There are times when sound does nothing but cause pain—the harsh words of disagreement, the disturbing reverberation of gunfire, the abrasive words of political battles, the crying of a baby. This Christmas season for me has been a tender time. I have longed for Christmases past that were more simple and free of worry. I have not heard this year the sound of Christmas bells ringing in this joyful season. Instead, I have needed to find a holy, silent place.
A dear friend captured my emotions in her blog today:
Many of us miss Christmas moments familiar from other years and expected for this one. Many of us miss someone so precious who was with us and will not be.
Perhaps mourning loss has made me unable to hear all the ”joyful and triumphant” sounds of Christmas. Instead of craving those familiar joyful sounds, I have been drawn to a place of silence. I feel compelled in these days to seek silent spaces and to open my soul to holy whispers. It seems that silence brings peace as nothing else can.
As I have thought through all that I feel, an old hymn came to mind. It seems to capture where my soul is right now. I will listen to it a few times today, as I try to rest in the silence I need, ”Let all the earth keep silence before him.”
I will also turn again to these comforting words in my friend’s blog:
Look around on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day for the tip of angel wing prepared for you.
If sounds of Christmas joy feel painful to you this year, I invite you to find the holy silence you need. As you do, listen to this calming hymn.
Most of all, I wish for you ”the tip of angel wing.”
I ran across this painting by Eric Dowdle as I was nursing a bit of holiday doldrums. It’s easy to fall into doldrums while anticipating Christmas. We expect an ”all is calm, all is bright” kind of Christmas, but sometimes that’s not reality at all. Instead, we can’t hear the singing of choirs, the sweet sounds of the organ or the ringing of Christmas bells.
When I look at this art, I see everything we long for as Christmas nears: a bright and beautiful tree with a sparking star on top, Santas everywhere and the people encircling the tree as if to say, ”Right here among us, there is peace on earth among people of good will.” If the painting miraculously had sound, I imagine I would hear the ringing of church bells heralding the magnificent coming of peace on earth.
Yet, we have reality in our sight instead of this joyful painting. Peace among us in these days, even peace within us, seems to be in short supply as division, war, poverty, and racial injustice continues to hold sway on our world. Not insignificant is that our personal relationships seem to be less than peaceful. The place within us where peace ought to be is often in chaos, filled with anxiety or just plain empty. Peace in our hearts and spirits—that sacred sense of serenity and inner calm—simply eludes us.
When my spirit is not at peace, I can barely see peace anywhere, even at Christmas. Such was the story of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow who wrote the words of the beloved carol, ”I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” Some of the stanzas of Longfellow’s beautiful poem are familiar to us, but other stanzas we have seldom, if ever, heard. Here is the poem in its entirety.
I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said;
"For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,With peace on earth, good will to all!
I cannot help but look around at what I see and hear on the streets of this city and all over the world and see despair, hatred, division and violence taking over the peace I so need. So as the carol says, ”And in despair I bowed my head; “There is no peace on earth,” I said;” For hate is strong, And mocks the song of peace on earth, good-will to men!”
As you seek peace this Christmas season, know that God is the giver of a deep peace that abides in our hearts. I invite you to take a few moments out of your day to enjoy these videos. The first is a choral and orchestra performance of the carol. The second is a lovely group of young people singing the hymn with the addition of handbells. The third is a beautiful performance by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir with the narrated story of Longfellow’s writing of the carol.
May the Christmas blessing of peace fill your heart, and may you hear, above all other sounds, the wild and sweet ringing of the bells of Christmas.
In this secondweekofAdvent, I am searching for peace. I feel a little like the prophet Jeremiah who said, ”They have treated the wound of my people carelessly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.” (Jeremiah 6:1)
Indeed, how difficult it is to embody a sense of peace when we look around us only to see yet another school shooting, yet another Covid variant (Omicron), yet another tragic example of police brutality, yet another child abused . . . and more, one after another un-peaceful thing in our world. Yet, one of our lectionary texts for this week seems to promise that peace can be within reach.
Through the tender mercy of our God, the Dayspring from on high has visited us; To give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, To guide our feet into the way of peace.
Luke 1:78-79 NKJV
But on this day, in the middle of Advent’s week of peace, I wonder how I might find even a bit of God’s promised peace. Peace remains elusive to me as I look around me at a world of chaos, discontent, oppression, unrelenting pandemic, fear, uncertainty and all manner of disturbance. ”I need peace of mind!” the people cry. If I have ears to hear their cry, and my own, I must own the reality that I need peace of mind, too. But I also need peace of the soul. I need deep down peace to make its way to where my emotions live.
Isn’t it true that Advent Peace is about soul transformation—the kind of transformation that stops with the decorating, baking, shopping and all things frenzy? Isn’t it true that instead of Christmas frenzy, all of us yearn for Advent peace?
And so I stop and close my eyes. I breathe slowly and deeply. Again. Again.Again. I breathe deeply and, as I slowly exhale, I feel my heart beating slower. I feel my arms relaxing and my muscles releasing the tightness they always hold on to.
I rest in arms of grace and listen for Spirit breeze that calms me. I contemplate what’s in my heart and wait silently to hear my soul’s whisper.
Does deep breathing allow the Spirit of Peace to envelop me with her tranquility? Do those few quiet moments take me to that place inside me where all is calm? It seems so, at least for a while. Interspersing my frenzied life with brief moments of contemplation makes all the difference in the world for me. I do sense Advent peace in those moments. Or is it that I reached down deeply enough into my soul and found the peace that was already there? Either way, I still held on to a few moments of peace.
If you and I are able to find that place of peace, we can then pass it on to others who need it and even to the chaotic world around us. During this week of Advent peace, wouldn’t it be wonderful to see dozens of random acts of peace? Whether that’s raking a neighbor’s yard, or taking a meal to a family with a new baby, or doing a home repair for an elderly couple, or sending a card, might we seek out someone who could use a little more peace in their lives?
When we reach out to other souls with random acts of peace, we give human form to the Peace of Christ. Christ clothes us in His humanity. We are His continuing incarnation in the world. These thoughts are described beautifully by Joseph B. Clower in his book, ”The Church in the Thought of Jesus.”
If the indwelling Christ is not confined, then our eyes flow with His tears, our hearts are moved with His compassion, our hands are coarsened with His labor, our feet are wearied with His walking among all people.
Now, take a slow, deep breath. Let it out. Take another breath. Contemplate the Prince of Peace and how much He wants peace for your life. Breathe deeply. Let it out.
Now keepbreathing, and find something peaceful to do today for another person who needs peace as much as you do—a random act of peace. Amen.
I invite you to spend a few moments of contemplation by listening to this video, Dona Nobis Pacem— Grant Us Peace.
I’m not sure I know what it feels like to have God “undo me with grace,” but I have learned how it feels to need more grace, to long for Spirit breezes to gently blow around me with winds of grace. I need grace for enduring illness, grace for being separated from my son and his family, especially my five grandchildren. I need grace when I’m angry or disappointed or heartbroken. I need grace when I feel like giving up and giving in. I need God’s grace — the grace of the Spirit — to help me live in this season of my life.
I read a provocative prayer today. It kind of grabbed at my heart, asking me what exactly is in my heart right now. It asked me what I’m struggling with. The brilliant writer of prayers, Diane Strickland, writes again and again in her prayer the words, ”Undo my life with your grace,” leaving me asking myself what might happen if God decided to undo my life, even through God would likely be merciful enough to undo my life with grace.
The truth is that those words so grabbed me that my prayer was, ”God, I think I need to let you undo my life.” Maybe I feel the need to re-do my life with string of second chances. Maybe I need forgiveness for regrets, release from memories of pain. Whatever it means to have one’s life undone by God, my heart responded, with longing, to this prayer.
O, my Creator,
In the injustice of my country I caught a glimpse of the bottom of the iceberg this week. I saw how my life lived above the waterline rests on wrong assumptions of privilege, great and small and many. I am cold inside. I don’t want to be cold inside.
Undo my life with your grace. Pick out the seams sewn by fear and mend the tears made by violence. Patch the holes that were always there from the start because I don’t know much about the rest of the world or how life works for others you love just as much as you love me.
Undo me with your grace. Shake out the fabric of me. Unfold and fold me anew. Reveal your image in there somewhere and surprise me with what You make of me when mercy prevails and justice leads and love accompanies us.
Undo me with your grace. I’ve lived a long time now, long enough to know there’s more to be if I can lay down what has mattered more than it needed to, and take up what I’ve barely used at all.
I don’t feel there’s so much wrong with me that we must start over. I feel there’s more of me somewhere that fits better for now and will make room for later. Release more gospel into my life and from my life. Warm me up again. Humble me with wisdom and truth and promise and hold me together with those same gifts.
Undo me with your grace. Just a little bit more today, Spirit. Just a little more.
“Undo me with your grace. Just a little bit more today, Spirit. Just a little more.”
As I reflected on those words, my thoughts ended up with this conclusion. I don’t need grace to extricate me or liberate me from all that is difficult, heartbreaking and oppressive about my life. But I definitely need Spirit wind to live my life.
I don’t need grace to rescue me. But I do need Spirit-grace that moves in my life with me, giving me life-saving and healing grace for each moment. I need Spirit because I have known her holy presence with me and I have learned to experience the wonder of being moved by wind wild and calm, her breeze blowing around me with both tender comfort and empowering promise.
With that kind of sacred promise, I can live into my life, not shrink from it or fear it. I can move into my life, whatever it brings, with Spirit’s blessing. That’s how she impels me to honor the grace I have received — by giving it away. Her winds have impelled me for many years to minister to God’s people, and I do not intend to stop now. My call from God was for life, not meant to expire when I retired or when my health failed.
I know that God gives grace for waning health and I have it on good authority that God gives “more grace when burdens grow greater.”* When I consider the grace that has so filled my life, I think of the story of Annie Johnson Flint who wrote the text of the hymn, ”He Giveth More Grace.”
Annie Johnson Flint, born in 1866, was an inspiration to all who knew her. This is just a tiny bit of her story. The fullness of Annie Johnson Flint’s story includes a life-long string of losses and difficulties. By the time she was six years old, she had lost her mother and father to illnesses and was adopted by a family named Flint. She loved poetry and dreamed of being a composer and concert pianist. After graduating from high school, Annie went on to become an elementary school teacher, but in her second year was afflicted with arthritis that steadily and quickly worsened. She lost her ability to walk, but she became a prolific writer of poems and hymn texts.
The many stories written about her stories tell how later in life she was unable to open her hands and could no longer write, yet continued to compose her on a typewriter using her knuckles. And that “she sought healing, but in the end she was thoroughly convinced that God intended to glory Himself through her, in her weak earthen vessel.”
The words of the hymn text she wrote, ”He Giveth More Grace,” reflect the many disheartening moments she experienced throughout her life. She died at the age of 66, leaving as her legacy so many faith-strengthening words, including these:
He giveth more grace when the burdens grow greater, He sendeth more strength when the labours increase; To added afflictions He addeth His mercy, To multiplied trials, His multiplied peace.
When we have exhausted our store of endurance, When our strength has failed ere the day is half done, When we reach the end of our hoarded resources Our Father’s full giving is only begun.
Fear not that your need shall exceed His provision, Our God ever yearns His resources to share; Lean hard on the arm everlasting, availing; The Father, both you and your load will upbear.
His love has no limits, His grace has no measure, His power no boundary known unto men; For out of His infinite riches in Jesus He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again.
I have loved this hymn for years in spite of its masculine language. It moves me and uplifts me. It always reminds me of the infinite grace I have known in my life. I hope you will listen to this hymn as a part of your contemplative time.
*Diane Strickland is in her 33rd year as an ordained minister now serving in The United Church of Canada as retired clergy. She is a Certified Community and Workplace Traumatologist, Compassion Fatigue Specialist-Therapist, and Critical Incident Responder, author and creator of trauma informed resources.
I feel exasperated sometimes with the constant ups and downs that are a normal part of my life. I would surmise that ups and downs are probably a part of your life, too.
Don’t we have a knack for riding them out on something akin to a roller coaster? I have truly become a master at riding out ups and downs since my kidney transplant, but then I never really wanted a roller coaster life. So much for life plans!
Even with ups and downs, I am comforted when my faith opens up insight I have gained over the years, like not worrying about tomorrow (Matthew 6:34), not leaning on my own understanding (Proverbs 3:5) and not being anxious about anything (Philippians 4:6-7). Those stay-the-course words should surely be enough to help, shouldn’t they?
Not always! Faith and spiritual maturity and scripture are simply not enough at times to keep me from the despondency of the “downs.” That’s just the way my psyche reacts when I feel down or when a circumstance pushes me down. The trouble is, things that get me down are not always enormously critical things. Even an insignificant down moment can let depression plant itself in my spirit. That just doesn’t work for me, so I need to find a way to even out my roller coaster life and not let everything that happens be a potential for depression.
What do I want? I cannot say it simpler than this: stabilizing peace. It is not an exaggeration to say that since my transplant eighteen months ago, almost nothing has been stable. Immunosuppression medications are constantly being moved up or down; my lab numbers are constantly fluctuating; my emotions are up and down; my energy waxes and wanes; my blood sugar rises and plummets; and, on one day my kidney might be okay, but on another day, I am dealing with kidney rejection. My physical, emotional and spiritual well being rises and falls with each change.
Oh, for some stabilizing peace that stays constant through the ups and downs!
I keep going back, though, to the ultimate words that promise me the kind of constant, stabilizing peace that I so need:
Always be glad because of the Lord! I will say it again: Be glad. Always be gentle with others. The Lord will soon be here. Don’t worry about anything, but pray about everything. With thankful hearts offer up your prayers and requests to God. Then, because you belong to Christ Jesus, God will bless you with peace that no one can completely understand. And this peace will control the way you think and feel.
Finally, my friends, keep your minds on whatever is true, pure, right, holy, friendly, and proper.
Don’t ever stop thinking about what is truly worthwhile and worthy of praise.
You know the teachings I gave you, and you know what you heard me say and saw me do. So follow my example. And God, who gives peace, will be with you.
Philippians 4:4-9 CEV
I wage war, much of the time, with depression that continues its haunting presence. It is not the debilitating kind of depression that can knock one to the ground to the point of needing medication. It is not the kind of depression that leaves one in tears and prevents any meaningful activity. It is not even the kind of depression that affects one’s life to the point of complete stagnancy. But it is a depression that hurts the heart and leaves the spirit languishing — on some days more than others.
Yet, I am grateful for lessons learned. In my times of depression — through my ups and downs — I have learned a few helpful and hopeful lessons.
These are just a few of them:
I must not fall into the bottomless pit of anticipatory anxiety. The things that fill me with such anxiety and worry rarely even happen.
My spirit is resilient, much stronger than I think it will be.
The bad things that happen to me don’t usually last forever. I can ride them out.
It is not “pie-in-the-sky” fantasy to fall back on the faith that has always sustained me. The truth is that the God who promised to be with me, really has been with me — every time.
My “downs” have always graced me with a fresh view of my soul and spirit, the deep places in me that fall to the dust but still manage to get up and move forward.
I admit I haven’t made peace with my ups and downs. I suspect I will have them as lifelong companions, but I have made peace with the soul of my being. I have discovered that there are some soul-things that I can never really touch unless I have gone as low as I can go. In those times, my emotions are discernible and my spirit is tender. In those times, there is a holy presence that will take my hands and lift me up. Of that, I am confident.
Debasiah Mridha wrote these words that are so true and so full of wisdom, “Life has its ups and downs. When you are up, enjoy the scenery. When you are down, touch the soul of your being and feel the beauty.”
I would like to be able to leave you with a sparkling, new solution for all of the times you go from up to down. I would like to be able to tell you in your ups, and in your downs, that you will find peace enough to sustain you. I wish I could tell you, even, that your life will be all “ups.” I wish I could believe it for myself. But there are very few things that any of us can count on. I intend to keep holding on tightly to my faith and my belief that God’s Spirit of Wisdom walks beside me. Sits next to me on that terrifying roller coaster!
I also love this thought that I stumbled upon in a most unlikely place. Brent Schlender, in his book entitled, Becoming Steve Jobs: The Evolution of a Reckless Upstart into a Visionary Leader, made the most lovely, comforting observation. This is what he wrote: “The sun will set and the sun will rise, and it will shine upon us tomorrow in our grief and our gratitude, and we will continue to live with purpose, memory, passion, and love.”
There was a time when I believed that I was invincible, with all the time in the world. Lately, though, I have thought a lot about how quickly time passes and about how I tend to constantly say, “I don’t have time.” I have also been thinking about healing. The reason for my healing thoughts could well be because at least two parts of my body reallyneed physical healing, and soon. I don’t have time to be incapacitated, or so I believe. I don’t have time for pain and I wonder if my two places of physical pain were of my own making. For instance, my wrist sprain — now an orangey ochre color from my knuckles to halfway up my elbow — that the doctor says will heal in 6 to 10 weeks is taking way too long to mend. 6 to 10 weeks is entirely unacceptable! Was my ungraceful fall in the kitchen due to my carelessness or my lack of mindfulness?
And then there’s the terribly painful throat invasion, allegedly identified as a cricopharyngeal spasm, that feels like choking with a large object stuck in my throat while something is tightening around my neck. Direct from Healthline.com: “Anxiety about the condition can aggravate your symptoms.”
Aha! Anxiety! Therein may be the source of many ailments. That, and a lack of rest, relaxation, quietness, peacefulness or mindfulness, all of which are highly touted methods of natural healing. Healing of the body, yes, but also the critically important healing of my heart, my mind, my soul and my spirit — emotional and spiritual healing. That healing is often harder than physical healing.
So I turned my thoughts, while suffering incessant physical pain, on the subject of emotional and spiritual healing. My thoughts raised the question of what exactly is the difference between the soul and the spirit, and how in the world would I heal there.
Here’s my attempt at an answer. Most of us would agree that we consist of body, soul and spirit. In fact, the Bible affirms the existence of all three:
May your whole spirit, soul and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus. (I Thessalonians 5:23).
Our physical bodies are fairly evident to us, but our souls and spirits are less distinguishable. In the preceding scripture passage, the Greek word for soul is psuche (ψυχή), or as we might call it, “psyche.” This word “soul” implies our mind, our will and desires as evidenced by our personal preferences, choices, and emotional responses to life’s situations. Our soul is reflected in our personality. Our soul is our life.
“Spirit” is a completely different word. The Greek word for spirit is pneuma (πνεύμα). It refers to the part of us that connects with God and receives the breath of life from the Holy Spirit (Άγιο πνεύμα). Our spirit is our breath, the breath that animates and enlivens us from deep within. I like the way Theologian David Galston explains it:
The soul is life, and the Greek word is psyche. The spirit is breath, and the Greek word is pneuma. Natural confusion exists between the [meaning of the] spirit and the soul since both words, in their roots, mean breath. But for the Greeks, there were two kinds of breath: the kind necessary for life, the psyche, and the kind necessary for [our very breath], the pneuma. In modern English, we might distinguish the two as life and energy.
I often ask my clients, mentees and friends this question: How is your heart? They usually have an understanding of how their heart is and why. But ask these questions — How is your soul? How is your spirit? — and the answers don’t come as easily. I’m not sure exactly why, but I think that, for myself, it is that I am able to more easily know my heart. I am more in touch with it. On the many times throughout my life when I was brokenhearted, I knew how my heart reacted and why. When I am sorrowful, happy, excited, surprised or feel many other emotions, I can place my hand over my heart and feel is as if I have literally touched it, that my heart has told me what emotion is there.
As for my soul and my spirit, well, they are deeper in me. In the innermost places of me, my soul mourns and celebrates and holds all manner of emotions. In my innermost parts, my spirit lies quietly within me always waiting for the brush of Spirit wings, waiting in stillness for the breath that animates and enlivens and ennobles. There was a time when I would always find time for the healing my soul and spirit needed.
So in the dense forrest of all of the 700+ words I just wrote, what is the lesson? What is the message from God we need to hear? Believe it or not, it’s not complicated. Isn’t it just like God to send us an uncomplicated message that we immediately make complicated? God’s bottom line here is easy, simple, uncomplicated: “Guard your heart, your soul, your spirit . . . all that is within you.
From Joshua Now, vigilantly guard your souls: Love God, your God.
From Deuteronomy Keep your soul diligently, so that you do not forget the things which your eyes have seen and they do not depart from your heart all the days of your life.
From Proverbs Above all, guard your heart with all diligence; for from it flow the wellsprings of life.
From 1 Thessalonians And the God of peace sanctify you wholly, and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
And that’s it. There was a time when I would write 700 more words to tell you specifically how to do that. But today, I am not going to tell you how to heal. The ways are individually unique and the paths are many. So I will leave you with just one path that you may choose to follow: the path that leads you deep within yourself to your sacred, quiet place and then implores you to listen for God’s whisper and wait for the breeze of the Spirit. Where? In a beautiful, peaceful place, under a starlit sky, in a quiet filled with sounds of music.
In these many months of pandemic, experiencing loss and lostness, loneliness and isolation, mourning and tears, may you find comfort in the words of poet, William Wadsworth, here turned into beautiful music by Elaine Hagenberg.
Though nothing can bring back the hour Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower; We will grieve not, rather find Strength in what remains behind.
Complete text of anthem:
There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream, The earth, and every common sight, To me did seem Apparell’d in celestial light, The glory of a dream.
The rainbow comes and goes, And lovely is the rose; The moon doth with delight Look round her when the heavens are bare; Waters on a starry night Are beautiful and fair; The sunshine is a glorious birth; But yet I know, where’er I go, That there hath pass’d away a glory from the earth.
Though nothing can bring back the hour Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower; We will grieve not, rather find Strength in what remains behind.
Stand fast therefore in the freedom by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. Galatians 5:1 (NKJV)
What is it about freedom that scares us? What is it about freedom that causes us to refuse to offer it to everyone? Are we afraid that giving freedom to another person or group of persons will diminish our own freedom? What does freedom really mean to persons who are oppressed and to those who live inside the throes of injustice?
I have written very little lately about justice and accountability, the two words most used to describe Derek Chauvin’s conviction. Ican’t help but mark this very moment on the “long arc that bends toward justice.” I feel compelled to call our attention to this week! Actually it’s last week now, but you get the idea. Let’s call it “the week of the verdict.”
The week of the verdict has come full circle from George Floyd’s murder on May 25, 2020 to the conviction of Derick Chauvin almost one year later on April 29, 2021. It was a week we will not forget. It brought up emotions in me and perhaps in most people. Most of what I felt mirrored the emotions I imagine George Floyd’s family feeling — happy, calm, relieved, conflicted, hopeful, determined, vindicated. I also felt sad and helpless because the conviction did not end murders of black and brown brothers and sisters. And I felt joyful and hopeful because perhaps this flashpoint in the long history of racial injustice will help us turn the corner and finally see in our communities the justice we long for.
How can that happen? How can we turn the corner and move away from oppressive systems and oppressive people? How do we do that when just minutes after the verdict and less than ten miles away, 16 year old Ma’Khia Bryant was shot and killed by police in Ohio? It happened in the shadow of “the week of the verdict.”
Perhaps for us this is the week of the verdict — the week when the verdict will be read on our failure to end the systemic racism in our communities! Isn’t it past time for us to stand up and stand strong and stand determined and woke? My friends, it is time! This moment in the history of injustice may well be the turning point we need to end racism!
I have said this many times: We cannot just reform injustice, we must transform it. The transformation that results in genuine, lasting justice must begin in the soul and in the heart where intentions are formed. I must lament injustice, confess my own complicity in it, repent of the white supremacy within me, own other forms of oppression and commit to the hard work of transforming injustice in my community and in my world. Only then will transformation happen in the systems that oppress people.
Only transformed people can love neighbors as Jesus loved us. My friend and sister blogger never fails to remind me to answer the ultimate question, “How then shall I live?”* She offers this scripture to us today.
We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us — and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?
1 John 3:16-17
She then reminded us that conditions in India are dire and the people languish.
In India, today the virus surges almost beyond control, hospitals are choked, people die in line waiting for a doctor. How can those of us rejoicing in vaccination, cautious travel, new gatherings, not ask how we can help?
How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?
And that is the soul-critical question we must answer. How then shall we live when all around us people suffer every kind of calamity — every kind of violence, disaster, racism, discrimination, dehumanization? Every kind of heartache. How do we, in our suffering world, become the heart, hands and feet of Jesus?
Getting back to the lament of my own heart, that one thing that inspires my passion — transforming the injustice of racism, xenophobia, misogyny, homophobia and all forms of evil exclusion and oppression. Transforming injustice! Setting our faces toward the hope of Beloved Community! This one thing I know, the steps of Jesus would have led him to the “healing” of injustice in any form. On every day he walked on this earth, Jesus would be loving every person who was in need and he would be lamenting every injustice that caused harm.
How can we not lament? How can we not expend ourselves in the hard work of transforming injustice? How can we not care for, and pray for, and love our brothers and sisters who are in need? How can we refuse to work for the freedom of black and brown people, indigenous peoples, LGBTQ+ people, immigrants and asylum seekers, and to any person who is enslaved? How can we deny God’s desire for justice and peace?
How can we refuse freedom to black and brown people, indigenous peoples, LGBTQ+ people, immigrants and asylum seekers, and to any person who is enslaved? How can we deny them God’s peace?
— Rev. Kathy Manis Findley
I do not have the answer for how we might do this. But I do have some convictions about it, especially about racism and white supremacy. One of my convictions is that dismantling racism begins in me, in my soul. And eradicating white supremacy begins when I look seriously at my own white supremacy. For you see, as long as white supremacy looks to me like a white-draped person burning a cross, I will never acknowledge that white supremacy is in me. As long as white supremacy looks to me like a man I might see on TV news with a truck, a confederate flag, a rifle and a mission, I can easily distance myself. I am not that white person; I am a different white person that would never tolerate racism.
Am I? Am I that different white person? Or are there ways I contribute to an unjust society? Are there ways I fail to seek Beloved Community? Are there thoughts and feelings within me that diminish other persons, persons not like me? Am I complacent about injustice? Am I complicit? Am I reticent? Am I avoiding, looking the other way?
As long as white supremacy looks to me like a white-draped person burning a cross in someone’s yard, I will never see that white supremacy is in me. As long as white supremacy looks to me like a man I might see on TV news with a pick-up truck, a confederate flag, a rifle and a mission, I can easily distance myself. I am not that kind of white person! Or am I?
Rev. Kathy Manis Findley
Racial injustice may currently be the most visible form of oppression, but we must remember that many groups of people are oppressed. Many people long for freedom from oppression. Only when we “see” and “hear” all of their voices, will we be on the way to transforming injustice. I don’t know everything about oppression, and I don’t know exactly how to make a difference. I don’t really know how to join hands with my community and set about to transform injustice. I do know that I must begin with my own lament, for only lament can open my eyes to every manner of suffering and oppression.
So meet me on the mountain where we find the strength from God to persevere, and then descend with me to all the places where oppression enslaves people. Come with me to the people, and together, let us remove from them the yoke of bondage and offer them new freedom. And may Spirit Wind surround us with courage. Thanks be to God.
*”How then Shall We Live?” was the inspiring theme of the Alliance of Baptists Annual Gathering.
I wonder if you would be willing to stop what you’re doing right now and spend a quiet moment with me, just listening? Your time might well be a needed time for you and for your soul.
There is always so much to listen to — traffic, sirens, video game sounds, annoying household noise like the washing machine/dryer, food processor, mixer, fans, buzzers and alarms and the awful sound of the disposal trying to crush that inadvertent chicken bone. These, of course, are not our favorite sounds, but they are the myriad sounds and noises we hear in a typical day.
There are sweeter sounds, too, like the sound of a gentle, falling rain or the sound of rain when it hits hard on the roof; the sound of a gusty breeze as it rustles the leaves on a tree; the sound of a flowing stream, a rolling river and constant, ever-rushing ocean sounds; the flutter of a hummingbird’s wings; the sound of cicadas on a Southern summer night; the sound of a child’s laughter; the sweet, peaceful sound of a purring kitten; and birdsong, always birdsong.
Of course, listening as pure joy is listening to music — quiet music, lyrical melodies, rhythms that slow the pulse, the sound of a bow moving across a cello’s strings, the mesmerizing sound of a harp, the velvet sound of voices in harmony or the enthralling sound of a symphony orchestra.
Sounds fill the space that surrounds us, all the time. What is rarer for us is to hear the sound of silence. Some of us fear the silence or dread silent moments. Others of us avoid it at all costs because the silence tends to bring up whatever we are afraid to hear. So the noise that enfolds us fills the place that might otherwise hear the sighs of the soul — its cries and laments, its laughter, its sound of contentedness. It seems to me that this is the place we long to be, in the soul’s sound chamber where whatever we hear — if we’re listening carefully — is the song of the soul that tells us who we are and why we are.
There is a poem that many of you will remember (if you’re old enough) as a Simon and Garfunkel song from the 1960s. The poem was written by Paul Simon and it presents a frightening picture of the modern world doomed by the lack of spirituality and the people’s aversion to the true meaning of life. It is not so different in these days that spirituality and life meaning can be elusive, no matter how hard we may search for it and yearn for it.
The poem, entitledThe Sound of Silence, is written by the voice of a visionary asking people to be serious about the true meaning of life. The poem’s message is that people are moving further and further away from true happiness because they have ignored life’s true meaning. They debate and quarrel about worthless things. They listen to or watch meaningless things. The poet writes that the people “speak and hear without listening. Like we often do?
Throughout its five stanzas, the poem presents the conflict between spiritual and material values. The poetic persona is a person of vision who warns against the lack of spiritual seriousness. The poem begins with an address by the poet persona to the darkness, saying that he has come to talk with the darkness. When he awakens, he says that the vision still remains as the sound of silence.
Some of us fear the silence or dread silent moments. Others avoid it at all costs because the silence tends to bring up whatever they are afraid to hear. So the noise that enfolds us fills the place that might otherwise hear the sighs of the soul — its cries and laments, its laughter, its sounds of contentedness. It seems to me that this is the place we long to be, in the soul’s sound chamber where whatever we hear — if we’re listening carefully — is the song of the soul that tells us who we are and why we are.
The words of the poet . . .
And in the naked light, I saw Ten thousand people, maybe more People talking without speaking People hearing without listening People writing songs that voices never share And no one dared Disturb the sound of silence
And the people bowed and prayed To the neon god they made And the sign flashed out its warning In the words that it was forming And the sign said, “The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls And tenement halls” And whispered in the sound of silence
All of that trivia about the poem certainly moved us a little farther away from my point, which is that most, if not all, of us have a deep emotional and spiritual need to listen to our souls, really listen. Even if we don’t know it, we long to hear what the depth of our being wants to say to us. We want to find our true selves, a quest only our souls can accomplish. If we are honest, we would say that we want to do the soulwork that leads us out of the darkness of our own making and into a place of light.
When we do carve out a sacred pause, when we wait in the darkness of that silent space, and when we open ourselves to deep listening, we will likely hear God’s whisper. We will probably move slowly out of darkness and realize the promise that as “God’s own people” we will “proclaim the mighty acts of God who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9)
This is the place we long to be, in the soul’s sound chamber where whatever we hear — if we’re listening carefully — is the song of the soul that tells us who we are and why we are.
— Rev. Kathy Manis Findley
Hearing God’s voice moves us to a deeper experience of life, but hearing our soul’s sighs may take us deeper still, because we open ourselves to self-knowing. It’s not a surface knowing. It is a deep knowing of who it is that lives in our skin. Without hearing the sighs our souls are making, we might never enter into fullness of self. I suggest that only the fullness of who we are can stand before the God who knows us even better than we know ourselves.
In my own experience, I think that perhaps I cannot be in deep communion with God if I try to face God as my superficial self. Perhaps God seeks relationship with my soul, my deepest place of being. To find and define my soul for myself, to know myself fully, I must find the sound of silence and sit with it patiently and expectantly. Maybe that is the essence of spirituality.
So there are a few lessons in these words and these are the obvious lessons:
Limit the harsh sounds in your life.
Surround yourself with tender, gentle sounds.
Make sacred space and holy time to listen deeply for the sounds that speak to your soul.
Listen for God’s whispers. They are important to hear.
Always consider what is, for you, the true meaning of life.
Listen to your soul — its sighs, its cries, its songs.
Andwho knows? If you linger for a while in your sacred listening space, you might just find the very essence of grace by hearing what your soul whispers to you. It will be the most beautiful sound of all.
— Rev.Kathy Manis Findley
One day I listened — really listened. And I heard the whisper of God and the song of my soul. Thanks be to God.
I invite you to hear the poem, “The Sound of Silence,” through music. It can rightly be said that no group or person could ever sing this as well as Simon and Garfunkel, but I thought you might enjoy it covered by a very popular contemporary a cappella group, Pentatonix.
The year was 1963. I was 14 years old. So it could not have been that I was unaware of what was going on in my city, but more likely that I was sheltered from it. I’m referring to two events: the day Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was arrested and incarcerated in the Birmingham jail; and in that same year — Sunday, September 13 — the 16th Street Baptist Church was bombed, taking the lives of four little girls as they left their Sunday School class to go into the sanctuary.
It was a white supremacist terrorist bombing, just before 11 o’clock, when instead of rising to begin prayers, the congregation was knocked to the ground. As the bomb exploded under the steps of the church, the congregants sought safety under the pews and shielded each other from falling debris.
Five months earlier, on April 12, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was arrested with SCLC activists Ralph Abernathy, Fred Shuttlesworth, and other marchers, while thousands of African Americans dressed for Good Friday wondered what in the world the future might hold.
As a child, I would proudly sing a song I learned in school, “Birmingham’s My Home. In the days of 1963, I was not so proud that Birmingham, Alabama was my home. Today, I feel deep shame to admit that even at age 14, I had no idea what was happening or why it was happening. To be sure, I was not yet “woke” in any sense of the word.
While incarcerated, Dr. King wrote a letter. Some of his most eloquent, scorching, but hopeful words were penned during his time in the Birmingham Jail. These words he wrote from there are quite striking to me:
“. . . in some not too distant tomorrow
the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation
with all their scintillating beauty.”
How is it that we have not yet seen the “radiant stars of love and brotherhood” [and sisterhood] “shining over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty?” Why does the struggle for racial justice still play out in the streets of this nation’s cities as the oppressed still cry out against the injustice that continues to hold them in chains?
I will not attempt to answer those unanswerable questions. I will point out the mountains that still stand ominously before us. We cannot move those mountains, it seems, as they loom over us — immense, towering, formidable, oppressive. The rocks, crags and peaks of them looking like peaceful protests by persons crying out for freedom in June, white supremacists violently storming the United States Capitol just 12 days ago, and the terrifying Coronavirus that still threatens after so many months.
How will we see the radiant stars of beloved community, of hope, of peace when we cannot move those mountains? Words cannot move mountains, but words can give us the strength and courage to try. And so I leave you with Dr. King’s words as we honor him on this day:
“Out of the mountain of despair, the stone of hope.”*
I wish for you radiant stars of love, the sunlight of hope that is new every morning, and the glistening wings of peace to guide your way.
*Dr. King delivered this line during his “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, D.C. on August 28, 1963. It now appears is one of the most prominently featured quotes on the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington.