It is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
~ Ephesians 2.8-10
(original photo taken by, and edited with permission of, Elizabeth Jane Schrott)
We all have those pieces of art–be they movies, books, music, what have you–that upon first exposure we fall in love. We turn the last page or walk out of the theater or concert hall certain that this will surely be added to our list of favorites and long-held companions. Yet, how many times do we say this and a year or two down the road someone mentions that very piece of art and we find ourselves thinking, “oh yeah, I did read that, didn’t I?” or “I had forgotten how much I loved that album!”
So often we get swept away in the immediate experience of something skipping upon the waters of our soul, leaving little ripples and echoes dancing upon the surface. But these dimples and dapples merely play on the surface for a time, returning once more to their source, leaving the waters ultimately undisturbed in their wake–the liquid plane unbroken; the deepest depths untouched.
There are other times, however, that we encounter a piece of art–or rather, it encounters us–and we are changed. It transcends mere rankings of “favorites” and “Top 10s” and weaves itself into our fibers. We do not critique and assess it, so much as it sizes and weighs us. The surface is broken and we are plunged beneath, staring humanity’s unvarnished truths in the face. And in so doing, our own humanity is actually enlarged, a spaciousness expands in our souls and we feel more human, even as our foundations are shaken.
John Steinbeck’s 1952 magnum opus, East of Eden, is just this kind of piece of art. It’s the kind of book people say they will read “someday”, only to read it and wish “someday” had come a lot sooner. So if you haven’t read it. Do so. Start today.
On the 1st Day: God created Palm Trees and Donkeys
On the 2nd Day: He created Fig Trees and Temples
On the 3rd Day: He created Scribes and Pharisees
On the 4th Day: He created Silver and Kisses
On the 5th Day: He created Bread, Wine, and Gardens
On the 6th Day: He created a Tree, Nails, and Thorns
And on the 7th Day: God rested from His labor.
And there was evening
And there was mourning…
[read my other Holy Day poetry here] all writings licensed:
One of the primary ways I relate to the Church Calendar is through music (hence the free Mixtapes I put out each season). Even when I am terrible at engaging at an intellectual or even a practical devotional way, I am really intentional about filling my life with music that will still put my soul in the proper posture for the particular season.
For this Lent, I found myself spending significant time with Mozart’s Requiem, a “Mass for the Dead”. This was his last (and still mysterious) piece–unfinished before he died. Before Holy Week was over, and as we enter into the Holy Weekend, I wanted to offer this to as a way you might be able to engage in these last few days of Lent. Here is the audio, and below that you will find an English translation of the entire Mass. The words are achingly haunting and beautiful and deserve your perusal whether you have time for the music or not. Have a blessed Lent.
If you don’t care about the commentary, and just want the amazing music, you can get it at Noisetrade. If you’d like to listen to the album first, just press play:
Someone’s “favorites” are a weird thing to define. They are prone to fickleness, are tied so closely with whatever else is subjectively happening in one’s life, and usually bear little resemblance to what that person would consider as the technically “best” of any particular thing. So when you have a “favorite” that sustains that title for years–decades, even–it’s a big deal.
Since high school my favorite band has been Cool Hand Luke. Back then they were a little hardcore screamo band. At that time, to get their CD, you had to mail a check to the lead singer’s house. As time when on, their style changed at the very same time and in the very same way as my own. It felt like we were growing together.
Around my senior year of high school, they came out with an album called Wake Up, O Sleeper. Anyone who’s heard of CHL probably knows them from this stunningly powerful work of art. It quickly became the most influential and “favorite” album of mine. And it has been ever since.
Towards the end of college, I became pretty good friends with the lead singer. For a while, every few months, we’d talk for a couple of hours on the phone. He was discerning whether to go to seminary and what to do about the financial mess their shady manager had left the band in. I got to see his heart and the heart behind the beautiful music they made.
Eventually, he got married, I started seminary, and he decided it was time to end the band and begin seminary himself. But there was one last project he felt he had to do.
Ran across this quote and post. They are both so good. I am all the more persuaded I need to open up the copy of Letters that I have sitting on my shelf right now. It gets cut off in the excerpt above, but here’s the whole Rilke quote:
You are so young, so before all beginning, and I want to beg you, as much as I can, dear sir, to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.
“You are so young, so before all beginning, and I want to beg you, as much as I can, dear sir, to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” – Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet
I recently came across a used copy of Letters to a Young Poet, which I’ve been meaning to read for a long time now. As I was leafing through it in the book store, I noticed that there was…
Each night as we writers sat down to blog, he’d show us the pictures he took for the day, and we’d fight over which ones we got to use in our posts. He took some amazing pictures, and shared many of the raw, untouched photos with us.
Well, now that he’s had time to dedicate more time and resources to focusing his creative eye on the pictures, he has now released his official photo documentary from the trip, as part of the site Visual Peacemakers.
This photo essay beautifully captures the essence of our time and the people there as well as (if not better) than the words of us writers. I encourage you to spend some time with these pictures and let their weight and beauty affect you. Then, would you consider joining with Lemonade International in their continuing work in the La Limonada community of Guatemala? Continue reading →
This week’s WordPress Photo theme is “Color“. Rather than simply writing about different pictures I’ve taken, I’m instead trying to write “photo sermons” based on these topics. In these posts, I want to try and use the photo itself as my “text”–trying to see how God reveals himself in his “other” book, in addition to the Bible.
In our last photo sermon, I talked about how I love that Easter comes around Spring time and so the natural world beautifully reflects the spiritual truth being celebrated. Also in line with this truth is the fact that Easter–just like Spring–is not just one day–it’s an entire season in the Church calendar.
It takes time for beauty and truth to get into and blossom within our souls. It takes preparation and anticipation for the roots of our hearts to quicken like the trees around us–to feel life coursing in them once more.
[I wrote this after my grandfather died in 2010 after a long battle with throat cancer. It really affected me, and I wrote this to redeem this moment for him and me. You’ll find a recording of the song below. It’s simply a piece of cathartic lament in light of pain, and is not meant to be “high art”.]
I here your footsteps coming
The floorboards they scream
I pray to my Father
to wake from this dream
I’m tired, so tired
when will this end?
I’m tired, so tired
Your strength, won’t you lend?
Oh Death, here is your sting Oh Death, I hear your voice ring Through echoes and ages and days gone past
Oh Death, here is your sting
This breath, you can take it
This body, is yours
This voice you have stolen
My eyes are now dim.
Oh this sweetness you’ve taken
I taste life no more
This life, I release now
But this love you can’t have!
But I’ll rise….
But I’ll rise…
I’ll awake from this nightmare as daylight draws nigh
The tension of ages breaks before my eye
This breath I’ll take back. This life will be His.
That body, you can keep; I’ll get a new one from him
Like daybreak it’s new and as strong as fired steel
The demon like dew is gone, ’cause I am healed.
His vict’ry now better: of this conquest we’ll sing
Your vict’ry now bitter:you will taste it’s last sting.
Oh Death, you’ll taste your last sting Oh Death, I’ll hear your voice scream Through echoes and ages and days gone past
Oh Death, here is your sting.
taste it and weep,
for oh Death,
I no longer sleep.
Because, Oh Death,
I’m no longer thine;
And, Oh Death,
The vic’try’s now mine.
[read my other Holy Day poetry here] all writings licensed: