Sure on this shining night Of star made shadows round, Kindness must watch for me This side the ground. The late year lies down the north. All is healed, all is health. High summer holds the earth. Hearts all whole. Sure on this shining night I weep for wonder wand’ring far alone Of shadows on the stars. ~James Agee “Sure on this Shining Night”
Imagine the illumination which can transform sorrows, which banishes the night so darkness flees. It is that of which I sing, that about which I rejoice, that which bought me and set me free. His love is all. That which was, is and will be will rise again.
Peace be to you and grace from Him Who freed us from our sin Who loved us all, and shed his blood That we might saved be.
Sing holy, holy to our Lord The Lord almighty God Who was and is, and is to come Sing holy, holy Lord.
Rejoice in heaven, all ye that dwell therein Rejoice on earth, ye saints below For Christ is coming, Is coming soon For Christ is coming soon.
E’en so Lord Jesus quickly come And night shall be no more They need no light, no lamp, nor sun For Christ will be their All! ~Paul Manz and Ruth Manz, written when their three year old son was critically ill
Are Job’s successes — even his holy successes — his treasure? Or is God his treasure? That’s the question everyone of us must ask. And there is no reason to believe that God will not test any one of us just as he did Job. When he takes it all away, will we love him more than things, more than health, more than family, and more than life? That’s the question. That’s the warning. That’s the wonderful invitation. ~John Piper in “I Was Warned By Job This Morning”
For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God. Job 19: 25-26
The warning of the Book of Job is that it could happen to us too -– everything we have strived for, cared about, loved and valued — taken away. If we are stripped bare naked, nothing left but our love for God and His sovereign power over our lives, will we still worship His Name, inhale His Word like air itself, submit ourselves to His plan over our plan?
I know I have fallen far short of the mark. It takes only small obstacles or losses to trip me up so I stagger in my faith, trying futilely to not lose my balance, falling flat-faced and immobilized.
This past year, in particular, I’ve seen people lose almost everything in the pandemic: their health, their loved ones, their financial security, their home, their worship community. I’ve looked hard at myself and asked if I could sustain such loss in my life and still turn myself over to the will of God. I would surely plead for reprieve and ask the horribly desperate question, “why me?”, girding myself for the response: “and why not you?”
The invitation, scary and radical as it is, is from God straight to my heart, asking that I trust His plan for my life and death, no matter what happens, no matter how much suffering, no matter how much, like Christ in the garden, I plead that it work out differently, that it be closer to something I would choose to do, somehow that it not hurt so much.
His plan for my life was written before I was born, personally carried to me via His Son, and placed in my hands. It is up to me to open it, read it carefully, and with deep gratitude, respond with an emphatic RSVP: “I’ll be there! Nothing could keep me away from your invitation to me.”
Or I could leave it unopened, hesitant and fearful to reveal its contents. Or even toss it away altogether, believing it really wasn’t meant for me.
Even if, in my heart, I absolutely know it is meant for me.
There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ ~C. S. Lewis from The Great Divorce
Romantic love is blind to everything except what is lovable and lovely, but Christ’s love sees us with terrible clarity and sees us whole. Christ’s love so wishes our joy that it is ruthless against everything in us that diminishes our joy. The worst sentence Love can passis that we behold the suffering which Love has endured for our sake, and that is also our acquittal. The justice and mercy of the judge are ultimately one. ~Frederick Buechner
As we prepare for the season of Lent to begin this week:
We see with terrible clarity the Love and forgiveness shown to the guilty, the Love given freely to the undeserving, the Love paying our ransom in full, the Love that endures suffering to release us from our bondage.
This Judge convicts by meting out justice upon His own head, then serves the whole sentence Himself: He sets us free to feel and know and see and share with one another the Love we are shown.
It is necessary to die, but nobody wants to; you don’t want to, but you are going to, willy-nilly. A hard necessity that is, not to want something which cannot be avoided. If it could be managed, we would much rather not die; we would like to become like the angels by some other means than death.
We want to reach the kingdom of God, but we don’t want to travel by way of death. And yet there stands Necessity saying: “This way, please.”
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.
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?
Do not seek death. Death will find you. But seek the road which makes death a fulfillment.
The road, You shall follow it. The cup, You shall empty it. The pain, You shall conceal it. The truth, You shall be told it. The end, You shall endure it. ~Dag Hammarskjöld in writings from his 1953 journal
Today, after the wind storm of yesterday, when rain fell in unrelenting torrents from heaven, we are caught in a rising current so swift we must cling fast or be swept away.
Drenched beyond capacity to absorb any more, we are ready, Lord, to empty ourselves into your thirstiness so we are useful for your purposes.
When the plowblade struck An old stump hiding under The soil like a beggar’s Rotten tooth, they swarmed up & Mister Jackson left the plow Wedged like a whaler’s harpoon. The horse was midnight Against dusk, tethered to somebody’s Pocketwatch. He shivered, but not The way women shook their heads Before mirrors at the five & dime—a deeper connection To the low field’s evening star. He stood there, in tracechains, Lathered in froth, just Stopped by a great, goofy Calmness. He whinnied Once, & then the whole Beautiful, blue-black sky Fell on his back. ~Yusuf Komunyakaa “Yellow Jackets” from Pleasure Dome
Death by a thousand stings.
This poem is twenty years old, yet shattering to read by the light of the events of this past week and this past year. Written by a Pulitzer Prize winning Black poet and Vietnam War veteran, it is a stark description of a teamster and plow horse going about their routine work when a hive of yellow jackets is disturbed.
The farmer saves himself.
The abandoned work horse remains harnessed and chained to the immobilized plow, eventually falling crushed beneath the swarm on his back.
How many times recently have we witnessed this stark reality of the power of the angry swarm – whether the target is someone set upon and killed by law enforcement gone rogue, or last week, a man in blue defending the U.S. Capitol, beaten and crushed by rioters who pummeled him senseless with the pole of the American flag?
A poetic metaphor about an enslaved worker dying in chains expands to include us all:
-we are the farmer who panics and runs for his life in the midst of crisis -we are the harnessed plowhorse obediently and calmly doing his job, becoming the sacrifice for the sake of the farmer -we are the angry swarm whose well being and security is threatened so all hell breaks loose -we are the poet whose words try to make sense of the senseless.
Ultimately, the Writer of the Word is our rescuer: rather than abandoning us to our fate, He saves us by becoming the sacrifice Himself.
He allowed the swarm to fall on His back rather than on us.
This afternoon was the colour of water falling through sunlight; The trees glittered with the tumbling of leaves; The sidewalks shone like alleys of dropped maple leaves, And the houses ran along them laughing out of square, open windows. Under a tree in the park, Two little boys, lying flat on their faces, Were carefully gathering red berries To put in a pasteboard box. Some day there will be no war, Then I shall take out this afternoon And turn it in my fingers, And remark the sweet taste of it upon my palate, And note the crisp variety of its flights of leaves. To-day I can only gather it And put it into my lunch-box, For I have time for nothing But the endeavour to balance myself Upon a broken world. ~Amy Lowell, “September, 1918” fromThe Complete Poetical Works of Amy Lowell
Am I the only one who awakes this morning with a prayer asking that today be the start of healing rather than conflict and hostility and pain, that the barbaric destruction of yesterday transform to reconciliation and understanding–
no more angry mobs, no more inciting speeches, no more windows bashed, no more doors breached, no more explosives hidden away, no more conspiracies hatched, no more untruths believed as gospel…
no more rising infection counts no more overflowing ICUs no more mounting deaths…
Am I the only one who awakes this morning with a prayer to seek only to celebrate the sunrise to watch the clouds glide past to praise God in His heaven to watch His Light slowly replenish itself after weeks – no, months – no, years – no, decades of darkness,
to take out this one day and taste it and find that it is good, especially in the midst of deprivation then put it away for self-keeping to share when and if I find someone else as hungry for grace and mercy as I am,
so as to balance myself somehow in the beauty of this world while teetering on its brokenness?