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.”

Reflection:

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.

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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

Introduction

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

Hallelujah

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.

Hallelujah

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
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?

Reflection:

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.

Reflection

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.

Reflection

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.

“Sing…gently…together.”

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:

MAY WE SING TOGETHER, ALWAYS, MAY OUR VOICE BE SOFT, MAY OUR SINGING BE MUSIC FOR OTHERS, AND MAY IT KEEP OTHERS ALOFT.

SING GENTLY, ALWAYS, SING GENTLY AS ONE.

MAY WE STAND TOGETHER, ALWAYS, MAY OUR VOICE BE STRONG, MAY WE HEAR THE SINGING, ALWAYS, AND MAY WE ALWAYS SING ALONG.

SING GENTLY, ALWAYS, SING GENTLY AS ONE.

And here is a link to the video:

https://youtu.be/InULYfJHKI0

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.

https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/03/13/christianity-epidemics-2000-years-should-i-still-go-to-church-coronavirus/

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

 

 

 

 

 

Broken-hearted Joy

“Our hearts ache, but we have joy.”

How can people say they are experiencing joy when their hearts are breaking? These are two opposing emotions and seemingly impossible to coincide together in one person at the same time.

This phrase “Our hearts ache, but we have joy” comes from Paul’s 2nd letter to the Corinthians 6:10, couched in his list of hardships endured by himself and his co-workers on their various missionary travels. It appears that the Christians in Corinth are having some struggles with holding to their faith in Christ because of a particular man among them and they are now mistrusting and doubting Paul and his teaching. Paul is urging them to continue to trust God and to trust himself as well. We learn this from phrases Paul interjects throughout this 2nd letter to the Corinthians, such as

“it is God who enables us, along with you, to stand firm for Christ” (1:21)
“the man who caused all the trouble hurt all of you more than he hurt me” (2:5)
“don’t team up with those who are unbelievers” (6:14)
“come back to God(5:20)

Paul longs for reconciliation, often expressing his love for them as in

“we want to work together with you” (1:24)
“I didn’t want to grieve you, but I wanted to let you know how much love I have for you” (2:4)
“you are in our hearts” (7:3)
“There is no lack of love on our part but you have withheld your love from us. I am asking you to respond as if you were my own children. Open your hearts to us!”(6:12)

Paul also explains himself and defends his authority, particularly in chapter 10, but “with the gentleness and kindness of Christ” (10:1).

“We are not like the many hucksters who preach for personal profit. We preach the Word of God with sincerity and with Christ’s authority, knowing that God is watching us” (2:17)

Among other things, Paul also corrects and encourages the Corinthians to “strengthen (them), not tear (them) down.” (13:5)

“Forgive and comfort” this person (who caused the problems) so he won’t be “overcome by discouragement…reaffirm your love for him”
“Examine yourselves to see if your faith is genuine” (13:5)

How can Paul have joy in the midst of this obviously complicated and difficult relational challenge among people he has brought to faith? He has labored, suffered and loved much. Now they are breaking his heart.

“Because of our great trust in God through Christ”, Paul reveals, he and his co-workers are confident that the ministry among the Corinthians was enabled by the Holy Spirit because it is the Spirit who “gives life.” (3:16)

Paul is looking beyond the situation to his trust in God through what Christ has done. He has experienced personally the power of the Holy Spirit in his own life and witnessed the power of the Holy Spirit giving “life” to many others through his ministry, particularly to these beloved believers in Corinth. Paul repeatedly points back to God’s work in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. This is where his hope is.

Reflection:
Dear friend, is your heart aching? I encourage you to reflect with God on 2 Corinthians Chapter 4. Paul attests to the power we have from God in spite of all our troubles. He describes it as a “light shining in our hearts” even though we often feel like “fragile clay jars” (4:7). Paul definitely was not ignoring the problems, but he wasn’t letting them rob him of his joy and confidence in God. May you find that true for yourself as well.

I end with Paul’s last words in this 2nd letter to the Corinthian believers,
“May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” (13:14)

Cultivating Quietness

Truly my soul silently waits for God. Psalm 62:1

My soul, wait silently before God alone; for my expectation is from Him. Psalm 62:5

In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength. Isaiah 30:15

Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him. Psalm 37:7

Finding silence and quietness in this day and age is a challenge.  So many things compete for our attention that we have to be intentional to cultivate silence. Yet finding a space where we can be alone, remove the technology, shut the door, and be silent before God is critical for our ability to abide in Christ.

Quoting from Andrew Murray in “Abiding in Christ”, “”It is a soul silent before God that is best prepared for knowing Jesus.”  He also writes,

“Quietness is blessing…Quietness is strength…Quietness is the source of highest activity – the secret of all true abiding in Christ. Cultivate quietness as a means to abiding in Christ and expect the ever-deepening quietness and calm of heaven in the soul as the fruit of abiding in Him.”

For much of my youth and early young adulthood I only sought God when I had a problem or disappointment. Periodically I would attempt more of a devotional life, but it usually dissipated when life was “good.” I wasn’t taught how to be silent with God and therefore did not receive the benefits from silence and waiting on God.  I forged a path through life based on what others thought or what I wanted, and asked God to bless it.

Through a series of several severe trials, I found myself progressing from angrily questioning God’s goodness and my desire to remain connected to God, to searching the scriptures to see if I had missed something. In my searching I realized I had some wrong ideas about God. By God’s grace, this opened my heart to see God’s provision for me and my perspective began to change.  Several subsequent losses found me surviving only by turning to God and spending time with God, particularly in the Psalms, listening for God’s words for me. God met me and I found answers to my questions, comfort for my fears, and a changing perspective to see that I was not in control, life was unpredictable, yet with God there was peace and hope.

My experience of God’s comfort and love during trials led me to wonder how I could continue to seek after God in times of joy and prosperity.  The journey since has not always been straight forward as I am prone to wander.  Yet I have found that somehow, when I take time to be silent before God on a regular basis, God is working mysteriously in me to bring about what Andrew Murray describes as, “the ever-deepening quietness and calm of heaven in the soul” making it more possible for me to abide in Christ throughout my day, even in the midst of difficulties.

So how to cultivate quietness with God?  Here are some practical suggestions.

  1. Look for a quiet space in your home, place of employment, or somewhere in nature. If you can’t find one, consider how you can create one.
  2. Be intentional about a time of day you go to that space.
  3. Start by spending a few minutes in silence with God before you go on to reading and reflecting on scripture or whatever devotional material you are using.  Expand that time of silence as you are able.
  4. In the silence, focus on God’s loving presence with you. Other thoughts may pop up.  Quietly acknowledge them and let them go.  If they are troubling thoughts, silently release them to God for God’s care and go back to focusing on God’s loving presence.
  5. If you are able to find a quiet space and time, yet continue to struggle with silence or troubling thoughts, consider reaching out to a trusted friend, pastor or Christian spiritual director for support.