Tuned for Praise: We Cannot Measure How You Heal

We continue the “Tuned for Praise” series with three hymns on healing.

This is the first of those three reflections.

 

Read: Luke 5:17-26

Just then some men came, carrying a paralyzed man on a bed. They were trying to bring him in and lay him before Jesus; but finding no way to bring him in because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the middle of the crowd in front of Jesus. (Luke 5: 18-19, NRSV)

I once knew a woman whose spirit had been twisted by a bitter divorce. Decades later she was diagnosed with colon cancer. Faithful friends gathered around her to pray for her healing. Much to everyone’s surprise, God answered those prayers by healing her spirit instead of her body. She eventually died of the colon cancer, but she lived her last months suffused with gratitude and joy. It was, by any measure, a miracle.

It’s hard not to think of that woman when I read this story from Luke. It is also found in Mark 2 and Matthew 9, but in all the versions, the friends play an important role. Their determination to get their friend to Jesus is nothing short of heroic. This in itself is an answer to prayer. Not everyone is blessed with friends like these, after all. Their intervention serves as an inspiration to all of us who aspire to bring those we love to the throne of grace.

But this brings us to the matter of the man on the stretcher. The narrator describes him as “paralyzed,” but Jesus’ first instinct is to heal his spirit and not his body. “Friend, your sins are forgiven you,” he says when the man interrupts the lesson plan by descending from the ceiling. Granted, people of that day assumed that physical illness was directly related to physical infirmity—i.e.—they assumed that he must have done something to deserve this. But I wonder if Jesus’ words reflect a more complicated triage of the man’s needs. We have no way of knowing, of course, but the story leaves room to wonder if the man’s need for spiritual healing is even more pressing than his need for physical healing.

In any case, the Pharisees blow a gasket and accuse Jesus of blasphemy. “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” they fume.

It’s at this point that Jesus tells the man to get up and go home. He does—which gives the Pharisees even more to think about.

To listen to some people, praying for healing is as simple as walking up to the Divine Vending Machine, putting your faith in the slot, and waiting for God to deliver according to what button you press. There are many problems with this approach, not the least of which is what happens when God does not deliver. When that happens, we conclude that the problem is either God’s (not enough power) or ours (not enough faith).

Maybe that’s why I appreciate the words to John L. Bell’s hymn so much. “We cannot measure how you heal,” it acknowledges, “or answer every sufferer’s prayer; yet we believe your grace responds where faith and doubt unite to care.” God’s love and response are what we can count on, even though God may respond in ways we do not expect.

As you listen to this recording of Bell’s hymn, open your own spirit to all of the ways God heals. And whether you find yourself carrying someone else’s stretcher or yourself being lowered down in front of Jesus, remember that we cannot measure how God heals.

Listen:  We Cannot Measure How You Heal – The words to this hymn are by John L. Bell; the tune is a traditional Scottish folk song, YE BANKS AND BRAES. The recording is by the Cathedral Singers.

Pray: “Lord, let your Spirit meet us here to mend the body, mind, and soul—to disentangle peace from pain, and make your broken people whole.”

From v. 3 of John L. Bell’s “We Cannot Measure How You Heal”

 

Introduction to the Tuned for Praise Series

Leonard Bernstein once observed that “music . . . can name the unnameable and communicate the unknowable.”

In this series, we will take advantage of music’s power to pick up where words leave off. Each Bible passage will be paired with a link to a recording that—in my judgement at least—interprets Scripture’s words in ways that words cannot.

Enjoy!

Tuned for Praise: Light Eternal

 

 

Read:

Therefore I say to you, O nations that hear and understand, “Wait for your shepherd; he will give you everlasting rest, because he who will come at the end of the age is close at hand. Be ready for the rewards of the kingdom, because perpetual light will shine on you forevermore.    (2 Esdras 2:34-35, NRSV)

These verses hail from the Apocrypha, those “hidden writings” which, while not accepted with the full authority of Scripture by the Reformers, were nonetheless regarded as “useful and good to read” (Martin Luther). The Belgic Confession (1561) suggests that “the church may certainly read these books and learn from them as far as they agree with the canonical books.” So, hearing nothing in these verses from 2 Esdras that is out of harmony with the rest of Scripture, we will take the Reformers at their word and read these verses for all they are worth.

Harpists will testify to the fact that plucking one string causes related strings to vibrate. Similarly, plucking this verse from 2 Esdras causes other canonical strings to vibrate in sympathy. The shepherd reference, of course, sets Psalm 23 and John 10 to humming. But the reference to rest calls to mind this passage from Revelation 14:12-13—

Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments

of God and hold fast to the faith of Jesus. And I heard a voice from Heaven saying,

“Write this: Blessed are the dead who from now on die in the Lord.” “Yes,” says the

Spirit, “they will rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them.”

Finally, we hear echoes of Revelation 22:5 in these verses as well:

And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord

God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.

As I wrote this reflections, I got the news of the death of Frank Gibson. Frank served for many years as the executive director of the American Waldensian Society, and was beloved on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean for his kindness, good humor, and commitment to justice. Although he would never have claimed to be a “saint” in the conventional sense, I could not help but think how appropriate it was that he heard the Good Shepherd calling him into light perpetual on All Saints’ Day.

If ever there was a piece of music that captures the warmth and assurance of verses like these, it is Edward Elgar’s “Lux Aeterna.” As you listen to it, call to mind the life and memory of a dear one who has died. Remember them with gratitude, and entrust them to the Shepherd who led them through the valley of the shadow and into light eternal.

Listen:  Edward Elgar’s Lux Aeterna (Voces 8)

Pray: May light eternal shine upon them, O Lord, with Thy saints forever, for Thou art kind. Eternal rest give to them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.

Introduction to the Tuned for Praise Series

Leonard Bernstein once observed that “music . . . can name the unnameable and communicate the unknowable.”

In this series, we will take advantage of music’s power to pick up where words leave off. Each Bible passage will be paired with a link to a recording that—in my judgement at least—interprets Scripture’s words in ways that words cannot.

Enjoy!

Tuned for Praise: Refuge

Read: Psalm 46

Be still, and know that I am God! (Psalm 46:10a, NRSV).

“It will be all right.”

That’s what we tell our kids. It’s what our parents told us, so we assume it must be true. Except that maybe it isn’t. Between the literal storms of climate change and the metaphorical storms of politics, that time-tested reassurance is starting to feel more and more like a lie.

On a good day, I take refuge in Romans 14:8 and am reminded that “whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.” So, in that sense, it really will be “all right.” But on a bad day, I find a different sort of refuge in Psalm 46.

Part of this psalm’s appeal is its “misery loves company” quotient. The psalmist’s world is going to hell in ways that sound eerily familiar. Chaos is encroaching in both the natural and the political spheres.

This is harder to track when we’re reading the psalm in English. In Hebrew, the sea is roaring and the mountains are slipping. Then politics takes a turn, and the nations start roaring and the kingdoms start slipping. See what I mean about misery loving company? If we didn’t know better, we’d think this psalmist had a subscription to The New York Times.

In the center of these storms, however, is a still point. “There is a river,” the psalmist says, “whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High.” Unlike the roaring seas outside, this river is life-giving. God’s presence inside the city means that it will NOT slip. Peace is possible precisely because God is with us, and God is our refuge.

Martin Luther was no stranger to chaos, so it’s not surprising that he chose this psalm as the inspiration for his hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” As you listen to it, however, remember the stillness at the center of the psalm. It is only possible because God is equal to keeping all kinds of chaos at bay.

The last section of the psalm underscores this. Look around, it says. This is the God who can calm the storm. This is the God who is with us. This is the God who is our refuge. Your fear is real, but remember whose love and strength surrounds you.

So, “be still and know that I am God.” Not in the sense of “doing nothing,” but in the sense of being at peace in the midst of whatever comes.

Be still. Be still. It really will be all right.

 

Listen:  J.S. Bach “Ein Feste Burg ist unser Gott”

and/or

Be Still and Know (John L. Bell)

 

Pray: Visit us with thy salvation; enter every trembling heart. Help us to be still and trust that your love and strength surround us.

 

Introduction to the Tuned for Praise Series

Leonard Bernstein once observed that “music . . . can name the unnameable and communicate the unknowable.”

In this series, we will take advantage of music’s power to pick up where words leave off. Each Bible passage will be paired with a link to a recording that—in my judgement at least—interprets Scripture’s words in ways that words cannot.

Enjoy!

Tuned for Praise: Leaning Toward the Light

Read: Revelation 22:1-7

…And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light… (Rev. 22:5, NRSV).

At first glance, the prospect of perpetual light does not strike me as a good thing. I enjoy that delicious darkness when the last lamp is extinguished and my tired eyes can call it a day.

I doubt this is what the writer of Revelation had in mind, however, so a second glance is probably warranted.

By the time we get to the last chapter of Revelation, we are ready for a little light. It has been a long, hard slog through dragons, plagues, and pestilence. We are more than ready to say goodbye to the four horsemen and their scary steeds, to say nothing of Mother Babylon getting tipsy on the blood of the saints. To be honest, even Jesus makes us nervous when he is described as “a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered, having seven horns and seven eyes” (Rev. 5:6).

It is a dark book, to be sure. But it is that very darkness that makes us lean hard toward the light.

Though it is not entirely clear who the original recipients of this book were, it seems obvious that they were familiar with suffering. Revelation 6:9 makes reference to “the souls of those who had been slaughtered for the word of God and for the testimony they had given.” Given this, one suspects they would not have had much patience with an apocalypse that depicted reality with the rosy glow of a Thomas Kinkade painting. To borrow a line from the Gospel of John, these people needed to know that “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:5).

One of my favorite musical settings of these words from Revelation is the Paul Manz motet, “E’en So, Lord, Quickly Come.” The music captures both the longing and the light, and when I read more about the story behind the song, I understood why.

Paul’s wife, Ruth, was keeping vigil at their 3-year-old son’s bedside, praying for a miracle. During one particularly difficult stretch when hope seemed scarce, she penned a poem based on Revelation 22:1-7. Later, she admitted, “I think we’d reached the point where we felt that time was certainly running out, so we committed it to the Lord and said, ‘Lord Jesus quickly come.’” That poem became the inspiration for her husband Paul’s anthem, which continues to inspire people to this day. Among them is the son who surprised all his doctors by recovering.*

It is no small thing to lean toward the light, especially when darkness seems to be swallowing us whole. But this passage from Revelation urges us to do just that. And it points to a day when all creation will be bathed in perpetual light.

I think I understand now why that will be a good thing. A very good thing.

 

Listen:  E’en So, Lord, Quickly Come – Paul Manz

 

 

Pray: Help our hearts to unfold like flowers before Thee, opening to the sun above.

From “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee,” word by Henry Van Dyke

 

*Details of the story behind Paul and Ruth Manz’ anthem are taken from this December 21, 2004 article by Dan Olson of Minnesota Public Radio: Christmas Hymn Born Out of Anguish.

 

Introduction to the Tuned for Praise Series

Leonard Bernstein once observed that “music . . . can name the unnameable and communicate the unknowable.”

In this series, we will take advantage of music’s power to pick up where words leave off. Each Bible passage will be paired with a link to a recording that—in my judgement at least—interprets Scripture’s words in ways that words cannot.

Enjoy!

Tuned for Praise: Child Sacrifice

Read: Jeremiah 19:1-13

…they have filled this place with the blood of the innocent, and gone on building the high places of Baal to burn their children in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal, which I did not command or decree, nor did it enter my mind (Jer. 19:4b-5, NRSV).

Most people do not consider Baal much of a problem. If they know his name at all, it’s in reference to some dusty Old Testament idol, with which we no longer need to be concerned.

The prophet Jeremiah is clearly concerned, however, and on closer inspection, this passage may be more relevant than we realize. Here is a case in point.

I recently had the opportunity to listen to a lecture by Dr. Leah Gunning Francis, author of Ferguson and Faith: Sparking Leadership and Awakening Community (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2015). Dr. Gunning Francis gave a moving testimony of the days and weeks of protest that followed the shooting death of Michael Brown Jr., a young black man shot and killed by police officer, Darren Wilson, in August 2014. Of all her accounts, however, there was one that I found particularly telling.

Some time after the shooting, the Washington Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church of East St. Louis decided to sponsor a “toy gun buy back.” Their invitation read: “Parents and children are invited to exchange violent toys for nonviolent ones and enjoy food, music and fun activities for children and youth.” The rationale for the event was expressed in this straightforward quote from the pastor of the church, Rev. Rodney T. Francis (Leah Gunning Francis’ husband): “The goal is to spark meaningful conversations about the culture of violence and change the ways kids engage in dramatic play by replacing violent toys and video games with non-violent ones.”

The invitation was a simple but powerful response to the congregation’s question: “What can we do?” But no one could have anticipated the backlash that the church and its leaders received in the wake of their invitation. With the cruel efficiency with which social media excels, the church was soon inundated with threatening emails and posts. Some people, it seems, saw a toy gun buy-back as a threat to their second amendment right to bear arms. That perceived threat was all the excuse they needed to threaten others.

I listened to this testimony in stunned disbelief—which demonstrates nothing so much as my own naiveté, I suppose. But I also listened carefully to Dr. Gunning Francis’ call to examine our culture’s idols. The religious zeal sparked by a toy gun buy back may well be symptomatic of a form of idolatry that is alive and well—especially in North American culture.

When we read Jeremiah’s description of people who offer up their own children to a false god, we react in horror. We can’t back away fast enough, eager to distance ourselves from the pagan practices of a distant and benighted age.

Yet, I wonder if we are as distant from this indictment as we assume. According to the PEW Research Center, over 39,000 people in the U.S. died gun-related deaths in 2017. At this writing, there have been 21 deadly mass shootings in in the U.S. in 2019 alone, with the body count at 124. Names like Orlando, Las Vegas, El Paso, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, Columbine, Stoneman Douglas, and Charleston toll like church bells in our collective memory. There are so many mass shootings, we can’t even keep them all straight.

Why is it so hard to see ourselves in Jeremiah’s indictment? Why is it so hard to recognize that our own land is stained with the blood of the innocent?

Listen:  There is a Place-by John L. Bell

This unforgettable anthem was written as a pastoral response to the mass shooting at Dunblane Primary School in Scotland on March 13, 1996 where 16 children and their teacher were murdered. It is published by GIA Publications, and this recording is from the CD, The Last Journey: Reflections for the Time of Grieving. Here are the words to the anthem:

 

There is a place prepared for little children
Those we once lived for, those we deeply mourn,
Those who from play, from learning and from laughter
Cruelly were torn.

There is a place where hands which held ours tightly
Now are released beyond all hurt and fear
Healed by that love which also feels our sorrow
Tear after tear.

There is a place where all the lost potential
Yields its full promise, finds its lost intent;
Silenced no more, young voices echo freely
As they were meant.

There is a place where God will hear our questions,
Suffer our anger, share our speechless grief.
Gently repair the innocence of loving
And of belief.

Jesus, who bids us to be like little children
Shields those our arms are yearning to embrace,
God will ensure that all are reunited;
There is a place.

Prayer: Hear our questions. Suffer our anger. Share our speechless grief. Gently repair the innocence of loving and of belief. But as you do all these things, help us to examine ourselves as individuals and as a culture so that we might find ways to stem this tide of senseless slaughter.

Introduction to the Tuned for Praise Series

Leonard Bernstein once observed that “music . . . can name the unnameable and communicate the unknowable.”

In this series, we will take advantage of music’s power to pick up where words leave off. Each Bible passage will be paired with a link to a recording that—in my judgement at least—interprets Scripture’s words in ways that words cannot.

Enjoy!

Tuned for Praise: A Place in the Choir

 

Read: Psalm 148 (Suggestion: Read this psalm while listening to Jupiter by Gustav Holst)

Let them praise the name of the Lord, for he commanded and they were created (Psalm 148:5, NRSV).

Question: When is the best time to plant a tree?

Answer: Twenty years ago.

Question: When is the next best time to plant a tree?

Answer: Now.

This Q & A comes from Richard Powers’ Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Overstory (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2018, pp. 30-31). The wisdom of the answers seems self-evident. But Powers’ novel points out that human beings are not always good at recognizing the obvious. Later in the book, one of the characters—a psychology professor—observes that, “You can’t see what you don’t understand. But what you think you already understand, you’ll fail to notice” (p. 439).

The author of Psalm 148 wants us to understand the world in a new way. If we accept that invitation, it’s very possible we will see the world with very different eyes.

The first thing to notice about this psalm is that it is a great big call to worship. That’s nothing new, especially in the psalms. But look closely at who is in the congregation. When we take attendance, we see a catalogue of all creation. It includes stars, sea monsters, stormy winds, cedars and finally, human beings. While one could argue that the psalmist saves the best for last, there’s no real evidence for this in the psalm. On the contrary, it may be our own arrogance that has blinded us to the psalm’s invitation for us to see ourselves in the context of all creation. This is a symphony and not a solo, after all. All God’s creatures have a place in the choir.

The second thing to notice is that all the members of creation’s congregation are assumed to have a voice. Otherwise they would not be able to accept the psalmist’s call to worship.

Some years ago I brought my Corgi puppy, Fiona, into my seminary classroom the day we studied Psalm 148. I set her up on my teaching desk and asked the class, “How does Fiona praise God?” The consensus was that Fiona praised God not just with barks, whines, and wiggles, but via her “essential Corginess.” She praised her creator just by being herself—thus fulfilling God’s command (v. 8)

Now that I have read Richard Powers’ novel, I wonder if there is much more to creation’s “voice” than most of us ever dare to imagine. Part of the novel’s premise is based on scientific evidence that trees communicate with one another. What else, I wonder, have we failed to notice simply because we are too ignorant (or arrogant) to understand?

The blurb on the book jacket of The Overstory could serve as a teaser for Psalm 148 as well. Both remind us that, “There is a world alongside ours—vast, slow, interconnected, resourceful, magnificently inventive, and almost invisible to us.” But both also raise an alarm—either explicitly in the case of the novel or implicitly in the case of the psalm—about humanity’s role in silencing or perverting creation’s voices. A polluted river, after all, is like Yo-Yo Ma with a broken arm. 3 billion birds gone missing is like an orchestra without a flute section.

Perhaps we should hear Psalm 148’s call to worship as both an invitation and a command. Perhaps “let them praise the name of the Lord” could also serve as a plea to stop silencing so many parts of creation’s choir.

Listen: All God’s Creatures

Prayer: Creator of all, forgive our arrogance. Forgive our greed. Give us eyes to see and minds to understand. Help us to restore as many voices in creation’s choir as we can.

 

Introduction to the Tuned for Praise Series

Leonard Bernstein once observed that “music . . . can name the unnameable and communicate the unknowable.”

In this series, we will take advantage of music’s power to pick up where words leave off. Each Bible passage will be paired with a link to a recording that—in my judgement at least—interprets Scripture’s words in ways that words cannot.

Enjoy!

Tuned for Praise: A Broken and Contrite Heart

 

Read: Psalm 51

The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (Psalm 51: 17, NRSV).

If confession is good for the soul, then why is it so hard to come by?

It’s a good thing King David didn’t have a public relations firm. If he had, we might never have inherited Psalm 51—one of the most candid prayers of confession ever blurted through tear-stained hands. When we pray it, it is not David’s sins that are “ever before us,” but our own.

Of course, there is no way to know if this prayer originated with David; many of the psalms did not. Still, whoever first identified this as “A Psalm of David, when the prophet Nathan came to him, after [David] had gone in to Bathsheba,” either had insider information or an unerring instinct for truth.

If you are familiar with the story from 2 Samuel 11-12, you will understand just how “spot on” this confession of sin is. David is certainly guilty of murder. He is arguably guilty of rape. (David was on the roof, not Bathsheba. And why would she refuse to go to the palace when the palace messengers showed up at her door?) But that’s not all. Sometimes the salacious elements of the story distract us from the fact that David is guilty of selfishness of such scale that it threatens to destroy both his family and the monarchy. As George Eliot once pointed out in her novel, Adam Bede, “Our deeds carry their terrible consequences…consequences that are hardly ever confined to ourselves.”

What should really get our attention in this prayer, however, is its honesty. And that is one of the most arresting features of the story in Second Samuel 12 as well. When the prophet Nathan turns his unflinching gaze on David and proclaims, “You are the man!” David makes no excuses. He simply says, “I have sinned against the LORD.” Whatever else David is guilty of, he is not guilty of self-deception. For my money, that is the single-most important reason for his retaining the title, “a man after God’s own heart.”

When we pray David’s prayer, he invites us to leave our excuses behind. God doesn’t want our excuses. As verse 17 reminds us, “the sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, [God] will not despise.”

We have to wait two and a half millennia before we find a prayer with this level of honesty. David doesn’t get much competition until sinner, poet, and preacher John Donne penned the following prayer. Donne can’t resist playing on his own name (notice how he uses the word “done”), but it’s not his cleverness that catches at our hearts. Like Psalm 51, this is a prayer in which there is no self-deceit. It come straight from a heart that is both broken and contrite. Pray along if you dare.

A Hymn to God the Father

 

Wilt thou forgive that sin where I begun,

Which was my sin, though it were done before?

Wilt thou forgive that sin, through which I run,

And do run still, though still I do deplore?

When thou hast done, thou hast not done,

For I have more.

 

Wilt thou forgive that sin which I have won

Others to sin, and made my sin their door?

Wilt thou forgive that sin which I did shun

A year or two, but wallow’d in, a score?

When thou hast done, thou hast not done,

For I have more.

 

I have a sin of fear, that when I have spun

My last thread, I shall perish on the shore;

But swear by thyself, that at my death thy Son

Shall shine as he shines now, and heretofore;

And, having done that, thou hast done;

I fear no more.

 

Listen: Click on the image below to listen to John Donne’s poem, “A Hymn to God” as interpreted by composer Jennifer Wolfe. The recording features the Hope College Chapel Choir conducted by Brad Richmond.

 

Prayer: Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Amen.

 

 

Introduction to the Tuned for Praise Series

Leonard Bernstein once observed that “music . . . can name the unnameable and communicate the unknowable.”

In this series, we will take advantage of music’s power to pick up where words leave off. Each Bible passage will be paired with a link to a recording that—in my judgement at least—interprets Scripture’s words in ways that words cannot.

Enjoy!

Tuned for Praise: The Peace of Wild Things

 

Read: Psalm 104

O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures” (Psalm 104: 24, NRSV).

Some statistics simply stop you in your tracks.

For me, it was Science magazine’s report that 30% of North America’s bird population has disappeared in a generation. That’s 3 billion birds since 1970. Here is the link if you don’t believe me: Science Magazine’s Bird Report

If you are not bothered by this, then the rest of what I have to say will be of little interest to you. If, however, you share my despair, then what follows may offer a cup of cold comfort and an ounce of inspiration.

It was that word “despair” that sent me to Wendell Berry’s poem, “The Peace of Wild Things” (The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry, Counterpoint, 1999). The poem opens with the line, “When despair for the world grows in me….” He meets us where we are, in other words, and I, for one, appreciate that he does not try to minimize my rising panic. But look where he leads us after that opening line:

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

This poem offers an inspired prescription to combat despair—especially the despair that springs from contemplating what human beings have done to God’s garden planet. I need this remedy. I need this “balm in Gilead.” I need to “lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water.” I need the “come into the peace of wild things.”

But here is where the cold comfort comes in. If the wild things are endangered, then so, too, is our opportunity to “rest in the grace of the world” and be free.

I wonder, however, if Berry’s prescription may be part of the cure.

Go. Lie down “where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water.” Take Psalm 104 with you. As you “come into the presence of still water,” consider as well the words of the psalmist who caresses each of God’s creatures as they pass by in this ancient parade of praise. “Rest in the grace of the world” a while.

Not only will it make you feel better. It may even inspire you to rise up ready to preserve the peace of wild things.

Listen:

Follow this link “The Peace of Wild Things”  to listen to Berry reading his poem, plus you can also listen to Bill Moyers interviewing Berry in 2013.

Follow this link ANTHEM “The Peace of Wild Things” to listen to a choral setting of Berry’s poem by Jake Runstad. The performance is by the Stellenbosch University Chamber Choir.

Prayer: Lead us beside the still waters, Creator God. Then lead us to ways we can better care for your creation. Amen.

 

 

Introduction to the Tuned for Praise Series

Leonard Bernstein once observed that “music . . . can name the unnameable and communicate the unknowable.”

In this series, we will take advantage of music’s power to pick up where words leave off. Each Bible passage will be paired with a link to a recording that—in my judgement at least—interprets Scripture’s words in ways that words cannot.

Enjoy!

Tuned for Praise: Even When God Is Silent

 

Read: Psalm 79

O God, the nations have come into your inheritance; they have defiled your holy temple; they have laid Jerusalem in ruins (Psalm 79:1, NRSV)

Psalm 79 is one of a spate of psalms that dare to confront an apparently indifferent God. The problem they pinpoint is God’s silence in the face of overwhelming evil.

Here is a brief sample of some of the raw outbursts from this section of the psalter. Pray along if the psalm fits:

O God, do not keep silence; do not hold your peace or be still, O God! (Ps. 83:1)

Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel…stir up your might, and come to save us! (Ps. 80:1)

Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his compassion? (Ps. 77:9)

The problem, of course, is that these psalms DO still fit. Even if the specifics have changed (fill in the blank with today’s particular atrocity), these prayers still express an all too contemporary sense of outrage.

A friend of mine once told me that Psalm 79 was the “evening psalm” of Christian households during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. He had this on the authority of his father, who had lived through those dark days as a young boy. (If you’re wondering what the morning psalm was, it was 68: “Let God rise up, let his enemies be scattered….”)

It’s not hard to understand this desperate prayer’s appeal for people in that situation. Even the cries for vengeance (justice?) in verses six and twelve are wholly human under the circumstances. In fact, my friend’s father confessed that they were said, “With relish.”

The presence of such prayers within Scripture may strike some as embarrassing or inappropriate. I would argue, however, that they are a gift. Jesus quoted Psalm 22:1 from the cross, after all, and asked God point blank, “Why have you forsaken me?” What is often overlooked is the faith that such candid questions assume. They are built on a relationship of trust that—even when that trust is shaken—dares to confront an apparently absent God.

Listen: Even When He Is Silent

The lines that gave birth to this anthem were found written on the wall of a cellar in Cologne where a number of Jews hid from the Nazis during WWII. This piece, composed by Kim André Aresen, is performed by the St. Olaf Choir, conducted by Anton Armstrong.

 

I believe in the sun even when it’s not shining;

I believe in love even when I feel it not;

I believe in God even when he is silent.

Anonymous

 

Prayer: Deliver us from evil, O God. But when evil seems to be winning, help us to trust you anyway. Help us to believe in your power and your goodness, even when you are silent. Amen.

 

Introduction to the Tuned for Praise Series

Leonard Bernstein once observed that “music . . . can name the unnameable and communicate the unknowable.”

In this series, we will take advantage of music’s power to pick up where words leave off. Each Bible passage will be paired with a link to a recording that—in my judgement at least—interprets Scripture’s words in ways that words cannot.

Enjoy!

Tuned for Praise: Stay With Us

“The Road to Emmaus”

Robert Zünd (1877)

 

Read: Luke 24:13-35

As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. (Luke 24: 28-29, NRSV)

If I am honest, part of this painting’s appeal is that it reminds me of the place where I grew up. The only problem is that I grew up in a valley in north-west Illinois, and the road to Emmaus is a few miles north-west of Jerusalem. Last time I looked, the two places had little in common.

Once we get past the trees, however, things get more interesting and—one suspects—more accurate.

The body language of the three figures suggests that this is a scene from the middle of the story. The men on either side of Jesus seem to be hanging on his every word. Their posture is eager and alert. This must be the part where Jesus interprets to them “the things about himself in all the scriptures” (v. 27).

Of course, they don’t realize yet that this mysterious stranger is Jesus.

Who could blame them? Even if their eyes hadn’t been “kept from recognizing him” (v. 16), their hearts and their heads would surely have gotten in the way. This was three days after Jesus’ crucifixion, after all. When Jesus asks them what they are talking about, they stop in their tracks and respond incredulously, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” (v. 18).

But first impressions are deceiving. This stranger does not turn out to be as clueless as they thought. Before long, they are the ones who feel clueless. They can’t get enough of what he is saying. It might not make sense, but it’s a vast improvement over their previous despair. So, when they reach their destination, and it looks like Jesus intends to continue down the road without them, they plead with him. “Stay with us,” they urge, “because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.”

While this may be true, one suspects that their own curiosity was as much a motivator as their concern. And was there also a spark of hope—struck by the stranger’s oddly encouraging words? If so, it was nothing they could articulate yet. Only a gut feeling that they couldn’t let this man walk down the road without them.

Jesus accepts their invitation. The rest of the story relates the moment when the men finally recognize Jesus. It is surely significant that “their eyes were opened” when they were at the table. Maybe it was the way Jesus blessed and broke the bread. One can almost feel the wave of déjà vu as they heard the familiar words spoken by the beloved voice. By the time they reached out to receive the broken bread from his hands, they knew.

I like Robert Zünd’s iconic painting because it reminds me of home. But I love Luke’s story because it reminds me that Christ walks with us in our despair whether we recognize him or not. He is risen whether we realize it or not. He feeds us at his table whether we are worthy or not.

Listen: Abendlied (Bleib bei uns) by Josef Gabriel Rheinberger

This gorgeous setting of Luke 24:29 interprets the plea for Jesus to “stay with us.” The composer, Josef Gabriel Rheinberger, write the first version of the piece in 1855 when he was only 15. This recording, conducted by Klaus Breuninger, was made in Stuttgart, Germany in 2007. It features 100 singers from over 40 nations.

 

Prayer: Stay with us, Lord Jesus. Stay with us…whether we know we need you or not. Whether we recognize you or not. Whether we deserve you or not. Only stay with us.

 

Introduction to the Tuned for Praise Series

Leonard Bernstein once observed that “music . . . can name the unnameable and communicate the unknowable.”

In this series, we will take advantage of music’s power to pick up where words leave off. Each Bible passage will be paired with a link to a recording that—in my judgement at least—interprets Scripture’s words in ways that words cannot.

Enjoy!