Consciousness of the Celebrant

red-heart-in-hands

“Art should be a great hallelujah to life.”
― Marty Rubin ―


My friend Lizzie is staying the summer with my family on our farm.

On her birthday a few days ago, the celebration began before she even peeped out of her bedroom. I scrawled a loving note before going out for my morning run. Later in the morning, my mom sneaked into the kitchen and began crafting a fruit-laden birthday cake while I distracted Lizzie with outdoor activities. My brother added his happy birthday note to our stash of notes. My dad planned an adventurous hike for the afternoon.

All to celebrate the life of my friend.

I wonder…is celebration becoming a lost art? 

It’s one thing to make a birthday special, and another to live as a conscious celebrant.

In liturgy, a celebrant is the one who comes to the Lord’s Table to partake — to celebrate with rite and ceremony, to see in some ordinary action like eating an extraordinary thing like redemption. Merriam-Webster also defines the word as “a person who celebrates something.”

So, I want to be a celebrant.

It’s so easy not to be.

I woke up with a tired twinge in my muscles this morning. Beds need made, clothes put away, a lunch packed as I head across town to teach music for the day. Honestly…I really don’t feel like making a big deal of anything. This, then, is why I fear the extinction of the celebrant. I know myself too well.

How can we revive this rare breed of people, the dreamers who pour themselves into creative outlets of celebration? How can I become a girl of conscious celebration?

1. Christians are Called to be Celebrants

It’s true. As Christians, each of us is called to daily celebration. “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians. 5:16-18).

We have endless things to celebrate, actually.

The new mercies of the morning, the return of the sun to warm the earth again. That today we are alive. That today is a gift we don’t deserve, but it has still been lavished upon us.

And most of all, that a God of endless worth placed His affection on a unloving people and called them to His salvation. He saved us! I don’t care how I feel this morning — this one trumps all others! No matter if the world crumbles and my life turns upside-down, this reason for celebration will endure. My God loves me.

Oh, Father, give us the grace to live this celebration.

2. Celebrants Think of Others

I doubt I need to tell you how easy it is to go about the day without thinking of anyone else. Deadlines and to-do lists bog us down. We forget about the 7.3 million other people that share this world with us. I honestly don’t understand how I can sometimes be so blind to the people around me.

The true celebrant is one who looks around and really sees.

Don’t do anything for selfish purposes, but with humility think of others as better than yourselves. Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others. Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus:

Though he was in the form of God,
        he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit.
But he emptied himself
        by taking the form of a slave….”

– Philippians 2:3-7a, CEB –

But I don’t think this celebratory nature is determined by accident, by chance, by genetic wiring, or any other uncontrollable force.

I think it is something you can cultivate, if you want to take the time.

The verse says “watch out for what is better for others.” That is definitely something we can actively do. And what about the next phrase, “adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus”?

So I guess the question is…how much do I really want to obey? How much do I really want to step outside of myself and see the needs of others?

3. Celebrants See the Miracle in the Everyday

My friend Lizzie is good at this one. I’ll find notes on my pillow, a flower in my room, a carefully-copied poem laid where I can see it.

She’s studied me, and she’s learned what sends my soul into raptures.

And then she does it.

Don’t laugh…but that last part is the key. I study you. I see what makes you light up, what things refresh your heart.

And then I make a plan and actually do that thing.

That is how to be a celebrant.

Another dear friend named Emily inspires me with her creative and elaborate celebratory schemes. With 5 younger siblings, she often plans adventurous sibling dates, puts on lovely teatimes complete with adventures in Narnia, and implements actual Pinterest ideas (rather than just collecting pins like I do…) like jello Lego pieces or mailing letters in plastic bottles.

See…here’s the thing.

It really doesn’t take all that much to brighten up someones life, or make a memory that will never fade.

It takes thankfulness. It takes a little determination. It takes time to see, and the willingness to set yourself aside for a few minutes and focus on truly loving that dear person right in front of you.

You don’t have to be a Pinterest craft master or a romantic soul to do this, either. Just look. Just learn what people love. Just train yourself to listen and pay attention to what makes your family members smile, or your friends’ eyes shine.

Then do it.

Why not have an impromptu celebration today? Curate the consciousness of a celebrant.


In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.

– Albert Schweitzer –

Advertisements

Named by Redemption

sadness-man-in-the-shadow-1368461366ES7

“Words, so innocent and powerless…when standing in a dictionary, how potent for good or evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them.”

– Nathaniel Hawthorne –


Over a Baskin Robbins mint chocolate chip cone, I chatted with some friends about their prison ministry.

With wide eyes, one friend told me of the man they had just visited. He had been on the run from the law for months and finally brought into custody, to the relief of family members fearing for his life.

He had a tattoo across his forehead–the name that he had printed on his own skin, embedded into his existence:

HATED

And he lived believing it.

Hating himself, hating the law, hating everyone and everything around him.

And I wondered….what would it be like to scrawl on my forehead all my own shame? What would it be like to stare into my bleary, just-awake eyes every day and see my worst fear and my constant torment written indelibly on my face?

Hated. 

Not loved. Not accepted. Not tolerated. But hated.

What happens to a person to make them brand themselves with hate? By what twisted penance or cocky flagrancy does a man emblazon his greatest pain across his skull?

Names. Labels. Appellations.

We inscribe them on our hearts. We chant them to ourselves over and over, like a cursed mantra. We foist them on others and forge them for ourselves, invisible chains.

Dumb. Unloved. Retarded. Ugly. Unvalued.

What kind of names do we give ourselves? When we look in the mirror, what do we call our own faces? When we step out the door, how do we address our own friends?

We label everything, slap on and spit out names that may sting longer than we know.

Our words are killing us slowly–a poisonous death that we scarcely notice. And surely the tongue has the power of death (Proverbs 18:21).

The young man across the table from me in Sunday School had a rose blooming full and red on his left forearm, and words scripted in green across the other arm.

Sinner.

I wondered if it was a recent way of evangelizing his biker friends or something he had acknowledged about himself long before coming to faith.

What makes a man write the secret sins of his heart upon his body for all to see? Does it make the pain ebb? Does it make the guilt cease?

Words of condemnation are the echoes of our broken hearts and dark-twisted souls. We mutter them to ourselves to keep us somehow feeling through the numbness. We fling them at others to somehow make ourselves seem less fragile.

In our darkness, all we can do is pronounce the death settling upon us all.

But what if a word could bring life?

What if a man was also God, and what if he was God’s own speech wrapped up in sinew, with a mouth instead of letters, and a life instead of pages? What if God’s own Word came down and spoke life to us?

Into the labels of “Hated” and “Sinner,” He steps and looks around.

And He doesn’t contradict them, because we are. Hated, yes, by others. And, worse our sinning hearts disgust the God of holiness (Psalm 11:5). Hated.

Sinner. He confirms it. He goes out of His way to make sure we get the fact that we are dirty, incapable of working our own way to God.

Hated. Sinner.

God Himself does not deny our plight.

How can words bring life to this? How can our mess of hate and sin be solved by words, when all we know to do is remind ourselves of despair?

“I have come.”

He has come? To us? But…whatever for? We, the Hated? We, the Sinner?

“That you might have life.”

Life for the desolate, the dirty, the despised? Life, indeed….for me?

“And have it more abundantly.”

Abundance? When I have inscribed my sin on my skin until I can see nothing but my own decay, smell nothing but my own foul stench in God’s nose, feel nothing but the jagged rasp of my throat when I try to speak my cursed mantra again?

How can He–this Word-man–make it all whole again? How can he draw the indelible sin-stain from my forehead?

How can these names be erased?

Piecing together the things He has said, I can almost imagine the scene: He stoops before me–me, the Hated–writing my sins in the sand.

“I will take the hate. I will be despised and rejected instead of you (Isaiah 53). I will take the anger of God Almighty at your rebellion. I will bear the brunt of His wrath. I will take your shame….

“And do you know why?

“Because I have loved you with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3). I have come that you might have life, and have it more abundantly (John 10:10). Because this is how much God loves this world–He sent me to die for your redemption (John 3:16).”

I, the Sinner, am so like the woman caught in sin and dragged to Jesus, a scarlet blush stamped like condemnation on each of her red cheeks. But when the living Word-man speaks, I start to feel the names I’ve been called slip loose from my shoulders.

And when the Word dies, the Word truly does give life.

When my heart knelt at His cross, and visited His empty tomb, the names that weighed me down rolled away.

Hated…no! No more. I am loved, with that Love everlasting, that Word that will not fail. I am loved.

The ink-stain of hate is washed in holy blood and I have a new name stamped on my head–Daughter of the Most High.

Sinner? Ah, no longer am I under the curse of that name. Its power is drained. My arms no longer ache with the weight of that name printed on them. That too has been washed.

And what instead is written on my arms?

Redeemed. Redeemed.

And oh…

Oh, oh, how I love to proclaim it.


 “My name is graven on His hands, my name is written on His heart.

I know that while in heaven He stands, no tongue can bid me thence depart.”

– Charitie Lees Smith, from “Before the Throne of God Above” –

The Truer Land

flowers-139136937323p“The world will never starve for want of wonders; but only for want of wonder.”
– G.K. Chesterton –

Fairy tales object to being outgrown.

I, at least, don’t seem able to do it.

Writers have long spoken this secret. C. S. Lewis avowed that a fairy tale not good enough to be read by an adult wasn’t good enough for anybody.

But sometimes you have to read for yourself, step into a glittering, strange, noble place and find out what it is really like from the inside.

Something about a brand new world for adventures–a whole creation, made up from the whirring cogs of a feracious mind–speaks to me.

New palettes for my imagination result, and suddenly nearly anything can happen, in a whirl of shimmering, phantasmal hues.

People can argue about the merits of so-called “fantasy.” Certainly, bad stories proliferate faster than the good stories. Wise people stand on both ends of the “fiction see-saw.” I don’t like to give up on stories, though. If stories–parables, they’re often called–were useful to Jesus, surely I am not presumptuous in taking them up. All I know is that the most fantastic things are often those that turn out to be True.

And the Truest things are often the most unbelievably, preposterously outlandish. And the most Wondrous things are the ones we most quickly forget.

What, a God who stoops to breathe air and trace earth and live in a flesh-tent as one of His created things?

Surely not, that bones long weather-cracked can stir with life?

What storytelling, that the Death of One could enact the Life of Many?

Many, Lord my God,
are the wonders you have done,
the things you planned for us.
None can compare with you;
were I to speak and tell of your deeds,
they would be too many to declare.

– Psalm 40: 5, NIV –

But we’ve told ourselves the history until it’s all drabness. We’ve talked ourselves out of the wonder.

Tales of another world come down to ours, melt into nothing more than a sanitized Sunday School lesson. We push and shove on the idea of God until we think we’ve contained Him to our comfortable, clean, neat little box. Never mind that we’re sitting on it and hopping a little to get it to latch–like a suitcase overfilled for summer break.

Nevertheless, Truth exists, in all its unconventional glory. But perhaps we humans don’t quite know where to draw the boundaries sometimes? Perhaps we erase lines where God has written them, and inscribe them where He has never said they should be?

What is His line, This God who is Truth in flesh?

He is Truth.

C. S. Lewis has a delightful way of turning about our way of saying things, revealing that our little self-constructed “lines” are only fog curtains to reduce the mystery. We like to solve mysteries–maybe it’s because we like to control them. But God, fully uncontrollable, is full of mystery. And He tells fairy tales that are true.

“Now the story of Christ is simply a true myth: a myth working on us the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference that it really happened: and one must be content to accept it in the same way, remembering that it is God’s myth where the others are men’s myths….Christianity is God expressing Himself through what we call ‘real things’.”

So these books that open worlds?

They’re portals that take my concept of myth and turn it on edge.

For a little while, I give the author “the secret handshake”–agreeing to “suspend belief” for a moment so I can take in his new world for what it is. Fantasy. Make-believe.

And yet, at the end of the tale, I’m often met with unexpected truth–an old friend on a path I thought to be unexplored–, a thrumming Truth in this made-up world, pulsing with the life of what I’ve believed all along.

Not in the words. Not even in the faces of strange creatures or the curiosity of abnormal physics or familiarity of human nature.

In the echoes of certain stories, I feel that the deepest part of it is the Truest part. One element that supersedes fictional places or the boundaries of worlds. An other-worldly longing for Redemption.

“If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”

And then, awakening in this Real world, with Real people, I see better.

After reading about things that I don’t expect to be true, I have fresh eyes to see the things that really are.

The point, after all, isn’t the contents of the finely-spun tale. It’s the lesson I learned in the reading–that, indeed, dragons can be killed.

Putting down a good story, I can see God’s Reality with fresh eyes.

Wise tales make the old seem new. They turn the oft-walked-by into a reason for joy. Good stories unmute the singing world so we too-deaf humans can hear the symphony at last.

Do you know how the clouds hang poised,
those wonders of him who has perfect knowledge? – Job 37:16, NIV

Have you wondered lately? About this Story of our Savior’s that’s being written all around and through and in us?

Let’s join the parade, the marching line of story-tellers that “tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, His power, and the wonders He has done” (Psalm 78:4).

Setting down our fairy tales, let’s go out and take off our shoes.

Let us love…for He has poured out Love first, to us, to make us His.

And sing…for we are surrounded by hosts of witnesses, crying out His praise in a thousand languages that we have largely trained ourselves to ignore.

And wonder…for this is the Greatest of Stories and He has brought us about for this season, for His praise.

Beyond the Climax, when Jesus sets all right and inaugurates the True “Happily Ever After,” we will finally see.

“But this is precisely what is written: God has prepared things for those who love him that no eye has seen, or ear has heard, or that haven’t crossed the mind of any human being.” – 1 Corinthians 2:9, CEB

I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.
 – Gilbert K. Chesterton, emphasis mine –

See also: Psalm 40:5, Psalm 65:8, Daniel 4:2, Job 5:9, Psalm 17:7

Thank you to Public Domain Pictures and George Hodan for today’s photo.

When the Creator Wields a Pen

books in church

“Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God,
But only he who sees takes off his shoes…”

– From “Aurora Leigh,” by Elizabeth Barrett Browning –

Sometimes everything you’ve always known and heard comes together in a moment of crystallization. A few sentences in a classroom awakened me to something spectacular.  A teacher first told me about the Story, the story of how to really take off my shoes.

God has a Story, you see.

Creation, fall, redemption—what tale would end well without this pattern? I realized that God thought of it first.

It resonated deeply with me, that life isn’t just a haphazard collection of moments.  There’s an Author who already knows what His Story’s final chapter will say.

Creation–the “Once upon a time,” when all was fresh and spotlessly lovely.

Fall. The “But then” of the Story. Someone comes along and crashes the perfection.

The fall sweeps me into a hope-vacuum and everything becomes focused on me and my constant failures, my own desperation. The Story seems beyond repair. Ruined.

The world mirrors my personal failures, compounded, and spreading like a virus. What can solve this sin-death? (Romans 7)

Christian literary critic Gene Edward Veith, Jr., says,

“The most important part of the fairy tale is the invariable ending: ‘And they all lived happily ever after.’ Fairy tales…may begin in suffering, but they are resolved in the most intense happiness…Good fairy tales end with consolation” (Reading Between the Lines, 145-146).

This is why fairy tales resonate–because life is a Story and we hope so hard that things will work out. We want to believe in “happily ever after.” We long for the fairy tale to be real. But after a small dose of what’s out there, our happy endings start to look a little naïve.

And then Redemption stirs.

The Word took on flesh (John 1:1-5, 14). The Author became a character in His own book. Somehow, some startling way, a hope emerges in the mess.

My heart can’t quite wrap around the starkness–the blinding, universe-shaking moment that the dragging, imploding darkness flees with the explosion of glorious light. The Creator stepped into a Tale of His own creation, to rescue the characters that had so utterly failed to accomplish their own redemption that only the Author could make it all turn out right again. The Writer dies, so the written might live.

We get to be a part of this Greatest Story ever told. Our Creator Savior is writing the Ultimate Story with broken tools like you and me (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Taking off my shoes means seeing God’s Story in those He puts in my path.

To point out His hand at work in another’s life is powerful. Hope is always powerful.

Over and again, I’ve heard words like these: “I thought it was all for nothing. But then God did this with my pain….”

It’s always a better Story for the conflict.

It’s always a deeper satisfaction for the pain.

In His story, it’s always a more magnificent love in spite of the rejection, a more soul-thrilling joy after the night of sorrow, a greater light when the darkness turns and hides.

Each life, each story that reveals redemption, is a little piece of the puzzle that comes together in a Story too good to be fully imagined.

And I get to be a part of it. And you. And each one that we reach out and touch and say, “Come on this journey with me.”

“But only he who sees, takes off his shoes.”

Sometimes people stumble onto truth, unknowingly straying into holy places on the Pages of God’s Story. I don’t know if English author Michael Morpurgo has found or ever will find the Source of true hope and unquenched optimism, but his words effectively echo the Christian confidence:

“Wherever my story takes me, however dark and difficult the theme, there is always some hope and redemption….I know the sun will rise in the morning, that there is a light at the end of every tunnel.”

I know the Son will rise in the morning. That no night, no tunnel, no battle, is too dark for His light.

“God creates out of nothing. Wonderful you say. Yes, to be sure, but he does what is still more wonderful: he makes saints out of sinners.”
– Søren Kierkegaard

Abundance, a Song Big Enough

“I came so that they could have life—indeed, so that they could live life to the fullest.”

~ John 10:10b, emphasis mine ~

Abundance-3

“That He came to us is the most stunning event, most astounding fact in history.

That we can’t get to the cross…so the Cross came to us.”

– Dr. Jeff Meyers, emphasis mine

In a culture and world so desperately sin-sick, I so often lose sight of the “bookends” of God’s story. When I lose the creation context, I forget that God is the Planner, the “Blessed Controller.” The fall sweeps me into the hope-vacuum and it becomes focused on me and my constant failures, my own desperation.

But as a storyteller myself, I finally came back to the Redemption and my personal world rocks with the glory. My heart, my head, can’t quite wrap around the starkness, the blinding, universe-shaking moment that the dragging, imploding darkness flees with the explosion of glorious light. And my heart quiets, somehow wishing for a song big enough to encompass my redemption.

In the world, it seems my personal failures are only mirrored, compounded, and spreading like a virus. What can solve this sin-death, but the One who took on flesh?

And oh, the breathless beauty that He did!

By Jesus taking on humanity, He abundantly sanctified all our normalcy.

“How is such a spiritual, “out-there” thing so earthy? So, here and now?

So Redemption is what we live in, the light that floods us with life.”

– Dr. Jeff Myers, emphasis mine –

There is a life out there that many of us have only begun to taste. An abiding, abundant, peace-radiant, joy-bubbling, Christ-longing life.

Our Father knows what we need before we ask Him (Matthew 6:8).

He knows we need this abundant life. He knows there is a song-gap in every heart, a longing for music with a swell big enough to carry us through a life and into an eternity.

Not only does he know about this song-hunger–He made it. He made souls that serve a Master. But what Master will we follow?

Only one song will quench us. Only One Life will fill us.

My dear teacher Dr. Jeff Myers taught his students about the principle of abundance. That is, we are not to be content with mediocrity. We are not to be content with merely a well-run race of our own.

An abundant life is a life that spreads. It is light that reaches out. It is a singer that teaches the Greatest Song to every longing soul she finds.

And this abundance–it isn’t something you have to find. It is already yours.

It’s why He came.

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.”

– Matthew 7:7-8, NKJV, emphasis mine –

Sisters, just ask. Today, ask. Enter the abundance that the Cross unleashed.

“If God has given you life abundantly, why aren’t you using it?”

~ Luci Swindoll ~

“To the one who is able to protect you from falling, and to present you blameless and rejoicing before his glorious presence,to the only God our savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, belong glory, majesty, power, and authority, before all time, now and forever. Amen.”

– Jude 24-25, CEB, emphasis mine-

Special thanks to Atalie Bale at ataliebalephotography.com for her beautiful photo of abundance!