don’t bury me here

In the summer of 2004 I hit the epic low point in my life. I was separated from my now ex-wife awaiting her decision on our faltering marriage. I was tens of thousands of dollars in debt from two years of reckless spending, living in my fathers dilapidated and depressing house and working the old construction job I thought I had forever left in my rearview mirror when I went off to ministry school. I was restless one night in bed, unable to sleep and lamenting of my train wreck of a life. I said to the Lord, “ My life sucks!” I immediately heard him say to me, “ None of this stuff is your life, I am your life and you are closer to me then you have ever been!” Something immediately shifted in my perception and I became instantly grateful for his presence with me in the room. My suffering in no way compares to someone like Father Roman Braga who was tortured in prison camps but it was the same Jesus who met us both in our hour of deepest need. What followed that hallowed night for me was a time of prolific writing, worship, and spiritual and material progress in my life.

Balthasar writes, “… the authentic saint is always the one who confuses himself the least with Christ and who, therefore, can most convincingly be transparent to Christ.”[1] The saint, whether they consciously know it or not, is always ‘pointing’ to Christ with their lifestyle. In his apologetics of holiness Balthasar emphatically reiterates the point that reason alone is a blind guide to the ultimate source of truth. He affirms that, “… no proof of the existence of God can help him who cannot see what is manifest to the world; no apologetic can be of any use to him for whom the truth that radiates from the center of theology is not evident.”[2] It is left to the saints to put on Christ and be the beauty of the gospel to a fragmented and dying world.  As scripture affirms, Men and women who have lived wisely and well will shine brilliantly, like the cloudless, star-strewn night skies. And those who put others on the right path to life will glow like stars forever. (Dan. 12:3 Message)

As the stars are a constant disruption of the routine passing of twilight to morning so is the Christian to the sleepwalking world. Saints and poets throughout the ages have caught a glimpse of the other shore and have been “ruined for the ordinary.”[3] More then just momentary flares shedding light for a huddled few, “… saints are messages from the Lord as to what the world at that moment of history needs especially to hear and see.”[4] Saints stubbornly refuse to resign themselves to the despair and malaise dominant in their age, they cast off the grave clothes of dead religion, they shine with an unashamed radiance having seen and been enraptured by the beauty of Christ, they “… not only come to know the truth in an intimate and dynamic way but radiate the beauty of that truth through their lives and actions.”[5] Saints understand who and what truly comprises their life. As I learned that restless summer night eight years ago, life is not the sum total of my circumstances but the stretching and hollowing required to create a space in my human heart that can be filled and formed by the glory of God. Walt Whitman, possibly an errant saint of his day, wrote,

I say no man has ever been half devout enough,

None has ever yet adored or whorship’d half enough,

None has begin to think how divine he himself is, and how certain the future is.[6]

There is truth enough to Whitman’s words. If we were to shine brilliantly like the cloudless, star-strewn night skies then it would behoove us to warm ourselves in the afterglow of the saints who went before us. In the effervescence of the remnants of their passionate conflagration with Christ a path emerges through a dark world and a telos that calls us to be more then conquerors. When I went through my dark night I formed my prayers and laments into prose and composed a short book called dont’t bury me here. Until now I thought the title applied to me and the desire to pass through the valley of weeping and make it a place of springs (Ps. 84) but now I hear the Lord saying to me, “ Don’t bury me here, let your light shine before men so that they can see your good works and glorify your father in heaven.” It can be intimidating to others to shine with the beauty of Christ radiating out of our lives but he gives us permission and authority to be his ambassadors of beauty reflected in a million different ways and shades to a world waiting, breathless, for something they have never seen.

I want to end my post with a selection from my aforementioned book as it embodies some of what I attempted to convey about suffering, illumination, holiness and radiance.

director’s cut

an arena

where

obscene onlookers with unsettled eye

gaze upon the praying one

till he rip and tear into another atmosphere

the curtain is thrown back

the universe revealed

light shines forth in triumphant array

of unwavering faith

bereft of disguise

his transparent heart hollows the lies

ferocious mouths are stopped for a time

while innocence stands somewhere outside

of itself

with no need to be held

his strength has arrived

in the image of christ


[1] Mark Steenwyk, Defending von Balthasar’s Apology of Holiness (Bb).

[2] Daniel Treier, Mark Husbands, & Roger Lundin eds., The Beauty of God Theology and the Arts ( Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2007), 212.

[3] A term I picked up in my time with Youth With A Mission.

[4] Thomas Dubay, The Evidential Power of Beauty (San Fransico: Ignatius Press, 1999), 261.

[5] Prof. Horton-Parker lecture (Bb)

[6] Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass (New York: Bantam, 1983), 15.

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