It Is Well

In 2010, author Shane Claiborne published a book called Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals. I like the book. It’s designed to guide the daily prayer life of a group or individual. I’ve used it, like other things, as an off-and-on devotional since we bought it. I happened to pull it out this morning to use it for my personal reflection, but not necessarily for the blog, however, here I am. I’m going to use a simple quote from the March 1 reading in conjunction with the lyrics of a song from a concert that Hannah and I attended last night. I want to write it off as coincidental, but this endeavor is about seeking. So, let me break these moving parts down for you and see what you think.

Yesterday, Hannah and I had a doctor’s visit. She’s now 39 weeks pregnant. We’re completely aware that we are well into the birth range timetable, but things have progressed in such a healthy way that we haven’t been too worried about how things have progressed. Hannah and our boy have remained healthy throughout the duration of the pregnancy, and we’ve counted it a significant blessing. Yesterday though, there was a slight hiccup in a pretty routine visit. Our doctor wasn’t overly concerned about it but needed to run some tests to rule out possible complications that could change some of the details of our birth plan. Given how the pregnancy has gone up to this point, it seems unlikely that it will turn into something more serious. Nevertheless, this was the first instance in the 39 weeks that we’ve had to do something like that and in the moment it felt jarring.

We had tickets to a concert last night, The Lone Bellow, at a venue near our home. We saw them once in Chicago a couple of years ago and loved the energy they brought to their live performance. On the heels of the news from our prenatal visit, we were unsure whether we should attend. We want to do whatever we can to reduce stress at this stage and make sure we’re proceeding responsibly. We decided to go but would sit in the back and just enjoy the music.

Lone Bellow

The band added their stop here in Memphis late to their tour, so the setting was intimate. We saw a few friends and found some seats in the back corner. We couldn’t see the stage very well, but at different parts in the show could easily make out the upper quarter of the musicians. They were good. The Lone Bellow is not explicit about their religious beliefs, but there are certainly elements in their song writing that strongly suggest that they are people of faith. It’s possible there’s an interview somewhere in which they talk about it, but I haven’t searched that hard. Either way, there was an interesting moment in the concert last night during their song May You Be Well when the frontman Zach Williams, during an instrumental interlude in the song, raises both of his hands and clearly mouths the words “May you be well” multiple times with eyes closed. It was an odd sensation. It felt out of place, which is weird because it was a concert where a singer was singing the words to his own song. It felt out of place because he clearly wasn’t singing. It looked like he was speaking those words. It looked, very much, like he was praying those words over the crowd.

It seems somewhat unlikely that this is actually what was happening, but I couldn’t shake it. It felt so much like the moment in a worship service when the singer repeats parts of the song as a prayer under his breath. Fast forward to this morning and the aforementioned Claiborne book. There’s a quote for today’s entry from fourteenth century Christian mystic Julian of Norwich.

The worst has already happened and been repaired. . . . All Shall be well, all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.

I’ve stated previously in this blog that sometimes pain will last a lifetime. We aren’t promised reprieve during our lives, but we hold on to the hope of the life to come. The refrain here of “all shall be well” is unavoidably similar to the lyrics of the song last night. I can’t help but feel encouraged. Even though I know that we aren’t promised that bad things won’t happen to us, and even though these types of moments are easily written off as coincidental, I’m not going to do it with this one. I’m going to choose to believe that it’s the Spirit. I’m going to take the connection and rest in the comfort it provides.

Simeon Temple

Prayer and Reflection

What connections might you have written off recently as coincidence? Could they be something more? Pray that God gives you the courage and ability to see what he’s doing in your lives. Pray for God to remove the cynical spirit that keeps us from living in the joy he provides.

Digest

Wilt thou love God as he thee ? then digest,
My soul, this wholesome meditation,
How God the Spirit, by angels waited on
In heaven, doth make His temple in thy breast.
The Father having begot a Son most blest,
And still begetting—for he ne’er begun—
Hath deign’d to choose thee by adoption,
Co-heir to His glory, and Sabbath’ endless rest.
And as a robb’d man, which by search doth find
His stolen stuff sold, must lose or buy it again,
The Sun of glory came down, and was slain,
Us whom He had made, and Satan stole, to unbind.
‘Twas much, that man was made like God before,
But, that God should be made like man, much more.

Holy Sonnet XV – John Donne

Poetry like this can feel antiquated.  The language is confusing and disorienting, but I’m still drawn to it. I think I’m drawn to things like this because it forces me to slow down. It forces me to read carefully, then to reread it. I’m thankful for things in my life that force me to do this because I’m always reminded of how much richness I miss. This poem is beautiful, but it takes work to understand.

I first encountered this poem in one of my favorite seminary classes. We boiled this poem down to a simpler, more understandable idea. It’s a poem about downward mobility. It’s about God humbling himself for us. It’s a Trinitarian poem showing how God the Father, Son, and Spirit, has exhibited this downward mobility for our sake. It’s in the Spirit, served by angels, making His home in us. It’s in the Father who has a Son, making us co-heirs with Him. It’s in the Son, putting on flesh and being slain to unbind us from sin.

Trinity Painting.jpg

Prayer and Reflection

God humbled himself for us and for our benefit. How can we have a heart like that? What can we do to live into that beauty? In what ways can we humble ourselves? I’ll leave you with a prayer. Pray it with me.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Amen.

– Peace Prayer of Saint Francis

but in Your Cross

This morning I’d like to shift gears and try something different. Instead of taking a look at a passage of Scripture, I’d like to share a prayer with you from the 20th century monk and author, Thomas Merton. I don’t typically use traditional devotionals in my own life. I don’t really know why, but I often gravitate towards other things like written prayers and poetry to supplement my Bible reading. They tend to be both short and reflective.

The reading this morning appears in a collection of Merton’s prayers titled, Dialogues with Silence. Hannah and I randomly came across it a few years ago in a small bookstore in Providence, Rhode Island. I’ve since used it off and on for daily reflection. It’s funny to me how something so random, so seemingly inconsequential can work its way into the daily rhythms of life. If you’re in my college group, you may have read this particular prayer before, but it’s one of my favorites. Sometimes these take a second, slow reading to really catch the intimacy and details. Reflect with me.

My Lord, I have no hope but in Your Cross. You, by Your humility, sufferings and death, have delivered me from all vain hope. You have killed the vanity of the present life in Yourself and have given me all that is eternal in rising from the dead.

My hope is in what the eye has never seen. Therefore let me not trust in visible rewards. My hope is in what the human heart cannot feel. Therefore let me not trust in the feelings of my heart. My hope is in what the hand has never touched. Do not let me trust in what I can grasp between my fingers, because Death will loosen my grasp and my vain hope will be gone.

Let my trust be in Your mercy, not in myself. Let my hope be in Your love, not in health or strength or ability or human resources.

If I trust You, everything else will become for me strength, health and support. Everything will bring me to heaven. If I do not trust You, everything will be my destruction.

Amen.