Spring finally showed up in Toronto. And along with it, the cherry blossoms in High Park, a week-long canopy of blossoms. The park was packed with people guzzling in Spring, creation’s bacchanalia of juice and joy.
Spring – Gerard Manley Hopkins
Nothing is so beautiful as Spring –
When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;
Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;
The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush
The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush
With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.
What is all this juice and all this joy?
A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning
In Eden garden. – Have, get, before it cloy,
Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning,
Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,
Most, O maid’s child, thy choice and worthy the winning.
Missed it by that much.
Notice came out last night that Mumford and Sons are playing one of their surprise club shows tonight in Toronto – a small venue called Lee’s Palace. Tickets went on sale for the show this morning – it was a long shot (and should be such an amazing show tonight) but no luck in getting tickets.
So as I wallow in the disappointment of missing this, let me reprise an older post I did on Mumford and Sons a few years back. It seemed like their music was, and still is, a really fine soundtrack for Lent.
My Soundtrack for Lent
Lent begins this Wednesday and I’ve landed on this year’s soundtrack for this season of repentance – Mumford & Sons Sigh no more. I know I’ve blogged on them earlier here, but this album continues to capture me and much of the honest, plaintive confession of Lent.
The title song Sigh no more confesses: “My heart was never pure / You know me” and then hopes for a “love that will not betray you / dismay or enslave you, it will set you free.” The Cave cries out the hope of Lenten penitence – “I need freedom now / and I need to know how / to live my life as its meant to be.” Lent is a long study in giving up all the ways we try to find life, finding life as its meant to be lived in Jesus and his passion.
And it keeps coming. In Roll Away Your Stone, they name the empty, endless chase to fill our hearts with things which always end up as ashes, and yet the hope found by every prodigal returning home to God: “You told me that I would find a hole / within the fragile substance of my soul / And I have filled this void with things unreal / And all the while my character it steals / But darkness is a harsh term don’t you think? / And yet it dominates the things I seek / it seems that all my bridges has been burned / you say that’s exactly how this grace thing works / it’s not the long walk home that will change this heart / but the welcome I receive with a restart.”
Awake My Soul is an honest probe of a lumpy heart: “How fickle my heart and how woozy my eyes / I struggle to find any truth in your lies / And now my heart stumbles on things I don’t know / This weakness I feel I must finally show.” Isn’t this what Lent is – an invitation to the painful journey of revealing our weaknesses, our broken hearts and disjointed lives, praying that God would awaken us to resurrection life?
And then there’s Little Lion Man, my choice for this year’s Lent heart song. Likely written about a love lost, it’s a powerful, pounding, holding-nothing-back lament of regret and heartbreak, equally applicable to my unfaithful heart for God:
“Weep for yourself, my man / you’ll never be what is in your heart / Weep little lion man / you’re not as brave as you were at the start / Rate yourself and rake yourself / take all the courage you have left / wasted on fixing all the problems that you made in your own head / But it was not your fault but mine / … Tremble for yourself, my man / you know that you have seen this all before / tremble little lion man / you’ll never settle any of your score / your grace is wasted in your face /”
And don’t miss the spot in the song (2:48) where the band begins a sung cry, a gut-level, lyric-less lament – listen to it (see below) as the voice of Lent.
The album title comes from Shakespeare’s “Much Ado about nothing” (Act 2, scene 3: “Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more, Men were deceivers ever, One foot in sea, and one on shore, To one thing constant never”) – this band is wonderfully literate. In this scene from Shakespeare, Balthasar urges the other women to sigh no more, to let go of the disappointment and expectation for men to change and, instead, accept and love them as they are. Throughout Lent I’m faced with my own shadows, left sighing with disappointment again, wishing for change in my fickle heart. But the gospel of Jesus Christ is the stunning call to sigh no more, telling me I’m accepted in spite of myself. That is the work of Lent and the starting point of any real change, of a resurrection.
Below is the video for Little Lion Man (just a word of caution – if you’re offended by the use of the f-bomb, then do avoid this song).<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/8585663″>Mumford & Sons – “Little Lion Man”</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/mikeylevelle”>Mikey Levelle</a> on <a href=”http://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a>.</p>
“… it is mainly for some clue to where I am going that I search through where I have been, some hint as to who I am becoming or failing to become that I delve into what used to be.” Frederick Buechner
There’s alot about New Year’s to love. Besides the gatherings and good food (I have a special fondness for this artery clogging Dutch treat called oliebollen), I love the unmarked calendar, the eager anticipation from 365 open days of “who knows what they might hold.” And I value the opportunity to both recollect the past year, doing an inventory of sorts, and to anticipate the new year.
Remembering is a really important practice for the spiritual life. Our sense of who we are is really a collection of memories. Press the erase button and we don’t know who we are anymore. Life and a healthy identity is unimaginable without a vivid memory.
One of the practices in our house is to stretch a scroll of paper across our dining room table and over the course of a day draw out the events of the past year. It’s an exercise in remembering, a record of the good and hard parts that have shaped who we are as individuals and a family.
Today, why not find a quiet place and space to simply look back on this past year. Piece together a chronology of important events from 2014: how did those events form you? Take note of who were the significant people who shaped your life this year – why were they so significant? Ask yourself where and how you have become more (or less) like Christ.
And while you’re at it, take time to look forward to the new year (a rear-view mirror glance is important but you can’t drive without looking ahead). And I don’t mean resolutions – I think that whole tradition needs a good burial. Instead, I’m thinking anticipation, which alongside of remembering is an equally vital faith practice.
In the biblical mind, the future grace of God is always breaking into the present. That’s why Jesus repeatedly urged people to keep watch. God is at work, in our world and in your life, up to something very good.
As you take time to think about the coming year, can I urge you to resolve less about what you need to do and rest more in what God has promised to do. A promise, of course, has everything to do with the new year because it concerns the future. Think of its Latin origins, meaning pro – forth, and mittere – to send. God’s promises are like packages of grace sent from the future; they are declarations which announce the coming of a reality that does not yet exist today.
This New Year’s, I’m wondering how can I cooperate with this grace that is coming at me all the time and around me everywhere.
Reflect on God’s promises and try to imagine how they might take shape in your life in the coming year. How would your life and our world be different if God’s promises took shape in the present moment? Ask yourself, where would you like to see a specific promise of God come alive in a new way this year? When you answer those questions, you’ve got a solid, grace-framed agenda for the coming year.
As you enter and anticipate this new year, watch for the breaking in of God’s good reality in your life and our world.
But before you do all that, take 3 minutes to check out the following spot-on video – it sets the right context for thinking about the coming year.
And happy new year to you!
Advent is a season for broken hearts. In stark contrast to the holly and jolly of the cultural calendar, the church year reminds us that a few toys or presents are crappy substitutes for the bigger ache in our lives.
The Advent season is a time of hard longing for something more, something better than we now see. In Advent we take stock of our broken world, recognizing all that is bent, bruised, broken and unfulfilled. I’d rather look the other way because that is painful and leaves you with an ache for something bright to break all this shadow and decay.
But if I ever miss that mood of Advent, today is the day it smacks me straight in the face. Five years ago my nephew, returning home from writing a university exam, too tired to stay awake, was killed in a car accident.
I hate so much about this. I hate it that this glorious young life was snuffed out (David was such a beautiful soul). I hate it that he didn’t have the money for a coffee or think to take a nap. I hate the hideous power of death, how its strength lingers still. I hate the loss of so much promise, so much good never realized. I hate how grief has wrenched and contorted his family’s lives.
I struggle to find sense in this, and by extension, to all that is wrong with this world. Sometimes my heart can hardly stand it. Why God? Where is the purpose, the sense in this?
I feel this uncorked anger, something livid rising up in me every year this day. This is not the way things are supposed to be. Parents shouldn’t have to bury their children on a frozen December day. Parents of black teens shouldn’t have to coach them on how not to get killed when they walk the streets. Our society (and our own hearts) shouldn’t still be so unfathomably racist. Our justice systems shouldn’t protect the privileged and neglect the marginalized.
Advent is a time to hope but I don’t want to hope – hope feels too cheap in the face of all that’s wrong, like someone offering you a drug to medicate the sting. Instead of hope, I want to be angry, to rage, to swear and hit something hard, to do some damage, to make somebody pay!
And anger feels good for a while, but leaves me empty, sort of like getting hopped up on all sorts of Christmas candy out of the Advent calendar. But after the sugar high comes the crash. And after the anger, the real anger over my nephew’s death and then all my other moral outrage over all the endless crap in this world, I’m left empty, needing something more so badly.
I’m faced with a choice. Decide this world is completely screwed up with no good purpose and stick with some really good feeling self-righteous anger (and then probably act out in all the ways I rage about) … or let go, let Jesus take my anger, the sadness, let him change me. And then trust, trust that maybe there is something better, trust that this homesickness I feel for a world that works right actually corresponds to something real.
Hope is not a drug to keep you blissed out in the middle of misery; its actually the most awake, alive, alert posture you can hold. You’re awake to the deepest parts of your heart that is sick for a real place where all shall be well; you’re doing the harder thing of staying alert to the deepest echoes of reality that whisper some rumour of glory.
So though the evidence isn’t always convincing, though my heart isn’t always sure, today I choose to live with my homesickness for a world that works, and hope.
That’s no happy face there – it’s the current yellow badge, or Judenstern, of Iraq. The N’, or ن in Arabic, is the symbol used by the Islamic State (ISIS) to identify who is a Nazarene – a Christian. It has been drawn on doorways and painted on house-fronts in captured Iraqi cities, allowing ISIS militia to sort through identities and loyalties.
A number of months ago I met and listened to the Bishop of Baghdad, Canon Andrew White. He spoke compellingly of the persecution of the church he loved in Iraq. Recently he wrote that the end may be near for Christians in Iraq. Please pray for the persecuted Christians of Iraq.
This, or any, persecution is important for us in the West to pay close attention to, for a number of reasons. First, the persecution of Christians across the world is probably one of the biggest human rights issues that largely happens without protest. A Nov. 27, 2013 National Post article outlined how there have been more Christian martyrs in the 20th century than in the 1,900 years that came before. And in 2010, the Toronto Star called Christianity the most persecuted religion in the world. On a large scale aimed at a specifically designated population, basic human rights are trampled but so little protest is raised. My stubborn agnostic friend, Richard Handler, writes a chastening piece here for all Christians, wondering why aren’t we raising our voices in solidarity.
Secondly, for the most part, Western Christians aren’t persecuted, and in order to maintain our identity as people of the cross it is good for us to keep in touch with persecution. Persecution sharpens your identity as a Christian. That’s how Jesus shapes his beatitude on persecution – it’s about Jesus and our identification with him. “Blessed are you when you are persecuted because of me.” Persecution is all about how closely we identify with Jesus.
Both reasons send me to my knees – the first in solidarity with brothers and sisters who are suffering horribly for the sake of Jesus. The second for myself, scared I don’t have a faith that’s even worth persecuting.