Shape and Substance

meditations on faith and church

Month: April, 2014

This Easter Morning

Dawn is, I think, an hour away,

and my astygmatic vision leads me to suspect—or hope—

that morning’s sentinel is still asleep,

as I resolve soon again to be. The evening’s vigil

was long and late, and I am unconvinced that I yet desire

release from sleep’s embrace.

But my stirring is the sign he awaits:

day has begun; can breakfast be far behind? So he leaps

between us, four paws kneading covers and flesh beneath,

clammy nostrils finding inconvenient loci of exploration,

and this morning’s peculiar song of whines and near-barks signaling

that, appearances notwithstanding, night is over.

Is this how life begins? My groggy steps

trail behind him as he bounds down the hall and through the den

to the porch door, tail oscillating so as to stir a breath of breeze.

Open, he beckons, wordless, panting,

eager to see life arise, revived at long last

from death’s near cousin.

I pause,

and loosening the last fingers of slumber’s grip,

wonder what lies beyond the frame of wood and glass,

whether last evening’s renunciations and renewals will transform us

now that we are on the far side of font and table,

while it is still dark, early on this first day of the week.

Together, we roll aside the stone that separates the dead from the risen,

to see where resurrection will lead us.

The Hole in the Heart of God

Good Friday, 2014


There is a hole in the heart of God.

In the beginning, the rabbis say, God the Infinite One resolved to create that which is finite. So, it is said, God contracts. The Infinite One makes room in infinity for all that is not infinite.

Tzimsum, they call it. The hole in the heart of God.

God makes a hole in the very being of God, so that all that is not God can come into being.

The galaxies and the gastropods , the oaks and the otters, the parrots and the paramecia—everything exists because the God of everything chooses to make room for anything.

Even things like us.

God makes a hole in the heart of God.

The hole is an act of grace, an act of love for those of us who know hardly how to love ourselves, let alone to love the God who is Love.

The hole is a safe place, a beautiful place, even a joyful place, where order holds back the surging tides of chaos and light illumines the black maw of primordial darkness.

In the beginning, it was a small hole—just large enough for a sun and a moon, a sea and a dry land, a garden and a tree, for a man and a woman and a snake.

But the hole has been growing.


There is a hole in the heart of God.

The oldest of stories tells us that, in the course of things, the man and the woman think more highly of their own judgment than of the wisdom of God, and so the first consequence follows the first sin, even as darkness follows daylight.

The garden is emptied of its joy, the entrance barred by a flaming sword. And the hole grows dark, beclouded with labor and pain and misunderstanding, besmirched by fratricidal fury, stained with blood on the ground.

The world floods and drains, but even the rush of waters cannot wash away the red birthmark of selfishness and self-deceit, and once soiled, we find that we can never truly be clean.

We clench our eyelids against the sight of our own nakedness, and stagger toward a place called Wandering, blind fingers groping along the walls of the hole in the heart of God.

We seem to ourselves imprisoned, and in our blindness we do see that this place we call our prison is the space God gives us to be free.

And the hole grows larger.


There is a hole in the heart of God.

Here is a marvel: God, the Infinite One, never closes the hole, never fills the grave where is buried both so much beauty and so much pain.

Would God not prefer the perfect serenity of divine solitude to the irritation of our resistance, the stone in God’s shoe?

But, no.

God chooses another way, striking the divine spark in the darkness, kindling the occasional soul among us, and in the unsteady flickering of their prophetic phrases we see the shadows of the shape of God’s intent.

They tell us of another way that is higher than our way, of other thoughts that are loftier than our thoughts. They show us a mountain where lions and lambs lie together, where the endless hungering cycle of hurt and revenge is at long last satisfied. They recount for us their dreams of a day when all shall live in equality and peace.

And we listen—for a while. We listen, and all the while go on beating plowshares into spears and enriching uranium for impoverished purposes. We listen, entertaining for a moment the faint hope that the way things are is not the way things are supposed to be.

But sooner or later, we weary of the dissonance between their dreams and our reality, and so we snuff them out, these kindled souls, preferring our familiar darkness to the lights of stars and angels.

And the hole keeps growing.


There is a hole in the heart of God.

And so it goes, until in the fullness of things God makes an end of things by making a new beginning.

Or so it seems to us.

But here and there are signs that this has been the plan all along.

In the inscrutable logic of God, God still does not close the hole in God’s heart, but makes it larger.

God tears God’s very self asunder.

Deep in the divine mystery, God the Infinite One becomes one of the finite ones.

God becomes one of us, one of the not-God ones.

Love decides to be unloved, so that the unlovely can know Love.

Life decides to die, so that those who know only how to die can learn to live.

The hole in the heart of God is a self-inflicted wound, and in the darkness shines a single eastern star.

And the hole grows large indeed, large enough for a manger … and a cross.


There is a hole in the heart of God.

We come at length to this place, this good day, this dark hour. And as we gather here…

…the hammer pounds the nails through the flesh to the rhythm of the theocidal pulse in our veins…

…the wood is hoisted crudely aloft, rooted in the dirt of the hill, rough tree to bear such fair fruit…

…the cry of the Dying One–he who once, beside the well, promised us water gushing up to eternal life— echoes in our arid ears: “I thirst! I thirst!”

God’s grim irony is lost on us.

We have prevailed, have we not? Have wrested some bloody victory from heaven’s grasp? Have snuffed out the light, made the darkness complete?

Have we not extinguished the Life of God?

Ah, but there is more afoot here than we comprehend. In this final moment, the drama unfolding before us, on this hill, on this cross, is no longer ours to direct, if indeed it ever was.

The hammer is taken from our hands, and held in God’s grip.

The wooden cross is not planted on a hilltop, but borne up in God’s hands.

The nails that fix him in place, a butterfly pinned forever in this ghastly, beautiful diorama of dying,

they are forged not in the furnaces of hell but in the purifying fires that burn beneath the very throne of God.

We do not take this Life. God gives it.

Silence falls—on the crucified and the crucifiers—falls like rain that sprinkles us, immerses us, washes us cleaner than ever we have been.

Darkness falls. Not the familiar darkness of the dying day; this is a strange new darkness, nighttime at noon, the darkness of the inside of God’s womb before the birth of the world.

Then slowly, the light from before creation’s dawning breaks over the horizons of our awareness, until we can see the truth that is older than creation—as old, in fact, as God:

The hole in the heart of God has the shape of a cross.

Its upright descends from the highest height of God’s throne to the deepest depths of our despair.

Its beam sweeps wide like the embrace of God, an embrace so large, so broad, so unspeakably vast that it gathers up

all the pride, all the pain,

all the rage, all the despair,

all the dented dreams,

all the chastened hopes,

all the lostness and the loneliness,

all the longing for

what is not and will not be,

all the bitter concoction mixed from

the streams of sorrow and sin and shame…

The Dying One gathers us,

takes us in his widespread arms—

All of us, sinner and saint,

harried and hopeful, living and dead—

gathers us at long, long last

into the fellowship of Father and Son, the fellowship formed of the Spirit’s


It is finished.


There is a hole in the heart of God.

Thanks be to God.