“By thee all heaven is poured into my heart…”

Holy Saturday

When Satan approaches may I flee to thy wounds,
and there cease to tremble at all alarms…

Thy cross was upraised to be my refuge,
Thy blood streamed forth to wash me clean,
Thy death occurred to give me a surety,
Thy name is my property to save me,
By thee all heaven is poured into my heart,
   but it is too narrow to comprehend thy love.
I was a stranger, an outcast, a slave, a rebel,
   but thy cross has brought me near,
     has softened my heart,
     has made me thy Father’s child,
     has admitted me to thy family,
     has made me joint-heir with thyself.
O that I may love thee as thou lovest me,
   that I may walk worthy of thee, my Lord,
   that I may reflect the image of heaven’s first-born.
May I always see thy beauty with the clear eye of faith,
   and feel the power of thy Spirit in my heart,
   for unless he move mightily in me,
   no inward fire will be kindled.

From “Need of Jesus,” in The Valley of Vision

“Give me perpetual broken-heartedness…”

Good Friday

Grant me to hear thy voice assuring me:
that by thy stripes, I am healed,
that thou wast bruised for my iniquities,
that thou hast been made sin for me
that I might be righteous in thee,
that my grievous sins, my manifold sins, are all forgiven,
buried in the ocean of thy concealing blood.
I am guilty, but pardoned,
lost, but saved,
wandering, but found,
sinning, but cleansed.
Give me perpetual broken-heartedness,
Keep me always clinging to thy cross,
Flood me every moment with descending grace,
Open to me the springs of divine knowledge,
sparkling like crystal,
flowing clear and unsullied
through my wilderness of life.

From “The Broken Heart,” in The Valley of Vision

“In this supper I remember his eternal love…”

Maundy Thursday

When I gaze upon the emblems of my Saviour’s death,
may I ponder why he died, and hear him say,
‘I gave my life to purchase yours,
presented myself an offering to expiate your sin,
shed my blood to blot out your guilt,
opened my side to make you clean,
endured your curses to set you free,
bore your condemnation to satisfy divine justice.
O may I rightly grasp the breadth and length of this design,
draw near, obey, extend the hand,
take the bread, receive the cup,
eat and drink, testify before all men
that I do for myself, gladly, in faith,
reverence and love, receive my Lord,
to be my life, strength, nourishment, joy, delight.
In the supper I remember his eternal love,
boundless grace, infinite compassion,
agony, cross, redemption,
and receive assurance of pardon, adoption, life, glory.
As the outward elements nourish my body,
so may thy indwelling Spirit invigorate my soul,
until that day when I hunger and thirst no more,
and sit with Jesus at his heavenly feast.

From “The Lord’s Supper,” in The Valley of Vision

“I am always going into the far country…”

Wednesday

I need to repent of my repentance;
I need my tears to be washed;
I have no robe to cover my sins,
no loom to weave my own righteousness;
I am always standing in filthy garments,
and by grace am always receiving change of raiment,
for thou dost always justify the ungodly;
I am always going into the far country,
and always returning home as a prodigal,
always saying, Father, forgive me,
and thou art always bringing forth the best robe.
Every morning let me wear it,
every evening return in it,
go out to the day’s work in it,
be married in it,
be wound in death in it,
stand before the great white throne in it,
enter heaven in it shining as the sun.
Grant me never to lose sight of
the exceeding sinfulness of sin,
the exceeding righteousness of salvation,
the exceeding glory of Christ,
the exceeding beauty of holiness,
the exceeding wonder of grace.

From “Continual Repentance,” in The Valley of Vision

“…the valley is the place of vision.”

Tuesday

Lord, high and holy, meek and lowly,
Thou hast brought me to the valley of vision,
where I live in the depths but see thee in the heights;
hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold thy glory.

Let me learn by paradox
   that the way down is the way up,
   that to be low is to be high,
   that the broken heart is the healed heart,
   that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,
   that the repenting soul is the rejoicing soul.
   that to have nothing is to possess all,
   that to bear the cross is to wear the crown,
   that to give is to receive,
   that the valley is the place of vision.

From “The Valley of Vision,” in The Valley of Vision

“…take me to the cross and leave me there.”

Monday

Lord, it is my chief design to bring my heart back to thee.
Convince me that I cannot be my own God,
or make myself happy,
nor my own Christ to restore my joy,
nor my own Spirit to teach, guide, rule me.
Help me to see that grace does this by providential affliction,
for when my credit is good thou dost cast me lower,
when riches are my idol thou dost wing them away,
when pleasure is my all thou dost turn it into bitterness.
Take away my roving eye, curious ear, greedy appetite, lustful heart;
show me that none of these things
can heal a wounded conscience,
or support a tottering frame,
or uphold a departing spirit.
Then take me to the cross
and leave me there.

From “Man a Nothing” in The Valley of Vision

Prayers for Holy Week

Palm Sunday

It feels a little perverse to confess that Holy Week is my favorite week of the year, if not borderline morbid. After all, what kind of person looks forward to a murder – especially one that they help perpetrate? But as someone who tends to float in the spiritual shallows more often than not, I grab onto Holy Week each year like a life preserver. It is the one week each year that practically forces me to structure life around Jesus’ experience rather than my own; it’s an annual invitation to see and believe that his story is the only one that matters; and it is, each year, a revelation that God knows just how messed up my own story is and moves towards me all the same, knowing fully what it will cost.

I know all of these things, all year long. But I can’t maintain the intensity of focus. The cares of the world spring up and choke out much of my growth. And then comes Holy Week – with my church’s corporate fast, with the building crescendo of services, and the slow approach into the dark waiting of Holy Saturday – and the weeds begin to wilt. Strangely, annually, out of death comes new life.

In keeping with Holy Week tradition at here Aslan’s Library, we’ll be offering daily reflections as Christians the world over walk through Jesus’ last week together. Not too much talking from us, since this is a week more for listening and waiting, quietly standing by. My fabulous sister-in-law gave me a copy of The Valley of Vision for Christmas, and I’ve been savoring the frankness, the incisiveness, and the desperate hope in some of the old Puritan prayers. I hope you’ll join us, and that they’ll speak to you as well.

Here’s one for Palm Sunday (from “Love to Jesus,” in The Valley of Vision):

The Son breaks out in glory
when he shows himself as one who outshines
all creation,
makes men poor in spirit,
and helps them to find their good in him.
Grant that I may distrust myself, to see
my all in thee.

Sights and Sounds of Easter

Easter 2013

As much as I usually enjoy observing Lent with my family, this year we’ve barely done anything to set aside the season as special.  Part of the issue is that both of my children’s birthdays are during Holy Week this year, which has left me feeling a little unmotivated towards all things Lenten.  How do you do Lent when you know that Holy Week will be filled with cakes and gifts?

Despite this, I am planning for some grand Easter celebrating!  A friend recently told me she’s noticed that liturgically-minded Christians seem to do better at planning for Advent and Lent than they do for Christmas and Easter, and I think she’s probably right.  (At least, I think we often talk more about Advent and Lent.  This might be simply because they are new observances to many of us.)  So as I think about Easter this year, I’ve been trying to come up with ways to maintain a spirit of celebration past 11am on Easter morning.  Sure, it would be impossible to keep up a party-like atmosphere in your home all day every day for the full 50 days of Easter, but I still think there’s a lot we can do to enrich our Resurrection feasting.

Last year I wrote a post about engaging the senses during Lent, and I use that same idea to organize my thoughts on Easter celebration.  I want my children to grow up knowing in their bones what it feels like to rejoice at Jesus’ resurrection.  I want the sights, sounds, and tastes in our home to be a signal that Easter truly is our greatest festival.  We Christians are Easter people, after all.  The empty tomb is the core of our faith, so let us use every creative fiber of our being as we plan for the great celebration!  Please chime in with your own ideas in the comments so we can all learn from one another.

{Disclaimer: Of course I’m not doing every single one of these things.  I’ll feel good if we hit one from each category!}

Things to See

  • Create an Easter garden with some pots, soil, stones, and stick crosses.
  • Hang up a “He Is Risen!” banner or a gold/white cross banner.
  • Print out and display this BCP quote: “Dying you destroyed our death, Rising you restored our life, Lord Jesus come in glory.”
  • As a table centerpiece, set out flowers, a cross, and a sign (even just handwriting on construction paper) saying “He is risen!”
  • Light candles all over your home.  I’m itching to try my hand at making soy candles, which I hope to do sometime during Eastertide.
  • Make or buy ribbon streamers your kids can use in worship at home or church.
  • Beautifully, naturally dyed eggs can be a discussion starter about new life.

Things to Hear

  • Set out a basket of bells that your children can ring.
  • Put on the Hallelujah Chorus first thing on Easter morning and again frequently throughout Eastertide.
  • Create a celebratory Easter playlist to play for all 50 days.
  • Teach your kids the traditional proclamation, “The Lord is risen!” and its reply, “He is risen indeed!”
  • Read the end of a Gospel and then Acts together for family devotions.
  • Memorize an Easter-themed hymn or worshipful portion of Scripture together.
  • Choose books to read aloud that have redemptive themes or tell the lives of faithful believers.  And don’t forget my favorite Easter book!

Things to Taste

  • If you attend an Easter Vigil and have fasted during Lent, bring some small pieces of chocolate to slip to your children right as the Resurrection is announced. (Many thanks to Molly R. for this idea and the following one.)
  • Similarly, have some champagne, fancy cheese, and crackers on hand when you get home from the Vigil – you’ll be too excited to sleep anyway!
  • Serve sparkling juice every morning for Easter week.
  • Enjoy hot cross buns for breakfast at least once during the 50 days.
  • Have a potluck feast with friends sometime during Eastertide.
  • Use the fancy china!  Even at breakfast!
  • If you’ve given up sweets during Lent, be sure to make everyone’s favorite dessert in the weeks following Easter.  We haven’t fasted this year, but I am going to make some chocolate dipped homemade marshmallows during Easter, which is something I’ve long wanted to do.
  • Candy is great fun, but remember that there are ways to celebrate besides overloading on sugar.  Here’s a great list of things to put in Easter eggs in addition to candy.

Living in Light of the Cross

  • Invite neighbors who live alone to share a meal with you.
  • Consider buying only fair trade chocolate to place in Easter baskets.  Natural Candy Store has the chocolate eggs I’m going to order and a variety of other kinds as well.
  • Encourage the spiritual growth of each person in your family in fresh ways: send your spouse on a retreat, give your child a new devotional, or buy a new CD (try Resurrection Letters Volume II, To Be Like Jesus, or one of the Seeds albums).
  • Find a local ministry to support with time, money, or prayer.
  • Write letters of gratitude to the people who introduced you to Jesus or who have spiritually mentored you or your children.

Illustrating the names of Jesus: a project for Lent

Illustrating2

“Who do you say that I am?”

That’s the question that all three of the synoptic Gospels hinge on. And it’s one of the most important questions our children can learn how to answer. Ultimately, of course, we can’t coach them into a right answer: they will only be able to honestly respond when they encounter Jesus and he poses the question. But it is our privilege and sacred duty to introduce our kids to Jesus, to share our own stories and love for him, and to provide them with opportunities to meet him themselves. So I’m very thankful to Martha Zimmerman for prompting a project that is helping my six-year-old and I do just that.

In Celebrating the Christian Year, Zimmerman suggests “getting to know Jesus through his names” during Lent. She provides 40 different descriptions of Jesus (or the Messiah, in prophetic literature) found in the Bible, and suggests doing a daily Bible reading along with looking up each word in the dictionary.

Fantastic idea, but: my daughter glazed over, started squirming in her chair, and commenced eating the Craisins off her brother’s plate while I tried to explain what an apostle (the first name) is. The 2-year-old protested his missing snack, threw his milk on the floor, and devotional time was done for the day. Back to the drawing board.

Right. The drawing board. My daughter loves to draw. I do not. I am an accomplished master of stick figures. Even my animals are stick animals. She forever wants me to draw with her. During art times, I suddenly find that there is laundry to fold or a dishwasher to empty. But here was an opportunity to engage her, do something she loves, and to do some Lenten meditation of my own alongside my daughter. So we started a Jesus Is book.

Here are the basics: I took a simple story journal, and wrote each of the descriptions of Jesus we’ve read so far, along with the Scriptural citation, on each page. I got out her colored pencils, handed her the book, and told her we were going to illustrate each page. She was a little stuck at first, so I pulled out some paper and started working on my own illustration. She watched me for a few minutes, then began her own drawing. When we finished, we explained our pictures to each other; when I got stuck on “the way, the truth, and the life,” she gave me some suggestions. We then read tomorrow’s description (Jesus is a Bridegroom, Matthew 9:15), talked about it for a moment, and put it all away.

What I loved: being forced to put my understanding of some very familiar verses into an image. Using my imagination that way is so much more engaging than simply reading a passage. I loved doing it side by side with my daughter and asking her about her pictures.

And I appreciated the chance to just appreciate her pictures without trying to wrest out the “right” answer. When we were done, I felt like I’d offered her a small, momentary chance to encounter Jesus on her own – and respond on her own. Which is super challenging for those of us who want our kids to Get It Right, and therefore probably all the more worth doing.

When we’re done, she will have a book (and I’ll have a stack of pictures) that we can return to whenever we want to spend some time getting to know Jesus better. One of Zimmerman’s repeated injunctions is to “put something where you can see it, so your eye can remind your heart.” That insight is at the core of much Christian practice, and it’s so perfect for helping children (and all of us, really) learn to meditate on God and his ways.

If you’re interested in trying something like this, you can track down Celebrating the Christian Year; you can also compile your own list from this helpful index at BibleGateway.com. I’m curious to hear from anyone who tries it, especially those of you who, like me, aren’t native-born artists. May we all come to a deeper and more intimate knowledge of Jesus during this season!

Best Books for Lent

Between the two of us, Sarah and I have reviewed nearly 80 books since we’ve been blogging.  We’re still discovering new ones all the time, but one of the things we’d also like to do this year is go through the archives and pull together some best-of lists on a series of different topics.  Today is Shrove Tuesday (pancakes for dinner, anyone?), so we thought we’d start with our favorite books for Lent.  Our hope is that the list will help us fully enter into the Lenten season with our families.

In making the selections we were looking for books with four different themes: (1) books placing Jesus’ life and death as the main subject,  (2) books that help children understand the dynamics of sin, judgment, and grace, (3) books that show us the way of humility, and (4) books to guide the daily living-out of our faith.  No matter how you do (or don’t) observe Lent, there’s something for everyone here!

You probably already know that Sarah and I both love Lent, and in previous years we’ve written a lot about this particular season of the church calendar.  After the booklist we’ve provided links to those posts in case you’re in need of fresh ideas for how to set aside the next 6 1/2 weeks in meaningful ways.

Books for Lent

Jesus at the Forefront!

Sin, Judgment, and Grace

Humility

Spiritual Disciplines and Holy Living

Food for Thought about Lent (and Easter)