Sunday, March 06, 2016

Is it well? Yes, it is well.

I love me some old Gospel hymns.
In four part harmony.
Sung with organ and piano.
Preferably with a choir.
A swaying choir of powerful voices.

Great is thy faithfulness
To God by the Glory
Blessed Assurance
When we all get to heaven
I must tell Jesus
Stand up, Stand up for Jesus
It is Well with my soul

That last one is on my mind today, this past week, for the past two weeks, actually.
Here are a few lines from that great old hymn of the church:

When peace like a river attendeth my way,

If you have read any of my ramblings in the past, you know that I spend much of my time looking for and finding reasons to be grateful. Peace like a river has attended my way for much of my life. I have traveled extensively - and safely. I have loved and been loved. I have worked with wise and kind-hearted people. My friends call me and text me and come visit me and meet me in cities and towns all over this country and even internationally. They tell me and they show me that they love me. I have seen beauty and I have felt deep joy. Even my dog seems to like me these days - and she is a picky dog. Peace, joy, hope, love, trust, grace, mercy have indeed followed me and guided me and filled me and surrounded me in these 50 years I have lived. I am enormously, profoundly, overwhelmingly grateful.

When sorrows like sea billows roll,

At the other end of the bell-shaped curve, as my dear friend, Karen, says, I have seen darkness. I have known sorrow. I watched my beloved father breathe his last labored breath fifteen years ago this month. I was laid low by breast kanswer. I have watched my children suffer heartbreak, physical injury, and mental and emotional anguish. I have sat on the floor in my bedroom, in my study, in our family room back in Connecticut and here in North Carolina and wept over the horrors of September 11th, 2001, the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, the earthquake in Haiti, civil war and genocide in Rwanda, shootings in schools and theaters and on the streets of our nation, and the untimely deaths of people I love and people that are loved by people I love.

Whatever my lot, thou has taught me to say,
"It is well, it is well with my soul."

What is my lot? My lot is sorrow and joy.
My lot is plenty and little.
Worry and peace.
Health and illness.
Anger and love.
Trust and suspicion.
Power and helplessness.
I've felt it all. I feel it all right now.
What I like about this line and the chorus that follows is this:
It doesn't say, "It is well with my body." Or "It is well with my family."
Or "It is well with my school work or my job or my marriage or my house."
In truth, it is well with most of those things right now.
Not all of those things, but most of those things.
But that's not what the song declares. That's not what the Bible declares.
What it says is this: It is well with my soul.
With my soul, peace. With my soul, hope.
With God in my soul, strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.

The Apostle Paul penned a letter to the church in Philippi from a prison cell
- and he wrote about being contented - even in prison.
He told the recipients of his letter: be anxious for nothing
(I haven't lived up to that one...)
but in everything by prayer and petition
(I do a whole lot of praying and petitioning, for sure)
with thanksgiving
(even at the times I'm anxious? even then, Paul? even then, Lord?)
present your requests to God.
(I have no shortage of requests, of pleas, of cries for mercy, grace and help in our time of need)
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
(There it is - that place, that moment, that ability to say, to sing, to believe, to know
that it is well with my soul. Take a deep breath, Gail. Take another one. Know that your heart and mind are guarded in Christ Jesus.)

Chorus - It is well with my soul. It is well, it is well with my soul.

Even when all is not well with my body,
when all is not well with my children,
when all is not well in my church or my city or my country,
it can be well, indeed, it is well with my soul.
Deep breath. Deep sigh.

Though satan should buffet, though trials should come,

In John 16:33, Jesus is coming to the end of a long discourse with his disciples, shortly before he is arrested and condemned to die on the cross. He said, "I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world, you face persecution. But take courage, I have conquered the world." Another translation of the Bible says, "In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart; I have overcome the world." So trouble and trials should not be a surprise. They certainly aren't a surprise to God. Trouble and trials, persecution and pain are part of everyone's lot in life. I don't know anyone who walks this world unscathed, unscarred by the atrocities of disease, death, loss, pain, fear, loneliness, abandonment, mental illness, kanswer, financial insecurity or concern. And there are billions of people who wish they had a job to lose, a house to take care of, and children to fret over. There are countless people who wish they had the option and opportunity to choose which megalomaniac to vote for in the next election. Trials come. Trials are inevitable. For everyone.

Let this blest assurance control:
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed his own blood for my soul.

Helplessness sucks.
I've been wallowing in helplessness for a couple of weeks now.
There is nothing I can do. Nothing I can say.
I can't fix it. I can't fix him. I can't fix her.
I can't do anything at all. But wait. And pray.
Advocate for my beloved one, yes. Speak up for the cast down, absolutely.
But I can't fix anything or anybody.
I can't change the medical system or the school system or the political system.
I wish I could, but I just can't.
I will probably keep trying, but my efforts are likely to be of no avail.
Perhaps someday I will accept the fact that it's okay to stop trying so hard,
and learn to live life on life's terms.

The thought that God came to earth in Christ,
that Christ wept with those who mourned,
that Christ touched and healed lepers, blind people, those who were crippled,
those whose minds were out of their control,
that Christ sat with, ate with, talked to, and seemed to prefer
the helpless ones, the outcast ones, the lonely ones, the rejected ones -
knowing all of that gives me hope in my hopeless times,
joy in my joyless times,
peace in my stormy times.
And those times come frequently - they don't come to stay.
They do come to pass, but they do come.
For as much as I continually hope otherwise, I have not been spared.

Just as Christ saw the woman at the well, the one who came by herself, and he sat with her,
just as Christ saw the woman accused of adultery, the one who was dragged to the temple in anticipation of being executed, and he talked with her,
just as Christ saw Mary and Martha weeping over the death of their brother, and he wept with them,
just as Christ saw the men on the road to Emmaus, and he walked with them, listened to their story of hopelessness, and explained why things had to happen the way they did,
just as Christ regarded and honored and accompanied them in their helpless estate,
Christ also has regarded my helplessness and my despair.
Christ's healing power has shown up through the presence of doctors, nurses, and medical technicians who have provided protection and solace and comfort.
Christ's comforting presence has shown up in the visits, meals, cards, messages of support from as far away as India and Denmark and Spain and Connecticut and New York City and New Jersey,
and as close as the generous neighbors who live next door.
Christ shows up with wounds still visible, reminders of his own suffering, his own loss, his pain, his helplessness, his death - and also his victory over all of that.
Glory! Hallelujah! I am grateful - tearful and grateful.

I know, I know - it's a crazy story.
But it is my story.
This is my crazy faith story. This is my crazy life story.
With all of its upheavals and deep valleys.
With all of its joy and its soul-rending sorrow.
With everything and everyone in various states of emergency and delusion.

It is well with my soul. It is well, it is well with my soul.

A medley that includes "It is well with my soul."

If you need a slow song to remind you of the power of praise - I will Praise Him Still

If upbeat gospel music is your preference, Whitney Houston's rendition of "Hold On, Help is on the Way" has brought a smile to my weepy face several times in these past two weeks. 

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