It has been a long 18 months of dwelling deeply in all kinds of “supposes” and “what ifs” because people were being crushed by a virus right and left.
I understand this kind of thinking, particularly when “in the moment” tragedies, (like a Florida condo building collapsing in the middle of the night) play out real-time in the palm of our hand in front of our eyes and we feel helpless to do anything but watch it unfold.
Those who know me well know I can fret and worry better than most. Medical training only makes this worse. I’m taught to think catastrophically. That is what I have done for a living – to always be ready for the worse case scenario and simply assume it will happen.
Sometimes it does happen and no amount of wishing it away will work.
When I rise, too often sleepless, to face a day of uncertainty as we all do ~ after careful thought, I reach for the certainty I am promised over the uncertainty I can only imagine:
What is my only comfort in life and in death? That I am not my own, but belong —body and soul, in life and in death— to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.
“Supposing it didn’t” — says our Lord (and we are comforted by this) but even if it did … even if it did – as awful things sometimes do – we are never abandoned.
He is with us always.
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My family sold our first farm in East Stanwood when my father took a job working for the state in Olympia, moving to supervising high school agriculture teachers rather than being a teacher himself. It was a difficult transition for us all: we moved to a smaller home and a few acres, leaving behind a large two story house, a huge hay barn and chicken coop as well as large fields and a woods where our dairy cows had grazed.
Only a few years later, the old farmhouse burned down but the rest of the buildings were spared. It passed through a few hands and when we had occasion to drive by, we were dismayed to see how nature was taking over the place. The barn still stood but unused it was weathering and withering. The windows were broken, birds flew in and out, the former flower garden had grown wild and unruly.
This was the place I was conceived and learned to walk and talk, where I developed my love for wandering in the fields and respecting the farm animals we depended upon. I remember as a child of four sitting at the kitchen table looking out the window at the sunrise coming rising over the woods and making the misty fields turn golden.
Yet now this land has returned to its essence before the ground was ever plowed or buildings were constructed. It no longer belongs to our family (as if it ever did) but it forever belongs to our memories.
I am overly prone to nostalgia, dwelling more on what has been than what is now or what I hope is to come. It is easy to weep over the losses when time and circumstances reap circumstances that become unrecognizable.
I may weep, but nature does not. The sun continues to rise over the fields, the birds continue to build nests, the lilacs grow taller with outrageous blooms, and each day ends with a promise of another to come.
So I must dwell on what lies ahead, not what perished in the ashes.
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All winter your brute shoulders strained against collars, padding and steerhide over the ash hames, to haul sledges of cordwood for drying through spring and summer, for the Glenwood stove next winter, and for the simmering range.
In April you pulled cartloads of manure to spread on the fields, dark manure of Holsteins, and knobs of your own clustered with oats. All summer you mowed the grass in meadow and hayfield, the mowing machineclacketing beside you, while the sun walked high in the morning;
and after noon’s heat, you pulled a clawed rake through the same acres, gathering stacks, and dragged the wagon from stack to stack, and the built hayrack back, uphill to the chaffy barn, three loads of hay a day from standing grass in the morning.
Sundays you trotted the two miles to church with the light load a leather quartertop buggy, and grazed in the sound of hymns. Generation on generation, your neck rubbed the windowsill of the stall, smoothing the wood as the sea smooths glass.
When you were old and lame, when your shoulders hurt bending to graze, one October the man, who fed you and kept you, and harnessed you every morning, led you through corn stubble to sandy ground above Eagle Pond, and dug a hole beside you where you stood shuddering in your skin,
and lay the shotgun’s muzzle in the boneless hollow behind your ear, and fired the slug into your brain, and felled you into your grave, shoveling sand to cover you, setting goldenrod upright above you, where by next summer a dent in the ground made your monument.
For a hundred and fifty years, in the Pasture of dead horses, roots of pine trees pushed through the pale curves of your ribs, yellow blossoms flourished above you in autumn, and in winter frost heaved your bones in the ground – old toilers, soil makers:
O Roger, Mackerel, Riley, Ned, Nellie, Chester, Lady Ghost. ~Donald Hall, “Names of Horses”
As a child, I regularly visited the horse grave dug by hand by my father in 1965 in an open clearing of our woods where our little chestnut mare, Dolly, rested in the ground.
She was felled by a vet’s bullet to the head after an agonizing bout with colic. I had returned to the house, unable to watch, but could not help but hear the gunshot as if it had gone through me as well.
At first her grave was a place to cry where no one but the trees and wild flowers could see.
When my tears dried up, it was a place to sing loudly where no one but chipmunks and my dog could hear.
Later it became the sanctuary where I retreated to talk to God when my church no longer was.
Her bones lie there still and no one but me knows where. The dent in the ground will always betray the spot.
How is faith to endure, O God, when you allow all this scraping and tearing on us? You have allowed rivers of blood to flow, mountains of suffering to pile up, sobs to become humanity’s song– all without lifting a finger that we could see. You have allowed bonds of love beyond number to be painfully snapped. If you have not abandoned us, explain yourself.
Instead of explaining our suffering God shares it.
We strain to hear. But instead of hearing an answer we catch sight of God himself scraped and torn. Through our tears we see the tears of God. ~Nicholas Wolterstorffin Lament for a Son
“My God, My God,” goes the Psalm 22, “hear me, why have you forsaken me?”
This is the anguish all we of Godforsaken heart know well. But hear the revelation to which Christ directs us, further in the same psalm:
For He has not despised nor scorned the beggar’s supplication, Nor has He turned away His face from me; And when I cried out to Him, He heard me.“
He hears us, and he knows, because he has suffered as one Godforsaken. Which means that you and I, even in our darkest hours, are not forsaken. Though we may hear nothing, feel nothing, believe nothing, we are not forsaken, and so we need not despair.
And that is everything. That is Good Friday and it is hope, it is life in this darkened age, and it is the life of the world to come. ~Tony Woodlief from “We are Not Forsaken”
Scratch the surface of a human being and the demons of hate and revenge … and sheer destructiveness break forth.
The cross stands before us to remind us of this depth of ourselves so that we can never forget.
Again and again we read the stories of violence in our daily papers, of the mass murders and ethnic wars still occurring in numerous parts of our world. But how often do we say to ourselves: “What seizes people like that, even young people, to make them forget family and friends, and suddenly kill other human beings?” We don’t always ask the question in that manner. Sometimes we are likely to think, almost smugly: “How different those horrible creatures are from the rest of us. How fortunate I am that I could never kill or hurt other people like they did.”
I do not like to stop and, in the silence, look within, but when I do I hear a pounding on the floor of my soul. When I open the trap door into the deep darkness I see the monsters emerge for me to deal with. How painful it is to bear all this, but it is there to bear in all of us. If I do not deal with it, it deals with me. The cross reminds me of all this.
This inhumanity of human to human is tamed most of the time by law and order in most of our communities, but there are not laws strong enough to make men and women simply cease their cruelty and bitterness. This destructiveness within us can seldom be transformed until we squarely face it in ourselves. This confrontation often leads us into the pit.
The empty cross is planted there to remind us: suffering is real but not the end, victory still is possible… ~Morton Kelsey from “The Cross and the Cellar”
The whole of Christ’s life was a continual passion; others die martyrs, but Christ was born a martyr. He found a Golgotha, where he was crucified, even in Bethlehem, where he was born; for to his tenderness then the straws were almost as sharp as the thorns after, and the manger as uneasy at first as the cross at last.
His birth and his death were but one continual act, and his Christmas Day and his Good Friday are but the evening and the morning of one and the same day. From the creche to the cross is an inseparable line. Christmas only points forward to Good Friday and Easter. It can have no meaning apart from that, where the Son of God displayed his glory by his death. ~John Donne – hisopening words in his sermon on Christmas Day 1626
Anytime we assume God in heaven could not possibly understand the loneliness and rejection we feel the pain and discouragement we endure the hatred that taints our communities the suffering that is part of living inside these frail vessels, our bodies. Surely, we think — if there was a God, He would do something about it:
He reminds us today of all days He was scraped and torn – no scratching the surface, but gouged deep. He knows exactly what we endure because He wasn’t spared.
He took it all on Himself — our affliction became His.
On the outskirts of Jerusalem the donkey waited. Not especially brave, or filled with understanding, he stood and waited.
How horses, turned out into the meadow, leap with delight! How doves, released from their cages, clatter away, splashed with sunlight.
But the donkey, tied to a tree as usual, waited. Then he let himself be led away. Then he let the stranger mount.
Never had he seen such crowds! And I wonder if he at all imagined what was to happen. Still, he was what he had always been: small, dark, obedient.
I hope, finally, he felt brave. I hope, finally, he loved the man who rode so lightly upon him, as he lifted one dusty hoof and stepped, as he had to, forward. ~Mary Oliver “The Poet thinks about the donkey” from her book Thirst.
With monstrous head and sickening cry And ears like errant wings…
The tattered outlaw of the earth, Of ancient crooked will; Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb, I keep my secret still.
Fools! For I also had my hour; One far fierce hour and sweet: There was a shout about my ears, And palms before my feet. G. K. Chesterton from “The Donkey”
Palm Sunday is a day of dissonance and dichotomy in the church year, very much like the donkey who figured as a central character that day. Sadly, a donkey gets no respect, then or now – for his plain and awkward looks, for his loud and inharmonious voice, for his apparent lack of strength — yet he was the chosen mode of transportation for a King riding to His death.
There was a motley parade to Jerusalem: cloaks and palms laid at the feet of the donkey bearing the Son of God, disorderly shouts of adoration and blessings, the rebuke of the Pharisees to quiet the people, His response that “even the stones will cry out” knowing what is to come.
But the welcoming crowd waving palm branches, shouting sweet hosannas and laying down their cloaks did not understand the fierce transformation to come, did not know within days they would be a mob shouting words of derision and rejection and condemnation.
The donkey knew because he had been derided, rejected and condemned himself, yet still kept serving. Just as he was given voice and understanding centuries before to protect Balaam from going the wrong way, he could have opened his mouth to tell them, suffering beatings for his effort. Instead, just as he bore the unborn Jesus to Bethlehem and stood over Him sleeping in the manger, just as he bore a mother and child all the way to Egypt to hide from Herod, the donkey would keep his secret well.
Who, after all, would ever listen to a mere donkey?
We would do well to pay attention to this braying wisdom.
The donkey knows.
He bears the burden we have shirked. He treads with heavy heart over the palms and cloaks we lay down as meaningless symbols of honor. He is the ultimate servant to the Servant.
A day of dichotomy — of honor and glory laid underfoot only to be stepped on of blessings and praise turning to curses of the beginning of the end becoming a new beginning for us all.
And so He wept, knowing all this. I suspect the donkey bearing Him wept as well, in his own simple, plain and honest way, and I’m quite sure he kept it as his special secret.
Take heart, my Friend, we’ll go together This uncertain road that lies ahead Our faithful God has always gone before us And He will lead the Way once again. Take heart, my Friend, we can walk together And if our burdens become too great We can hold up and help one another In God’s LOVE, in God’s Grace. Take heart my Friend, the Lord is with us As He has been all the days of our lives Our assurance every morning Our Defender in the Night. If we should falter when trouble surrounds us When the wind and the waves are wild and high We will look away to HIM who rules the waters; Who speaks His Peace into the angry tide. He is our Comfort, our Sustainer He is our Help in time of need When we wander, He is our Shepherd He who watches over us NEVER sleeps. Take heart my friend, the Lord is with us As He has been all the days of our lives Our Assurance every morning Our Defender every night. Amen. 🙂
Humble King You chose the road that led to suffering Nothing was spared to prove Your love for me Oh, the mystery That Your final breath became eternity What we had lost forever You redeemed, mmm
Hosanna, Hosanna In the highest forever Hosanna, Hosanna Hallelujah forever
Triumphant King The Lamb who was slain who rose in majesty There’s never a heart beyond Your victory You are the one that we are welcoming You are the one that we are welcoming, oh
Hosanna, Hosanna In the highest forever Hosanna, Hosanna Hallelujah forever Hosanna, Hosanna In the highest forever Hosanna, Hosanna Hallelujah forever
Ooh, forever We worship You forever, forever It’s all about You Blessed is He, blessed is He Who comes in the name of the Lord Oh, join now and sing, Jesus is King He reigns
My Lord, my Lord, Long have I cried out to Thee In the heat of the sun, The cool of the moon, My screams searched the heavens for Thee. My God, When my blanket was nothing but dew, Rags and bones Were all I owned, I chanted Your name Just like Job.
Father, Father, My life give I gladly to Thee Deep rivers ahead High mountains above My soul wants only Your love But fears gather round like wolves in the dark. Have You forgotten my name? O Lord, come to Your child. O Lord, forget me not.
You said to lean on Your arm And I’m leaning You said to trust in Your love And I’m trusting You said to call on Your name And I’m calling I’m stepping out on Your word.
Into the alleys Into the byways Into the streets And the roads And the highways Past rumor mongers And midnight ramblers Past the liars and the cheaters and the gamblers. On Your word On Your word. On the wonderful word of the Son of God. I’m stepping out on Your word. ~Maya Angelou from “Just Like Job”
Once again — and again and again — bullets have been fired out of evil intent by disturbed and hate-filled men, striking down people who look (and are) just like us.
Weeping never needs translation or interpretation, no matter what color cheeks they moisten.
Distrust and fear continue to impact us daily, settling like a shroud over the most routine activities – going to school, going grocery shopping, going to church. It isn’t just a virus that threatens us; it is being targeted in someone’s gun sight.
In order to even walk out the door in the morning, we must fall back on what we are told, each and every day, in 365 different verses in God’s Word itself:
Do not be overwhelmed with evil but overcome evil with good.
We shall overcome despite evil and our fear of each other.
The goal of this life is to live for others, to live in such a way that death cannot erase the meaning and significance of a life. We are called to give up our selfish agendas in order to consider the dignity of others and their greater good. We are called to keep weapons out of the hands of those who would use them to harm themselves or others, which means better screening, longer waiting periods, improved tracking of ownership.
It is crystal clear from Christ’s example as we observe His journey to the cross over the next week: we are to cherish life, all lives, born and unborn, even unto death. Christ forgave those who hated and murdered Him.
Our only defense against the evil we witness is God’s offense. Only God can lead us to Tolkien’s “where everything sad will come untrue”, where we shall live in peace, walk hand in hand, no longer alone, no longer afraid, no longer shedding tears of grief and sorrow, but tears of relief and joy.
We shall all be free. We shall overcome because God does.
We shall overcome
We shall live in peace
We’ll walk hand in hand
We shall all be free
We are not afraid
We are not alone
God will see us through
We shall overcome
Oh, deep in my heart I do believe We shall overcome some day
The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. So it goes. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction…. The chain reaction of evil — hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars — must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation. ~Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. from Strength to Love
Dawn was defeating now the last hours sung by night, which fled before it. And far away I recognized the tremblings of the sea. Alone, we walked along the open plain, as though, returning to a path we’d lost, our steps, until we came to that, were vain. Then, at a place in shadow where the dew still fought against the sun and, cooled by breeze, had scarcely yet been sent out into vapor, my master placed the palms of both his hands, spread wide, lightly and gently on the tender grass. And I, aware of what his purpose was, offered my tear-stained cheeks to meet his touch. At which, he made once more entirely clean the color that the dark of Hell had hidden. ~Dante from The Divine Comedy, II Purgatorio,Canto 1 lines 115−29
For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 2 Corinthians 4: 6
This morning after turning our clocks ahead an hour, I eagerly looked out the window seeking a reprieve from interminable darkness. I seek the promise of being led back into the light that is suddenly an hour delayed. It is the simple knowledge that as things change, they may get lighter and brighter.
So I harvest hope.
God made light through His Word, not once but at least three times. In the beginning, He created the sun and the moon to penetrate and illuminate the creation of our hearts and our souls. In the stable He came to light the world from below as well as from above so those hearts and souls could be saved from self-destruction. In the tomb, He rolled back the stone and raised His Son from the dead, the ultimate defeat of darkness.
I am showered with the cleansing dew of His light, lit from the glory of God reflected in the many faces of Jesus: as newborn, child teacher, working carpenter, healer, itinerant preacher, unjustly condemned, dying and dead, raised and ascended Son of God.
Let the dark days come as they certainly will. They cannot overwhelm me now, lit from within, cleansed inside and out, no matter how deeply the darkness oppresses.
I know His promise. I know His face. He knows I know.
Prayer the church’s banquet, angel’s age, God’s breath in man returning to his birth, The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage, The Christian plummet sounding heav’n and earth Engine against th’ Almighty, sinner’s tow’r, Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear, The six-days world transposing in an hour, A kind of tune, which all things hear and fear; Softness, and peace, and joy, and love, and bliss, Exalted manna, gladness of the best, Heaven in ordinary, man well drest, The milky way, the bird of Paradise, Church-bells beyond the stars heard, the soul’s blood, The land of spices; something understood. ~George Herbert “Prayer”
Prayer is my refuge – a renewal, refreshment, reconciliation, reassurance. My time to weep. My time for awe. My time to praise. My time for gratitude:
A kind of tune, which all things hear and fear; Softness, and peace, and joy, and love, and bliss, Exalted manna, gladness of the best, Heaven in ordinary…
How else can I know I have the ear of God who puts heaven within my reach of my voice and my words– I am understood by the Creator of the Universe, no less than He.
May you see God’s light on the path ahead when the road you walk is dark. May you always hear even in your hour of sorrow the gentle singing of the lark. When times are hard may hardness never turn your heart to stone. May you always remember when the shadows fall– You do not walk alone. ~Traditional Irish Blessing
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.