Wednesday, March 31, 2021

The Melody of Lent

 


 

I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness
Where is death's sting?
Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.

 

There is a shift from yesterday to today.  Yesterday, we heard the pain from Henry Francis Lyte’s life, but we also heard his faithfulness.  Yesterday, we spent time dwelling in the wounds and wants of life, but perhaps in hearing Lyte’s story you sensed strength and the sacred stirring.  So often, we turn life into either/or choices.  We are either happy or sad.  We are either living the dream or the sky is falling.  Yet, our lives are complex enough to hold two competing, even contradictory, emotions.  We are not taught how to dwell or abide in such tension.  Rather, we let one emotion rule and run over all other emotions.  We decide that everything is coming up roses or going to you-know-where in a handbasket.  Yet, to sit with the messiness of our lives might be the doorway we need.

I invite you today into a time of meditation.  Sit in a chair with your feet touching the floor, especially focus that the heels are firmly touching the ground.  While your back is straight, your shoulders relax, sink and settle into your chair.  Notice your breathing.  Christine Runyan says this, “There’s various techniques you can do with the breath, but if you’re going do one thing, a long exhale, because that’s part of our sympathetic nervous system, that dorsal part of our sympathetic nervous system that activates our calming — so, a long exhale. The inhale can have an activation part; a long exhale can — that alone can be quite calming, although there are some other breath techniques that one can use as well.”

For example, you can breathe in to the count of four and exhale to the count of six (you want your exhale to be longer than your inhale).  Or you can inhale to the count of five, hold gently to the count of six, and exhale to the count of seven or eight. 

Just breathe today.  Remember that one name for God, Yahweh, sounds like breath.  Yahweh, the name God gives Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 3), is made up of the sound of inhaling (Yah) and exhaling (weh).  You may even want to try that breathing in with the word, “Yah” and exhale with the word, “Weh”.  Image God dwelling and abiding right beside you in this holy moment.

Prayer: Breathe on me, breath of God, filling me with life anew.  Amen. 

 


Tuesday, March 30, 2021

The Melody of Lent

 



Swift to its close ebbs out life's little day
Earth's joys grow dim, its glories pass away
Change and decay in all around I see
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.

A bit of history of this hymn.  The words were written by  Henry Francis Lyte.  He was an Anglican minister.  Lyte’s story is one of heartbreak.  He did not have a good childhood, with his father abandoning him and his brother.  Lyte was able to receive a good education.  He spoke Latin, Greek, and French; enjoyed discussing literature; and played the flute.  But, Lyte had significant health issues.  When Lyte penned this hymn is debated.  Some say he wrote it for a friend whose hand Lyte held while his friend was dying and others say he wrote it after he preached his final sermon. 

His daughter, Anna Maria Maxwell Hogg, recounts the story of how "Abide with Me" came out of that context:

The summer was passing away, and the month of September arrived, and each day seemed to have a special value as being one day nearer his departure. His family were surprised and almost alarmed at his announcing his intention of preaching once more to his people. His weakness and the possible danger attending the effort, were urged to prevent it, but in vain. "It was better", as he used to say often playfully, when in comparative health, "to wear out than to rust out". He felt that he should be enabled to fulfil his wish and feared not for the result. His expectation was well founded. He did preach, and amid the breathless attention of his hearers, gave them a sermon on the Holy Communion ... In the evening of the same day he placed in the hands of a near and dear relative the little hymn, "Abide with Me", with an air of his own composing, adapted to the words.  Just weeks later, on November 20, 1847, Lyte died. The hymn was sung for the very first time at Lyte's funeral. 

In those words, I hear the second verse differently.  I hear Lyte’s own realization of how life can fade away.  That sometimes the things we seek and see as so important in life, end up not being so vital in the end.  Yet, God’s persistent presence, God’s prayerful abiding and faithfulness, is where we long to dwell.  I invite you again to hold each of these lines and let them connect to your life.  Where are things passing away right now, coming to an end?  What was so important a week ago, a month ago, or a year ago, suddenly doesn’t seem so big?  Where do you see decay around you?  How might each of these places be a dwelling space for God?  That final question is the one that gets me.  I can make a list of my laments, but to then ask, where is God in this, reframes and refocuses my attention.  Holy Week reminds us that God abides in the struggle, strain, stress, and even suffering.  Not that God causes this, not that God uses these moments to teach us a lesson – although we might learn something - not that God throws lightening bolts.  And yet, God can be found in the midnight of our souls.  To be open to the abiding presence of God in the uncertainty is a profound truth this hymn, and Lyte’s own story, point us toward.

Prayer: Abiding God open me to the places and spaces that are confining and confounding as still having room for You to move.  Amen.


Monday, March 29, 2021

The Melody of Lent

 


Abide with me, fast falls the eventide
The darkness deepens Lord, with me abide
When other helpers fail and comforts flee
Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me.


The word “Abide” is not exactly one that falls from my lips most days.  I don’t say, “I will abide in this line at the grocery story.”  Or, I will abide with my family in this abode.  Although, that last sentence has a kind of cool 18th century English vibe to it.  The word “Abide” is synonymous with words like, “remain, wait, and dwell” (hold onto that last alternative, I will come back to it).  Often, that list is what happens to us.  We are told to wait in a doctor’s office or as a kid told to say remain right there.  Waiting puts us in a position where we are no longer in control.  So, initially abide doesn’t seem like something you want to do.  Until you consider that the hymn adds the word “with” to “Abide”.  For me, there is a sudden shift and breaking open.  Abide with means to stay with (someone) or to live with someone.  Suddenly, abide has agency and choice.  You can select where you stay and with whom you live.  You have a say. 

Abide is both an invitation from us and for us.  Abide is both a situation we are put into and we can decide to put ourselves into, which is where the word, “dwell” comes into play. 

Where are you dwelling (or abiding) right now?

You could answer that question physically – by describing your surroundings – are you inside or outside – in a place you want to be?

You could answer that question spiritually – how is your soul right now?

You could answer that question emotionally – how heavy or light is your heart?

As we enter, abide, reside, and dwell in our holiest week, I invite you to pray the words of this hymn slowly.  You can sing the words softly, for God to dwell with you.  You can belt out these words loudly as a passionate plea, cry for God to be with you as you try to emerge from the COVID cocoon, unsure what is safe or not.  Hold each line in your heart.  Where do you need God to abide?  Where do you feel the darkness deepen right now?  Where have other helpers (things you have turned to like retreats or the church or other people) failed to abide?

I pray this Holy week, you might hear your story in the story of Jesus facing the cross.  Moreover, I pray you will sense God’s abiding presence with you now and every day for months to come.

Prayer: Abide with us, O God, in these days send us Your love, power, and grace we need every day.  Amen.


Friday, March 26, 2021

The Melody of Lent

 


I love to tell the story, for those who know it best seem hungering and thirsting to hear it like the rest. And when I sing in glory, I know the new, new song will be the old, old story that I have loved so long.  I love to tell the story; and when I am in glory I'll tell the old, old story of Jesus' endless love.

 We wrap up and wind down another week.  I pray you have found the meditations this week meaningful and insightful – not only into a beautiful hymn but into the stories you tell others.  Two quick thoughts about the fourth and final verse.  First, I believe that we don’t have to wait until we are in heaven to sing in glory.  We sing in glory anytime we let God’s story embrace and be embodied in our story.  And singing doesn’t always mean vocalizations coming out of my mouth.  I sing in glory on Palm Sunday as I wave my palm branch while my heart silently cries out, “Hosanna”.  I sing in glory on Maundy Thursday as I break bread in stillness letting the spirit meet each of us.  I sing in glory on Good Friday – softly and tenderly in the face of God’s vulnerability on the cross.  I sing in glory on Easter when the mystery of God’s unceasing love breaks forth from the tomb.  I sing in glory every day that I remember the truth that God is always present and part of my life.  How I sing, whether I am in tune with God’s good news, and if I only do so half-heartedly – all that is up to each of us every day.

Second, when we are hungering and thirsting, we are longing for connections and community.  Humans are social beings.  This is because we are created by a divine dance of the Trinity – God and Christ and the Spirit are all in relationship.  To be crafted, created by that source means we will all crave connection.  Part of the pain of this pandemic is both that we cannot sing together and part is that we cannot be together to see each other.  Part of the pain is that telling your story to a screen over zoom or into the phone just isn’t the same.  I pray that as we emerge from the tomb (or could also be a womb) of the COVID cocoon, we will do so prayerfully and intentionally and hopefully and lovingly and telling a story that is bigger than any of us, but in which we can find ourselves.

If we can do that…my friends…we will discover the good news of God’s love that we can share with others.  May it be so for you and me.  May God’s love enfold and hold you as we enter our holiest week this coming Sunday.  Amen.


Thursday, March 25, 2021

The Melody of Lent

 



You are invited to read prayerfully or sing the third verse of our hymn of the week:

I love to tell the story; it’s pleasant to repeat what seems, each time I tell it, more wonderfully sweet.

I love to tell the story, for some have never heard the message of salvation from God's own holy Word. I love to tell the story; and when I am in glory I'll tell the old, old story of Jesus' endless love.


We are leaning in and listening to the words of Kathrine Hankey’s hymn, I love to Tell the Story.  The third verse points out that we love to repeat and re-tell stories.  Each time we tell a good story, there is a new dimension to experience and explore.  This is true of scripture.  Each time I hear the Parable of the Prodigal Son there is some fresh, new, different – because I am different.  I hear word in a new way because this old, old beloved story is being filtered through experiences and encounters.  Maybe I hear how the younger son wandered away, thinking about how my kids will in just a few years will wander away to college.  Or I hear about the frustration of the older brother and I think about all the ways we as a people right now cling to our own anger and right-ness in our political/communal life together.  Or I think about the care of the father to go to both sons, inviting each to the party, how might I meet people where they are rather then where I am?

What stories do you repeat?  Are you always the hero or shero of your stories?  That is, do you always do the right thing and save the day when you tell a story?  Or are you always the bumbling and stumbling comic relief in the story?  Because the deeper truth is that we are both.  Do you only tell stories about struggle and stress?  Or do you share stories that evoke and provoke the prayerful healing art of laughter? 

Today, listen and lean in to your stories, especially the ones you return to when you meet someone new.  Today, you may want to even go and read a favorite Bible passage (like the Prodigal Son, Luke 15 or Psalm 23), pay attention to the ways your mind/heart/soul are interpreting the words of the story through your story.

Prayer: God help me hear the undercurrents of what I share as ways I am revealing the deepest truths about myself.  Amen.


Wednesday, March 24, 2021

The Melody of Lent

 



Please listen to the choir above and then slowly read the verses ~ or sing the words!

I love to tell the story of unseen things above, Of Jesus' radiant glory, of Jesus' endless love.
I love to tell the story, because I know it's true; it satisfies my longings as nothing else can do.
I love to tell the story; and when I am in glory I'll tell the old, old story of Jesus' endless love.

 

I love to tell the story; more wonderful it seems than all the golden visions of all our golden dreams.

I love to tell the story, I tell it now to you because I want to share it, because I know it's true.

I love to tell the story; and when I am in glory I'll tell the old, old story of Jesus' endless love.

 

I love to tell the story; it’s pleasant to repeat what seems, each time I tell it, more wonderfully sweet.

I love to tell the story, for some have never heard the message of salvation from God's own holy Word. I love to tell the story; and when I am in glory I'll tell the old, old story of Jesus' endless love.

 

I love to tell the story, for those who know it best seem hungering and thirsting to hear it like the rest. And when I sing in glory, I know the new, new song will be the old, old story that I have loved so long.  I love to tell the story; and when I am in glory I'll tell the old, old story of Jesus' endless love.

 

The second verse of this hymn speaks of “golden visions…golden dreams.”  Stories share the deepest part of ourselves with other.  Underneath the words we use when talking and telling someone about our days are our values, our emotions, our politics, our faith, our ancestors, and our dreams.

 

And you thought you were just talking about the weather!

 

Seriously, when you talk about the weather, you could talk about it being, “partly cloudy” or “partly sunny”.  You could listen to the clouds as they sail across the sky or be so busy studying the screen of your phone that miss wisdom the clouds offer.  You could pay attention to what is on your path or be so busy pushing forward that you are the proverbial bull in a glass shop. 

 

Again, you thought you were just talking about the weather!

 

Today, I invite you to pay attention to one story you share with another person.  After a conversation, pause, rewind/remember the story.  Did you emphasize the positive of what was happening or the negative?  Did you allow for mystery/curiosity or were you so certain you had it all figured out?  Did you feel anger causing your shoulders to tense or did you allow for laughter to sit with your seriousness?  Listen to your own story and what is beneath/behind the words you are using to create the world you inhabit.

 

God, help me tell my story in a way that is in concert/connected to Your story.  Amen.


Tuesday, March 23, 2021

The Melody of Lent

 


I love to tell the story; more wonderful it seems than all the golden visions of all our golden dreams.

I love to tell the story, I tell it now to you because I want to share it, because I know it's true.

I love to tell the story; and when I am in glory I'll tell the old, old story of Jesus' endless love.

This hymn is written by Kathrine Hankey, who was an English missionary and nurse.  Her father was a prosperous banker in London and was raised Anglican.  She was inspired by a Methodist rival and decided to assist her brother in his missionary work. Hankey had a serious illness while on a mission in Africa. During her long days of convalescence, she wrote on the life of Jesus in 1866 in two parts. The first part was a poem of fifty stanzas, titled "The Story Wanted" (dated January 29, 1866) and second part titled "The Story Told" (dated November 18, 1866).  It is second part that the words above are taken from.

But what I find fascinating is that she wrote this during an illness.  This makes me wonder what wisdom can be born out of this time of a pandemic and upheaval?  When you look back at the last year, what story would you tell?  What tone and tenor does it have?  If we are not careful, our minds are too controlled by cynicism – as if that is the highest form of critical thinking.  I sometimes wonder if part of my education has taught me only to deconstruct everything, point out the flaws and shortcomings as the way to show that I was “critically thinking”.  So, when it comes to examining and exploring my life, I do the same thing!  In my own story narration, I constantly point out my fumbles and stumbles. 

But what if, there is another way?  A way of curiosity?  A way that stays open to researching your life – after all you are a fascinating living, breathing being!  Try this, rather than saying, “Good Lord, why in the world did I say that?!?  I am such a bonehead.”  What if you re-phrase it, “Good and gracious God, the words that just fell from my mouth, I am not sure about.  Help me sort through the why of this.” 

See what that does?  I just heard someone say, we should all wear white lab coats as we research our own lives in the present tense.  Rather than jumping to conclusions and clinging to opinions, to stay open to what God is doing. 

I am inspired by Hankey, who could have wallowed and stared out the window while recovering.  Instead, she took a pen and paper and wrote a poem!  While you don’t have to write a poem, you could just write down your thoughts in a non-judgmental way.  You could write down the story that is on a loop in your mind right now, replaying in your life.  You could write a hymn or what God is up to in your life.  Or you could color a picture.  Or you could paint.  Let this hymn do more than stay stuck in your mind, let these words and how they were created sink and settle into your soul. 

 


Monday, March 22, 2021

The Melody of Lent

 


I love to tell the story of unseen things above, Of Jesus' radiant glory, of Jesus' endless love.
I love to tell the story, because I know it's true; it satisfies my longings as nothing else can do.
I love to tell the story; and when I am in glory I'll tell the old, old story of Jesus' endless love.

 

Almost twenty year ago, this hymn was sung at my ordination.  The music and melody are part of the soundtrack to my soul.  Part of my love for this hymn is the words give expression to my deep affection and connection to scripture.  I am endlessly fascinated by the Bible ~ the profound and powerful truths of the stories found there.  Within the tiny words on razor thin pages of the Bible I find my story connecting to a bigger, bolder, more beautiful story.  Genesis 1 teaches and tells me how God crafted/created/ loved all of us into being in God’s image – what can be called original goodness/blessing.  Genesis 2 teaches and tells me about how God sinks God’s fingers into the soil fashioning and forming us of the earth.  We are connected to creation and dirt is a beautiful part of who we are.  Genesis 3 teaches and tells us that we go astray, we hide, and we get separated from the sacred stirring.

 

Wait, you are thinking, is he going to do the whole Bible?  I might need another cup of coffee!

 

When the writer of this hymn, Kathrine Hankey, says that scripture story satisfies my longings as nothing else, I feel like she is preaching to me. 

 

I want to invite you to read these words aloud, slowly.  You may want to read the words like you were speaking to a small infant in your arms, trying to convey one of the deepest truths in the world.  You may even cradle your arms.  OR you may want to go outside and witness to the world this truth.  Or, you could do both.  But please, don’t read these words in a monotone voice with all the enthusiasm of Eeyore.

 

You could also sing the words, seeing where you place/put the emphasis.  Which phrase cause your soul to surge, and which ones leave you puzzled or pondering?  We are on the cusp of telling our greatest story, the story of Holy Week, starts next Sunday, March 28th with a Palm Sunday Parade.  Before we arrive there, let us till and tend the ground of our being to be open to the power of story.  Just in case the word, “story” seems to simplistic or not serious enough when dealing with Scripture, please know that stories is how we make sense of the world. Joan Didion says correctly, “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.”  Imagine a world where there are not stories, I don’t know if I even can!  God loves stories, that is what the Bible is!  The larger stories of Scripture connect to your story and mine when we open ourselves.  The power of Scripture is that in finding our individual self in Scripture – we also find each other.  I can recognize the way the words connect to you and you can do the same for me.  Carl Sessions Stepp says, “Stories are the way to capture the hopes, dreams and visions of a culture. They are true as much as data are true. The truth of the powerful and irresistible story illustrates in a way data can’t begin to capture. It’s the stories that make you understand.”

As you read the hymn, think about how your story, YOUR life reflects the radiant glory of Jesus’ endless love.  How does your life today tell, teach, preach, and proclaim God’s presence making a difference? 

May these words and music become a soundtrack to your soul this day and this week.  Amen!


Friday, March 19, 2021

The Melody of Lent


 

We wind down and wrap up another week.  As has been the practice, I want to give you space to name and notice your learnings this week.

What new insight did you learn that was meaningful?

What questions did this hymn awaken?

When did this hymn help you find joy in this world?

How might this hymn help you as we journey closer to Jerusalem with Jesus and prepare for Holy Week?

If you have not already, I invite you to post a comment of an encounter with joy from this week.  I invite this because I do believe joy is generative and seeing/hearing your joy awakens joy within me! 

So may you, my brothers and sisters, discover a joy that the world doesn’t give – God gives.  May you discover a joy that can live with the brokenness with an insistence that both can co-exist.  May you sense a joy that the world can’t take away, but you can give away, because there are always new joys formed and fashioned by our still creating God.  Let that joy be our prayer this day and every day.  Amen.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

The Melody of Lent

 Please sing/pray the fourth verse of Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee with me:


Mortals, join the mighty chorus, Which the morning stars began;
Boundless love is reigning o’er us, reconciling race and clan.
Ever singing, move we forward, faithful in the midst of strife;
Joyful music leads us onward In the triumph song of life.

 

By the fourth and final stanza, we are invited to join with God, the composer and conductor of joy.  We join with creation belting out the tune.  We join with a love that is leading us; into a song that began long before any of us were born and will continue when we are gone.  You see, we did not write the song.  We lend our voice, we offer our presence, we participate with gusto, but the credit for composition goes to the giver of immortal gladness.

In our culture we are caught in a cycle both of cynicism and individualization and wanting to show others how smart/faithful/awesome we are.  There is a challenge in this fourth verse that life is not all about you or having it your way.  We are called to be part of the choir.  The deeper truth is that today, we don’t feel like we are on the same page of music or even in the same song.  The dissonance and discord we feel is real.  And we are so accustomed to pointing out the brokenness and less-than-perfectness of life that we don’t know how to join with each other.  The cultural script we are given is to blame/shame and it is the one that our leaders too often embrace/embody.  Political parties bicker bitterly and can’t stand it if the other side does something good, so they tear down.  Churches can get caught in competition, we look around to see if another church has better attendance, a bigger budget, or more staff – constantly comparing.  Even social media is about trying to “trend” and collect “likes”, but we know that is fragile and fades the moment something because popular.  In some ways, we have been tearing down the structures around us for decades.  Pointing out the flaws (which are many).  But in deconstructing everything, we wonder why everything is in shambles and pieces, because we were too busy pointing out all the places where the whole thing was broken.  It was a vicious cycle that led us here. 

And perhaps one pathway is to try to find places of joy.  To reconcile means to be rejoined.  Joy can be the glue that starts to hold the whole project together.  Unlike some resources that are finite and will run out, joy is generative, grows with each moment it is passed along.  The more joy is offered/accepted (both are important for joy that is refused or rejected doesn’t have the same impact), the more it because a light to our lives and the world.  For example, I share these devotionals of joy, maybe you forward this to someone you know who I may never meet, that person in turn tries to offer joy to someone else, who in turn does the same.  You can start to see how joy feeds and fuels itself.  To be sure, pain can work the same way.  To be sure, being a grumpy Gus works the same way.  To be sure, as we have said all week, we need to build the spiritual muscle of “And”.  I can be hurt by the wounds of the world and amazed by the grace of others.  I can cry tears of grief and express gratitude of joy of love.  Our lives are not caught in junior high of only have one best friend, we can have two emotions sitting within us at the same time, if we are willing to lean into the beautiful tension that creates.  I was not taught or ever told this in life.  It isn’t like my Sunday School teacher had a flannel cut out of the emotions sitting in my heart and helped me process the ways the two could actually life together!  I was taught either or thinking.  If you are sad, then you can’t also be happy.  If someone else gets a new car, you must be falling behind.  If someone wins the trophy of life (as if that is actually a thing), then you must have lost.

The word, “And” refuses and rejects either/or thinking.  And says, I can be both heartbroken and heart warmed by this world.  And says, I can enjoy riding in someone’s new car without feeling like I need to go to the dealership.  And says, there is no trophy for winning life, there is a song of God’s joy that we can sing, even when our voice isn’t ever going to make a solo record.

To live the “And” of life is what joy – and I believe one of the best invitations of Lent – can be.  I pray you and I will live/explore/encounter/embrace/experience this truth every day.  Amen!

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

The Melody of Lent


 

You are giving and forgiving, Ever blessing, ever blessed,
Well-spring of the joy of living, Ocean-depth of happy rest!
Loving Spirit, Father and Mother, all who love belong to you;
Teach us how to love each other, by that love our joy renew.


Henry van Dyke originally wrote the words of this hymn as a poem in 1907.  He said, 

“These verses are simple expressions of common Christian feelings and desires in this present time—hymns of today that may be sung together by people who know the thought of the age, and are not afraid that any truth of science will destroy religion, or any revolution on earth overthrow the kingdom of heaven. Therefore this is a hymn of trust and joy and hope.” 

100 years ago, van Dyke tried to give voice to a faithfulness that was grounded not in human doing, but in human being – being part of God’s world and participating in God’s creativity.  The final line of this third stanza is particularly powerful to me, “Teach us how to love each other, by that love our joy renew.”  Often times, we use the words, “joy” and “happiness” inter-changeable.  But happiness is an emotion that is awoken because of an experience of an unspeakable joy.  While you might be able to put on a happy face, even if it is forced – joy doesn’t work that way.  Joy is an openness and realization that God is at work in this world.  Joy is a gift from the One who is the immortal giver.  As you read the third verse of our hymn this week – or if you are willing to sing these words to yourself - I invite you to ponder a few questions:

How do you sense God melting away cloud of sorrow?  How does joy break through beyond your control and comprehension?

How does creation offer testimony to God’s presence right here and right now in your life?

How might God’s love embodied in family and friends renew your joy?

How are you living the “And” of life?  That life is both bruised and beautiful – both flawed and fabulous – both disjointed and joyful.  Let God’s transforming grace into the tensions of life – perhaps not to solve that tension – but to sit with you in it with strength and love that can renew.

May these questions awaken prayers of joy within you today.  And remember you are invited to write a joy in the comment section.    

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

The Melody of Lent



All Your works with joy surround You, Earth and heav'n reflect Your rays,
Stars and angels sing around You, Center of unbroken praise;
Field and forest, vale and mountain, Flow'ry meadow, flashing sea,
Chanting bird and flowing fountain Praising You eternally!

Creation is God’s first testament.  You see, God, in the beginning didn’t decide to write a best-selling book, The Bible.  God wrote God’s love upon trees, flowers, oceans, carrots, sweet potatoes, chocolate, dogs and cats, elephants; the world testifies to God’s creativity.  Hymnologist (which is one of the best jobs ever!) Albert Bailey writes about our hymn this week, “Creation itself cannot conceal its joy, and that joy is appreciated by God the center of it all; likewise all nature fills us with joy, caused fundamentally by our recognition of God as the giver.”  We explored this yesterday, God is a “giver of immortal gladness” not just to us as humans but to all creation. 

I hear you saying, “But what about…”  One of the ways we are taught to think is to see the holes in others thinking.  We are taught to be critical and that the best/brightest are those who point out all the places where someone has said something less than brilliant.  I wonder if such critical thinking has left us cold and cynical?  In our efforts to deconstruct and dismantle the world, now all we have are the pieces of life scattered across the floor with no idea how to put things back together.  Like a kid who has taken apart a bicycle and can’t figure how to make it whole again.  When we constantly point out the flaws and fumbles, the less-than-perfectness, we realize nothing measures up. 

This cycle might not be healthy for our souls, especially when we are caught in either/or processes; especially when everything is rated and ranked in our world, especially when only winning matters.  The moment something or someone becomes number one, we start throwing stones.  I believe this hymn is right, that only creation can realign and restore our wounded spirits. 

Go outside today.  I realize depending on where you live, this might mean you need a warm coat.  Do it any way, even if it is for five minutes.  Just be, listen to the melody/music of the world.  The birds singing, squirrels scurrying, sprouts starting to burst/break through the soil, grass turning green.  Smell creation’s goodness.  You may even what to pick up some soil and dirt – because dirt has anti-depressants in it and dirt can help heal us.  What do you see, smell, hear, experience and encounter?  Don’t just listen to this hymn, but let it guide your living today.

Prayer: Help my life get caught up in the eternal praise of creation today!

P.S. Remember to post a joy in the comment section. 


Monday, March 15, 2021

The Melody of Lent


 

Joyful, joyful, we adore You, God of glory, Lord of love;
Hearts unfold like flow'rs before You, Op'ning to the sun above.
Melt the clouds of sin and sadness; Drive the dark of doubt away;
Giver of immortal gladness, Fill us with the light of day!

This week we will turn and tune our hearts toward the hymn, “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore You.”  But wait, you say, isn’t this Lent?  Are we allowed to talk about joy during Lent?  Great questions, my response is: yes and yes!  Joy can feed and fuel our lives regardless of the season.  Lent need not be only serious and somber.  Laughter and joy are prayers to God!  Too often, faith can come across as dour and deary, like a gray day that refuses to release any rain to refresh the earth.  Rather it is just gloomy clouds congregating, collaborating, and conspiring to block any vitamin D from the sun reaching us.  Piousness that lacks playfulness perhaps isn’t the real goal of religion.  Yet, how often have you heard about joy as a spiritual practice?  Have you ever heard that?  Joy as the juice on which life can run.  Joy as the telos (that is goal, calling, center) of what we are about as people of faith. 

I think of E.B. White who once said, “I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve (or save) the world and a desire to enjoy (or savor) the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.”  To be sure, I have that litany of lament about our world today on repeat in my soul.  To be sure, I feel weighted down, worn out by the pandemic, political posturing and pontificating and point scoring, racism that still treats God’s beloved as less than, discrimination, people I love who are in pain…the list could go on.  And (which is one of the most important words I know) there is the beauty of laughing with my family, watching a Netflix show, walking with my wife, petting my dog, sitting in the sun with a cool breeze.  E.B. White was right, how do you plan the day when there is much to do and the call to be in this moment. 

And is the operative word.  We need to find ways out of either/or thinking.  That two thoughts can actually exist at the same time in my heart without one having to rule the other.  Life is more than middle school friendships where you are forced to always pick which friend you liked better.  So, I can be both heartbroken by the world and hopefully that today doesn’t need to be the same as yesterday.  I can be both sad at the stories in the news and delighting in the love of family.  I don’t have to feel guilty about enjoying a piece of dark chocolate and I can make sure to send a bit of my stimulus check to the food pantry so others can communion with me in the dark chocolate I am convinced Jesus would have loved too. 

When God is the giver of immortal (unending, unceasing, unconditional) gladness, we can be both in the beauty and brokenness of this day.  Lent can be a time of reflection and joy, if we live in the “and” of life.  I pray the words of this hymn today awaken you to God’s joy and that this week we might explore and experience and encounter holy joy together. 

Prayer: Let Your immortal gladness swirl and stir around and within me each hour this day.

P.S. I invite you this week to keep track three moments of joy each day.  I also encourage you to post one of those in the comment section.


Friday, March 12, 2021

The Melody of Lent

 



 

Today, I want to offer space for you to name and notice your learnings this week.

What new insight did you learn that was meaningful?

What questions and beautiful doubts did this hymn awaken?

When did this hymn help you feel Nearer, My God, to Thee?

How might this hymn help you as we journey closer to Jerusalem with Jesus and creep up on Holy Week?

Sit with this hymn, letting the words and melody hover and hang within you and around you.  And may you sense more than a trace of God’s grace every day.  Amen.

 


Thursday, March 11, 2021

The Melody of Lent

Nearer, my God, to you, nearer to you.  I’ll bear the cross as Christ calls me to do and pray each day anew; Nearer my God to you, nearer my God, to you, nearer to you.

When I am wandering as Jacob did, and in the deepest night the path is hid, my dreams will bring me too, Nearer my God to you, nearer my God, to you, nearer to you.

Let Jacob’s ladder fill the sky above, and angels carry down the faith and love to keep this goal in view, Nearer my God to you, nearer my God, to you, nearer to you.

Then, waking from the night to morning air by Bethel’s stone, I’ll know you heard my prayer, and how my yearning grew, Nearer my God to you, nearer my God, to you, nearer to you.

Part of the power of returning to a hymn/piece of music time and time again is you can explore the contours of what you are hearing.  You can sit with the marriage of tune and text.  You can enter in with both familiarity and freshness.  That is, I can hold the hymn both having had experience with this for four days now, but also open to what today, right now, will teach me.

A couple of questions ~ where do you long to be closer to God today, especially in moments of stress or strain?

Where is the path hid for you in your life?  Is there a situation or decision where you don’t know the way forward?

Where has been a glimpse/trace of God’s grace?  I would love to hear from you in the comments!

As you wake today, what is your yearning (or deepest desire or passionate prayer)?  Name this aloud so you can hear yourself speak the words.

As a prayer today, I share a wonderful version of Nearer My God To Thee by Sam Cooke and The Soul Stirrers above.  Enjoy!!

 

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

The Melody of Lent


 

Nearer, my God, to you, nearer to you.  I’ll bear the cross as Christ calls me to do and pray each day anew; Nearer my God to you, nearer my God, to you, nearer to you.

When I am wandering as Jacob did, and in the deepest night the path is hid, my dreams will bring me too, Nearer my God to you, nearer my God, to you, nearer to you.

Let Jacob’s ladder fill the sky above, and angels carry down the faith and love to keep this goal in view, Nearer my God to you, nearer my God, to you, nearer to you.

Then, waking from the night to morning air by Bethel’s stone, I’ll know you heard my prayer, and how my yearning grew, Nearer my God to you, nearer my God, to you, nearer to you.

So far, you have heard two stories this week.  On Monday, the story of Jacob on which this hymn is inspired.  Yesterday, the story of Sarah Flower Adams whose creativity and faithfulness wrote these beautiful words.  Today, I want you to listen and lean into your story with this hymn.

Where do you feel like you are carrying a cross?  Physically or emotionally or spiritually?  Where do you feel weary and worn out with wounds and wants?

Second, where do you feel like you are wandering?  On Ash Wednesday I suggested in my sermon that we are not pilgrims but nomads.  That we don’t know our destination or even the directions we are supposed to go.  But like nomads we wander, taking the next faithful step which could be backwards or side-wards or even no-wards!! 

Third, where have you had a Jacob like encounter and experience of God that surprised you this week so far?

Finally, fourth, where might this day you take a stone into your hands and pronounce that God is here and now in your less-than perfect life?

Prayer May this hymn be a soundtrack to our souls and lives this day.  Amen.


Tuesday, March 9, 2021

The Melody of Lent


 

Nearer, my God, to you, nearer to you.  I’ll bear the cross as Christ calls me to do and pray each day anew; Nearer my God to you, nearer my God, to you, nearer to you.

When I am wandering as Jacob did, and in the deepest night the path is hid, my dreams will bring me too, Nearer my God to you, nearer my God, to you, nearer to you.

Let Jacob’s ladder fill the sky above, and angels carry down the faith and love to keep this goal in view, Nearer my God to you, nearer my God, to you, nearer to you.

Then, waking from the night to morning air by Bethel’s stone, I’ll know you heard my prayer, and how my yearning grew, Nearer my God to you, nearer my God, to you, nearer to you.

This hymn was written by Sarah Fuller Flower Adams.  She was born February 22, 1805.  Her story is one of being on a trailblazer.  Since March is Women’s History Month, it is good to know a bit about her life.  Her parents encouraged her to be a free-thinker.   Adams broke the female record for climbing up Ben Lomond. She was friends with the poet, Robert Browning, the two often discussed religious doubts.  She was also encouraged by her pastor, William Johnson Fox, to question and explore her faith.  She was friends with the feminist philosopher Harriet Taylor Mill, who introduced Sarah to her husband, William Bridges Adams.  Adams supported and wanted his wife, Sarah, to act and write.  In 1841, she published her longest work, Vivia Perpetua, A Dramatic Poem. In this work, a young wife who refuses to submit to male control and renounce her Christian beliefs is put to death.  In 1840, she wrote 13 hymns, of which, “Nearer My God to Thee” was one.  Unfortunately, Adams died at the young age of 43, but she was known for her keen intellect and thoughtfulness and faithfulness.

As you listen again to the words of this hymn, how might knowing more about Adams’ story give you new insights to the depth of this hymn?  For me, I wonder if Jacob’s wrestling reflected Adams’ own wrestling with religion and faith and societal norms?  I wonder if she found moments of God’s grace as friends like Browning, Fox, Mill, and her husband encouraged her to be God-created self?  I hear now in this hymn longing for God to be near, especially when the night is long, the stars are not shining, and life feels difficult.  This beautiful hymn reminds us that doubt is not the opposite of faith.  Rather doubts can help feed and fuel our faith.  Doubts, questions can help drive and direct our faith.  Yet, unfortunately, church (as an institution historically) has not always seen this, preached this or encouraged this.  But, there have been faithful communities throughout time where women and men, young and old, rich and poor, black and white, gay and straight, all God’s children have sought to struggle and prayerfully call on God to meet us in our wrestling in such a time as this.  Our church stands on the shoulders of such fierce and faithful striving for the sacred.  Given the history of Sarah Fuller Adams, Nearer, My God, to Thee can be our anthem! 

Prayer: Wake us from the night to this morning tide with a trace of Your grace, O God, that we need every minute today.  Amen.


Monday, March 8, 2021

The Melody of Lent


 

Nearer, my God, to you, nearer to you.  I’ll bear the cross as Christ calls me to do and pray each day anew; Nearer my God to you, nearer my God, to you, nearer to you.

When I am wandering as Jacob did, and in the deepest night the path is hid, my dreams will bring me too, Nearer my God to you, nearer my God, to you, nearer to you.

Let Jacob’s ladder fill the sky above, and angels carry down the faith and love to keep this goal in view, Nearer my God to you, nearer my God, to you, nearer to you.

Then, waking from the night to morning air by Bethel’s stone, I’ll know you heard my prayer, and how my yearning grew, Nearer my God to you, nearer my God, to you, nearer to you.

Hymns tell a story.  So often when we are singing a hymn, we may not catch the unfolding narrative.  This hymn is based on Genesis 28, where Jacob sees angels ascending and descending the earth on a ladder.  A bit of backstory can help.  Jacob, and his fraternal twin brother, Esau, were born to Isaac and Rebekah.  Esau was born first, but Jacob came out holding his brother’s heel as if Jacob was willing himself to be the oldest.  There are stories that Esau and Jacob wrestled in the womb, which I am sure made for a great pregnancy (just kidding).  Jacob would wrestle his whole life long with feeling as if he was cheated out of the honor of being the first-born son.  Esau is described as a hairy man who liked to hunt.  I picture Esau like the actor/wrestler, Dwayne The Rock Johnson.  Jacob…well Jacob looks like me, which is the opposite of The Rock.  One day after Esau was out hunting (and apparently didn’t catch anything) he comes home famished.  Jacob has made a nice lentil stew which he “sells” to his brother Esau in exchange for that birthright blessing.  Ah, sibling rivalry, and you thought your family had problems!  And then Jacob goes, dresses like his brother Esau, tricks his dad, Isaac (whose eyesight was bad) into blessing him.  And Esau was just fine with all this.  I am totally kidding.  Of course, Esau fumed with frustration and flipped out about this.  So, Jacob ran away from home.  He ran so fast he left skid marks in the sand.  He ran until he could not run any more.  Exhausted, he takes a rock, puts it under his head, falls fast asleep and dreams of angels ascending and descending.  God blesses Jacob.  Jacob wakes up and says, “Surely God was in this place and I did not know it.”  He anoints, pours oil on that pillow rock, and calls the place Bethel, House of God.

And scene.

My first question is always, what do you mean God blesses this trickster, Jacob?  What do you mean God would promise God’s presence to someone whose ethic is Ben Franklin’s adage that God helps those who help themselves? 

My second question is do I miss God showing up in my life?  Do I miss the traces of God’s grace in my life?  How can I see the House of God here in the places and spaces I find myself?

Sometimes I can get so caught up in my first question, that I don’t ask the second question!

I wonder if hearing more about the story of Jacob on which this hymn is based and built helps open the hymn for you?  Go back, relisten to the hymn, sing along, and let the unfolding narrative speak to your story today.

Prayer: God bless the trickster within me  as I realize my own plotting and planning for today and help me live Jacob’s sermon that, “Surely You are right here and right now” in my life.  Amen.


Friday, March 5, 2021

The Melody of Lent

 


We wind down and wrap up another week of music helping us find meaning in such a time as this.  After four days of sharing with you my thoughts, it is good to give you space to breathe and be.  Rather than just pile on more words, I pray you will listen to what words are rising and roaming within you.  I want there to be space and a place to pay attention to your thoughts.  

To give space for you.

 

What new insight or idea came to you this week?  Any pictures you drew that you would like to post in the comments?  Any words/poems/prayers you created or crafted are welcome too!

 

What struggle still swirls restlessly within you?

 

What might be that next faithful step as we move toward the second week March? 

 

May these questions invoke and invite God’s listening, loving presence for you this day and throughout the days to come.


May traces of God’s grace be with you now more than ever. Amen.

 

 


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