prayer


I grew up with Lent, but not with its songs.

As a kid, I recall those Wednesday night Lenten services leading up to Holy Week and Easter. But, oddly, I don’t remember what hymns we would have sung mid-week. As I look at The Presbyterian Hymnal, the section designated “Lent” has a few hymns I know from my more recent past, but titles and tunes aren’t the best known songs in the book. “Kind Maker of the World,” “My Song Is Love Unknown,” and “O Love, How Deep, How Broad, How High” (attributed to Thomas à Kempis) aren’t in the league of “Amazing Grace” or “A Mighty Fortress” when it comes to familiarity.

But one hymn, unknown to me as a child, has become a favorite over the years, with words and music and “singability” (spellcheck doesn’t like the word, but I know I didn’t make it up) putting it in my top three Lenten hymns. “What Wondrous Love Is This” is sung to a tune from Walker’s Southern Harmony (1835). The tune itself is called “Wondrous Love.” According to Wikipedia (not exactly my usual go-to source for hymnody), this is

a Christian folk hymn, sometimes described as a “white spiritual”, from the American South. Its text was first published in 1811, during the Second Great Awakening, and its melody derived from a popular English ballad.

A tie to an English ballad about Captain Kidd sounds intriguing, but that reference has been debunked by most hymnologists. The words probably come from an 1811 camp meeting song book, and have a wonderful ambiguity in the repeated phrase, “What wondrous love is this…” See, it’s a punctuation thing. Do we place a question mark at the end of the phrase? Or, an exclamation point. As in ‘wow!’ Or, what a cute baby it is!

What wondrous love IS this? Or, what wondrous love is THIS! I’m leaning toward the “wonder” feeling, though the question mark doesn’t necessarily lend itself to simple inquiry so much as admiring the mystery of such love that moved “the Lord of bliss” to “bear the cross.”

And there is another note regarding the lyric. The panel that included this hymn in the Presbyterian hymnal chose to replace the traditional first verse phrase that referred to bearing “the dreadful curse” with bearing “the heavy cross.” The curse no doubt referred to the concept of original sin or human depravity. The cross reference (so to speak) leads more directly to the road that Lent takes toward Good Friday.

The first verse actually sings not to God (as most hymns and psalms do), but to our own souls. “What wondrous love is this, O my soul…” The second verse begins, “To God and to the Lamb I will sing…” Not right now, it seems, but ultimately. And the choir will include millions. And then in verse three, the ultimate happens, for it begins, “And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on…” and it promises to be a joyful song throughout eternity.

I can hear the tune beginning so reverently, with quiet awe, but as the lyric builds, the sound of the hymn gains volume as the determined and committed singer insists on raising her/his voice in defiance of everything that would keep the song from being sung at all. I hear echoes of that verse from Luke 19:40. When the Pharisees urged Jesus to quiet his boisterous fans, “Jesus replied, ‘If they kept quiet, the stones along the road would burst into cheers!’” Or, as it was sung in “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “…the rocks and stones would start to sing.” The scrappy, obstinate, even rebellious response to all that would hinder our hymn is, “I’ll sing on!” What the heck…give it two exclamation marks: I’ll sing on!!

Because that love is not just flowery or fuzzy; it is remarkably, faithfully wondrous. And my soul knows it.

So there.

[Tomorrow…music and memory.]

 

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My life goes on in endless song
Above earth’s lamentation
I hear the real, though far-off hymn
That hails a new creation

Through all the tumult and the strife
I hear its music ringing
It sounds an echo in my soul
How can I keep from singing?

Among the many disciplines of Lent are devotional reading, prayer, acts of charity or service, fasting, almsgiving… Let’s add singing to the list.  The church hymnal has a collection of Lenten-appropriate songs (some of which I’ll write about later). Our congregation has a recent tradition of using a sung service called “Holden Evening Prayer” or parts of it on Wednesday nights during Lent (and that too will be a “note” in a few days here). The songs may be, pardon the expression, low-keyed during this season of penitence and reflection, but the human voice has such powerful ways

IMG_0145_edited-1

Our daughter Wendy (top row, center) singing in the Cornell University Chorus in which staff and faculty were invited to sing.

of expressing our feelings and emotions, the depths of the heart, or the soaring of the spirit.

I don’t exactly come from a singing family. Dad would sing to no one in particular when I was growing up, but just a line or two as he’d walk through the house, maybe not even knowing he was doing it. I think Mom had a nice singing voice, but I don’t remember hearing her sing much more than the birthday song.

A school chorus and church choir helped me learn to sing early on. Mrs. Beach at our church coaxed me unsuccessfully to join the youth choir, but my adolescent voice was changing and I felt uncomfortable trying to reach the higher registers. I did sing some in the high school chorus, and eventually joined the church’s adult choir. I picked up a little bit about reading music, but mostly learned by rote. And then came college. That choir changed my life.

First, there was the audition. Good grief. Somehow I summoned the courage to actually show up to sing a few hymn lines for the choir director and music professor Clancy Martin. He let me in. And for four years, I thoroughly enjoyed singing bass with the 120 voice Vesper Choir. The rehearsals were both challenging and fun, and the performances in the college chapel and the huge auditorium fed my soul and provided a foundation for my humble (really humble) choir participation for decades to come. Once in a rehearsal  some major work, Mr. Martin stopped the practice and encouraged me to sing a little louder. Wow! But then a few minutes later he said I could tone it down. Oh.

The life changing part? I met my wife Joan in the Westminster College Music Conservatory. She was a voice major. And I wound up majoring in Joan. But that’s another story. It’s enough to say here that seeing her in rehearsals and hearing her sing were highlights of every week. When my parents heard her sing on a southern tour, they sent me a ring to give her. Really. Just last night, I put on an old record on which Joan was singing with the Richmond Chorale Society, and her solos from the stereo were wonderful all over again.

At our age, sad to say, our voices have “aged out,” but we still sing every week as part of a singing congregation, hymnals in hand, voices lifted, lyrics sung, and prayers expressed beyond mere words. I think of that old Jim Croce song:

I know you’d understand
Every time I tried to tell you
The words just came out wrong
So I’ll have to say I love you in a song

Because singing adds to what the heart wants, needs, to say. I may not have come from a singing family, but thanks to Joan and good schools, both our children find singing a joyful experience. Until recently, Wendy sang at Cornell, and Jim and his wife just posted a video of their recent duet at church. I fear that many people these days refrain from lifting their voices in song because they think they aren’t “good enough.” And where in the world, outside of church and karaoke, can “normal” adult people actually sing? It used to be that the civic groups and clubs had their special songbooks, or just sang corny old tunes like “Daisy, Daisy.” Local companies IBM and EJ (shoes) even had employee song books. (I remember hearing a Kiwanis Club sing their song; it hurt. But at least they sang!) We don’t all have to be good enough to sing on TV’s “The Voice,” nor do we have to perform at some very public microphone. Maybe just in the shower now and then? Still, to recover the singing traditions left in past generations would do the community soul  good.  [OK…insert here a plea to support the arts in our public schools; let’s not ditch school music because it would lower our taxes by fifty cents!]

I opened this Lenten “note” with lines from a song many of us had missed until Enya’s popular New Age recording gave us pause. It escaped the notice of major hymnal publishers until recently, but Hope Publishing includes “How Can I Keep from Singing” in its “Worship and Rejoice” hymnal (2001) in the section titled “Trust and Assurance.” The newest Presbyterian hymnal “Glory to God” (2013) includes the song under the title “My Life Flows On.” It’s in the section “Living and Dying in Christ.” Sounds “Lenten” to me.

I guess it’s true that most of us sing from happiness and joy. But there’s also the genre called “the blues,” and sadness gets to have its voice. The Lenten journey to the cross is often filled with somber expressions of sin’s burden, penitential reflection on temptations we’ve failed to resist or people we failed to love. Life is hard. The way of the Cross isn’t easy. We may sing of “Amazing Grace,” and I think it is best sung slowly, deliberately, thoughtfully, as if we really believed we were lost, blind, and snared. But…found, relieved, safe, and home, singing of grace so amazing it is hard to believe.

How can we keep from singing? Literally.

No storm can shake my inmost calm while to that Rock I’m clinging.

Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing?

 

NAV_2752This may be my favorite image from a recent trip to England. This is the choir at Sherborne Abbey church, rehearsing for Evensong.

This photo was purely providential, since photography during the service itself is forbidden at about every church we visited, and rightly so. It’s worship, and our attention is drawn to the readings and the music and ultimately to God. Dragging out cell phones and cameras would be more than inappropriate. But we happened to be touring the abbey just prior to Evensong, and the sound of choir and organ were so inviting, even enticing. So we stayed for the service.

Truth be told, we would have stayed anyway. We just happened to be in several churches and cathedrals at that time of day during our sojourn in Britain, and it was inspiring to gather with townspeople and tourists in the choirs of these beautiful churches, adding worship to our daily travels on vacation.

Most of the choirs that led worship consisted of men and boys, but at least one included some girls too. And one Evening Prayer service was led by a choir of girls; I wish I could recall which church. Each afternoon, we would wait in line to enter the church, gazing up at the magnificent cathedral architecture or taking in the brilliant stained glass windows. Then we were ushered into the choir (or Quire) sections of the chancel areas, with printed orders of service, hymnals, and service books arranged on tilted shelves illuminated by candles or quaint lamps.

Shuffling feet and whispering voices echoed quietly in the cavernous space until the pipe organ called us to worshipful attention. Choirs and clergy and lay readers processed into their places,  and amid psalm readings, the daily lectionary, chanted psalms and hymns, we were drawn into ancient ritual and present pause, a holy interruption of vacation sightseeing and busy travels to cities like Cambridge and villages like Kilham.

Each time, as we listened to the songs of evening worship, the Scriptures and prayers, the occasional brief homily, we remembered what the welcoming brochure at Sherborne Abbey had said. “But remember: prayer is not just words. It is the offering of heart and mind and soul to God.” At Sherborne, our hearts had joined a worshipping community that had gathered there for thirteen centuries in sacred space that was cathedral, monastic chapel, and parish church. Music and spirits soared.

We wondered about the neighbors. Did they come to Evensong every afternoon at close of day? Would it get “old?” If I carved out an hour each afternoon at 5, spent some time in prayerful preparation sitting in the church ahead of the service, and then let the glorious pipe organ prelude stir me to spiritual attention…and then offer the worship of listening, meditating, praying, maybe singing…I’d be a better person. I know I would.

Perhaps that’s one thing Lent is good for. A forty day interruption in our year of business, traveling from hour-to-hour, personal encounters, email, entertainment, the gym, etc., etc. So we can pay some spiritual attention to the Word and its music.

On our travels, we bought a couple of CDs of Evensong and other cathedral choir music. This is the perfect time to relive the memory of our time in the Quire of Sherborne Abbey.

The Abbey’s guide to prayer in that sacred space concludes this way:

And as you leave this place, go with our Pilgrim’s Blessing:

May the babe of Bethlehem be yours to tend;

May the boy of Nazareth be yours for friend;

May the man of Galilee his healing send;

May the Christ of Calvary his courage lend;

May the Risen Lord his presence send

And his holy angels defend you, to the end.

Amen.

 

 

My first exposure to music was my mother’s 78 rpm records. They were stacked maybe five or six platters tall on the spindle of her RCA phonograph. When the first had played, the tone arm would retract to escape the next record that unceremoniously clacked down on top of the spinning turntable, and then the needle would rest down on the opening grooves of the second disk. This would have been around 1948 or so. The records were leftovers from the war years: Harry James, Dinah Shore, Ralph Flanagan.

Thus, the first music I heard in our home (and that was the only place I would have heard it as a child — not in church, not in concert, nowhere else — ) was from the so-called “big band era.” I still favor that brassy, swinging sound, with today’s big bands continuing the legacy of the DSC09804Benny Goodmans, Tommy Dorseys, and Count Basies of the past.

As I grew up, I got my own childhood records, still 78s, but often 7-inch records of colorful plastics, not the old black shellacked disks adults had listened to. Tex Ritter, one of the “singing cowboys,” sang “Big Rock Candy Mountain,” and I played the daylights out of that one.

A few years later, Dad had gotten a new phonograph and Mom began building her extensive collection of LPs by Frank Sinatra. Extensive. As in almost everything he recorded. Dad would kid her: “He’s Mafia, Bev!” She’d spar back, and Dad would mention he was better-looking than Frank. And then Sinatra’s voice would fill the room, singing “The Tender Trap.”

I couldn’t help it, I guess. I came to appreciate “The Voice.” My only instrumental music lessons were for the trombone in 8th and 9th grade. I bought Tommy Dorsey records, and there on the early ones was the young Sinatra, the band’s “boy singer.” Pure as a baritone could be. By the 1960s, the voice had matured, even as the personality became more, well, immature I suppose. The genesis of the Rat Pack days. But there came the concept albums, some swung with Billy May’s band (“Come Fly with Me”). And the dark, nearly depressing ballads, like “Only the Lonely.”

SiriusXM satellite radio has a legacy channel devoted to Sinatra as well as what has become known as the “Great American Songbook” sung by the great American singers: Nat King Cole, Billie Holiday, Tony Bennett, Jack Jones, Jo Stafford, Doris Day. And Frank. All Sinatra’s hits are there, as well as the misses. His songs range from his early crooner’s voice to the worn out rasp (too harsh?) that grew haunting as it massaged a saloon song like “One for My Baby (and One More for the Road).”

If you are reading this on the second day of Lent, and you are wondering what in the world this has to do with this holy season, I swerve away from Sinatra’s popular hits and toward this more obscure song, rarely heard (but sounding forth from two Sinatra albums). Listen to this psalm by clicking on the link below. (I’m not allowed to share the audio here — legal reasons and my entry-level WordPress limitations.) The song is based on the movie theme song from “The Cardinal,” composed by Jerome Moross. [The film chronicled the rise of a young Roman Catholic priest to the post of Cardinal, with encounters with Nazi Germany and America’s KKK along the way. I saw the film in 1963, in my first year of college, already preparing for the ministry.] The Carolyn Leigh lyric was never used in the film, but Sinatra’s version is heard on two albums. (And I just now discovered that Bob Dylan recorded the song in 2014!)

Click here to hear the Sinatra version.  stay with me

See how this expresses the themes of Lent:

 

Should my heart not be humble, should my eyes fail to see,
Should my feet sometimes stumble on the way, stay with me.
Like the lamb that in springtime wandered far from fold,
Comes the darkness and the frost, I get lost, I grow cold.
I grow cold, I grow weary, and I know I have sinned,
And I go seeking shelter and I cry in the wind,
Though I grope and I blunder and I’m weak and I’m wrong,
Though the road buckles under where I walk, walk along
Till I find to my wonder every path leads to thee,
All that I can do is pray, stay with me.
Stay with me.

Yes, it took me several autobiographical paragraphs to reach this point, but here we are. Sinners. And often weary. And lost. A lost lamb, wandering. Till we find, and wonder at the idea ,that our blundering road has led to God-with-us. The God who has not abandoned us. At least we pray so.

My journey in the ministry led me to a couple of decades of interpreting pop/rock lyrics through the eyes (and heart) of Reformed Theology. Rarely did I encounter a lyric as heartfelt and honest as that of “Stay with Me.” Sinatra’s Italian Catholic roots were seemingly absent from most of his singing/acting career. But there was Sinatra’s confession. And ours.

We shall wander toward wonder during these forty days.

 

 

2336-1a

Lake Susan, Montreat, NC

{During the forty days of Lent 2018, I am writing some reflections on panoramic photographs I’ve taken over the years.  Full disclosure, finally: most of these images were taken in a standard format and merely cropped to the wide view. But, so what?}

The image above may not be the iconic photo Montreaters expect to see of their beloved North Carolina “mountain retreat” setting. The massive stone façade of the Assembly Inn hotel as seen above the placid Lake Susan is the more familiar view (just below). Still, this panoramic image communicates the serene beauty of the place that Presbyterians, especially the “southern” ones, call their Mecca.

Montreat is more widely known maybe as the long-time home of the late Billy Graham. He lived in the hills, quite a hike from the conference center.  Montreat’s main gate is just a few miles up the road from Black Mountain, and that village is not far from Asheville. And surrounding it all is the Smoky Mountain range. A friend once admitted he wasn100_0405‘t a fan of Montreat because the high mountains encompassing the retreat and conference center made him feel terribly claustrophobic. But everyone else I know so loves Montreat that they dream of living there year-round, a four-season Eden, but with clothes on.

I was a seminary student from “up north” when I first heard of the place from my Southern Presbyterian classmates. They spoke of it so highly that I was immediately suspicious. Then I attended a conference there one summer. And then another. And then led several, maybe a dozen, and went back summer after summer. Youth conferences, music and worship conferences, peace gatherings, meetings…staying in that hotel, or in the dorms of Montreat College, or in rented cottages and homes, and for many years enjoying the grace of hospitality offered by dear friends, the Williamsons. 2333-1Joan and I looked forward to those music conferences like Trekees look forward to the next Star Trek big screen epic. We also looked forward to the day when we might look at real estate there. Then we did. And put that dream away very quickly. ($)

Climbing Lookout Mountain, walking the hilly roads through the area, attending the events in Anderson Auditorium — those opportunities would never be taken for granted by those fulltime citizens of the Montreat municipality, anymore than a Vermont farmer in the Northeast Kingdom would take the daily view of Mt. Mansfield for granted. But making the place a retreat destination is very special, an occasion of spiritual growth, continuing education, and shaping community with friends old and new.

Yet back home, finding that particular geographical sacred space, that place set apart for special times and holy possibilities is something that surely feeds the human spirit. It may be enough to spend a Saturday fishing, or to sit in the local library apart from the busyness that normally occupies our energies. Perhaps a hike in a nearby glen or a bike ride along a rail trail will help us accomplish a kind of retreat. Whatever turns you on, or around.

There was a time when church doors were open 24/7 for anyone who needed a rest from spiritual weariness or personal strife. Doors are locked against fear today. No quiet prayer in the pews is possible, with few exceptions. We have to create our own retreat spaces elsewhere. A garden bench, a labyrinth, even a table in a café in its off hours– these are ripe for private retreats, however short.

The thing about a big summer conference at Montreat like the ones we participated in is that schedules are usually full, people are everywhere…paddle boating on the little lake, heading toward the bookstore or toward some ice cream, racing to a seminar. Even the Lookout peak can be crowded on a sunny afternoon. So, you see that stone bridge in the panoramic photo? That’s often a good place to stand, somewhat apart from the rest of the retreating world, and watch the swan or the ducks. Retreat from the retreat, as it were. And ponder. Anything.

I only went to church camp twice as a kid. I couldn’t swim, so a week on a lake had absolutely no appeal to me. But when the camp took place at a conference center with a pool, I gave it a try. At the end of my second summer’s week-long “retreat,” we high school youth were to go off by ourselves with a small candle, find a place apart and light the wick, and then stay there in silence until the candle was close to going out. I chose a small wooden bridge over a stream that ran through the conference center property. I stood there by myself, candle flickering against the night breeze, and I did what was expected: meditated, prayed, and wondered. Even as the silence was broken by those who had blown out their candles and ignored the directions for being silent until cabin time, I stood there. And fifty-seven years later I remember that night, that bridge, that brief but oh-so-holy retreat.

We miss Montreat. We’re a number of miles away, way up north of it, and even going for a week there seems expen$ive. But while it may not be Eden or Mecca, it is a very profound reminder that spiritual getaways and personal escapes are good for the soul. A week? Yes! A day away? Sure! Take an hour’s break and breathe deeply? Of course.

Mountains, beaches, deserts. Or, a candle on the kitchen table. Locale is one thing, but the main thing is… make your getaway!

 

 

 

{This is the last in a series of forty Lenten reflections loosely based on ideas suggested by mugs found in the Kellam kitchen cupboard. As I wrote on the first day, this exercise was designed only for my pleasure. The discipline of writing each day has taken a couple of hours out of the 24, and has further frayed the already worn edges of the pages of J. I. Rodale’s The Synonym Finder. I know I’ll miss this daily practice, but I will be glad to have the time for something else…like springtime.}SONY DSCThe first mug I wrote about was a commercially-produced coffee cup with the name “Jeff” on it, along with a kind of greeting card verse about what “Jeff” means. Now, on the last day of these forty days in Lent 2017, I turn to another mug with my name on it. It’s the companion to one with my wife’s name similarly inscribed. We were given these mugs by the Bick family when we left Richmond, Virginia after some 27 years. The Bicks were our neighbors and members of our church. I trust that they did speak for all our Richmond friends by expressing their love. We still treasure the mugs and the message.

Does that mug “fit” this day? Does it have context? Today, the Saturday between Good Friday and the Day of Resurrection, is certainly “the day between the days.” This last day of Lent is non-descript for most Presbyterian-types. We know it has deep meaning, but we don’t pay much attention to it, as we await tomorrow’s sunrise service, with its shivering little congregation gathered amid tombstones in the church cemetery hoping the sun will actually be visible on what is predicted to be a rainy day. And then later, in the church itself, we will sing lustily (pardon the expression) and find ourselves accompanied by brass players and pipe organ. We will hear the Good News of the Gospel (pardon the redundancy) proclaimed, add flowers to the bare wooden cross, and break out the Lenten-hid alleluias (pardon still another parenthesis, but that word shouldn’t have been typed/seen/spoken/sung until tomorrow. Sorry. OK, enough with the pardons!)

But today is just Saturday. Some call it “black Saturday,” because of the solemn mood of sadness or defeat that followed the day of crucifixion. Others refer to it as Holy Saturday, or Easter Eve. Many years ago, Joan and I participated in our first Easter Vigil, a three or four-hour service that chronicled the Biblical story of “salvation history.” There was music, drama, graphic and fabric art, the reading of Scriptures, with prayers and accompanying liturgy rich with spiritual depth. It was a powerful service, difficult to transport back home from the conference we were attending. But many Christian communities around the world do something similar on “Easter Eve,” some even longer services, most shorter; but all designed to keep the rich meaning of God’s grace and love and Presence in focus, so worshippers could move from Good Friday to Easter knowing the all-important context of what some refer to as cross and crown.

So, I’ve been writing about mugs, have I? But this series hasn’t been about ceramics, fair trade coffee, favorite teas, or how to use drinking vessels as marketing tools. The context has been Lent, a time of preparation, of anticipated spiritual growth. As days lead from the ashes of that first Wednesday to the dust of the Emmaus Road, some of us added mid-week gatherings of worship and/or study; many used Lenten devotional guides such as the one on the Kellam dining table, Walter Brueggemann’s A Way Other than Our Own*; Lenten disciplines included service projects, lectio divina, labyrinth walks, special music, and giving up Mountain Dew. All in the context of the Lenten journey of Jesus, a wilderness time of testing and surviving, a prelude to his life’s symphony of compassion, outreach, healing, and teaching. His was a life and death by which we measure our time on this God’s earth.

[* Brueggemann’s take on this day: Saturday is that in-between day of stillness and doubt and despair when time stands still in lethal flatness.]

In relying on mugs to get me started writing each day, I’ve kept context in mind. The context of the season, the context of following Jesus, the context of my own day-to-day existence. Some days are, sadly, a big waste of time. Or, seem like it to me. I make that confession as I fall asleep those nights. “Forgive me, Lord. Didn’t do much for you or your people today. Wasted time and gifts. As the Psalmist prayed, ‘Put a new and right spirit within me,’ and offer me another day.” On those other days, my personal context is that of being and serving in a community of faith, and some opportunity pops up unexpectedly. Or, maybe it’s a family thing, where I find unconditional love so vital and energizing, that my prayers at night are full of thanksgiving. We all have some context in which we find ourselves– or are found.

Context is the weaving together of things that yearn to be connected. My life and someone’s need; my gifts and someone’s lack; my lack and their gifts. Faith and life. Daily living and revelation! Our purpose and the Shepherd’s guidance. Mugs and Lent. The context of a neighborhood, politics, (don’t get me started), local church or national denomination, the cloud of war or threat of terrorism, a child’s trusting eyes. Temptations, sin, dark thunderhead clouds hanging over. Context.

So, I wrote about mugs in the context of Lent. But more, in the context of my life. And if you have read some of these reflections (to call them meditations may be too generous), you know a lot about the man whose name is on the mug at the top of this day’s blog. You know something of my family, my church life and ministries, where I’ve lived and places I’ve been, what I believe, and — heck, even the name of our everyday china!

But, again, I haven’t been writing for you. I’ve been writing for me. I may know who you are. WordPress tells me who’s “following” my writing here, and others have happened by and sent private responses with names attached. But I’m guessing that if this writing stays “up” in some Internet cloud somewhere, I have no idea who you are. That said, the question is, do you know who you are? Now early in my 70s, I’m getting there. Knowing who I am, that is.

Today, the context is somewhere between the shadow of yesterday’s cross and the rising sun of tomorrow’s Light of the World. I have to admit, that I have had more than my share of that Light already. Grace has encompassed me. Love has surrounded me. Read that mug again! And God has gifted me with a strong family from which I have come and a beloved family I have helped to nurture. My wife, my children, and now my grandchildren. Wow! Plus, there was that Call…my vocation… full of exclamation points! (<There’s one now.)

The Apostle Paul once quoted a Greek poet as he preached a sermon in Athens. He referred to God as the one “in whom we live, and move, and have our being.” There. That’s context. I am content in that context.

Yet, there is still tomorrow!

There is a new context that awaits, something downright cosmic, earth-shattering, mind-blowing, a whole new song to sing…there is tomorrow!

There will be Easter!

 

 

{Mug shots… one a day for these 40 days of Lent 2017. About two hours time (I write slowly) and approximately 1200 words ( I write wordily).} DSC05642.jpg

The mug I’ve chosen for today is one of a set of eight. I won’t be writing something about each one, by the way;  just this representative mug. We bought this whole set of china dishes, cups (mugs!), and drinking glasses for our 25th wedding anniversary. Apparently a lot of people bought this pattern, because we’ve seen it everywhere. It’s by Pfaltzgraff, and the pattern is called  Yorktowne.

It is our “everyday” china, as opposed to our “good” china. See, that sentence indicates how old we are, even more than the above reference to our 25th anniversary. We were married way back when brides and grooms (mostly brides) thought it necessary, or at least nice, to have two sets of china. Our “good” china is delicate and beautiful. I helped pick it out, so even I like it. But with its silver ring around the edges and its just plain expensive cost per piece, one would not use that stuff everyday, having it attacked by sharp knives, pointy-pronged forks, and harsh dish washers day after day. Thus, the need for sturdy everyday dishes.

When we got to the 25th year of marriage, we hadn’t exactly beaten up the everyday china to the point of having to replace it. We just decided it was time for a change, so we got this pattern. It was something we liked, and it was on sale on the Williamsburg Pottery. It was defective in some way, though the plates seem to hold food just fine, and the mugs don’t leak. Even after 25 years. This everyday stuff is sturdy.

And when I say every day, I mean it literally. Every day, I eat breakfast cereal from the Yorktowne bowls, and drink my orange juice from the little glasses. Every day, our lunch and dinner go on the plates. Every day, my skim milk at meals is in a Pfaltzgraff tumbler-sized glass. We rarely pull out the “good” china. That reminds me: at a pre-retirement seminar a few years ago, the leader asked the attendees how many had “good” china back home. Most did. “Use it!” he advised. “What are you waiting for?” Those of us of that “certain age” had been saving it for special occasions. At our age, maybe we should treat more days and times as “special.”

When I consider what “everyday” means as an adjective, I realize there are two sides to that term. Let’s begin with the less pleasing side. The everyday might be humdrum. When I wrote of the “vanilla” of life a few days ago, I touted the plain and simple. But everyday isn’t the same as vanilla; it’s just dull, routine, even thoughtless. We might complain to someone (or to ourselves), “Everyday is the same; I do this and that and this today, just as I did it yesterday, and tomorrow doesn’t hold anything else. Damn, I’m bored outta my gourd.” It’s like the movie “Groundhog Day,” but Bill Murray isn’t in it to redeem it, and it’s not funny.

We want to break out, break away, break free… break the everyday and escape to something new and exciting and enlivening. Everyday, there’s the same old job, some addiction to be satisfied, deep ruts to be negotiated without thinking. Life becomes stale.

But wait…there’s another side to everydayness that redeems the word. The sun rises everyday, whether it’s visible or not. If you woke up this morning, here’s a new beginning. Every day brings a chance to begin again, anew! Chances are, if you are reading this blog, you are among the gifted affluent of the world who can count on food and clean water and a roof over your head every day. If there is a loved one (or a beloved many) in your life, you can count on that love always…always, that is, every day. See? Sometimes the everyday is that which is sturdy, as rugged and reliable as the commonplace plates used daily, and sometimes delicate and beautiful as the “good” china we consider special. In other words, dependable.

Yes, every day brings the possibility of an event or occurrence that causes anxiety or sadness. But that same day may be rescued by the accrued grace and blessing of previous days’ encounters with daily, even routine, joys and spirit-fed moments. Especially if we have paid attention at each day’s end, and prayed our gratitude for the gift of life itself, for every breath, every step, every sign of light and love.

I close with two songs. The first is really very old. Psalm 136 begins, “O give thanks to the Lord, for God is good, for God’s steadfast love endures forever.” That means every day.

Then there’s the one hit song from the off-Broadway musical “Godspell.” It is entitled “Day by Day.” The words came from Richard of Chichester (1197-1253):

Day by day, Dear Lord, three things I pray: to see thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, and follow thee more nearly, day by day.

Every day.

Not just during the forty of Lent,

but daily as the bread we pray for and count on and live on.

This is the gift of the everyday.

Let us rejoice in it, one day at a time,

but every day.

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