We all need a little sunshine. A little brightness as we spend the weekend rejuvenating from a most unusual week. I know some are working on the weekends, and some are finding it difficult to differentiate weekend from weekday. We’re at odds with our schedules and our routines. But whenever you take time to renew, remember how very important you are. Your contribution, your gifts, your light. Shine brightly.
Three weeks into my year long project and I’m already deviating from my original list, although I suppose I am entitled to contribute a hymn or two! This is an old (1868) Sunday school song that I hadn’t thought of in years – maybe not since I was a child. Two weeks ago, when scheduled to play a prelude at church, I was looking for something that reflected the theme of ‘light’ that was planned for the service. After flipping through a couple of hymnbooks, this little gem popped up. Both the words and the tune are quite simple.
Jesus bids us shine,With a pure, clear light,Like a little candle,Burning in the night.In this world of darkness,We must shine–You in your small corner,And I in mine.
It’s an easy concept for children. Perhaps a more difficult one for adults laden with the implications of language and ideas that can be understood differently depending on one’s experience of the world. I will choose a simple interpretation. While all is not right with the world, we do have the opportunity to bring to it something pure and clear.
Thinking about these simple words and the idea that we can choose to brighten our world in many ways, also reminded me of the words of Martin Luther King. I think I may have used this quote in my high school yearbook, and if I could recall where it was I would check! He said, “Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it.”
There is much to be thankful for. Sounds a bit odd given our circumstances, but it is absolutely true. As we have been adjusting to our temporary reality, it is more and more clear that we live in a world filled to the brim with people of great spirit and generosity. Yes, there are the other kind too, but I have no time to wallow in their negativity when there is so much good with which to fill my mind and heart. So, take a moment to be thankful. Not for the uncertainty, the sickness, the scarcity or the losses, but for those who are making these very real challenges bearable.
The Prayer of St. Francis is, I think, quite familiar to many of us. We often think of it as a plea for peace. And, it is. But what strikes me today, is its explanation of how we achieve peace. Through the active pursuit of kindness, generosity and consolation. Today, I applaud those who are doing this with vigor. They are our peacemakers. And they are our most valuable members; now when we see them, and always, even when we have neglected and diminished their worth.
Make me a channel of your peace.
Where there is hatred let me bring your love;
Where there is injury your pardon, Lord;
And where there’s doubt true faith in you.
Oh, Master grant that I may never seek
So much to be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love with all my soul.
Make me a channel of your peace.
Where there’s despair in life let me bring hope;
Where there is darkness, only light;
And where there’s sadness, ever joy.
Make me a channel of your peace.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
In giving to all men that we receive;
And in dying that we’re born to eternal life.
There are countless people working extremely hard to ensure we survive this crisis. And we need to thank them. Clearly and often. My sister mentioned that when she goes out to walk her dog, she regularly sees her building manager disinfecting. This person is putting herself at risk to keep public spaces safe. She has been thanked, she will be thanked again. Our grocery store clerks, delivery people, chefs, garbage collectors. They are carrying us. Our nurses, doctors, medical technicians, researchers, and hospital cleaning crews. It is unimaginable what they are doing for us all, what they will face in the coming weeks. I think about all the employers, executives and business owners that are faced with brutal decisions in order to protect jobs into the future – decisions that break their hearts now, but we will thank them for later. I am thankful for political leaders that, despite differences of opinion and perspective, are working together, trying to keep us safe. They don’t know what they are doing – they’ve never had to do this before. We may not agree with every decision, but in many places in the world they are clearly trying and clearly working together in unprecedented ways. And I am thankful for those trying to get a handle on what can be done to save our economy in the long term and those working with the unfolding crisis in countries that are far worse off than ours as they prepare to tackle this thing in the coming weeks. The stress emerging from the magnitude of this is being felt everywhere, and yet people take it on and work nonetheless. For the greater good. For their neighbours, coworkers, and those they have never met.
I am not completely naïve. I know there are those who are taking advantage and those who have completely dropped the ball and are causing significant increases to the chaos. But, in our pursuit of peace, sometimes we must raise up the good so its strength will both blanket over, and begin to influence the rest. We have a tremendous opportunity to inspire the entire world, person by person, or on a grander scale. All of us. With our gratitude, with our actions. None is too small right now.
So, thank those around you for all they are doing. Thank those who are doing no more than staying home to protect others. Thank those who are placing themselves at risk. Thank those who are doing the really big tasks, thank those who are doing the small ones. This could be a loud and powerful instrument. A song sung that will bring consolation, hope, light and joy. In the midst of our current darkness, what could be more needed?
There are many, many bright flames in our current world. People that entertain us, people that keep us laughing, people that show us we can still have a bit of fun. In normal life, I have the pleasure of spending my days in the company of about thirty different kids. They are funny. And, I miss their humour (intentional and otherwise) and energy wafting through my home studio. This post from almost six years ago, reminded me of them. And of the need to both be, and look for, these lights that shine. Lights that tickle our funny bones, lights that remind us of what is good and what is right.
I heard some good stories from my students this week about their various experiences with the minute of silence on Remembrance Day. Most were pretty funny, involving things that, shall we say, broke the silence. While the stories were accompanied with giggles, they all seemed to know that this moment of reflection was important and that disturbing it, while funny, wasn’t exactly how things should have gone. These stories and reactions are one of the many reasons I like working with children. They see the world with a clarity that is both entertaining and humbling. The songs that have been written for children often do the same.
This song was suggested to me by a friend whose young son was rocking out to it at the time when I asked for hymn suggestions. She also forwarded me a video of the Bruce Springsteen version. I’m pretty sure I haven’t adequately rocked out anything with my version, but working on this was a good reminder of how some songs with such sheer simplicity can catch the attention of a wide range of us – the young, the old, the rockers and the piano players. Music is funny that way. No matter how we try to define, categorize, analyse and understand it, sometimes we just like a tune. And sometimes the words make us think beyond what they were intended for.
This one has an interesting story. There is a sense that it is an old Negro Spiritual, and it does have ties with the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s, but it was originally written as a children’s gospel song by Harry Dixon Loes around 1920. In the late 1930s, John Lomax, a musicologist and folklorist, included it in a collection of American folk songs. Used by activist Zilphia Horton (who also helped transform “We Shall Overcome” into a civil rights anthem) as one of the many hymns that were claimed as songs to forward the movement, it has long been sung by activists to represent the idea of shining brightly for what is right. For refusing to diminish until the task is complete.
This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine. This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine. This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine. Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.
There are several versions of this song, a few variations on the tune and some additional verses. Most are very simple. The version I remember as a child, had a verse that provided a list of daily gifts; ideas to help us through each day.
Monday gave me the gift of love, Tuesday peace came from above, Wednesday told me to have more faith, Thursday gave me a little more grace, Friday told me to watch and pray, Saturday told me just what to say, Sunday gave me the power divine just to let my little light shine.
Challenges abound in our lives. Big ones – like working for the ideals of peace, equality and justice. Small ones – like honouring a silence when we’re trying not to giggle! I’m thankful for the many children I meet each week who are so vibrant. Who provide both entertainment and insight in many ways. They remind me that even the smallest light can brighten our sometimes gloomy world. So, take the cue and let it shine!
I suspect I am not the only one struggling with sleep these days. I’m starting to think in terms of sleeps per week, rather than hours per night. Minds are racing. Swirling in a barrage of information. Planning how to manage this; how to survive. Worrying about our loved ones, and those we may not know, but are aware they face serious danger. Wondering what our world will look like after this passes. It is amazing to me how much our brains can take in and then spit out in the middle of the night!
So, I offer another lullaby. Perhaps the most famous of them all, Brahms’ lullaby (Wiegenlied), was written for someone he loved. It struck me that this is important for all lullabies, and maybe something we can each hang onto when we’re lying awake at night.
Guten Abend, gute Nacht,
mit Rosen bedacht,
mit Näglein besteckt,
schlupf unter die Deck:
Morgen früh, wenn Gott will,
wirst du wieder geweckt,
morgen früh, wenn Gott will,
wirst du wieder geweckt.
Guten Abend gute Nacht, von Englein bewacht, die zeigen im Traum dir Christkindleins Baum: Schlaf nur selig und süß, schau im Traum’s Paradies, schlaf nur selig und süß, schau im Traum’s Paradies.
Good evening, good night,
Bedecked with roses,
Adorned with carnations,
Slip under the covers.
Tomorrow morn, if God wills,
You’ll awake once again.
Tomorrow morn, if God wills,
You’ll awake once again.
Good evening, good night, Little angels watch over; In a dream they show You a Christmas tree. Sleep only blessed and sweet, See paradise in your dream. Sleep only blessed and sweet, See paradise in your dream.
These words say all the usual things we expect from a lullaby. Tomorrow is another day, we will wake refreshed, we will have sweet dreams, we are blessed. These things are comforting. They offer hope and reassurance. But today, I find myself drawn to the odd lines about being bedecked with roses and adorned with carnations (or cloves, in some translations). What does that mean?
Roses and carnations. Beautiful flowers and fragrance. Things we may receive or purchase on special occasions. The result of gardening for no other reason than beauty. Things once used to ward off evil and disease. These are the things we are to be surrounded with to provide a peaceful sleep.
When I contemplate our current situation, I look to those around us that have become our roses and carnations. The beauty I see each day that has risen above the chaos and offered deep comfort. The friends and family that are communicating much more frequently than usual. The kindnesses being offered. The generosity of conversation and material things. The compassion of those working to provide for all of us, to ensure we are fed and supplied. The risks graciously taken on by those in the medical and emergency services community. The weight being carried on the shoulders of those hoping to protect their employees’ jobs. The intense work and decision making being done by our leaders and government officials. The efforts of the clergy attempting to care for their flocks. The many musicians and artists who are lifting our spirits. The parents who are educating their children, formally or otherwise. The friendly smiles and greetings given and received on walks in our neighbourhoods, mostly from strangers and all from a distance.
What a spectacular garden.
Perhaps tonight, when we lie awake pondering our uncertain present and future, it would be of comfort to turn our minds towards these precious flowers. To offer up prayers, or well wishes, or positive vibes or whatever your spirit prefers, for this glorious garden of generosity and kindness. A meditation of support. Surely this is a vision of paradise that will sweeten our dreams with its radiant beauty. These people are singing us a lullaby with a great deal of love. Sing it back in whatever ways you can. Sing it loud or soft. We are all together in this, and our voices are carrying across the distance.
What can I say about the people in my life? They are givers. Yesterday was a difficult day for me – I’m sure we’ve all had one or two of those this week. The full blow of what we are collectively facing hit me hard; the impending realities, the difficult decisions that must be made. And then a whole lot of people comforted me – some knowingly, others simply by virtue of who they are. Gifts of friendship were offered, along with creativity, conversation, humour and listening ears. I am thankful for these gifts. Let us continue to offer whatever we have, to whomever is in need.
This post is from about a year ago. What I wrote about then has been confirmed by my friends, and many others, this week. There is no such thing as a small gift.
There is something special about the people in our world who are givers. I don’t mean just the people who write cheques, I mean the people who actually do things for others because they see a need. As some of us celebrate mothers this weekend, I am reminded that my mom is one of those. For many, many years I have observed as she has made meals for others (something I have rarely, if ever, done!), looked out for neighbours and volunteered in various capacities – spending her retirement years helping out at a Mennonite Central Committee thrift store and cuddling babies in intensive care. She knows her skills and shares them.
This hymn is about just that. Freely giving of what we have. Considering that our lives are best lived when we offer up whatever is our bounty and sharing generously.
Grant us, Lord, the grace of giving With a spirit large and free, That ourselves and all our living We may offer unto Thee.
As I thought about this, I began to wonder about what kinds of giving are best. And really, there is no answer. It sometimes feels as though certain types of generosity are touted as what we should all be doing. I’ve heard and read many sermons, articles or talks on the value of hospitality. People have much to say about giving money. These are important. But, if I am judged on my hospitality skills, my life will be a resounding failure. If financial gifts are a deciding factor, people without those particular means will feel endlessly inadequate. How does one volunteer if working two jobs to support their family, or is low on energy because they are battling a physical or mental health issue?
Giving is not about what you give. It is about understanding what you have.
And then, sharing it. With a spirit, large and free.
I am impressed by many things. I am impressed by my mother’s, and many, many others’, commitment to volunteer work. People giving of their time to do much needed work that might not otherwise get done. I am impressed by people who make large and small donations to worthwhile organizations. Providing funds for things that are important to all of us, things that improve lives and make society a better place. I am impressed by those who continuously invite people into their homes and share their meals. Opening their private spaces whether they have time for the cooking and cleaning or not.
But, I am also impressed with people who take two seconds to thank me for my piano playing, week after week, making me feel as though I’ve contributed something valuable to their lives. I am impressed by the mystery person who picks up garbage on my street. I am impressed by my student who thought to bring me a freshly baked, still warm cookie. I am impressed by my letter carrier who is endlessly cheerful. I am impressed by my regular grocery store clerk who, although a bit flustered by a new computer system, did her best to make my check-out pleasant. I am impressed by the artists in my world that work so hard to provide moments of refuge in this challenging world, often for little recognition and compensation. I am impressed by friends, near and far, who remember the smallest details and often provide things, be they words, gifts or actions, that are exactly what is needed.
The act of giving is a vast realm of possibilities. It is a way to reflect on one’s own good fortune. We give what we have, we give what we value, we give what is needed. Giving is not an act to be judged or ranked. It is an act to be celebrated – in all its forms; big, small, obvious, secret, quiet and loud. Thinking about this cultivates a desire to be thankful and to consider carefully what we actually have to offer, often much more than we realize. Giving these things freely is a celebration of the recipient, and of our own abundance.
Give with grace. For there is no such thing as a small gift when given with a large spirit.
Time to address the elephant in the room. We are all a little bit afraid. The circumstance we find ourselves in is so unusual, so massive, so unbelievable. And, so frightening. Will we get sick? Will our loved ones get sick? Will this virus be contained? Will all our efforts do what they’re supposed to do? Will we have enough food? Will we run out of money? Will we have jobs? Will our mortgages be paid? Will we be able to retire? Will our children survive? Will our children be traumatized? Will our children have a future? There are a million swirling questions and very few answers.
I doubt I am alone in having momentary waves of panic. Times when I am simply overwhelmed by what is going on; by the unknowns, the disruption, the strangeness. And I am not a worrier. Those who suffer from anxiety are surely struggling. Those accustomed to being in control will be baffled. Those who routinely over achieve, may be grasping for their usual confidence. We are all faced with a kind of fear we really haven’t ever experienced.
There is something deeply comforting about a lullaby being sung to a baby. The soft care with which these tender songs are sung, the enfolding of a tiny life within caring arms, the promise of safety, the hope offered within a parent’s full knowledge of the challenges the child will face. The belief in the ability to calm fears and provide absolute safety. We all understand that reality sometimes gives us something less than we’d wished, but when we sing or hear a lullaby, we are consoled. Because the love with which these songs are offered is so strong, that it blankets us with peace. Peace that allows us to sleep and rejuvenate, even if we are to cry again in the morning.
I offer the familiar Welsh lullaby, Suo Gân, in that spirit. It’s lovely melody and tender words do not solve anything in this crisis. But it is beautiful and it reminds us that there are powerful forces of love around us that can give us enough space for moments of slumber, when we need them most.
Sleep my baby on my bosom
Warm and cozy will it prove
Round thee mother’s arms are folding
In her heart a mother’s love
There shall no one come to harm thee
Naught shall ever break thy rest
Sleep my darling babe in quiet
Sleep on mother’s gentle breast.
Sleep serenely, baby, slumber Lovely baby, gently sleep; Tell me wherefore art thou smiling Smiling sweetly in thy sleep? Do the angels smile in heaven When thy happy smile they see? Dost thou on them smile while slumb’ring On my bosom peacefully.
Do not fear the sound of a breeze Brushing leaves against the door. Do not dread the murmuring seas, Lonely waves washing the shore. Sleep child mine, there’s nothing here, While in slumber at my breast, Angels smiling, have no fear, Holy angels guard your rest.
I don’t know how we will manage our fear. It is real. But I do know, that we have a vast capacity to share our strength with each other. Not every moment is mine to reassure you, nor is every moment yours to carry me. But, when we are able to share our fears, we also open up the door to share our strength. Your waves of panic may not coincide with mind, so I offer my strength when I have it – knowing full well that it may be fleeting. We need not be pillars of strength in every moment. We may indeed find ourselves folding our arms around each other in fear, but with the strength that our compassion and love provides.
There are leaves brushing against every door, and lonely waves crashing on the shores. They make scary noises in the night that we can no longer identify. But when this noise frightens us, we are allowed to focus on something else – for a moment, or however long we need to feel secure in this chaos. We are allowed to both seek and offer distraction and encouragement. We have an exceptional capacity to love. And when we slumber in the knowledge of the love of those around us, they become our angels. Smiling and guarding. When they need a rest, we take up the task. And the fear, thus shared, becomes thinner while our strength renews as a powerful force.
So, sleep. Feel arms enfolding you with all that we share. Good and bad. Walking this path together. And when you cannot sleep, sing a lullaby to one who can. When they have rested, take comfort in their voice. Let each become a holy angel, guarding rest with gentleness and peace.
This has been an incredibly strange week for most of us. One upheaval after the next. For those who turn to faith and ritual for comfort during difficult times, or as a regular practice, this weekend has offered little. Our mosques, temples, synagogues, churches and other places of spiritual retreat are closed. These communities of faith are working hard to look after their members – many are offering online services or ensuring people are connected in other ways. My church has sent out a service to be read and sung from home, with those in our families, our housemates, or alone. As the focus of our Lenten services has been, was to be, various Psalms, it seems fitting that this week’s is Psalm 23 – certainly poetry of the most comforting sort. This post, from some time back, is about this particular Psalm. I share it as a means of offering a moment of mediation on shepherding and joy.
A few weeks ago, my church choir sang a choral arrangement of this hymn. A number of people commented to me afterwards on how beautiful it was, and how meaningful it had been to their worship that Sunday. So it stuck in my head and I thought I would have a think about it this week. The tune is an old American folksong from around 1828 and the words are, of course, Isaac Watts’ 1719 paraphrase of the 23rd Psalm. I suppose it is no surprise that these words are meaningful to many – they are so familiar and offer so much comfort.
My Shepherd will supply my need; Jehovah is his name. In pastures fresh you make me feed, beside the living stream. He brings my wand’ring spirit back, when I forsake his ways, and leads me, for his mercy’s sake, in paths of truth and grace.
When I walk through the shades of death thy presence is my stay. One word of thy supporting breath drives all my fears away. Thy hand in sight of all my foes, does still my table spread. My cup with Blessings overflows, thine oil anoints my head.
The sure provisions of my God attend me all my days. Oh, may thy house be mine abode, and all my work be praise. There would I find a settled rest, while others go and come, no more a stranger, nor a guest, but like a child at home.
This is a hymn that speaks of great faith. Faith in something that will provide what we need – when we are in good places, bad places, self-inflicted negativity or situations beyond our control… always. But, as much as I suspect many want this kind of faith and the comfort it brings, it is often an enormous task to get to a place where we are wholly confident that all our needs will be met. Because sometimes they are not. Sometimes the pastures are filled with dead, brown grass and the stream is dry. Sometimes we can hardly breathe in the midst of our fear, our tables are bare and our homes cease to exist.
So, once again, I read these words as instructive. We all have different perceptions and understandings of the concept of God; adherence to one of many religious traditions or a preference to none. But I find that so often the ideals we have established about what God is, or what God does, seem to be descriptions of how we should behave. In some ways, it ceases to matter what the specifics of our religious leanings are as we take in the words of thinkers from our collective past. These words guide us if we are willing to consider what they can imply about how we live.
Do we provide food and water for those that cannot find them? Do we carefully lead people back from wrong decisions so they can live out their lives in truth and grace? Do we breathe safety into the spaces where some are facing illness or death? Do our hands hold those in deep fear and share blessings with all who are in need? Are our homes a home for whomever needs one, allowing them to be like a welcome child rather than a stranger or a guest?
These can be simple personal choices that we make, or they can be the greater acts of our communities, our cities, our countries. But we are failing. When I hear that we are more concerned about business success than paying fair wages, I cringe. When I hear that we are more concerned about saving money than ensuring safe drinking water for our Indigenous communities, I cringe. When I hear that we need more jails and crime control rather than programs and education that encourage the prevention of desperation, I cringe. When I hear that we must cut hospital’s nursing budgets rather than supporting this caring work, I cringe. When I hear that refugees are not welcome because they cost too much, I cringe. When I hear that people are not welcome because they are different and therefore perceived as a threat, I cringe. It is a selfish time. A time where good stewardship is limited to spending less in the moment. Period. With little or no consideration to long term costs, to the human or environmental impact. We have no idea what it is to be a shepherd.
As I’ve been thinking about these words, I keep asking myself if I am a shepherd. A shepherd tends to the sheep, guiding and directing their well-being and safety – the safety of the entire flock being the goal. It is a big job. It takes constant vigilance. We live in a time where most of us can barely look after ourselves. But this world needs us to be shepherds – for those that are falling off cliffs now, for those that need catching later. For ourselves, for our neighbours, for our families, for the strangers we have yet to meet – or will never meet. Our value, as part of the flock and as individuals, is both intrinsic and unknowable, as future contributions cannot be predicted. And, I suspect, when we are all safe, the settled rest we find becomes much, much more secure. For if one of us is in danger, all of us share the risks.
These words are personal and speak to what we will receive if we have this kind of faith, and some need it to be so. But if we choose to turn it around and consider what the world receives when we become shepherds, imagine the impact. Not strangers, but carers of this beautiful earth we call home and all its beautiful inhabitants. Each deserving of the love and care a shepherd provides. Each receiving that which makes their lives safe. Each learning to tend a flock that is filled with every possible kind of beauty, emotion and potential. What a joy.
Looking back on another old favourite, this one has offered comfort to countless people at those moments in life when we’ve needed it most. Looking at this familiar hymn again, I realise that what we need right now is the knowledge that we are not alone. We are not alone. We are in this together. Whether we cling to spiritual traditions and practices or simply spend time chatting with our friends and family, being generous and caring for our neighbours, we abide. Many things have ended for us over the past weeks, many more are likely to be changed. Hang on to those things in your life that remain; those things that are most valuable. Take, and offer, comfort.
As I near the end of my year of song, I felt it fitting to include this beautiful hymn. This is one that is usually reserved for funerals, but it also speaks to endings; it speaks to our fears about what the future holds.
Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide.
When other helpers fail, and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.
The story goes that these words were written in 1847 by Henry F. Lyte as he lay dying from tuberculosis. Although, I also read that he was haunted by the phrase “abide with me” that had been repeatedly muttered by a friend who was dying. Either way, there is a sense of desperation in these words; a sense of urgent need when passing into the unknown – in this life or the next.
This is a hymn that has offered comfort to many. When William Monk wrote the familiar tune in 1861, he apparently did so to help his wife get through a difficult time. And there are many other stories of its use. Everything from being played on the deck of the Titanicas it sunk to being sung in the trenches of World War I. It was used as a theme in a prelude by Ralph Vaughan Williams and recorded by Thelonious Monk with his jazz septet. It is even said to have been a favourite of Mahatma Ghandi.
Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
Earth’s joys grow dim; its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see;
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.
What I take from all of this is that fear of the unknown is pretty common. There is much in life and death that we do not understand. Try as we might to find answers, there frequently aren’t any. Often what we think will lie at the end of any path, is simply not there at all.
Thou on my head in early youth didst smile,
And though rebellious and perverse meanwhile,
Thou hast not left me, oft as I left Thee.
On to the close, O Lord, abide with me.
When endings arrive we all need something to bear us into the unknown. Something that reassures us in the midst of uncertainty and sometimes real fear. We need to feel cradled in care – or at least as though we don’t walk alone. What comes next isn’t always bad, but not knowing is frightening and difficult when faced alone. These words are not about finding answers or ignoring reality. They are about finding something that will be a companion along the path of the unknown. Something that will listen when the words “abide with me” are spoken; something that cradles that request and fills our view with peace.
I need Thy presence every passing hour.
What but Thy grace can foil the tempter’s power?
Who, like Thyself, my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.
How do we even begin to process what is going on in our world right now? Borders have closed. Travel has stopped. Schools have been suspended. The way we work is radically different, or nonexistent. We are isolated. We fear for our health and the health of those around us. We are uncertain as to our ability to acquire food and other essentials over the coming weeks, or months. We are questioning if we are over or under reacting. For the first time in any of our lives, we have truly lost our bearing. All of us.
Perhaps the most disconcerting reality is that we simply do not know how this will unfold. We don’t have any answers. Each day brings more change. Each day we wonder what will become of our plans and our futures. We simply do not know what is coming. And this, is difficult. I sense we are struggling to balance letting go of things with remaining hopeful; being realistic with being optimistic; adjusting to new realities without abandoning commitments and dreams.
We find ourselves in a space that requires a great deal of patience. The kind of patience that some people have been forced to wield for all time. The kind of patience that certain groups have been asked to exhibit at every turn, with every request for answers, and every attempt at resolution. For those of us living lives accustomed to comfort and security, this is new. And maybe it is a time for us to learn this skill. To begin to understand what it feels like to have to wait.
There is an old Spiritual that speaks to this; speaks to the need to be patient and look forward to the promise of what will come, of what can come. These words are about surviving devastation and calling forth a new world.
My Lord! What a morning; My Lord! What a morning; Oh, my Lord! What a morning, When the stars begin to fall.
You’ll hear the trumpet sound To wake the nations underground, Looking to my God’s right hand When the stars begin to fall.
These Spirituals often have hidden meanings, and this one is no different. It is said to represent a time when slaves would be emancipated and the trumpet would call all within the “underground” to challenge racism and segregation. The metaphor of falling stars may have stood for the Union Army’s campfires as beacons of freedom. These are hopeful words. Words about rising up, but also the reality of the wait before the glorious morning arrives. About the expected celebration when that morning finally arrives.
Maybe this is where we are right now. Maybe we have something to learn from all of this. Maybe we are being called by this excruciatingly loud event to challenge ourselves, our leaders, our world. Maybe there are bright stars falling before our eyes that can teach us what we need to know, what we need to understand. And maybe, we’re just not ready for our morning of celebration yet.
In the past week, much has been lost to each of us. There are certainly those who will feel the impact much more than others. And that’s an important fact. There are those whose health will suffer. Those whose financial situations are or will become grave. Those who are stuck far away from their homes and families with few options. Those who do not have enough to eat. Those who are alone. It is clear that we are starting to see these people. And it is clear we are starting to respond. Despite a few reports of price gauging and hoarding, generally I have witnessed kindness and generosity emerging. People are raising money, delivering food, organizing support, sharing ideas, communicating however they can, taking people into their homes, trying to be conscious of others’ fears and loneliness. We are starting to take the time to do these things.
The trumpet is sounding loudly. When the whole world stops, we need each other. We are being called to offer whatever we have to whomever needs it. We are all in this together. Whatever this is, whatever it becomes.
Are we disappointed by our losses? Of course. Do we wish for the chaos to end quickly? Absolutely. But a part of me can’t help think that what we have been given is a huge opportunity to re-evaluate what is important; to check ourselves. To begin to understand how our impatience has so often impacted others. To begin to really understand what forced waiting can feel like, and proceed in a spirit of generosity that will seek to eliminate the interminable waits we have imposed on those with whom we share this world. Patience can teach us about others’ needs as much as it can about waiting to fulfill our own. It gives us the time required to consider and process our neighbour’s view.
This time is a gift. May we use it wisely. May we be patient. And may we see those stars falling with a brightness that fills that morning when it arrives.
I originally posted this hymn last summer with the intention of contemplating the role that service plays in our world. How we can change the world through our kindness. How relevant this is today. How much we need each other to be kind. To be generous. And, to express love and compassion to all in real, tangible ways.
It is not unusual to observe that life is completely unfair. It is not difficult to look at what is going on in our world and be convinced of this fact. We see it in the lives of friends, relatives and strangers who are faced with challenges far beyond what they deserve, sometimes far beyond our own. Perhaps we experience this truth ourselves, endlessly pursued by trials that feel as though our last bit of energy is being drained. Sometimes we are faced with moments of sheer terror at what is to come, or what we hope, pray and wish will never be. Heavy burdens abound.
As I read through the words of this hymn, I was struck by the depth of understanding the writer had of both the reality of life’s unfairness and the value of compassion, mercy and love in girding ourselves against whatever comes our way. The words are not very old, written in 1961 by Albert F. Bayly. I couldn’t find much information about Bayly, but he was an English minister who is said to have been a gracious and humble man, who loved painting, music, astronomy, literature, gardening and walking. His words are quite beautiful.
Lord, whose love in humble service Bore the weight of human need, Who upon the cross, forsaken, Worked your mercy’s perfect deed; We, your servants, bring the worship Not of voice alone, but heart, Consecrating to your purpose Every gift which you impart.
Still your children wander homeless; Still the hungry cry for bread. Still the captives long for freedom, Still in grief we mourn our dead. As you, Lord, in deep compassion, Healed the sick and freed the soul, By your Spirit send your power To our world and make it whole.
As we worship, grant us vision, Till your love’s revealing light In its height and depth and greatness Dawns upon our quickened sight, Making known the needs and burdens Your compassion bids us bear, Stirring us to ardent service, Your abundant life to share.
I don’t know if Bayly suffered many tragedies, but he clearly understood that we should be aware of those suffered by others. We should be aware. The notion that love is a revealing light is exceptionally powerful. In a society where love is often defined as a superficial feeling, these words challenge us to consider it as a means of giving us vision; giving us the ability to see what is going on around us. This powerful love, in this case emerging from God, is one that bears these weights. In a world that is broken. Still.
For me, the second verse is the most wrenching. Homelessness, hunger, captivity, grief, sickness and weary souls. They are with us – still. We see these things. In the lives of the people we know, in the spectacle of world politics, in our communities, in the news. It would be difficult to claim a lack of awareness in this age of hyper media access and constant connections.
Life can be abundant in many, many ways. Despite its unfairness. But sharing that abundance can also be difficult. Possibly because we define abundance in such small ways. Partly because we are self-focused and a bit greedy. Partly because we simply don’t know how to tackle the problems we see. But, I love the words spoken here that say we are to be stirred to ardent service. Ardent is not a word we use all that often, but it’s a good one. Implying passionate enthusiasm. Imagine if our service was driven by this kind of exuberance; imagine if service was a broadly valued attribute – the measure of success. Perhaps that’s not very humble an idea, but it’s a thought.
This hymn is about the power of love. The way love can open our eyes not only to that which is beautiful, but that which is not. The way love is a magnificent tool in combatting the unfairness of life and the challenges that are faced by all of us. If we choose to use it with our voices, our hearts and our actions. Looking for and understanding the needs we see, choosing its strength to bear those needs and ardently serving the ultimate goal of healing our broken world.
It’s a tall order. But a life lived with compassion is one made up of small steps. Millions of them. Listening to someone’s pain or fears. Being present in a conversation. Accepting help. Challenging injustice. Welcoming the oppressed. Celebrating in someone else’s way of experiencing the world, their culture, their understanding of the Divine.
Not one of us can repair the brokenness that we see every day. But all of us can begin to rebuild one tiny corner – in the words we speak, the choices we make, the support we offer, the gratitude we express and the kindness we extend. And, all of us can begin to rebuild one tiny corner – in the words we hear, the choices we observe, the support we accept, the thanks we’re given and the kindness we receive.
Love is a humble servant. It bears the weight of all our needs. Share it, accept it and feel its power. In its truest form, it gives purpose and abundance. In its truest form, our choice to wield it will make our world whole.