Pilgrim Notes

Reflections along the way.

The Future is Created through Sacrifice

Image by Vinoth Chandar (used by permission via Creative Commons).

Jeremiah sees a vision of hope, a vision of restoration. He sees a time when, “Jerusalem will become a name of joy and praise and pride for all the nations on earth to see; when they hear of all the prosperity that I shall give, they will be seized with fear and trembling at all the prosperity and the peace that I provide for it.” (Je 33:9)

His words bear witness to God’s promise that the people of God will be restored and that the promises of God will be fulfilled. He declares this word of hope while be held captive in the court of the guard. He will soon be brutally thrown down into a well and left for dead. Rescued from the well, he will behold the fall of his beloved homeland and the destruction of Jerusalem. Eventually, he will be driven away from his home and into Egypt where he will die.

Jeremiah’s vision of hope is not for himself. It is given to future generations, to us and to others. He will live through the full brunt of God’s judgment on a faithless nation though he has been God’s servant, declaring the Word of the Lord to the people. Many faithful people, like Jeremiah, laid the foundation for a future world and sacrificed the satisfaction of their lives for a future hope, for a world yet to be born.

As I reflect on Jeremiah’s story, I hear the words from Hebrews, “And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, “since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.” (Heb 11:39–40)

These saints laid down their lives in response to God’s call but also for those who would come after them. They played a role in creating the future. Jesus comes as the perfect sacrifice, whose life poured out death and taken up in resurrection becomes our redemption, our hope, our life. Paul tells us that we should “look not only to our own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” (Php 2:4–7)

We may not suffer the loss and abandonment of Jeremiah, and yet we learn through him that the future is created through sacrifice. I fear that we live in an age that tends to ignore the past and abandon the future. Even our spiritual reflections often focus on personal goals, personal achievement, and personal fulfillment. We must not live only for self-fulfillment, for our own interests. We also are called to lay down our lives. After the great chapter on saints of faith, the writer of Hebrews calls us to “run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb 12:1–2)

As we follow the Lord, may our lives be poured out for those around us, those behind us, and even those yet to come.

The Lord Remembers

Two psalms linger in my heart long after the morning prayers: one asking God to remember and one trusting in His provision.

Psalm 9 reminds me of the long memory of the Lord. The Creator and Judge of the world hears and remembers the cry of the oppressed.

For the needy shall not always be forgotten 
and the hope of the poor shall not perish forever. (Psalm 9:18)

Then in 147, the psalmist juxtaposes the image of the Lord numbering and naming each star alongside the image of the Lord gathering the brokenhearted and satisfying their desire.

As I enter the morning traffic, I hear these ancient songs continuing to plead before the Lord. Over millennia after these prayers were composed and uttered during the worship of God’s people, the cry still ascends. The prayers echo in the hearts and mouths of people from age to age and across the families and languages of the world.

I am haunted by voices I cannot hear and the faces of those I cannot see who suffer in the dark, outside the public eye both in my community and in our world. Recent headlines remind us that people suffer abuse and fear at all levels of society. Cries of desperation or moans of anguish lift up from the crumbling neighborhoods and the gated subdivisions.

As my imagination lingers over the prayer of remembrance, I see the enslaved, the lonely, the hungry, the sick, and the imprisoned. I think of the aging waitress who works long days with little to show for her efforts. I also hear afresh Richard Wurmbrand’s description of political prisoners who suffer extreme cold and extreme heat and often work themselves to death. I know there are untold numbers of people held in prisons unjustly, suffering, forgotten, and dying alone.

The Psalmist proclaims that the Lord hears these cries. The Lord hears and remembers. The same Creator who spoke every star into being knows each of these dear ones intimately, and he will not abandon them. He remembers and will gather them unto himself. He will satisfy their needs.

As I think about His faithfulness, I am aware of my lack, my unfaithfulness. How does this pray take shape in my hands? Once again, I think about how these ancient prayers come to life in each age, in each person, in each act. How the move toward justice in the people of God has grown out of prayer and not in opposition to prayer.

May my actions carry this prayer for the oppressed into this world of hurt. May I live toward the hope of His redeeming purpose in this world with ears to listen to the stories of downtrodden, eyes ready to behold the forsaken, hands offered to serve and give to the weak and worn-down, and feet walking into the injustices of this world with peace, goodness, and mercy.

I join my voice and heart with this cry from the Daily Prayers:

Compassionate God,
as you know each star you have created,
so you know the secrets of every heart;
in your loving mercy bring to your table
all who are fearful and broken,
all who are wounded and needy,
that our hungers may be satisfied
in the city of your peace;
through Christ who is our peace.

Image by Neil Moralee (used by permission via Creative Commons).

Breathing

Elder Meditating His Life Watch The WaterThe whole world seems out of breath, gasping between the frenzied moments. The darkness of night crackles, buzzes, beeps and blinks. Compulsive news binging. Emergencies from every corner of the globe pulse through our minds. Currents of chaos fill the waking hours. I cannot remember why I got up. I cannot remember who got up.

One argument gives way to another argument gives way to another protest gives way to teeth set on edge. Hands clenched. Backs arched. Joy banished: thrown down into a dry well. Heart pulsing to the drums of doom, more doom, and a little more doom.

I cannot hear the whispers. I cannot hear the sound of music in shuddering silence.

Pause. Watch. Wait. Listen

In the gentle susurration of breathing, I return to the simplicity of prayer. Inhaling, “Lord.” Exhaling, “Mercy.” Lord. Mercy. Lord. Mercy. Lord. Mercy.

Stilling heart and mind before the All. The Holy. The Word who fills His forms with breath, life.

Teach me, Lord, to speak one true word, one seed swirling in light and not a thousand pounds of crushing concrete.

Or simply let me breathe.

The steady hum of remote cars
like waves upon the shore.
It is afternoon
and a certain stillness lulls
the day through siesta.
Breeze creeps silently
across the lawn
like a child waking from nap.
Distant birdsongs drift through air
Soft echoes from the morning uproar.
I feel the gentleness across my skin, my neck.
Ever so briefly,
I breathe in the never-ending symphony
Of heaven and earth
Then return to rush of traffic.

Our songs take flight like fireflies
Disrupting dark skies
With flashes of joy.
Just beyond the wall
Of blackness
Glory.

A Song in the Shadow

dancingshadowBehold, you have made my days a few handbreadths,
and my lifetime is as nothing before you.
Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath! Selah
6  Surely a man goes about as a shadow!
Ps 39:5–6.

Just a moment, just a twinkling of an eye, and I’ll be gone. Forgotten. A mere breath. A shadow.

At first, I feel completely insignificant. A speck of nothingness before the vastness. I feel that empty sinking feeling of gazing into the galaxies beyond number, containing billions and even trillions of stars in each galaxy. In light of the immeasurable creation, I am less than a blink.

With the Psalmist I acknowledge, the utter evanescence of my existence. The Psalmist beholds the glory of God and the vapor of human life together. Instead of despair, he finds hope.

And now, O Lord, for what do I wait?
My hope is in you. Ps 39:7.

This little prayer, prayed ages ago is still ringing, singing in my ears.

Oh what cause for joy! I am so minuscule, so minor, so fleeting, and yet, I am here. In His good pleasure, He did create me. He sang His life into me and my heart still pounds with the dance.

The God beyond measure gathers me, you, and all His people up in His love, His grace, His utterly surprising creation.

Yes, we are frail and fading, but we are here in this blink, this breath, this shadowed moment. So we rejoice, we rest in Him.

We hope. We trust that He remembers us and will remember us and will remember us and will continue remembering us as we rise, in just a moment, to the fullness of His glory.

Sliding Shadow image by Annalisa Antonini (used by permission by Creative Commons).

Behold Your Salvation is Near

dawninday

For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. (Romans 13:11–12)

On some nights, the fog of fear and doubt bewitch the mind and torment the heart. We can be trapped in a moment of anguish that feels like ages. For some people, this moment extends to days, weeks, even years. In C.S. Lewis’s novel, The Silver Chair, the prince has been bewitched by the dark Queen of the Underland. He forgets who he is and becomes her slave. When the children try to rescue him, the Queen tries to seduce them and soon they are ready to doubt the sun, the world above, and the hope beyond them. They are falling under her spell.

The constant bombardment of dark news and sad stories can quickly convince us that darkness is rising and the light is fading. Continue reading

Beginning the Advent Journey

adventThe year begins in darkness. Long nights, short days. We gather before the dawn–in the dark of human struggles and fears and loss. What lies ahead? What obstacles may block our way? Will we lose our way in the valley of the shadow of death? Night terrors haunt our days with division and distrust all around us. The nation is shouting. Brother against brother. Fathers and sons turning apart. Our country and even our world seem doomed to repeat another year of anger and hatred; another year of striving. Continue reading

Murmuring the Psalms

psalms

It’s 1:30 in the morning, and I sit soaking in the old familiar Psalms. During the quiet of the night, ancient songs wash over me, renew me and gently lead me back to sleep. These same phrases have quieted my soul for decades. Little phrases linger in my mind, “Teach me your way O Lord, that I may walk in your truth”; “Give light to my eyes or I shall fall into the sleep of death”; and the simple “Bless the Lord O my soul.” In nights of distress, days of darkness and even moments of pure joy, these Psalms give articulation to my stammering heart. Continue reading

On Meeting

sharing

“On almost every occasion when I have met somebody, I have met somebody else.” – G.K. Chesterton

“All real living is meeting.” – Martin Buber

When my dad was just a boy, his father took him to the TN Valley Fair. They were sharing a bag of peanuts and walking. His dad walked up to a stranger and offered some peanuts. He grabbed a handful. In a few minutes, they were swapping stories, laughing and becoming friends. My dad told me that story again and again and again. Continue reading

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