ceased to be
And Thou wert left alone
Every Existence would exist in thee.

There is not room for Death
Nor atom that his might could render void
Since thou art Being and Breath
And what thou art may never be destroyed.

Exiles rejoicing

Ezra 3.12: “But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy.”

Israel is here returned from 70 years in exile. They’re rebuilding their lives, including their temple. Most of those present were born in exile, so any temple at all is a reason to rejoice. But some of those present were old enough to remember the former Temple, destroyed 70 years earlier, and all they see is are reasons for weeping. Why? Because they recall the first Temple. Painful memories. Memories of past mistakes. Memories of taking the wrong way and suffering the consequences. Memories of missed opportunities. Regret over what might have been. To fall under its spell is to view even blessings as a cursed reminder of the past.

Another similar passage:

Haggai 2.3: “Who is left among you who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not appear to you like nothing in comparison?”

Why ask this? Because, as we know, some are weeping. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. “We’ll never recover what we had. Our mistakes have condemned us to a Plan B that will always trail behind Plan A. We’ll live the rest of our lives weighed down by the shame of our regret.”

Eventually the pain of regret comes to the surface not just for the older generation who were around to remember the former days, but also when Ezra gathers all the people in Jerusalem to hear the Scripture read aloud. What happens? Neh. 8:9b: “All the people were weeping while they heard the Scripture being read.” Why? Because they hear described God’s historical call to Israel, his promises to Israel, his gifts and blessings, the history of his faithfulness and provision, and they’re overwhelmed. Why? Because that has not been their experience. They sit and leaf through Israel’s older photo-albums of former times rich with blessing and peace, and they mourn its loss, if they’re old enough to remember, or its absence, if all they’ve known is exile.

So what’s God say to them about the regret and pain of past mistakes and missed opportunities? Two things:

1) Through Nehemiah (8.10) God says, “Don’t grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” And when Israel hears the feast of tabernacles described in the public reading of Scripture, they confess, “What? We haven’t been celebrating this,” and they all gather palm branches and tree limbs and build humble, leaky, dirt floor dwellings to celebrate the Feast of Tents/Tabernacles. Nehemiah (8.17) says there was great rejoicing. Exiles rejoicing?

2) Through Haggai (2.9) God says: “The glory of this latter house shall be greater than the glory of the former house.” The Temple was destroyed in judgment, and as it’s rebuilt, it becomes clear this will not be a return to the former Temple. God asks, “Those of you who remember the first Temple, what d’ya think?” And they just weep. But God encourages them, “Don’t cry. The glory of this latter house shall be greater than the glory of the former house.” Understand it correctly. The former house was larger, more impressive, a top-shelf Temple, a true denominational HQ, red carpet and all. This latter house, however, is smaller, humbler, and far less impressive. And yet God promises the glory of this latter house will be greater than the glory of the former.

Your past failures cannot foreclose upon the goodness and glory God wishes to manifest in and through you. For the glory of the house doesn’t depend on the history of the house; it depends on who occupies the house. This latter house won’t look the same as the former house. It’s less impressive to outsiders, less accommodating, less fitted for headlines and conference. It gets no invites. Hosts no celebrities.

Your life may have taken a very different path than it would have taken, but you will cross the same finish line everybody else crosses and you’ll participate in the same transforming glory and goodness of God. It matters not what you are in; it matters what is in you. The glory is his, not the house’s, and it can flow in the fullness he desires from the rebuilt ruins and losses which exile inevitably brings.

γνῶθι σεαυτόν

Self-Knowledge is not fully possible for human beings. We do not reside in a body, a mind or a world where it is achievable or from the point of being interesting, even desirable. Half of what lies in the heart and mind is potentiality; resides in the darkness of the unspoken and unarticulated and has not yet come into being: this hidden unspoken half of a person will supplant and subvert any present understandings we have about ourselves.

Human beings are always, and always will be, a frontier between what is known and what is not known. The act of turning any part of the unknown into the known is simply ana invitation for an equal measure of the unknown to flow in and reestablish that frontier: to reassert that far horizon of an individual life; to make us what we are – that is – a moving edge between what we know about ourselves and what we are about to become. What are we actually about to become or are afraid of becoming always trumps and rules over what we think we are already.

The hope that a human being can achieve complete honesty and self-knowledge without regard to themselves is a fiction and a chimera, the jargon and goals of a corporate educational system brought to bear on the depths of an identity where the writ of organizing language does not run. Self-knowledge includes the understanding that the self we want to know is about to disappear. What we can understand is the way we occupy this frontier between the known and the unknown, the way we hold the conversation of life, the figure we cut at that edge, but a detailed audit of the self is not possible and diminishes us in the attempt to establish it; we are made on a grander scale, half afraid of ourselves, half in love with immensities beyond any name we can give.

Self-knowledge is often confused with transparency, but knowledge of the self always becomes the understanding of the self as a confluence; a flowing meeting of elements, including all the other innumerable selves in the world, not a set commodity to be unearthed and knocked into shape. Self-knowledge is not clarity or transparency or knowing how everything works, self-knowledge is a fiercely attentive form of humility and thankfulness, a sense of the privilege of a particular form of participation, coming to know the way we hold the conversation of life and perhaps, above all, the miracle that there is a particular something rather than an abstracted nothing and we are a very particular part of that particular something.

What we recognize and applaud as honesty and transparency in an individual is actually the humble demeanor of the apprentice, someone paying extreme attention, to themselves, to others, to life, to the next step, which they may survive or they may not; someone who does not have all the answers but who is attempting to learn what they can, about themselves and those with whom they share the journey, someone like everyone else, wondering what they and their society are about to turn into. We are neither what we think we are not entirely what we are about to become, we are neither purely individual nor fully a creature of our community, but an act of becoming that can never be held in place by a false form of nomenclature.

(David Whyte, Consolations)

Going down to hell alive

rebirthWherefore, because the soul is purified in this furnace like gold in a crucible…it is conscious of this complete undoing of itself in its very structure, together with the direst poverty, as if it were nearing its end, as may be seen by that which David says of himself in this respect, in these words: “Save me, O God, for the waters are up to my neck. I have sunk into the miry depths, where there is no footing. I have drifted into deep waters, where the flood engulfs me. I am weary from my crying; my throat is parched. My eyes fail looking for my God.” (Ps 69.1-3) Here God greatly humbles the soul in order that he may afterwards greatly exalt it. And if he ordained not that when these feelings arise within the soul they should speedily be stilled, the soul would die in a very short space. But there are only occasional periods when it is conscious of their greatest intensity…so keen that the soul seems to be seeing hell and perdition opened…and in truth [the soul] goes down alive into hell, being purged here on earth in the same manner as there, since this purgation is that which would have to be accomplished there.

(St. John of the Cross, The Dark Night of the Soul, Book 2, Ch. 6)