Ashes to Wood

This world is a splendid and magnificent thing. Our lives are wonders to behold. Having no language to top the Creator’s own description, we take a wide, contented gaze and simply exhale, “My, my, this world is good.”

But we are in disarray these days, our world and our lives seeming so fragile, our bright hopes sullied. The truth is there’s much evil and sadness in our world, too much death and too much anger and too many stories of friends and strangers clinging at the brink. Some of us have lost our keen-eyed wanderlust for the horizon, the splendors ahead, the good to come. We are no longer able to hold on to the belief that bright love will write the final chapter.

But it will, friends, it will. The God of all love and goodness, the God who promises to bring tears and evil to its end, is not fragile. God has not forgotten. “My, my, this world is good.”

So have hope. Dig in. Love bold. Go dance. Write a novel. Make babies. Clean up a river. Plant a grove. Bike the Eastern shore. Rent a convertible and tour Route 69. Receive the Eucharist with gusto. Learn to play the sax. Give yourself to big ideas and big causes. Laugh in the face of fear. Do something foolish with a friend simply because they’re your friend. Grab the one you love and kiss them extra hard and extra long. Cry. And then laugh. And then cry again.

If the Christian story says anything at all, it says this: the gloom we know is not the final tally. The God who named the world good gets the final say. The heart of Christian hope is the promise that death is, in the end, merely a two bit player in the great drama.

In Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin, the pastor offered the eulogy at the funeral of a young girl who died tragically and too soon, and he knew this hope:

The preacher coughed and asked for silence and said he had a few final words. He went through the formalities of prayer and the old biblical Ashes to ashes and dust to dust, but then he said that it was his firm belief that ashes could someday return to wood, that was the miracle not just of heaven, but the miracle of the actual world, that things could be reconstituted and the dead could come alive, most especially in our hearts

Ashes return to wood. Sorrow to gladness. Cold hearts burn again. One day, everyone will experience the truth that is already here, if we’ll see it. My, my, this world is good.

Advent Hope #adventpicaday

Jeromie Rand.FrozenIt’s been said, at least a time or two, that a picture’s worth a thousand words. I buy it. But, as any son longing for home or any mother listening for love will tell you – it’s also true that sometimes a word’s worth a thousand pictures.

Bottom line: Pictures matter. Words matter. Love matters. Hope matters. A kiss under the moonlight matters. Tucking your boys in at night matters. It all matters.

But we’ll soon be moving into Advent, and the quiet, watchful Advent days are days particularly keen on opening up tired eyes and adding a twinkle when you don’t see it coming. Last year, a few of us helped one another pay attention, to see the days before us, by snapping a picture that spoke of Advent mercies. I figured why not go for it again.

Here’s how it works. This year’s theme will be hope. We’re watching for signs of hope, for things that give us hope – and also for the places we pray hope will arrive. As many days of Advent as you’re able (and please, let this be easy, no pressure or discipline or any such thing – this is Advent, mercy-time, for crying out loud), snap a photo (like the one above – Jeromie Rand gave us this one last year) and post it on Instagram with #adventpicaday in the caption field. That way, we’ll all see what you see.

It is this joyful expectation of God’s coming that offers vitality to our lives. The expectation of the fulfillment of God’s promises to us is what allows us to pay full attention to the road on which we are walking. {Henri Nouwen}

Now that’s hope.

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