Cruisin’ with Ranald 2: Moisturizing my Brain

This is the second in a series of blog posts I wrote the week of June 19, when my wife and I were cruising to Bermuda aboard the Norwegian Breakaway. I intended to post them as I wrote them, but the ship’s wifi was not up to the challenge. So I saved them, and I am posting them throughout this week.

It’s Tuesday morning, and I’m sitting next to Ranald again. I was informed last night that apparently this particular Scotsman is more well known than I knew. Apparently he had a role in the film Rob Roy, and I suppose in the history that lies behind that movie. Yet again, for all my talk and all my so called intelligence, my total lack of culture and couth betrays me. Ah well. I still choose to think of Mac Donald of Clan Ranald as my cruisin’ friend. And to still just call him Ranald.

Anyway, this morning, I’m thinking about two states of matter…liquid and gas. Or more to the point, beverages and air. First, beverages. I drink a lot of beverages. I pass liquid through my mouth and down my esophagus a lot throughout any particular day. Lots of liquid, but not a lot of variety. And only rarely do I drink for the simple reason of hydration. Although, to be honest, I probably get enough hydration through my food anyway. But the primary reason I ingest liquid became clear to me yesterday afternoon. It was probably about 3:00 or so. I was feeling tired, the mid afternoon siesta sleepies. And the buzz I had from the whiskey drink at lunch, followed by the champagne at the art auction (don’t ask) had worn off. I was a bit tired, and I could feel the leading edge of irritability rising in the back of my head. I thought, “I want to do something about this. I want to feel better.” And I knew there were two choices: get some coffee, or get another alcoholic drink. I chose coffee. The caffeine flowed into my blood the instant the first sip went over my lips, filling my head with the pulsing neon glow of precision thinking, octane fuel lubricating synapses and neural pathways, transforming the edge of irritability into the edge of wakeful, just slightly hyperactive, focus. Ah, better. Words flow so much easier on the page now.

On another day, I might have chosen differently. I might have chosen the drink. A whiskey sour, perhaps. Or a pale ale. Or even a glass of wine. And slowly, much more gradually than the caffeine, the alcohol would settle into my bloodstream, gently massaging the same neurons and synapses, but with the effect of calming them, loosening the grip of the mild sleepy headache, smoothing out the edge of irritability into the silhouette of a smile, making aggravations a little less important, self-imposed inhibitions a little less pressing. Ah, better. Words flow so much easier from my mouth now.

I drink liquids to alter my mind. I do drink water…don’t get me wrong. But the only beverages I ever drink besides water are two: black coffee, and alcohol. In normal life, the ratio of the two is very heavily tilted toward the coffee; this week with Ranald, that’s not so true. But the truth remains that I drink not for hydration, not for nutrition, not (primarily) for flavor, but as a method of drug delivery. And I didn’t know until I started writing this post how much those drugs enhance my ability to communicate. Caffeine greatly enhances my writing ability, and alcohol my speaking ability. No wonder I am rarely found in my office without a half-full coffee mug. No wonder I was told in college that I was nicer when I was drinking.

Is this a problem? Is this a sign that I need an intervention of some sort? I don’t think so. I’m no alcoholic. I sometimes go weeks without a single drink (apart from communion wine). And when I’m not with Ranald, I rarely drink enough to have more than a mild buzz. Now, caffeine is a different story. I don’t think I can function without that. A few years ago, I had to go to the hospital early in the morning for a cardiac stress test. Turns out my heart is fine, but being up for six hours with no caffeine was brutal. My head was pounding; I felt as though my brain was inflating like a balloon, ready to crack through my skull and fly away like a banshee in search of a percolator to drown in. I’m no alcoholic, but I’m definitely a caffeinoholic. And with one of the side effects of my current antidepressant being drowsiness, I drink more and more coffee these days. But that’s acceptable in our society.

My brain without the effects of either caffeine or alcohol feels dusty, dry, irritating to the touch, like terracotta. Man, I hate the feel of terracotta. It goes right through me, like fingernails on chalkboard. God, I hate even touching chalk. It feels like it will crawl under my nails, and infect me. But I can touch it if it’s wet. Then it’s safe, touchable, friendly. I think my brain is the same way. It needs to be wet, and I know of two beverages that moisturize it in their own ways. Then, properly hydrated, my brain can reach out and touch others, communicate without fear of infection.

Man, that is not where I thought this was going. I thought I was going to get to my other discussion, about air. But I’ll save that for tomorrow.

Cruisin’ with Ranald 1: Eloi vs. ELO

This is the first in a series of four blog posts I wrote the week of June 19, when my wife and I were on a cruise. I intended to post them from the ship, but internet access and bandwidth weren’t quite what I’d hoped for. So instead, I saved them, and will post them throughout this week.

I find it mind-boggling that there are four thousand passengers on this ship. And something like two thousand crew. I don’t feel like checking those numbers, because connecting to the Internet takes just a little more effort than usual, and I don’t feel like expending that effort.

I’m on the Norwegian Breakaway, sailing from New York to Bermuda. We’ve been on the ship now for less than twenty-four hours, and I am amazed at how different this feels than my last cruise. Five years ago, my wife and I cruised for the first time, and I was cranky about it. It hadn’t been my idea; in fact, I had an idea in my head that cruises were hedonistic and selfish. It felt like swimming in a pile of money, instead of using that money for something better, like giving it to church or another charity. It took me at least half of that trip to get over that feeling, and frankly, I made my wife’s vacation much more stressful and annoying than it had to be.

But this time, it doesn’t feel like that. Why not? What’s different this time? I don’t know. I actually feel fantastic right now. I feel relaxed, more relaxed than I’ve felt in weeks, maybe months. I’m sitting on a comfy chair in a hallway on deck eight, just typing on my iPad. Less than twelve hours ago, I was sitting in this same hallway, drinking beer with a good friend and reminiscing about college. (My wife and I are cruising with another couple, both of whom are dear friends of ours.) And now this morning is dedicated completely to reading and writing.

A few thoughts:

  • I’m on “deck eight,” not “the eighth floor.” The reason for this is simple. We’re on a ship, and as such the floor is arbitrary. It’s only the floor as long as the ship remains upright. If the ship tilts (or “lists”) 90 degrees, the floor will become a wall. If the ship flips, it will become the ceiling. And that would make conversation confusing. Referring to this level as a deck instead of a floor alleviates that ambiguity. It’s comforting to know that the terminology will remain constant even if we hit an iceberg or a hurricane, and capsize. At least we’ll still have clear language as we all die.
  • The hallway I’m in is lined on the walls (well, they’re walls as long as the ship is upright) with maps and paintings related to Scotland. In fact, just next to my head is a small portrait of “MAC DONALD OF CLAN RANALD.” You’ve got to be kidding me. Mac Donald of Ranald? They’re playing classic rock over the speakers in this hallway. Ranald and I are jamming to “Spirit in the Sky.”

IMG_0229

 

  • I’ve seen more crew than passengers this morning while I’ve been sitting here. They’re all so friendly. I often wonder if it’s just a façade to give us passengers the “experience” we pay for. There also seems to be a “backstage” of sorts that runs throughout the ship, doors that lead to a phantom ship behind which all the secret work is done that creates this illusion we experience here. Reminds me of DisneyWorld, which apparently has an underground backstage, through which all the staff travel when they’re not on the surface with us Eloi. (Eloi, right? Isn’t that the name of the effete passionless lazy beautiful people in H.G. Wells? Again, Internet takes a bit more effort than Ranald and I feel like exerting.)
  • Now they’re playing ELO. Sheesh. Why am I staying in this hallway? Because I’m too lazy to go anywhere else.
  • ELO. Eloi. Freaky.
  • “Eloi” is one of about eight Aramaic words I know. It means “my God.”
  • My God, this bulleted list is getting out of control. It needs a bullet to the head. Or at least a boot.

Where was I? That’s right…I can’t believe there are something like six thousand total people on this boat. Six thousand. That’s the population of a midsize borough in Pennsylvania. And I don’t like crowds. I don’t like being around people. But I’m enjoying myself here so far. Why? What’s different about this trip? For one thing, it’s not the unknown like our first cruise was. For another thing, I’ve been pretty comfortable of late with the level of our financial giving, so I didn’t carry that burden onto the ship. (I get into moods sometimes when I feel I should give away all my possessions and give them to the poor. Some dude named Jesus came up with that idea, and every now and then I feel convicted that I haven’t done it. I was definitely in one of those moods, or modes perhaps, the month leading up to that first cruise five years ago.) There’s also the fact that we’re with another couple. I think my wife and I can get into a feedback loop of frustration when it’s just the two of us for too long. Mostly my fault. But having extra friends with us can be kind of an escape valve for that. Plus, I’m on different meds now than I was five years ago. Plus, I’m a little more mature. Plus, it was a much less stressful trip this time to get to the port.

Either way, I hope this feeling remains. Come on, Ranald. Let’s go exploring.

Who are we becoming?

So, this shooting in Orlando has ticked off every box. I mean, sheesh. We’ve got people talking about Muslims and terrorism. We’ve got people talking about LGBTQ rights. We’ve got people talking about gun control. We’ve got people talking about racism. My Facebook feed has gone cuckoo bananas. Memes and sarcasm and emotional tirades and arguments. And oh, so much righteous indignation. And I hate it. I absolutely hate it, and I’m getting more and more upset.

I hate reading when someone calls someone else stupid for not agreeing with them about guns.

I hate reading when someone quotes Galatians to say that the victims brought this on themselves.

I hate reading about rallies where people cheer about violence or about preventing people from coming to our country because of their faith.

And I am really fearful for the soul of our nation right now. Who are we right now? Are we really a people so defined by anger? Are we really a people so broken and shattered that we see nothing but demons and scapegoats all around us? Is that who we are?

Is it telling that we’re in the midst of a presidential election in which each of the two viable candidates is disliked by something like 95% of the populace? And disliked is a rather tame word, frankly. It might be more accurate to say we’re in the midst of an election in which both candidates are routinely thought of as the anti-christ.

What happened to the “self-evident” truth that all men are created equal? Let’s parse that: “Men” was 18th century for “people.” “Created” means “made by a higher power,” which to most at that time would have meant God. “Equal” was not a reality when the declaration was written…slavery and women’s suffrage, etc…. but it was an ideal, an ideal that over the centuries America has slowly grown closer and closer to. And how about that nagging word: “all”?

I submit something crazy:

  • God made LGBTQ people.
  • God made Muslims.
  • God made conservatives.
  • God made liberals.
  • God made Hillary Clinton.
  • God made Donald Trump.
  • God made Omar Mateen.
  • God made each and every one of Mateen’s victims.
  • God made the members of the NRA.
  • God made the Democrats who held the filibuster.
  • God made each and every person breathing on this planet right now.

That doesn’t mean everyone is right. That doesn’t mean everyone should sit around and sing kumbayah. But it means that maybe, just maybe, if everybody was made in the image of God, then when we argue and disagree, we ought to do it as members of a huge family, not as mortal enemies. If we have to punish someone for a crime, then we ought to do it soberly and sadly, not with joyous shouts of revenge. It means that we ought to be humble with our opinions, not self-righteous. I think these are the highest ideals of our nation, and always have been. But I think right now we are viciously forgetting them.

I only wish I knew what I could do to help us remember.

Welcoming Jesus

This is an adapted version of the sermon I preached today, the 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time. For twenty weeks, my sermon themes will have to do with twenty Spiritual Gifts. Today’s gift is “Hospitality,” and the associated scripture passage was Luke 7:36–8:3.

Hospitality means welcoming people, going above and beyond to make them feel welcome, to make them feel comfortable, to make them feel loved. Hospitality was crucial in the time and place where Jesus lived. Good hospitality was an expected norm of society. There were things you just did for your guests. In today’s gospel reading, Simon the Pharisee did not do those things. He did not give Jesus water for his feet. He did not give him the kiss of welcome. He did not give him oil to wash his face. He did not do any of these things, and that meant that he was a bad host. And in this story, Jesus tells us why that is. Jesus teaches us where hospitality comes from.

He says that the reason we show hospitality to others is not because society tells us to. He says it’s because of gratitude. He says to Simon, do you see this woman? She is pouring not water but ointment on my feet. She is kissing me not once but many times. She is washing not only my face but my feet. She is showing me far more hospitality than you, and why is she doing that? Because her sins were many, and they were forgiven. And so she shows great love. She knew that Jesus forgave her sins, and in her gratitude she showered gifts upon him in an extraordinary way. She showed hospitality, she welcomed Jesus, she went above and beyond, because she was overcome with love and gratitude. Simon didn’t recognize his need for forgiveness. He didn’t recognize his need for anything. And he didn’t feel he owed Jesus anything, so he didn’t feel moved to welcome him in any particular way at all.

681px-Francken_Feast_in_the_house_of_Simon
“Feast in the House of Simon” by Frans Francken the Younger, 17th c.

What about us? Do we recognize what Jesus has done for us? The forgiveness? The grace? The unconditional love? The salvation? The meaning he provides for our lives? Do we recognize our ongoing need for these gifts, and do we recognize that he has indeed given them?

If we do, if we feel the gratitude that this woman felt, then how do we show it? After all, Jesus isn’t here in the flesh. We can’t pour ointment on his feet today. Or perhaps we can. Recall the story of the sheep and the goats, how Jesus told the sheep, “When I was thirsty, you gave me drink. When I was naked, you clothed me. When I was in prison, you visited me.” And he told the goats, “You didn’t.” And the sheep and the goats both asked, “When was this? We never saw you!” Jesus told them, “Whenever you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me.” The least of these. The victims. The weak. The poor. The outcasts.

And recall our congregation’s purpose statement: We, the people of Prince of Peace Evangelical Lutheran Church, will actively seek and serve Christ in all people. Where is Christ today? We proclaim that we seek him in all people. And so we do encounter Jesus every day. We are given opportunities every day to show him hospitality. To welcome him, to go above and beyond.

But that’s really hard to remember, and hard to do. It’s really hard to see beyond whatever is on the surface of most people we encounter. It was hard for Simon the Pharisee when he saw that woman. He said: “If Jesus were a prophet, he would have known what kind of woman this is who is touching him – that she is a sinner.” That’s all she was to him. A sinner. He did not see her as a full human being, but as one thing: a sinner. He could not see beyond that, to what was inside her. All he saw was the surface. He couldn’t see where Christ dwelt within her.

And Simon the Pharisee has a long line of followers on this. For centuries, scholars and other readers of this story have done the exact same thing to this woman. You know how? By telling us what her sin is. For centuries, everyone has known that this woman is a prostitute. It says so in the Bible, doesn’t it? No, it doesn’t. But commentaries and sermons and scholars have suggested that for centuries. She must have been a prostitute. You know why? Because she’s a woman, and she’s a sinner. What other sin could a woman commit? You know who wrote all these commentaries and sermons? Men. Men who couldn’t imagine that there was anything to a woman beyond her gender. Who couldn’t imagine that there was anything to a woman beyond sex. All they saw was the surface. And the problem wasn’t just that they treated this woman in the story that way. It was that they treated all women that way. Women were defined by their gender, not by anything else.

We still do this today. How many times have you heard that Hillary Clinton could be the first woman president? I don’t recall learning that George Washington was the first “man president.”

To all of you who are women: I am sorry. I am sorry for the way that men have demeaned you and sexualized you and kept you down. I am sorry for anything I have done that has contributed to that. You are more than your gender. You are a bearer of Christ’s light, and you deserve better than that. And as a forgiven child of God, I am trying to seek and serve the Christ who dwells in you.

I’m reminded of something the Reconciling in Christ core group has said. They’ve said that they hope that we do not remain a congregation that is tolerant of people who are LGBTQ. They hope that we grow into a congregation that is accepting of people who are LGBTQ. Acceptance means saying that even though your sexuality is different than mine, I believe that Christ dwells within you just as Christ dwells within me. Acceptance means that you are more than your sexuality. Acceptance means that you don’t have to hide who you are anymore, because who you are is a child of God. And as a forgiven child of God myself, I will seek and serve the Christ who is in you. I believe that hospitality looks like acceptance. That is why I am in favor of becoming Reconciling in Christ.

And this is actually good news to us all. It means that you don’t have to hide who you are. Whatever you are hiding today, hospitality means that you don’t have to hide it. That we will accept you exactly as you are, because behind all the guilt and worry, all the secrets, whatever they are, you are God’s child, and Christ dwells within you. And Christ forgives you for all that you have done wrong. All of it. Just as Christ has forgiven me.

We are striving to make that acceptance, that welcoming, that hospitality a culture here at Prince of Peace. And that comes much easier to some of us than to others. It comes easier to those who have the spiritual gift of Hospitality. Thank God for each of you who have that gift! The rest of us need to rely on you. We need to rely on you to notice when we as a congregation, or as individuals, fail at being welcoming. We need you to tell us gently yet firmly when we miss the boat. And we need to rely on you to take the lead in helping us always grow more welcoming, more hospitable, better at seeking Christ in all people. Better at showing our gratitude for all that Christ has done for us. Thank you for all you have done. Keep up the good work.

Amen.

Snapshots of My Depression #5: The Poem in the Wallet

A big part of my depression has always involved a feeling that I was hurting others, that I was thoughtless, self-centered, and incapable of changing. There were many times, particularly in high school, that I felt this so strongly that I had suicidal ideation. I remember thinking that that made me a unique sort of suicide. In my mind, I wasn’t considering ending my life for the “normal” reason, but for this more noble reason. I thought that the “normal” reason for attempting suicide was because you didn’t feel you could handle life anymore. It was a way to cope with extreme sorrow or extreme pain. But my suicide thoughts were higher than that…mine were more about helping the world escape me. I thought it was a noble sacrifice. Of course, as I’ve come to understand, my suicidal thoughts weren’t about that at all. They were exactly the same as what I identified as “normal” suicidal thoughts. They were all about escaping pain. I felt great pain inside when I thought I had hurt others. I felt great pain inside when I thought I should have known better. I felt such pain that I couldn’t see any escape from that pain, and the best way to cope would be to run away from it so far that I would be dead.

The website metanoia.org/suicide (the first result on a Google search for suicide, and what other credential does it need, really?) says this: “Suicide is not chosen; it happens when pain exceeds resources for coping with pain.” I believe that’s true. People who say that suicide victims are selfish have no idea what it’s like. Yes, some people can be equally sad, depressed, and despairing, and never attempt suicide. But those people likely had a different set of coping resources. It’s not selfish, it’s not a lack of faith; it’s simple math. If Pain > Resources, then Suicide > Life.

But I was talking about high school. There were still many years until I’d understand that. Just as there was no world wide web yet, and no metanoia.org yet, neither did I have the coping resources then that I have now. Back in high school, it went more like this:

What is the point of living
If your life is spent
Ruining the lives of others?
Would it not be a
Far, far better thing
If you were dead?
Oh, some may feel pain at the loss
But would that pain not pale in comparison
To the pain your continued life
Would continue to inflict
On still others?
Perhaps the answer is to change
But change is not always possible
We can not change our very being
We are what we are.
But in those brief moments of enlightenment
When we are permitted to see ourselves
We are not always satisfied.
If we realize that the change can not come
Because the brief moments are so brief
And the enlightenment never lasts
Never lasts long enough to change,
When these moments occur
Should we not take immediate action
Before the enlightenment is gone?
Change may be better than death
But is not death better than stagnation?
                                            MJS 3/29/93

I was a senior in high school. I wrote that poem on a sheet of looseleaf, and carried it in my wallet, as a reminder. I wrote it during a moment of “enlightenment.” Moments of enlightenment were the moments when I hated myself, and I called them “enlightenment” because in those moments, I felt a clarity so different from the confusion of my everyday life. In that clarity, it was so obvious to me that I was broken. That I was wrong. That I was, on balance, doing more evil than good. And I carried this poem with me as a reminder of that. A reminder to my everyday self that I knew better. But moreso, a reminder to myself during the next moment of enlightenment, as encouragement to have the courage to follow through with a suicide plan. Because I was always so scared of committing suicide. I could never slit my wrists, because I was too scared of pain. I could never sit in my parents’ garage with the cars running, because I was too scared that I would be found there before it was complete. I thought this poem might just help me gain the courage to knew what I believed was right.

I still have the original looseleaf page with this poem on it. I found it tonight in a closet, tucked in a folder marked “Miscellaneous.” I’m not sure if I’ve ever shared it with anyone before. Maybe one or two people, but certainly not many. Reading it now, I’m surprised at how well it’s written. I’m surprised at the Tale of Two Cities reference in it, although I do recall reading that book in 12th grade English. I’m surprised at how subtle and calm it is. There’s a recognition that people would miss me, that my death would be mourned, but an argument that that pain is less than the pain my continued existence would cause. I’m surprised at how suicide really seems to him to be a rational last resort, a resort to be taken because nothing else seems to work. I’m also surprised to find that these exact same thoughts still sit comfortably on their throne in my mind. They are still there, and I believe they will never leave me. But now Resources > Pain, and I can withstand them better. Suicide is no longer on the horizon for me, but the Voice has never changed.

On the Bravery of Writing

It’s funny. When I started this blog two months ago, I had no expectation that it would become so much about my own history with depression. I really didn’t know what it would be about. That was part of the fun, I suppose. But then this post happened, wherein I shared that the reason I hadn’t blogged in a while was because of “the voice” that was telling me to “Shut up, kid.” I opened up about my history with that voice, and I was absolutely floored by the response. So many people commented on the blog, or on my Facebook, or via email, to let me know that they deeply appreciated my words. I was touched, and I saw it as encouragement to keep writing about my struggles with that voice, and with my depression and anxiety in general.

So this blog has become mostly (apart from also serving as a repository for my sermons) a place to discuss my own history, in terms of depression. And through this, a lot of people have told me that they think I am brave for writing what I write, for sharing what I share, for being open and honest with these stories. That’s the word that so many people use: brave. But the funny thing is…while I do appreciate the kindness that’s in the words, writing these stories just doesn’t feel brave to me. There is bravery involved in making this blog, but that’s not where it is. To me, it doesn’t take bravery to share these stories. To me, it takes bravery just to share anything. The hardest thing I’ve done with this blog is make it in the first place. That was actually really hard. But now that I’m here, now that I pushed through that fear, it has continued to flow fairly easily. Thanks in great part to all the kind and affirming comments. Thank you!

 

How Can I Keep From Singing?

This is an adapted version of the sermon I preached today, the 10th Sunday in Ordinary Time. For the next twenty weeks, my sermon themes will have to do with twenty Spiritual Gifts. Today’s gift is “Music,” and the associated scripture passage was Psalm 30.

            My life flows on in endless song;
above earth’s lamentation,
I catch the sweet, though far-off hymn
that hails a new creation.
No storm can shake my inmost calm
while to that Rock I’m clinging.
Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth,
how can I keep from singing?

 

This hymn always reminds me of Jack. Jack was an active member of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, the congregation where I was an intern. Jack was heavily involved in the Sunday School and youth programs at Good Shepherd. Jack was in his mid-50s, but he was a kid at heart, and the kids loved him. He had a beautiful voice, sang in the choir, and he served on the Worship and Music Committee. Jack basically was the Worship and Music Committee. Worship was so important to him, and perhaps the most powerful part of worship for him was music. He found the grace of God in music, the grace of God that gave him peace and hope, comfort and forgiveness. Jack was a blessing to Good Shepherd, and certainly a blessing to me in the short time I knew him.

Jack was also the first person whose death I witnessed.

            Through all the tumult and the strife,
I hear that music ringing.
It finds an echo in my soul.
How can I keep from singing?
No storm can shake my inmost calm
while to that Rock I’m clinging.
Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth,
how can I keep from singing?

Jack was already sick by the time I met him. He had bone cancer that was aggressively and excruciatingly spreading throughout his body. Yet he never gave up hope. He never felt pity for himself. I can remember sitting in the sanctuary at Good Shepherd with Jack, as he told me stories from his past. He had been through a lot. And he had done some things that gave him great regret. But in recent years, he had found forgiveness, he had found peace, he had found a new direction in his life, and he had fallen deeply in love with his second wife Jill. (Yes, it was Jack and Jill, and they loved that.)

I can remember sitting with Jack and Jill in various hospital rooms, as they cried and laughed together, knowing what was coming, but trusting that God was with them. And I can remember that Sunday in April that I went into his hospital room right after worship. I discovered that day that death isn’t like in the movies. There wasn’t a clear moment. There wasn’t a doctor there who said, “Time of death, 12:30.” There was Jack lying in the bed, and there was Jill, holding his hand. I didn’t realize at first what was happening, but by the grace of God, I just sat there and put my hand on her shoulder. We sat there for half an hour, as Jack slowly moved from life to death. I have no idea when exactly it happened. It wasn’t like that. It was like a slow, mournful song that played so quietly and so slowly. And as I looked back on those thirty minutes, the only word I can put to it is “holy.”

 

            What though my joys and comforts die?
The Lord my Savior liveth.
What though the darkness gather round?
Songs in the night he giveth.
No storm can shake my inmost calm
while to that Rock I’m clinging.
Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth,
how can I keep from singing?

When we planned Jack’s funeral, we knew that it would be in the church, and that there would be lots of music. I take pride in remembering that I chose the last hymn for the funeral, the one I’ve been singing throughout this sermon. I think it captured beautifully both Jack’s faith in God, that enabled him to continue to find joy even amid the pain and the fear of his illness, and also Jack’s love of music, one of the primary ways he experienced that faith.

Our Psalm today, Psalm 30, reflects this. “O Lord my God, I cried out to you, and you restored me to health. You brought me up, O Lord, from the dead; you restored my life even as I was going down to the grave.” “Sing to the Lord, you servants of his; give thanks for the remembrance of his holiness.” “Weeping may spend the night, but joy comes with the morning.” As I said in last week’s sermon, God will not always cure our illnesses, but God will always heal us, always bring us peace and hope in the midst of anything. Jack knew that. Jack lived that. Jack died with that song on his lips. And so we sang together in the Psalm:

So let our hearts their songs employ
To thank the Lord with hymns of joy

Now, I said I would talk about the Spiritual Gift of Music today. Jack had that gift in spades. I do not. Nor do many of you. And that’s okay. It’s okay because it’s not my calling to create beautiful music. Thank God that Jack was called to that. Thank God that Robert Lowry, who wrote “My Life Flows on in Endless Song,” was called to that. Thank God that our Minister of Music and our choir are called to that. People who have the spiritual gift of music are those who are especially called to create music that glorifies God and changes lives, those who are especially called to give our hearts the words, give our hearts the notes, give our hearts the songs to sing in response to God’s love.

choir-305352

And the rest of us are just called to sing out however we can, with whatever voices we have, with whatever songs we have, in response to the God who is always, always with us. The God who saves us. The God who loves us.

            The peace of Christ makes fresh my heart,
a fountain ever springing!
All things are mine since I am his!
How can I keep from singing?
No storm can shake my inmost calm
while to that Rock I’m clinging.
Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth,
how can I keep from singing?

 

Amen.