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Stars

Today marks my 44th birthday and our 3rd year in Australia. There will be no cake or candles; no family birthday dinner; not much time at home even. Which is very unlike how we normally celebrate. 

Instead there will be much meaningful “work” – at my dining room table and, later, at a kitchen table in one of the regional congregations with whom I serve through God’s grace and to God’s glory – as we wrestle through the concerns and challenges and practicalities and opportunities of re-gathering within our various communities in the coming months.

It is a deep joy to be able to spend today in conversation with people who display passion and wisdom and humility and care – for one another and for those to whom they embody the encircling love of God. 

It is a far greater joy to know that we are not in this alone but are, ourselves, encircled in a Love so high and wide and deep and long that it cannot be contained by our often-limited language or thinking or overcome by even the darkest circumstances of our lives. 

Today, I’m getting back to a practice long forgotten: that of picking a “theme song” for the year – something to hold on to, a compass for my course, a bright star in the sky that holds steady through the ups and downs that each new day may bring ….

May you know, this day and always, that the One who holds the stars knows your name. https://www.youtube.com/embed/NtzrLpxM298?version=3&rel=1&fs=1&autohide=2&showsearch=0&showinfo=1&iv_load_policy=1&wmode=transparent

You spoke a word and life began
Told oceans where to start and where to end
You set in motion time and space
But still You come and You call to me by name
But still You come and You call to me by name

If You can hold the stars in place
You can hold my heart the same
Whenever I fall away
Whenever I start to break
So here I am, lifting up my heart
To the one who holds the stars

The deepest depths, the darkest nights
Can’t separate, can’t keep me from Your sight
I get so lost, forget my way
But still You love and You don’t forget my name

If You can hold the stars in place
You can hold my heart the same
Whenever I fall away
Whenever I start to break
So here I am, lifting up my heart

If You can calm the raging sea
You can calm the storm in me
You’re never too far away
You never show up too late
So here I am, lifting up my heart
To the one who holds the stars

Your love has called my name
What do I have to fear?
What do I have to fear?
Your love has called my name
What do I have to fear?
What do I have to fear?

If You can hold the stars in place
You can hold my heart the same
Whenever I fall away
Whenever I start to break
So here I am, lifting up my heart (lifting up my heart)

If You can calm the raging sea
You can calm the storm in me
You’re never too far away
You never show up too late
So here I am, lifting up my heart
To the one who holds the stars

You’re the one who holds the stars 

“Stars” by Skillet … from the movie “The Shack”

Thursday: can you feel the love?

This is a very unusual pick for a song to share today, but bear with me ….

I first saw Disney’s The Lion King as a very young woman of eighteen who was just starting out on the adventure – and sometimes misadventure – that is love and dating. This movie marked that special moment when I became someone’s girlfriend for the very first time and suddenly had to grapple with what it meant to share myself with another. (I didn’t do it very well, I must admit!)

Many years later, I sat quite contentedly with a child – my child! – nestled in my arms as we saw the story being brought to life on stage. It was pure magic!

Looking at my two young men this morning, there is part of me that wants to turn back time, to make them small again so that I can steal kisses and cuddles whenever I like, to do certain things better and other things exactly the way that we did them before, to slow down and take time to imprint every moment clearly on my memory … in preparation for the growing up and letting go and moving on that is a natural part of many family life cycles. 

So, today, I’m feeling nostalgic and, as restrictions start to relax, there are some who are SO ready for life to “get back to normal” and others who wish that they could just have a few more months free of social obligations and never-finished to-do lists ….

This song speaks truth in a way that still puts a smile on my face: nothing stays the same, the world moves on. Yet, how magical are those moments when all seems to be in harmony and at peace and we are able to lean into them and be our authentic selves. 

In the many moments that are neither harmonious nor peaceful, may we still feel the great love of the Divine enfolding us and holding us right where we are.

Enjoy!

Today’s song has long spoken into the very depths of my heart of the presence of God in the high and low places of my life. 

When I am down, and, oh, my soul, so weary
When troubles come, and my heart burdened be
Then, I am still and wait here in the silence
Until you come and sit awhile with me

You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains
You raise me up to walk on stormy seas
I am strong when I am on your shoulders
You raise me up to more than I can be ….

You raise me up, today’s version performed by Josh Groban

It evokes, particularly, memories of many trips down from the inland plateau of the Highveld in which Johannesburg is located to the southern coast of Kwa-zulu Natal – for family holidays (both as a child and as a parent), formation for ministry, and silent retreat.

The long drive alone was often a wonderful time of contemplation and quiet as I watched the rolling plains give way to flat fields of wheat and sunflowers to the steep and winding pass through the mountains. 

Always, I would stop for a cup of coffee and to stretch my legs just off of Van Reenen’s Pass … and to get my playlist ready for the next part of the journey. Always this song would play (very, very loudly and on repeat) as my eyes took in the wondrous beauty of God’s good creation in its green and browns and the play of light and dark on the open hills and leafy valleys.

Always, the words of the Psalmist would come to mind:

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord, 
the Maker of heaven and earth. 

Psalm 121:1-2, New International Version

As you listen, may you feel the hands of God enfold you gently,
offering you sufficient help for this day, 
and leading you into life in the wide open spaces
of mercy and grace.

Thursday: in the cross

Well, it’s Thursday already. 

It’s been a morning of running errands that were postponed until the end of Holy Week and of trying to make inroads into the 109 hours that still remain for the learner driver in the house. I am aware of the unread mails and messages lurking behind this (once) almost blank screen and of the rumbling in my belly that says it’s nearly time to do something about lunch. 

How quickly life returns to normal; shifts from the sacred back into the ordinary. And how hard it is to hold on to the passion of Easter and the Good News message of God’s great love for the world when there are practical things that need to be done. 

So … the song I’d like to share with you today is one that I grew up singing in church on Sundays. Even though it’s from the Methodist Hymn Book (number 199), I call it a song because the version below is not at all “hymny” and I love it! 

In our busyness, 
in our dailyness,
in our brokenness,
may Christ keep us close to the cross.

***

Jesus, keep me near the Cross;
There a precious fountain,
Free to all, a healing stream,
Flows from Calvary’s mountain.

In the Cross, in the Cross,
Be my glory ever; 
Till my raptured soul shall find
Rest beyond the river.

Near the Cross, a trembling soul,
Love and mercy found me;
There the bright and morning star
Shed its beams around me.

In the Cross, in the Cross,
Be my glory ever;
Till my raptured soul shall find
Rest beyond the river.

Near the Cross, O Lamb of God,
Bring its scenes before me;
Help me walk from day to day,
With its shadow oe’r me.

In the Cross, in the Cross,
Be my glory ever;
Till my raptured soul shall find
Rest beyond the river.

Near the Cross I’ll watch and wait,
Hoping, trusting ever,
Till I reach the golden strand,
Just beyond the river.

In the Cross, in the Cross,
Be my glory ever;
Till my raptured soul shall find
Rest beyond the river.Methodist Hymn Book 199 – Frances Jane van Alstyne

Monday: sanctuary

There is a beautiful song that is usually offered on Easter Sunday evening – a song that is rarely heard after sunrise services and easter egg hunts and roasts with families have left our hearts full and our bodies ready for bed. 

It’s a song that acknowledges the painful history of the people of God – of immigrants, exiles, and slaves. 

It’s a song of the homeless. Of the wanderer. Of the displaced. Of the thirsty – for whom God turns the hard rock into springs of water. 

When Israel came out of Egypt,
Jacob from a people of foreign tongue,
Judah became God’s sanctuary,
Israel his dominion.
The sea looked and fled,
the Jordan turned back;
the mountains leaped like rams,
the hills like lambs.
Why was it, sea, that you fled?
Why, Jordan, did you turn back?
Why, mountains, did you leap like rams,
you hills, like lambs?
Tremble, earth, at the presence of the Lord,
at the presence of the God of Jacob,
who turned the rock into a pool,
the hard rock into springs of water.

Psalm 114, New International Version

This Easter Monday, we rejoice in the Good News that Christ is risen.

But, for those who still find themselves in the hard place, may you know in that still, small space where hope hesitantly holds on that you are the sanctuary of God. 

May God “split open boulders and bring up bubbling water” day by day as we seek to live as people of the resurrection.

Tune in on Thursdays

One of the great gifts that I am discovering in this new time are the “tunes” that really talk to my heart – some pretty ancient and powerful, and some freshly penned as people give expression to the lament and the longing of the world right now. 

This morning I flipped through my granny’s old Methodist hymn book – complete with pencil scribbles – until I came to 431: Love Divine. This was the hymn that I chose before offering my public testimony to God’s continued call upon my life to be ordained as a minister of Word and Sacrament, with the middle verse sung in isiXhosa in recognition of the great diversity of God’s people. It will also, one day in the very far future I hope, be sung at my mom’s funeral.

This Thursday, I offer the words to you to reflect on: words which bind me in this present moment to a past that speaks of God’s faithfulness and a future which is full of promise; words which speak of a Church that crosses oceans and transcends time; words which call us to the kind of love that transforms us from the inside out. 

Love divine, all loves excelling,
Joy of heaven, to earth come down;
Fix in us Thy humble dwelling,
All Thy faithful mercies crown:
Jesu, Thou art all compassion,
Pure, unbounded love Thou art;
Visit us with Thy salvation,
Enter every trembling heart.

Come, almighty to deliver,
Let us all Thy grace receive;
Suddenly return, and never,
Never more Thy temple leave:
Thee we would be always blessing,
Serve Thee as Thy hosts above,
Pray, and praise Thee, without ceasing,
Glory in Thy perfect love.

Finish then Thy new creation,
Pure and spotless let us be;
Let us see Thy great salvation,
Perfectly restored in Thee;
Changed from glory into glory,
Til in heaven we take our place,
Till we cast our crowns before Thee,
Lost in wonder, love, and praise.

Charles Wesley, 1707-1788

Or, if you’d like to listen:

I wonder, what song is in your heart at the moment? You might want to take a minute to comment on this post or to send me an email (yvonne@liturgies4life.com) so that it can be included in a future “Tune in on Thursdays.”

Yours in Christ
Yvonne