Hymn of Weakness
We catechize our children quite naturally in song, setting the mysteries of God to chiming melodies.
Sometimes in lullabies, sometimes as a hymn of affirmation, we rehearse doctrines of salvation, security and Scripture when we lead our little ones to familiar, rippling waters: Jesus loves me, this I know. For the Bible tells me so. Little ones to him belong. They are weak, but he is strong.
Aging out of childhood, we cast childish pursuits and playthings aside. Often we sacrifice our wonder and sense of the cosmic order, of the other-ness of God, on the altar of our eagerness to grow up. We no longer recite that crucial closing couplet, instead taking up feats of strength, resolved to sweat away any trace of weakness.
In my favorite book of the year so far, Glorious Weakness, author Alia Joy comes alongside those of us who assume we’ve outgrown frailty and limit, singing softly, beautifully in our ears. Sometimes minor chords underpin the ageless melody, yet the song remains the same: We’re still weak, but he’s still strong.
Part memoir, part theology of suffering, part antonym to every self-help title in your Amazon cart, Glorious Weakness retraces Joy’s footsteps through her personal stations of the cross. Over mission fields that prove themselves minefields, into emergency rooms and doctors’ offices, through the fog of depression, and out of the grip of sins committed against her, she leads readers to Jesus and his tenderness for the tired and torn apart.
Her mission is not to wow the reader with her testimony, or appear above the fray. Early and often, Joy clarifies her status as a work in progress. Yet with unselfish audacity, and recalling one of Leonard Cohen’s great lines, she identifies life’s cracks, showing us where to find the light.
“You know how, when you close your eyes, for a moment you can still see the outline of what you were looking at as faint orbs?” she writes. “That’s how it felt when the light went out for me: I knew the light had mass and form and it was still there, but I couldn’t make out anything. It’s the smallest hope of light. And it’s that hope of light that I want to share. When the whole world goes dark, even the tiniest glimmer shines.”
As a pastor’s kid, my feet found holy ground—or, at least, church grounds—from the time I could walk. The traditions of faith and truths of the gospel burrowed deep. But down deep was a cavernous place, resembling the floor of a well. I filled up the space with feelings and fears I fought to suppress for the sake of projecting strong faith. These two forces, which felt equal and opposite for so long, co-existed like sullen siblings struggling to share a room.
Eventually, after many years, countless conversations and with the help of a small, merciful circle of counselors, I lowered the basket and pulled my feelings to the surface. To my surprise, the gospel rode up with them. I finally grasped a gospel that both welcomed my feelings and made sense of them.
This is the faith I cling to, and recognize in Glorious Weakness. One which prizes honesty over comfort, which doesn’t fetishize suffering but sees it as of greater worth than the next shiny object. It knows no definition for words like stigma and shame, because it has no use for them. It exposes all our Christian platitudes—you know the ones; they have no clothes in the presence of a naked, bleeding savior.
Joy believes in Eugene Peterson’s long obedience in the same direction, but acknowledges the march is slower and steadier than we ever realize. Sometimes we turn around, looking and longing for what we left behind. Sometimes we sit down in the middle of road. On rare occasions, we turn our faces to the rain and send our praises heavenward anyway.
Joy models holding one side of the Psalms in each hand—“How long, O Lord?” in one, a belief that we will “look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” in the other.
She also dives headlong into the Beatitudes, those fearful, awesome teachings which counter every culture’s notion of what it takes to draw close to the heart of God.
“We don’t believe our ability to bless others might result from our poverty,” she writes. “Our need might be the thing that most blesses the body of Christ.”
Nestled at his side, we learn how to give grace both to ourselves and others. And that grace refreshes hearts that naturally mimic a hard, unforgiving world.
“It was always the plan that in the midst of the catastrophic brokenness in the world, grace would surprise us all,” Joy writes.
Surprising, amazing grace is what I’ve found—and what I still need. Glorious Weakness never judges us for living in fits and starts, for taking two steps toward God and one step back toward our old life.
The late, great Keith Green sang of dry eyes, old faith, a hard heart and cold prayers. His glove-leather soul found a salve and salvation in Jesus—“soften it up with oil and wine,” he pleaded.
The Christian world places its prophets on pedestals—we prize the visionaries and fiery truth-tellers. We need priests too. In Glorious Weakness, Joy shoulders their labor, massaging oil into tired muscles that can’t walk another mile, pouring communion wine and extending the cup.
She gently turns our heads to gaze upon a God who causes thunderstorms but reveals himself in whispers. He breathes life into dry bones and takes time to reset the bones most prone to fracture. Yes, Jesus loves me, and I need that child’s song to remind me both who and where he is. He is strong, but he dwells within the weak.