Bethel: What We Didn’t Know

November 19, 2016

Our heavy hearts were hanging on the sinking sun.
We climbed beneath the cover of darkness
And clung to a cold stone as we shivered in the wild night.
But we didn’t know
that night
is day
to you.
While we slept you built a ladder,
a walkway from heaven to our souls.
Like the days of old, you walked among us.
Ascending and descending you lifted us and laid us down to rest
as we leaned against the pillar of your mercy,
as we slept upon a sacred ground,
as you
turned night
to day.
Our eyes awakened
to a morning anointed with oil,
to the sun’s flame leaping for joy.
And we realized
what we didn’t know:
the house
of God
is here.

Vanishing Point

October 11, 2016

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Today is bright enough to see
the path just ahead.
Light filters through the forest and falls upon a wooden trail
Where shadows turn the path into a ladder of crosses
Climbing to the horizon.

Today is never bright enough to see
the path to its end.
Trees and trail lead forward, upward to an invisible point
Where today reaches tomorrow,
Catching up with the horizon.

If Nothing Else

September 28, 2016

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If I have nothing that I can call mine,

I have in Jesus a treasure divine.

If I have nowhere to peacefully dwell,

Still I have Jesus, still it is well.

If I know nothing of wisdom and wealth,

I know my Jesus; I need nothing else.

If I am helpless and tired and weak,

With each ounce of energy, Jesus I’ll seek.

If between Jesus and life, I must choose –

Jesus is everything; nothing I’ll lose.

If in my lifetime, the trials don’t cease,

I’ll soon be with Jesus, in unending peace.

Pigeon

September 28, 2016

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Tell the story in your wings
Fallen monarch from the sky
Tragedy that no one sings
Common as the crowds that pass you by

Stripped of splendor, Stripes of soot
Stain your tattered velvet cloak
Still you strut about my foot
A trace of amethyst around your throat

Tell me why you left the skies
To beg your bread in common dust
Glazed and greedy, your red eyes
Wait to cheat me of my fallen crumbs

The Scars that Stay

August 4, 2016

I’m wondering why
After being glorified
That the scars in His hands
And His feet
And the scar in His side
Were still there?

Was it their place
as insignia of grace
That they stayed when the pain
Of the cross
And its stigma and shame
Disappeared?

Or is there a way
In which other scars stay?
Not distortion of flesh –
But the glow
Of a face that through flames
Turned to gold?

Might it be true
That when all things are new
The trail of our trials
Is the thread
That embroiders the hue
Of our robes?

Might we be adorned
With the troubles we scorned?
As the morning makes jewels
Of the clouds
Could his light through our thorns
Cast a crown?

Blue Beyond Us

June 21, 2016

 

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There is no color like blue. Utterly at rest, yet bursting with vivacity, ubiquitous as the sky, but rare as royalty. At once, it calms my spirits and thrills my soul.  I’ve been in love with blue for a while.

Not everyone shares this love. Some people seem to take pleasure in pointing out that according to science, blue doesn’t technically exist in nature, or that according to our culture it personifies sadness. Others echo the dictionary’s cramped definition of this color, quoting second-grade science with pompous authority, as if blue really was nothing more than the portion of the color spectrum imprisoned between green and violet.

But blue is so much more. It exists on a deeper level than other colors, and represents a reality beyond our grasp. The “sad” feeling of blue is not sorrow, but a poignant longing for distant reality. And the infinite essence of blue cannot begin to be contained by the dungeon of a definition that the dictionary would impose upon it.

Have you ever seen a great blue turaco? They live in Africa – west, east, or central, anywhere along the imaginary line of latitude where the sun rises and sets at the same time all year. These birds dress in sleek coats of royal blue feathers, and don crests of blue as deep as the night sky. Beady intelligent eyes sit behind strikingly yellow beaks dipped in red. They are exotic, magnificent birds, and you cannot help but look up when one of them flashes its color across the sky.

Have you ever seen a bush of blue cape plumbago? It is a wild cluster of soft baby blue – fragile flowers stuck together and hanging over the fence or reaching out to the sky. And have you seen the butterflies which flutter around them, black swallowtails with two streaks of icy blue inside their wings? You can see the blue every second or two when the wings open; then you wait for it again as they close. You can watch them, blue wings fluttering over blue flowers and off into the distant sky.

Have you ever seen the illusive blue hills at the back of a valley, behind the horizon? The ground starts out green or brown near you, but as the hills roll backward toward the horizon they become bluer and bluer until they melt into the sky.

And have you ever seen the sky? Have you given it more than a moment’s glance? On a cloudless day, it is bright and bursting with vivacity. It is a vast and unexplored ocean of air. You can always see it, but can never grab ahold of it – like a familiar friend with a marvelous secret. You can glimpse its vastness particularly well when it reclines upon the sea, an endless infinity of blue touching blue.

Blue birds, blue flowers, blue hills. Blue sea and sky. Their beauty grabs my attention and captures my imagination. But it is an illusive beauty, I remember.

Think of the blue turacos, for example. Other birds have pigment in their wings from the food that they eat. If you were to grind up the bright red feathers of a cardinal, you would get red powder. But if you were to grind the feathers of a blue bird, the resulting powder would not be blue. A blue bird’s wings only look blue because of the way light waves interact with the feathers.

Blue flowers are not naturally blue either. Their color is produced by a similar illusion. Some scientists have tried to replicate the illusion by breeding blue roses, but their most promising attempts are purple at best.

The hills at the back of the valley are not blue. If you were to walk till you reached them, the ground beneath your feet would still be green or gray or brown. You could keep walking for miles and miles but you would never find a peak of blue rock to stand on. Another illusion.

Even the sea is not really blue. Blue light doesn’t absorb into the water as well as other colors and thus is scattered back to our eyes, making the water look blue. The same is true of the sky. It’s an illusion, just like the back hills of a valley and the cape plumbago bush and the East African blue turaco bird.

Suddenly my favorite color doesn’t exist anymore.

But what does it mean for a color to exist? What makes gathered pigment more “real” than scattered light? Stone is not more “real” than sunshine. Earth is not more “real” than heaven. Not everything real is tangible, quantifiable, or reproducible. Beauty is not less real than dimension because it is harder to define. Love is not less real than reproduction because it is harder to measure. A human soul is not less real than a human body simply because you cannot see it, cannot touch it, cannot find it when the body is crushed to pieces and passes away.

Blue reflects a realm utterly beyond us. We can learn to recognize it, we can try to categorize it, we can attempt to imitate it. But we cannot command it, we cannot control it, we cannot manufacture it. Blue represents untouchable reality.

Yes, you can touch a blue flower, but that flower is not actually blue. You can touch a blue shirt, but what you are touching is the cotton material, not the color. You can lean out the window of a plane (if you were able) and touch the sky. But you cannot touch blue, any more than you can touch eternity.

Second grade science likes to teach us that we are material beings living in a material world, complex machines built of chemicals and molecules. But we are more than that. We are relational and imaginative. We love and hope. We talk to God and we long for heaven. Every day, we live in a reality which is more real than our senses can perceive. Every day, we subconsciously wait for the moment when we will see, face to face, the source of all reality. Like love, eternity, and the divine – blue represents a world we can glimpse but not grasp.

This is, perhaps, why blue is associated with sadness. Think about the reasons why something might make you feel sad. For example, imagine you are driving along a road and come across the dead body of an unfortunate puppy. You immediately feel sad. Why? Because death is an inherently unpleasant, undesirable occurrence, and when something beautiful as a puppy is subjected to it, the result is tragic.  But it is not only unpleasant occurrences that can evoke sadness. Imagine you are a college student and cannot have a puppy in your dorm. Then you see a picture of your favorite dog, playing happily in the backyard at home. You feel sad. Why? Not because the idea of a puppy playing in the backyard is tragic or undesirable or even unpleasant. On the contrary, there may be few things you enjoy more. But because you cannot be in the backyard playing with the puppy, you long for it. You are not sad because it is beautiful, but because you cannot have it.

In the same way, blue represents a beauty we cannot have right now. It reminds something deep in our souls of an eternal life we were made for and will someday live in. This life is to be desired above all things, but we cannot have it yet. Thus, when we look at blue, we feel a nostalgic longing. It makes us sad, not because it is less beautiful than other colors, but because it is a beauty beyond us.

Can this be proven? Of course not. That is the beauty of blue. It cannot be proven, cannot be measured, cannot be captured. It is the flash of color on a turaco’s wing, a vast expanse of sea touching sky, the unreachable mountain beyond the horizon, and the echo of eternity. It is more than an illusion, more than sadness, more than a point on a spectrum of light waves.  It is the color of a world we wish for but cannot yet walk in, a beauty we hope for but cannot yet hold.

It is blue.

 

Born of a Broken Lens

April 29, 2016

My feet are bare as they spring across scorching pavement. I run through a maze of inflatable castles, a piercing jumble of primary colors and high-pitched laughter. I am skinny and smart – the oldest of my siblings, the smallest of my peers. I am a fast runner and a faster reader. I am six years old, and I am crying.

I run to the edge of the playground and look for my parents. Daddy stands halfway in the hot sun, talking to a friend. Mommy sits nearby under the blue shade of a table umbrella, feeding pieces of banana to my baby brother and keeping an eye on my little sister who sticks anxiously to her side. I run to Daddy, and he sees me. He is concerned by my tears.

“What’s the matter, sweetie?” he asks.

Syllables tumble haphazardly, through sobs: “I was coming down the slide…and my glasses…I slid on top of them, and…”

I open my hand and reveal the damage. One lens has popped out and is scratched. The frame is badly bent.

Daddy is not concerned about the glasses. “It’s okay, sweetie. We can get them fixed,” he reassures me. But I will not be consoled. I thought I was protecting my glasses by holding them in my hand as I went down the bouncy slide. I didn’t want them to fall off my nose and break. How was I supposed to know I would land on top of the hand holding them? I shouldn’t have taken them off. I feel guilty.

“I’m sorry,” I sob.

“Shhh, it’s okay,” he whispers, taking the broken lenses from my hands. He pulls me close, his arms strong and gentle, his shirt slightly damp with sweat. “We’ll figure it out,” he says, wiping the tear from my face.

I smile.

“Go play,” he says, releasing his strong grip.

I run back to the inflatable slides and screaming kids, squinting to see into the blur of faces and colors at high volume.

Soon the day grows dark, and I hear my name called. Time to go.

I feel the low rumble of engine and the jostle of uneven road. Leaning my head against the cold glass of a backseat window, I look up at black sky and blurry pinpoints of light that must be stars. The broken glasses sit next to me. I yawn, close my eyes, open them again. I squint at the blurry stars, and yawn again. My head hurts. I fight back tears.

Then, the words come. One by one, like stars becoming clear in the night sky, they come.

“Even though my glasses broke,

the lens popped out,

the frame is bent…”

I look down at my glasses, and up at the sky, and smile.

“Even though my glasses broke,

I still can be happy.”

Simple, stilted, perhaps even silly. But to me, they were important. To me, they held all the significance of the broken lenses and the smile in my father’s eyes and the blurry stars that still shone brightly. To me, these fragmented lines meant as much as if they were my first words. And in a sense they were.

For the first time, I understood that words were pieces of glass lying on the ground, and I had the ability to pick them up and put them together. I, Hannah Marie Carroll, could transform tears into song, craft fragments of memory into coherent truth, and imbue an insignificant moment with the power of a legend. From that moment, I possessed the dangerous ability to create a picture of reality and share it with others.

From that moment, words were the lenses of life.

I began to write, and kept writing. I wrote in my journal about playing dress-up and taking family road-trips and having a birthday. I wrote articles and advertisements for the pretend newspaper of my imaginary world. I wrote song after song after song praising Jesus and recorded them on cassette tapes. I wrote poems about my latest dream, the gospel, a watering can. I wrote stories about dogs and bears and treasure and mythical creatures and children finding magical lands in a broom closet.

I wrote tears and giggles and love and all the fantasy of a six year old’s ordinary existence. And I was seven, eight, nine, ten….the years kept going by. And I kept writing.

It all started that day at the playground – when one pair of lenses was broken, and another lens, far more important and far more powerful, was forged. And a new identity born. Who would have imagined that a mere broken piece of glass would inspire a lifetime of words and turn a skinny six year old into a poet?

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I Was There

March 11, 2016

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I was there, my son, when you went out weeping
When you left behind all you’d ever known
When you took in your arms a newborn sleeping
And obeyed – I was there; you were not alone.

I was there, my son, when your hopes were buried
When you felt the sting of unjust pain
When you left yet again, yet again you were carried
I was there even then, through the darkest days.

When your heart was broken, it was I who healed you
When you cried in the dark, I was by your side
When your strength was gone, when you thought I failed you
When you hung by a thread, you were held; it was I.

I know, my son, it was for me that you suffered,
That you sowed your life in a thorny soil.
Every hope, every love, every burden surrendered,
I received. I was there, and I shared your toil.

Now your years are spent. I am here, I am waiting
In a place you can finally call your own.
And the harvest is here, a whole multitude singing:
Rest now from your labor. Well done. Welcome home!

 

Psalm 126: 5-6
“Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy.
Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them.”

Flight

February 26, 2016

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I watch your flight through flooded earth with weary anxious eyes
And a deep familiar aching in my chest
Above the devastated void I hear your distant cries
Looking, longing for a landing place to rest

Your fleeing shadow drowns within an ocean of goodbyes
Where the ruins of what used to be a home
Are lost amidst the tossing to and fro of warring tides
So you wander, and I wonder all alonelost

Will dawn reveal an end to this relentless search for peace
And bring healing to the void in which you roam
Will the hand of God command these restless waters to recede
Will you bring an olive leaf as you fly home?

Heartbeat of a Homeland

January 27, 2016

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The heart of Africa has captured mine
Here was a fractured lens, a telescope
Through which I caught a faded glimpse of glory
And became homesick for a greater home

Here I heard the heartbeat of a homeland
Breathing in the music of the dawn
Here creation’s groaning sang a harmony
With scattered echoes of a greater song