Stop Praising the Devil: The Case for Delight Even Now

Do you have room in your life right now for delight? I am guessing not. I am guessing that your house is like mine, the rooms visited with unwelcome guests named "Despond," "Overstressed," and "Hopeless" every time you hear the news or talk to your neighbor or ask for prayer requests or open your email.

Yes, God wants us to make room for the sad and unwanted. He wants our proud hearts broken and brought low. He wants us to weep with those who weep (more on that here), but have we forgotten that he also wants us to "rejoice with those who rejoice"? And is it possible that if we give our attention only to what is shattered, we court and praise the devil?

It is possible. Here is rejoicing!  And I invite you to rejoice with me. 

I am rejoicing because this very week my Harvester Island Wilderness Workshoppers will be here with me at my fish camp island. And we shall face the sorrow of the world together. That is one reason I am rejoicing.

I can give you two thousand other reasons to rejoice, but instead I'm going to give you a poem. One poem that will help us find our way again to delight. It is the poem I will start the workshop with on our first night together.
  (I don't care if you don't normally read poems. If you miss this one, you deserve to keep hosting your tragic unwelcome guests in all your spare rooms.) 

Are you ready? 

A Brief for the Defense 

by Jack Gilbert

Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. If babies
are not starving someplace, they are starving
somewhere else. With flies in their nostrils.
But we enjoy our lives because that's what God wants.
Otherwise the mornings before summer dawn would not
be made so fine. The Bengal tiger would not
be fashioned so miraculously well. The poor women
at the fountain are laughing together between
the suffering they have known and the awfulness
in their future, smiling and laughing while somebody
in the village is very sick. There is laughter
every day in the terrible streets of Calcutta,
and the women laugh in the cages of Bombay.
If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction,
we lessen the importance of their deprivation.
We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world. To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.
If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down,
we should give thanks that the end had magnitude.
We must admit there will be music despite everything.
We stand at the prow again of a small ship
anchored late at night in the tiny port
looking over to the sleeping island: the waterfront
is three shuttered caf├ęs and one naked light burning.
To hear the faint sound of oars in the silence as a rowboat
comes slowly out and then goes back is truly worth
all the years of sorrow that are to come.

There will be music despite everything. We must risk delight.  Even in  our  temptation to despair, God provides a way of escape that we may be able to bear it, through

 a poem, 

His own powerful Word, 

you, me, one another, each gifts to the other,

 the sound of oars in the water,


 the clicking clack of the coming train that misses us

   for now,

   or howls and hoots us home

   not with tragedy 

but magnitude.

Will you risk delight with me this week?? Spread the word!

Fin Whale Videos, A God-Encounter+The Maddening Paradox of Faith

   A few days ago I went on an errand in the skiff, skimming across the bay on a gorgeous bright day. I did not know what awaited me. We never do. 

On the way, I watched for pods of fin whales, who spend most of their summer here in the bay. 



No matter how many times I see and hear them over all these years, still, I gape, I gasp, I marvel again at the paradoxes they embody: the second largest of all animals, (second only to the blue whale) they gain their girth by consuming krill, the tiniest of foods. And that such ponderous bulk should move in water as agile and rhythmic as water itself. (They can swim up to 30 mph and are sometimes called “the greyhound of the seas.”) Wondrous paradox.

I think of another paradox in the human realm:  St. Paul recounting all that he had endured in his life. He was shipwrecked three times, stoned and left for dead, bit by a snake, imprisoned for years on end,who went about hungry, thirsty, even a few times without clothes.  And after this catalog of woes, he writes, “I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why I delight in weaknesses . ..  for when I am weak I am strong.”  Absurd, sublime paradox.

On this trip, I did see whales, but even better, I met someone along the way. A man I had known as a boy, now grown. I hadn't seen him for almost 20 years. I barely recognized him, but he remembered me. He stumbled over to me, under the influence of whatever he was using to survive. He clasped my hand in his two hands, there were tears in his eyes. Things had not gone well for him, clearly. He looked old and exhausted. We remembered the old days together, good days, when he was young and hope lived right there in his own yard--before it grew wings and flew away. So many mistakes, he said. Losing the kids, divorce, no job, no family, no future and hope now given up for despair, the new creature living in his front yard. 

I held on tight to his hand, listening. At the end, "Where are you living now?" I asked. He told me. A city far from me, but I remembered instantly that out of all cities possible, I will be visiting that city soon. I am scheduled to speak in a church in that small improbable city on a coming Sunday.  I told him. We smiled at each other. I took his number and said I would call him when I arrived there.  He finally let go of my hand, and we parted, both of us blinking. 

 When I see him again, what do I have to give him? Just Jesus. What is not possible when you surrender to the razing, purifying love of Jesus who loves you body and soul? The past and present, crimes and thefts and drunkenness and lost friends, what are these against the love of God?

Does he know yet that the world is laced with the unexpected and impossible, that paradox is at the heart of who we are, and though it maddens us, we shall not survive without it?

We must be lost before we’re found. 

Jesus came for the sick, not the well. 

Though we are dead, we have been made alive.

If we would save our lives, we must lose them.

We are slaves to our own freedom, until we are freed to serve.

Once we were darkness; now we are children of light.

And how does it happen that an invisible woman on a faraway island who wants to serve others stumbles into such a God-needy man in the wilderness? 

After this time of tears and hope, we left, our separate boats pointing out into the bay, where the whales, big as houses, grow fat and fast from food too small to see. Impossible.

But of course----not.  This man and I both---so lost, so found, so hungry and lonely, so bursting and joyful, so weak, so strong.  We can yet do all things through Christ, who will strengthen both of us for Whatever lies ahead.

He will do this for you as well. Believe it. 

Survive Grace: Speak from Your Life! (1 week offer!)

What does one life matter? Yours, mine . . . In the midst of a crumbling world where tragedy is just an on-switch away, why attend to a single ordinary life? To what end? And who would care?

I asked myself this repeatedly the years I was working on my memoir, Surviving the Island of Grace: Life on the Wild Edge of America. (It's finally available again. Just back from a new printing! I'm sending them out this week at cost. Details below!)   

I had not planned to write a memoir----ever. It was way too risky. I had too much to hide. But my literary agent convinced me to transform my essay collection into a memoir. In short, to be fully present, to tell the truth, however much I could. And I did, though it took me four years. Writing this book changed my life. 

Here is why I did it. And here's why I encourage everyone to write and speak from their lives. From the prologue:

"When I first arrived here, I was struck speechless. I who had loved word and language all my life was suddenly silenced by my new home, which appeared a kind of paradise. Bald eagles and peregrine falcons stir the winds; sea lions, otter, seal and whales cruise by in their own currents; volcanoes steam on the horizon. In my new adopted country, I was either a dumb-struck spectator to this wild Edenic theatre---or a numbed fisherwoman submerged in furry, fish blood and kelp. 

For several years, I could find no way to speak about this place and this life, despite its constant dramas. . . . I have learned through the years, though, that silence teaches little. Frederick Beuchner, one of my favorite authors whose words point beneath and beyond the visible world, urged me through the forbidding door of language and memoir:

            Listen to your life. see it for the fathomless mystery
          that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in 
          the excitement and gladness: touch taste, smell your 
          way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the                               
           last analysis all moments are key moments,
           and life itself is grace.

He was right, I discovered. Life itself is grace. And this particular life is overflowing with grace. Out of all the acres on God's green earth I end up here, on tis thing windswept island on the edge of the Shelikof Strait. The air awarer are clean here. My children have grown up pulling their food and their livelihood from the ocean with their own hands, all of us unified in a common pursuit. We learn to be ruggedly self-sufficient and radically interdependent. All this is grace. But grace, while always good, is not always kind. There is a fierceness and a darkness to this island life that threatens us, even our very lives at times. This kind of grace we hope to survive. Both are here in these pages.

In "A Literature of Place" Barry Lopez has written that when we attend intimately to "our own storied relationship to a place," a place comes to occupy us just as we occupy it. Through the making of this intimate book, what once was lost---my own language and the story of this island---has been returned. I am naming this island Grace, and I invite you to listen to its pain, its gladness, to its "holy and hidden heart."


You may have read Forgiving Our Fathers and Mothers, but this book is, in some ways, even more personal (and thus, I hope, even more relatable to your own life.)

May I send you a copy? They've been out of print for a few months, but I just received the new shipment. Amazon doesn't have them in stock yet. (They'll ship in 2 - 4 weeks, it says.) They retail for $18.00 but I'm sending them out for $10 in the U.S. ($14 to Canada) including shipping and handling for this week only. (You can just mail a check to me.) Do forgive me if I sound a little sales-pitchy. I'm just pleased to get the books from my storied island out to your storied island---that we may all say together, Yes, even here in these hard things that have happened in our lives, life is still full of the bountiful graces of God.

Email me here:

May God bless you with the knowledge of His presence this very day!   

How Do We Fix the World? Start with a Broken Heart

Is your heart leaking yet, your eyes heavy, your feet dragging as you go about your life this week, this month? While nations rage and Christians and other minorities are dragged from their homes and murdered; while bombs fall and children die, and planes blow up and crash, amid racial unrest and distress, with disease running wild, while one nation consumes another and another . .. 

(And then, one of my favorite actors, Robin Williams, dies.) And we can hardly bear to turn on the radio or the TV---or we can hardly bear to turn them off because the men and women there will pull every trick they're taught to keep us glued to death and hate, to fire and flood, to invasion and infection, to fear and more fear.

The world is unraveling, it feels. I am not afraid, but I am sad. And I hope you are as well. I hope you are sad instead of blithe and unknowing. I hope you are sad instead of victorious. I hope you are not one of those Christians whose comments I read this week on the persecutions in Baghdad and the Middle East. We know not to listen to most of the chatter and inanity in the comment boxes, but I did this time, and I have to say this: Please do not be one of those who read of killings, bombings, and persecutions far away and then run to their End Time and Rapture List with a glad hand to check it off saying, "Yes! The End Times! I knew it was here! I'm right!"  And perhaps they harbor concern for their brothers and sisters, but there's a small undeniable fist pump and a heel lift that "Yes, all the sooner we're going home!  Come, the rapture! Come, my airlift from this messed-up world! Come my personal deliverance out of suffering! Come my own sweet chariot!"

I want a chariot too, but I'm not sure I'm going to get one out of this place. I'm not sure we get airlifted from this world into bliss before it gets worse. Our faith is not in our escape from this world. Our faith is in Jesus, who remained in this world until the very end---and even after, He returned to this world. Death could not keep him from coming back. This world matters that much. 

Here's what I really want to say. It's okay to be sad. I'm not going to try and jolly you out of that.  God knows the end from the beginning and all that must occur, but I know God is not doing cartwheels as His people are carted off to prisons, cellars and graves. God IS sovereign and He laughs at the nations that shake their fist at Him, but he mourns and suffers when His people suffer. And we should too. 

Let your heart be troubled. Yes,  Let your heart be troubled----first.  Don't entreat us to be joyous right now. Don't choose the balm of a know-it-all theology that can harden your heart toward the suffering of others. (And maybe don't bank too hard on the Rapture, our own escape hatch from hurt. What if it doesn't come?) Let our faith be in Christ alone, no matter what. 

Here’s what we can do. Even in the midst of our sadness, when all seems lost, remember these words from Paul: 

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? . . . 

No! In ALL these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 
For I am sure that neither death nor life, 
nor angels nor rulers, 
nor things present nor things to come, nor powers,  nor height nor depth, 
nor anything else in all creation, 
will be able to separate us 
from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Nothing. No thing. No person. No enemy. Not even death. NOTHING can separate them (or us) from the love of Christ. 

Yes, here is victory, sweet final victory. But that Christ's love for us doesn't keep us from sword and distress, famine and nakedness ?? That others in our family must suffer this?  And maybe us too someday? This is hard. This is paradox. But this is an inextricable part of our faith. Final victory is coming, but our hearts are broken now.

From your broken heart, would you pray that all God’s people in distress would KNOW the love of Christ for them? Would you pray that God’s people, us, would extend whatever help we can to SHOW the love of Christ for them?

 And when, like me, you are without words, and you can only ache---even that will not be wasted. God will take your “groanings too deep for words” and use them “to intercede for the saints according to the will of God.”

LET your heart be troubled.

Let your heart groan and pray. 

Let your heart intercede for the saints.

And God will hear.  

He will answer. 

He will hold fast to His promise to all of us:

“Neither death nor life . . NOTHING can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

FISHCAMP VIDEOS: Where the Rocks Cry Out+The Seals Jump In

Would you come with me to an incredible place? Let me take you down into my summer neighborhood on the west side of Kodiak Island.

You won't need boots or a lifejacket today. I'm wearing them for you. I want you to see this, to see who lives here in this bay, who shares these salt waters with us. 



Here, maybe just as in your neighborhood, the rocks DO cry out already, stacked with ledges and condos of chicks and mamas, all cooing and singing their gull-y songs of flying and happy being . .. .


And of course, not them alone, but fox and deer, otters and puffins, and always the eagles.

I have been here a very long time, but still, I wonder, and maybe you do as well:

Are they here for us? Are they here to enliven and ornament and animate our quiet black rocks and silent grey beaches?

Or, is this their given task---to entertain us, so we can ogle and photo and show them off, to our own glory?

Or, are they here as signposts to our great and glorious God, their own maker, to point us beyond ourselves?

 Yes on this one, but more even than this. They live beyond us, in their own salty gardens and rich noisy families and rocky condos and ocean cities. They live their full lives without us, not needing us or wanting us.

We, however, need them.  Desperately.  We often can't remember who we are, or whose we are, or where our food and our very breath come from. 

But they do not forget. They don't need us to glory in their Maker. They already know in their little gull heart, in their seal spirit, their eaglet mind that God is their creator, the one who loves them and feeds them.

                                                         ( fish for dinner)

But we forget. Until we look around. Then, if we are truly seeing, we can say with the Psalmist, 

What a wildly wonderful world, God!
You made it all, with Wisdom at your side,
made earth overflow with your wonderful creations!
Oh look! The deep, wide sea, brimming with fish
past counting, sardines and sharks and salmon. 
All the creatures look expectantly to you
  to give them their meals on time.
You come and they gather around;
you open your hand and they eat from it.
If you turned your back, they'd die in a minute---
Take back your Spirit and they die, revert to original mud;
Send out your Spirit and they spring to life--
    the whole countryside in bloom and blossom!

Let God enjoy His creation!

O, Let me sing to God all my life long!     

                                                  ----Ps. 104 (The Message)

Do you see, they are here, all of them, for God first?
He made them first, the creatures of sea and land, before any of us. He named them all "very good," before any of us. He delighted in them and blessed them saying, "Be fruitful and multiply" before any of us came to be. 

They are His. Not ours. Because He delights in them---and He invites us to the same. 

Let God enjoy His creation!

Let us delight in God and His creation! 

Let us sing to God all our lives long!