I find the “Alleluia “ in me to be a quiet one today. So unlike other Easters in my memory. So different. So quiet. There are no loud and boisterous proclamations of “He Is Risen!” I am singing no anthems that declare the Resurrection with great ardor and joy. There is no larger than life cross draped in white, no Easter lilies, no Easter Chrismon tree that often adorns my house on Easter.
On the secular side, there is not a bunny in sight at my house and no basket of brightly colored Easter Eggs. There is no Easter bread that is our tradition. No ham, no lamb, no standing rib roast with all the trimmings.
There is an Easter wreath on my door, adorned with a white cross and Easter lilies, a very understated design. The wreath is subdued, not colorful. Easter hymns are playing, though, courtesy of Pandora, but I chose a selection of quiet, reflective, traditional hymns. Somehow “Were You There?”, The Old, Rugged Cross” and “Fairest Lord Jesus” seem right this year.
My “Alleluia” today is quiet, almost a whisper. It arises from somewhere in me that cannot seem to create a louder word of praise, cannot count on my diaphragm to produce a brighter “Alleluia” in joyous song. This kind of Easter feels sad to me, although somehow it seems okay, fitting even, on this Easter. Family is far away. Family that is near might as well be a million miles away, because Covid and my weak immune system still holds me captive in my house.
So like the soft “Alleluia” in the image, I am soft and quiet on this Day of Christ’s Resurrection. I have lost friends in the past year, friends who died too soon. I have witnessed loneliness, sorrow, grieving and morning. I have mourned myself. I have feared the rejection of my kidney. I have worried about my health. I have missed my church and my friends. I have longed desperately to see my son and my grandchildren. When all is said and done and when reality is all one has to hold on to, the Gospel Good News remains! We are Resurrection People! Because Jesus lives, I really can face tomorrow, and the next tomorrow, and all the tomorrows that come after that.
Today, I am where I am, in this quiet place. But just to remind me of the Resurrection Good News, my Pandora selection of quiet hymns is now playing “The Hallelujah Chorus” — right now as I write. I was not ready for it. I have sung it hundreds of times, but I cannot sing it now. I cannot lift up my voice and project it into a place of worship. But here is the Gospel Easter truth they are singing: “He shall reign forever, forever and ever, King of kings and Lord of lords. Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hal le lu jah!”
Today I can sing only a whisper of praise — a quiet “Alleluia” — only a weak breath. But the Resurrection Good News is that my whispered praise is heard throughout the vast expanse of heaven. Perhaps the heavenly host is singing “Alleluia” with me. I’m not too sure that is happening, but I do know this: God accepts my breathless whisper. It is heard clearly by God the Father, God the Mother, God the Son and by the Spirit that holds the breath of us all. Amen!
“A Quiet Alleluia” by B. J. Meyer
Although the song is performed on the piano, it does have lyrics: And I pray; I knew then there were reasons for everything I had to endure ‘Cause they opened the door To my mind.
I used to think that I was weak, Feelin’ the pressure of fighting the heartaches; Was wounded but I could not speak.
When I exhale, it’s a quiet allelujah When I exhale, it’s a quiet allelujah
Although churches all over the world celebrated Epiphany last Sunday, today is the actual day of Epiphany. So I invite you to pause for a few moments today and celebrate Epiphany with me. Epiphany, also known as Theophany in the east, is a Christian feast day that celebrates the revelation of God incarnate that came to us in the form of the infant Christ.
In Western Christianity, Epiphany commemorates the visit of the Magi to the Christ Child, and thus Jesus’ physical manifestation to the Gentiles. Epiphany always includes the story of the star that appeared in the dark sky to guide the Magi to the infant Christ. Epiphany also reminds us to “see” and to open our hearts to the coming of God to us in the form of an infant.
So having decided to sit quietly and contemplate the light of Epiphany, I am suddenly disturbed by terrible sounds coming from the television in the next room. What sort of chaos can so forcefully disrupt my sacred pause on this day? Crowds are storming the United States Capitol, breaching the doors, pushing past the Capitol police, violent confrontations, breaking windows, persons shot, members of Congress made to shelter of place in the building, protesters engaged in an armed standoff in front of the House of Representatives’ chamber. In this very moment — on the day of Epiphany — this is what I am hearing. I feel sad, frightened, disappointed, ashamed— tears come and I ask why the light of Epiphany seems so dim.
Why this darkness? Why this danger? Why, on the day of Epiphany?
Then I suddenly have my own personal Epiphany and it is this: God is present. In some way, by some miracle, in the mystical wind of Spirit, God is present. With me! With our nation! With the melee! With the confused crowds that have gathered!
“Celebrate through this!” the Spirit is saying to me. “Celebrate the Epiphany — keep listening for God’s voice, pray, praise, worship, sing — because the Magi followed the star in the darkness and found the Prince of Peace!”
As I celebrate Epiphany today, I am surprised by my personal epiphany — a sudden, striking realization that indeed, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined.” (Isaiah 9:2)
God of light and of darkness,
My epiphany came today when I realized anew that your divine power is working in my life. When I still know that your divine power is working, even in anarchy, even in the intentions of the violent, chaotic crowds that now gather. I know, God, that your divine power brings light in the midst of darkness, as it always has. I know that your divine power brings sudden, transcendent moments, even in the shadow of chaos.
I have encountered you, God, in these troubling moments. I weep and I grieve. Yet you, God, have given me a transcendent moment of awe that will forever change how I experience this violent world that has always been violent. And so, God, I am lifting my eyes to the dark sky and I am seeing the gleaming Epiphany star in the darkness. I pray to you, God, and I worship you. My heart is filled with gratitude for your constant presence. I praise you and I sing, because singing in the darkness is the way I always get to the light.
Grant us your peace, God. Send your Spirit of peace to hover over us in this moment of violence in our nation’s Capitol. Send your Spirit of peace for this day of darkness, for the strife of disunity, for the hate and chaos. Send us your Spirit of peace to remain with us forever.
Help us, God, to keep our eyes on Epiphany’s star. Help us to never choose violence and hate. Help us to persist in faith. Help us to proclaim abiding hope as we lift our voices. As we sing! Amen.
And now, friends, I invite you to lift your voice with the Aeolians of Oakwood University, as they sing of the kind of hope we need, their interpretation of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” arranged by Roland M. Carter.
Songwriters: R.M. Carter / J.R. Johnson / J.W. Johnson. Lyrics are below.
Lift every voice and sing Till earth and heaven ring
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise,
High as the list’ning skies, let it resound loud as the rolling sea
Sing a song full of faith that the dark past has taught us, Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us; Facing the rising sun of our new day begun, Let us march on till victory is won.
Stony the road we trod, Bitter the chast’ning rod, Felt in the day that hope unborn had died; Yet with a steady beat, Have not our weary feet, Come to the place on which our fathers sighed?
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered, We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered, Out from the gloomy past, till now we stand at last Where the white gleam of our star is cast.
God of our weary years, God of our silent tears, Thou who has brought us thus far on the way; Thou who has by thy might, Led us into the light, Keep us forever in the path, we pray
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met thee, Least our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget thee, Shadowed beneath the hand, May we forever stand, True to our God, True to our native land.
I have a certain fondness for sparrows and the spiritual stories we have ascribed to them. That my blog is named “God of the Sparrow” is no accident. I have aspired many times in my life to live like the sparrow lives. I wanted my human, adult, mature and seasoned self to know, beyond any doubt, that God is watching over me. I do not live the simple, sparrow-like life I always hoped to live. But my unshakable faith has always told me that the God who watches over my every moment is also the God of the sparrow. I remember well the words written in the Gospel of Matthew . . .
So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows. — Matthew 10:41 NRSV
Such a comforting passage of Scripture! Yet, its message to us often pales in comparison to all the things that so frighten us. The state of the world that surrounds us in these days seems to have even more power over us than Matthew’s words about our value to God.
How is it that we are valuable to God when God does not act to protect us from all of life’s slings and arrows? Yesterday in my blog post I listed our world’s bad and scary things, so I won’t list them again today. But I will venture a prognosis that many, many people are suffering in many ways in this confusing season. I am one of those suffering people, feeling a bit of hopelessness in these days of racial unrest, coronavirus unsettledness and political divisions.
I heard a moving choral performance this morning. Its text lifted up my helplessness before me and turned it into a prayer so attuned to where I find myself.
God of the sparrow, sing through us Songs of deliverance, songs of peace. Helpless we seek You, God our joy, Quiet our troubles, bid them cease. — Jonathan Cook
I need the sparrow’s God to sing through me. Perhaps you do, too. I need that God-given song because my own music seems to have become quiet, my singing turned to mourning. (Amos 8:10) But this week, I took hold of that mourning. With strong intention, I spent most of one day this week singing my heart out.
You need to know that I had to choose a day when my husband would be away so that I could sing loud, with abandon. Why did he have to be away? That’s a long story, but in a nutshell, my singing is awful these days. Probably my vocal cords have lost some of their youthful elasticity and, on top of that, I did not sing at all for more than a year. Serious illness took my music.
When I (literally) came back from the dead in 2015, I realized that I had lost so many of my former abilities. Singing was one of them. It felt strange to me when I realized I could no longer sing. My former life was filled with song. Since childhood, there was never a choir I did not join, never a solo I did not sing.
Acknowledging my inability to sing was difficult, just as my life after kidney transplant and this coronavirus is difficult. My isolation has been lengthy, most of nine months, and it is taking its toll on my spirit. Prayer has become both a burden and a grace to me. My singing was my prayer for so many years, and I really need my singing in these hard days. I need to sing my praises to God. I need to sing my lamentations. I need to sing like the sparrow who doesn’t worry about her vocal chords. I need to be like the sparrow who sits on her branch — without fear, without worry — because she knows that if she happens to light on a flimsy branch that does not hold her, her wings will lift her.
The end of this story is that I need the God of the sparrow to sing through me once again — to sing through me in shadowy days, in times of trouble, in isolation, in fear, in hopelessness. That’s what God does, after all. In a troubled and despairing soul, God creates music, tucking it into every crevice, filling it with songs that can sing out both mourning and celebration. As an added bonus, I have it on good authority that God also turns mourning into dancing.
You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth so that my soul may praise you and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever. Psalm 30 11-12 NRSV
So as you sing, dance to the new rhythms of your soul! Because you can!
Thanks be to God.
Please spend your meditation time today listening to this beautiful song with text written by Jonathan Cook and music by Craig Courtney. The video follows the text.
God of the Sparrow
God of the sparrow, sing through us, Songs of deliverance, songs of peace. Helpless we seek You, God our joy, Quiet our troubles, bid them cease. Alleluia.
God of the sparrow, God of hope, Tenderly guide us, be our song, God of affliction, pain and hurt, Comfort Your children, make us strong. Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.
God of the sparrow, care for us. Speak in our sorrow, Lord of grief. Sing us Your music, lift our hearts, Pour out Your mercy, send relief.
God, like the sparrow, we abide In Your protection, love and grace. Just as the sparrow in Your care,
I think I may have lost my music, and I’m not sure exactly when I lost it, or how. I can probably get away with blaming it on the coronavirus. After all, choirs cannot really sing right now, at least not safely.
The coronavirus has stolen so many things from us all — important things and things that are not so important. For me, one of the stolen things that affects me deeply in my soul is music.
When I hear music, the melodies and rhythms often reach into my soul. Music is my muse. Losing my music is one of my most troubling losses. I know, of course, that I can listen to Pandora or Spotify. Or I can listen to quality music on National Public Radio and find hundreds of concerts on YouTube.
What I am missing most is being inside my church sanctuary listening to the music of the pipe organ and anthems from our choir. Part of it may well be that I’m missing the people who offer their gift of music every week. Part of it is probably nostalgia when I contemplate the decades I spent singing with choirs and other groups. Part of it is missing my many years as a soloist. Part of it is missing my last ministry position as minister of worship at New Millennium Church in Little Rock, Arkansas. Part of it is having to leave my piano when we moved in 2015. Part of it, I am certain, is that I can’t really sing anymore, at least much of the time. After my illness in 2014 and its very long recovery, I lost my voice. This was such a profound loss for my soul.
For some reason, all of this was on my mind this morning when I had a serendipity moment. I received an email with a brief thought for the day. I receive it every day, but today it happened to include a passage of Scripture closely related to my present thoughts. This is what it said:
But now, get me a player of music, and it will come about that while the man is playing, the hand of God will come on me and I will give you the word of God: and they got a player of music, and while the man was playing, the hand of the God was upon him.
— 2 Kings 3:15
Haven’t we all heard someone singing and playing music when we were touched and changed? All creativity and beauty in this life are but a small reflection of the master musician, our Creator. Listen with your heart and be glad.
— John Gaudreau
Music can be our soul’s joy or our heart’s expression. Music can lift us from sorrow’s depths and raise us to higher planes of grace. Music can be our most lavish praise to God. Music can open our spirits and create in us expressions of gladness, even in times of trouble. May God make it so. Amen.
Let me end without any more words, just music. “Listen with your heart and be glad” and hear this beautiful anthem, “Through Love to Light” with text written by Richard Watson Gilder, 1844-1909.
Through love to light! O wonderful the way That leads from darkness to the perfect day; From darkness and from sorrow of the night To morning that comes singing o’er the sea! Through love to light! through light, O God, to Thee, Who art the Love of love, th’ eternal Light of light! Amen.
She described herself as an unruly woman of God — Mechthild of Magdeburg. “I want also to circle higher still,” she wrote in one of her mystical poems. She had her first vision of the Holy Spirit at the age of twelve. As a young woman, she left her home and “renounced worldly honour and worldly riches.” She was an ascetic, a writer and a mystic who viewed God’s will in unorthodox ways. Her criticism of church dignitaries for religious laxity and claims to theological insight aroused so much opposition that some called for the burning of her writings. Her words seemed to have kept her in deep trouble!
Her story reminded me of Sue Monk Kidd’s book, “The Dance of the Dissident Daughter,” a book that set me on a pilgrimage in 1996 that changed my life. This was a book that screamed out to me, “Find your own soul! Nourish it! Protect it! Bind it closer to God’s soul and, for the first time, live out God’s call to you!”
Sue Monk Kidd said this as she reflected on writing the book’s first edition:
“The Dance of the Dissident Daughter” sparked heated, sometimes scathing reactions, including public accusations of heresy, boycotts of my lectures, and a plethora of derisive letters in my mailbox. One of the more memorable began: Dear Whore of Babylon. It was the “Dear” part that made is so indelible.
This statement rings true when I contemplate the life of Mechthild of Magdeburg. Before we get back to her, though, let’s look for a moment at The Dance of the Dissident Daughter, the book that left me with these nuggets of wisdom I will always hold close.
How many times have I denied my innermost wisdom and silenced this voice? How many times can a woman betray her soul before it gives up and ceases calling to her at all?
We must wake up, journey, name, challenge, shed, reclaim, ground, and heal.
When someone tries to put you back into a box from which you’ve already escaped, you might recall a line from the Indian poet Mirabai. She said, “I have felt the swaying of the elephant’s shoulders and now you want me to climb on a jackass? Try to be serious!}
As women we have a right to ask the hard questions. The only way I have ever understood, broken free, emerged, healed, forgiven, flourished, and grown powerful is by asking the hardest questions and then living into the answers through opening up to my own terror and transmuting it into creativity. I have gotten nowhere by retreating into hand-me-down sureties or resisting the tensions that truth ignited.
The main thing is to stop struggling and nourish yourself. When you nourish yourself, your creative energy is renewed. You are able to pick up your lyre again and sing.
— Sue Monk Kidd, The Dance of the Dissident Daughter
Yes! Sing, and even dance your dissident dance! Your song may sound to all those around you like a revolutionary song, discordant to their ears. Your dancing may scandalize your observers. Still — Sing! Dance! — to the stirrings of Spirit within you!
That’s exactly what Mechthild of Magdeburg did and the religious world labeled her unruly. In her book, Das fließende Licht der Gottheit (The Flowing Light of Divinity), she described her visions of God. She could not read and write in Latin, but she is known for being the first mystic to write in German. Her confessor, Heinrich von Halle, finally persuaded her in 1250 to write down her visions and spiritual experiences. She did this in her own hand, in the conviction that it was God’s will.
By 1270, six of the seven books of the “Flowing Light” were brought to parchment, collected and given chapter titles by Heinrich. Mechthild saw her book as a message to both believers and clergy, for she feared the church was in danger of being hollowed out from within; she called the powerful church officials, who often enjoyed worldly luxury, “stinking billy-goats.”
Thus, Mechthild was known as a very unruly woman of God — a defiant, dissident and radical rebel! “Stinking billy-goats!” No wonder she became known for her “rebelliousness and unorthodox ways.” The community she was a part of, the Beguine order, was known for the same kind of unorthodox rebelliousness.
The Beguine order was a Christian religious movement active in Northern Europe during the 13th-16th centuries. The Beguines were women who lived as nuns in semi-monastic communities. Through their intense devotion to God and their somewhat ascetic lifestyle, they came to be known for their acts of rebellion and their unorthodox ways.
Mechthild of Magdeburg definitely danced to her own music!
With her order, she was part of a great spiritual revival movement of the thirteenth century, a time when the Catholic Church was falling into disfavor. The Beguines sought to imitate the life Christ through voluntary poverty, care of the poor and sick, and religious devotion.
With advancing age, Mechthild was blind. She was alone, still the object of much criticism. With singing silenced and dancing impossible, she was left to sing songs in her heart and dance the dances of her imagination, always seeking Spirit promptings.
Some scholars have speculated that, due to increased persecution and failing health, Mechthild was forced to retire to the convent of Helfta around 1270. There, she met three other notable writers of the time, Gertrude of Hackeborne, Mechthild of Hackeborne, and Gertrude the Great. Helfta was a good place for a writer such as Mechthild. Under the leadership of Gertrude of Hackeborne, Helfta had become a hub of learning and writing for women and a center for book collecting, copying and illumination.
Still, Mechthild portrayed herself as a reluctant writer urged on by God and her director to continue her work. She calls her director “my dear schoolmaster,” who taught her, “simple and stupid as I am, to write this book.” About the urging of God she said, “I cannot nor do I wish to write “unless feeling the power of the Holy Spirit.” At one point, Mechthild wondered why God did not choose a priest rather than herself for this work, and she is told that God always seeks out the lowest and smallest so that “unlearned lips can teach the learned tongues of the Holy Spirit.”
In spite of the fact that Mechthild was unable to read and write in Latin, these are some powerful quotes by the graceful mystic Mechthild of Magdeburg, from her book Das fließende Licht der Gottheit (The Flowing Light of Divinity), where she describes her visions of God.
The day of my spiritual awakening was the day I saw and knew I saw all things in God and God in all things.
If you love the justice of Jesus Christ more than you fear human judgment then you will seek to do compassion. Compassion means that if I see my friend and my enemy in equal need, I shall help them both equally. Justice demands that we seek and find the stranger, the broken, the prisoner and comfort them and offer them our help. Here lies the holy compassion of God that causes the devils much distress.
From suffering I have learned this: that whoever is sore wounded by love will never be made whole unless she embraces the very same love which wounded her.
A Light of utmost splendor glows on the eyes of my soul. Therein have I seen the inexpressible ordering of all things, and recognized God’s unspeakable glory — that incomprehensible wonder — the tender caress between God and the soul . . . the unmingled joy of union, the living love of eternity as it now is and evermore shall be.
I cannot dance, Lord,
unless you lead me.
If you want me to leap with abandon,
You must intone the song.
Then I shall leap into love,
From love into knowledge,
From knowledge into enjoyment,
And from enjoyment
beyond all human sensations.
There I want to remain,
yet want also to circle higher still.
— Mechthild of Magdeburg
Like her, I want to “circle higher still.” I want to escape from chains that shackle the highest expression of my spirit. I want to sing the songs God placed in my heart! I want to dance to the Spirit’s rhythm hidden in my spirit!
Without fear! Without fear . . .
taking the journey set before me to follow Christ into places of poverty, fear, sickness, desperation. Breaking the rules if I must. Taking criticism if I must. Being persecuted if that is in the cards for me. I want to move forward into my calling with the Spirit of God upon me . . .
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free.
Now that February has brought the tiniest green shoots from the ground, I know that it brings a promise of flowers — yellow ones and purple ones — bright promises of the new life that emerges every spring. Perhaps I can take a deep breath now that I am exactly three months today past my kidney transplant. This day is a milestone for my immunosuppressed self, marking the time when my transplant team might tell me that I can possibly escape from my isolation and go out to see the signs of spring. I am making February my personal commemoration month, celebrating, contemplating, dealing with a few deep-set fears and deciding to take a microshift forward.
The beginning of this story was in February of 2014 when suddenly and unexpectedly, I found myself in the emergency department of Baptist Health Medical Center with a diagnosis of end stage kidney disease. I faced a long illness that year that very nearly ended my life, three times during the 58 days I was hospitalized. When I didn’t die, I discovered that I could not walk, feed myself, name colors or even write my name. A kind and dedicated physical therapist helped me work for months after I returned home challenging me to regain those losses. For months, I was very weak, often confused and paralyzed by fear.
The only treatment available to me was dialysis, eight hours a day, seven days a week. Today though, February 12, is another February milestone that allows me to view my transplant three months ago today. Now that I am six years past it, I am looking back on that time that began in February of 2014, and I can see clearly the truths I discovered. I think they are important discoveries for me, of course, but also for anyone who must take an unexpected journey toward an uncertain future. So these are some of the discoveries that give me courage:
Fear takes on many forms and enters my psyche on its own terms.
Gratefulness floods over me at will through a kind word, a phone call, a connection with a friend, old or new.
Faith can be tiny in one moment and large in another, but either way, faith bears me up when I cannot move forward.
Hope constantly calls out to me to remember the source of my hope.
Patience with myself when I am not myself lifts me up, even when I feel physically weak and unable to do all the things I used to do.
These discoveries I know. I also know that, through it all, I have experienced periods of spiritual and emotional depression. Yet, those dark times were interrupted with times when my faith rose from within to comfort me and remind me of my “refuge and strength, an ever-present help in times of trouble. (Psalm 46:1 NASB) How wonderful to be able to see again the light of the Sun of Righteousness and to know that my slumbering soul can most surely rise from its lethargy like the stubborn crocus from the hard winter ground. It feels almost like rebirth.
Everything that has been dead through my winter is slowly waking up to new life, new vibrancy, a new season to grow and live and thrive. Along the way, I remember so much comfort from Scripture, thoughts of new life throughout the pages. This is but one:
The flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come,
and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.
— Song of Songs 2:12
So spring is near. My spring has come, bringing another season, another chance, another burst of hope. Thanks be to God.
People say walking on water is a miracle,
but to me walking peacefully on earth is the real miracle.
Thich Nhat Hanh
Those words ring so true, but how does one realize “the real miracle?” “Walking peacefully on earth” is much harder than it sounds, much more challenging than it ought to be, at least for most of us. Some have poetically said that walking on earth is our pilgrim journey, and I believe that many people feel that they are walking a pilgrim journey.
In his book, The Pilgrim Journey: A History of Pilgrimage in the Western World, James Harpur asserts that we are now in a new era of pilgrimage and asks: “Why is pilgrimage coming back, especially in a time when many people are questioning traditional religion?” Harpur’s answer is that in these days, there seems to be a deep longing in humans for this form of spiritual practice.
As for me, pilgrimage and journey are very real descriptors of my life. I have often set out on one journey or another, not knowing where to go, only that my soul needs the journey. I am captivated by Harpur’s book, by his tracing the history of why countless people through the ages have embarked on spiritual pilgrimages, by his many stories of pilgrimage through the ages and by his examples of why journey is so relevant to today’s pilgrims. Harpur writes:
If that is done, the destination — a shrine, a holy mountain, or a house of God — will signify not the end of the journey, but the start: a gateway into a new way of being, of seeing life afresh with spiritually cleansed eyes.What is essential is that the journey, by whatever means it is accomplished, gives the pilgrim enough time to expose himself or herself to the possibility of a sacred metamorphosis.
Nothing seems more important to me than seeing my life afresh “with spiritually cleansed eyes.” But getting there is a long process, a journey.
Walking peacefully on earth requires my full resolve and my desire to reach that place in life. Wouldn’t any of us want to experience transformation and the freedom to be? Wouldn’t any of us want to experience a sacred metamorphosis?
Certainly, it is a long process, a long journey. There are many steps along the way that each person must determine in order to persist on the pilgrimage. There are divergent paths and rough roads and thorny ways and threatening obstacles. Though choosing the path is personal, the graphic at the top of his post illustrates a set of steps we could possibly choose for ourselves. If I chose to take those steps, it would look like this:
First, I must learn to cry again. Crying is very hard for me, as if I dared to cry, my crying might go on forever. Yet, crying is a part of cleansing the soul, and as the quotation says, there is an importance to flowing and finally letting go. Secondly, I need to accept that within me, there is fire and that I must not be afraid to let it burn. I think I must face the flame, adapt and re-ignite my inner fire. Thirdly, I must to open myself up to refreshing air — observe it, breathe it, focus and then decide whatever I need to decide.
The quote also says “remember that you are earth” and ground yourself, give, build and heal. Finally, “remember that you are Spirit” and care for your inner core so that you can connect, listen, know yourself and be still. It’s quite a lesson — a new way of seeing myself — and perhaps it is the way I must journey if I want to walk peacefully on the earth. In these days when peace is in short supply, when nations refuse to beat their swords into plowshares, when political rivals use hate speech against one another, it is so important that peace dwells within my soul.
In the end, all of us long for what James Harpur calls sacred metamorphosis. We all want to realize the miracle of walking peacefully. We want to walk peacefully in our souls. We want to walk peacefully with others. We want to walk peacefully in our families. We simply want to walk peacefully — hand in hand with God and moved by Spirit. We want the choice to walk or to be still, to run or to leap, to breathe or to hold our breath when we kneel before wonder. We want to have the freedom to speak and shout and sing and dance . . . and truly live. That is the miracle!
Mary did you know,
that your ancient words
would still leap off our pages?
Mary did you know,
that your spirit song
would echo through the ages?
Did you know that your holy cry
would be subversive word,
that the tyrants would be trembling
when they know your truth is heard?
Mary did you know,
that your lullaby
would stir your own Child’s passion?
Mary did you know,
that your song inspires
the work of liberation?
Did you know that your Jubilee
is hope within the heart
of all who dream of justice,
who yearn for it to start?
The truth will teach, the drum will sound, healing for the pain;
The poor will rise, the rich will fall. Hope will live again.
Mary did you know,
that we hear your voice
for the healing of the nations?
Mary did you know,
your unsettling cry
can help renew creation?
Do you know, that we need your faith,
the confidence of you,
May the God that you believe in,
be so true.
— Lyrics by Jennifer Henry (inspired by the song “Mary, Did You Know?”)
On the eve of Advent’s third Sunday, the Sunday of joy, we reflect on Mary. On other Advents, we have been inspired by the angel’s visit to Mary, by her willingness to say, “I am the Lord’s servant,” by her confession of faith in God’s divine plan, by her song that we have loved and know as The Magnificat . . .
My soul magnifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me —
holy is his name.
— Luke 1:46-49 NIV
But on this Advent, I hope to reflect on other truths about Mary and perhaps see another view of her. Perhaps her song was not merely a song of surrender, a willingness to be the handmaiden of God. Perhaps it was not just a song declaring that she would now be called “blessed” for generations.
This Advent, I invite you to ponder the song lyrics of “Mary’s Spirit Song” written by Jennifer Henry. The words reveal another side of Mary. The song leads us to look at all of Mary and discover some of the things she very likely held in her heart.
Perhaps this Advent we will recognize her as one with the courage to proclaim her society’s truth. Perhaps we will notice that she is singing about God scattering the proud, removing rulers from their thrones and lifting up those who are humble. Mary will sing to us of feeding the hungry and sending the rich away empty.
Is this the subversive Mary proclaiming justice, that “the poor will rise, the rich will fall. hope will live again?” The last part of Mary’s song reveals a Mary who is wise beyond her years, who knows the political climate around her, who is compassionate enough to proclaim mercy for those who hunger, who is strong enough to proclaim her Jubilee of justice and liberation, who is brave enough to say that tyrants will tremble.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
He has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors.
— Luke 1:50-55 NIV
If we dare to understand the whole of Mary, we can more fully emulate her courage that called for justice and liberation. We will remember the words the angel proclaimed to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus.”
We will remember Mary’s fear and the angel who calmed her. We will remember her confession of faith in the God who sent the Holy Spirit to “overshadow” her. And, yes, we will always let Mary lead us to the wondrous gift of the Christ Child as she gently cradles him in her arms — with Bethlehem’s star shining over him, and the joyous song of the angels . . .
“Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace, goodwill toward all!”
*Many thanks to Darlene Flaming for sharing “Mary’s Spirit Song” with me.
Sleep would not come easily last night. It occurred to me that I would probably struggle all night to get to sleep, and I began to hope for the coming of daybreak. As I drifted slowly into sleep, I did what I often do on sleepless nights. I began to sing a hymn, under my breath of course, careful not to disturb Fred’s sleep. I began to sing a Gospel hymn Fred and I used to sing many years ago. In our church, or in concert at other churches, “His Eye Is on the Sparrow” was one of the favorites every time we sang it. It was certainly one of my favorites and last night while experiencing a little pain, it came to mind that God was indeed watching over me and, as the hymn says, “Jesus is my portion, my constant friend . . .”
Of course, I also began whispering the Scripture text that inspired this hymn.
Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
— Matthew 10:29-31 New International Version (NIV)
And then the hymn:
Why should I feel discouraged? Why should the shadows come?
Why should my heart feel lonely and long for heaven and home?
When Jesus is my portion, a constant friend is he.
His eye is on the sparrow and I know he watches me.
His eye is on the sparrow and I know he watches me.
I sing because I’m happy.
I sing because I’m free.
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me.
Let not your heart be troubled,” His tender word I hear,
And resting on His goodness, I lose my doubts and fears;
Though by the path He leadeth, but one step I may see;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.
Whenever I am tempted, whenever clouds arise,
When songs give place to sighing, when hope within me dies,
I draw still closer to Him, from care He sets me free;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.
I sing because I’m happy.
I sing because I’m free.
For His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.
I love learning the stories behind the hymns we sing. This is the writer’s story behind “His Eye Is on the Sparrow.”
Civilla Martin was born in Nova Scotia in 1866. Her husband was an evangelist who traveled all over the United States. She accompanied him and they worked together on most of the musical arrangements.
In 1904 Civilla was visiting a very ill friend. Although discouraged and sick, her friend remembered that God was watching over each sparrow and would certainly watch overher. She shared with Civilla the words in Matthew 10: ” . . . don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”
Civilla was a poet and thought this would be a perfect idea for a poem. She jotted down the idea and by the end of the day, had completed “His Eye is On The Sparrow.” The entire poem was sent to a well-known composer of that day, Charles Gabriel. His lovely music has carried it all around the world in small churches and great crusades.
And then there is my story behind this hymn: that I learned it decades ago and sang it often; that it spoke comfort to me back then, just as it did last night when sleep would not come; that God has given me the gift I call hymn memory so that every time I need encouragement, the text of a hymn — usually every word of the hymn — comes to mind to comfort me.
For this gift, I give thanks to God. Daybreak did come this morning, but before that I was led by the message of “His Eye Is on the Sparrow” into a restorative night of sleep. And I know this truth in all my deep places: “Jesus is my portion, my constant friend.”
I hope you will take a moment to enjoy this video of the hymn.
At the moment, I am literally stitched together after a kidney transplant. I know everyone likes to tell how many stitches they have, but I can’t give you that detail because I can’t see my incision well enough to count them. It’s just as well. Those stitches don’t matter all that much. They certainly don’t matter as much as being stitched together by song lyrics, book quotes, adventures . . . and moonlight. What matters most is that I am pieces of all the places I have been and all the people I have loved.
For my Sabbath yesterday, I played hymns on Pandora. As I listened for hours, I heard music that reminded me of places I have been over the years, from the single traffic light in Reform, Alabama to the rugged beauty of the Mountains of the Moon in Uganda, East Africa. And I heard hymn texts that reminded me of people I have loved, from beloved seminary professors to people I served as pastor. I sang along much of the time, singing hymn texts that ranged from “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus” to “I’ll Fly Away,” and everything in between.
The hymns portrayed the story of my faith with Gospel songs that marked my conversion and my early years to the Great Hymns of the Church that expressed my faith in my later years. I could see myself singing in many different choirs, as a pastor leading congregational singing, as a worship leader at national gatherings, as a missionary in a mud hut and even as a teenager sitting on the back row of the church, inappropriately close to my boyfriend.
Each hymn I heard yesterday reminded me of those times and told the story of my faith journey. Indeed, I envisioned myself as one who truly is pieces of the places I’ve been and the people I have loved along the way. For at least a few hours, I was able to lay aside my physical pain, forget about my surgical stitches and give thanks that I am stitched together by hymns and people and adventures and hope on my journey of faith.
Being a part of a community of faith is one of God’s gifts to us, stitched together with sacred threads that remind us continually who we are. Being stitched together as a faith community is beautifully described in this passage from the book of Acts.
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.
— Acts 2:42-47
Interesting — and one of God’s very special gifts — that when we are stitched together, we discover that we are whole.