Archive | faith


Pride is a tricky thing, it makes liars out of us. If we don’t ever admit to our stumbles or our failings, our weaknesses and struggles, then how will we know when we’ve found our people?

I limped back to my community this week. It’s been a long year filled with work and travel, unblogged challenges and changes. In the push to finish this book before the baby arrived and roughly seventeen other complications over the past year for us, we haven’t been as present or involved at our church as usual, particularly over the past couple of months.

I’ve been ashamed of this, feeling as if I’ve sacrificed my local life to just keep swimming. What use is all this thinking about church and community (or for that matter, any of it – justice, beauty, mercy, grace) if we’re not actively involved in living it out in our real lives?

I needed to sing out ahead of my exhaustion so I did. I’m interrupted a million times in church – three tinies will do that to a woman – but I keep circling back, keep jumping back into worship, refocusing again and again and again. I need to hear my own voice singing promises. And I need to be with the ones I’ve chosen as my people.

We hadn’t been at church since before Christmas. My friends met me with hugs and, of course, they asked, How are you doing?

And my pride wanted to say that I was fine! great! never better! living the dream! blessed and highly favoured! (<—old school Pentecostal)

Instead, it was the craziest thing. I cried every time they innocently asked how I was doing. And I made myself say it, out loud: I’m not fine. I’m not okay. Yes, you’re right, I’m exhausted. I’m just so so so tired. I miss my life sometimes. I could use your prayers.

Forget dignity, I need restoration.

Forget pride, I need the prayers of the people who like us.

Forget anonymity, I need to be known even in these moments of emptiness and need.

Church is one of my safe places now. I never would have imagined saying that a few years ago but it’s true. It’s the place I can go when I am the reluctantly needy one. My friends promised prayers, a few even checked on me during the week here and there. I was met with hugs and tenderness, with kindness. It wasn’t much really. Maybe my friends would say it wasn’t a big deal at all, but it was enough for me. I felt seen, I felt like someone who knows me actually cared, I felt their compassion. This is more than enough.

One friend talked to me about arranging for a few meals to brought to us after the baby is born. I wanted to say, No, no, we’re fine, we don’t need anything. I think she saw right through my need to be independent, and she looked me dead in the eye: Sarah, you need to do this. You need to let people bless you. So I said yes, that would be wonderful. Please put me down on the list, yes, bring me food when I have a baby. Why is it so hard to accept help?

And I felt the difference this week, the heaviness hanging over me began to break up above my head, my energy has been slowly returning.

I continue to lean on my community, on the Spirit, and on Scripture. It seems easier to walk away from community for me, easier to be autonomous and anonymous but I find I need the strong three-strand cord more and more.

I longed for this for many years. And yes, our church isn’t perfect and, in fact, it makes me a bit crazy sometimes just like all churches do for all people who show up and put their hearts on the line.

But now, to me, church should be the people I turn to when I am tired, too. My one word for 2015 is Hold Fast, based on Hebrews 10:23, but just a few lines down from my pet focus right now are these words: “Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshipping together as some do but spurring each other on…”

I don’t think we need a four-walls-and-a-non-profit-status to qualify as church but these people are mine and I am still learning to admit when I need something from them, too. I know Scripture commands us to confess our sins to one another, in order to be healed, but I am also learning to confess my needs, my struggles, even my true state of being. And restoration waits there, too.

So come all you who are weary and exhausted, all you who have poured out of your depths to fill another: be filled, be restored, receive for once. Wherever you find your church, let them be the ones you turn to when you are tired. Let us pray for one another, let us hold fast, let us confess.


Continue Reading · church, community, faith, Hold Fast, journey · 24

Chasing Wonder

image via NASA

image via NASA

I was crap at science in school. Some kids are pretty good at everything and then there are those of us who are really good at just one thing, to the exclusion of all other subjects. I was the latter kind of kid. In my final years of high school, I had to retake final science exams multiple times, engage a tutor, and take remedial classes to get a passing grade in physics, chemistry, and biology. To me, science was dry and boring memorization of answers and charts.

If you would have told me that twenty years later, I’d be fascinated by astro-physics or biology, I’d have thought you were out of your mind.

But it started with Madeleine L’Engle, I think. Good literature will get us every time. Her fascination with physics permeates most of her brilliant work, particularly her novels like A Wrinkle in Time. It nearly broke my brain at times but it left so much room for delight and imagination with my old nemesis, physics. Who knew physics could be so exciting and dangerous, so filled with possibility?

Then along came the rabbit hole of Doctor Who to capture my imagination. It’s a silly show perhaps but for me, the complex story-telling romped with the delight of weird science and possibilities and the vastness of the universe.

And then I found Neil deGrasse Tyson, the Carl Sagan of my generation perhaps, and I began to watch his public television show, Cosmos, which was on Netflix.  Every time an episode ended, I felt properly small, humbled, and amazed. I couldn’t wait to talk about it, I couldn’t wait to go back and think it all through again. I said “WOW!” more times than was reasonable. I had no idea that our universe was so dazzling and beautiful, complicated and vast.

Yes, these are all books and movies and television shows, I’m a pop culture cliche perhaps. But by then I couldn’t get enough: science stories on the Internet, weird photos from space, movies about the relativity of time, the what-if space dreaming in novels, all of it. I’ve gone from adoring exclusively period drama based on classic books to devouring anything to do with time and space. When the Higgs-Boson particle (called The God Particle) sounded like dance music, it dazzled me. Oh, and here’s this one, for heaven’s sake, how crickets sound like a choir singing when you slow down the speed of their natural chirp. The pale blue dot of Earth in space is sobering. There’s the stunning images of the Creation Pillars from the Hubble Telescope – that’s a picture of them right at the top of this post. Again: wow.

I couldn’t figure out why I was suddenly fascinated with science stuff when it hit me: wonder.

Science has reclaimed wonder for me again. It’s that sense of the vastness of the universe, of the possibilities, of the mystery and beauty of it. It makes me feel more wonder about God particularly.

Religion in our modern era has been primarily concerned with making God small and knowable. Most of our religious work or scholarship is about breaking complexity into simplicity, systemizing theology, charting timelines, and answering questions. It’s about removing the wonder, bringing God to a manageable deity, an understandable force, to our minds and understandings, our methods and concerns. It’s not the sole proprietary work of conservatives or progressives: we all seek to erase the wonder because it scares us. We need a God we can manage, perhaps, one that fits into our story instead of orienting ourselves around how we fit in the bigger story.

So much of our study of theology is actually just a way to stop conversations, rather than start them. We want the answers, I know, but it makes me wonder if we are even asking the right questions, let alone if we even see the vast glory upon glory of what lies before us and around us. The most small and common aspects of our lives contain worlds.

Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why I loved Rob Bell’s book, What We Talk About When We Talk About God – the unabashed science of wonder particularly in quantum physics that he connects to the complexity and even ambiguity of God is so rare in non-academic religious publishing or thought. As he wrote, ““Because sometimes you need a biologist, and sometimes you need a poet. Sometimes you need a scientist, and sometimes you need a song.”

And sometimes it seems there is more room for wonder, mystery, grandeur, delight, beauty, and reverence in astro-physics than in religion.

I want to chase wonder a bit more, to stop thinking that my job is figure everything out but instead to sit in the awe and the beauty, in the vast unknowing of God, and be a bit more dazzled. I see wonder in so much of Scripture – over God and the universe – and I think I need more of that again.

Science leaves room for possibilities. It makes me ask myself: how else am I domesticating the wild unknowable possibilities of God?

I want to steer into the things that leave me asking questions instead of memorizing answers. I want to see the hand of God painting through skies and crickets, babies and black holes. Science is re-introducing wonder to my life and I need it because it’s reminding me of the inherent wonder of God. I think we all need to say “I don’t know but isn’t it amazing?” a bit more often.

And now, your turn: what are some things that are recapturing wonder for you these days? Doesn’t have to be science but it sure can be!

(For fun: 50 Awesome Neil deGrasse Tyson tweets. Oh, and a Beginner’s Guide to Doctor Who.)

aff links

Continue Reading · faith · 82

Hold Fast :: One Word 2015

hold fast :: sarah bessey's one word for 2015

Last year, I didn’t choose a word for my year. Even though it had been an important part of my life for a few years in a row, as 2014 dawned, I simply wasn’t feeling it. Now I wish that I had been given some prophetic word for what to expect last year – say…. Fourth-Baby-Surprise! – but that didn’t happen. Instead, the year unfolded as it would and as 2014 drew to a close, I found myself feeling, well, a bit discouraged because I was so tired. Exhausted actually. I felt like I been thoroughly poured out – in my family, in my work, in ministry, in this pregnancy – so much throughout the year that I limped into December.

And so as New Year’s Eve day drew to a close, I found myself joking on Facebook about how I wished I could make 2015 my Year of the Naps. But of course with a beloved new baby arriving in just 8 weeks or so AND a new book to edit and then release in late summer, plus all of the rest of what goes into my life – three busy and beautiful tinies to parent with my whole heart, a husband to love well, a house to keep, laundry to do, a community to love, the ongoing message of Jesus Feminist to steward well, let alone the way the world has unfolded this year breaking my heart over and over again, leaving so many of us feeling hopeless.  I felt even more exhausted contemplating what lay ahead. It is mostly good stuff, of course, but sometimes we wear ourselves out even more for the stuff we love simply because we care so deeply about it. To my husband, I admitted that my word for the year might as well be “survive” – which isn’t exactly inspiring. It simply didn’t sit well with my soul – and it was over-dramatic. (Who, me? Over-dramatic?)

I managed to carve out a couple of hours later that afternoon. The older tinies were playing outside and our littlest decided to have a nice long bath and a bit of quiet time. I found myself nearly in tears as I prayed for direction and wisdom, for the Spirit to meet me here in this overwhelming feeling of resignation and plodding along, one foot in front of the other.

Because I don’t want to miss it. I don’t want to be so tired doing my life that I miss my life – the wonder of it, the beauty of it, the sacredness of it.

One of my deepest core beliefs is that we find God most often in the raw and human moments of our lives, that God doesn’t differentiate between sacred-and-secular for us. All of our work, all of our life, can honour God. Our very regular lives can be altars for meeting with the truth of Love. In fact, those human moments are are the sacred moments – birth, grief, work, death, suffering, sex, joy, laundry, all of it. When we feel most human, God hides in plain sight. That’s perhaps why I am so captivated by the incarnation, the metaphor of God drawing near to us through a small baby’s humanity, God with us and among us as the truly human.

And I have a lot of “real life” ahead of me – that means that God is waiting for me there. With change, with new wine to drink, with challenge, with renewal, if I have eyes to see and ears to hear. And I don’t want to miss what the Spirit is doing in these days.

I don’t believe that the Spirit only shows up when we have quiet time or long solitary walks in nature or big stadiums with “rockin’ worship.” If that’s, true, then I’m doomed. No, I need to the Spirit to be breathing in my daily work, in labour and breastfeeding, in bedtime soul-talks and lunch packing, in book edits and deadlines, in email and community-building, in budget docs for non-profits and the never-ending prayers for redemption and reconciliation and rescue to break through in this tired world of ours.

As I prayed in the corner of our living room, I found myself circling around and around the phrase “hold fast.” This isn’t odd for me: I’m descended from the clan MacLeod in Scotland and that is our clan motto. My mother recently visited her ancestral homeland and so I’ve been recaptured again by our family stories, particularly how the place itself – we’re from the far north in isolated windswept, harshly beautiful communities – forms our sense of the holy.

And just as the Spirit often does, I was led, bread crumb by bread crumb, to the full table that has been set. I ended up slowly paging through a Bible to find the phrase “hold fast” as I knew it appeared often in the old King James. But when I landed in the book of Hebrews, there was that locking-into-place feeling, that sense of “oh, this is it, isn’t it?” side eye at the Spirit.

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. ~ Hebrews 10:23 NKJV

There it was. The exhale, the hope, the promise – I can and will hold fast to the confession of hope without wavering for he who promised is faithful.

I began to cry, really truly cry, with relief.

Oh, right – God will meet me here in my real life as it stands right now, he is faithful, there is hope.

Part-time mystics don’t exist only in monasteries, we’re hiding in all walks of life and the Spirit often speaks as clearly in our betwixt moments. This was my answer, stumbled over while I checked on the tinies through the window every 10 minutes and kept one eye on Evelynn through the open bathroom door right before I had to start supper.

This isn’t my year to “survive” after all. This isn’t my year of rest or Sabbath and that’s okay. Those years will come someday.

Instead, this is my year to hold fast to that confession of our hope because he is faithful. And that is a truth I have learned down to my bones over the years. He is faithful. There is joy in that truth for me, real joy, not resignation and plodding. Life and life more abundant hides in our life as it stands.

He is faithful. Hold fast to hope.

Hold fast is an old sailing term, too – tying knots that hold tightly for instance. It means to remain steadfast and immovable, to cling to and adhere, to attach. For the sake of survival and safe passage to the new land, we hold fast … to hope.

… for a new baby to carry and deliver, to nurse and cherish, for my fears and anxiety, for the days ahead of both joy and work and transformation that lay ahead of me. To finish strong and release a new book to the world with my whole heart. For my three tinies, for my husband, for my vocation and calling, for my daily work, for both the small humble work of my life, for my community, for my church, for my friendships and family, for my soul’s formation, for the dreams of my heart, for growth, for everyone from Syria to Canada, Palestine to Ferguson.

Hold fast, hold fast, hold fast to the hope: he is faithful. The more I hold this phrase in the palm of my heart, turning it over and over to examine, the more I see the complex and timely beauty of it for my life.

I have hope – hope that doesn’t waver because Christ is more than enough, always has been more than enough, and always will be.

2015: Hold Fast. 

There is a One Word 365 community online if you want to check it out.

image source, used with permission

Continue Reading · faith, Hold Fast, One Word, prayer · 49

Right now, it would be enough

Mountain lake

It’s been raining today, just a dull grey never-ending west coast drizzle. I had big plans to leave the Christmas decorations up until Epiphany this year, but I have failed miserably. Everything has been put away. I’m just so sick of the trappings and the clutter, the visual noise and the mess. The very things that delighted me three or four weeks ago began to feel suffocating. So even though it makes me a liturgical fail – after all, Christmas has technically only begun! 12 days of Christmas to celebrate! – I had my long-suffering husband haul up the storage boxes and I set to work this morning. By the time, we were finished, not only had we swept out the Christmas decor, but we had reconfigured the living room entirely, as makes sense only when one is exhausted and nearly eight months pregnant.

Christmas was lovely for us this year. All the magic, all the stories, all the gifts and the food and the laughter and the fun, the family memory making. But I confess that when Boxing Day rolled around, I felt I couldn’t bear much more merriness and warmth.

I needed to be a bit free, a bit cold, a bit wild and lonely. We loaded up the tinies in the minivan and headed for the lake. The water was gunmetal grey, still as glass, mirroring the clouds and occasional breaks in the sky. The clouds wrapped around the trees in the mountains like a thrown scarf and the remaining birds circled and landed and soared above our heads. I love the ocean, but there is nothing like a rocky northern lake for catching my breath. It became progressively colder out on the shore. The tinies played while Brian and I took turns with short solitary walks to contemplate the mountains or mortality, the lake or life altogether.

This is the part of me that always feels like it doesn’t fit in church or in with the Nice Christian Lady expectations. Because I was nearer to God there in the wind than I could be anywhere else. And I doubt still, oh, I have been in the strangest cauldron of doubt this week, stewing with my shadow self that questions everything to which I’ve given my life. I sat down beside Brian at a bench and we watched our children play together, me still heavy with the new baby arriving in a few weeks. It felt so good to be away from the noise and bustle and forced merriment of the whole Christmas thing.

low clouds

I sat there and thought about all the things I believe – sometimes they are what I choose to believe; other times, they are absolutely things I know. This story of God – the love of God – is fantastical and wonderful, too wonderful for me at times. I used to think that everyone else was completely certain all the time, that no one ever took a step back and thought, you know what, this is completely nuts, what in the world with this story. But now I know that’s not true, most of us wonder or doubt or marvel at times. Sometimes with circumstances, other times because we must.

And in that moment, I thought that even if it’s all fake, even if none of it is real, this life would be enough for me. This, as it is, it’s enough.  Life is ordinary and brilliant enough even if it never resolves in the way I think it will or should or must, its okay with me, I think. These moments make it transcendent with simple joy and generosity. My faith has shaped my life, I have no regrets, I will keep wrestling and evolving and sorting it all out, over and over again.

I was happy there on the shore with my husband and our children in the beauty that is beyond compare to me. I know there is beauty elsewhere, I see it, too, but I love beauty with a bit of an edge to it. I need the loneliness and the lines, pines instead of palm trees, jagged rocks instead of gentle hills.

I used to think that if I were really spiritually mature, I would lose the edge to my faith. But that shadow self remains, the imp in the back of my mind is an old friend by now. I find God most in that wild tang, in the sparse and open space, in the unresolved colours. Perhaps that’s why I keep wrestling with this story of God, with the unresolved Jesus, with the wind and fire and water of the Spirit: there’s an edge to the story, more than we acknowledge at times.

So today when I woke up, I knew I needed the simplicity again. I needed a few more hard edges, even in my cozy living room, I needed to sweep away the sentimentality and breathe more easily. As I write, the sun is setting out of my living room window. The rain stopped, miracle of miracles, and the clouds have parted just above the skeleton trees, a brief wash of pink and lavender behind them. Right now, it’s enough for me.

Continue Reading · enough, faith · 23