This is a meditation I finished writing today on Psalm 126 for Bruce Benedict and his Cardiphonia, a fantastic resource for liturgists. It's no small thing that I pulled together the final thoughts and edits today, the day my little girl, Merritt Terese was born. Susanna and I have lost three other babies over the past three years. Our first baby was lost at 20 weeks, very rough. The other two remind us of that first intense pain. We've been through such darkness and grief. I didn't realize how much I was writing about Merritt's birth until today. Susanna has written a long essay about her journey through our losses that I hope I can direct your attention to some time soon. For now, please join us in celebrating the God who does "great things for us." The following picture was taken within minutes of her birth.
July 14, 2017
Gary G. is a man I’ve come to admire. Gary is a juvenile offender. He committed his crimes in the early 1970’s. Gary has been in prison a few years longer than I have been alive. To make a long story short, Gary has some legal reasons to believe that he might have a chance of being released some day. Though a few days ago he told me that his most recent appeal was rejected. I volunteer in the prison and know Gary quite well. I’ve been astonished by his hope, by the smile he continues to wear when I have sat with him the past three years. Gary has become something of a hero for me. His calm, inquisitive, thoughtful demeanor is comforting, yet I find myself wanting to help Gary experience the pain of his situation. I want to give him permission to weep.
God can be deeply involved in our tears, if we let him.
Have you wept recently over anything? If yes, what are you spilling your tears over? What have you lost? Or consider, how is your fortune? What is the status of your life’s work? Said differently: what and who have you been investing in? And how is that going for you? Is your life today what you had expected it to become, or has time and circumstance broken into your life like a pair of bandits to rob your hopes and dreams?
Even if you are not personally experiencing tragedy, one perennial question especially for today is whether or not there is more to weep over now than ever before. Opening ourselves to the tragedy around us can teach us to weep. Social media brings suffering ever closer to our consciousness. Today you need to work pretty hard to keep your head in the sand to avoid the news of public shootings, violence done by police, violence done to police, corporate fraud and conspiracy, political scandal, political strife, hate crimes, racism, terrorism, war.... And then there’s the violence being done to our earth, the abuses of our water, soil, and air.
So, are the times getting worse or better? Is there today more pain and suffering, confusion, struggle and fear than ever before? If you have paused to consider this question, you know this question is more than an intellectual puzzle. If you let it, this question can burn through your heart and down into your guts.
If not your own pain, you can allow tears to flow because of the suffering around you. When you share in other’s suffering, you will likely enter a new level of your own suffering with tears of disillusionment: the world is not what we thought it was. The fortunes of the earth have been squandered. The safety and peace of the earth is not secure. Life is precarious. Our world is precarious.
This is the bad news. This is what Jesus has come to save us from. We misunderstand the Gospel when we pretend that suffering does not exist. Instead we surrender to the crucible of faith and face the darkness with open eyes, waiting and watching for the movements of a Lord who will do “great things for us.” In posturing our hearts toward such a Deliverer, our tears will become prayer. Lamentation is not giving into despair or grumbling or hard heartedness. In Jesus, lamentation is quite the opposite. We sow our tears in a soil of faith speaking honestly to a God who actually hears us, and somehow all the meaninglessness of suffering becomes meaningful.
He desires to restore your fortunes with a steady river of goodness, so much goodness that you will need to ask someone to pinch you. I’m so surprised, you’ll say. I had no idea his love was so faithful, you’ll say. This is beyond anything I could have asked for or imagined. Salvation will spring up from the ground like a bumper crop of goodness. Your tears will be replaced with laughter, and you’ll emphatically know: he has done it. He has done great things for you.