I just read a powerful quote by poet extraordinaire, Amanda Gorman, in an interview published in Time Magazine. In the article, Michelle Obama interviews Amanda Gorman.
Optimism shouldn’t be seen as opposed to pessimism, but in conversation with it. Your optimism will never be as powerful as it is in that exact moment when you want to give it up. The way we can all be hopeful is to not negate the feelings of fear or doubt, but to ask: What led to this darkness? And what can lead us out of the shadows?
More than anything else, her words are about hope, just hope. We throw the word “hope” around quite often, hoping for this thing and then that thing. But that’s just hope, not necessarily real hope. Real hope is a hope that looks beyond the present moment, hope that is the glow from your soul, hope that is an abiding thing that is hidden in your soul.
The last thing I want to do today is give you all the definitions of hope I can find on the internet. In fact, if you wanted to, you could find hundreds of good quotes about hope on the internet, maybe even thousands. Like these:
Quotes and definitions may be popular, even relevant at times, but what I have desperately needed in my darkest moments was not a new definition of hope or even a lovely quote written on a picture of clouds. What I needed in my personal dark nights of terror was the kind of hope that had the gentle power to heal the deepest recesses of soul and to lift my spirit to the brilliant light that is never fully gone.
Just hope? Oh, no! Not just hope, but the abiding, living hope we know as the constant presence of God and the wings of Spirit breath. For this hope, thanks be to God.
As a gift to you on this day, I offer a video of Amanda Gorman presenting her hope-filled poem, “The Hill We Climb.” I know I previously sent a video of her presenting her poem at the Inauguration, but this video is worth watching. Find it HERE.
Throughout my life there were times, many of them, when the only thing I could do was pray. In spite of knowing that praying was the very best thing that I could do, my soul held a kind of dark, helpless, hopeless sadness. My brother’s serious illness has taken me into that “dark night.” Thinking of him in the hospital’s ICU fighting the ravages of the coronavirus brought me to darkness, especially at night while trying to fall asleep. Lying in bed, I experienced panic attacks. Being unable to visit him brought even more darkness to my spirit. The fear of losing him triggered every past trauma I have suffered throughout my life.
The dark night! The unknown! Yes, I fear it. I dread it. And it is here with me now.
The writing of Spanish mystic St. John of the Cross (1542–1591) gave me a kind of marker that helped me measure my current experience of “the dark night.” He described his darkness as a place of“unknowing.”
Yet when I saw myself there
Without knowing where I was
I understood great things;
I shall not say what I felt
For I remained in unknowing
Transcending all knowledge.
— St John of the Cross
I suspect that every person has sometimes been in places I can only describe as the “dark night of the soul.”It is a place most people experience as abandonment by God. It is a place where I have found myself many times. And yes, I fear it. I dread it. Perhaps you fear it, too.
Many people believe that the dark night of the soul comes to them because of something they have done, some sin they have committed that results in God’s absence. Yet, we find the experience of darkness in the life stories of those we think of as having been faithful followers of God. People such as Mother Teresa, C. S. Lewis, Henri Nouwen and Martin Luther. Each of these suffered particularly intense episodes of the “dark night of the soul.”
In his secret journal, Henri Nouwen wrote about a dark season in 1988 in which he could not feel God’s love.He had brought millions of others into a more tender and intimate experience with God, but he writes that he was in a “dark night of the soul.”
C.S. Lewis’s dark night came after the death of his wife Joy, the love of his life who died four years after their marriage. Lewis explained that he experienced the emotional pain of Absence — not just the absence of his wife, but the immense Absence of God, his “dark night of the soul.”
Mother Teresa’s darkness came at the very founding of her Missionaries of Charity and lasted to the end of her life, with little respite. Martin Luther’s dark night plagued him as a young monk, and then in several other forms as a Reformer.
The dark night! The unknown! Yes, I fear it. I dread it.
It is for me a time when prayer is my only response. At least, what I understand of prayer. At times I have found myself turning to music to quiet my soul in my darkest night. One song that I turn to almost every time in the darkness is “The Prayer” written by Carole Bayer Sager, David Foster, Tony Renis and Alberto Testa. “The Prayer” is a song of safety and inspiration.
Carole Bayer Sager speaks about how the song’s theme of safety is so important to her:
I think it embodies everything I looked for my whole life. “Lead us to the place, guide us with your grace, to a place where we’ll be safe.” I didn’t find that safety until my mid-40s.
I wonder if the words and thoughts in “The Prayer” might comfort you on this day, reading its words and listening to the video I’ve embedded below.
Ipray you’ll be our eyes
And watch us where we go
And help us to be wise
In times when we don’t know
Let this be our prayer
When we lose our way
Lead us to a place
Guide us with your grace
To a place where we’ll be safe.
I pray we’ll find your light
And hold it in our hearts
When stars go out each night
Remind us where you are.
Let this be our prayer
When shadows fill our day
Lead us to a place
Guide us with your grace
To a place where we’ll be safe.
A world where pain and
sorrow will be ended
And every heart that’s
broken will be mended
And we’ll remember we
are all God’s children Reaching out to touch you
Reaching to the sky.
We ask that life be kind
And watch us from above
We hope each soul will find
Another soul to love.
Let this be our prayer
Just like every child
Needs to find a place
Guide us with your grace.
Give us faith so we’ll be safe.
The dark night!The unknown!Yes, we fear it. We dread it. Praying ourselves through it may seem impossible.
Yet, might we look at darkness and the unknown in another way by reflecting on the creation story in Genesis? When I consider God’s creation of day, and night, it seems that God’s astounding creation of day and night reside in a continuum where neither are bad. They just are! When I consider our gift of “In the beginning,”I cannot help but look on in awe and wonder as God and Spirit create light out of darkness.
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.
God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.”
God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the fourth day. — Genesis 1:1-3, 16-19
God saw that it was good. In that, I have confidence. I see the brightness of the day, andthe night, nightthat God has filled with a glowing moon and glistening stars — light in darkness. Perhaps this thought, this truth of Scripture, will help us to not fear the darkness of night, for without it, we would can never enjoy its light. And as for the dark night of the soul, the unknown that we so fear, perhaps we can embrace it as a place to linger and to wait for the Spirit to guide us into the realization of God’s presence, even as we are experiencing God’s absence.
One of my favorite writers, Mirabai Starr, knows about the way of unknowing personally and intimately. She describes what happens between the soul and God in the “dark night:”
The soul in the dark night cannot, by definition, understand what is happening to her. . . . she does not realize that the darkness is a blessing. She feels miserable and unworthy, convinced that God has abandoned her, afraid she may herself be turning against him. In her despair, the soul does not recognize that God is teaching her in a secret way now.
At the same time that the soul in the night becomes paralyzed . . .a sense of abundance starts to grow inside the emptied soul. . . . God will whisper to the soul in the depth of darkness and guide it through the wilderness of the Unknown.
Barbara Brown Taylor intentionally moved herself into an experience of forced darkness, a place where her intention was to stay there for a long period of time. In that darkness, she said this: “St. John of the Cross says that the dark night is God’s best gift to you, intended for your liberation.”
The dark night!The unknown!Yes, I still fear it. I will probably always dread it. But after being in dark spaces so many times, I think I can stay there now, knowing in my heart of hearts that my soul’s dark night really is God’s best gift to me, intended for my liberation.
The dark night!The unknown!Yes, I still fear it.
I may fear the darkness, but I love the stars.
Though my soul may set in darkness,
it will rise in perfect light; I have loved the stars too fondly
to be fearful of the night.
― Sarah Williams, Twilight Hours: A Legacy Of Verse
In my soul’s darkest nights, I learned that the light of the stars is always there, even in the times when I cannot see them. I also learned something profound about prayer — something so profound, so holy and intimate — that I am at a loss to describe it. I learned that a part of prayer in the dark is the miracle that Spirit holds me close and God whispers to my soul.
I know that the stars still comfort me in the dark, that in the darkest of my soul’s nights, I can still pray. For that, I give thanks to God.
Unfaith! Such an unsettling word that may well describe where we sometimes find ourselves! I am certain that unfaith applies to me, to the times when my soul is troubled, to the seasons when my faith becomes small. Unfaith most definitely takes over in my heart at times, and in those times, my journey is a struggle. So I battle against unfaith, all the while simply wanting to understand it. This is my truth: I fight unfaith, praying to be rid of it, writing down my emotions around it, reading my Bible when I cannot live with unfaith another minute. My skirmish with unfaith often leads me to the words of the Psalmist.
In yesterday’s struggle with unfaith, I happened upon Psalm 73. It is a rather lengthy Psalm, as Psalms go, and it spends a great deal of time describing wicked people. I rushed through it, I think, because I was searching for inspiring words about unfaith and because I all already know a lot about wicked people. I can, in fact, describe wicked people almost as passionately as does the Psalmist. On top of that, my description of wicked people often includes some choice and inappropriate words.
I plowed on through the Psalm when, out of the blue, one particular verse “hit me upside the head!” (That’s southern slang!) Verse 14 came much too close to my soul. It described my emotions and showed me myself.
All day long I have been afflicted,
and every morning brings new punishments.
— Psalm 73:14 NIV
Oh my! There it is: a succinct statement that so fully reflects what I had been feeling for the past week. It is unpleasant to read, as if it is stating my disconcerting reality and then forcing me to ask myself a question I would rather avoid. Still, I dare to ask myself — “So what are you going to do about your current state?” — knowing that I will likely not have an immediate answer nor a reassuring one. Sometimes I think that all of my feelings and responses come from my unfaith.
I should give you the backdrop for my Psalm 73 experience. I have felt unwell for several days — unrelenting fatigue, deep muscle aches, shortness of breath, trembling, hand tremors and several other troubling symptoms. The reality is that since my kidney transplant in November, I have been plagued with less than perfect health and a very compromised immune system.
Last week, my immunosuppressant medication dosage was increased, something I always dread because I know the distress that usually follows. This time, the side-effects seem worse than they have ever been. I struggle with the reality that so many parts of my body are just not working normally and despair is one of my recurring feelings, despair that, on most days, I have to fight against.
I have learned that I can fight against despair and that often I must. Despair does a number on the soul and spirit, on the place where my emotions live. So, yes, I can fight it, but the fight is exhausting. I can stand courageously and face off with despair. At times, I can even rise above it, but the encounter leaves me deep-down weary.
As for my spirit? Well, my spirit constantly searches for God’s comfort, for holy relief and answers to my questions. I try to attend to my spiritual health, as well as my emotional and physical health, often without much success. I sometimes experience God as a comforter who is far away. I do not often hear God’s voice, and I am not one to beg God for healing. Is all of this struggle because of my unfaith?
I have shared far more confession and self-revelation than anyone needs to hear. I do it because sometimes I believe that release might come if I can give voice to my pain and discouragement, if I can own my weariness and tell my story. Telling is not a quick-fix miracle cure, but telling another person how I feel gives me an extra measure of strength and resolve. And telling all of you who read my blog always means that many of you will offer prayers for me.
After sharing with you that I sometimes feel distant from God, this morning I caught an unexpected glimpse of God. It was just a tiny glimpse, though it was also a comforting, healing glimpse. I caught a glimpse of God in the place I find God most often — through the words of the Prophet Isaiah. The Book of Isaiah is my go-to place when I find myself so weary that I feel as if I cannot take another step.
Selected passages from Isaiah 40 and 41:
Do you not know? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.
— Isaiah 40:28-31 NIV
So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand
and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.
— Isaiah 41:10,13 NIV
For some reason, I felt an urging to read Psalm 73 again. As I read it again, I found a clear and enduring declaration of God’s presence that rings so true to me on my best days.
Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heartand my portion forever.
—Psalm 73:23-26 NIV
This is the spiritual place I want to be — the place where I know that God is the strength of my heartand my portion forever — in spite of pain, in spite of discomfort, in spite of uncertainty, in spite of the life reality that my questions will not always have answers, in spite of my unfaith. I am convinced that unfaith is always with us like “a thorn in the flesh,” an ever-present oppressor, a silent demon that steals into the soul. But I am even more certain that, along with unfaith, there is pure and true faith. Perhaps we cannot know abidingfaith without also knowing the disconcerting seasons of unfaith.
So these are my musings about unfaith, prompted by a Psalm. Isn’t that just like God, though, offering me a grace gift by gently guiding me through a Psalm that reaffirms God’s protection? Isn’t that like God, to freely give me reassuring grace? Isn’t it just like God, to give me the gift of presence, a gift freely given to me even when I doubt, even when I am struggling with a season of unfaith?
Thanks be to God for the epiphany that, in my heart and soul, faith has most assuredly come, though bringing unfaith with it. Thanks be to God for this insight: that growing in faith means descending into my unfaith for as long as it takes for its oppressive darkness to give way to God’s wonderful light.
As I walked through this part of my faith journey, I could not help but remember the words of a hymn that declares that we are held by a firm foundation and, through words spoken by God, promises us protection, strength and grace.
* Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed,
For I am thy God, and will still give thee aid;
I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
Upheld by My righteous, omnipotent hand.
When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of sorrow shall not overflow;
For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless,
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.
When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.
In your quiet time, spend a few moments hearing this hymn as you worship with the congregation of First-Plymouth Church in Lincoln, Nebraska.
*Author: George Keith 1787; R. Keen, 1787
Source: Rippon’s A Selection of Hymns, 1787
Copyright: Public Domain
I have written often about times when I have been shaken to my core, the hard times and the seasons of angst. Not because hard times have been a constant in my life, but because in the middle of them, I have found a Divine Constant that sustained me at times and saved me at other times.
As we approach the Sunday of the Palm and Passion, we remember the journey Jesus traveled.
. . . the great crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting,“Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord— the King of Israel!” (John 1:12-13 NRSV)
Yet, before the day is done, the Gospel of John tells us how troubled Jesus was as he spoke about his death.
Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. (John 1:27-28 NRSV)
As we recall Christ’s passion, we cannot help but recognize our own — and the passion of our families, friends, neighbors scattered throughout the world. Each of us, no matter where we are, are covered with the fear of a pandemic we can not begin to understand, the virus that knows no boundaries. It goes where it will, infecting those exposed to its microorganisms and leaving fear and anxiety in its wake. We are shaken to the core.
Those who are infected, or have watched as their infected loved ones battle the virus, cry out for mercy, for grace and for comfort. They are in search of the Divine Constant, a “very present help,” who keeps vigil with us offering a comfort that surpasses our ability to comprehend it. There is no better description of divine comfort than the words of the Psalmist in the 46th Psalm that tells us to take heart, hang on, fear not.
God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved;
God will help it when the morning dawns.
The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge.
Come, behold the works of the Lord;
see what desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
“Be still, and know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations,
I am exalted in the earth.”
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge.
At the very beginning of the Cold War in 1952, Harry Emerson Fosdick spoke to students and faculty at the Pacific School of Religion. After acknowledging the very real fear and uncertainty in the world at that time, he spoke these words: “The highest use of a shaken time is to discover the unshakable.”
Oh, that we might find the highest use of this time! Oh, that we might find it alone — isolated in our homes, in our prayer closets, in the breeze and beauty of springtime! Oh, that we might find the highest use of this time in community — in all the ways we are striving to create holy community despite our isolation.
Yes, we are shaken right now, but again the Psalmist has the last word of divine comfort and hope.
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted
and saves those who are crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:18 NIV)
As I look around, hearing from those closest to me and also hearing the stories of people around the world, I witness signs that we are indeed discovering the unshakable in this shaken time — the unshakable in ourselves, the unshakable faith we hold in our hearts, the unshakable spirit within us and the Unshakable Constant God who pours grace upon us when we most need it.
May each of you stay safe and healthy. May you wave your palms and witness Christ’s passion still believing in the resurrection that will dawn upon our lives again. May you find the unshakable within you and hold the Unshakable God near you.
For a time of prayer and meditation, you may be inspired by listening to this beautiful arrangement of the hymn, “Nearer, My God, to Thee.”
When we find ourselves in our darkest times, it is then that we search for God with all our hearts. Today I invite you to recall the story of the woman who touched the hem of Jesus’ garment, and in that moment was touched by God. In years past, I have written and preached many times about searching for God — the images of God experienced when one searches for God, the emotions felt when the search brings God near, the path that leads to a renewed relationship with God. I have read many sermons through the years that have been entitled, How Do You Find God?” In Scripture, God is found in many ways, in many places that suddenly become holy ground. Before anything else, we must hear these words from the prophet Jeremiah:
You will seek me and find me, when you search for me with all your heart.
Scripture offers us many examples of holy moments in God’s presence, times when people like you and me stood on holy ground before God in their own time, in their own way, “seeing” God in the way that most inspired them.
Moses met God on Mount Horeb . . . Moses came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush . . . Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then God said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” He said further, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.
So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.”
But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”
God said, “I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.” (From Genesis 3)
The Prophet Isaiah heard the voice of God . . . Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!” (Isaiah 6:8)
Elijah experienced God . . . The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”
Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:11-13)
Though the circumstances were not ideal, Miriam met God face to face . . . The Lord said to Moses, Aaron and Miriam, “Come out to the tent of meeting, all three of you.” So the three of them went out.
Then the Lord came down in a pillar of cloud; he stood at the entrance to the tent and summoned Aaron and Miriam. When the two of them stepped forward, he said, “Listen to my words . . . (Numbers 12:1-6)
Moses speaks to the Israelites about hearing God just before receiving the Ten Commandments . . . The Lord spoke to you face to face out of the fire on the mountain. (Deuteronomy 5:4)
Jacob wrestles with a man, some say an angel, at Peniel . . . The man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed. . .”
So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” (From Genesis 32)
Job spends many days demanding that God give him answers . . . Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind:
“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Gird up your loins like a man,
I will question you, and you shall declare to me.
“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? (Job 38:1-4)
Eve heard God’s voice in the garden and she talked with God, although hers was not the best encounter . . . Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?”
. . . To the woman God said,
“I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing;
in pain you shall bring forth children. (From Genesis 3)
Finally, Matthew gives us a beautiful example of a woman who searched for God through the presence of Jesus, God incarnate . . . Suddenly a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years came up behind Jesus and touched the of his cloak, for she said to herself, “If I only touch the hem of his garment, I will be made well.” Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made whole. (Matthew 9:20-22)
Perhaps it is this woman whose story most clearly reminds us that ordinary people like you and I can search for God, hear God’s voice and even see God face to face. It is there in the presence of the Holy One that we are made whole. I recently read an article and found in it these words and the image above:
“I look at this in awe! This is the Aurora Borealis in Finland. It is called, ‘The Hem of His Garment.’”
The image of Finland’s Aurora Borealis is truly awe-inspiring. Yet, many other images become visible in a search for God. Those of us who search find God in many different ways. Have you searched for God? What images of God have you seen? Have you heard God’s voice and felt God’s presence in your darkest hours? Have you stood on holy ground, looking into the face of God?
You will seek me and find me when you search for me with all your heart.
I recently read an article and found in it these words and the image above:
“I look at this in awe! This is the Aurora Borealis in Finland. It is called, ‘The Hem of His Garment.’”
I pray that each of us will seek God and find God in the ways that most inspire us and make us whole. I leave you with this blessing.
May God’s Image surround you,
and those whom you love.
Rest now, in God’s calm embrace.
May you, in your own way, touch the face of God.
Let your hearts be warmed
and all your storms be stilled
by the whisper of God’s voice. Amen.
Today Is a troubled day for me. I need to know God as “my ever present help in time of trouble” on this day of kidney transplant aftercare that began early this morning. Being in the Mayo Clinic lab by 6:30 is not so gentle a way to treat a person with a huge, painful incision! On the way to Mayo Clinic, bumps and potholes in the road caused sharp pain. Walking the hallways at Mayo Clinic required far more energy than I currently have. I am weak and shaky, struggling with significant pain, and suffering from the side effects of very potent medications.
The medical visits will end around 2:00 pm today. We hoped to be able to rest until the next medical appointments on Wednesday. But the transplant doctors need to repeat my blood tests early tomorrow. They made some significant changes to my medications to try to address some concerns they have about my kidney function, excessive incision pain, blood sugar and fluid retention.
It occurred to me today, that in some ways, all of the inflexible after surgery care and the daunting medication regimen seems as if it is not at all about me; it’s about the kidney! It’s all about the kidney!
I can live with that if I can remember that God cares for me, for every part of me, and of course, for the new kidney. But my hope rests on the grace-giving God who also cares for the whole of me — what’s going on with me physically, emotionally and spiritually.
A comforting hymn text about God’s care has lifted me up into hope at various times in my life. “Day by Day, and with Each Passing Moment” was written by a young Swedish woman, Carolina Sandell Berg. Like the Psalmist, Berg learned early in life to trust in God’s strength to help her overcome times of suffering. She learned that when pain and tragedy strike, God may use that experience to deepen our faith.
When Carolina was 26-years old, she experienced a tragedy which profoundly affected her life. As she and her father crossed a Swedish lake, the ship suddenly lurched, and before her eyes, her father was thrown overboard and drowned. Like the Psalmist who gave us a strong affirmation with these words, “God is my refuge, an ever present help in time of trouble,” Carolina Berg found hope in God day by day.
Although my present situation is very different from her tragedy, I am learning all over again about how hope and faith work for me. This is my paraphrase of Carolina Sandell Berg’s wonderful hymn:
Day by day and with each passing moment,
Strength I find to meet my trials here;
Trusting in God’s kind and wise bestowment,
I’ve no cause for worry or for fear.
God whose heart is kind beyond all measure
Gives unto each day what She deems best —
Lovingly, it’s part of pain and pleasure,
Mingling toil with peace and rest.
Every day the God of love is near me
With a special mercy for each hour;
All my cares God’s love will bear, and cheer me,
God whose name is Counselor and Power.
The protection of God’s child and treasure
Is a charge that on Herself She laid;
“As thy days, thy strength shall be in measure,”
This the pledge to me She made.
Help me then in every tribulation
So to trust Thy promises, O Lord,
That I lose not faith’s sweet consolation
Offered me within Thy holy Word.
Help me, Lord, when toil and trouble meeting,
Ever take, as from a mother’s hand,
One by one, the days, the moments fleeting,
‘Till I reach the promised land.
On days like this one when I feel weary and weak, when I experience pain and need an extra measure of compassionate care, I know I can look to God who is “my ever present help in time of trouble.” And I know that God, who is both father and mother to me, will walk beside me day by day, every day, through every passing moment.
On another note, please pray for me as I recover from my kidney transplant at Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida. I am so grateful that you are walking with me on this journey that often felt so frightening and is now a very difficult recovery. Your thoughts and prayers mean so much. Your donations through the Georgia Transplant Foundation have helped us get very close to our goal. The Foundation will match donations dollar for dollar up to $10,000, and you have already helped us raise $9,015. If you are able, please help us get to the $10,000 matched amount. We are almost there. If you can contribute or if you would like to read more of the story of my illness, please visit the Georgia Transplant Foundation’s website at this link:
A “Go Fund Me” page is also set up for contributions to help with the enormous costs related to the transplant, including medications, housing costs for the month we have to stay near the transplant center, uncovered medications and medical equipment, and other unforeseeable costs for my care following the transplant. If you can, please be a part of my transplant journey by making a contribution at this link
Praise the Lord!
Praise, O servants of the Lord;
praise the name of the Lord.
Blessed be the name of the Lord
from this time on and forevermore.
From the rising of the sun to its setting
the name of the Lord is to be praised.
The Lord is high above all nations,
and his glory above the heavens.
Who is like the Lord our God,
who is seated on high,
who looks far down
on the heavens and the earth?
He raises the poor from the dust,
and lifts the needy from the ash heap,
to make them sit with princes,
with the princes of his people.
He gives the barren woman a home,
making her the joyous mother of children.
Praise the Lord!
— Psalm 113 (NRSV)
The Palmist assures us that the sun rises and sets. The Psalmist speaks to us of the comfort of sameness, of something we can count on. But this Psalm says more. The Psalmist pictures God, not only as One who is to be praised, but also a God who is the helper of the poor and needy. This is a God-image that we need in these troubled times. The Psalmist’s story sings with praise to God, but then continues on, showing us a God who raises up those who are poor and lifts up the people whose needs are great. And nestled in the words of this Psalm are the words we have long heard:
From the rising of the sun unto the going down of the same,
the Lord’s name is to be praised. (KJV)
What a comfort it is to know that when the sun rises, God will be God, and when the same sun sets, God will be God — a constant, divine presence. The sun will sink into the horizon, leaving darkness around us. Yet, the next day will dawn, the sun will rise as it always does and God will still be present, ever watching over us.
There are times when I have needed to know that God was in place, times when I was poor in spirit, needy in heart. There are times when sadness and worry have silenced my praise. In such a time, I was unable to speak, unable to even name my silences. In those times, my silences were deep. They were hidden, unspoken places of pain.
What I now know is that my pain would ease, that my spirit would again rejoice, and that my silences would find words. That knowledge enables me to lift my eyes to the sunrise of God and to rest in the assurance of God’s abiding presence with me.
When storm clouds threaten, God is present.
When the earth beneath my feet quakes, God is present.
In sunshine and in shadow, God is present.
Blessed be the name of the Lord
from this time on and forevermore.
From the rising of the sun to its setting
the name of the Lord is to be praised.
On another note, please pray for me as I look toward my kidney transplant on November 15th. I am grateful that you are walking with me on this journey that often felt so frightening. Your thoughts and prayers mean so much. If you would like to read the story of my illness, please visit the Georgia Transplant Foundation’s website at this link:
A “Go Fund Me” page is set up for contributions to help with the enormous costs related to the transplant, including medications, housing costs for the month we have to stay near the transplant center, and other unforeseeable costs for my care following the transplant. If you can, please be a part of my transplant journey by making a contribution at this link:
The beauty of God’s creation often takes my breath away. This image did that. When I first saw it, I stared at for quite a long time. You might say it stopped me in my tracks, slowed me down for a moment, caused me to wonder. That’s not a bad thing, slowing me down. It does not happen easily.
So what does it mean to slow down and linger, to linger in God’s presence? One of my favorite stories in the Bible is the very brief story of Anna.
There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four.She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. (Luke 2:36-38 NIV)
What strikes me about Anna is that “she never left the temple but worshipped night and day, fasting and praying.” She lingered in God’s presence. Perhaps God honored her devotion by allowing her to see the Christ child.
And then there’s this small snippet of Joshua’s story:
. . . When Moses entered the tabernacle, that the pillar of cloud descended and stood at the door of the tabernacle, and the Lord talked with Moses. All the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the tabernacle door, and all the people rose and worshiped, each man in his tent door. So the Lord spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. And he would return to the camp, but his servant Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, did not depart from the tabernacle. (Exodus 33:9-11 NKJV)
Joshua lingered in the tabernacle even when Moses, his mentor, left it. Perhaps it changed him. Perhaps because of his devotion in lingering in God’s presence, it was Joshua, and not Moses, who received the honor of leading the Israelites into the Promised Land.
Of course, we are not certain about any of that. Certainly we do not linger in God’s presence in hopes of receiving some reward or honor. At the same time, developing the spiritual discipline of abiding — lingering — in God’s presence brings its own reward.
What are your ways of spending time in God’s presence? Reading scripture? Writing scripture in a prayer journal? Yoga? Walking a labyrinth? Praying? Journaling? Taking in the beauty of nature? Creating a place of silence? The ways of spiritual discipline are endless.
One thing is certain: lingering in God’s presence does not just happen. We enter that sacred space and linger there only if we commit ourselves to do it. Not in a legalistic manner that is more religious than spiritual, but in ways that slowly open us up to craving that time with God, needing it more than we need to “accomplish” our never-ending daily tasks.
When we reach that place, we might discover that lingering in God’s presence is life-giving. We might suddenly realize that we are lingering in God’s presence easily and often, that it has become a part of life.
So how in the world did a blue flower get me here?
I’m not sure, but I think it is because God can be found everywhere, in any moment, in any space, in every stillness, in silence and music and birdsong, in whatever we hear and feel, through anything our eyes can see — even a blue flower covered with dew.
What does it mean to be in the presence of God? How do we get there? How do we rest there long enough for our souls to be restored?
Had I ever been able to answer those questions, I imagine my life would have been different — fuller, gentler, more peaceful. But like many people who work to achieve inner peace and a spirituality with staying power, I have struggled around the prize, never quite being able to grasp it.
I have used all of the tools available to me — my bible, my bookcase full of contemplative writing, my labyrinth, my hymnal, my writing, my art, my prayer. The list goes on, and I go on, still struggling to find God’s presence.
The worse thing I can do is to cast blame on myself for a small spirituality and an even smaller faith. Truth is, I think I do have spirituality and faith. Faith has lifted me up through many difficult times. Faith was present when fire destroyed part of our home. My faith held when I was forced to close the doors our nonprofit. My faith carried me through sudden kidney failure. Faith showed up every time I wept bitter tears of grief and mourned my life losses. My faith was present with me when I thought I was dying and when I left my home of 32 years, my son and my grandchildren.
My faith held. My anchor gripped God’s solid rock. I picked myself up every time and moved on with hope. Yet, this thing we call “the presence of God” has eluded me. I mostly can’t experience it or feel it or sense it as a reality.
I guess it gets back to faith, doesn’t it. For it is faith that whispers to us, “Know the presence of God. If you cannot sense it, know it. If you cannot feel it, believe it anyway.”
The book of Jeremiah offers this comforting advice: “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.”
And then I can always fall back on Richard Rohr wisdom:
“We’re already in the presence of God. What’s absent is awareness.”
O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
You discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
O Lord, you know it.
You hem me in, behind and before me,
and you gently lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
I cannot begin to understand it.
Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.
I struggle with the life of contemplation I most desire. I long to stand on the Holy Ground of God’s presence. And yet, I often fail in my attempts to enter that spiritual space. My mind is filled with thoughts, words, concerns, plans, worries. And with so active a mind, I am hard pressed to meditate on the divine presence of God. I simple cannot seem to find a way to enter the great silence that enables me to hear the whisper of God I so desperately need to hear.
In a recent meditation, Richard Rohr spoke of “the great silence” as he described the prayer of the contemplative. This is his thought:
The prayer of the contemplative is, essentially, an attention to the omnipresence of God. God is omnipresent not as a theological doctrine, but as the great silence that is present in every moment—but from which we are usually distracted by an overactive mind that refuses to wait in a humble unknowing for a pure wisdom from above.
As always, he nailed it, describing the kind of waiting in silence we must do if we are to encounter an omnipresent God. Certain ways of being can move us more fully into the great silence.
The beauty of nature, the sound of a gentle breeze, the patter of a soft rain can lead us on the contemplative path. Intentional prayer, journaling, experiencing the healing of music, walking the sacred path on a labyrinth — all of these can encourage us into a more contemplative life.
Most of all, we need the longing, our deepest soul desire, to encounter God. The Psalmist expressed such a longing.
As a deer longs for flowing streams,
so my soul longs for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God . . .