Pilgrim’s Lullaby

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Unexpected Shelter

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Gods and Dragons

Yesterday there was a dragon in the sky. Seriously. It was up there, right next to the fluffy white flying pig with the small bum. Just ask my daughters, they’ll tell you. We all saw it as we sat on a park bench munching potato chips and getting brain freeze from our Slurpees. We also spied a mermaid, two dancing insects and a replica of our little dog Jack.

You have to spend a little time if you want to see dragons, what with them being shy, secretive creatures. Pigs with tiny heinies are rarer still.

Lately I haven’t had room in my schedule for dragon hunting, but then neither have you, I suppose. The theory is that the same hours are given to each of us, daily. Given that truth, it would be more accurate to say that I haven’t spent much of my time looking up. Sometimes life dictates the direction of our attention. Recent events such as funerals, board meetings, friends’ health concerns and career changes have set my eyes more or less horizontally. Some details have absolutely demanded my involvement, and for the most part I’ve been glad to be included.

But horizontal vision too long held becomes short-sighted, and to find magical beasts you have to look to the distance, and up.

Some people would say that it wasn’t a dragon that I saw, but a simple cloud. Perhaps they are correct, but it’s a rare cloud that produces wonder and joy just by the seeing of it. As I sat there yesterday looking up, I was reminded that the cares that burden my soul and bend my shoulders are not worrisome to dragons or gods. They carry on regardless.

Gods, you say?

Well, says I, actually “God”, singular. I’m a monotheist, which means while my imagination can conjure scaly winged beasts, my worldview holds that there is one God who is over all. He is full of mystery, but not secretive. Transcendent, and closer than a heartbeat.

Seeing the dragon was nice. Reclaiming the perspective that God is not far off? That he is willing to share my burdens, and still has time to tame dragons? That was priceless.

Even as I write this I’m mentally and emotionally exhausted, but there are clouds in the sky and I may be able to carve out a moment to look heavenward. There’s no telling what I’ll see, if I’ve got the heart-eyes for it.

“The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the skvy above proclaims his handiwork.”
Psalm 19:1 ESV

Healing Trees

There is a safe space provided by friends and family who understand the pain and heartache of life in general, and the Way of the Cross in particular. I wrote this poem in thanks to God, for the benevolence showered on me by their presence in my life.

If you have ever allowed me to share in your angst, this is for you. I love you. Thank you for your vulnerability. When you need it, may you find peace and rest under the Healing Trees.

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For those of you on mobile devices who find the picture too small, here is the text:

Healing Trees
by Bill Scarrott

Heaven has hills where trees do grow
When desperate prayers are sown below.
Alas we rarely tarry there
In forests angels long to know.

There the Gardener takes a knee,
And one by one tends each small plea
With hands that still bear sacred scars,
Bringing to life a Healing Tree.

Covered there from the storms you fear,
Sheltered ‘neath leaves of answered prayer,
A sapling from your own pain grows
Near streams that flow with grace to spare.

Someday others will rest and hide
Under great branches tall and wide
Where the Gard’ner watered a seed
Shaped like that lonely tear you cried.

Breathe

Dear Self,

There are nights when you lay your head to rest, feeling like you’ve held your breath all day. Without being cognizant of it, you’ve subjected yourself to a slow emotional and spiritual suffocation – your soul choked off by the cares that come from simply existing.

So much time is spent critiquing your own worth. Have you sucked all the nectar out of this day? Were you a good enough husband, an employee that contributed well to the project and the team, a benevolent and patient father? What if you weren’t a good enough Christian today? Did you fail to communicate grace?

People are watching. Others are succeeding, and you feel that you should be able to as well. You need to do more. Achieve more. Be more.

Choke.

Sputter.

Gasp.

Consistent, purposeful breathing is essential for life, both physically and spiritually. It seems obvious, right? But I wonder if perhaps you’re not spiritually asthmatic. While the oxygen you need to sustain your soul is all around you, at times I feel as though you’ve been trying to suck it through a stir stick.

So here is my advice to you, self, when you start to turn blue.

First of all, don’t panic. Don’t fret. Running around like a caffeinated squirrel is not going to help. Stop for a second. (If you’re on the freeway, use an off ramp first, then stop for a second.) Seriously, physically, stop.

Now pray. Say something like, “Hi, God. I was just wondering if you’ve got the Earth spinning faster than normal?” His answer will probably be along the lines of, “Hi back! I love you. The Earth is just fine, thanks for asking.” It’s good to be reminded that everything doesn’t go atomic if you take a moment to get your poop in a group. The Apostle Paul wrote to the church in the city of Philippi, saying “…Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus…”

Doing this often has saved your sanity in the past, remember? It has opened your eyes to the ways that God’s patience and love is manifested all around you. Remember when God spoke to you as you took a moment to seek him during church today? He didn’t ask anything of you at all. He just wanted to remind you that he loves you! And then he helped you enjoy the rumble of that v-twin engine, good conversation, artery-clogging Mexican food, a playground filled with kids, buddies to chuck around a football (even though football has always intimidated you). You got wrapped up in your wife’s smile and the knowledge that your children feel safe and loved in your presence. And you had a nap.

…Each in its time…

…No rush…

…Beautiful…

I know that life isn’t easy, self, but it doesn’t have to be complicated, okay?

Just breathe.

Palm Sunday Poverty

If you read the story of Jesus in the Bible, there comes a time when he enters Jerusalem and is greeted with praises and fanfare. His reputation has gone before him. Willingness to heal the sick, encourage the marginalized and annoy the religious hoity-toities has made him the Prophet of the People, and they come out in droves to shout hosanna (literally “save, we pray”, but used as expression of adoration), spreading palm fronds and coats before him. We celebrate that moment – called the Triumphal Entry – on this day of the Christian calendar, Palm Sunday.

Part of my religious upbringing sat upon my shoulder in church this morning, whispering to me the importance of worshipful and praisey emotions while stabbing a pitchfork of guilt into my ear, because I wasn’t feeling the evangelical mojo.

On the other shoulder sat the grace of imagination, and with my Pastor’s help I transported myself back a couple thousand years so that I could partake in the original festivities. There I was, on the road to Jerusalem, the city reflecting my soul in so many ways. Pride and praise, infidel and religious, sacrifice and extortion, foreign armies in charge of way too much.

And Jesus weeping, loving, worthy of more than I have to give. Today I am the poor of Jerusalem, but somehow he comes for me too.

When the Prince of Peace approaches the city of your soul and you have very little with which to offer a decadent welcome, just put before him whatever is in your hands or on your back. Palm branches, coats and burdens pave the road for the coming of Messiah.

Lay yours down…

“…looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Hebrews 12:2 English Standard Version (ESV)

Living With Questions

The first time I saw a man coming undone was in High School. One of his children was in the hospital undergoing spinal taps, and I sat there with the other students, stunned into silence on our cheap hard seats as he asked us…

Why…?

He was my Religion teacher and he taught me more about faith in those classes than I had learned in years. He kept asking – with anger and tears – the same question each day, and he continued to receive in response about 30 blank stares from children whose faith had not yet been tested. Day after day. Class after class. Bitter silence on top of sterile quiescence.

Trying to be objective, I peel back layers of memory and wonder if I’ve ever received a life-giving answer from anyone who hasn’t first learned to live with questions. I think not.

These days, I hear many questions and very few answers. “Why is that Christian such an ass?” “What will happen next?” “When will the anxiety and depression go away?” “How will I find another job?” “What is next for my loved ones?”

God, why…?

I share some of the same queries and would appreciate some answers, but what’s more important is that I am a part of a community that doesn’t fear a lack of answers. Like my high school instructor, my family of Truth Seekers keep coming back, continue asking. Step after step. Snotty Kleenex after snotty Kleenex. And I love them for it.

Like a question without an answer, I penned some lyrics this week for which there is no melody. It is for some dear friends who are learning to live with questions. “It’s okay to not be strong,” I would tell them, and you. “Don’t give up,” I would say.

And then I would sit with you awhile.

Song In The Darkness

We all want to live on the mountain
Arms lifted high to our God and our King,
But You’ve said the path to that glory
Comes when we share in Your suffering.

Give me a song to sing in the darkness
Like the one Mary sang as they laid You to rest
A harmony born in the womb of this sadness
A lullaby for every heart worn and hard-pressed.

We all want to drink from the fountain
Of joy that Your resurrection can bring
But for now faith is just me waiting
In the tomb’s pain for my Easter King.

Give me a song to sing in the darkness
Like the one Mary sang as they laid you to rest
A harmony born in the womb of this sadness
A lullaby for every heart worn and hard pressed.

You’re not far off
You see my pain
You’re the God who died and rose again.
You’re not far off
You see my pain
You’re the God who died and rose again.

This is the song I sing in the darkness
Like the one Mary sang as they laid you to rest
A harmony born in the womb of great sadness
For God who loves me ever and gave me his best.

Wilderness Worship

“Let my people go,” God said, “so that they can worship me in the wilderness.” (Exodus 7:16)

Worship and wilderness. I’d like to think that there is no connection. Surely the ancient Israelites were not so spiritually thick in the head that God’s presence could be overshadowed by a little milk and honey! If the Ancient One would meet with them, no doubt it would be in the parting of the sea or when fortress walls came crumbling down, yes?

Apparently not. In his great wisdom, it turns out that the Almighty had discerned that they’d be most spiritually pliable when sand was chafing in the nether regions of their undergarments. He chose to get personal somewhere between their Deliverance and the Promised Land. In Egypt they saw his power; in Palestine they saw the fulfillment of his promises. But the magic happened in the middle.

That’s where they meet, and under that desert sun God makes it clear that He is nobody’s mascot. He describes himself to Moses, saying, “…Yahweh! The LORD! The God of compassion and mercy! I am slow to anger and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness. I lavish unfailing love to a thousand generations. I forgive iniquity, rebellion, and sin. But I do not excuse the guilty. I lay the sins of the parents upon their children and grandchildren; the entire family is affected— even children in the third and fourth generations.” (Exodus 34:6-7 NLT) He has standards and expectations, and a ridiculous amount of love.

The desert narrative is God and his people, for better or worse, getting to know each other. What kind of God is it that when you are parched and ask for water, has you stand in front of a rock and says, “There you go…”? When you run out of food, what kind of God says, “Wait until morning, and then scrape up whatever you can find on the ground…”? This is a God who has offered Himself, and sees how easily we get sidetracked by secondary appetites.

Desert experiences aren’t forever, but going on to live a supernatural existence requires a holy communion that I haven’t seen taught anywhere else. God did not keep Daniel from the lion’s den, or Shadrach and his friends from the flames, or Mary from an unplanned pregnancy. Unexpected Company is unveiled in uncomfortable circumstance.

The Apostle Paul penned his heart’s desire this way: “…that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings…” (Philippians 3:10 NASB). He wanted to know Jesus, experientially, and understood that this would include both resurrection power and profound suffering.

In many of our churches we give indifferent assent to this, but only provide a voice for stories told from the perspective of victory and resolution. Suffering and brokenness and desert experiences are whispered about in private conversations and prayer chains. In many respects this is understandable. However, I suggest that there is a corporate disconnect when we preach the cross of Jesus but only celebrate the manifestation of his resurrection.

There is a beauty to be found in water from the rock and manna from heaven. More than that, a sense of wonder needs to be rediscovered when, for the first time, we see the Holy of Holies being crafted in a person’s soul. Indeed, one of the lessons of the great exodus is that the purpose of the desert is not to experience the faithful provision of God, but to create a space among his people for His glory.

For many of us, this goes being the realm of theory. Things haven’t turned out they way we thought they might. We assumed the light of God’s goodness would continue to shine ever brighter, and now we find ourselves in the desert, or the lion’s den, or the flames, or the tomb, or a place of anxiety, stress and depression that makes a mockery of metaphor.

It’s called Holy Ground. Let’s worship Him here.

Go on down to the silent place,
You who dare to seek God’s face.
For it may be you’ll find down there
An answer for that load you bear.

Stop not at the convenient spot
You’ve been before, for God is not
A landmark on a religious map,
Or a brew poured from some preacher’s tap.

Continue on with your open sores
To solitary haunted shores
Where human voices utter not
One breath of what a true God aught
To do or say or even be,
Silent before His blood-stained tree.

Sit awhile in the cold dark tomb-
That barren place that became the womb
Of every hope we ever had,
And the death of all that makes men mad,
For that is where our God is found.
Your weary heart is holy ground.

Empty Places

There is a place we do not speak
Of when we’re lost and weary, weak
But angels meet us sometimes there
To walk us back from the cold bleak.

There is a cool and rain soaked shore
Where some of us have been before
And found a tender Father there
Where tides of love bring rest from war.

There is a deep and quiet lake-
Faith born in highlands of heartache-
Fed by springs of the Spirit where
the thirsty drink and sleeping wake.

There is for each of us a tomb
With very little breathing room.
We feel alone though Christ is there
To show us death is glory’s womb.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.” – Jesus of Nazareth
John 12: 24-26 (ESV)

 

Jesus and Oatmeal

As I sit here in my sweatpants, a cold Canadian wind pushes snow into drifts alongside my house. The phone is silent, for now, but all week long is has buzzed or beeped incessantly, bringing ponderous tidings too heavy for one man’s shoulders, wearing my psyche into tatters. The hope of gainful employment has risen and fallen again, battering my self worth and sense of purpose.

This morning I read in the Bible about how God isn’t blind, deaf or indifferent to our suffering.

But I wanted proof.

So I went downstairs, and what did I see? I saw a carton of instant oatmeal packets sitting on the kitchen island. I thought to myself,”When you’ve got nothing left, when everything has gone dim and grey, you’ve still got Jesus and Quaker Peaches and Cream. When you’ve exhausted all your resources, but even still you feel abandoned, misunderstood and rolled over, you’ve still got the Prince of Peace and little paper packets of warm breakfast happiness.”

And I was wrong.

It turns out Mr.Quaker is a fraud. Those precious little bits of peaches that take you back to a time of innocence and joy? They are actually apples. I know – I didn’t want to believe it at first either. I thought Quaker Peaches and Cream Oatmeal was as sacred as Saturday morning cartoons and Sunday morning flannel graphs, but I was wrong.

Apples. Once a part of God’s beautiful creation, now used for the devil’s work.

So now I’m left with Jesus, hoping that he is more than a common fruit with peachy religious colouring. The good news is I’ve been through this before, and I know that the historical Jesus is the real deal – no artificial flavours or preservatives – so my hope is based both on what I’ve read AND what I’ve seen.

To walk in the way of Jesus has very little to do with success as the world measures such things. A part of me prefers personal fulfillment, not Christianity’s sacrificial-lose-your-life-to-find-it mumbo jumbo. But when it comes down to it, someday I want to be on the inside of a tomb looking outwards, and that kind of potential only comes through crucifixion.

As we journey through life, we find that there are a million different ways to die, and Jesus will lead us both to and through them, if we’ll take his hand. And my God, it hurts.

But not as much as apples in your oatmeal.

“Taste and see that the Lord is good;
blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.”

Psalm 38:4 New International Version

Kick-butt Truth

Whatever a writer is supposed to look like, I doubt it resembles the reflection staring back at me from the window of the fast food joint I’ve graced with my presence this evening. My coat looks like clods of dirt were thrown at it and my jeans are torn and patched. If I remove my toque, babies will cry.

I spent a number of hours today in a hole. Yup, you read that correctly; one of my bluer, blue collar tasks today involved jumping up to my shoulders into holes and prying out stubborn rocks. Hard labor. As a result, I’m less than fresh.

My cup of Coca-Cola has been empty for a while but I keep sipping at it, the taste gradually moving through the spectrum from syrup-sweet to melted, stale ice cube. Empty ketchup cups sit on my tray, keeping company with a French fry carton stained with grease spots.

All told, Superman probably frequents phone booths because he walked into a place like this, saw someone like me and decided to find somewhere more sanitary for a wardrobe change.

How is my mental state, you ask? Three days ago I was comparing myself to undergarments with worn-out elastic: all the basic material was there but some parts were all bunched up where they didn’t belong and other sections were drooping. Things just didn’t seem to fit. There are issues I’m facing that I just want fixed. Unemployment. Disappointing relationships. Dreams in a holding pattern (I’ve still got this crazy idea that I can change the world – a paradigm I thought would fizzle out along with my third decade.)

So why, asks I, do I have this crazy peace?

The Apostle Paul once wrote, “… The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus…”

All week long I’ve been letting my requests known, but it wasn’t until today that I made a feeble attempt at thanksgiving: A good friend of mine reminded me of something I didn’t really want to hear, so I texted him my response framed as a prayer:
“Blessed are you, O Lord, who has given me friends who aren’t afraid to kick my ass with the truth.”

Candor trumps profanity, amen?! If you’re reading this blog because you’re assuming that I’ve got my poop in a group, let’s both have a little giggle and move on to something useful. I’m sure of very little, friends, but of this I have no doubt: regardless of how you’re getting your butt kicked by life, hope is still found in Truth. Not circumstance.

What’s the truth? God, who was willing to enter time and space, be killed by men, buried, and then came back to life, is a God who won’t let you go once He’s got His arms around you.

“The eternal God is your refuge,
and underneath are the everlasting arms…”

Deuteronomy 33:27a

The Journey

Normally I wouldn’t post something that hasn’t been tweaked and polished. My last spoken word poem, “The Invitation“, has been fairly well received though, so I wanted to give you a sneak peak at my next project. It is called “The Journey”. It is based on my original poem “Weary Heart, Holy Ground“, but I wanted to take us deeper into the life of Jesus, and explore what it means to have communion with him in his life and death. When it’s finished it should be twice as long at what’s  already here.

I hope it encourages you!

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The Journey

Who are you when you’re in the dark?
When heaven in silent and just a spark
Or whisper is all you’d need to want to take
Another breathe, but you’re a crystal about to break?

Go on down to the silent place,
You who dare to seek God’s face.
For it may be you’ll find down there
An answer for that load you bear.

Stop not at the convenient spot
You’ve been before, for God is not
A landmark on a religious map,
Or a brew poured from some preacher’s tap.

Continue on with your open sores
To solitary haunted shores
Where human voices utter not
One breath of what a true God aught
To do or say or even be,
Except that He once died for thee.

Sit awhile in the cold dark tomb-
That barren place that became the womb
Of every hope we ever had,
And the death of all that makes men mad,
For that is where our God is found.
Your weary heart is holy ground.

Three days will pass or maybe more
‘Til angels move the great stone door
Locked tight against the morning sun.
But that first crack of light will stun
Lies hell has placed within your mind.
Walk out free and leave behind
The shame, the fear; let them rest
And walk out into Easters best.
Take whatever is left of you
Discard the lie, embrace the true.

Meet in the garden of your soul
A man who makes the broken whole.
You may not recognize at first
The one we crucified and cursed,
But hope will rise like an ancient flame
The first time that he calls your name.