Song of the Ages, Pt I: The God Who is Near

     Confronted by my weakness in every aspect of my being, I sat dejected and desperate this Christmas Eve morning in my bathroom.

     “God, help me! I am in pain. I feel unable to control even my own thoughts”, I wrestled internally.

     Surgeries, medication, doctor visits, MANY doctor visits, had brought me more questions than answers, “God, where are you?” I questioned.  Please, I cannot go on like this.  I know you are real, I’ve seen you at work over the years, in my life, in our family, but what of now?  What of this?  Where are you?”  The last question hung in the air, for I knew that my own devotion had fallen off.  I was not doing the things that I had done at first, the things I knew to do.

     crying-out1So, I opened my mouth and voiced my petition, instead of just thinking them. I felt immediate relief, however small.  Solid ground — the sound of my own voice calling out to the God who is there — was like a patch of ground to stand on in the swampy morass that tended to be my brain in the early hours of morning, as the effects of fluctuating hormones, pain and semi-sleeplessness drove me desperate from my bed to the bathroom to get a grip.

     My ceaseless, anxious thoughts — C.S. Lewis’ mad dogs, my despised bedfellows in the wee hours of my middle-age mornings — had followed me into the bathroom.

“God, you are the Great Shepherd, right?  You keep your own.  I get it, about the brokenness of our physical bodies due to the fall, physical illness being just a part of the human journey to be coped with — You may or may not heal …but this struggle with my mind is another story. Your Word tells me that ‘None can pluck us from your Hands’. That must mean You are in this, somehow. I am not left to the devices of my enemy”.

     My thoughts raced again, collided and fell apart in scrambled heaps on the floor of my ‘menopausally’addled brain.  This frame of mind was not new to me.  I recalled previous seasons of panic and anxiety that had held me hostage for months.  I remembered having been just as desperate then for relief, and the similar vein of prayers.  Yet, here I now sat unable to recall exactly how or even when I had emerged from previous sloughs of despond and fear. I despaired afresh over my carelessness, my inattention that had let my mind drift from the truth.  I cast about in my head trying to regain a thread with which to lash my mind to the mast of the tossing boat that had again become my world.

     I was not even being able to fain control, unable to be that duck: calm on the surface but paddling like crazy below.  The battle resumed inward, “What of the list of believers (growing to my knowledge) who apparently wound up in error and or shipwreck — Hannah Hurnard, and hymn writer Nahum Tate, my most recent and troubling discoveries. Are you not able to keep our minds?” I questioned.  Yet even as I recalled the Faithful who suffered with depression: the Spurgeons and Mrs. David Livingstones, preachers, missionaries, writers of great hymns who yet suffered mentally, physically and emotionally?  I felt panic rising, and groped for a cord of truth to steady myself — “I have not sold my children a bill of goods about You.  I know you are real, and that You care.  Save me!  Save my soul!”  I whispered my scream in the early quiet.

     Aslan-Shasta2From the corners of my mind, quiet witnesses from the Scriptures began to speak up.  Jesus’ words to the disciples when they had asked about people who had died due to falling towers and the vindictive actions of Rome’s tyranny, and to Peter when he had asked about the destiny of the apostle John — Your answer: “What is it to you?” Essentially, “Mind your own life story”.  C.S. Lewis set that principle to classic allegorical narrative in His Narnia series, ‘The Horse and His Boy’ volume. “I speak to you only of your own story”, the great Christ figure, Aslan the Lion, had explained to the young character when he had questioned Aslan’s seemingly harsh dealings with another.

     I turned my heart to consider the most recent pages of my story …words, thoughts, songs, insight given as I had read and reflected on Scripture; ideas that had comforted and given perspective.  A song written earlier in the week had been cycling, again and again in my head, like a playground taunt as I tossed sleepless.  I could not turn it off. “You, write a song?” My enemy taunted, “Those ideas, thoughts, worth anyone else’s time or attention?  How ostentatious!  How helpful they have been to you right now?  Is this a trustworthy brand of truth?” The vile voices argued that I was living a lie — that I was incapable of living the truths my mind apprehended in the Holy Bible.

“Join the song of the Ages,

Join the dots, look at history’s pages.

Jesus Christ, Sovereign One, Straddling time, Son of David, God’s

own Son!” *

The song persisted, nonetheless.

     Resolutely, I turned on the Bible App on my iPad and clicked to my current reading passage in Genesis, where the Song of the Ages starts.  I had recently begun reading again, from the beginning, determined to fill in the gaps I had become too comfortable living with.  Gaps the enemy now romped in, splashing me unexpectedly with doubts and unanswered questions that I feared were unanswerable.

     jesus-in-the-gardenI was at the Flood.  The Scriptures record that God, Creator God, was exceedingly troubled that He had made Man.  My mind drank in THAT contradiction — the Eternal Creator exceedingly TROUBLED.  It was the second time in my scriptural study that I had noted an unsettled emotional state being experienced by the Divine One.  Jesus, in the New Testament, as He had approached the time of His pending suffering and death on the Cross, had declared to his disciples that His soul was deeply troubled.  Jesus’ situation, I felt I had somewhat understood.  After all, He was about to bear the full weight of Mankind’s sin and separation from the Father.  I got that.  But Creator-God?  Exceedingly troubled?

     But I was forgetting that this was Father-God of the earlier chapters of my reading in Genesis, who had come down daily in Eden, in pursuit of fellowship with his children, who had watched them increase in wickedness, after the fall, to where the Scripture records in superlative terms that “EVERY thought of man’s heart was ONLY evil CONTINUALLY.”  The God whose very name and character is love, who keeps watch over mankind, is quick to hasten to the side of the one who wants to ‘walk with Him’ — Abel, Enoch, and now Noah — the only one in his generation who ‘called on the name of the Lord’ and thus found ‘grace’.  This God was emotionally invested in His interrupted fellowship with Man! I took comfort in that fact and leaned in to catch the tune the Master Composer was weaving this final day of Advent, assured that the One who wove the story of a peasant girl, grungy shepherds, and rich wise guys into Earth’s redemption plan also had a place for this dark thread of my current journey.


* These are words from a song I wrote for this blog titled Song of the Ages.  Got to my ‘Poetry‘ page to read all of the lyrics to this song.

The Faithful Fight for ‘First’

 

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I drank in the time-honored melody of the hymn as it poured over the neighborhood from the electronic bell tones of the Methodist Church. ‘Great is Thy Faithfulness’ it chimed, as I finally seated myself, breathless, on the dusty porch chair. Cup of tea, Bible, journal, pen? No. No pen but I was finally here and the battle had been fierce.

I had come awake by a telephone call from overseas; just the usual extended family check-up. Nothing major but I was awake now so might as well maximize the extra time for extended ‘Quiet Time’ (QT), I idealized. A quick love pat down the hubby’s thigh designed to say ‘Love ya’, without robbing of the few sweet minutes yet to pass before his alarm went off, I slipped out of bed for brief ablutions and finally made a beeline for the necessary cup of hot green tea.

And so began the running of the QT Gauntlet.

Bracing internally, I groaned with longing for the morn when it will just be a cake-walk: the journey to the trysting place where I am reminded of ‘what it’s all about’ and ‘Who wins ultimately’, at the end of the long day. But till then I tried to play deaf to the voice of the jacket lying on the floor calling out to me, demanding to be appropriately located on a hook in the hallway closet. A long-postponed project peeked out from a room at the end of the hall, waving at me then throwing guilt bombs. The kitchen light, left burning all night by my late-night study-ers, enticed me to grumbling displeasure and to begin composing the lecture I would later deliver on frugality and good stewardship. A bunch of over-ripe bananas waylaid me on the counter, a-peeling to be made into muffins for breakfast, ‘right then!’, ‘They can be baking while you do QT’,  they reasoned. That launched an entire barrage of assaults from the kitchen lobbyists, all proposing possible good deeds I could get going, ‘really quickly!’, that would actually help the forward movement and efficient flow of my day.

Doggedly I ignored them all, made the cup of tea, and pressed my way to the laundry room, in search of my sneakers and finally headed, with one under each arm, to the front porch. That’s when a stealth tactic seized me – muscle-memory – for before I knew what I was doing, I had set down everything and had opened the dryer door, pulled out a table-cloth (from the kitchen linen load I had put to dry the night before) and started folding. Thank God for its wrinkles, which prompted me to replace it and run the dryer again, saving me an entire folding session, then and there!

Ignoring the cat’s meow, I squatted down to strap on my sneakers and let the strong, determined tones of Lauren Daigle’s contemporary worship song ‘First!’ flood my mind,

“Fir-ir-irst! I want to seek You, I want to seek You,

Fir-ir-irst… more than anything I want, I want You first!”

Gathering my QT paraphernalia and tea, I backed out of that mine-field and broke for the front door.

The experience that greeted me was nothing short of a warrior’s welcome home. Call me hyperbolic but as soon as my rear smothered the last protesting voice – the pollen-dusty porch chair – the nearby church-bell tower suddenly pealed out over the neighborhood, in the still quiet morning:

“Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father,

There is no shadow of turning with Thee;”great-is-thy-faithfulness1I breathed, in deep thankful agreement. He is faithful, I felt like He had been there the whole-time willing me to come be with Him, and Creation’s glorious outdoors cheered along with the bells, as I showed up, despite the challenging distractions, which had caused me to turn, and turn and turn again, till finally, in the right direction, I came. The brisk wash of fresh morning air reminded me of my cuppa, and as I relaxed to enjoy a deep sip, the lines of the hymn continued to fill my mind,

“Thou changest not; Thy compassions, they fail not;

As Thou hast been, Thou forever wilt be. “

I drank in meaning as I sipped

tea and truth together: He alone is the Immutable One Who has perfect capability to be both inflexible yet full of grace, firm without crystallizing into cruel rigidity, eternally good, kind, and trustworthy, morning by morning.

Warmed by the tea, braced by the mild pre-sunrise chill and chorused by hymnodical truth, I tearfully gave thanks for the grace provided to fight the good fight another dawn, to put Him first, ‘up front and center’,

“…letting that other, larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in. And so on all day.”[1]

– C. S. Lewis

 

 

 

[1] Lewis, C. S. (1979). Mere Christianity, Book IV, Chapt 8. New York: Macmllan.

A Christmas Morning Rout

It is true, what they say, that the most important thing about you is what you believe about God, because that will determine what you believe about yourself, and will thus determine your choices, your life journey, your pursuits — the path you take.

The first chapter of the book of Romans records that God gave people over to a reprobate mind when they chose not to ‘retain the knowledge of God’. Thus, it seems awfully important to be more than casually engaged in this process of keeping a firm grasp on our knowledge of God – His character, His works, His ways, His will.

I awakened this morning carrying out an exercise which has become increasingly important to that end, (as I accumulate years and experience their deleterious effects), that is, harnessing and wrestling with thoughts to bring them in line with the truth of Scripture and God’s self-revelation there contained.

I know it is a common enough human experience to come awake, even on Christmas morning, pursued by fearsome thoughts and dreadful worry, as the day and its responsibilities loom on the horizon even as the rising sun.

The venerable C.S.Lewis himself is oft quoted on this point;

“It comes the very moment you wake up each morning. All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in. And so on, all day. Standing back from all your natural fussings and frettings; coming in out of the wind.”

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

In more recent times, the Christian community has been blest with the work of Dr. Caroline Leaf who, in almost simplistic manner, has done much to usher ‘average Joe Christians’ into an understanding of the inner workings of the physical human brain. Her work has helped to bridge the divide in our understanding between the world of Neuroscience and Christian faith and practice. The result has been an equipping of the saint to do battle with the knotty issues of besetting sins and their nascent location — our stubborn thought patterns. These simple practices have helped many in their journey towards healthy belief, giving them a practical tool to move beyond mere mental assent, or spoken faith, to real progress in sanctification.

I was reminded recently of the truth of this practice, (which Scripture calls ‘taking captive every thought to the obedience of Christ’, 2 Cor. 10:5), as I read a testimony of breakthrough from the blog of a writer friend. She described how she gained victory, over the course of a year, from a major tendency to worry and fret. In this she was aided by turning her thoughts towards a countering truth of Scripture and then physically cupping her hands, as if holding the offending negative thought, and casting it upward, away from herself and towards God as it were. I had been introduced to similar exercises by Dr. Leaf but was strengthened in my resolve to return to the exercise by my friend’s testimony.

This, no doubt, is a walking out of the teaching of the Scriptures that our warfare is not a physical one, against flesh and blood. The principalities and powers we wrestle against do battle in and for dominion of the human mind. Hence our waking moments become our most crucial, and seizing our thoughts early, our most important strategic maneuver if we would win the day.

If we would have, transformed into experience, our spoken belief in a good God who “daily loads us with benefits”, who has “freely given us all things to enjoy”, but who also has wisely provided for our brokenness — which inclines us to squander His good gifts on the lusts of our flesh, our eyes and the willful pride of the human heart, — we would do well to receive this teaching and counsel.

While the science and daily experience make obvious that the longer we live the more unable we become to change old thought patterns and hence old unhealthy practices, let there be no doubt that it is already ‘well with our souls’. These forays and skirmishes are about walking about in the freedom for which Christ has made us free, walking out what He has worked in. Phil.2 :12. So given the fact of our earth-limited lifespan, time is of the essence, as even Scripture warns that most of us will face a day when our earthly faculties will diminish regardless of the security of the glories of our eternal bodies.

“Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them;”

Ecclesiastes 12:1 KJV

As for me, as I came awake this morning wrestling with worrisome thoughts and fears, I turned my thoughts to Scripture’s truths and my heavenly Father’s promises, opening my palms and letting the fear fall out of them. A song of praise flooded in. Rising from the vulnerability of proneness on that battleground, I grabbed iPad and Bible app (hilt & blade?) and used these hands to re-route my thoughts and actions to ones of Hope, and Peace and Joy and Love, this Glorious Christmas morning, whose Worthy Subject has made this Wondrous victory possible. Happy Birthday Jesus! Welcome, today, to the throne room of my heart, my soul , my mind – Your home.