God is Reigning from the Tree – Br. Lucas Hall

Br. Lucas Hall

Palm Sunday

There’s no such thing as a tree.

I’ll explain.

Biologically, we tend to group living creatures, different species, together with their closest relatives. Take birds, for example. There are many different birds, ostriches, hummingbirds, penguins, vultures, the list is vast. But every bird is more closely related to every other bird, than they are to any creatures outside of that group, “birds.” It’s a neat, tidy category.

But that’s not true of trees. When we look at plant genetics, when we look at the fossil record, we see that what we commonly call “trees” isn’t a neat, tidy category of close relatives. Instead, the development of trees, of tall, massive, woody plants, extending up above other plant life, is a strategy, a structure, a way of being, that emerges again, and again, and again, in different plant families over many years. Our much-vaunted palm trees are more closely related to grass than they are to, say, a pine tree.

But, come on. Of course trees are a thing. Of course there’s such a thing as a tree. They’re just not a neat and tidy biological category. Instead, we should think of trees as a phenomenon, a dynamic happening, bubbling up from the substrate of the natural order, erupting forth in any place where this particular mode of being can gain purchase, and thrive, and live. Read More

Faith

“How long will you be angered despite your people’s prayers?” the Psalmist cries. This is not a lack of faith; it is an expression of it. The Psalmist asks and believes they will be answered. To be angry, baffled, tearful; these are acceptable. As long as we look to the hand of God with expectation that it will come to embrace us, we maintain our faith and joy.

Br. Lucas Hall, SSJE
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Hunger

God sees us, the crowd, weak with hunger in the desert, and has compassion. He does not want to consume us or devour us; he wants to feed us. And God knows that he is the sustainer of all things, so he chooses to feed us with the only thing that can forever sate our hunger: himself, the bread of heaven, the cup of salvation.

Br. Lucas Hall, SSJE
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In the Midst of Despair

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Be Still

Emmanuel

- God is with us -

Amen

In the Midst of Despair

Br. Lucas Hall


 

Eight years ago my conversion started. Sort of. “Conversion” begins at each person’s beginning, and ends somewhere between here and eternity. But eight years ago, I was 19, and not terribly interested in someone dressed as I am right now, in a religious habit, sagely dismissing my crisis.

No, I had reached a breaking point. I was out in the middle of the night, wandering the college campus, anxious and confused. I’d had a basically hostile attitude toward religion for several years, but my own sense of being, of purpose, my old answers to the great “why?” echoing along the canyon walls of human hearts just weren’t working anymore. I could no longer justify my existence through my own happiness, because why should I care about my own happiness? Everything was empty, and death was not far from my thoughts.

Out of desperation, I prayed. To no one, or anyone, I prayed. I tearfully offered my uncertainty, my instability, my weakness, hoping for something to alleviate it. I waited for some assurance from heaven, whoever’s version of it existed. And what I got was…nothing. No warmth, no light, no angel song. Cold, dark, silent nothing.

But this Nothing was greater, more powerful, than anything I’d experienced up until that point. I felt broken. Destroyed. I felt like a demolished city, burnt to the ground. It was horrifying. And it was good. Because the abject admission of weakness and vulnerability I encountered in this experience was the great clearing of the brush, the great pouring out of old and perishing things. I was shattered – and I was made new.


I was shattered – and I was made new.

 

 

 


In the Gospel, Jesus issues a half-warning, half-lament, to the city of Jerusalem. “Had you only listened!” But they didn’t, and so Jesus tells of impending destruction, enemies at the gates, leaving no stone untoppled. This idea of violence and destruction as a result of sin often doesn’t sit well in modern ears. It can be especially galling to see such religious violence play out across the pages of Scripture and championed as a good and righteous thing. It is only more awful when such religious violence leaves the pages of holy texts and unfolds in our world. We like a creative God, but a God who destroys, or commands destruction, is far less attractive.

Following in the example of Jesus, however, we can take such old stories and give them new life. We can learn to appreciate them not just as the unfolding drama of a particular people of the Levant, but more: we can see them as our own story, as giving common language to the universal human experiences of inner tumult, inner upheaval, even inner violence in relation to God. Many stories of the ancient Jewish people have a theme of righteous destruction, with violence purging the land of idols and the altars of false gods. Perhaps surprisingly, this theme has become a great comfort for me – not out of bloodlust or an inflated sense of my own righteousness, but actually, the opposite. If I cast my gaze inward, with this destruction in mind, I find I have new language to approach my experiences of pain, sadness, anger, and disgust. I can begin to process these experiences, wondering where the pain is coming from, with a question: which idol is being overthrown here?

I am full of them. And so many of those idols seem to be not obviously evil or hideous things at all, but rather, good and beautiful things that, for all their goodness and beauty, are still not God, and so cannot give life. Good thoughts and feelings, good relationships, good work, good social, political, or religious causes, good values and principles…all of these can be quite good! Because of their goodness, we’re perhaps even more susceptible to make idols of them. But idols cannot save us, and when we build up our inner altars and temples to them, we place our hopes of eternity in things that cannot match that hope, and as a result we experience great pain, and there will be strife and destruction in the city of our hearts.

“Had you only listened!” There is remarkable resonance between this moment and the earlier episode when Jesus stands outside the walls of Jerusalem and laments at how long he has desired to lovingly gather up that city in his arms, upon his breast, near to his heart, but now they are forsaken. These laments of Jesus are poignant, because we might expect that he has thus abandoned the city, abandoned all of us in our inner Jerusalems, washed his hands of us, so that we might be destroyed.


He has known the thousand deaths we are
called to die. He still knows.

 

 

 


But no. Destruction comes, yet we are not abandoned. Jesus, in the great crescendo of everything the Incarnation was, is, and ever could be, enters into that destruction with us. He goes first! Like the high priest, who dons the breastplate with each of the twelve tribes’ names written on it to enter the Holy of Holies and make atonement, Jesus does indeed gather us up into his bosom. And in the destruction of our idols, our falsehoods, all that would consume us utterly, he is there, making atonement, ever interceding for us. He has known destruction. He has known desolation. He has known the thousand deaths we are called to die. He still knows. And on the cross, Jesus shows forth this knowledge, offering his whole being, even to the gates of death, as the Way of life.


To Consider:

What idols reign in your heart? How can you topple them?

When have you ever had the experience of destruction and loss becoming an opportunity for growth and conversion?

What “gates of death” in your life right now might be the way of life?

To Try:

Take time to reflect on the “idols” that are ruling in your life. What needs to be overthrown? Offer that intention to God in prayer. You might make a plan for how to topple that idol. Consider writing it on a piece of paper and either ripping it, burning it, or in some other concrete way setting yourself free from it.

Keep Awake

We are ordered to be perfect, and we fail. We are ordered to sin no more, and we sin. We are ordered to keep awake, and we fall asleep. Let us fix our gaze on the hand of God, in anticipation that he will hold our hearts in his grasp. Trusting in the strength of the Lord, let us keep awake.

Br. Lucas Hall, SSJE
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Breaking Apart

It was November 2011 when I began to plan my suicide.

No particular event prompted it. My grandmother had recently died, which was sad, but not unexpected, and she had lived a long life. I had, just a few weeks prior, lost a local election, but I never really expected to win; I was thrilled that I simply hadn’t come in last place, that I’d convinced thousands of real-life people with jobs and lives to vote for me. To be honest, the personal and professional busyness was probably a distraction from the deeper problem.”

Embark on a profound journey from despair to faith as this article explores Br. Lucas Hall’s battle with internal strife, nihilism, and the transformative power of encountering God.

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Breaking Apart

Breaking Apart: Struggle, Discernment, Prayer with Br. Lucas Hall, SSJE

⇓ Download, print and share: Breaking Apart

It was November 2011 when I began to plan my suicide.

No particular event prompted it. My grandmother had recently died, which was sad, but not unexpected, and she had lived a long life. I had, just a few weeks prior, lost a local election, but I never really expected to win; I was thrilled that I simply hadn’t come in last place, that I’d convinced thousands of real-life people with jobs and lives to vote for me. To be honest, the personal and professional busyness was probably a distraction from the deeper problem.

Eventually, I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety (like many of us), and I took pills, and they worked well, and I basically agree with the diagnosis. But leaving it there doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t feel true to what I lived. I certainly experienced depression and anxiety to a degree that would register on a clinical level, but I do not think that’s the full story. I’m convinced that these were the psychological damages wrought by a deeper, fundamental problem. Read More

Victory

We as Christians have an obligation to carry forth the fight for all who are outcast, and doubly so if we occupy positions of wealth and power. If we rest our hope on winning the fight, we will be often disappointed, and may lose hope. But if we take prayer to heart, we can root our efforts in the eternal victory of the living God and his kingdom.

Br. Lucas Hall, SSJE
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