Chains He Shall Break

This Christmas season, I found myself feeling so discouraged about the state of human hearts, mine included, I knew I needed to stop and reflect on my reasons for hope. On Christmas Eve, I went to church and sang carols, then came home and looked up the lyrics to one my favorites: “O Holy Night.” Not only does this song have an interesting history, the lyrics give me much food for reflection.

  1. Long lay the world. These words remind me that the world waited for the Messiah for a long, long time. It was hundreds of years between Old Testament prophesies and the birth of Jesus. Now the world groans waiting for Jesus to return. Sometimes I get impatient waiting for God’s promises to be fulfilled and have to remind myself that God’s timing is not mine. With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some understand slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to repentance. (2 Peter 3:8-9)
  2. In sin and error pining. The world is enslaved by sin and longs to be set free. The lonely soul pines for the presence of God. Many people don’t know what they’re missing, they just know something is missing. The world chases money and success and attention and adulation, but in the end, finds an emptiness that this world cannot fill,
  3. He appeared and the soul felt its worth. All who have been saved know that there is no gift more precious than knowing that despite your sinfulness and failings, Jesus loves you. When Jesus appears in your life, the soul feels its worth as a precious child of God, one worth dying for.
  4. A thrill of hope. One of my friends doesn’t like it when people of faith use the word hope. I think she equates hope with wanting something to happen or wanting something to be true. But I see hope as the expectation of something good. Hope is trusting that God’s promises will be fulfilled. The thrill of hope is being uplifted by God’s promises, by the expectation of good things to come.
  5. The weary soul rejoices. The soul becomes weary from its struggles, with too many burdens to carry on its own. Jesus brings comfort, peace, and rest, in all our trials born to be our friend. Which reminds me of another old song, What a Friend We Have in Jesus (James Scriven, 1855). When we are sad, weak and heavy-laden, we can rejoice because he shares our sorrows.
  6. Truly he taught us to love one another. His law is love and his gospel is peace. When Jesus was asked to name the greatest commandment, he said love. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself.
  7. Chains shall he break for the slave is our brother. And in His name all oppression shall cease.O Holy Night‘ was brought to America by John Sullivan Dwight, who especially loved this verse because he was an abolitionist. The song was written in the 1840’s by a French poet, Placide Cappeau. A Jewish composer, Adolphe Adam, wrote the music. The song quickly became popular in France but the French Catholic church didn’t approve of Cappeau and denounced the song as not being in the spirit of religion.

Fall on your knees. Oh hear the angel voices. Oh night divine, oh night when Christ was born.

A good song has the power to move me emotionally. O Holy Night reminds me to not get so caught up in the worries of this world that I fail to see that God’s light is brightly shining just as it was long ago. It reminds me to be patient with God. He’s doing amazing things in the lives of ordinary people – stories that don’t get the big enticing headlines I see on my news feed. It reminds me that Jesus is on the side of the oppressed. It reminds me that the Good News is still the Good News. The words give rest to my weary soul and fill me with the thrill of hope once again. Yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!

† † † † † † †

O Holy Night!

The stars are brightly shining

It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth!

Long lay the world in sin and error pining

Till he appear’d and the soul felt its worth.

A thrill of hope the weary soul rejoices

For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!

Fall on your knees

Oh hear the angel voices

Oh night divine

Oh night when Christ was born

Oh night divine

Oh night divine

Led by the light of Faith serenely beaming

With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand

So led by light of a star sweetly gleaming

Here come the wise men from Orient land

The King of Kings lay thus in lowly manger

In all our trials born to be our friend

Truly He taught us to love one another

His law is love and His gospel is peace

Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother

And in His name all oppression shall cease

Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,

Let all within us praise His holy name

Renewing My Mind and Spirit

On Sunday, I realized that I have been feeling kind of low – not exactly depressed but certainly discouraged. When I am not at work or out running or hiking, I am unmotivated and uninspired. I have not written a new blog post for more than a month. All I seem to want to do is read news stories on social media. And I think that is the problem. When I read too much about what is going on in the world, I worry about the state of our country.  I am disgusted by the propaganda and hatefulness but there is little that I can do about it.

In church this week, my pastor started a new sermon series on the Holy Spirit. He said that we all have a spirit though many people suppress it. The nonreligious allow the body, emotions, and mind/will to dominate the spirit. But for those of us who have been given the Holy Spirit as a guide, the Spirit can transform the other parts of us.

The sermon could not have come at a better time for me. I am not at peace. I let myself worry too much about politics. I hate what is evil, as I should. I certainly don’t want to become complacent or ignorant but I can’t let my spirit be overcome by the wickedness I see. Too often, I let myself be tempted into reading the comments below the articles I read – and find a cesspool of insults and untruths. There I get a glimpse into the hearts of the worst sorts of people,  many of them claiming to be Christians. It’s like watching a train wreck.

Romans 12:2 says, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”  Today, I am committing myself to spiritual renewal. Instead of plugging into the power of social media, I will plug into the power of the Spirit.

With the words of Romans 12 as my guide, I will put love into action:

I will cling to what is good

I will be joyful in hope

I will live in harmony with others

I will be patient with others

I will be kind

I will be humble

I will share with those in need

I will be faithful in prayer

I will not repay evil with evil

I will not let my spirit be overcome by evil, but will overcome evil with good.

Romans 8:5-6 (NIV)

Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace.

 

 

Pausing to Celebrate the Joys of Life

I am guilty of thinking and worrying so much about the bad things that are happening in the world today that I often fail to think enough about the good things. Yes, I live in a world where meanness, selfishness and dishonesty abound, but I also live in a world full of people who are kind, generous and honest. I want and need to take a break from my worrying and pause to reflect on what is good. I’m going to start with the word joy, an emotion that reminds me of Christmas season, a time of celebration. But joy is an emotion that I can experience everyday, even during troubled times.

What does the word joy mean to me?

Joy can be defined as a feeling of great pleasure or happiness but the word that comes to my mind is delight. I spend most of my time in a state of contentment – not too high or too low. So when I experience joy, it is a special treat, an emotion that fills me with gratitude for the little pleasures of life. Joy is exponential; it is happiness squared.

What brings me joy?

One of the things that brings me joy is nature. I absolutely love wildlife and wildflowers and beautiful landscapes – mountains, rivers, lakes, the sky, moon, sun and stars. I see mountains in the distance every day but I don’t get to see wildlife every day. So when I can escape from the suburbs and I see deer or elk (which doesn’t happen every time), it fills me with joy. I like to photograph the wildflowers I see on the trails and have learned to recognize and name dozens of them. I am always delighted by the blooms, especially if I find a flower I have never seen before.

Another thing that brings me joy is small children, which might be surprising since I never had any of my own. I love their cuteness and innocence and sweetness. I love seeing their personalities develop and seeing how they resemble their parents. I love seeing them discover something for the first time. I also find joy in the love I see in a mother or father or grandparent who thinks that child is the most precious and special thing in the world.

Learning and discovery something new bring me joy. Figuring out something difficult brings me joy. Overcoming obstacles brings me joy. My faith brings me joy because there is nothing better than knowing I am loved and forgiven as imperfect as I am.

How can I celebrate and share joy everyday?

I get a lot of articles in my Facebook news feed. Many of them are dire news stories about things I cannot control. It is tempting to share them because I want people to be aware of what is going on and I want to resist injustice. But when I share these articles, I spread doom and gloom and I risk alienating people that I care about. So controlling the temptation to share negative news is important if I want to spread the joys of life to my friends.

I also get news feeds from  other pages that are not negative – pages that celebrate things I love like nature and pets. I follow a few religious pages that encourage me with uplifting scripture. I follow a page that promotes having a positive outlook. I can share and increase joy by making sure that these kinds of posts outweigh the negative ones.

I can also celebrate joy by being grateful for the good things in my life and by focusing on the good I see in ordinary people every day. I cannot take for granted the people who are kind and merciful and generous. They bring me joy.

Rejoice, rejoice, again I say rejoice! Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice!

 

 

 

Going Where Compassion Leads Me

When I graduated high school, my grandma wrote a note on my graduation card. She said we wish you great success and hope you will become famous. The second part of the sentence was a puzzle to me. What kind of life did Grandma C.  envision for me, a smart but shy kid? Why did she think I could or would ever be famous and why did she want that for me? I never asked so I will never know. If grandma were here today, I would tell her that my own dream is to be even half the kind, gentle woman of faith that she was. I don’t need fame, I don’t need a fortune. I just want to love and accept people for who they are just like she did.

My grandpa had been feeling sick the May I graduated and soon found out he had pancreatic cancer. He died just a couple of months later. Grandma saw me graduate from college and start my career in accounting. She was proud of me even though I chose a behind-the-scenes career that fit my introverted personality. I know that she would be proud of all of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, regardless of how big their circle of fame.

A lot has changed since my grandparents’ day. In my second job out of college, I was introduced to the internet for the first time. That would have been in the mid 90’s, somewhere near the end of my grandma’s life. Since then, the internet has revolutionized the way we work, the way we socialize, the way we communicate and for many people, the way to pursue fame and followers.

About five years ago, the internet became a way for me to try out my long-suppressed desire to write. Even though I don’t talk a lot, my mind is full of thoughts that I long to express. I have learned a lot about myself along this blogging journey. I learned why it is so much easier for an introvert to communicate in writing. I learned that I have a strong social conscience. I learned that I have a deep, unshakeable faith. I learned that it is sometimes easier to share myself with people I don’t know. And I found an outlet for sharing my love of nature.

I learned that no matter how many thousands of words I’ve arranged on the screen, no matter how many people have told me they like my writing, no matter how much I learn about myself, I can’t seem to shake my self-doubts. I always hold myself back, afraid to share myself fully and authentically because I expect to be criticized and rejected. Henri Nouwen understood this. He wrote that perhaps “the greatest trap in our life is not success, popularity, or power, but self-rejection.”

Time and time again, after publishing my thoughts on the great blogosphere, as I think about sharing my latest post with friends and family, I instead listen to that dark voice in my head that says I’m not good enough. Somebody won’t like it. I deserve to be ignored.

I learned a long time ago that the easiest way to avoid being rejected by other people is to reject myself first. I am my greatest spiritual enemy. Henri said, “Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the Beloved.”

Vulnerability comes with a great deal of risk. I will be rejected and cast aside by many people; I take that as a given. But if sharing a bit of myself with other people can make a positive difference to even one person, just as my grandma did for me, it is worth it. I am flawed. I am weak. But I am also beloved by One far stronger than me. His compassion moves me to go where it hurts, to share my brokenness, my fear, my confusion and my anguish with others.

So at the start of a new year, I continue on my spiritual journey, seeking truth in my innermost being, going where Compassion asks me to go, immersing myself in this imperfect condition of being human. On my new Innermost Being blog, I write using my grandma’s maiden name to honor the quiet, gentle woman of faith that I aspire to be. Grandma has been gone for many years, but her compassion lives forever in my heart. I hope that she would be proud me even though I’m not famous and not nearly as nice as she was.

Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into the places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless. Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human. – Henri Nouwen

Joy Unsinkable

I am a stoic person, not showing a lot of emotion or excitement. I usually keep my emotions to myself. When I do openly express how I feel, I second guess myself or feel self-conscious. Should I have been that upset? Did I look silly when I got so excited? Inside, I experience joy and sorrow and everything in between, but normally maintain an even keel – not too happy, not too sad. When I feel those deeper emotions, something always brings me back to even – a state of contentment and acceptance. How is it that I can be in the depths of despair one week and back to normal the next?

A few weeks ago, I was so shell-shocked by the results of the presidential election that it felt like someone I love had died. I lost trust in my fellow-man, even in the people I should have so much in common with – fellow Christians. I mourned for those who have much to fear from the president-elect because of his intolerance – immigrants, Muslims, people of color. I lost something precious – hope in my country’s future. I lost confidence that the moral arc of the universe, though long, bends towards justice. It’s clearly bending the wrong way now.

I still mourn. My world is becoming meaner and more divided before my eyes. I still can’t bear to watch the yellow-haired braggart on television. Everything about him repulses me. I still can’t stomach political news. But I will guard my heart against bitterness. That means shutting out the ugliness that I can do nothing about and focusing on what I can do – act justly, love mercy, and see to it that no one misses out on the grace of God.

In my innermost being, I am still joyful. My joy in the Lord is unsinkable. No matter what happens, the Lord is my rock and refuge. He walks with me through hardship and adversity. He comforts me when I mourn. I remain in Jesus and his love remains in me, just has he promised. Jesus is still the light of the world. Those who follow him will never walk in darkness (John 8:12). No matter what happens, my Father’s glory and love will be magnified.

You make known to me the path of life;
    you will fill me with joy in your presence,
    with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

Psalm 16:11 (NIV)

We are  now in the season of joy, a time when people are more generous and kind. I sing Joy to the World and Tidings of Comfort and Joy. No matter who resides in the White House, God rules the world with truth and grace. Come Lord Jesus, come!

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

Now to the Lord sing praises,
All you within this place,
And with true love and brotherhood
Each other now embrace;
This holy tide of Christmas
All other doth deface.
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy