The Power of a Whisper

IMG_5727Speak your mind. Don’t be afraid. Don’t whisper in the deep.

These words, composed by Ray Phiri, the South African guitarist and anti-apartheid bandleader who played behind Paul Simon on “Graceland,” opened my mind and heart to a stark realityβ€” that hate hovers ominously all around. That hate’s power can dessimate all that is right and just and good in the world. That hate can be conquered only by a courageous people willing to speak truth and love whatever the cost.

Ray Phiri died last week at age 70, but in this seventy years, his controversial ideas made an impact. His song,”Whispers in the Deep” was banned from broadcast on the South African government-controlled radio station, SABC, when it was released in 1986.

Stand up! Wake up!
Call me angry, call me mad.
A soul that whispers in the deep.
I’m inspired.
But I can’t understand hate.

I imagine that is exactly where we find ourselves, unable to understand hate. We see enough of it, to be sure. We hear about it every day. We know about the dry, brittle bones that remain when a person experiences enough hate.

Hate is war. It is hunger and poverty. It is racism and homophobia and xenophobia. It is violence and abuse. It is unbridled anger. It is injustice in many forms, injustice that shatters lives and leaves dust and ashes in its wake.

Standing amidst hate is not unlike standing in a personal hell. Hate, whether around us or within us, has the power to crush the soul. And yet, always present with us is a protective God who can deliver us from hate’s destruction.

For me, it is true that I do not always know that God is nearby. I seldom see God as my personal vanquishing superhero that destroys the power of hate. Rather, the God I know is much more like the God in the story of Elijah. (1 Kings 19:11-13)

As the story goes, Elijah clings to a cave while God unleashes natural forces far beyond anything Elijah has ever seen or heard. But even in the midst of the tempest, Elijah realizes that something is terribly wrong. The text tells us three times that God is nowhere to be found. But the text also insists that God is passing by.

Elijah looked for God in the great whirlwind, in the shattering earthquake, in the blazing fire. But Elijah did not experience God’s presence in any of those mighty and supernatural happenings. Elijah experienced God in the sound of a light whisper. Biblical translators have often called it β€œthe still, small voice.”

The question I ask myself is whether or not I will gather enough strength from God’s tentative presence with me to wake up, to stand up against hate. As in Ray Phiri’s compelling lyric, I do not understand hate. He warns against whispering in the deep, probably a warning against being too quiet in a world that needs to hear confident voices. But it seems to me that even a whisper can be full of power. A persevering whisper can vanquish hate. A persistent whisper can transform the world.

May God make it so.

 

Advertisements

Divine Dissatisfaction

Enlight79

Yesterday, the United States launched a military strike on a Syrian government airbase in response to a chemical weapons attack that killed dozens of civilians earlier in the week. Today a Russian warship entered the eastern Mediterranean heading toward the area where two U.S. Navy destroyers launched missile strikes into Syria.

It is, indeed, a precarious time. The world is a frightening place. War still holds its sway upon a divided world. The comforting Scripture proclaiming extraordinary peace is not our current reality. Yet we long for that day when the lion and the lamb shall lie down together, every person will sit under his or her own vine and fig tree, and none shall be afraid.

As people of God, we should be dissatisfied until that day of peace comes. We should be dissatisfied until every child lives in safety. We should be dissatisfied until the world lives in unity. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. calls us to “Divine Dissatisfaction.”

Let us go out with a divine dissatisfaction.
Let us be dissatisfied
until America will no longer have
a high blood pressure of creeds
and an anemia of deeds.

Let us be dissatisfied until the tragic walls
that separate the outer city of wealth and comfort
and the inner city of poverty and despair
shall be crushed by the battering rams
of the forces of justice.

Let us be dissatisfied
until those that live on the outskirts of hope
are brought into the metropolis of daily security.
Let us be dissatisfied until slums are cast
into the junk heaps of history,
and every family is living
in a decent sanitary home . . .

Let us be dissatisfied until men and women,
however black they may be, will be judged
on the basis of the content of their character
and not on the basis of the color of their skin.
Let us be dissatisfied.

Let us be dissatisfied until every state capitol
houses a governor who will do justly, who will love
mercy and who will walk humbly with his God.

Let us be dissatisfied until from every city hall,
justice will roll down like waters and righteousness
like a mighty stream.

Let us be dissatisfied
until that day when the lion and the lamb
shall lie down together, and every man
will sit under his own vine and fig tree
and none shall be afraid. Let us be dissatisfied . . .

Our dreams will sometimes be shattered and our ethereal hopes blasted.
The road ahead will not always be smooth.
There will be still rocky places of frustration
and meandering points of bewilderment.
There will be inevitable setbacks here and there.
There will be those moments when the buoyancy of hope
will be transformed into the fatigue of despair . . .

Difficult and painful as it is, we must walk on
in the days ahead with an audacious faith in the future.

– Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Excerpts from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference address, August 16, 1967.

May God give us the strength and courage to live into divine dissatisfaction until God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.

Bitter Days

image

I never had a charmed life. I have lived through bitter days, many of them. I have known sorrow, hopelessness, darkness, emptiness, loneliness, and all manner of emotional angst. But in those bitter times when I thought my world had fallen apart, I always found a fresh measure of faith, certainly enough faith to weather the storm.

It is true that I have often found myself standing alone on shifting sand. It is true that I have experienced loneliness, wondering why God had left me bereft and alone. It is true that, at times, I lost all hope. It is true that my tears fell freely and there was no one to witness my pain.

The words of Bishop Steven Charleston, once again, describe the emotions I have felt along the way.

I don’t know about you, for there are some who live charmed lives, but I have been by that lonely shore, standing alone on shifting sand, looking out to a vast dark emptiness, an ominous and unknown sea stretching out to the cloud covered edge of my world, while waves of sadness crashed around me, stinging my eyes with the salt of ancient tears. How clear and yet how distant is that memory now. Hope is not the absence of sorrow, but the release of that sorrow beside the still waters of faith. The light is right behind you. Turn to find it.

Yes, I did find renewed hope, and I did release my sorrow beside the still waters of faith. I did it many times, always finding that God’s light really was right behind me. Thanks be to God that better days always follow bitter days.

Pathways

image

Life journeys take us through pathways of all kinds – lonely pathways, contemplative pathways, dangerous pathways, mysterious pathways. The pathways make life exhilarating and unpredictable. The pathways lead us to places we never expected to go, discovering things we never expected to discover.

The pathways make life the pleasure that it is. That is, if we ever learn to travel the pathways without fear. Unfortunately, fear makes us forgo countless pathways, and we miss so much when that happens.

Walking fearlessly requires faith and a heart that can still hope. Walking life’s pathways takes courage and persistence. The Bible gives us encouragement to move forward. “When you walk, your steps will not be impeded; And if you run, you will not stumble.” Proverbs 4:12

So let us walk on with hopeful hearts, taking the pathways before us, being delighted at every turn, fearlessly moving toward our destiny.

What Is Holy Is Not Tame

image

“So tell me, what is it that you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” – Mary Oliver

I love that question! And even at my age, I love being able to answer it. Even with a serious illness hanging over me, I have plans for my one wild and precious life. The passing years, in fact, make life even more precious. My goal for life is not only to make it precious, but to also make it wild . . . one last wild ride that takes in the magnificent world around me!

My goal is to have experiences that can be described with words similar to the words of Bishop Charleston:

I have seen the Spirit moving behind the gathering clouds, with wings the color of rainbows. I have watched the light of creation split the sky, as angels pound the drums of heaven. What is holy is not what is tame, what is divine is as wild as a desert rain. Love is not a timid breeze, but a storm of change, sweeping the comfortable before it like leaves, blowing the dust off our ordered lives, challenging us to dare the elements of our own vision. What is holy is not what is tame, so when you stand to pray, stand facing the wind.

I agree that what is holy is not tame at all. So blow through my life, refreshing breeze. Rearrange me, storm of change. I am standing facing the wind with great anticipation!

Love Has the Last Word

image

My last blog post spoke of being unable to escape adversity. And it is true that we will not get through this life without adversity, no matter how hard we try. The path we walk is steep and winding, leading us forward through all sorts of dangers, toils and snares. The road can be frightening. It can be challenging.

We navigate in a world that is sometimes filled with terror and hate. But the best news for us comes from Bishop Steven Charleston.

The final word to our lives will not be terror or hate. Even if they seem overwhelming now, they will not define us or control us. Other forces are at work, deep forces that move silently among us, drawing us closer against the storm. Whenever human beings face disaster together, whatever that peril may be, our ancient instinct for compassion rises up to unite us in common cause. We do not shatter beneath the blows. We only grow stronger. No, fear and hate will never have the last word. Love will.

There is no better news than that!

I love the hymn Amazing Love. How Can it Be. The words of the fourth stanza give me new and fresh hope.

Long my imprisoned spirit lay
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray,
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.

Amazing love, how can it be that Thou, my God, should die for me?

Love has the last word.

The Heart to Conquer Pain

image

No way to escape hardships! It’s inevitable that life will bring us sadness, loss, grief, fear, and all manner of trial. This is a dangerous world, and danger is a part of life. This is a world where pain sometimes strikes us, and there is no way to avoid it.

I recall a terribly dark time in my life when I felt betrayed and abandoned, as if I alone had to face the troubles that had descended upon me. I felt disheartened and despondent. I felt frightened and, most of all, I felt totally alone. It was not a good feeling. It left me bereft of comfort for weeks on end. I could not change the circumstance, and I could not shake the emotional angst.

Prayer was my companion, but I would be lying if I said that prayer worked an instant miracle. Prayer was constant and so was the pain. I was not delivered from it by a prayer or a Bible passage. I simply endured the pain until it began to ease.

Was God present with me during this time? Did God hear my cries? Did God even care that I was going through the valley’s shadow?

My experience was that God was very silent. I knew God’s presence only by faith. I knew God’s compassion only by past experience. I knew I would survive only because I had survived so many difficulties in the past.

Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers but to be fearless when facing them.
Let me not beg for the stilling of my pain but for the heart to conquer it.

– Rabindranath Tagore

Remade!

image

I am in awe of God’s presence in all things. It is not just that God is near us. God is also within us and beside us in every created thing. I have learned that, even in the most difficult times, God is within me. In fact, God is perhaps nearer in the hard times.

How narrow a pathway those hard times bring! There is nothing to be seen on the left or on the right. It is a feeling of being trapped in one’s own sadness, wondering if the narrow path will ever end, wondering if the world will ever open up again. It is as if I am being forced to look within myself because the path is too narrow to see anything else. The sunlight is hidden. The light of stars and moon doesn’t show itself. There are no mountains or forests or valleys or seashores. There is just the narrow tunneled path and the will and the courage to keep moving through it. And even there in that tight, restrictive space, I sense God’s presence.

I can rest on the promises of this quote by Jan Richardson from her book on reflection and prayer, In the Sanctuary of Women.

The mystics invite us to remember what we all too often forget: God is everywhere present in the world, suffusing creation with the being of God. Once in a while, if we keep our eyes open, if we look closely enough, something amid the familiar reveals itself, offers itself to us in a new way. What we know, what we have learned, is taken apart. Is remade. Remakes us.

So many times in this life, I have been remade. It’s by the grace of a loving, ever-present God.