In-between

It is always the liminal spaces, those threshold in-between places in our lives, where old things pass away and new things have yet to emerge, where we face our greatest challenges and have opportunity to experience our greatest learning.

-Mark Chironna

The cold weather fell so suddenly this year that the leaves on the trees in the park did not have time to sing their final, colourful adio. They froze mid-roulade and missed their chance to exit to applause before the audience went home. Now they fall, unnoticed, on the dusty, crusty January snow.

Sometimes seasons march out in a grand finale. Sometimes they slink away slowly, finally noticing their time has passed.

Like the leaves, I am reluctant to let go. At the moment, the potential of the next season feels like a sodden weight of too many options, too many yeah-buts, and too little energy. But this is where the future is born –in quietness and rest. There is a rich feast of wisdom and revelation to be found in this season.

This is the time of the in-between.

By the Waters of Comfort

Relieve and comfort all the persecuted and afflicted;

speak peace to troubled consciences;

strengthen the weak;

confirm the strong;

instruct the ignorant;

deliver the oppressed from him that spoileth him;

and relieve the needy that hath no helper;

and being by us all, by the waters of comfort,

and in the ways of righteousness,

to the Kingdom of rest and glory,

through Jesus Christ our Lord.

-Jeremy Taylor

I sat in a waiting room this week. I knew before I got there the wait would be long. The day after Christmas and New Years holidays were over had a fun-is-done back-to-business feeling at the medical lab. It may have been business-like, but there were so many feelings swirling about in that room.

Legal measures taken to protect patient privacy are trumped by thin curtains between beds or loud conversations between patients and a masked receptionist behind a plexiglass wall. It reminds me of a scene from the old comedy show “Get Smart” when secret agents are covered by a “cone of silence” which required them to yell because they couldn’t hear each other. When the plexiglass wall of silence is in the middle of a crowded waiting room, all pretense of privacy is gone.

Some people are mortified at having to explain what is in the sample bottle they are dropping off and they avoid eye contact with other humans for the rest of the day. Others don’t seem to care. In fact, some people give their information freely (and repeatedly due to the impediments to communication). Then they take a number, sit down, and look for someone to tell their troubles to. There are a lot of troubles expressed in a crowded waiting room at the hospital lab in the week after the holidays.

I’m not good at blocking the sights and sounds out. I’ve been given advice on how to ignore sad stories whether they are told in winces and groans or given in long detailed descriptions, but I know what it is like to cry and not be heard. So I listen. It’s something I actually like about myself, so I’m not likely to take the advice to block people out. I can’t imagine a caring Jesus blocking out people out. Prioritizing getting away to a quiet place where he could hear his Father’s voice? Yes, but not by pretending he didn’t notice or treating people as if their stories were not important. He always brought encouragement.

It’s the getting away to be heard by our heavenly Father, and to listen to His peace and kindness that heals our own souls and allows us to walk in hope in the middle of hopelessness. The comfort he has given us is shareable. It’s called compassion.

Earlier, while waiting for my husband at his own appointment, I was able to stop by the lake on a cool cloudy January day. There, by the waters of comfort, I found peace in the presence of the Lover of my soul. I could continue a day of tests of various types knowing, no matter what, I am loved and therefore able to extend love. And when I’m running low, I’m learning there’s plenty more where that came from.

Midwinter

In the silence of a midwinter dusk, there is a sound so faint that for all you can tell it may be only the sound of the silence itself. You hold your breath to listen. You are aware of the beating of your heart. The extraordinary thing that is about to happen is matched only by the extraordinary moment just before it happens. Advent is the name of that moment.

-Frederick Buechner

The Road Back: Psalms of the Sons of Korah, Righteousness and Peace Kiss Each Other

I appreciate the candour expressed in the Psalms of the Sons of Korah. In Psalm 84 they are experiencing the glory of the Lord and the beauty of being in his presence and going from strength to strength. In Psalm 85 they recognize that a distance has crept into their relationship with God. They are again falling back into the old default position of relating to him as an angry God. They cry out for revival, a fanning of embers that seem to be slowly losing their fire.

I’ve been there. Have you? As I’ve been meditating on this Psalm, I believe I am beginning to see a kind of map for renewing the desire to get back to the place of passionate love for the Lover of our souls. It looks like this:

-Worship God by choosing to focus on who he is and remembering what he has done.

-Assess the current state of your relationship and tell him how you feel. Honestly.

-Ask for what you need.

-Listen to his heart and pay attention to his many ways of communicating insight.

-Learn from his advice and seek ways to let it change you.

-Declare the outcome of what he has shown you.

Here it is in Psalm 85:

Worship and Remember

You, Lord, showed favor to your land;
    you restored the fortunes of Jacob.
You forgave the iniquity of your people
    and covered all their sins.
You set aside all your wrath
    and turned from your fierce anger.
(verses 1 to 3 NASB)

Assess and tell him how you feel

Restore us again, God our Savior,
    and put away your displeasure toward us.
Will you be angry with us forever?
    Will you prolong your anger through all generations?
(verses 4 and 5)

Ask

Will you not revive us again,
    that your people may rejoice in you?
Show us your unfailing love, Lord,
    and grant us your salvation.
(verses 6 and 7)

Listen

I will listen to what God the Lord says;
    he promises peace to his people, his faithful servants—
    but let them not turn to folly.
Surely his salvation is near those who fear him,
    that his glory may dwell in our land.
(verses 8 and 9)

Learn

Love and faithfulness meet together;
    righteousness and peace kiss each other.
Faithfulness springs forth from the earth,
    and righteousness looks down from heaven.
(verses 10 and 11)

Declare

The Lord will indeed give what is good,
    and our land will yield its harvest.
Righteousness goes before him
    and prepares the way for his steps.
(verses 12 and 13)

I wondered what was meant by the psalmists use of the metaphor of righteousness and peace kissing each other. (verse 10) That lead me to do a word study.

The word translated kiss here is nashaq. This kind of kiss means a great deal more than romance or affection. We have difficulty understanding this kind of kiss in that culture. It’s not a western custom. The Bible describes the kiss of restoration of relationship when Esau kissed Jacob. The word nashaq is used for the public mark of authority Pharoah granted Joseph to prepare the land for coming famine (Genesis 41:40). We read it again when Israel gave his final blessing to his sons and grandsons. It is used when Aaron went out to meet his younger brother, Moses, as a sign of recognition of, and submission to, his calling (Exodus 4:27). It is used when describing the prophets who refused to kiss an idol and refused to give Baal any acknowledgment of authority or influence in their lives.

A nashaq kiss can symbolize a fastening to someone. It can indicate a restoration of order in relationships. Sometimes it was symbolic of a formal equipping with authority that could include power or weapons. This authority is publicly conferred upon the person receiving the kiss.

When love and faithfulness meet, righteousness and peace kiss each other. They form a bond which is mutually empowering. Righteousness that comes from God the Father through Jesus Christ makes peace possible. The peace that Jesus gives is beyond understanding, but it enables righteousness to replace shame and guilt. Both, together, give us a place and a standing in the family of God, not by anything we have accomplished, but by God’s grace.

Faith-fullness (which also comes from God) gives us a means to receive and something to offer back to our heavenly Father. His response, his ‘anah (explained here), to our prayer made in faith that he will hear and answer, is the righteousness of Christ which came down from heaven. When we are born again, it is Christ’s in which we live and move and have our being. It is his righteousness which went before and prepared his steps and now goes before and prepares our steps toward greater intimacy with our Creator.

Because of God’s response to our earnest cries for his unfailing love to revive us again, we can declare with confidence, “The Lord will indeed give what is good, and our land will yield its harvest!”

I don’t know about you, but I have some talkin’ to do with the Lord. If you want to join me in worshipping, expressing, asking, listening, learning, and declaring restoration and revival for your own heart, for your family, for your household of faith, for your community or city, for your country and for the world, you are welcome.

The Road Back: Psalms of the Sons of Korah, Why Should I Fear When Evil Days Come?

For thousands of years, people who have had the most possessions have been in positions to buy power. That fact is obvious. We’ve seen evidence that “Money talks,” and, “He who pays the piper calls the tune.” We are all aware of evil around us that is financed by those who trust in themselves more than anyone else.

Before the Messiah showed up, not many people were in on the secret that God’s plan of salvation involved the poor and lowly people in this world. Young pregnant Mary was. One of my favourite pieces of music is her prophetic poem recorded in Luke 1, “The Magnificat,” which J.S. Bach set to music. It includes an aria for contralto with these lyrics: Esurientes implevit bonis et divites dimisit inanes. (The hungry he has filled with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.)

The Sons of Korah understood before Mary did. After returning to the role intended for them, they spent their days worshipping in God’s presence in the temple. They were in a position to hear God’s voice. The introduction to Psalm 49 includes these lyrics:

My mouth will speak words of wisdom;
    the meditation of my heart will give you understanding.
I will turn my ear to a proverb;
    with the harp I will expound my riddle:

The words of wisdom were these:

Why should I fear when evil days come,
    when wicked deceivers surround me—
those who trust in their wealth
    and boast of their great riches?
No one can redeem the life of another
    or give to God a ransom for them—
the ransom for a life is costly,
    no payment is ever enough—
so that they should live on forever
    and not see decay.

(Psalm 49: 4-9 NIV)

No one, even Solomon in all his glory, was rich enough to ransom a soul from Sheol. We all die, and our wealth is useless at the most important moment of all eternity. “This is the fate of those who trust in themselves, and of their followers, who approve their sayings.” (verse 13)

And yet the psalmists knew God had plans to pay the price and that someday they would see the manifestation of this promise: “But God will redeem me from the realm of the dead; he will surely take me to himself.” (verse 15)

I don’t know about you, but I get a bit scared when I see evidence of the days growing darker. Sometimes I feel helpless under the influence of evil people who do what they like and cover it over by buying good P.R.. But this is nothing new. I’m reassured by the Sons of Korah, who invite us to step back and see a bigger picture. In the end, material wealth and self-reliance fails spectacularly. Only God could pay the price for a soul. Only Jesus, who is both the baby crying in a manger, and the King of Kings who conquered death, could afford to give us eternal life.

“Esurientes” has a playful flute duet weaving around the sound of the voice. It feels like a dance of joy popping out in hopeful measures with the humour of an inside joke., “The hungry he has filled with good things and the rich he has sent away empty!”

When You Just Don’t Know

“Where is peace to be found? The answer is surprising but clear. In weakness. Why there? Because in our weakness, our familiar ways of controlling and manipulating our world are being stripped away, and we are forced to let go from doing much, thinking much, and relying on our self-sufficiency. Right there where we are most vulnerable, the peace that is not of this world is mysteriously hidden.”

Henri Nouwen

Sometimes it’s not until we have reached the end of our ideas, our energy, and our optimism that we are ready to ask God for wisdom. Sometimes it’s not until we wait –for we know not what– that we can start to hear the voice that speaks in silence.

He often starts with, “I love you. Do you know that? Do you know that?”

Let the Past Sleep

Our yesterdays present irreparable things to us; it is true that we have lost opportunities which will never return, but God can transform this destructive anxiety into a constructive thoughtfulness for the future. Let the past sleep, but let it sleep on the bosom of Christ. Leave the Irreparable Past in His hands, and step out into the Irresistible Future with Him.

Oswald Chambers

I could tell she was frustrated. The young woman standing beside my piano stopped singing and turned her face away. It’s hard to sing with a lump in your throat. I know. I did the same thing more than once when I was studying voice. I told her that discouragement after taking singing lessons for a few months was not unusual. A few months was enough time to learn about changes she needed to make, but not long enough to remember all of them at the same time and definitely not long enough to let go of familiar ways of singing that could eventually hinder her progress.

“For a while it will feel like trying to hold several beach balls under water when you only have two hands. Something always pops back up,” I told her. “Don’t be too hard on yourself. Relax. It will come.”

I don’t teach anymore, but I needed to be reminded of my own advice after these past few months. My creative process feels like it was wrapped in newspaper and packed away in a forgotten box. I sit down to write or sketch and realize my brain is as blank as the page.

We’re mostly settled into our new place. I should be ready to get back to some of the projects I was working on before we decided to move but something has been stopping me. As I prayed about the blockage, three similar articles came to my attention in the same week. The message they carried?  You need to say goodbye to the past and grieve for the loss of the familiar, both good and bad, before you are ready to move on.

I know this move was the right one at the right time. We had so many answers to prayer including selling our house before it was listed and finding a new place (without stairs) in the new city on the first day we started looking. In spite of my anxiety that I would forget something essential, everything fell into place and we realized, on the day of the first snow, that our prayer to be finished with the moving process before winter was answered.

But I have realized that even though everything looks like it is in place, I still have unfinished business.

I asked the Lord if there was anything I still needed to let go of. I remembered walking in the snowy silence of the forest near our old house. Around the snow-covered tree trunks that fell in that big windstorm a few years back and down a deer path, there was a stump where I used to sit and pray. Suddenly tears welled up. I miss my stump! I miss my trees and my mountains! I miss not being able to walk very far (one of the reasons behind downsizing) and I especially miss my time with the Lord out in nature where I most easily feel his presence.

“What do I do with these memories and feelings, Lord?” I asked.

“Give them to me,” I heard.

I wrote memories on a sticky note and put them in a little paper box. More memories came, not just of beautiful people and places I loved, but also sad memories of goals unattained, of relationships that remain unreconciled, of disappointments with myself. I wrote down my worries for people I wanted to help (okay, fix) but I left them behind still suffering pain and mess. Finally, I realized that I left behind a young, energetic woman who could accomplish much more in a day than the one who sits writing this now.

There is always grief involved in saying goodbye, I guess. I added to the pile of sticky notes in the little box and tied it up with a piece of string.

“Lord, I give this to you. It’s not as impressive as I wish it could have been. There’s some disappointing and embarrassing stuff in it, but I know you’re not surprised because nothing surprises you. You know all about it. There’s some good stuff in there too, really good stuff — and it’s hard to let go. But I trust you. I know you have more to show me and a purpose for the time remaining in my life no matter the circumstances. Here you go.”

Transformation comes with the willingness to cooperate with God’s process. (I think I wrote that somewhere.) When our hands and hearts are clinging to the old there’s not much room for the new. Letting go of the past is the only way to move forward. The little box is a symbol of my intention to do that.

This is not the end.

Fog

I love the mystery of foggy days. Since we see neither what lies ahead nor what lies behind, fog provides a space for just being. Fog can feel like a misty wall that turns acres of woods into a room of one’s own where time slows down and thoughts and feelings can be as imprecise and yet as real as an expressionist painting.

I hate the impediment of fog when I am in a hurry with places to go and things to do. A familiar road morphs into something strange and an unfamiliar highway provokes the kind of apprehension a horror movie director communicates with an over-the-shoulder shot. Is there a jack-knifed logging truck around the next bend? Cue the ominous music.

This time of uncertainty we live in reminds me of fog. The solitude we introverts usually enjoy is losing its romantic edge. I am ready for it to lift and leave a world of invigorating sunshine and sparkling frost on the trees instead. I long to get out on the highway to visit people dear to me in places beyond restricted borders.

How long will it be? When will the lockdowns and impediments of virus mitigation be over? With all the political chaos and hate-filled mixed messages we hear all around us, what kind of world will we see when the fog of propaganda war lifts?

I read a quote by Corrie ten Boom yesterday. She and her father and sister were sent to concentration camps for sheltering Jews during the second world war. Corrie was the only one to survive. She wrote: Faith is like radar that sees through the fog — the reality of things at a distance that the human eye cannot see.

Perhaps God is giving us this time to consider who he is and who we are and who or what we place our faith in. Perhaps we are not as in charge as we like to think. Perhaps he has a plan that relies on his goodness and his desire to kiss a guilty world in love. Maybe it’s about finding faith in his faithfulness and learning to see through his all-seeing eyes.

As I sit here, frustrated that my plans have been stymied by circumstances beyond my control, I am left with this conclusion. God is God and I am not. He has always been faithful to me. His love is unconditional. I hear him ask me to stay a little longer for a state of the relationship type chat. He asks if I trust him even when I cannot see though the fog. In other words, do I love him?

In this place, in the present in his presence, I let go of my need to figure everything out and sing:

I love you, Lord
And I lift my voice
To worship You
Oh, my soul, rejoice!


Take joy my King
In what You hear
Let it be a sweet, sweet sound
In Your ear
.

(Words and music by Laurie Klein)