conversations with ourselves: kim van brunt

Today, I bring you another installment of Conversations with Ourselves, a series of posts in which every Thursday the author addresses the Past Self through the Present or vice versa (or sometimes totally not this, but something equally cool) concerning matters of Faith, specifically.

Kim is a new face to share in this space, which makes me quite glad. She drops in a line here about separating from some self, a line which is the reason I chose this piece to be featured in this series. When I read it, I knew it, and I knew Kim had a style and observation that needed sharing. I commend her words to you here.

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Dear sweet, insecure, brave and tender girl,

What are you now — 15? I know, you already feel too old for your skin; you’re sometimes told you have wisdom past your years. (Slow down. Nothing wrong with being stupid and irresponsible sometimes. But then, I should know better than to try convincing you.)

There’s this pastor you need to know about. I’m telling you now before he shows up on your topography, because after he’s here, words and accusations will fly and flare and you’ll be defensive and you won’t hear me. I’m not going to give it all away, but know this: He’s light and dark. He’ll bring lasting good; he’ll damage forever.

You’ll consider this at length later, this human condition, this light/dark, good/evil paradox. But in all your life, you may never experience something so undeniably from God while at the same time having the devil’s fingerprints all over it.

Even when it’s all mixed together later, when you can’t tell if it was your base instincts or a higher calling that led you to fully participate in all of it, you’ll still look back and remember this as a time you came alive.

You’ll go to evening worship sessions that go on and on into the late hours, you’ll grasp sweaty hands in parking-lot prayer, you’ll feel conviction to be unashamed of who you are and Whose you are. You’ll feel self-righteousness and sincere concern for the salvation of your friends. You’ll be captivated by the way he talks to you, to all of you, like you’re adults, capable of mature thought and true calling and deep faith. You’ll come to scoff at youth group ski trips, opting instead to go to a revival meeting in Canada, where you’ll get prayer, where you’ll fall into waiting arms.

But something you’ll see later is the shield over your mind, something that held you back a little, whispered caution. Later, you’ll realize it must have been the Holy Spirit, that he must have been protecting you.

When the emotional call of faith is at fever pitch, a part of you will stand aside, separate, not judging but not letting you dive in headfirst, either. All the frustration you’ll have with not hearing The Voice Of God, even after following the tutorials to the letter, and the secret, shameful knowledge that you fell over more out of exasperation than because you felt the Holy Spirit come over you, or however it’s supposed to feel — one day, that will feel more like steady wings underneath your feet. It will be presence, not absence.

And while the build-up will be exhilarating, you’ll start to sense an impending crash.

It’ll start in hints and whispers, how he revels when an adoring group of you is literally sitting at his feet, how he taunts the congregation on Sunday. Then there will come a day when you finally ask those few tough questions that have been burning in your heart (and ask them, love, ask them, because they are the key to life), and instead of answers or respect for the mystery, he will chide you for asking.

That’s when the Holy Spirit will flip on the lights and point you to the emergency exit, and you will get the hell out of there. And not a moment too soon.

It’ll be all mixed up for a while; lean into the confusion and let the anger find its way out. Later in the darkest times of your faith, this experience in your youth, when you were impressionable and followed more easily than you do now, something about it will hold you to the chest of God. Though you desperately want to, you won’t be able to deny that He was there.

And the pastor eventually will change in your memory. You’ll come to see him as tiny and broken and probably ill, with a deep need to self-destruct, each time more spectacularly than the last. When you get some distance, you might even feel pity.

Finally, you’ll realize the miracle — that God used him to reach you, despite his colossal failures and many faults and even though you still have scars.

And a long, long time from now, that will give you hope for yourself.

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Headshot2-KimVanBruntKim Van Brunt is a writer, mother, wife and world-changer. She is currently working on her first book, about the hidden emotions adoptive parents experience and finding God's beauty in brokenness. Find her on Twitter @kimvanbrunt or Facebook at facebook.com/kimvanbrunt. Next month, she will be the official blogger with a group going to Uganda to minister to women and mothers there; follow their journey at kimvanbrunt.com, where she also blogs about faith, family and adoption.

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the safe, the brave -- sharing today with ed cyzewski

I had an unexpected joy this weekend, when Ed wrote and asked if I could contribute something about the struggle of following Christ, how it can surprise us. Change us. Here, I share. My right heel blisters against the new boot. Walking upon the cold, wet sand of the English shoreline, I consider taking the boots off, letting feet sink deep into the grains, but there’s still two or three miles of this walk to be had and soon we’ll cut across the stone way, up into the bramble patches and the highland.

I’m turning over the question, rattled loose the night before when he asked me kindly, offhand, where I planned to go after my year of masters work at St. Andrews. I had provided the expected answer, the answer that had made the most sense since the start of summer, since sitting on the back of the golf cart with the woman I admired so deeply, dreaming of a second masters degree and my first academic book. But I had conceded to him that there was more to the story, the conversation that intersected my certainty only the week before I packed up my life, got on the plane, and moved to the United Kingdom. I conceded that I was no longer so sure, that there was a second option, a possibility, something that on its surface looked significantly less glamorous, perhaps less significant, perhaps less important.

Yet it stuck like a burr in my heart. It clung. It had pinched deep.

Maybe the safe thing is the brave thing.

Finish this story and share your own story of a faith unexpected, a journey unplanned, at Ed's space.

a reminder to myself, upon postgraduate work

I'm cheating a bit here. I have some posts being sorted, but what is coming out isn't ready. Jet lag, a bit of insomnia, I'm left without much hope of turning out something of meaning. I've spent the past few days wrestling with a question, one I shall be simply transparent with you about: do I or do I not pursue a PhD? Am I called to that? Is that the measure of faith I have been given? I honestly knew a few months ago. I honestly don't know now.

How appropriate, I think, that I can cheat with this post of a homily I gave at a vespers service a year ago. The service was for anyone, but particularly for a small collection of graduate students taking a course in Christology, taught by one of my absolute favourite professors, in which I sat in on. (See that ugly sentence? That's sleep deprivation.)

Now, this is quite poor of me, but I've misplaced the Scripture references, so you're sort of getting this out-of-the-box. Pretend you've heard something read from Ezra, something of a Psalm, I think Revelation 6. Come with me into a small stone chapel with beautiful, if not highly modern, stained glass. Come with me, and hear what I needed to rehear, what I am so often in danger of forgetting, what may, I don't know, need only be for me:

In Ezra, King Artaxerxes, having his heart stirred by God, commands the return of the Israelites to their homeland to rebuild, in particular the Temple of God. But as we learn earlier in the book, this does not come without difficulty. Construction of the Second Temple is also an act of remembering the Temple that had been destroyed. The Scripture records, “The old men who had seen the first Temple, wept with a loud voice when the foundation of the Second was laid before their eyes, while many shouted aloud for joy, so that the people could not distinguish the shout of joy from the sound of the weeping.”

In turn, the account of the scene in Heaven in the Apocalypse of St. John opens with a loud and vibrant cry of the majesty of God but closes with the fearsome consequence: the glory of the Lord, as it had done at the consecration of the Tabernacle in the Exodus and the First Temple in The Book of First Kings, overwhelms so that none may enter and look upon it, in this instance in particular, until the wrath of God upon the earth in the six bowls of increasing plague and the seventh, whence comes the voice of God: “It is finished!” is complete.

Significantly, the word for finished there is rendered in the Greek as the perfect active indicative of γίνομαι, that is, the completed past tense of the verb to become. This is unlike the word chosen by the same John in his Gospel when Jesus upon the cross says, “It is finished,” τετέλεσται, which means to bring to completion something commanded. Rather, the word chosen in the Apocalypse signifies the finishing of the whole of God’s intent for this cosmos, His wrath against the evil within it met and brought to close with the pouring of the seventh bowl.

How do we reconcile the reading of Ezra and the Apocalypse? Perhaps by mutual affirmation of the words of St. Peter that this world, heaven and earth, shall pass away by fire: the Israelites foretasting in the memory of the destruction of the First Temple, the Blessed bearing witness to it in the scene in Heaven.

But, perhaps there’s more.

We have met the question once posed by Tertullian, “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?” with satisfactory retort. We reject pure theological poetics that miss the important contribution of philosophical balance. It’s easy to note that without Aristotle, St. Thomas Aquinas and the stabilizing of the Church in the thirteenth century could not be, and though there be other arguments and proofs to give to this point, he whom Chesterton names the Dumb Ox proves often enough a sufficient response.

We have gleaned a vocabulary by which to speak of the things of God and His effects, manna for an abundant spiritual mind both formed by and in conversation with the Tradition.

Yet, if we find ourselves in the position of the psalmist, entreating God to return to His people and recall His covenant, Athens no longer holds much of an answer. The mother of the miscarried child, the refugee attacked by the relief worker, the problem of Evil meets no satisfactory end in the answer of Athens. First premises and definitions are not incarnate things and pass, like this cosmos, away by fire.

The psalmist pleads God to “turn His footsteps toward the perpetual ruins; for the enemy has damaged everything within the sanctuary.” As came the cries of the Israelites in Ezra and the song of the Blessed in the Apocalypse, there is no answer to the brokenness of the wounded cosmos save that one which is found in Jerusalem alone: Christ our Lord Himself. If He is forgotten in the midst of vocabulary concerning Him, then all is but waste. For what the Israelites and the Blessed share in the two passages is a unique awareness that we are often want to forget: it is only by the supernatural, violent breaking of God into the midst of the world that true redemption comes about.

Arguments, without the fearsome power of Holy Ghost, are but chaff.

We must find ourselves in the citizenship of the Blessed, as the writer of Hebrews commends us, finding our homeland to be Jerusalem while we sojourn in Athens. Accordingly, the Angelic Doctor, Thomas himself, after having a divine vision before his death declared: “I can no longer write, for God has given me such glorious knowledge that all contained in my works are as straw—barely fit to absorb the holy wonders that fall in a stable.”

Some have used this to dismiss Thomas altogether, I myself being among the foolish not too many years ago. Yet it was this posture of heart that made all the saint’s work so commendable, for he did not seek to explain God through proofs, but to guide men into Mystery. Perhaps nowhere is this better observed than in Dante’s Paradiso, where St. Bonaventure, the beautiful Franciscan devoted to a mendicant life observant of holy works, not only lauds Thomas’s concern with doctrine but also refers to him by the affectionate nickname Thoma, reconciling in the Heavenly ether the dual importance of dogma and practice.

For those in Athens, as Dr. Miner has so beautiful put it, do not feel that they are home.

We did not read the Gospel appointed, but it is a familiar passage, the Feeding of the Five Thousand. Though I affirm the literal reality of the miracle, I do not overlook the metaphorical word. In our own way, we are but meager loaves ourselves, but through the miraculous working of Christ we may be multiplied for the sake of feeding the hungry. It is the hungry that do not go to the gates of Athens looking for charity, for the hungry seek the abundance of Jerusalem. As the Canaanite woman once spoke to our Lord: even the dogs may have their share of the crumbs from the Table.

Are we putting Athens to the proper use?

Athens, too, shall pass away by fire. As the Israelites in Ezra rejoice in the return of the people of God to the communion of God, so the blessed in the Apocalypse rejoice in the destruction of the infirmed cosmos in anticipation of the new creation. While this is not to say that Athens holds no value, for if Aquinas may be our example we know it most certainly does, but if we, like the psalmist, stand in an age crying out, “We do not see our signs; there is no longer any prophet,” then it is not in Athens we must make our search.

Let us forfeit all citizenship in Athens in favor of the better City, taking Athens’s wares for what they are and putting them in the service of our God. Let us journey; let us make no home permanent, instead temporary shelters on roadways, in strange lands, equipped with the elements of Athens—like those freewill offerings Ezra was given to take back with him—but, let us feed by the Elements of Jerusalem those hungry pilgrims we meet on our way, as we in turn are on our own walk to that place where, in the unity of the Blessed, Angels and Archangels, we might rejoice in that finished Temple, in that cosmos that shall be evermore: Home.

the fifty-third formica friday

It's that time again, another Formica Friday, a treasure trove of hodgepodge, random tidbits, and a bit of this and that. In particular, it is the place where I can celebrate the best posts I read this past week and want to share with you. I did the brave, hard thing. I moved across the pond yesterday.

[caption id="attachment_3298" align="aligncenter" width="612"]549482_10151109246760772_576588110_n The glass top in Edinburgh station.[/caption]

And I was fine until just last night, when I started calculating what time it was for you versus what time it was for me. Then it struck like a thunderclap pain. How to grace?

Well.

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Posts, websites, trinkets, and the Internet week in review revue. A quote, a link. Perhaps you'll click through. Very, very truncated this week, with my apologies, as I'm off-kilter in the travel whirlwind of the last two days:

  • "We’re supposed to be generous and not attached to possessions, but today it feels like there isn’t enough to go around. The temptation is to hoard what I have, and we’re made to feel stupid when what we have is taken from us, or when we don’t have enough." Laying down one’s life by Margaret
  • "I am realizing that those who handle my little errands and tasks might be smarter than I think, that perhaps they too, might be people with expensive pieces of paper collecting dust somewhere. Or not. But they might just be worth something anyway, my time and thanks at least." when fake plato is right. from Antonia
  • "I looked at this child laughing and knew that he saw the Kingdom of Heaven. His reality may have appeared to be loneliness and suffering, but somehow he had complete access to pure Love and Joy." Finding God in the Disabled. featured at Prodigal
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And, as always, an old post from me:

are you Jesus?

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Tell me, what did you read this week that you enjoyed, or what was your best post?

 

conversations with ourselves: micha boyett

Today, I bring you another installment of Conversations with Ourselves, a series of posts in which every Thursday the author addresses the Past Self through the Present or vice versa (or sometimes totally not this, but something equally cool) concerning matters of Faith, specifically.

I have been honoured by the outstanding cast of writers this series has hosted. It has been a humbling experience to see the names of those I value most digitally inked into this, my own space. But to have Micha Boyett around is a true honour in its own category: I've had the joy of meeting Micha a few times now and what strikes me each time is the earnestness with which she hopes and trusts. The words she gifts you, places in your hand and whispers, "Take this, this is for your journey," are given with complete sincerity and freedom. She struggles open and honest, but she loves humbly and vulnerably.

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It’s her twenty-first birthday. She wakes at 5:30 that August morning because she needs to leave her apartment by six. She’s one of ten seniors running New Student Orientation.

Of course she is. She has spent college running everything.

This will be the longest day of the week. She’ll get home around one am. She’s in charge of the big campus-wide party tonight. A few bands will be playing outside in different spots around her Southern Baptist university. Ice cream and pizza will be out in full force. She’s been organizing all of it.

As she stares in the mirror at 5:45 am, carefully blinking on her mascara, pressing her finger on puffy eyes. She’s thinking is about the boy she loves, how she’ll spend the entire day with him. She longs for him to remember her today, to speak to her the way he used to, to smile at her from across the room.

They’ve been off and on too many times. They broke up last April and at some point in July kissed, only for him to regret it. Only for her to cry over that kiss the rest of the summer: her wadded up body on the bathroom floor, sobbing.

It’s a busy day and her friends, if they remember, say Happy Birthday in passing. What did she expect? A surprise party? Maybe at least a couple of balloons. Her friend Lex remembers. He gives her a card with a monkey on the cover. It says, scribbled in his handwriting: “I only want to see you laughing in the purple rain.” She laughs hysterically. It’s the only time she laughs all day.

The rest of the day is full of responsibilities. She checks off her task list, orbits the boy and his quiet coldness. She’s sure he thinks he’s “protecting her heart” by ignoring her birthday. She imagines him begging her aside into some corner of the student building, pulling her against him, touching her face with his fingers, asking her to give him another chance.

The melancholy she carries isn’t new but she hates it. She has worked for the past eight years cultivating her godly woman persona. She is outgoing, kind, busy leading bible studies, being “called to ministry.” She tried to major in Missions but found herself in the English Department anyway. She’s been reading Jane Kenyon this month, Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” and writing poems that speak nothing but earthy emotion. She’s afraid she thinks too much. Her mind snarls questions about God’s goodness. She wonders if this faith is real at all, and if it is, if God could love her.

In October her classmates will name her Homecoming Queen because she’s talented at being nice. She’s gifted at being an impressive Christian.

Tonight, as the bands play and incoming freshmen walk across campus, ice cream in their hands, she paces the dark sidewalk alone, wearing her red pants (the ones she picked out especially for this day). She stares into the courtyard where her friends and the boy are gathered. A band is playing. She walks past them in the shadows, lonely and heavy limbed. Her tears come hot.

I know where she stops to sit on the grass by the pond. I know because I’ve sat there so many times. I know the grief of striving, of begging God to undo the broken doubt in me.

I find a place beside her.

“We’ve sat by this pond so often, haven’t we? I miss it,” I say and smile.  She can glimpse my face in the dark. She knows who I am.  She doesn’t have words yet.

“Micha,” I say, “The melancholy isn’t your enemy. It’s the part of you that’s brave.”

She looks at me anxious, says, “I wanted to write beautiful worship songs. But nothing that comes out is holy. I can’t write about God, only myself.” She’s plucking spikes of grass from the ground as she talks. “I didn’t know there was so much anger in me.”

“Maybe you needed to know that,” I say. “Maybe you needed to be honest so you can learn to worship.”

She stares into the water. “Sometimes I’m so scared I’ve opened something that can’t be shut. Pandora’s box, you know?”

“Yes,” I say. “I know exactly.”

“I chose to let myself go there, into the dark place,” she says. “And no matter how hard I try, I can’t undo it. What if I stop believing in God? What if I lose everything?”

“Or, what if you walk through the questions and come out whole? What if you didn’t choose the go into the dark place?” I say. “What if it was always waiting for you, these words, this doubt?”

She laughs as if I’m crazy.

I keep going: “What if God is in the darkness too? What if He’s not angry with you? What if your mind and these questions…what if they are actually His gift to you?”

She lifts her right hand to her face, pulls her hair behind her ear. “It’s my birthday!” she laughs. “I’m grown. I’m going to graduate. I’m supposed to be in love by now. I’m supposed to have a plan. I supposed to be used by God. I’m screwing it all up.”

Oh, I remember thinking there was a moment when people got it together, when God finally made their lives count. I touch her arm. What I want is to zap all this compassion I’ve stored up straight into her insides. What I want is to whisper all those hard-earned truths, the ones that only could have come in the dark days, the wisdom that always arrives slow and painful.

I quote Isaiah 45, how God goes before us and levels the mountains, leads us into the secret places where the riches are stored. I tell her there is hope in mystery.

We sit quiet awhile. “You know,” I say, “You are not one or the other. You are not either the Minister or the Poet. You’re not either the Doubter or the Believer. God has made—is making you—both.”

Does she believe me? How can she? Twenty-one. So young. I love her and I miss her: her newness and brightness, the ways she loves so recklessly. I don’t want the world to make her hard. What else is there to say to myself? I stand up.

I walk a couple of steps, turn back to face her. “Hey, Micha,” I say, “Happy birthday.”

“Thanks,” she says, smiles.

“You’ll kiss that boy again, you know,” I say. “But one day you’ll be bold enough to let him go, demand everything you really long for. You’ll be brave enough to pack a U-Haul and drive alone through cornfields, all the way to the life you’re too afraid to even ask God to give you. He’ll offer it anyway.”

I walk back to her, lift my hand to that girl’s chin and raise her face to the night. “Count the stars,” I say.

“So shall your inheritance be.”

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dsc_6468 Micha Boyett lives in Austin, Texas with one preschooler, one toddler, and one very tall Philadelphian. She is a youth minister-turned stay at home mom who is still trying to figure out vocation and season and calling. She blogs at Patheos about motherhood, monasticism and the sacred in the everyday.

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