Briar Thorns

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Light of every imaginable color dappled the whitewashed planks. I tiptoed, pausing to watch the shifting colors beneath my feet. The rainbows swam, and somewhere high above my head a rafter began to creak in protest to the sudden gust of wind—wind that set the trees outside swaying and threw dancing colors at my feet, fractured and projected by the stained glass. I found myself near the front, but not quite. Too modest and self-conscious to kneel at the worn carpet stairs, I slipped instead into the second pew at my right hand. Why the awkwardness? Hundreds, surely, had knelt in that spot. More likely, it was the thousand thoughts and memories swirling through the air like so many dust motes that gave me pause. There were shadows and years close beside me—sitting next to me—and they hung back in silence, watching me. Somehow, it did not seem fitting to waltz in and make myself so at home. I slid into the pew, bowing my head and squeezing my eyes shut as I did.

I’m not a believer in the so-called sixth sense, but I felt the hair on the nape of my neck prickle and a long shudder scurried up the length of my spine. I knew he was sitting next to me, before I even opened my eyes. And yet somehow, it wasn’t startling to see him there. He belonged, as much as the stained glass, the dappled light, the hardwood pews, the carpeted stairs, and the plain wood cross. His presence should have surprised me, but it didn’t. Actually, there was something marvelously calming about the way he fit so well into the surroundings. Fit into? No, not quite—he was part of them.

“All may approach, sister. There is no separation, save the insurmountable walls you’ve built up within your own heart and soul.”

“They crowd my mind, brother. They keep me back.”

“Perhaps you should not give them reign: it’s a dangerous thing. Pray for strength, little sister, and ask our Father to tear down the walls you’ve made.” He smiled, and the crow’s feet beside his milky eyes crinkled.

It wasn’t the weight of the years and the souls that once filled the chapel—it was not these that blocked me. Raising my eyes once more to the carpeted stairs, I understood. There were briars. Horrible, thorny bushes—wretched. The kind that gleefully snag on the thinnest thread of clothing and find no greater delight than in tearing at exposed flesh. They crowded the isle and surrounded the front most pews, rendering passage to the stairs and the cross impossible.

“I can’t uproot the thorn trees, brother. Believe me, I’ve tried, but they only come back thicker, stronger, and crueler.” Even I could recognize the note of plaintive desperation.

“When did I say anything about you uprooting them? When did I tell you to pluck them up and cast them into the fire? You can’t.”

“But what should I do?”

“You know what you are to do.”

“I can’t. I’m not good enough.”

“He is sufficient.” The ancient eyes wandered to the cross, then focused back on my face.

“Maybe I won’t like them being gone. Perhaps just sitting here is better. Maybe I enjoy them sprawled there, though they block me. Maybe… maybe they’re not even a block at all.”

“Do you really believe that?” He inquired quietly.

“… no. But it would be almost easier if I really did.”

“Ask Him.”

“I don’t know how.”

“Your soul knows how, e’en though your mouth be too weak to find the words.”

I squeezed my eyes shut again, ignoring the tears that had begun to seep between my lashes—and I prayed. I prayed for the briars. I prayed for those ugly, pesky, hideous briars that forever crop up, tangling the path and tearing at my feet. I asked Him to take the briars away, to uproot them and cast them aside. I gave him all my ugly, wretched briars.

I opened my eyes. The stained-glass chapel was gone. Once more I was among ruins. Standing stones, half-buried wood, and the remains of a few steps leading up to… sky. There was only sky where the cross had hung. I knelt at the steps, and cursed the sharp prick of pain from the briar barb that embedded itself in my knee as I did so. Briars. There were still briars. But there were not so many as before. There were only a few, and even they look pale and sickly. Gently, I traced the outline of the thorns with the tip of my finger, pushing aside the brush and twigs—hidden, cradled, and sheltered, a tiny rose greeted me.

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There Is an Ocean

Avila Beach, San Louis Obispo, California

Avila Beach, San Louis Obispo, California

There is an ocean

I’m standing on its shore

Without boundary or measure

After time and before

 

The waves lap my feet

And they call out to me

They speak of fathomless love

And undeserved mercy

 

I glance down at my grimy feet

And at my bloodstained hands

I’ve borne these wrongs for so long

Perhaps I should stay on the sand

 

What if the flood isn’t enough

What if the stains remain

How can I ever hope to be clean

Doubt weighs me down iron chains

 

But again lap the waves

Again beckons the flow

Again sings the flood

“Come, be washed pure as snow”

 

And the ocean waves

Are not a watery flood

The are scarlet red

The ocean is waves of blood

 

Can this blood heal my scars

Wash away every stain

Will I rise from the depths

Whole and sound again

 

Still the ocean calls

So I draw a deep breath

I walk down in the waves’ midst

And down to my death

 

For the flood washes me

Of all that is not clean

I died that day

No power—the past but a dream

 

But dear friend

It wasn’t the end

I live again

 

I am complete

No more do I sleep

Not glorified yet

But forever redeemed

So Peal the Bells

Mountain Sunrise

Sunday morning reflections…

 

Once more we give thanks

Once more we come

Once more we rejoice

For the work You’ve begun

 

Gathered again

At the rising of the sun

Voices in unison

To praise the Three in One

 

So peal the bells

“Come, come and partake

Christ accomplished what you could not

All the weight of your sin did take”

 

So rise believer

Rise up and approach

Draw nigh and kneel at your Savior’s feet

The sovereign, merciful, giver of hope

Christ Our King

cross on manger

Babe in the straw

While Bethlehem sleeps

The Savior is born

Christ our King.

 

He has descended

Made Himself low

Garbed in our flesh

Yet still God alone.

 

O wondering shepherds

What do you see?

The Shepherd of us all

Our Lord, Christ the King?

 

Angels in chorus

Lift up their praise

“Glory to God in the highest”

Their voices raise.

 

There on the floor!

Mary, do you see?

There is a shadow cast

By somber tree.

 

There is a cross

There is a death

A sacrifice

To pay our debt.

 

When you gaze into the manger

What do your eyes there see?

A tiny babe, lying in straw

Or God made flesh, Christ our King?

The Warrior’s Sacrifice

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Sacrifice

You emerged alive

You offered your life

In pain and strife.

 

A simple thank you

Does not suffice

For the gratefulness

Cherished inside.

 

Selflessness

Danger every day

You cleared the path

You paved the way.

 

Warrior

You gave yourself

Stood in the breach

Passed through hell.

 

What else can I say?

What else can I do

But shake your hand with

Teary eyes and a thank you.