Wednesday, November 21, 2012

"The Worship of Lament"

I had a epiphany moment a month or so ago. In other words," an experience of sudden and striking realization."

Now in my long and mediocre career epiphany moments have been few and far between. Maybe a few when I was growing up but certainly none lately. When you get my age you don't really expect new revelations; some nuanced understandings on things perhaps, but nothing really new.

Anyway, it happened on a quiet day at our own house. Mary handed me some writing done by Val Yoder and his late wife Krystal. One page was entitled "The Worship of Praise" and the other "The Worship of Lament".

It got my attention right away. I had always thought there was only one kind of worship, the praise kind. I knew that I wasn't in that frame of mind all that much, but I just figured it was just the mark of the poor Christian that I am.

Val and Krystal were saying that "lament" can be worship every bit as much as  the worship of praise. They said (and I've read it several other places since) that one third of the Psalms are psalms of lament. How could I have lived this long and missed this? I do remember reading thru the Psalms in the last year and feeling a deep connection to the ones (that I now realize) are Psalms of lament.

Now, even when I was young I loved writings such as Ecclesiastes. "All is vanity and vexation of spirit and a chasing after the wind". And I wasn't even a pessimist yet. I loved the quote attributed to Satchel Paige, the famous black baseball pitcher, who said, "Never look back, something might be gaining on you!" The songs that are most dear to my heart are songs that would fit into the "lament" category. Like "Pass me not, oh gentle Saviour, hear my humble cry, while on others thou art calling, do not pass me by!" Like "We are pilgrims, on a journey, through the darkness of the night".

Let me ask you a question; if you had to say, would you feel there is more sum total joy in the world or more sum total sorrow? I'd say sorrow and sadness win hands down. This old world is just oozing with sorrow.

Now maybe you're saying that I haven't gotten a grasp on the fullness of joy that awaits. You'd be right. I haven't. Because I'm talking about this old world that we're in now.

But back to the epiphany. I've been spending a lot of time in lament lately and have been feeling discouraged about it. I had the idea that lament is maybe part of the "grief process" or something; a stage you go through until you come to that place of overwhelming joy and praise that all "real" Christians experience.  Well, it weren't happening for me.

It was so freeing for me to find out that LAMENT IS WORSHIP ALSO! Pouring out your heart full of sorrow and pain. And finally putting it all "on the altar" since there is really nothing else you can do unless you want to keep carrying it all by yourself.

We're not talking here about ranting and raving at God for what we perceive to be injustices allowed by Him. Although, some of David's psalms sound like they come pretty close. And some of Job's statements.

Now I've never ranted and raved at God. Once, for several seconds, I came close.

The last ten years maybe, I don't sleep as well at night. I used to lay there frustrated, knowing that if I couldn't get back to sleep I would feel so bushed in the morning. I finally started just getting up and using that nice quiet time in the middle of the night to pray. Back when Myron was still and home and granddaughter Alexis still lived with us, I would sometimes go outside and walk around the house. (yes, this was the middle of the night; I haven't done it for a good while now; I think about those four bears cousin Donnie saw a half mile from our house) I would march around the house seven times. I figured if seven times around Jericho could knock those walls flat, maybe seven positive times around our house would build it up. I would stop beside each bedroom wall and pray mightily for the one asleep inside.  I would pray that the powers of darkness would be held back from crossing my "line in the sand".

Sometime later Mary and Alexis gave me a small bronze looking figurine of a man kneeling in prayer that they found at the Christian Bookstore. They had it engraved with the words "Thank you, Pa-Pa". It has set on our dresser for years now.

Anyway, here some months back I went into the bedroom to get something and happened to notice the figurine. For several seconds the overwhelming urge came over me to take it outside and smash it into a thousand pieces with a sledge hammer. "A lot of good all that praying did!" was what was going thru my mind.

Like I said, it lasted several seconds and then I felt pretty much "back on the altar" again.

Can good come out of a time of lament? Most definitely. I would never have chosen some of the things that have caused my laments, but I have to admit there is some good that comes along with it. I'm more tender now. I'm a little more apt to think of what might be causing someone else pain. I'm not quite so scared to reach out in some way to them. Pain is a great leveler.

I've never had a hint of any song writing potential, but several songs have come to me during this season of lament. I had the chorus of one of them in the last post; here's the whole thing.

                                                       Thou He Slay Me
                               There was a good and upright man
                                the most respected in the land
                                 he had no clue to what the future held in store
                                 it happened all in one short day
                                 his wealth, his children passed away
                                 now will he choose to trust, or curse his God and die

                                Job said I'll trust Him, though He slay me
                                how could I ever curse Him, then and die
                                Lord if I turn away from You, who else could I turn to
                                hold me in the hollow of Your hand

                                I once was young and so carefree
                                I had no worries, no not me
                                I had no time for those who fretted, needlessly
                                but then great heartache came my way
                                 I hardly had the breath to pray
                                 I lay face down, amongst the ashes of my dreams

                                 I cried oh Lord, how could this be
                                  your master plan I fail to see
                                 I asked for bread, but this feels like a stone
                                 I wonder why this dreadful test
                                 when I thought I'd done my best
                                  now will I choose to trust Him, even so

                                I choose to trust Him, though He slay me
                                how could I ever curse Him, then and die
                                   Lord if I turn away from You, who else could I turn to
                                   hold me in the hollow of Your hand

And another came soon after that.........

                                   The Hand That Paints the Sky

                                Have you ever watched the sunset
                                as it spreads it's crimson shade
                                  and been afraid to look away lest
                                    the whole scene should quickly fade
                                   as you sit in reverent silence
                                   contemplating life's unknowns
                                   does the hand that paints the sky
                                    see my struggle far below

                                 Does the Hand that paints the sky
                                 care for this small lump of clay
                                 can He feel that  my heart's breaking
                                with the cares that came my way
                                will He hear me when I call out
                                 will He answer by and by
                                   will He make sense of my canvas
                                   This Hand that paints the sky

                                  I know He has the power
                                   the universe waits His command
                                   and when He paints the sky at evening
                                    I see the touch of Sovereign hands
                                    the mixture of the colors
                                    the scale and the expanse
                                      points to a heavenly artist
                                    this Hand that paints the sky

                                   But does the Hand that paints the sky
                                     care for this small lump of clay
                                        can He feel that my heart's breaking
                                           with the cares that came my way
                                          will He hear me when I call out
                                             will He answer by and by
                                           will He make sense of my canvas
                                          this Hand that paints the sky

                                     Oh yes, the Hand that paints the sky
                                     has ears that  hear you when you call
                                       He counts your every tear,
                                      just as He sees the sparrow fall
                                       Give to Him your heavy burden
                                         cast on Him your every care
                                         He's the master canvas painter
                                            this Hand that paints the sky

And another soon after........ just a phrase from it; "since I was born a poor, lost starving man, if I'm gonna make it thru this barren land, I've got to have grace (full abounding overflowing) so rich and free".

My favorite song of lament right now is one by the Wiley College Accapella Choir entitled "Couldn't Hear Nobody Pray". Some of those old Negro Spirituals have more lament packed in a few lines than most white people get in a whole cd. Listen to it here.

The guy that sings it uses such a old plantation accent that it's hard to catch the words. The song is lamenting about when Jesus was in such agony in the garden and nobody would watch with Him in prayer. "Dark was the night and cold the ground, on which my Lord was laid, great drops of blood like sweat rolled down, in agony He prayed. Oh Lord, I couldn't hear nobody pray, I couldn't hear nobody pray. I was way down yonder by myself, and I couldn't hear nobody pray." I still don't have all the second verse figured out. Something about "bitter herb, if such Thy sacred will, but if not __ ____ I'll drink it up, Thy plan I must fulfill." If you can listen (and watch the guy singing) without feeling moved, I question whether you have a soul at all.

Whew. This has gotten way too long. One more question. Am I worried that I'll not be able to switch gears from lament to praise when the time comes? At the risk of sounding like I'm swearing, heavens no!!

If I am privileged  by God's grace to be ushered into the presence of Jesus one day, when my days of lament are will be quite a scene, for sure. I'll scream, I'll wail for joy; I'll cry a river. If you value your peace and quiet, you might want to be sure you're on the other side of the City.

This old Southern Gospel song expresses it better than I could myself, so I'll close with it.

                                  I'm gonna let the glory roll when the roll is called in glory
                                  I'm gonna get beside a myself when I get beside a the King, that day
                                  I'm gonna have the time of my life when the time of my life is over
                                  I'm gonna get carried away when I get carried away!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

"Build an Altar!"

I've decided there are several things in life that I must do to keep my sanity. Writing is one of them. Singing is another. And most important of all, I must build an altar every so often.

Build an altar, you say? I mean, this ain't the Old Testament exactly.

Well, if I recall the New Testament mentions something about being a "living sacrifice", in which case the sacrifice would be ourselves. And the best way to visualize that is by placing that sacrifice on an altar. An altar speaks of laying something down, of yielding, of death, if you please.

And what do you do with things that are outside of your control? Fret and fume and worry and despair? Yeah, me too. But when I get good and tired of that, I go build an altar.

I've had some practice at it. There have been a lot of things in my life I couldn't control. You would think it should get easier the more times you have to do it. Maybe it does, a little, but it still seems dreadfully hard each time.

By my way of thinking, if I was almighty, (don't mean to be sacrilegious here) I would kind of leave a person alone after he had built several. But my way of thinking doesn't always seem to work out in real life.

Because just recently we built another altar.  At least this time we built it before we knew for sure that one was needed.

Of course, that sounds silly. We actually needed one all along; it's just that we usually wait until something feels out of our control before we see the need.

Those of you who know us know our son Myron, who is very nearly blind. He has kept a good attitude about his blindness, put it on the "altar," you might say, and been very blessed by God. As in a livelihood, a wife, a son two years ago, and then another son six months ago.

When Caleb was born we watched him closely. How happy we were when it became obvious he could see. Then six months ago Clifton was born. You may have read some about it in the "New Life" post back in the spring.

We watched him, too. The longer it went we began to wonder if there was a problem. The family doctor said he was fine but we weren't sure we agreed with him. To make a long story short, just last week the eye doctor specialist confirmed our fears. She feels pretty certain that Clifton has the same eye condition as Myron. 

As you might imagine, we feel a little numb. We had pleaded with God to allow him to see. And we as parents remember the long road of wondering and struggle until we began to see some of the good that God had in store in Myron's case.

And while I'm thinking of it, let me mention something here. It's a warning. Never, I say NEVER, say something in my hearing about that maybe Myron and Heidi shouldn't have had children. If I were to hear you say that  it would take every ounce of my non-resistance to keep me from getting you by the throat and choking you to within an inch of your life. (sounds a little passionate for a Yoder, I know)

But back to the altar. We had built one a few months before.

Mary and I had gone on a drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway. It's something we love to do. It seems to wash some of the stress of life away to get up above the crud and grime of "civilization" and breathe deeply of God's mountain air.

That day we were burdened for Clifton. And for Myron and Heidi. Somewhere around milepost 25 we stopped, went up a short trail to a spot called "Indian Rocks", I think it was, and gathered stones and built a small altar. It was Cliftons altar.

We prayed. We told the Lord that we knew we couldn't control this one. That we were releasing Cliff to His Almighty care; to do with him as He sees fit for His glory.

I think it helped us get thru the days of wondering and then facing the news of last week.

You know, when we face trouble or a great disappointment, we have the same two choices that Job had to choose between. The first one was what his lousy wife suggested; to curse God and die. The second, which Job chose to do, was to"trust Him though He slay me".

                                 "I choose to trust Him, though He slay me,
                                    How could I ever curse Him, then and die,
                                    Lord, if I turn away from You, who else could I turn to,
                                     Hold me, in the hollow, of Your hand."

And in the meantime, before we can make any sense out of the loose and confusing strands of what will become God's tapestry for Cliftons life, we will love the living daylights out of that little boy. Well, he's not so little. In the high nineties on the percentiles for height and weight. Built like a linebacker. And you should see him jump in the spring loaded jumping thing that hooks over the doorway. He jumps till he's almost gasping for breath.

We will teach him everything we can about life around him. We will have picnics and swim in the creek. Read him books that will take him on great adventures to far off places. Spend many hours riding with Pa-Pa in the loader and knuckleboom moving logs.

And most of all, help plant that seed of childlike faith, till he gets old enough to build an altar of his own. 

                                "Sure, it takes a lot of courage
                                  to put things in God's hands,
                                  to give ourselves completely
                                  our lives, our hopes, our plans,
                                   to follow where He leads us,
                                    and make His will our own.
                                    But all it takes is foolishness
                                    to go the way alone."