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Psalm 124

June 26, 2009 Leave a comment

Psalm 124

Stepping out into steady drip, drip, drip of an early morning rain, Victor walks toward home. The cool, crisp air greets him as soft water streaks down his face, reminding him that he is alive. Alive.

The greenness of the grass washes over his eyes, the sweet smell of spring flowers mixed with the earthy smells of mud and trees intoxicates him. He looks around and beholds a new world. A new creation.

Fallen trees and leaf-covered paths suggest a heavy rain had passed through this place. A deluge. But now the devastation of last night’s storm has given way to a gentle sun penetrating the soft, spring rain flowing into rivulets along the road.

Overcome with thanksgiving, he stops walking and lifts up his hands and to proclaim,

If it had not been the Lord who was on our side—
let Israel now say—
if it had not been the Lord who was on our side
when people rose up against us,
then they would have swallowed us up alive,
when their anger was kindled against us;
then the flood would have swept us away,
the torrent would have gone over us;
then over us would have gone
the raging waters.(Psalm 124:1-5)

This Psalm burned in Victor’s soul as he meditated upon the words day after day after day for the past 15 years. Plunged into prison for his faith, he was starved, beaten, mocked, and drugged. Despair engulfed him, darkness choked him, death drew near.

Day after day after day his confession of faith was tested. The enemy came like a flood, swallowing Victor’s faith and and hope and love. Yet the Lord was faithful even when Victor felt the last vestige of faith slipping from his soul.

He thought the world forgot and feared that God forgot. From the depths of Sheol, he cried out to the Lord. “Remember me!”

And He did. In the place of forsakenness, Victor encountered the faithful love of the Lord that lasts forever.

And strangely, in this place of pain and loneliness, he also met a company of friends. As the prison swallowed Victor alive, he remembered Jonah plunged in the bowels of the great fish. As he faced year after year of suffering and hardship, he remembered the Israelites breaking under the harsh whip of Pharaoh.

In heart of darkness, he met King David crouched and hiding in a cave; Jeremiah in a sinking dark well; and Paul being stoned and left for dead. As He descended down in the dark chasms of suffering, Victor came to realize he lived in a great company of saints. In the mystery of God’s encircling love, he rested in this family of the not forsaken.

One vague story haunted him in the dark watches of the night. Again and again his mind returned to the 3rd century story of St. Julian, an old man accused of following Christ. Tormented and crippled by gout, Julian was carried into the court for trial. This frail and broken man stood without waver in the face of judgment and destruction.

Victor dreamed. And as he dreamed, he encountered Julian.

“Get up!” The gruff voice of an old soldier wakens Julian from his momentary dozing. Stiffly and slowly his rises. His shoulder is dislocated and his swollen feet feel like clods of earth attached to his legs. Julian hobbles towards the guard with a secret smile.

Today he is going home. As he walks, his shackles fall away, and Julian is free. He is going home. He thinks of himself like a bird getting ready to fly. And he remembers an old psalm and silently sings:

Blessed be the Lord,
who has not given us
as prey to their teeth!
We have escaped like a bird
from the snare of the fowlers;
the snare is broken,
and we have escaped! (Psalm 124:6-7)

Dried blood cracks along deep cuts, and fresh streams wash down his back. Once again a secret smile. Julian remembers another washing.

Long ago in another age, he was plunged into waters of life. As Julian was immersed into the waters of life in death, he remembered and was remembered.

The Lord gathered this poor and forgotten boy into the family of God. The joy of this embrace gave him a song that never ceased. And like a bird from the heavens, he never stopped singing Psalms of thanksgiving to Lord who put him in family.

Today the song bubbles just beneath the surface. For in the great and merciful love of his Lord, Julian now enjoys the honor of another baptism. And in this great cleansing, he feels giddy like a young a boy with the fire of life.

Again and again, the dreams of Julian encouraged Victor and reminded Him of God’s unfailing love. Today as Victor leaves the prison and walks home, he envisions Julian walking home alongside him.

He soaks in the cool rain, the mud-soaked ground, and gentle mist floating over the fields. At the edge of the field stands on old stone house. Crossing the path, he walks toward two people working in the morning drizzle: the wife of his youth and his boy become a man.

A song flies upward from his mouth to the throne of God. As he sings, he tastes the sweet joy of St. Julian.

Tears of joy flood Julian’s face as he climbs the cold, stone steps one last time. The joy inside him overpowers the twisted and broken limbs and for a moment, he walks upright before the cheering crowd. Soon he will be home, but first another promised baptism. As Julian walks into the raging fire, his secret song explodes out from his lungs in a psalm of praise.

Julian’s and Victor’s voices join the chorus of David, Jeremiah, Daniel and all the people of God walking home to the Father:

Our help is in the name of the Lord,
who made heaven and earth. (Psalm 124:8)

2009 Retreat Schedule

January 22, 2009 1 comment

Below are a list of retreats I am planning for 2009. If you are interested, please email me (doug (at) springoflight.org). I am making immediate plans for the first retreat on the last weekend of February (27-29). On this weekend, we’ll discuss vision, hope and the power to change the world with the message of the gospel.

In some ways, this retreat will inform every other retreat I do this year. I believe it is timely and important. Much of my writing and meditation over the last year has related to what I hope to explore during this retreat.

Also note, we have a one day seminar on business coming up on March 21. This should be a provocative conversation about the kingdom of God and the market.

Here are the list of retreats and plans. If you plan to come to the February retreat or would like more information, please email. (doug (at) springoflight.org)

2009 Retreats Schedule

Hope in the Midst of the Hopeless (weekend retreat) – February 27-28, 2009
Reforming Business (seminar) – March 21
Relationships and the Commandments – April/May
Holy Creativity – Summer 2009
St. Patrick and the Evangelism of the World – Fall 2009

Hope in the Midst of the Hopeless
February 27-28, 2009
How do you still hope when it feels like your whole world is coming to an end? Worse yet, what happens when everyone else’s world seems to be coming to an end? As I’ve reflected on the fear of personal and cultural suffering, I’ve seen a Biblical response in the beginning and ending the world.

Drawing from Scripture and Church History, we’ll look at how we respond when it feels like the world is coming to an end. Better yet, we’ll consider how the prophets, Jesus, and the New Testament writers can translate faith, hope and love into words of vision that inspire themselves and those around them walk in the joy and power of the kingdom.

Now more than ever, Christians must know how to speak a vision of hope to the world around us. If we look at the Augustine writing while Rome was burning, Luther writing while his life was being threatened, or the early American settlers writing and speaking while facing an uncertain future, we will see how Christians in every age have learned how to speak the word of faith that changed the world around them.

From proclaiming peace and joy to our own souls to speaking the word of faith to the world, this weekend will help each person draw from Biblical wisdom to face the threats around us with an unyielding hope, an undying faith and an unfaltering love.

Brad Getz and Rick Doughty will join me in this conversation. I invite you to join us as well for a weekend of fellowship, reflection and visioning for the future.

Reforming the World Seminars
March 21
This year I plan several one day seminars focused on reforming our world. The first seminar will focus on our role in “Reforming Business.” This is not a theoretical seminar but a practical seminar born from the struggle of Christians in business. While I’ve invited a few folks to share their stories and lead the way, I invite all Christians in business from entrepreneurs to managers to employees, each of us face the challenge of translating our faith into environments and situations that may not be conducive to faith. Drawing from personal stories and the wisdom of the commandments, we will look at the hard questions and challenges of living out the kingdom of God in the mist of the business world.

Relationships and the Commandments
April/May
For many years I’ve resisted a “marriage retreat.” One reason is that many churches and ministries already focus on this area of need, so I’ve concentrated my ministry efforts in other places. But I believe the Lord showed me a way of discussing relationships through the wisdom of the 10 commandments that I think will offer a fresh perspective on marriage, parenthood, friendship, employer-employee relationships and more.

Instead of isolating marriage as the focal point, I would suggest the Bible offers a vision of family relationships that introduces a way of understanding all human relationships. Kelly, my wife of 20 years, and I will lead this retreat together through discussion and exercises.

Holy Creativity
Summer 2009
Come discover the delightful, wondrous creative gifts God placed in each person. Paul often exhorts his brothers and sisters to offer their gifts on behalf of one another. But if you look at his lists in Romans, Corinthians and other letters, you see a wide range of gifts and callings.

Instead of trying to classify and group human gifting into a neat Aristotelian chart, I invite you to join us for a weekend of discovering the riches and surprising and unexpected ways each of us are gifted to bless those around us. If you think you know all about your gifts, you’ll be surprised by what you discover this weekend.

Old friends and former professors, Darlene and Michael Graves will join me this weekend for an eclectic, playful and worship-filled weekend of creativity.

St. Patrick and the Evangelism of the World
Fall 2009
Every year America celebrates his birthday and a few people actually realize the amazing story behind this man. The story of St. Patrick is the story of a man who loved his enemies into the kingdom of God. He loved them so much, we think of him as Irish. But he wasn’t. Come hear more about the story of Patrick, the Biblical and Historical use of power evangelism, and the wonder of a nation that was converted without one martyr.

Direction in 2009

January 10, 2009 1 comment

If you read this blog on occasion, you may run across my reference to Eugen Rosenstock’s Cross of Reality. He talks about man moving in four directions (backward-forward -time) and (inward-outward – space). We live within the time/space axis, and yet oddly we often get stuck in one of the four directions. Some people, groups, nations are stuck in the past. On the other hand, some are stuck in the future. To live and move within time we must enjoy the freedom to move backward and forward.

Space is the same way. Some folks, groups, nations are trapped in inner space: reflection, meditation, philosophy, etc. Lots of ideas, passion, existential reality but little contact with outer world. Early in his life as a son a “righteous one,” Martin Buber was caught up in ecstatic encounter with the divine. A student came to see, but he turned the student away for the inner ecstasy trumped the call from the outer world. The student committed suicide. This horror shook up Buber and was one of the key influences that moved him to developed his thoughts on the life of dialogue. The call to move out beyond ourselves and encounter the other in dialogue.

Buber reminds us that we move between two directions in space inner world and outer world. Both are fundamental and one doesn’t trump the other.

One amazing power of humans is our power to change. While trees shed their leaves in the fall and have no choice, we can shed our hair in the spring and grow long beards in the fall. Or we can do the opposite. We can turn around. We have the power to decide when to move and when to rest. We can change our world. We can put trees where there are no trees, or we can add trees to fields and create a forest.

This quick reminder allows me to talk about and think about direction in 2009. With the lay-offs and economic news in our country, many people are turning inward. Fear is driving people backward. Looking back to better times.

I would suggest the two directions that I am focusing upon during this season of fear and distress is outward and forward. Now is the time to look ahead with vision and expectancy. Now is the time to act in ways that bring hope and courage to the faltering. Now is the time to plan for tomorrow and act on the basis of a vision for tomorrow.

This gets me to vision but that’s another post. I’m thinking about vision and how vision works, where it comes from and what is its purpose.

The Year Has Known Conversion

November 21, 2008 Leave a comment

As I gaze out upon my leaf-covered lawn, I am reminded, “the year has
known conversion.” Bobi Jones wrote those words as he stepped out into
a springtime bursting forth into new life, confessing, “energy is
everywhere.” As he celebrates that “winter has gone to its fathers,” I
watch winter return and begin overtaking the golden autumn afternoons
with freezing breath.

And once again, I think about the phrase, “the year has known
conversion.” Nothing remains. Oh that the glory of trees raining
colored leaves might last just a bit longer. But the gentle wonder
gives way to barrenness. And the season is left behind.

My world has known conversion this year. As most of you know, our
building caught fire last February. The Living Room that had hosted
weddings and movie nights, retreats and a weekly liturgy, caught fire
one Thursday morning. I got a call after lunch. We recovered boxes of
books for future cleaning. Then a few of us began meeting in the home
again as we left that season behind.

More recently, my job ended. One Thursday. And in true literary style,
I got a call after lunch. After months of dropping sales, our company
began cutting jobs. I packed up a few boxes for future sorting. Then I
came back home to work and left that season behind.

Even as I write these words, I realize that I am addressing many other
people who have known conversion this year. Some of you lost your jobs
in the midst of this struggling economy. Some of you have lost loved
ones to death. Some of you have known the death-like agony of
separation and divorce. And some of you have watched your savings
almost disappear as the stocks keep tumbling down.

Much like the barren trees, our lives sometime reflect a season of
stripping away. A time of loss and death. We know the uncertainty of
conversion that feels like the world has come to an end. Almost
weekly, I hear some preacher declaring the end of the world is at
hand. And in some ways they are most certainly right. The world has
ended for some people.

Listening to a survivor of the Rwandan genocide recently, I was
transfixed by the sudden and horrible devastation that can bring a
family, a nation, a world to an end. It reminds me of the insulation
lives that most Americans live. Tragedy happens to the other guy: the
person on the other side of the world. When it comes close, people cry
out, “Why me?”

In other ages and times, people have wondered, “Why not me?” Why did
it pass me by? Earlier this year, I read Barbara Tuchman’s revealing
account of the 14th century in the “The Distant Mirror.” The century
knew conversion. Darkness descended across Europe in ways that no 13th
century person could have anticipated.

The dramatic progress of the 12th and 13th century came crashing down
as famine, black plague, war, raiders, and other natural and man-made
disasters brought the Western world to the brink of destruction. And
in the midst of this devastation, some towns prospered. One town fell
victim to complete annihilation by the black plague and another town
didn’t experience a single case, leaving survivors to wonder, “Why did
I survive?”

As I think about the chaos of the 14th century and I consider the
chaos that ripples across the world in the 21st century, think of the
Spirit of God who hovers over the waters of the deep. Again and again
in Scripture, the Lord shows up in the midst of flooding, fire, wind,
and death.

The Bible doesn’t present a world free of problems and suffering and
pain. Rather, we are confronted with a disturbing portrait of man’s
inhumanity against man. We see evil expressed in violence, war, and
all manner of human suffering. We behold people who face the same pain
and anguish and barrenness that sometimes comes close to our lives and
into our homes.

And yet, we also see God in the midst. The ocean of chaos that
threatens all order cannot threaten God. He consistently enters into
the midst of his suffering people. In the gospels, we behold the Lord
of Glory entering in to our frailty, our suffering, our pain, our
death.

And what does he do in death?

He creates a new man, a new world. All things are made new. The chaos
doesn’t threaten him. When the world seemed be coming apart in the
14th century, His Spirit brought winds of change in the 15th and 16th
century that opened new possibilities for people throughout the world.

When it seems like our world is colliding to an end, His grace can
heal and renew and revision and recreate our lives, our families, our
world. Whether we suffer sickness or job loss or financial problems or
relational strains. He has not abandoned us in this season of winter.

This brings me back to Bobi’s line, “The year has known conversion.”
When Bobi uses the word conversion, he is drawing from a deeper well
than just change. He is called upon this conversion that our Savior
reveals in His resurrection. He brings life out of death. He writes,

“Winter has gone to its fathers.
It was sharp; alive. And look at them here:
Life has triumphed over life, and death death
On this everlasting meadow that is
A Cross for the year.
Spring came through the mouth of the morning
Its tongue clamouring hotly on the petals of sunrise
Like the boots of a soldier coming home.”

His poem stirs my heart, as I continue gazing at the barren trees in
my yard. Even as the coldness of winter sometimes to grip our world
and our homes and our lives, He is coming. The Soldier who harrowed
hell is coming. And even in the midst of our endings, He is a
beginning. Let us rejoice at the newness of His grace that surrounds
us even now, and look expectantly for the new shoots to spring forth
in the midst of the old.

Praying for President Obama

November 5, 2008 2 comments

The magnificent beauty of the day led me away from the quiet of lunchtime reading for a walk in the autumn sunlight. Gold and red and yellow leaves seemed to glow on the trees that lined the walkway and stood in bold contrast to the azure blue sky. The intensity of the changing season stirred my heart with expectation of something new. A new season. A new day. A new nation.

My heart overflows with thanksgiving to the God who exalts and humbles. To the Creator who orders all things in his perfect plan. I look forward to this new presidency with anticipation and hope.

My exclamations of praise might sound odd to those who know I cast my vote for another candidate. By personal conviction, I feel constrained to consistently cast my vote on behalf of the unborn innocents who have no voice. As I seek to be faithful in obedience to God, I want to respect others who may express their obedience and submission differently.

For I know that true change comes by God’s grace alone. So beseeching the covenant God on behalf of all who have no voice (born and unborn) must take precedence over all. So today, I celebrate God’s grace in this recent election.

My sister told me that she has been meditating upon Psalm 72 during this election. Her words leaped into my heart and I echo this prayer. In this prayer, Solomon gives voice to the great longing of his father David.

David was a man of war, but by God’s grace Solomon would reign as the prince of peace. The prayer asks for the Lord’s blessing upon this new rule that the king’s rule might bring justice to the poor and needy, judgment to the oppressor, righteousness to the land, dominion from sea to sea, and wise council for all the kings of the earth.

Only one king fully manifests this righteous rule: King Jesus. And yet, in spite of his failures Solomon will image this righteousness in a lesser degree. Would that all leaders would follow the rule of King Jesus and image his righteous acts in their rule.

So as I consider our new ruler, President Obama, my prayer is that Psalm 72 will be close to his heart and rule. May the fear of God characterize his steps. May the judgments of God be revealed in his decisions. And may he be a voice for the voiceless, fatherless, poor and needy who suffers under the hand of the oppressor.

The voiceless and fatherless throughout our nation and throughout the world rejoice today for they hope that Obama will take up their cause. Obama is uniquely positioned to lead the way in racial healing and reconciliation in our nation. My prayer is for wisdom in words and actions that will encourage the healing of the races in our nation and rippling across the world.

Even as I rejoice and am filled with hope, I am reminded that hope does not come from the strength of the horse (the power in the king’s rule). Rather, hope comes from the King who died to bring justice to this tear-stained world. He died and yet now lives as the King of all kings, reigning over all time and space.

Even as I anticipate and look forward to the full revelation of His rule, extending and fully expressed in a new heavens and new earth, I cry out that His rule might be reflected on this earth through our weak and failing bodies.

So may the rule of Great King shine forth in President Obama. May the fear of God rule his heart and the hearts of the people in this nation. May each of us follow in the path of the servant king who humbled himself (even unto death) to serve us and obey His Father.

May the wonder of this glorious autumn day be but the taste of a new season in our nation’s history when the weak will be lifted up and all the forgotten (including the unborn) be protected and rescued from the blows of oppression.

Thoughts on Interpreting the Text – (Dougernism)

October 14, 2008 2 comments

Tired of hearing the angry voices competing for attention by increasing volume, I have often felt like the post-modern who says, “You’re both all right.” Silence seems golden when the only sound you hear is the sparring of two syllables in flight. But what is even more golden than silence is the articulate voice that creates the future in the midst of a world that seems to be crumbling.

Now more than ever I believe we need people to pay attention, to listen, and to respond with an articulation of wisdom from the Word. So how do we approach the Bible, the Word of God? What tools, what lenses, what frameworks can assist us in our endeavor?

This is not an exhaustive list but a few thoughts collected from writers and thinkers far wiser than myself. Karl Barth (via the great synthesizer Donald Bloesch) taught me that I don’t stand over the Word but it stands in judgment over me. So the first tool in my bag of interpretive tricks, is the grace, the gift, the challenge of humility. I come to the text realizing my own flaws, my own limited vision, my own sinful heart and deceptions. I humble myself under the mighty hand of God that He may lift me up in due time.

One of the dangers of critiquing modernism is the sense that I am finally here to save the day. Actually many a man far greater than myself lived and died in the school of the moderns, and I am grateful for the gifts of that generation. So in addition to humility, gratitude might also be helpful. We might learn to be grateful for our critics, our forebears, and especially for the heretics. I can learn from the successes and failures of others if I might learn to appreciate them and listen.

Listening is yet another key tool. Listening to the text. Listening to the writer influenced by the Greek philosophical world, the Roman legal system, the early medieval tribal world, and the late medieval scholasticism. Listening to the heart of the Reformers, the precision of the Enlightenment thinkers and the passion of the emergents. If we can develop the skill of listening to others across space and time, we might be forced to reflect upon and consider and grow from a different perspective.

All these initial tools might be captured in the words, “faith, hope and love.” The Word is not my word but God’s Word. So when I open the text, I must believe that God is speaking to me through Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. Instead of critical distrust, I bring critical trust. As a good Protestant, I believe the Word stands over and above all human words. Yet, like the Reformers before me, I believe that this God Word echoes through the communities of faith across space and time. So listening intently to these communities is valuable.

Different times sound forth particular articulations that sometimes seem unrecognizable from our current milieu. This requires the discipline of sustained listening through the ears of love. In addition to speaking from vastly different cultural contexts, different Christians across time and space have read the Word through particular parts of the Word. Gerald Bray suggests that the early centuries of the church read through the lens and questions of John’s gospel. It should be obvious that we read the text today through the lens of the book of Romans.

This is why question of justification, faith vs works, law vs grace and so on are so readily in our discourse and our faith walk. Another book that has exerted a powerful gateway into the rest of the Bible is the book of Psalms. This collection of songs offers an interpretive lens for everything from the creation story to the end of time, and we would all do well to sing (listen twice) to the treasures of this hermeneutic aesthetic.

Growing up with an attitude of derision toward the law, I found parts of the Old Testament virtually unreadable. More recently, I’ve begun to discover the treasure that the law brings in opening up the stories, the songs, the provers, the gospels and even the epistles.

By moving back and forth between varying perspectives, am I not simply reflecting the post-modern conditioning of my culture? Unquestionably. On the bad side, this can lead to a position of having no tools to correct readings that damage the text, and having no ability to draw distinctions between Biblical revelation and the latest new age prophecies.

But seeing the Bible through varying perspectives does not mean that I give into a sea of subjective waves. Rather, I can draw from the tools of the ancient church realize that multiple perspectives can operate at the same time without canceling each other out. I can appreciate the narrative tools and rhetorical devices without denying the historical veracity of the stories. Both perspectives can teach me. This can begin helping me develop the Biblical skills I need to distinguish between subjective fluff and subjectively inspired revelation via an objective God who stands outside of my thoughts.

While I don’t like to really even use the terms objective and subjective, but for now let me suffice with the idea that the church has and still does offer the tools to distinguish between helpful and hurtful approaches to the text.

I might also suggest that objectively I can obey and embodying the words of the 10 commandments. Without faith in the historical Jesus and literal obedience to His commandments, I am still on the outside and all discussion of interpretation is simply theory. Stepping on the inside, I discover that I can listen and obey in simple childlike faith. And that many of the most simple will interpret the Word through their lives far more effective than me by listening, trusting and obeying the gentle (and not so gentle) promptings of the Holy Spirit.

Bob Dylan – Series of Dreams

October 11, 2008 2 comments

While my wife delivers a late night training session, I sit here in the hospital lobby listening to Bob Dylan’s recent release Tell Tale Signs: The Bootleg Series Vol 8. After listening to most of the album, I get stuck on the song Series of Dreams.

I can’t move on but listen over and over and over. When songs like this impact me, I am always asking myself, “Why?” Not sure I can explain, but here are thoughts echoing through my head. The rhythm is relentless forcefully driving the melody forward. The lyrics and the melody are repetitive, interacting with the dramatic tension of the drums to arrest my attention–much like some of the surf songs in the mid-60s. With minor variations in the melody at the end, Dylan brings a limited resolve to the tension, but it is incomplete.

For me, this tension highlights the spoken/sung lyrics that paint a series of pictures about unresolved tension within dreams. In these dreams, “time and tempo fly” as the dreamer is left running, climbing, and witnessing troubled scenes.

“And there’s no exit in any direction, ‘cept the one you can’t see with you eyes.”

In the middle of the song, Dylan offers this one line of transcendent hope. And I am reminded that in the middle of this life of struggle and doubt and fear and pain, hope may be the one real thing penetrating the illusions that so often pervade my thoughts. Oddly enough, as I’ve been listening to this tune over and over, I’ve also been reading St. Paul’s discussion of Abraham’s hope beyond hope.

The future was hopeless. Yet Abraham persisted in trusting the promise of God’s goodness. In this hope that endures the dark nightmares of failure, the future shines out with the surprise of love.

Why Do I Like Welsh Poetry?

June 27, 2008 Leave a comment

I can’t even read Welsh, so I end up reading poetry written in Welsh and translated into English. (Hopefully, I will eventually read it in Welsh.) So why does it strike me and move me so deeply? As I meander back through Bobi Jones Selected Poems (translated by Joseph P. Clancy), I ask myself, “Why?”

My family has Welsh roots and a second cousin has actually met with distant relatives who still live in Wales. But in al truth, I am an American. I don’t know any other reality. Despite my Celtic dreams, I am an American through and through. This is the only world I’ve ever known.

As an American, I read poems originally written in Welsh about Welsh places and Welsh people and Welsh struggles. I these poems through the eyes of a translator (a great Welsh translator and poet in his own right). In spite of the disconnect, these poems move me. They vibrate through the inner recesses of my soul.

As I think about their struggle to preserve a language, a memory, a particular history and a particular people, I connect with their rugged persistence in the face of (seemingly) unstoppable winds of change. They won’t let go. When the fight to keep speaking and writing in Welsh borders on futility, they keep holding on.

I don’t know what it’s like to fear losing a language. I don’t know what it’s like to fight to preserve a nation. But I do know the dark seas of hopeless chaos that sometimes tower when God seems to hide the grace of His presence. In smothering black nights of hopelessness, something deeper than my intellect continued to hold out for hope.

Something deeper than sheer willpower seemed to persistently grip the glimmers of fading rays when all effort seemed futile. Something deeper than me kept holding on. The very one who seems to elude me, who seems to hide from me, who seems to have abandoned me, continues to hold me, to draw me, to sustain me.

Even though dark waters have pounded my soul and the undercurrent of chaos has pulled me down to an airless pit, the Spirit never stopped hovering, blowing, creating and recreating me.

And I think this is why I love the Welsh poets.

Somehow in their relentless struggle to hold onto hope, I’ve come to find a home among fellow travelers who’ve tasted the sweet light of grace in the midst of the night.

Advent – The Longest Night

December 13, 2007 Leave a comment

In the older Julian calendar, tonight would be the longest night of the year, as the light of day gave way to an engulfing dark expanse. The church responded to this bleak time by celebrating St. Lucy, a young woman martyred for her faith in the 3rd century.

While little is known about Lucy, her name means “light,” so Lucy’s Day became a way of reminding the church of God’s light upon His people in the midst of dark seasons. According to one legend, her eyes were gouged out before her death, yet she could still see.

Today many Norwegians, Swedes and Danes still celebrate the feast of St. Lucy. Some young girls will memorialize Lucy by dressing in white and wearing a crown of candlelight.

When the sun fades from our horizon and twilight gives way to encroaching dark, shadows may seem more real than the fading glories of day. The fear that seemed so weak and foolish just hours ago, now looms large in our imaginations. In spite of our fast-talking, clever minded mockery of darkness, no one can escape the struggles of the human soul.

We learn to manage our schedules, but we cannot manage out the pain of broken relationships. Our intelligence, our wit, our technology cannot save us from disappointments, tragedies, offenses, and misunderstandings. We’ve learned to treat a multitude of sicknesses and physical problems, yet our bodies are not immune to sickness and death.

The Christian faith doesn’t hide from this darkness or deny its existence, but it looks beyond the darkness to a God of light and hope and love. Some people scorn this faith as blindness or pollyanish piety, and they are free to do so.

In the midst of their sneers, we will continue to look into the darkness of a starless night with eyes to see the Uncreated Light of love. Isaiah looked out upon a crumbling kingdom. He saw the impending demise of a once great hope descending rapidly into darkness. Morality was fading and the enemies came crouching: ready to descend upon the prey of God’s forgetful people.

He saw the darkness. Yet he also saw the light. He saw the lion lay down with the lamb. He saw a little child playing in the midst of snakes. He saw men turning weapons of war into tool for planting and harvesting. He saw beyond the horizon of man’s wisdom to a God will reveals a peaceable kingdom in the midst of a world that appears to be lost for good.

His words continue to inspire and stir of world of believers…and unbelievers. No matter how deep the darkness. Now matter how loud and how long the scorners scorn. The people of God are called to look beyond the arm of human flesh to the Creator who dwells in unapproachable light.

Trusting in the goodness of God revealed in Jesus Christ, we look toward the light of His unchanging love. As we look out in hope, we see His light shining and revealing lights all around us. We see the uncountable multitudes of people like Lucy who quietly trust the Lord in the midst of a world bent on destruction.

And as we behold the unveiling of God’s light in darkness, we walk toward His light, revealing the reconciling power of His love in and through our frail and failing lives.

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