Julian’s Pandemic Survival Tip #2: Awaken to Goodness

God is all that is good…God says, “I am the sovereign goodness of all things.” — Julian

Julian of Norwich (1342-ca.1429 AD) knew something about surviving pandemic, as she experienced waves of the Bubonic Plague throughout her lifetime. If you are just joining this series, I invite you to go back and read my introductory blog and the following posts starting here https://wordsfromasparrow.wordpress.com/2021/07/27/julians-tips-on-living-in-pandemic-times/

Julian spent many years meditating on her experiences and the visions she had about the sufferings and death of Jesus. But her visions went beyond death (the via negativa) to what she would say matters most: goodness, joy and awe” (the via positiva). In spite of living during the years that the Black Plague cycled through over and over, she was able to live a long life of service to others as a counselor and spiritual director, both in person and through the three versions of her book about her experiences and visions.

Fox writes that Julian “births light into a world ravaged by darkness and anxiety, and she instructs us to do the same.”

As much as Julian faces pain and suffering directly, and encourages others to do the same, she spent more time teaching us to pay attention to the experiences of joy, goodness and awe. In this blog post, I want to consider Julian’s thoughts on goodness with you.

For Julian, the act of “remembering goodness and recovering a sense of goodness is at the heart of combating suffering and evil.” In fact, when it is most difficult to see goodness in life, when chaos seems to reign all around, “it is all the more important to remember the goodness of things.”

Fox points out that Julian encourages us to see that “the goodness we must acknowledge in a time of pandemic and of human malfeasance is the goodness of nature itself and existence itself…a love of creation, a love of being itself.”

“God has revealed his goodness with such abundance and plentitude,”, observes Julian. Here she speaks of the “goodness of nature.” We can be blind to comprehend the wisdom of God through faulty reasoning. Yet Julian declares “God is all that is good. God has created all that is made. God loves all that he has created. “

I often hear people saying they experience God while in nature. Julian calls God “the very essence of nature”, including human beings. She writes that “it is God who will refill what is lacking and restore us with the action of mercy and grace, which will abundantly pour into us from His own natural goodness.” Goodness is natural to God. So Julian would say that “goodness surrounds us in the manifestation of all of nature but it also flows through us on a regular basis; it is God’s Spirit at work in and through us.”

Remembering that we are here, why we are here, and what a privilege it is to be part of the vast beauty and goodness of existence, is what Julian points us towards.

All this shows us to the way to the via positiva, and Fox points out that “the deep experience of the via positiva is Julian’s primary medicine for living a life of wisdom in the midst of a pandemic.”

Julian invites us to “wake up to the goodness all around us, within us, and embedded in our work. To wake up to goodness is to wake up to God’s presence.

This message of God as goodness and goodness as God is Julian’s primary medicine for surviving a time of struggle and chaos. On one hand, she encourages us not to deny the suffering, but on the other to “focus more on the goodness found deep within life and nature.”


In these days of pandemic and other negative experiences in our world, we will more than likely need to go out of our way to find goodness. Life has not been and is not always easy or good. I have found personally, that by focusing constantly on the bad news, the suffering, on self-pity, I spiral down into depression and miss the goodness of God. There are several kinds of spiritual practices that can help us find the via positiva each day:

  1. Spend some time in nature, and there, look for God’s goodness.
  2. Ask God to help you remember what God has already done in your life that has been good and beneficial.
  3. Praise and thank God for God’s goodness as you notice and remember. This is a way to keep going in spite of our difficult circumstances. In fact, Fox reminds us that praise is a “response to goodness; praise and goodness are bigger than fear and sorrow, thus we can wrap lamentation and sorrow into something beautiful.”


Photo credit: Charlotte Hedman Photography, charhedman.wixsite.com

Quotes from Julian of Norwich: Wisdom in a Time of Pandemic – and Beyond, by Matthew Fox

Julian’s Pandemic Survival Tip #1, Part 2: Do Not Let the Darkness Overtake You

There comes a time when both body and soul enter into such a vast darkness that one loses light and consciousness and knows nothing of God’s intimacy. At such a time, when the light in the lantern burns out, the beauty of the lantern can no longer be seen. With longing and distress we are reminded of our nothingness.

— Mechtild of Magdeburg (1210-80)

Julian of Norwich (1342-ca.1429 AD) faced the kind of darkness and suffering written about in the quote above, as she experienced waves of the Bubonic Plague throughout her lifetime. Read my introductory blog to this series here https://wordsfromasparrow.wordpress.com/2021/07/27/julians-tips-on-living-in-pandemic-times/

In Matthew Fox’s book, Julian of Norwich: Wisdom in a Time of Pandemic – and Beyond, Fox notes that Julian does not numb the pain, which we often do with various addictions or by living with our heads in the sand in denial. “Julian urges us to move beyond addiction and fear of pain or suffering…beyond denial. She is not afraid to dwell on the shadow, the darkness that accompanies a pandemic. She invites us to do the same. She assures us we are stronger than we think we are and that we can endure much that life asks of us.” But she does not dwell there for long. Rather, Julian dwells on the remedies, the “medicine.”

We find in Julian’s writings a resistance to victimhood. She advises us to take our pains and sufferings “as lightly as we can”. She also found strength in meditating on the sufferings of Christ. She noted that “Jesus suffered all the pains associated with the human condition.”

Fox also introduces Mechtild of Magdeburg, and notes that in her writings, she points out that these kinds of experiences can be “time for learning, for seeing anew our smallness in the grand scheme of things and in the vast world,” if we are willing to examine and explore.

Mechtild’s response to her experience of darkness was to pray, as was Julian’s. She lets out her feelings, her fears, her anxieties, by complaining to God. Her suffering was great. She does not find relief immediately and the darkness continues in her life. She describes her inner suffering as “I am hunted, captured, bound, wounded so terribly I can never be healed.” She longs for relief, as we all do these days with Covid-19 rebounding in our world through the Delta variant.

Mechtild longed for relief and, like Julian, finds some in the story of Jesus’ sufferings. Fox summarizes the lessons she writes about as “don’t run from the pain or diminish its deepness, and…embrace the pain, burn the dualism between suffering and joy, the via negativa and the via positiva. Life demands both.”

And finally Fox reminds us that she “instructs us how to embrace nothingness and turn it to service of others.” Through her experience with the darkness, Mechtild gives us this advice: “Love the nothing, flee the self. Stand alone. Seek help from no one. Let your being be quiet. Be free from the bondage of all things. Free those who are bound. Give exhortation to the free. Care for the sick but dwell alone. When you drink the waters of sorrows you shall kindle the fires of love with the match of perseverance – this is the way to dwell in the desert.”

Living through the uncertainties of the past months, and struggling with my own range of emotions, I found in my scripture reading, the encouragement to persevere. Sometimes, it seems that is all we can do. Julian and Mechtild both found the experience of deep darkness in their lives a “wake up call”, and they learn to persevere. A pandemic like our current one gives us plenty to grieve; much loss and suffering. Julian was brave enough to “pray for it to awaken her”. Rather than running from it, she and Mechtild faced their own darkness to learn what it had to teach them.


As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy. James 5:11 (NIV)

The darkness we are living in during this pandemic is very real and affecting more and more people. I invite you to follow the example in perseverance of Julian and Mechtild, choosing one or more of these ways:

1.Pray that God would “awaken” you during this pandemic.

2.Engage with God about your complaints. Complaining to God is referred to as lament. We see many examples of lament in the Holy Scriptures. It is a legitimate form of prayer, that addresses God with the darkness and suffering one is facing. If you have not entered into this kind of prayer, or conversation with God, you can find more information here https://wordpress.com/post/wordsfromasparrow.wordpress.com/56

3.Consider reading and meditating (think about with God) on the sufferings of Jesus, as found in the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in the Holy Scriptures. You may want to record what you notice in a journal.

4.Consider how you can acknowledge the darkness and woundedness in our world but not dwell exclusively on it.

5.Consider how you can care for others during this pandemic.


Photo credit: Charlotte Hedman Photography, charhedman.wixsite.com

Quotes from Julian of Norwich: Wisdom in a Time of Pandemic – and Beyond, by Matthew Fox

Julian’s Pandemic Survival Tip #1, Do Not Flee the Darkness

“Sometimes we experience such darkness that we lose all our energy.” – Julian

Julian of Norwich (1342-ca.1429 AD) knew something about darkness, as she experienced waves of the Bubonic Plague throughout her lifetime. Read my introductory blog to this series here https://wordsfromasparrow.wordpress.com/2021/07/27/julians-tips-on-living-in-pandemic-times/

Our current experience of the Covid-19 Pandemic has also included darkness; the darkness….

  • of not knowing when the pandemic will end, and fear that it will return;
  • of knowing that suffering and death are happening all around us and we can do little about it;
  • of not knowing who is carrying the virus;
  • of loss of work and/or income;
  • of isolation and loneliness;
  • of depression;
  • of grief;
  • of not knowing who or what to believe about the pandemic.

Add to the list whatever particular darkness you have experienced.

Fox points out in his book, Julian of Norwich: Wisdom in a Time of Pandemic – and Beyond, that Julian and others like her identified this type of darkness as the “via negativia”, or “negative way”. It is “the reality of suffering, death, not knowing, not being in control.” Another term used in past times to describe this negative way is “dark night of the soul”, coined by St. John of the Cross (1542-1591 AD), helping us name when the dark side of life becomes severe, penetrating our consciousness.

Our global pandemic experience could be called “the dark night of us all”. We see much depression, loss of energy, and deep sadness among our communities today. There was some hope this summer as our COVID-19 counts went down, but now we are seeing surges once again. Julian not only identified this feeling of depression that sucks the energy out of us, but also noted that “because of this darkness, allowing and trusting God’s great love and keeping providence is almost impossible.” (emphasis mine)

What can we glean from Julian’s writings when depression and deep sadness takes over our emotions as we continue to experience the Covid-19 Pandemic?

First, Julian suggests we examine our goals and intensions, stripping everything down to essential questions, such as Why am I here? What or whom do I wish to serve?

As Christians, she writes that “our intent in life is to continue to live in God and faithfully trust that we will be shown compassion and grace.” This, she reminds us, is our call, to continue to “co-create with God”. This is God’s own work in us.”

However, Julian does not deny the difficulty of doing this when “life becomes a constant woe.” Sometimes all our frailties and failings, our betrayals and denials, our humiliations and burdens and all our woe seems to utterly fill the horizons of this life. When this happens, Julian writes that our hearts can become “dry” and “feel nothing”, or maybe we become “tempted to give up on God.”

Lastly, Julian reminds us that “life is short”, as phrase my 92-year old dad likes to say. She invites us to remember that we are “all mortal”, so “do not go into denial about death, or be so occupied with trivia that we forget to ask the deeper questions.”


What word/s or phrases did you notice in this blog? Consider those with God.

Take some time, as you are able, to reflect on the questions below, and perhaps journal your responses.

  • How have you “faced the darkness” of our Covid-1 Pandemic?
  • Which descriptions of responses to “when life becomes a constant woe?” that Julian writes about have you experienced?
  • Take some time to reflect on Julian’s questions posed above; why am I here? what or whom do I wish to serve?
  • Consider what is the best contribution you can make given your gifts, background, and the brevity of life?

If these types of questions feel overwhelming to you, please find a trusted friend, pastor, counselor or Christian spiritual director to discuss what they stir in you.


Photo credit: Charlotte Hedman Photography, charhedman.wixsite.com

Quotes from Julian of Norwich: Wisdom in a Time of Pandemic – and Beyond, by Matthew Fox

Julian’s Tips on Living In Pandemic Times


Here we are, over 1 year into this Covid-19 Pandemic that has befallen the entire world. This statement alone was unthinkable to me, previous to it happening. I don’t have to rehearse for you all the changes we have lived through and continue to experience because of the Pandemic. Mostly, we would like the Pandemic to be over…but it’s not.

The last pandemic the world experienced was in 1918-19. To me this seemed like ancient history and not likely to ever happen again because of modern medicine and knowledge the world has acquired in the last 100 years.  I learned by reading through family memory books recently, that my maternal grandmother lived through that pandemic, and in fact was one of the few in her family that did not get sick.  I wish I could talk with her about that, as I don’t remember it ever being discussed.

As our pandemic wore on and our country became embroiled in polarizing views on how to deal with it, along with politics and racial equality, I found myself transitioning from making adjustments and desiring to help others (finding a way by sewing face masks), to the other extreme of having very low days periodically, even experiencing what I normally don’t, a feeling of depression; finding it difficult to get out of bed.  I forced myself up on those days, but it was difficult.

I have had more questions than answers. Where are you God?  Why are you seemingly silent?  What am I to do with all this?  How do I navigate these troubled and confusing times? And you may also ask, who is Julian and why should I care?

Julian of Norwich, Survivor of the Bubonic Plague

Then a book came to my attention.  A book about Julian of Norwich, a woman who lived in England from 1342-ca.1429 AD. I was introduced to Julian through a professor some years ago, and had read books about her, but had not appreciated fully that she lived her ENTIRE LIFE during the time of the Bubonic Plague.  Julian was around 7 years old when the plague first hit her town of Norwich and it kept returning in waves, 1361-64, 1368, 1371, 1373-1375, 1390, 1405 and on. 

Julian knows something about living with plague!  The Bubonic Plague was so contagious you could contract it by touching infected clothing.  Early on in the plague, people died within 1-3 days of infection.  Historians believe nearly 50% of Europeans died of the Bubonic plague alone. It spread in China, India, Persia, Syria and Egypt before coming to Europe.  People did not understand about sickness coming from germs; did not have medical help or anyone guiding them through this horrendous time.  Many thought the sickness was a result of the pervasive sinfulness of humanity, and people who came to be known as “flagellants” would walk around beating themselves to atone for their sins.

Julian of Norwich, first English Female Author

The book, Julian of Norwich, Wisdom in a Time of Pandemic, by Matthew Fox, was a book I needed. Fox records that not much is known about Julian’s early life, but at age 30 she nearly died.  During her “dying” she had visions of Christ’s suffering and death.  Julian, however did not die, and as she recovered, she recorded her visions, writing her first book in 1373. After she recovered, she continued to meditate on and expand her understanding of her visions, re-editing her first book over her lifetime into a longer version. She is the first known English woman writer.

Julian of Norwich, Anchoress

Julian was also an anchoress, as she “sheltered in place” in a manner of speaking.  She had committed to live her life as someone who was “walled up inside a small space for life.” This space was within the church in Norwich, where she had a window into the sanctuary and could partake in mass, as well as a window to the outside world, where she was known as a dispenser of wisdom to the community.

In his book, Fox describes Julian as having “wisdom ahead of her time.” Yet many of her views were heretical during her time, as she acknowledges in her writing that they would be.  The fact that she was a woman did not help her credibility.  Some of her views could be considered controversial today, however, her wisdom can speak to us, and she can serve as a guide for us as we continue to grapple with our changing times as she did also.

Julian of Norwich, A Guide to Thriving Spiritually during Pandemic

Fox also points out that the Bubonic Plague “did not plunge her (Julian) into paroxysms of self-pity, cursing of nature and existence, or despair…Julian moves beyond sadness and urges us to do the same. She spells out those ways to ground ourselves when chaos is all about us.”[1]

This is what attracted me to continue reading what Julian has to teach us. Julian speaks with the voice of experience.  I want to know what she has to say.

Fox organizes his book into what he calls “Seven Lessons for Thriving Spiritually in a Time of Pandemic.”  I invite you to come along with me to unpack these lessons, one at a time. In my next post we will begin with her first lesson…”Facing the Darkness.”

[1] Fox, Matthew, Julian of Norwich Wisdom in a Time of Pandemic – and Beyond, 2020, iUniversity, p. xxiv

Photo credit: Charlotte Hedman Photography, charhedman.wixsite.com


I recently listened to this rendition of Leonard Cohen’s song “Hallelujah”, performed by opera singer Andre Bocelli and his 8 year old daughter. You can watch it here.

This Leonard Cohen song, released in 1984, rose in popularity in the last few years. Have you listened to the lyrics? I have found them somewhat confusing.

Cohen seems to be talking about King David, the ancient king of Israel during their golden age. About the king’s sense of emptiness and in desiring to feel again, touching someone else’s wife, bringing chaos, pain, loss.

Cohen intersperses his verses with repeated singing of “Hallelujah”. Now the word “hallelujah”, according to the online dictionary, is “an expression of worship or rejoicing.” Hallelujah originates from the Hebrew hallĕlūyāh meaning ‘praise ye the Lord’. King David was known as a godly king for the most part, a king who was also a poet and wrote many songs of worship and praise to God. The dissonance is strong as David acknowledges in Cohen’s lyrics the baffling love for God and God’s ways, yet straying from that love and experiencing how his life “all went wrong” after that. Here are the song lyrics.


Leonard Cohen

Now, I’ve heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don’t really care for music, do you?
It goes like this, the fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew ya
She tied you to a kitchen chair
She broke your throne, and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

You say I took the name in vain
I don’t even know the name
But if I did, well really, what’s it to you?
There’s a blaze of light in every word
It doesn’t matter which you heard
The holy or the broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

I did my best, it wasn’t much
I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch
I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you
And even though it all went wrong
I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah

What is Coehan trying to say? At first glance, I was not sure.

But upon a closer reading of the lyrics, what comes to me is that the “cold and lonely”, and “broken” condition Cohen describes brings one face to face with loss, grief. Perhaps this is a lament of King David’s – listing off of what is wrong with his life.

And then “Hallelujah.” Singing praises to God. Is that Cohen’s intent? I am not sure. I don’t know enough about him or the writing of his song. Upon doing a little internet research, I found that Cohen, who faced a “tragic early death” had a Jewish background, and there is speculation that “the song reflects both Cohen’s struggles with faith and tests of faith inflicted upon the Jewish people. However, it’s unknown whether or not this was intentional on Cohen’s part. Most music theorists presume that the lyrics are meant to be more open-ended.” https://spinditty.com/genres/The-Origin-and-History-of-the-Song-Hallelujah

Upon reflecting further, I am reminded that there is a cycle of life from birth, growth, flourishing, fruitfulness, withering and death we see in nature, as well as in the human experience. When we are growing and fruitful and flourishing, it is easy to sing “Hallelujah” and praise God. But when one gets to withering aspects of life and facing the death of dreams, relationships, or even self, one has the opportunity to take stock, and look up, and we can then see that God has been there all along. But we haven’t been paying attention.

Perhaps we are able to say “Hallelujah” before God even when brokenness is all we have. We are bringing our broken selves before God as King David did, and looking for something….something only God can do. We hope this is not the end of the story. The remains of plants, leaves, creatures, slowly, over time and in the right conditions reform to create rich soil in which new life can begin. Can we also experience new life after brokenness?


We as human beings are collectively, some more than others, going through a period of loss and grief as we are continuing to experience, on some level, a world-wide, unprecedented in our lifetimes, pandemic. What might we be invited to let go of, to shed, to surrender? When might we experience new life; the new thing we can’t do on our own; the new things we look to God for? Can we look up and say “Hallelujah, God is with us?” Even during this time? Even now when our lived experience is uncertain as the pandemic seems to be abating in some places in the world, but not in others?

When God is Silent, Part 2

Photo by Maria Orlova on Pexels.com

In my previous blog I referenced the experience of God’s silence, and how it has been described by several Christian writers in the past and present. You can find it here https://wordsfromasparrow.wordpress.com/2021/02/04/when-god-is-silent/

Another idea to bring into this discussion is that these times of God’s silence are important in our Christian journey. They serve a purpose if we are willing to go there.

The purpose of the spiritual journey, the journey of transformation, has been described as “the process of detaching from everything that is keeping me from attaching fully to God alone.” — Larry Crabb

St. John of the Cross, who coined the term “dark night of the soul”, wrote that “the dark night is God’s best gift to you, intended for your liberation, freeing you from your ideas about God, your fears about God, your attachment to all benefits you have been promised for believing in God and your devotion to the spiritual practices that are suppose to make you feel close to God…all of these are substitutes for God.”

Ignatious of Loyola (1491-1556) used the term “indifference” to describe this detachment. He encouraged becoming indifferent to anything but the will of God, leading a person ultimately to “spiritual freedom” and “freedom to say yes to God and the invitations from God”. The opposite would be “disordered love” or “disordered attachments” which would be anything that keeps us from saying yes to God, keeping us from a committed relationship with God.

So, it seems that if we are willing to see God’s silence as an invitation to an inner journey, we could benefit from this exploration of our possible “disordered attachments” so we can “detach” from them, giving ourselves more fully to trusting in God.

When I first learned of these ideas, I had already experienced several “dark nights of the soul”, and they were indeed painful, intense. At times, I thought I was losing my faith in God. What I realized, when I was finally willing to explore, was that I had some wrong ideas about God. My understanding of God became more clear, and my heart learned to trust again, bringing great joy and renewed confidence in God’s goodness and love.

I have found that, if I am honest, my heart strays, my trust in God weakens, and once again, I have opportunity to face this reality and face the reordering of my disordered attachments. This is not easy. Some of these attachments run deep. But recognizing that Christians throughout the centuries experienced something similar, and found purpose in the “dark night” or “wall experience”, that it could actually be helpful to their Christian life, has helped me recognize these times as indeed normative and necessary to the Christian life.


Would you be willing to consider with God, what some of your “disordered attachments” might be? Could it be that God is offering you the opportunity to release some of those, so that you might experience more freedom to follow God’s leading? May you be assured of God’s love and mercy for you as you reflect on these things.

When God is Silent

His silence is a kiss,

His presence an embrace.

But now he is fading, fading.

And I am alone…

– Thomas Keating

I read this poem toward the end of 2020 in a daily devotional I receive by email. It reflected my experience of God in these last months. God has seemed distant, silent. The chaos of our world just keeps increasing.

The noise of angry voices fills the spaces of life; the ever widening distance between views and opinions on just about everything continues to grow. The conflicting information received from a variety of news sources creates the illusion of “knowing” yet the “knowing” keeps changing and shifting, pitting friend against friend, family member against family member.

And God is silent.

I have found myself struggling with a bit of depression. This is not normal for me. There have been a few mornings when I would have rather stayed in bed, but I forced myself up and out, and on to something productive. My instinct is to withdraw rather than engage during these turbulent times.

This experience of God’s perceived silence, or absence, has been described by the 16th century Carmelite friar and priest St. John of the Cross as “The Dark Night of the Soul”. More recently, Janet Hagberg and Robert Guelich in their book The Critical Journey (1989), identify this as a “stage of faith” they entitle as “The Wall”.

In their book, Hagberg and Guelich encourage us to look at these times of God’s silence as an invitation to go “deeper” with God. To enter into the wall or “dark night of the soul” is an inward journey. It is a time of withdrawing from our external world to examine what God might be saying to us. I have found these times being at “The Wall”, as I have experienced several in the past, to be difficult, scary, hard, lonely, yet eventually, as I have continued to work through them, times of clarifying, growing, and coming out with a deeper understanding of who God is, who I am, and a deeper love for God and others. Not that one can understand God fully. Simply put, they have been transformative. But I was not in charge of this change. I simply kept pursuing and clinging to God in spite of God’s silence, in spite of the darkness, not perfectly, not even consistently, but in time, being drawn back to seeking answers from God.

I recently ran across a phrase “trust with little understanding”, which echoes a scripture passage in Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your path.”

These verses were critical during a time when my husband was laid off from his job due to an economic downturn. We had young elementary age children at that time, and I was filled with anxiety and fear about what our future would be. One day I ran across Proverbs 3:5-6 in a devotional reading, and I was stopped in my tracks. It became evident to me that my part was to trust, and God would do the rest. I realized trusting was a decision, and when, by God’s grace, I made that decision that day to trust God, I had a visceral feeling, like a key was turning in my heart, and my fear and anxiety left me. I was able to walk in that trust in the next days and weeks, and thankfully, my husband was able to find new employment.


Consider Proverbs 3:5-6 for yourself. Are you experiencing a “dark night of the soul?” Do you feel like you are at a “wall” with God? Are you willing to go inward with God, to explore and discover what God might want to be saying to you? If so, you may also want to find a trusted friend or Christian spiritual director to talk with about your experience.

Photo by Maria Orlova on Pexels.com

A Musical Plea for Kindness

July 24, 2020, 12:20 am

I have been trying to sleep since 11 pm but to no avail.

I keep hearing bits and pieces of a song floating in my head.

Melody and words.


Yes, I am one of the 17,572 singers from 129 countries who participated in Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choir 6. The video recording of Sing Gently was virtually premiered last Sunday. Did you see it? The sheer magnitude of attempting such a feat is mind boggling.

But the finished product was so worth the effort! Listening to the sound of 17,572 singers is powerful, stunning, beautiful, moving, other-worldly.

Mr. Whitacre composed this song not long after COVID-19 halted our lives as we knew it.  It speaks a message we need these days.  Here are the lyrics:





And here is a link to the video:


Tonight as I lay trying to sleep, I also visualized the scene in the video towards the end of the song where all the singer’s videos, separate at first, move towards each other. They look like they are forming continents, and eventually come together “as one”. You see that completed concept in the artwork of my featured image.

I imagined this song hovering over the earth, shimmering in its beauty; the rushing sound of many voices singing softly and gently, covering the earth as a prayer.

We need this healing vision today.  We need these inspiring words of hope. The reality of life in our country at this time is anything but “soft” and united “as one.”

Voices are loud, confusing, strident, tearing us apart. Actions are at times hurtful, violent, even murderous.

We need reminders that we are all part of each other – we are all part of the human race. We all need kindness and consideration, in order that we may all flourish.

Can we make music “for others?” Can we help “keep others aloft?”

As we “sing gently”, what would it take to “stand together always”, inviting others to “sing along?”

Will we pause the loud, argumentative streams of words to listen to this soft and gentle plea?  And if we do, will we take it to heart?

Postscript: After I wrote this blog, I searched for an appropriate image to illustrate it.  I found something, but it wasn’t exactly what I was looking for.  The next day, the image you see was posted on the Virtual Choir 6 facebook group – it is perfect!  Thank you so much for sharing it Alana!

Artwork credit: Alana Keener, fellow Virtual Choir 6 singer

In Times Like These, Lament

Lament: Prayer for when our spiritual journey with God is at a wall.

Today, we, along with most of humanity, are experiencing the unprecedented in our lifetime world-wide pandemic of COVID-19. There is confusion, fear, anxiety, loss of many kinds, sickness, sorrow, death and grief all around. We, the people of God have questions.  If we are honest, the big question is, “Where are you God, in all of this?”

What we as Christians are experiencing is described as “The Wall”; a stage in the life of faith described in the book “The Critical Journey”, by Janet O. Hagberg and Robert A. Guelich.

“The Wall” is often precipitated by a life or faith crisis that turns our world upside down and for the first time, our faith doesn’t seem to work. Our experience of life and our beliefs aren’t matching up. We have more questions than answers. Sometimes this stage is entered into gradually and at some point we realize that God seems far away and whatever we’ve been doing up to that point to connect with God isn’t working. Sometimes this experience happens suddenly.  The experience of “The Wall” often leads to uncertainty about God, everything we thought we knew about the life of faith, shame, fear, and an urge to give up. It can be a dark and lonely time.

Historic Christian writer St. John of the Cross (1542-1592), a Catholic Christian monk who spent his life in the service of Catholic Reform, described this experience of God’s absence as “The Dark Night of the Soul”.

Contemporary writer Lee Beach, in his article “A Spirituality of Exile: Responding to God’s Absence”, describes the sense of God’s absence as feeling like being in a spiritual exile.

A few Biblical individuals who experienced a deep sense of loss and seeming absence of God’s presence are Job, Naomi, and the Israelites when in Babylonian exile.

What we see in the life of the Biblical examples mentioned, as well as from St. John of the Cross, is that these individuals responded to God in a variety of ways.

Job grieved, and lamented to his friends, who provided poor counsel. Eventually Job approached God with his questions.  God listened (described through several chapters) and then responded to Job. (Book of Job)

Naomi and her family moved away from the land of Israel to care for their physical needs when famine struck God’s people in “the promised land.” After some years went by, which included many severe losses for Namoi, Naomi’s return to the land of Israel represents her return to God, even as she recognizes her bitterness  (“Call me Mara”). Eventually she recognizes God’s care for her through Ruth and Boaz, and her joy is restored. (Book of Ruth)

The Israelites cried out to God in lament, mourning their losses, asking for God’s help many times throughout their journey out of Egypt, as well as when they were exiled from their country many years later. At times they even blamed God for turning against them and allowing them to be overcome and taken into captivity. While in captivity in Babylon, they kept calling out to God to save them. 70 years later, God restored their land to them. (Lamentations, Psalms 44, 74, 89, 89, 102, 106, 137).

Most of these suffering people moved towards God in a new way, bringing their questions, confusion and pain to God. While they felt abandoned by God, they didn’t give up on God. In fact, their lament shows their determination to speak with God about their situation, question God about God’s action or lack thereof in regards to their plight.

The language of lament as found in scripture, offers a paradigm for engaging with God in the midst of our experience of God’s seeming absence. This language of lament is one of struggle, doubt, frustration with God, and wrestling with where God is in the midst of painful experiences.

There are a couple of movements in the lament prayers of the Israelites as described by Beach that can help us as we approach God in our times of spiritual exile, Dark Night of the Soul, or Wall experience:

  • An honest description of the problem.
  • A request for God to act on our behalf and remedy the problem.
  • Confession of Trust. Remembering what God has done in the past and confessing trust in God for the present.
  • Vow of Praise. Praising God in anticipation of God’s new redemption action in the future.

Theological Reflection is at the heart of lament.  When we sense God’s absence it can feel like an exilic experience. We no longer feel at home with God as our normal life experience has changed. We feel that we are “cast into a foreign land.”

Prayer and Reflection:

In times like these, I invite you to find a scripture of lament below to meditate on, perhaps daily, and then write your own prayers of lament as described above, following the example of Job, Naomi, the Israelites in exile, St. John of the Cross and countless Christians down through the ages, by continuing to call out to God. He is a God who is far away yet also very near. (Jeremiah 23:23)

Some scriptures of lament: Psalm 5-7, 10, 11 – 13, 17, 22, 28, 56, 60-64, 69-70, 74, 77, 90, 102, 120-121, 130, 140-143, Book of Lamentations

Photo credit: Charlotte Hedman, https://charhedman.wixsite.com/photography

A Firm Footing

Teach me to do your will,
    for you are my God.
May your gracious Spirit lead me forward
    on a firm footing.

Psalm 143:10 New Living Translation (NLT)

I have not written a blog post in quite a while.  Life began to happen and blogging fell off of my list of priorities.

Today as I read Psalm 143, I was struck by the unique times we are living in, and how so many Psalmists cry out to God in difficult circumstances.

Where I live, in the heart of America, we are just beginning to experience fall-out from the corona virus spreading to our country. And we are not accustomed, for the most part, to the kind of difficult circumstances it is causing around the world. Yet here we are, finding ourselves in a “world-wide pandemic.”

How is this pandemic affecting you today and as you look ahead to this week?

My daughter and I were to be traveling in the UK starting last week and for the rest of March – a trip of a lifetime.  After closely watching the WHO, CDC, and BBC websites, prayer, and some agony, we postponed our trip.  Now we are so thankful we did.  Each day, things shift, and more and more people are getting sick.  Countries are changing their travel policies, shutting borders; quarantines are in place, medical resources are stretched.

Even though the state I live in only had about 6 cases of the virus, and none in my town, the toilet paper shelf was bare last Friday when I went shopping at our local grocery store. Cleaning supplies and hand sanitizer were hard to find as well.  Thankfully, food was in good supply, as well as other necessities.

Last Friday, our state and county encouraged public gatherings of no more than 250 people.  Many large churches did not hold public services on Sunday, opting instead for services being live streamed with no one in attendance.  Now I am seeing suggestions of no more than 50 people in public gatherings.

The schools in our community are on spring break this week.  Many have announced an extra week of spring break while the administrators and teachers try to figure out how to finish the school year online if necessary.

Here in America, I did not sense much concern when the virus first broke out in China last December, yet only a few short months later, here we are, the world in a much different place; something that one could not have conceived of.

In light of all this, the phrases that stood out to me in Psalm 143 were the ones I bolded; “teach me to do you will”, and “lead me on a firm footing.” As a Christian, one who attempts to follow God’s will, what is God’s will in these uncertain times?  How can I find “a firm footing” as I take in the news, the reactions of others, the fear of the unknown, the shifting reality of life around the world as well as in my own community, the loss of “normal life for the foreseeable future”?

For someone who claims Christian beliefs, the words from an old song we used to sing “this world is not my home, I’m just passing through”, comes to mind.  A parable about a “wise man” spoken of in scripture who built his house on a rock, and the “foolish man” who built his house on sinking sand also floats through my thoughts.

How many of us are so comfortable and have put our security so heavily in things of this world, that we have forgotten our true home? How real is heaven?  How do we live so connected to Christ through his Spirit that we are constantly living in and through him? What is our “foundation” in life?

I have been instructed by an article that was posted on fb this past week, regarding the actions of Christians during plagues of past centuries.  You might find it interesting.  Instead of running and protecting themselves, they stayed and cared for the sick and dying, turning the tide of the growth of the plague, and bringing many to faith. They did not fear death.  They had a firm foundation in Christ. You can read it here.


I encourage you to sit with the entire Psalm 143 and listen for how God speaks to you.  Reflect honestly with God about what you notice.

What is my invitation from God in these times?  What is yours?  For those who call themselves God’s people, these times may be ones of self-correcting.  Repenting.  Common sense planning, and lots of washing hands with soap! Looking for where I can serve.  Love.  Help.  Pray for God’s help all around the world, to bring us all out of this distress we are experiencing around the world.

I close these thoughts with a quote:

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf. “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to do is decide what to do with the time that is given to us.” –J.R.R. Tolkein, The Fellowship of the Ring

Photo credit: Photo is by my talented cousin Charlotte Hedman. Check out her work on her website https://charhedman.wixsite.com/photography