Telling Stories

Hear what the LORD says: Rise, plead your case before the mountains, and let the hills hear your voice. Hear, you mountains, the controversy of the LORD, and you enduring foundations of the earth; for the LORD has a controversy with his people, and he will contend with Israel.

“O my people, what have I done to you? In what have I wearied you? Answer me! For I brought you up from the land of Egypt, and redeemed you from the house of slavery; and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. O my people, remember now what King Balak of Moab devised, what Balaam son of Beor answered him, and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal, that you may know the saving acts of the LORD.”

“With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”

He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

Micah 6:1-8; lectionary text for Sunday, Feb. 2, 2020

Our larger family gathered mid-January this year, a delayed Christmas reunion.  The house grew full of bodies and of voices and the good smell of food.  We talked and calculated and realized with some surprise that it had been a few years since all five grown siblings had been in the same place at the same time.  We shared news of job changes, house moves, graduations, school and sport accomplishments.  And then — almost as if that catch-up was but ground-clearing — as ever we do, we found ourselves telling the stories that we always tell, stories of hilarious catastrophe, not forgetting the one that culminates with one sibling saying ‘Superba by Hobart!’ while another laughs herself to tears. It’s as if those old stories are some necessary touchstone.   We need to retell them to renew ourselves in relationship.  So that we can tell new stories to each other, together.

Stories.  Accounts.  Narratives.  Words strung together into meaning.  I’ve been thinking again how much they matter.  I try to tell one person about another and I can offer lists of adjectives — ‘She is this … or this other’ — but it’s the story I can tell about an experience shared that tells so much more.  The mother of one of my friends was someone profoundly interested in other people and their stories.  When introducing one person to the other, she offered each acquaintance to the other as if offering a treasure, something precious and profound — trusting that each would be enriched by knowing the other, by learning something of their story.  

And so I come back to this Micah text.  It starts with a dispute form — a call to rise and plead your case, a call to creation to hear the LORD’s controversy.  It ends with the beautifully simple summons to do justice and love kindness and walk humbly.  And it pivots on the evocation of story retold and people reminded.  Reread those middle verses:  ‘I brought you up from the land of Egypt … I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.’  Remember Balak and Balaam, from Shittim to Gilgal… This is not a list of the LORD’s actions, a drumbeat of debts accrued by Israel.  This is a litany of remembrance.  Remember the story of Exodus?  Remember how Moses and Aaron confronted Pharaoh?  Remember how Miriam led the people in song?  Remember how Balak tried to have God’s people cursed and Balaam refused?  Remember how God invited the people to be ‘for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation’?  Remember, remember, remember.  

This is a treasure,  precious and profound.  Remember the stories.  They are where the text turns.  We cannot get from dispute and controversy to renewed commitment without going through the stories because the stories are how we learn and relearn ourselves in relationship.  So that we can tell new stories, to each other, with the LORD.

This is a treasure.  Picture it so:  the LORD’s arms outstretched and cupped in God’s hands, held with infinite care and offered with generous grace, all the stories of God in relationship with God’s people. We are enriched by these stories. We are brought into ourselves. Doing justice, loving kindness, walking humbly with God.

Red Sky in Morning

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness on them light has shined.

You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder.

For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian.

Isaiah 9:2-4; from Isaiah 9:1-4, lectionary text for Sunday January 26, 2020

The days I teach, I set off for work in the dark, and by the time I arrive it is day.  Driving through earth’s quotidian turning is one of the consolations of having to wake so early.  How does the light come?  I close my eyes and try to see it on the insides of my eyelids.

How the light comes.  First the sky begins to glow.  Night’s midnight blue takes on a suffused purply hue then softens to lighter shade.  When the sky is clear, light’s coming shows as a nuanced series of variations as the sky shades from mystic violet to indigo to chambray, each shift so fine that I realize the series only when I recognize the sum of them:  Oh, the sky is blue.  It is different when there are clouds.  The sun begins to light them even before it has risen above the horizon.  Still itself unseen, the sun tints the clouds raspberry and coral and peach and lemon.  The clouds catch fire, flare with amazing colors, become the sun’s heralds, proclaim coming.

‘The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.’  

It is the clouds that make light’s coming so wonderful, that blare it with such fanfare.  Yet they proclaim not just light but storm. ‘Red sky in morning, sailors take warning.’   

‘For the yoke of their burden and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian.’  This is a battle image.  Gideon and his 300 and the LORD’s triumph of blaring trumpets and flaring torches and shouts and clamor.  [Judges 7]  It is not a peaceful dawning but victory sounding.  God breaking apart the enemy — loudly, violently, irrefutably.

I’m not sure I like that part.  In my mind’s eye I was watching for the light.  Now suddenly I’m waiting for a storm, listening for the wind to rise, to hear trees creak loudly as they sway, and to wonder what will happen if one comes crashing down.  

I have walked in darkness.  I pray for light.  For the bars that weight shoulders to be lifted away, rods wielded by oppressors to be broken.  But I am aware that privileges of my life burden others, and structures that sustain me oppress others.  The rod broken by the LORD may be to me both freeing and jarring.  (What did Israel do once fear of Midian no longer united them?  Was the rejoiced-over spoil enough to divide or did the plunder cause new division?).  

I have walked in darkness.  I pray for light.  Light to break the dark and light to show the brokenness in the day.  Light enough to see by and light enough to have my sight transformed so that I can rejoice and not resent, can greet it with without fear but with exultant joy.

I pray, LORD, that I may pray for light.  I pray, LORD, that I may welcome it as it comes.

Spending Strength

Listen to me, O coastlands, pay attention, you peoples from far away! The LORD called me before I was born, while I was in my mother’s womb he named me. He made my mouth like a sharp sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me a polished arrow, in his quiver he hid me away. And he said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.”

But I said, “I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity; yet surely my cause is with the LORD, and my reward with my God.”

And now the LORD says, who formed me in the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him, and that Israel might be gathered to him, for I am honored in the sight of the LORD, and my God has become my strength – he says, “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

Isaiah 49:1-6, excerpt from Isa 49:1-7, lectionary for January 19, 2020

Another week in one of Isaiah’s ‘servant’ texts.  Last week the LORD was the speaker.  We read and saw God as if gesturing to an audience, saying, ‘See — my servant!’ (Isa 42:1), then turning and addressing the chosen one directly:  ‘I have called you … I have given you’ (Isa 42:6).  This week the servant — first spoken of, then spoken to — becomes the speaker:  ‘The LORD called me … said to me …’ (Isa 49:1, 3).  Not every word is the servant’s own — the LORD is quoted — but the LORD’s words are recited in the voice of the servant, who recalls and repeats words first addressed to him:  ‘I will give you as a light to the nations …’. 

But whose voice is the servant’s?  

I wonder this every week as I read.  What license do I have to take the words of scripture as addressed to me, an individual?  How can I appropriate them to my own need when they were spoken to and for and gathered by a community of faith?  Should I not always search the words of the Bible for the Word of the LORD given to the collective, God’s guidance to the public ‘We’ of the community, persons gathered across space and time, not just the personal ‘I’?  

In whose voice — for whose need — should I read?  In whose voice does the servant speak?  Is the servant a community (‘You are my servant, Israel’)?  Is the servant an individual (one formed in the womb to gather Israel in)?  How can Israel gather Israel?  Perhaps this puzzle is itself a cue to a solution?  After all, if the text can so persistently blend and blur the identity of community and individual so that the servant’s identity is more ‘both/and’ than ‘either/or,’ is that not license for me to do the same?  To say this text is to me and not only to me.  To say I can only understand it to the extent I can read my own life through its lens — and it through my own life.  And to say it can only be understood to the extent that it is read and lived in community.

The curve encompassed by this passage is experienced by individuals and by communities:  the conviction of failure, of having spent one’s strength to no avail.  Is that not an implicit disappointment in the LORD who had called so beguilingly in the first place?  

(My mouth made like a sharp sword; my face flint-firm; my stance solid on a sure foundation — Wait! It is wobbling underfoot! I throw out my arms to regain my balance.  And I wonder anew.)  

Read the arc of it how you will:  individual or community. Both pursue calling. Both make decisions about missions and buildings and relationships. Both look up to wonder if they/we/you/I are adrift after all, somehow off-target to the understood goal.  Both ask for what has that strength been poured out?  

This wobble — the speaker’s worry that labor has been wasted — is where the text turns, the arc sharpens.  In v.4 the servant mourns his strength all spent; in v.5 the servant claims God his strength — and in this renewed sense of relationship and possibility (not just God calling the servant ‘mine’ but the servant using the possessive pronoun of God) — comes a new insight.  The servant’s fear of failure is borne of mistaking a waypoint for the end goal.  The servant Israel has thought in terms of Israel alone.    The servant (he/I/you/we) was focused on this particular and mistook it for God’s whole.   But the LORD says Oh, Israel is too light a thing — I am sending you to the world.  To the world.

Is that the lesson?  It is too slight a thing for me to gather just myself (for a community to consolidate just its own existence) — yet even that too-small burden is beyond my capacity.   Stop spending my own strength.  Spend, instead, the strength of the one who called me and formed me and gave me to go.  To the world.

And in being given, and going out, may I find myself (may you find yourself; may we find ourselves) gathered in with all the nations, as God’s salvation reaches the ends of the earth.

Holding Hands

Thus says God, the LORD, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk in it: I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness. I am the LORD, that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to idols. See, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth, I tell you of them.

Isaiah 42:5-9 (excerpt from Isa 42:1-9, lectionary text for Sunday, January 15, 2020)

My route home from work passes within a few blocks of an elementary school.  A florescent-vested crossing guard monitors the six lanes the students need to cross.   A woman comes with a small child.  They walk hand in hand, step in step.  A daughter holds her father’s hand.  His grip seems inadequate for her desiring:  she takes her other hand and carefully folds her father’s fingers around her own, tightening his clasp.  A woman calls to a child who is lagging behind.  He is studying the ground — that stick there is very interesting — and shows no conception of the passage of time, the need to get across the road, or of any next thing to be done.  She calls again, and holds her arm behind her, hand outstretched, and the child trots up and extends his own and she latches hold of him.  He seems still preoccupied with the various excessively interesting details of the world all around, but as her hand takes hold, his own seems also to respond and grasp.  She holds him, and he holds her, and the two of them cross.

‘I have taken you by the hand,’ the LORD says.  My own hand opens.  I study it as if seeing it anew.  ‘I have taken you by the hand.’  Called, yes — that’s a church word for vocation.  Called and righteousness and keeping and covenant.  All church words.  But not only — not even first — words for use in a sanctuary on Sunday.  Words for everyday.  Words for crossing the street.  Calling.  Taking hold.  

The LORD calls and not only stretches out his arm, extends his hand for my own to hold (the parent not looking behind but waiting for — expecting — the feel of the smaller hand inserted into her own), but the LORD takes hold of my hand.  The LORD grasps.  The LORD holds on to me.  Do I need to carefully curl God’s fingers more closely around my own fist or is God’s clasp already close enough for comfort and strength?  How do I feel God’s hand holding mine?  How do I reach to hold on to God’s?

Looking at my own hand, my own palm.  Fingers curl sightly inward when my hand is at rest; forming a slight hollow, a curve, within it.  I stretch out my arm and reach and grasp my Bible with my hand.  I feel the texture of the cover, the slight heft of its whole within the curve of my palm.  Jesus was handed the scroll and unrolled it (Luke 4:17).  Jesus held God’s word in his hand.  I hold God’s word in my hand.  I open and touch the smoothness of the page with my finger.  Let my eyes rest, again, on the tiny black type.  I am reaching for God’s own outstretched hand.  I am taking hold.  I am held and kept and pulled along (that little boy!) into God’s next new thing.

‘I am the LORD,’ God declares.  ‘My glory I give to no other,’ God proclaims.  But my hand I give to yours, God promises. And you, God says, I give to the work that we shall do together:  open eyes, invite light.  Hold my hand.  It’s time to cross.

Arise, shine…

Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. 

For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples;

but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you. 

Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

Lift up your eyes and look around;

they all gather together, they come to you;

your sons shall come from far away, and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms. 

Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice,

because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you. 

Isa 60:1-5; from Isa 60:1-7, lectionary for Sunday, Jan 5, 2020

This has been a burdened season — not without its moments of connection, even joy — but overall heavy.  Nor did the turn of old year into new do much to lift the weight of it.  Our daughter re-capped the past few days:  Jan. 1 ‘Happy New Year!’; Jan. 2 ‘Australia’s burning’; Jan. 3 ‘World War III’s begun.’  The specter of international conflict seems to be solidifying as we watch.  National news reports more racial and anti-Semitic violence.  Nor let us forget presidential impeachment voted but not yet (if ever?) tried.

I spend New Year’s Day in the Isaiah text.  I just read it, first.  Read it with my eyes.  Form the words with my lips.  Try to hear them in my mind.  The first line sings to me in choral crescendo — I can see the singers increasing their volume, lifting voices and shoulders and faces in joy.  The first line sings to me celebration.  And maybe, I think, that is right.  All those singers rejoicing in the season, in the Christ Child born, in the Magi coming, in the gifts presented.  ‘Arise, shine!’ the singers sing with heady energy — already risen, already aglow — as if what they sing is the lyric of their own shining delight.  As if they sing to share their gladness, to invite others — me — into it:  you, too, may know; you, too, may rise as we do!   But that is not the prophet’s lyric.  The song is not of joy-attained, the chorus of the already-glad inviting me to listen, even perhaps to sing along.  The song is of joy-promised.

‘Arise, shine,’ the prophet urges a woman.  The imperatives are singular, feminine.  The ‘you’ throughout the text (‘the LORD has risen upon you’; ‘your light’; ‘your eyes’; ‘your sons’) is grammatically the same:  singular, feminine.  The woman addressed is not yet risen, nor yet shining — else she would not have to be summoned to it.  The woman addressed is aware of the darkness.  She needs news of the light.

‘Lift up your eyes and look around’ the prophet urges.  Now my mental picture changes.  No longer the choir triumphant (perhaps a bit smug in its own gladness?) but a woman weighted with grief.  Her shoulders are slumped.  Her head is bowed.  What she sees is the ground.  Within the book of Isaiah, it is ground that’s been trampled by war.  Within the book of Isaiah, it is ground to which some survivors have returned but found that the dear-claimed earth did not bring forth for them new and abundant life but remained a patch of briars from which hard-scrabble living had to be wrested.  Within the book of Isaiah, it is ground over which the community itself squabbles, hacks itself into divisions, re-opens injuries already suffered, revives the cut of the expected future lost.  This is the one to whom the lyric is addressed.  This woman with her burden so heavy that her  body is bowed under it.  Within the book of Isaiah, she is Zion, the holy city, the daughter-people.  Outside of it, she is any of us weighted and aching, all of us waiting in the dark.  

‘Arise, shine.  … Lift up your eyes and look around.’  The lost future grieved is returning to you — not in the same form as before (the sons and daughters, so grown they are!) — but a future sprung new.  

‘Arise, shine’ — it is possible, not of your own light, but of the LORD’s.  God’s glory risen (60:1).  God’s glory soon to appear (60:2).  There’s a tension between the tenses — has the LORD’s glory already come or is it yet to be?  Yes, the text says.  The tension recurs in v.4:  ‘they all gather together’ is already to be seen; even as the coming and being carried is yet to be.  Maybe that paradox of disparate tenses is what draws the woman in and on towards the possibility of joy:  ‘you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice’ (v.5) — the action couched as yet incomplete, but promised sure.  And because of that promise, of the interplay of already and not-yet, the woman to whom the whole is sung can see and hear and know the pattern well enough to anticipate and live its next turn.  Rounding back to the beginning of the text, she can get up and she can shine because shining already is, because now she can see the dawn even before the sun has risen above the horizon.

‘Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice’ (v.5) promises the NRSV.  The literal Hebrew says your heart — her heart, my heart — will tremble and be opened wide.  Grief curls us inward.  There is risk to opening an already-aching heart.  Hence the trembling perhaps.  It comes of hope, of amazement: that this wonder should be!  But the text proclaims it is. And I want to see it come.  Not to wait until it taps me on my shoulder and bids me rise, but to straighten as I can at the sound of the news, to lift my head and look to the horizon for the light that is coming and the light that has come and the glory appearing, even now.

‘Arise, shine.’  

Uncorrected Astigmatism*

Now after [the wise men] had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.” When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”

Matt 2:13-18; excerpt from Matt 2:13-23, lectionary text for Dec. 29, 2019

Our Christmas tree was a drug-store purchase 28 years ago.  It is small, with wire branches and stiff paper needles.  We trim it with tiny lights and decorations.  Once the last is placed atop the whole (an angel made of a starched doily, formerly white), we turn off the overhead and take off our eyeglasses and ooh and aah as the tree is haloed with the chrysanthemum-rayed glow that comes of uncorrected astigmatism.

I think of our silly self-delusion as I read this text.  The Slaughter of the Innocents. Every three years, this is the text for the Sunday after Christmas – some years the very next day.  I have been at that worship:  children are invited to wear pajamas; we all sing carols, again, as if to hold the sentiment of the season that bit longer.  The worship service is nice.  We feel it so. 

I can’t imagine reading this text at such a service. It is too horrible a contrast to Christmas — to the holy wonder of late-night candlelight, the giddy excitement of morning gifts.  Yet the calendar holds both together: the remembrance of the slaughter comes just after the celebration of the birth.

The juxtaposition shocks.  It should shock.  Our guts should twist with the horror; our hearts be pierced with the pain – with the way violence follows so naturally from the fear that grasps at power, that refuses consolation, that lashes out in self-defeating self-protection.

There’s no depth of field to sentiment’s glow.  To neglect Rachel’s wailing is to ignore the brokenness of the world, the sick of our own souls, the need that the Creator came into creation to suffer and to cure.  Still there is dark; still we are being born; still we hurt and – God forgive us! – still we hurt each other.  We don’t need tender sentiment; we need astringent love.

The Jeremiah text that the gospel quotes continues on past Rachel’s lamentation into promise:  “keep your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears … there is hope for your future, says the LORD.  Is Ephraim my dear son?  Is he the child I delight in?  … Therefore I am deeply moved for him; I will surely have mercy on him, says the LORD” (Jer 31:15-20).

Jesus escaped that particular slaughter.  But God did not.  God suffered the frightened cries of the children, the frantic cries of their parents.  God suffered it then and later and still.  

God was deeply moved.  God is deeply moved. God will surely have mercy on us all.

Glasses on. See as clearly as I can.

I must look full at the bitterness of Rachel’s refusal to see the strength of God’s saving love.

*Devotion revised from original written in 2010

Night Hearts

Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees.  Say to those who are of a fearful heart, “Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will come and save you.” Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.  For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp, the grass shall become reeds and rushes.

Isaiah 35:4-7; excerpt from text for Sunday December 15, 2019, Isaiah 35:1-10

The sound blares, breaking the night.  The dark that had come as a comforting unity as soon as I turned off the lamp is split into bits.  I find myself standing beside my bed, phone in my hand, bare feet somehow colder than the bare floor, with no conscious recollection of how I went to vertical from prone.  It is not good news.  It never has been, these calls that come in the dark.  This time, at least, I am being told, not summoned.  I can return to my bed, which is still warm.  I can pull the covers over.  I can fall back asleep.  Except, of course, I cannot do the last.  Not immediately.  I am still too aware of my heart’s pounding.

‘Say to those of fearful heart,’ the prophet addresses the people.  The opening imperative is plural, ‘You, all of you, say …. ’  The once-removed addressees are plural as well:  all of those whose heart is hastening.  Those who need the word are multiple, yet they are one in the characterization of their shared heart.  It is not in the Hebrew, ‘fearful’:  the word used to describe the heart is different than the verb in the command not to fear.  Their heart is ’hasty,’ ‘swift,’ ‘rash,’ or ‘impetuous.’  (The alternate glosses come from other verses where the same verb is used.).  Their heart is racing.  Whether the news come is unexpected or long-dreaded or still only anticipated, not yet here, they find themselves standing in the cold dark, heart pounding, with no clear recollection of how they got there nor a clear vision of what comes next.  

The prophet gives them the latter, at least.  The prophet promises their God coming with ‘terrible recompense’ to save.  Rather, the prophet commands the people (‘You, all of you, say’) to say the word of saving.  Not just to save generically, generally, but to ‘save you.’  You plural.  You whose heart is racing in apprehension, in reaction, in fear.  Be strong.  Do not fear.  The prophet foretells sight and hearing, leaping with the height and grace of a deer, songs exultant rising to the sky.  The promise is wonderfully, deeply embodied — this salvation is not something away from this world but something that transforms our experience of this world, something that transforms the world itself.  The desert springs with water.  Burning sand becomes a pool.  Human and earthly reviving are woven in together, as if each — both — are necessary parts of the exact same whole.

The transformation has not come.  Not yet.  Nor does the prophet say that it has.  Eyes shall be opened; ears shall be unstopped.  Shall be so — surely so — just not yet.  But even to say it coming marks a change.  The prophet previously heard from the LORD regarding the people’s heart and eyes and ears:  the heart made fat, or dull, the eyes shut, the ears stopped (Isa 6:10).  Some 30 chapters on, that period of incapacity is coming to a close.  This heart is not dull, insensitive, unable to respond.  This heart pounds, races, in reaction to what has come.  The people are becoming again awake.  Awake again to know their need.  Awake again to given a word of renewal of sight and hearing and dancing and song, the desert itself rejoicing and the dry land made glad.  All creation redeemed by its creator.  Be strong.  Do not fear.

I don’t live in a desert.  And, in truth, the awareness of my own heart’s racing is (again) too new for a word of comfort to be heard, for the promise of saving to feel near.  But it matters, yet, to know that the word is said, that God’s purpose has turned from one phase to the next.  As if I and others might — in time — be turned with it.

I walk on the paved path by the creek.  Sometimes, the water seems glass-still.  But the water cannot be still.  This is a creek, not a pool.  Sligo flows to join the Northwest Branch, and together they run into the Anacostia which flows into the Potomac which joins the Chesapeake which itself flows into the ocean.  I look, and I see glass rather than motion.  But the water cannot be still.  There must be motion because this is a creek.  I have to stop walking to see it.  I have to stop walking and look a long while at the water’s glassy brown color and the leaves floating atop it.  Only when I myself have stopped walking and have looked and have fixed my sight on the leaves, then I begin to be able to see:  the leaves are moving; I can measure their subtle progress against the bank.  But I had to look long to realize it was happening all along. The word of the LORD is told in the motion of the water.

Yes, my heart is pounding.  Yours is racing too, for whatever night noise brought you awake, for whatever dread outcome has occurred in actuality or expectation.  It is awful.  And it is not the end.  It begins the summons of the LORD — God speaking to all of us, for none among the people (not even the prophet) have not known that fear, that grief, that ache.  So all of us are called by God to strengthen the weak hands, firm the feeble knees, and share the news with all of us — each other — we whose hearts race and flutter and pound in our chests:  Be strong, do not fear.  The LORD our God is coming to save.  The movement is subtle but it is sure.  You do not need to sing, not yet.  But know that — soon — creation itself shall sing for and with you.