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Rhythms of loss

The song that I invite you to focus on today is actually a third of the very short book attributed to Habakkuk, a much lesser prophet to the people of Jerusalem then Jeremiah, who was also active at about the same time.

His rather unattractive name (my boys always get the giggles), in Hebrew, may actually come from the word for “hug” or “hang on tightly” and, in this final song of the Old Testament, that’s exactly what he does – he hangs on to his faith in God.

This particular song is a prayer – written for the director of music to be played on stringed instruments on “shigionoth” – by wandering, by improvising. As you read the words for the very first time, as those musicians did, try to imagine the mood and volume of the music that would accompany it.  

Lord, I have heard of your fame;
I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord.
Repeat them in our day,
in our time make them known;
in wrath remember mercy.

God came from Teman,
the Holy One from Mount Paran.
His glory covered the heavens
and his praise filled the earth.
His splendour was like the sunrise;
rays flashed from his hand,
where his power was hidden.

Plague went before him;
pestilence followed his steps.
He stood, and shook the earth;
he looked, and made the nations tremble.
The ancient mountains crumbled
and the age-old hills collapsed—
but he marches on forever.

I saw the tents of Cushan in distress,
the dwellings of Midian in anguish.
Were you angry with the rivers, Lord?
Was your wrath against the streams?
Did you rage against the sea
when you rode your horses
and your chariots to victory?

You uncovered your bow,
you called for many arrows.
You split the earth with rivers;
the mountains saw you and writhed.
Torrents of water swept by;
the deep roared
and lifted its waves on high.

Sun and moon stood still in the heavens
at the glint of your flying arrows,
at the lightning of your flashing spear.
In wrath you strode through the earth
and in anger you threshed the nations.
You came out to deliver your people,
to save your anointed one.

You crushed the leader of the land of wickedness,
you stripped him from head to foot.
With his own spear you pierced his head
when his warriors stormed out to scatter us,
gloating as though about to devour
the wretched who were in hiding.
You trampled the sea with your horses,
churning the great waters.

I heard and my heart pounded,
my lips quivered at the sound;
decay crept into my bones,
and my legs trembled.
Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity
to come on the nation invading us.Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.

The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to tread on the heights.

Habakkuk 3, NIV

Reflect for a moment:

  • How does this song compare to the songs you like to sing?
  • Why do you think it is significant enough to appear in Scripture?
  • Do you find anything about the song challenging or confronting?
  • What is the mood? And does it shift as the song progresses?

Before writing this powerful and, again, rather confronting song that declares Habakkuk’s unshakeable faith in a majestic and forceful God no matter what may befall him, this very minor prophet had been questioning God relentlessly regarding the corruption and lawlessness of Israel’s society, the increasing prosperity of the rich, and the anguished suffering of the poor.

How long must I call to you for help without you listening?

With so much evil going on in the world, with no able to do something to stop it, why don’t you get involved? 

When will you intervene to punish oppression and expose idolatry? 

Why are you delaying your promised kingdom? 

I don’t know if he liked the answer – those who have built their livelihood through oppression and violence will have their houses plundered; those who have brought about the shame of others will find that it’s their own turn to be disgraced. This was the judgement of God – first, against the Israelites; then, against the Babylonians who would invade, violate, and enslave them for a period of time. 

When we look at the state of the world around us in this season, we too may want to hang onto God with all those questions – questions about justice, the decisions that people make for power and profit, whose lives matter most, about the intrusion of the brokenness of our world into our own personal circumstances through disease and violence and stress and conflict, about the presence or absence of God in the midst of all …

… the loss of dignity…
… the loss of capacity… 
… the loss of company … 
… the loss of significance … 
… the loss of love …
… the loss of life …

I don’t know how easily my own heart would sing that song … “I will wait patiently for the day to come …” though there’s no food, no wine, no oil, no meat “I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Saviour.” 

I don’t want to struggle. 
I don’t want to feel pain.
I don’t want to have my heart broken.
I don’t want to lose someone I love. 
I don’t want to be bullied.
I don’t want to do without. 
I don’t want to worry about where my next meal is coming from. 

But what do we learn about God if we look beyond our own little lives and wants to the violent and escalating rhythm of loss in our world in this season? 

When we hear the anger and the mourning and the desperation and the wondering and the grasping, grasping, grasping for God, for help, for someone to make it stop, for some way to make sense of it all, what do we learn about the universal human need for salvation and a kingdom of perfect peace and justice for all? 

And how does that move us, shape us, challenge us, change us? 

May we grasp on to that this week. 

And may God’s passion and purpose for this world take hold of us so that loss can meet love – again and again and again and again and again – through us.

Rhythms of grace: seasons of suffering

The invitation to prayer this week is taken from Tess Ward’s book “The Celtic Wheel of the Year,” combined with images for silent contemplation and a song. Enter the quiet and may the Spirit of God speak to you in this season. 

Praise to you O Divine Love,
for though you never ordain suffering,
you help us to make sense of love’s purpose when hardship befalls.
Reveal the meaning of this time that you have gifted to us.
Help us so to trust you in every season, we may say:
Praise to you.

Beirut blast …
Air India crash …
COVID-19 deaths … burial of unclaimed bodies …
USA protests …
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Whatever loss or struggle you have gone/are going through …

Be still in the silence and aware of the Love with and within …

<A candle is lit if you have one at hand>

Loving God,
you have loved us through every season,
from the time of our birth, until our time to die.
Walk with us in our season this day, for you know there is
a time for wounding and a time to heal,
a time to mourn and a time to celebrate,
a time to be creative and a time to survive,
a time to surrender and a time to rebel,
a time to embrace and a time to be self-contained,
a time to speak and a time to keep silence,
a time to be there and a time to stay away,
a time to take charge and a time to let be,
a time to reach beyond and a time to consolidate,
a time to be moderate and a time to be outrageous,
a time to be anxious and a time to be at peace,
a time to stay and a time to move on,
a time to care and a time to be cared for,
a time to generate and a time to lose,
a time to love and time to let go. 
Bear us through this time, you who bear our pain and longing.
Let us hear your voice whispering,
“All is sacred. It is your time.”

Tuesday: take time to grieve

Today, I conducted my first funeral in this unsettling time of social isolation. It is a tough time to grieve. Both for the less than 10 who are able to gather together and for those unable to offer the comfort of physical presence and support. 

It felt appropriate for this time of excruciating grief to use the Gospel story from this past Sunday for the darkness of death and the hope of resurrection are central to the Christian faith. 

So just a few thoughts for those working through grief and loss at the moment ….

Unlike the other texts, in John’s Gospel (chapter 20, verses 1 to 18) it seems as though Mary is alone at the tomb – there in the dark of dawn and the deeper darkness of her heart ache and sorrow. 

She was one of the eye-witnesses to Jesus’s slow and agonising death on the cross and those images lie heavily upon her – along with the rawness of her grief and the empty unimagined future that lies ahead of her and, in fact, all of the disciples. 

When she discovers that the stone has been rolled away, she does not think immediately of all the promises and prophecies that Jesus would die and – in three days – rise again but simply that in this very broken and unfair world that she has experienced of late someone has hidden his body so that they cannot grieve, they cannot remember, they cannot worship as they would like.

When she goes to the room where the others are staying safe behind closed doors, looking for comfort, looking for help, Peter and John run off ahead of her. And, once they have discovered that what she has said is true – that the body is gone – they return to their sanctuary.

Mary, alone, stays in the cold and lifeless place, the empty place, overwhelmed by her tears.

In the immediacy of death, our sorrow often feels completely overwhelming as we wrestle with the loss of the physical presence of a person we loved dearly, process some of the unresolved emotions and brokenness of relationships that occur, and ask deep questions about the eternal. 

There will come a time when we will be able to remember and laugh at how a loved one brought life alive for us; when the tears do not blur our ability to look at the past and at the future and see clearly that they remain present with us in every moment.

But, on that first day of waking up to a new reality, it really hurts. It hurts to no longer hold on to the one we have lost. It hurts that his or her body no longer draws breath. It hurts that they, like so many of our hopes and dreams, have been turned to dust to be returned to the earth and the eternity of God.

As resurrection people, I believe that God would have us take time to acknowledge the darkness, to feel the loss of those loves and lights that have been of great significance in our lives, to let the tears come, and the questions weigh heavily upon us.

In our grief we can take the time that we need knowing that there is a change in this Scripture story when Jesus calls Mary by her name and Mary, in turn, names him by the essence of who he is and what he means to her: “Rabboni” or “Teacher.” 

Death cannot deny or destroy the intimacy of lives so long shared. 

It does not have the final word. 

The darkness will turn to dawn. 

The stone will be rolled away. 

The stories will change from the anguished, “I don’t know where they have put him” to “I have seen the Lord.” 

For those who are mourning in strange ways in this moment, 
may you know that the same arms which welcome your loved one 
into God’s eternal peace, 
bear you through the sorrows 
and the longings of the time to come. 
In your memories, 
may his or her life star always shine bright. 
In your hearts, 
may their love always be in full bloom.

With much love,
Yvonne

Saturday: undone

As I sit down in the silent gloom of this morning, I am deeply aware that, for many, this is a time of great loss and loneliness. 

For some, the grief is raw and fresh; for others, it is a deep ache that has settled within their bones over many years. 

For some, tears flow freely; while others choke on bitterness and anger and regret.

For some, what must be let go of makes room for something new tomorrow; for others, there is no sense of being able to go on tomorrow without the one that they have lost. 

For myself, in this moment of darkness in which I reflect on my own life in light of a body sealed, cold and breathless, in a borrowed tomb … 

I dip my hands 
into the pool of tears,
and let each unwept drop 
drip
from my fingertips.
Their ripples shimmer
across my calm reflection
until, 
at last, 
I am undone. 

May we be undone on this black Saturday 
in the knowledge that, gently, God goes with us 
until the rains are over and gone
and the winter of our grief is past. 

Sending much love,
Yvonne