Absent in the Spring

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This morning I read chapters 12 through 14 in the book of Job, the words of a man alternately addressing God and his deluded comforters in the midst of his suffering. Immediately after, I read the first chapter of Luke. The juxtaposition of the two readings left a strange sensation, a net of chiaroscuro, light and shadow, the sunrise of salvation and the nihilism of pain.

Oddly, there came to my mind, Agatha Christie’s psychological novel, Absent in the Spring, and Shakespeare’s sonnet from which it drew its title.

Sonnet 98

From you have I been absent in the spring,
When proud-pied April, dressed in all his trim,
Hath put a spirit of youth in everything,
That heavy Saturn laughed and leaped with him,
Yet nor the lays of birds, nor the sweet smell
Of different flowers in odor and in hue,
Could make me any summer’s story tell,
Or from their proud lap pluck them where they grew.
Nor did I wonder at the lily’s white,
Nor praise the deep vermilion in the rose;
They were but sweet, but figures of delight,
Drawn after you, you pattern of all those.
Yet seemed it winter still, and, you away,
As with your shadow I with these did play.

Caught in the pain of loss, the poet’s world is colored by it. What used to penetrate his senses with beauty now sharpens the knife’s edge of absence. Everything is a shadow of what it once was or ought to be and he is deeply aware of it.

Not so the narrator of the psychological Christie novel. She is absent to her own loss, that is, she doesn’t know what she’s missing. For a brief time an awareness of her loss, her failure to “be there” for those she claims to love, all of life that she’s failed to see and missed, cuts into her consciousness. Her grief is almost unendurable and she is overwhelmed by regret. She determines to change and make amends. But the moment passes like a mirage in the desert heat. She returns to her narcissistic life “absent” once again, oblivious to the misery of those who need her the most.

The pain of loss absorbs Job’s consciousness. But he engages with God through it all. While his “comforters” try to justify his suffering, Job goes straight to the One who can get him though it. He will not “curse God and die” as his wife advises. He will not absent himself to his suffering. He will neither deny it nor flee from it. Instead, in his suffering he looks for God. He remembers who God is. He knows that whatever the season, the summer of abundance or the winter of loss, God is unchanging, steadfast in love and faithfulness and sovereign in power. This knowledge emboldens Job and shores up his hope so that he doesn’t fall into the despair with which Satan  tempts us during hard times.

It is the first chapter of Luke that puts it all in perspective. This is where Christ’s birth is announced. Zechariah breaks into a joyful song of expectation and Mary bursts into a paean of praise as her spirit rejoices in God her Savior. Jesus’s birth breaks into history, the history of the world and our own personal history. His birth is pivotal to our understanding of temporal loss because His birth is the moment in time when the eternal becomes more real, more true, more present than absence caused by loss, whether the loss of health or loss through death.

His presence overtakes the absence. His reality in history, in the flesh, through His death and resurrection, overshadows everything. Eternity trumps the temporal. And by the word of God through the Holy Spirit we glean it daily as God who suffered here on earth suffers yet with us, making more real to us the glory that awaits us when we see Him face to face.

Praise God for that day!


Job 19: 25 (NASB)
“As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, And at the last He will take His stand on the earth.”

2 Corinthians 4:17-18 (ESV)
For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

Hebrews 2: 14-15 (ESV) 
Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.

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Home

Yesterday I saw this on Twitter: I just wanna go home, wherever it is … The  writer was a young Indian woman and an author with over 21K followers. But her age, background, and success at her vocation fades into irrelevancy beside the plaintive cry of her heart.

Those simple words struck through the heart of me because I remember as a child, sometimes, out of nowhere would come an inexplicable longing, and wherever I was, even if with my family at home, I too would say aloud to no one in particular: “I wanna go home.” And the moment I said it sadness would flood my soul and I would be reminded of the absence of something or someone vital to my well-being. But I couldn’t define what it was. Or who it was.

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The Way and the Roadmap

I wonder, have you reached the point in your Christian walk where weakness is strength? Where your weakness becomes a source of joy? If you have, then you have found true humility and more: you have found wisdom. And wisdom is a Person. Jesus Christ.

As C. S. Lewis puts it,

It is easy to acknowledge, but almost impossible to realize for long, that we are mirrors whose brightness, if we are bright, is wholly derived from the sun that shines upon us.…Grace substitutes [for hubris] a full, childlike and delighted acceptance of our Need, a joy in total dependence. We become “jolly beggars.” (The Four Loves)

Joy in total dependence? It goes against the grain of our tendency towards self-reliance. In our pride, complete dependence is anathema.

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Laudate Dominum

More than two thousand seven hundred years ago, God spoke through the prophet Isaiah, saying, “And I … am about to come and gather the people of all nations and languages, and they will come and see my glory” (66:18). And He did come just as He promised, in the incarnate Savior, Jesus Christ. Now many peoples of all manner and kind, from every nation, gather to proclaim His glory and praise His name.

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Confessions in the Desert

You’re restless. You can’t sit still. You have a nagging task you can’t identify. You’re looking for something unknown. But the land is arid and the country is a wilderness. Then after a while, unexpectedly, the first sign of relief appears. You run towards it like you would a spring in the desert. You drink deeply. And …

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We Are All Beggars

In the spring of 1521, a man stood alone before an inquisitorial council, summoned by the Pope and Emperor Charles V, to renounce his writings and his beliefs. Instead, he stood firm, saying,

Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen.

Just days prior to his death many years later, this same man, Martin Luther, wrote that before the Holy Scriptures, “Wir sind alle Bettler” (“We are all beggars”).

We are all beggars. Newly clad in the righteousness of Christ, having discarded our sin-soaked garments, we stand with hands empty before our holy God to receive each day our fill of nourishing food from the table of Christ our King, a table laden with all that comes to us by the Spirit of God in the Bible. “How sweet are Your words to my taste!” writes the psalmist. “Yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (119:103). “O taste and see that the LORD is good!” (Ps. 34:8) Through His word, Christ Jesus teaches and guides us, and by His Spirit enables us, so we shout with confidence with the apostle Paul, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me!” (Phil. 4:13)
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Romans 12 & the Sermon on the Mount

Reading Romans 12, I am struck by how it seems to compress the whole of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount while at the same time expanding on the Beatitudes. Basically, Romans 12 simultaneously provides a bird’s eye view and a X-ray magnification of Matthew 5-7. Both passages, of course, are specifically addressed to followers of Christ.

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Love and Poesy

A well-crafted poem, if I may borrow from a most famous one, is a thing of beauty and a joy forever. Yet a heart of stone can melt from one ill-composed, written in a child’s hand or a lover’s, with clichés and popular idioms. The eyes of love give flight to crippled syntax as it is read, and it is treasured beyond its worth.

But it’s risky business. An ill-timed laugh or a careless reception and it’s more than paper that’s shred apart. So what is it about writing poetry, particularly love poetry, that drives us to actually take the risk and make the effort to do it? Why commit such expressiveness of emotion to printed paper or screen and endow it with longevity far beyond its expiration date when beloved eyes can no longer see and it lies discarded, bequeathed to disinterested strangers?

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The Enchanted Castle

(c) Paintings Collection; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Francis Danby, “The Enchanted Castle” (c. 1841)

When I first saw this painting, I was struck by the intensity of its vision, not simply the artist’s but the lingering figure of the woman by the reflecting pool. She seems oblivious to the slow burn of the golden light beyond the dark overarching trees and the darkened castle. Their shadows have won the day. She looks down, dwelling on her thoughts even as the shadows grow. She seems unaware of the fiery sunset, perhaps unconcerned. Her introspection holds her captive, there by the enchanted castle, be it memories or dreams or affairs of the heart or the world or the steady drone of the day.

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