kinda obsessed.

keaton henson. so beautiful.



Immanuel: Some Thoughts on Encounter

“The hint half guessed, the gift half understood, is Incarnation.”
T.S. Eliot, The Dry Salvages V

Back in December I was thinking about the irony of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” how we are calling God, whose very name means God with us, to come be with us. We are asking Him to fulfill the promise inherent in His name and be with us, to ransom Israel who is still captive, to save us from our lonely exile. Where is this God who promised to be with us always, even to the end of the age?

In church, we’re making our way through the commandments, and this week we talked about number three, taking God’s name in vain. I left thinking about a sometimes inscrutable God who has a million names. But through all these different names, God is trying to help our small human minds understand who he is. When He says “I am your Savior, King, Friend, and Comforter,” He is telling us, “See, this is who I am and this and this and this. Test me; call on my name; trust me; ask me to save you and I will still the storm; ask me to be your King and I will rule your life; ask me to be your Friend and I will walk with you; ask me to be your Comforter and I will bring you rest.”

And when He says “I am Immanuel” he means, “I am with you always; look for me.” These names are metaphor; they are promise; they hold within them the hope of relationship.

Two and a half weeks ago I was sitting on the wall at Butterfly Beach, writing in my journal with great effort about that awful stoppered up sensation: wordless, numb, with all passion and laughter and joy and sadness run dry. A few hours later I sat at the dinner table in the bungalow drinking potato cream soup with some beautiful women. I knew a few of them very well and the others just a little. But we ‘built each other’s houses,’ spent time looking into each other’s eyes, affirming and blessing each other.

In their words and eyes I saw what I had been missing all that day and for weeks beforehand, and a longing stirred in me for a similar passion to grip my being, too. These women have fire in their hearts and it spills out in everything they do: in their looking, in their speaking, in their living. Rilke’s prayer was my prayer that night:

I believe in all that has never yet been spoken.
I want to free what waits within me
so that what no one has dared to wish for
may for once spring clear
without my contriving.

If this is arrogant, God, forgive me,
but this is what I need to say.
May what I do flow from me like a river,
no forcing and no holding back,
the way it is with children.

Then in these swelling and ebbing currents,
these deepening tides moving out, returning,
I will sing you as no one else ever has,
streaming through widening channels
into the open sea.

May what I do flow from me like a river. Those last few hours in California with dear friends and dear sisters, sharing meals and tea and chocolate cake and tears and a dance floor and four hours of wide-open space and ten thousand memories, my heart was brimming and breaking a thousand times over, and all I could say was thank you thank you thank you.

Those two days two weeks ago so many miles far have been swimming beneath the surface of my consciousness since I got here, restless till I could get my thoughts down on paper. On the plane, unpacking, learning new faces and new names, walking along the Thames…I was thinking of all those lonely days when I couldn’t wait to leave, and then the shift my last two days in California when grace crumbled the walls around my heart and let me see, feel all the things that should have been.

Then, when it feels most like you’re turning your back on something, leaving behind all the things you’ve lost on the road, God stops you and says “Wait, child. Stop running from ghosts and walk in the good way I have prepared for you.” That good way is the way of being, the practice of emptying yourself of restlessness and asking God to fulfill the promise of His name: to be here now. Only then, only when He has poured His endlessness into your small being can the fire spill from you like a river; only here, where eternity intersects human time, only now, in the moment of encounter, can healing happen.

I am beginning to understand now the importance of knowing the right names of things. Naming is a way of seeing; naming is a way of grounding oneself in the present; naming is encounter. Shannon used to tell me how she would learn the name of a plant then suddenly see it everywhere, in places she never noticed it before. Knowing the names of things and people helps us see them too, helps us acknowledge their presence, opens the way for not only encounter and significant interaction, but also surprise and miracle.

Rilke again:
Could we be here, then,
in order to say: house,
bridge, fountain, gate, pitcher, apple-tree, window…

And the things, even as they pass,
understand that we praise them.
Transient, they are trusting us
to save them—us, the most transient of all.


I want to love the things
As no one has thought to love them,
Until they’re worthy of you and real.

These things, then—love, naming, sight, living—they can only happen in the moments when God’s unconditional love breaks through the clouds of past and future and holds you there, at peace, then flows from you and through you, completely unstoppered.

God is answering my prayers. My heart is healing, the fear that paralyzed me has been burned away by the fire that has taken hold of my heart, and the only words that come to mind are thank you.



I’m too alone in the world, yet not alone enough
to make each hour holy.
I’m too small in the world, yet not small enough
to be simply in your presence, like a thing—
just as it is.

I want to know my own will
and to move with it.
And I want, in the hushed moments
when the nameless draws near,
to be among the wise ones—
or alone.

I want to mirror your immensity.
I want never to be too weak or too old
to bear the heavy, lurching image of you.

I want to unfold.
Let no place in me hold itself closed,
for where I am closed, I am false.
I want to stay clear in your sight.

I would describe myself
like a landscape I’ve studied
at length, in detail;
like a word I’m coming to understand;
like a pitcher I pour from at mealtime;
like my mother’s face;
like a ship that carried me
when the waters raged.


Malachi 3:10

'Bring all the tithes into the store-house, that there may be food in my house, and prove me now with this,' says the LORD of hosts, 'if I will not open the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.'

God has been so good to me. so good.


In case you were wondering...

Here's a small bit about where I live.

It's really amazing how different this place is from anything else I've known. It reminds me a little bit of parts of New York I've seen, but when it comes down to it, this place is completely unique. The first few days here, I was asking questions non-stop, trying to understand why things are the way they are.

Here is a little bit of what I've learned about this place: The neighborhood I am living in is East Ham in the Newham Borough (which is also known as the Olympic Borough, and the Olympic Stadium is only about a 15 minute drive north). This is the poorest borough in all of London, because it's made up mostly of immigrants and the working class. When people start earning money, they move somewhere nicer, so the borough remains populated by the poorest people in London. For the most part, the only people with college educations who live here are Christians or other social activists who want to see improvement in the borough.

Because this is the Olympic borough, however, a lot of money, time, and thought are being invested here, which is helping to generate local interest in and care for this place. The Olympic committee is hoping that the Olympics will be a catalyst for revitalization and long-term social changes in this borough. The Christian communities are praying for a huge spiritual revival as well, and it's really just an amazing time to be here...it's like we're on the threshold of something huge.

As I mentioned above, this borough is filled with immigrants, and I can walk down a crowded street and not see a single white person, hear ten different languages and accents as people pass me by, and pass droves of women dressed in saris. My neighborhood is mostly populated by Asians, which is confusing because that means Indian, South Indian, Indonesian, Saudi Arabian, etc., but also means alot of excellent food for very cheap (as well as a lot of really disgusting fried fast food). What we call Asian (i.e. Chinese, Japanese, and Korean), British people call Oriental.

The main religions here are Islam, Hinduism, and Sikhism, and it's not rare at all to see women walking down the street wearing burkas, so nothing shows except their eyes. I've also heard stories of men who refuse to shake hands with women because their religion won't allow them to.

What I've seen already about the Christian church here (particularly with the church I am working with--Plaistow Christian Fellowship) is that it seems to have more purpose and is a lot more missional than churches back home, probably because the Christians here know that they're a minority and can see in real ways every day how legalistic and destructive other religions can be. My church in particular is like a little family--they all take care of each other and know everyone's business and have all known each other for years and years. One new and really exciting and beautiful thing that is happening here is that four of the main churches in this area are seeking unity by having joint services every few weeks, and encouraging the people to pool resources in our work towards transforming Newham.


Well, here I am.


Technically, East Ham.

Some things of note:
It's definitely not as cold as I was expecting. Apparently we're having a bit of a warm streak: 54 degrees today.

Sitting in the wrong side of the car on the wrong side of the street is WEIRD. From what I remember from my last visit here, it wasn't strange at all in a bus. But navigating these narrow narrow streets in a little car from the other side...so weird.

There are so many beautiful people here, so many different cultures, so few white people. The neighborhood I live in is inhabited mostly by Indians and black people, and walking down the street with my supervisor Jo we definitely stuck out--white and Chinese. So many different kinds of food to try also! Saudi Arabian, Indonesian, Lebanese, the list goes on and on.

Summer 2011: beekeeping! my supervisor has a hive in her backyard. excellent.

My American accent sticks out like a sore thumb, and every time I hear myself speak I cringe and stumble over my words because of how awful I sound. Also, British people sound smarter and have bigger vocabularies in general, and I have heard the words brilliant, jolly good, sorted, and reckon more times in the past 24 hours than I have in my entire life.

Homemade shepherd's pie for dinner last night. Delish.

Spotify: the British version of Pandora/Grooveshark but way better.

My supervisor's sixteen year old son Adam is precious. He talks and talks and talks, even with his slight lisp which is simply endearing. He's absolutely obsessed with Relient K these days, and yesterday was playing some old school songs on guitar I haven't heard since early high school. He and eight other kids in high school (or college as I think they call it here...) are starting a youth church program where the second week of each month they go to one of the four churches in this area and lead the service to promote youth involvement and unity between the churches.

Finally putting my English degree to good use! I'll be writing articles for a website that the crisis pregnancy center is launching later this year.

I haven't gone into the city yet, but tomorrow I have the day to myself: sleep in, explore the neighborhood...it will be lovely.

It's a bit strange to simply step into these people's daily lives like this. This is such a giant change for me, but just a small disturbance in normality for them. I've already been to a prayer meeting and spent seven hours at work today. And here I am, eating dinner at their table, hearing Adam talk about examinations and his mother worrying that's he going to fail Physics. What a strange little slice of life I've been witnessing.

Some things I had forgotten: the loo, radiators, take away, celsius...

Currently reading: Rilke's "The Book of Hours" and Donald Miller's "A Million Miles in a Thousand Years."