all things new
Raindrops meander down the windowpanes this afternoon, blurring my view. All day I watched those clouds fill, watched them turn their heavy gray, and now the emptying makes thin spaces for light. From all the sharp cracking, the twisting of tree limbs, the lurking dark, a new sky will come, and soon.
New always, always comes to those who love God, because new is what God does.
At a quarter to seven on the very last day of the year, my phone rang, waking me with music too meandering, too airy. Someone I love had died in the early morning hours, in the thin space between day end and day beginning, somewhere in the middle of dark and light. The news brought no sudden flood of feeling, no tears. Instead, the words left me staring, blinking at an empty place; a space left cavernous years ago when this one we love decided not to participate in our lives anymore. I don’t think I’ll ever understand that walking away. One of my daughters had even written to this someone she only knew in pictures, begging for recognition. She waited weeks, checking the mail for an answer I told her not to expect, and then finally, she forgot. And now, the silence only spreads, dark and dormant, black-barked and wiry, and on the morning of the last day of the year, I found myself staring at a past I’d entombed. Do not dwell there, Spirit said, touching the heart of me, filling the empty space. I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.
New always comes born of empty, in the silence of ending, after a dark and breathless wait.
The thought settles on me, clear, bright like a star:
Butterflies break wet-winged from the cocoon, where in the dark heat all their caterpillar parts have melted away. It’s true—the caterpillar must be completely destroyed and reassembled so that it can re-emerge to a new life.
Tulips push through the soil and bloom delicate, bright, after their dead, dormant sleep in the Winter ground.
Babies wait, gradually filling the empty womb those nine months, filling a mother so full that they press her organs into new places. The pain of childbirth is a fact for which even we mothers have few words, because out of that impossibility comes the new, and in the celebration of it, we forget. We focus on new life, and the old pain falls away, like shackles broken.
But it begins with an empty space filled, an uncomfortable waiting, a pain beyond words.
The emptying, the filling, the waiting, the pain, these we know the way we know our own breathing—exhale poison, inhale life, exhale poison, inhale life, empty, fill, empty, fill, each breath new life. Even the seasons proclaim this truth, even this New Year, coming with the rain.
Outside, the trees reach wiry and black-barked, wet and bald and silent. They betray no evidence of buds, no proof of leaves to come. Through the winter, we wait, wrapping ourselves warm inside through impossible seasons of ice. Everything sleeps. We know this emptying, this dormant waiting. We know the new season will come, and that the cocoon has its purpose too. We exhale to inhale again. Brilliant Spring comes born of Winter the way the day is born of night, the way the butterfly is born of the cocoon, the baby from the womb, the tulip from its garden seed-grave.
This afternoon, I press the empty pages of my calendar flat, pen in hand, pausing over a new year, looking out the window, watching the rain, and the Spirit wraps the Word tight about my shoulders. He’d been rooting this in me already, from the moments we counted down and the ball dropped and one year emptied and another emerged, breathing, fresh born:
Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.
So often, my mistake is this dwelling on the past, and dwelling on the past means setting up house right in the grave, covered over, waiting in the dark. All the while, He lives, having left the tomb, and He breathes new life right into our dry bones (Ezekiel 37: 1; 3-9).
For three days, the disciples huddled afraid, in the black dark cold acknowledgement of death, in the cavernous days when the body of One they loved, One they followed, lay broken and spice-wrapped, pale and unmoving. They knew that in the garden, in the sealed tomb, all that remained of Him was a husk. Have you noticed this about the body, given over to death? It’s just a shell, a case, a cocoon emptied by a wet-winged soul, new born blinding and brilliant. Everything over, that’s all they could really see then—no opportunity for new, no evidence of bud or leaf, no sign of possibility. I imagine the way they must’ve talked to each other, remembering what He’d said, wondering if they would be killed too or just labeled as fools forever. They felt as though they had lost their own lives right with Him. Three dark days—three empty, dead dark days—and then in the silence of ending, after a breathless, impossible wait, the new they witnessed shattered every confidence they had had in their own understanding of life. And surely they celebrated what they had not understood before. Surely the awe left them shaking. Surely the old pain fell away, like shackles broken.
That’s why all our new always comes just this way—every new life, every new day, every new year. God means to repeat what He’s done, with the hope that maybe just maybe we’ll see, that maybe just one dead day we’ll get it and be born anew. He died that all things might be redeemed and made new, that death might not be the end, that those emptied of self might be full with Him.
Dry bones, hear the Word of the Lord:
If the earth never turns back toward the sun, we will live in the darkness. If she never moves closer, but stays far turned away, we will dwell forever in the wasteland, where the trees stand black-barked and wet and the frozen ground remains unbroken by the blood-red petals of the tulips. If the baby never emerges from the womb, he and the mother die together, and the tragedy blocks the light like a heavy cloud, never empty of rain. If the butterfly refuses to leave her cocoon, she dies there too, hungry, without ever feeling the wind in her wings. If I could choose not to breathe, the waste of this living would surely suffocate me. What if the disciples had never left that empty tomb? What if they had chosen to live there, right where the broken husk of him still should have been? What if they just sat in the dark cold cave re-living His suffering, wondering if somehow they might have kept him from it? I believe He would have come for them, the way He comes now for me on the first afternoon of a brand new year, the way He stands in the doorway of the tomb, silhouetted by the Light, beckoning me out of an empty space and away from the former things.
How is it that the older our bodies become, the harder it becomes for us to see the new thing springing up? How is that we lose faith in redemption, in the way of God—the way He makes all things new, the way He sheds light on our darkness? Oh, how He summons me, reminding, as I lay my hand flat over a new year, watching the rain blur the window:
See, I am doing a new thing!
The truth is that I have no idea how God could bring something new out of the empty place this person left, this person I love who breathed her last earth-breath on the last day of the year. All I can see now is an empty space, and everything over.
But I know this too, the way I know my own breathing, this truth to which all creation bears happy witness:
No matter how dry the bones, how empty the space, how dark the tomb, how cold and hard the Winter ground, how black the night, how dead and wiry our living here sometimes feels, the Sovereign Lord has overcome all the temporary trouble of this place. The new day comes. A new year begins. Life has been resurrected from the grip of death, blinding bright and blood red, right from the death-dirt, shattering everything we have ever understood about living.
See, He makes a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. A new thing springs up, do you not perceive it?
He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true (Revelation 21:4-6).