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Book of the Month: Schola Caritatis: Learning the Rhythms of God's Amazing Love

  Starting a new feature for the next several months called Book of the Month.  I will present one of my books and tell you a little of the ...

Wednesday, February 27, 2013


the view
from this side
of the stone
now rolled away
takes my breath
in awestruck wonder
who would've believed it

a new world received
spacious and free
fruitful and abundant
rich and full

but o how difficult the terrain
and how long the journey
in arriving at this place
who could've imagined
in the midst of the pain
and the struggle
and the cross
that this new land
could be so beautiful

something had to die
in order for
something new
to be born

Friday, February 22, 2013


full of myself
may it never be
but only you
my dear jesus

as rain falling into a pond
becomes one
there is no longer any rain
only the pond
as a stream flowing into the sea
becomes one
no longer any stream
only the sea
as light coming into a room
from two windows
becomes one
no longer windows
only light

may i melt into you
so that there is
no more me
but only you
my beloved jesus

(inspired by the writings of Teresa of Avila)

Sunday, February 17, 2013

ash wednesday and valentine's day

I'm not sure how often it happens, in fact maybe it has happened a few times before and I was just not paying attention (which wouldn't be terribly surprising knowing myself the way I do), but Ash Wednesday and Valentine's Day being back to back this year caught me more than a little off guard.  I mean there you are on Wednesday having ashes placed upon your forehead and reading scripture (Joel 2:12-14) that invites you to return to the Lord with all our heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.  And then to rend your heart and not your garments...heaviness, sadness, mourning, sorrow, weeping, contrition, desperation, etc.  Then comes Thursday and you are sitting across the table from the one you love and adore in an incredibly romantic restaurant, filled to overflowing with affection as you celebrate the life and the love that you are so privileged to share with each other.  A bit of a contrast wouldn't you say?  Weeping one day and filled with affection the next.  A pretty odd pairing to say the least; or so it would seem.  Maybe, however, it's not so odd after all.

In the last couple of weeks I have been captured by a gospel passage that brings these strange bedfellows together.  And one, therefore, that has really given me a great picture of what the season ahead (Lent) is really supposed to be.  It is the story of the woman in Luke 7:36-50 that comes to Jesus while he is dining in the home of Simon the Pharisee.  She is not named, but everyone knows who she is.  In fact, she has quite a reputation in town; it would seem her reputation has even become her identity.  That is until she meets Jesus.  We're are not told exactly when or how that happened, but somewhere along the road these two had met before and it had changed everything about her.  And now here she is, on this particular evening, entering a house that she had no business entering.  In fact she shouldn't have been there at all; I mean a woman "like her" just didn't barge into the house of a Pharisee, especially when he was entertaining.  He had invited Jesus to dine with him, and a bunch of his Pharisee buddies as well I'm sure, so they could all get an up close look at this man that everyone was talking about.  Whether it was curiosity or hostility that inspired the invitation we are not sure; although we can probably guess.  All we are sure of is that he had invited Jesus to his house, and he and his other guests were reclining at the table.

And it is in the midst of this "dinner party" that she comes; uninvited and uncaring that she is uninvited.  She didn't care about protocol.  She didn't care about political correctness.  She didn't care what anyone thought or said.  All she cared about was getting to the feet of her beloved Jesus.  She only had eyes for Him.  So she enters the room and doesn't look back, making a beeline straight for His feet.  And when she gets there she does the most amazing combination of things: she stood behind him at his feet weeping, and began to wet his feet with her tears.  Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them (Luke 7:38).  Did you catch that?  She was weeping and she was kissing; sorrow and affection, Ash Wednesday and Valentine's Day.  Two things which seem contrary, but are actually inseparable.  It is the gospel brought to life; two things that always must be connected in this life of faith.  You see the gospel is so much more than one or the other, it must always be both.

There is always a weeping that is such a necessary part of the picture.  It involves a deep recognition of our utter sinfulness, brokenness, helplessness, and desperation.  It is what happens within us when we come face to face with the absolute horror of our sin, which crucified ChristAnd weeping is much more than simply crying; it is an activity that is deeply redemptiveIt involves a deep recognition and a deep healing.  These were not normal tears, they came from somewhere deep within; from that place of godly sorrow that Paul talks about in 2 Corinthians 7:10.  The godly sorrow that leads to repentance.  But as necessary as the weeping is, we can't stop there.  There is more.

That's where the kissing comes in.  For not only did she weep, but she kissed.  As a matter of fact the literal translation of the Greek is that she kissed (his feet) much.  She smothered him with kisses.  She could not stop.  She just went on and on.  Just look at verse 45: this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet.  His love for her had completely captured her heart.  It had kindled an uncontrollable affection deep within her that simply could not be contained.  She could not stop if she wanted to, so smitten with love for Him was she.  This is the part that we usually miss during Lent, but it is a part that really cannot (or should not) be separated from the fasting and the mourning and the weeping.  We must always be kissing Him as well; and kissing Him much at that.  Which begs the questions: Are we completely captured by His love?  Does a deep affection for Him well up from the core of our being?  Are we showering Him with our kisses?  Are we falling more and more deeply in love with Jesus each and every day?

So maybe Ash Wednesday and Valentine's Day are not such an odd couple after all.  Maybe they are two beautiful parts of an unspeakably beautiful gospel.  And maybe, just maybe, I'll decide to celebrate them together every year.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


Lent is a hard, but incredibly good season—a season that initiates the most sacred part of the Christian year.  It is the time where we journey with Christ to the cross.  It is the time when we see both the enormous cost of our sin, and the enormous love of our Savior.  It is the season where we celebrate the incredible mystery (often referred to as the paschal mystery) that life always follows death; resurrection always comes after crucifixion.  It is a time where we celebrate the truth that, for God’s people, suffering and sadness and pain and brokenness—and death—do not have the final word, but life (God) does.  Thus, it is a season where we are invited by God to “come and die” that we may live.
     Lent is a forty-day period (not including Sundays) that is meant to echo the forty days Jesus spent in the desert and the forty days Moses spent on the mountain with God.  It begins on Ash Wednesday and concludes on Easter Sunday. Sundays are not included in the forty-day count because every Sunday is a joyful celebration of our Lord's resurrection—a Little Easter.  The word Lent is derived from the Old English lencten, which means “spring”; that transitional time between late winter and early summer in which our world begins to wake up from its slumber and come to life once again. 
     Ash Wednesday (from the Latin Dies Cinerum, meaning "Day of Ashes") is the first day of Lent. On this day, we focus intensely on our utter and complete sinfulness and the necessity of Christ's suffering and death to purchase our salvation.  Ashes are referred to many times in the Old Testament as a sign of sorrow, mourning, repentance, and mortality (2 Samuel 13:19; Esther 4:1-3; Job 42:6; and Jeremiah 6:26). Many churches use ashes during Ash Wednesday services as part of a rite called the Imposition of Ashes. According to this custom, ashes (traditionally made by burning palm fronds used on Palm Sunday of the previous year) are mixed with a small amount of olive oil and applied to the forehead of each worshipper. The smudge mark made by the dirty ashes is a powerful reminder that we are all going to die; because death is the high cost of our sinfulness—sin of thought, word, and deed. The fact that the ashes are placed on our foreheads in the sign of the cross focuses us on Jesus, the only way to forgiveness, salvation, and life eternal.

                                                                                            ~Jim Branch
                                                                                                Lent, 2012

Saturday, February 9, 2013

weeping and kissing

One of the Pharisees asked him over for a meal. He went to the Pharisee’s house and sat down at the dinner table. Just then a woman of the village, the town harlot, having learned that Jesus was a guest in the home of the Pharisee, came with a bottle of very expensive perfume and stood at his feet, weeping, raining tears on his feet. Letting down her hair, she dried his feet, kissed them, and anointed them with the perfume. (Luke 7:36-38 The Message)

There are so many gospel stories where I would love to have been a fly on the wall.  This is definitely one of them.  I would love to have seen this extravagant outpouring of love...weeping and kissing and anointing...in person.  I would love to have seen her face, so I could know what kind of tears these really were.  Were they tears of regret, remorse, and shame?  Were they tears of relief, release, and renewal?  Were they tears of recognition, affection, and gratitude?  Somehow if I could see her face I think I would know the answer.  And maybe the word weep itself is a hint as to the true answer.  And also the fact that the word weep is coupled with the word kiss (an odd pairing to say the least); that should be a hint as well.

Richard Rohr says that weeping is a deeply spiritual practice; one that we have overlooked, and ignored the value of, for quite some time.  He says: "Weeping is different from beating up on ourselves.  Weeping is a gentle release of water that washes, baptizes, and renews.  Weeping leads to owning our complicity in the problem.  Weeping is the opposite of blaming and also the opposite of denying.  It leads to deep healing when inspired by the Spirit."

That would explain why the weeping in this passage is accompanied by an abundance of kisses, which are lavished on the feet of Jesus just like the perfume.  Only if there was some sense of deep healing going on in the heart of this woman, would the weeping be the type that would also evoke an abundance of kisses.  So there is no doubt, the weeping consists of realizing the incredible depth of her sinfulness, but also, coupled with the kisses, recognizes the deep affection of the Savior--which completely captures her heart with love for Him in return.  It should be no less for me.  Somehow I long to capture the Spirit of the weeping and the kissing, so that I will know the depth of my sin in a way that captures my heart and my life with the affection of, and for, my Savior. 

For in this life of faith weeping and kissing are inseparable because...whoever has been forgiven much loves much.