It was in the Spring The Passover had come. There was feasting in the streets and joy. But an awful thing Happened in the Spring – Men who knew not what they did Killed Mary’s Boy. He was Mary’s Son, And the Son of God was He – Sent to bring the whole world joy. There were some who could not hear, And some were filled with fear – So they built a cross For Mary’s Boy ~Langston Hughes “The Ballad of Mary’s Boy”from The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes
We have had several days of southerly winds trying to break us loose from the vise grip of a tired and dying winter. Yet we are held tightly by our frailties.
Despite the warming trend, I find my strength still waning at the end of a long day. I slipped in the mud trying to gain traction unloading a couple hundred pounds of manure from the wheelbarrow. Landing on my backside, my pants muddied thoroughly, I can choose to laugh or cry.
The baptism of mud is a sacrament of the present moment, reminding me of my need for cleansing grace. So I both laugh and cry.
God is revealed in the awful and glorious moments of my being covered in the soil of earth and the waste of its creatures. He knows I need reminding that I too am dust and to dust shall return.
He knows I am too often wasteful and a failed steward, so need reminding by landing me in the middle of it.
He knows I need to laugh at myself, so lands me right on my backside.
He knows I need to cry, so allows me to feel sore and sorrow.
To be known for who I am by a God who laughs with me, weeps for me and groans with the pain I have caused; I will know no greater love.
God, as Mary’s boy, conquered the shroud and the rolled away stone, ending my living for myself, only to die, and began my dying to self, in order to live. and that has made all the difference.
When Jesus wept, the falling tear In mercy flowed beyond all bound. When Jesus groaned, a trembling fear Seized all the guilty world around.
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone. Amen. ~Thomas Merton “Prayer” from Thoughts in Solitude
kyrie eleison, have mercy, christe eleison, have mercy.
We are all alike in this one way when we can barely agree about anything else – We are all lost, wandering weeping wretched
It is when I am shown mercy that I become mercy, loving where others show hate giving where others take away building up where others tear down.
We are found: we become Christ where we live because He renews in us through His sacrifice a new life in Him.
And so you have a life that you are living only now, now and now and now, gone before you can speak of it, and you must be thankful for living day by day, moment by moment … a life in the breath and pulse and living light of the present… ~Wendell Berry from Hannah Coulter
~Lustravit lampade terras~ (He has illumined the world with a lamp) The weather and my mood have little connection. I have my foggy and my fine days within me; my prosperity or misfortune has little to do with the matter. – Blaise Pascal from “Miscellaneous Writings”
I laughed in the morning’s eyes. I triumphed and I saddened with all weather, Heaven and I wept together, and its sweet tears were salt with mortal mine. Against the red throb of its sunset heart, I laid my own to beat And share commingling heat.
Rise, clasp my hand, and come. Halts by me that Footfall. Is my gloom, after all, Shade of His hand, outstretched caressingly? Ah, Fondest, Blindest, Weakest, I am He whom thou seekest. Thou dravest Love from thee who dravest Me. ~Francis Thompson from “The Hound of Heaven”
My days are filled with anxious and sad patients, one after another after another. They sit in front of their screen and I in front of mine, so close yet so far from each another – a wilderness of unexpressed emotions.
They struggle to hold back the flood from brimming eyes. Each moment, each breath, each heart beat overwhelmed by questions: How to take yet another painful breath of this sad life? must there be another breath? Must things go on like this in fear of what the next moment will bring?
The only thing more frightening than the unknown is the knowledge that the next moment will be just like the last or perhaps worse. There is no recognition of a moment just passed that can never be retrieved and relived. There is only fear of the next and the next so that now and now and now is lost forever.
Worry and sorrow and angst are more contagious than any viral pandemic. I mask up and wash my hands of it throughout the day. I wish there was a vaccine to protect us all from our unnamed fears in the wilderness.
I want to say to them and myself: Stop this moment in time. Stop and stop and stop. Stop expecting this feeling must be “fixed.” Stop wanting to be numb to all discomfort. Stop resenting the gift of each breath. Just stop. Instead, simply be in the now and now and now.
I want to say: this moment, foggy or fine, is yours alone, this moment of weeping and sharing and breath and pulse and light. Shout for joy in it. Celebrate it. Be thankful for tears that can flow over grateful lips and stop holding them back.
Stop me before I write, out of my own anxiety over you, yet another prescription you don’t really need.
Just be– and be blessed– in the now and now and now.
Heaven knows we need never be ashamed of our tears, for they are rain upon the blinding dust of earth, overlying our hard hearts. I was better after I had cried, than before– more sorry, more aware of my own ingratitude, more gentle. ~Charles Dickens as “Pip” in Great Expectations
Jesus wept. ~John 11:35
Today, Ash Wednesday, is the beginning of Lent (an old English word for “lengthening”).
This six week observance humbles the hardest of hearts by readying us to walk through the dusty wilderness of our sin and brokenness.
Over the coming weeks, I learn again of Christ’s traveling the parched road to the cross. His tears become a cleansing rain — tears of sorrow and sacrifice meant to renew and restore the earthly dust beneath His feet – the dust from which His Father formed us and to which we will return.
This journey leads us through the ashes of our bitterness, pride, and ingratitude. We follow this difficult and arduous wilderness road, fitting our foot to each tear-stained print He left behind, knowing where ultimately it must take us.
VERSE 1 It is Ash Wednesday’s early morn. The old, the young, the newly born Await the mark of Adam’s dust To seal their wills in Jesus’ trust.
VERSE 2 Prepared to walk the Lenten trail They face death’s dark and shadowed vale. Rememb’ring Christ who led the way They bravely march beneath his sway.
VERSE 3 You came from dust and dust would be Without the Great Son’s victory. The gift is free yet must be claimed By goodness lived and evil tamed.
VERSE 4 It is Ash Wednesday’s early morn. The old, the young, the newly born Await the mark of Adam’s dust To seal their wills in Jesus’ trust.
When it snows, he stands at the back door or wanders around the house to each window in turn and watches the weather like a lover.
O farm boy, I waited years for you to look at me that way. Now we’re old enough to stop waiting for random looks or touches or words, so I find myself watching you watching the weather, and we wait together to discover whatever the sky might bring. ~Patricia Traxler “Weather Man”
My farm boy always looked at me that way, and still does — wondering if today will bring a hard frost, a chilly northeaster, a scorcher, or a deluge, and I reassure him as best I can, because he knows me so well in our many years together: today, like every other day, will always be partly sunny with some inevitable cloud cover and always a possibility of rain.
Chunky and noisy, but with stars in their black feathers, they spring from the telephone wire and instantly
they are acrobats in the freezing wind. And now, in the theater of air, they swing over buildings,
dipping and rising; they float like one stippled star that opens, becomes for a moment fragmented,
then closes again; and you watch and you try but you simply can’t imagine
how they do it with no articulated instruction, no pause, only the silent confirmation that they are this notable thing,
this wheel of many parts, that can rise and spin over and over again, full of gorgeous life.
Ah, world, what lessons you prepare for us, even in the leafless winter, even in the ashy city. I am thinking now of grief, and of getting past it;
I feel my boots trying to leave the ground, I feel my heart pumping hard. I want
to think again of dangerous and noble things. I want to be light and frolicsome. I want to be improbable beautiful and afraid of nothing, as though I had wings. ~Mary Oliver “Starlings in Winter” from Owls and Other Fantasies: Poems and Essays
Out of the dimming sky a speck appeared, then another, and another. It was the starlings going to roost. They gathered deep in the distance, flock sifting into flock, and strayed towards me, transparent and whirling, like smoke. They seemed to unravel as they flew, lengthening in curves, like a loosened skein. I didn’t move;they flew directly over my head for half an hour.
Each individual bird bobbed and knitted up and down in the flight at apparent random, for no known reason except that that’s how starlings fly, yet all remained perfectly spaced. The flocks each tapered at either end from a rounded middle, like an eye. Overhead I heard a sound of beaten air, like a million shook rugs, a muffled whuff. Into the woods they sifted without shifting a twig, right through the crowns of trees, intricate and rushing, like wind.
Could tiny birds be sifting through me right now, birds winging through the gaps between my cells, touching nothing, but quickening in my tissues, fleet? ~Annie Dillard from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
…yesterday I heard a new sound above my head a rustling, ruffling quietness in the spring air
and when I turned my face upward I saw a flock of blackbirds rounding a curve I didn’t know was there and the sound was simply all those wings, all those feathers against air, against gravity and such a beautiful winning: the whole flock taking a long, wide turn as if of one body and one mind.
How do they do that?
If we lived only in human society what a puny existence that would be
but instead we live and move and have our being here, in this curving and soaring world that is not our own so when mercy and tenderness triumph in our lives and when, even more rarely, we unite and move together toward a common good,
we can think to ourselves:
ah yes, this is how it’s meant to be. ~Julie Cadwallader Staub from “Blackbirds” from Wing Over Wing
Watching a winter starlings’ murmuration is a visceral experience – my heart leaps to see it happen above me. I can get queasy following its looping amoebic folding and unfolding path.
Thousands of individual birds move in sync with one another to form one massive organism existing solely because each tiny component anticipates and cooperates to avoid mid-air collisions. It could explode into chaos but it doesn’t. It could result in massive casualties but it doesn’t. They could avoid each other altogether but they don’t – they come together with a purpose and reasoning beyond our imagining. Even the silence of their movement has a discernible sound.
We humans are made up of just such cooperating component parts, that which is deep in our tissues, programmed in our DNA. Yet we don’t exercise such unity from our designed and carefully constructed building blocks. We are frighteningly disparate and independent creatures, going our own way bumping and crashing without care, leaving so much body and spiritual wreckage behind.
To where has flown our mercy and tenderness? We have corporately lost our internal moral compass.
We figuratively and literally shoot each other in the back, trampling over and suffocating one another, in a reach for justice that seems right in our own eyes.
We even watch the daily death count rise in ever-increasing numbers, and still some resist doing what it takes to protect themselves and one another.
The sound of silence is muffled weeping.
There comes a time in every fall before the leaves begin to turn when blackbirds group and flock and gather choosing a tree, a branch, together to click and call and chorus and clamor announcing the season has come for travel.
Then comes a time when all those birds without a sound or backward glance pour from every branch and limb into the air, as if on a whim but it’s a dynamic, choreographed mass a swoop, a swerve, a mystery, a dance
and now the tree stands breathless, amazed at how it was chosen, how it was changed. ~Julie Cadwallader Staub “Turning” from Wing Over Wing
When the cold air comes on in, it kicks the furnace on, and the furnace overwhelms the cold. As the sorrow comes into the heart of a Christian, it kicks on more of the joy. It gets you closer to him, it helps you dig down deeper into him, and the joy kicks up, you might say, like a furnace, and overwhelms the sorrow. That is a picture of a solid Christian. Not a sorrow-less person who is happy, happy, happy, all the time. That’s not the picture. A picture of a real Christian is a person who has a furnace of joy in there that kicks up as the sorrow comes in and overwhelms the sorrow. But the sorrow is there. It is there. ~Pastor Tim Keller (1990), now in treatment for pancreatic cancer
The Cross is the blazing fire at which the flame of our love is kindled, but we have to get near enough for its sparks to fall on us. ~John Stott
I have listened to criticism at times in my faith life that I don’t exhibit enough joy and happiness in my Christian walk. It is true that I tend toward lamenting the state of the world and the state of my own soul. I could use more balance in my expressions of gratitude. So what I hear from others is fair feedback.
My faith furnace thermostat is now set so high that it rarely kicks on and I dwell too much in the cold.
Especially in the last year of COVID-time, I have been especially feeling the chill as I watch so many dealing with immense sorrow and loss. So much has changed, particularly in how we can safely gather and worship together, resulting in finger pointing among Christians about who is showing more righteous dedication to the Word of God.
So the nit-picking begins.
If we don’t sing together in worship as commanded by our Lord but temporarily restricted by state regulations, do we lack conviction in our faith, allowing fear and earthly authorities to rule over us? If we sing outside, even in the cold dark rain and snow, is that sufficient compromise and does it truly “turn on” the furnace of our joy?
Or wearing a mask shows fear and a lack of faith that God is ultimately in charge as only He determines how many days we dwell on this earth. Yet by wearing a mask at all times when together we are showing compassion for others by loving them enough to try to protect them from any infection we may unknowingly harbor.
These feel like irreconcilable differences in perspective among people who purportedly love one another in the name of Christ. So we all end up in the cold, waiting on the furnace of our love and joy to kick on.
In my self-absorption, I tend to forget that the fire has always been there, lit by Christ’s sacrifice, despite His own mortal fear and hesitation and tears, yet fueled solely by His divine desire to save His children. I need to come closer to feel the heat of His love, and feel those sparks landing on my earthly skin to remind me there can be no love without pain.
Thank God for grace, Ye who weep only! —look up! those tears will run Soon in long rivers down the lifted face, And leave the vision clear for stars and sun. ~Elizabeth Barrett Browning from “Tears”
Grief is a river you wade in until you get to the other side. But I am here, stuck in the middle, water parting around my ankles, moving downstream over the flat rocks. I’m not able to lift a foot, move on. Instead, I’m going to stay here in the shallows with my sorrow… It’s mine. …I’m going to stand here, growing colder, until every inch of my skin is numb. I can’t cross over. Then you really will be gone. ~Barbara Crooker from “Grief”
A river of tears flows with the untimely loss of a young person, a child of our church. Sorrow at such a loss fills a chasm so deep and dark that it is a fearsome thing to even peer from the edge, as I do. The family is numb, swallowed up by their grief.
We can never understand why such infinite sadness should befall good and gracious people. We are once again reminded – there can be profound darkness that descends into the human heart, stealing away lives too soon.
Be assured you do not weep alone. Your grief is so familiar to a suffering God who too wept at the death of a friend, a God who cried out when asked to endure the unendurable.
There is comfort in knowing He understands and overcomes all peril to come to the rescue when we become stuck fast in the middle of our grief, too numb to move on. He will fill the hole left behind as only He can.
You who grieve: you are not abandoned. Your sadness is His, your sorrow is ours. You are loved with a love so deep and high and broad, it will somehow carry you through.
…if I respond to hate with a reciprocal hate I do nothing but intensify the cleavage in broken community. I can only close the gap in broken community by meeting hate with love. If I meet hate with hate, I become depersonalized, because creation is so designed that my personality can only be fulfilled in the context of community. Booker T. Washington was right: “Let no man pull you so low as to make you hate him.” ~Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. from Stride Toward Freedom
Do you know why this world is as bad as it is? It is because people think only about their own business, and won’t trouble themselves to stand up for the oppressed, nor bring the wrong-doers to light. My doctrine is this: that if we see cruelty or wrong that we have the power to stop, and do nothing, we make ourselves sharers in the guilt. ~Anna Sewell from Black Beauty
As nightfall does not come at once, neither does oppression. In both instances, there is a twilight when everything remains seemingly unchanged. And it is in such twilight that we all must be most aware of change in the air – however slight – lest we become unwitting victims of the darkness. ~William O. Douglasin a 1976 letter to Young Lawyers of the Washington State Bar Association
We live in a time where the groaning need and dividedness of humankind is especially to be felt and recognized. Countless people are subjected to hatred, violence and oppression which go unchecked. The injustice and corruption which exist today are causing many voices to be raised to protest and cry out that something be done. Many men and women are being moved to sacrifice much in the struggle for justice, freedom, and peace. There is a movement afoot in our time, a movement which is growing, awakening.
We must recognize that we as individuals are to blame for every social injustice, every oppression, the downgrading of others and the injury that man does to man, whether personal or on a broader plane.… God must intervene with his spirit and his justice and his truth. The present misery, need, and decay must pass away and the new day of the Son of Man must dawn. This is the advent of God’s coming. ~Dwight Blough from the introduction to When the Time was Fulfilled (1965)
No matter how big a nation is, it is no stronger that its weakest people, and as long as you keep a person down, some part of you has to be down there to hold him down, so it means you cannot soar as you might otherwise. ~Marian Anderson, American opera singer at two presidential inaugurals, Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient and US State Dept. Goodwill Ambassador
We have a new definition of greatness: it means that everybody can be great, because everybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don’t have to know Einstein’s theory of relativity to serve. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve.
You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love. And you can be that servant. ~Martin Luther King, Jr. in a February 1968 sermon: “The Drum Major Instinct”, A Knock At Midnight: Inspiration from the Great Sermons of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.
Dr. King’s words and wisdom in his sermons and letters written over fifty years ago continue to inform us of our shortcomings as a society.
We flounder in our flaws and brokenness, persisting in our resistance to serve one another out of humility, grace and love.
Perhaps this week, we can be forgiven and start afresh.
Instead of spewing lies, profanity and hatred, can we unite despite our fear of one another? -to no longer be divided by strife and disagreements, -to no longer support actions that result in senseless killings, whether in the streets or in the womb, -to finally be able to hold up one another, born and unborn, as a holy and equal in God’s eyes.
May we join together as the light dawns on this day knowing, as Dr. King knew, a new day will come when the Lord God wipes tears away from all faces, all colors, all people, created in His image.
The thing is to love life, to love it even when you have no stomach for it and everything you’ve held dear crumbles like burnt paper in your hands, your throat filled with the silt of it. When grief sits with you, its tropical heat thickening the air, heavy as water more fit for gills than lungs; when grief weights you like your own flesh only more of it, an obesity of grief, you think, How can a body withstand this? Then you hold life like a face between your palms, a plain face, no charming smile, no violet eyes, and you say, yes, I will take you I will love you, again. ~Ellen Bass, “The Thing Is” from Mules of Love
There is so much grief these days so much loss of life so much weeping.
How can we withstand this? How can we know, now, when we are barely able to breathe that we might know – at some point – we might love life again?