In January 1947, Hank Williams was riding in the car with his Mama coming back to Montgomery after a show. He was sleeping in the backseat of the car, when she woke him and told him, “I saw the light,” telling him that they were almost home.
This is one of the songs that sometimes get stuck in my head. I am not sure where I first heard it, but I know it was in church and in the summertime with guitars and banjos. Maybe it was at a reunion. Maybe it was at a church picnic.
Wherever it was, we were all invited to sing the chorus together:
I saw the light, I saw the light
No more darkness, no more night
Now I’m so happy no sorrow in sight
Praise the Lord I saw the light
This is the part in particular that gets stuck in my head. I find myself humming and even tapping my foot sometimes. One of the reasons it is getting stuck in my head more often right now is because there’s so much darkness. We are getting closer and closer to the long, dark days. We are surrounded by the darkness of uncertainty. We are inundated with the darkness of the death of over a million people worldwide from COVID-19.
Sometimes, I just need the reminder that I saw the light. I have witnessed and seen the way the light of the world has transformed people and continues to whisper to us.
I saw the light, I saw the light
No more darkness, no more night
Now I’m so happy no sorrow in sight
Praise the Lord I saw the light
I wasn’t prepared for the chilliness in this air this morning as I walked out the door to run. Yesterday’s run was humid and hot and I expected this morning to be the same. I knew if I didn’t just start running, I might convince myself to retreat back into the warmth.
Oh, I have certainly not been prepared before. Just last week, I found out that I had never actually purchased on our of the books for a class I am taking. The realization came the day an assignment was due. Many times as a classroom teacher, I would look at my twenty-five students only to realize I didn’t prepare for their questions or have the right materials. Even as a pastor, I have walked into Sunday morning worship and suddenly realized the person who was supposed to lead the children’s sermon was absent and have to put together a children’s sermon together. This modifying and adapting was always fun for me, like a jigsaw puzzle where pieces just needed to be put together.
But this year, I wasn’t prepared for this. has taken on a whole new meaning. I didn’t see a global pandemic coming and I had no frame of reference for understanding how deeply this would impact us all. I didn’t understand how long we would be in quarantine and I certainly didn’t understand how quickly the way we experienced so much of our lives could change. I wasn’t prepared to be a homeschool teacher or a virtual preacher.
As a person who loves a good plan, this year has taught me about my strengths and weaknesses. It has brought me to my knees as I have realized over and over again that we are ash and to ash, we shall return. It has brought me to shouting hooray as I watch the wonder and curiosity as our children discover the world and take all the newness in stride.
For the upcoming weeks, our community of faith will be wandering in the wilderness with the Israelites as we near Advent season. I am terrible with directions. So bad in fact that when I first started driving, I was instructed to check in when I left somewhere and when I arrived somewhere.
Since I started driving, I was used to getting lost and wandering around for a bit before I found my way. Most of the time, it wasn’t something that was stressful to me. It was a way of noticing the world and also a challenge to try to find my way. There’s something about not knowing where you are that makes you grateful for the people who are around you. You begin to wonder whether they will be the kind of people who can help you or not. You begin to wonder which person looks the most approachable and the most knowledgeable.
Nowadays, I get lost a lot less with apps and maps to guide me, I wander much less. Sometimes I miss those days of wandering and longing, wondering if I would ever be called to pastor a church, wondering if we would ever have children, wondering what my life would be like in five years or ten years, wondering what I would be when I grew up.
Wandering is a call to remember that we are not in control, a reminder that we are dependent on God and that we are walking this journey together. Maybe next time I head somewhere new, I’ll turn off the apps and maps and just wander for a bit.
There’s something in the air now that the seasons have changed. It is a cooler air and the wind is moving the air more quickly, but there’s something else that’s there. Something that hasn’t been a part of Fall before.
Has this ever happened to you? Have you ever been in a group or in a restaurant and suddenly the air just shifts?
That’s the kind of feeling the last two mornings have had. It reminds me of the Mary Poppins when she flies in on the air and whisks away all of the other candidates for the nanny position. Something is coming. The winds are shifting.
You may think I mean that we are coming to the end of this “new normal” or that I mean the coming election season, but it’s deeper than that more soulful than that. This is something that is shifting within people pulling them towards meaningful and intentional living. It’s almost as if we are tired of the game of charades we usually play. Tired of not being real. We just don’t have the energy for manifesting those personas with everything else we are trying to balance.
Maybe it’s settling into who we are remembering that no of us are guaranteed tomorrow? Maybe it’s the collective grief of losing over 200,000 neighbors? Maybe it’s the promise that things are changing?
If you didn’t know that we had reached this monumental number, it’s because there is so much to distract us. There is still school and work and college football to keep us occupied. Already you can see the seasonal displays in stores and on social media feeds. Everything that is trying to make us think that life is semi-normal.
But it’s not normal for 200,000 to die in six months in our country. It’s not normal to not talk about that. It’s not normal for us all to feel that collective grief and not have a place to talk about that weight and why doing simple things seems so difficult.
Two hundred thousand deaths is akin to losing the entire population of Salt Lake City or Montgomery, Ala. — a devastation.
We’ve lost the equivalent of whole cities. We’ve lost entire families to COVID-19. Whether we actively think about the deaths or not, we can feel it. We can feel the suffering of people deep within us. We may try to distract ourselves and our minds. We may try to numb ourselves from this reality, but deep within us, we know that there are other humans suffering.
Our four-year-old almost always starts his day with this question. He is so curious. He wants to know as much as he can about everything from the names and planets of Star War characters to how and why hurricanes form. He wants to learn every letter and how to spell all kinds of words. He just wants to learn.
When do we lose this innate curiosity? When do we become convinced that the way we learned something is that way everyone learned something? When do we stop wanting to learn?
Maybe it’s because I was trained as a teacher or the fact that I never taught the same grade twice, but there was always something in me that wanted to read a new book and find out about a new place. But there is a subject I would prefer not to learn more about. I have to admit when it comes to learning that I was wrong about something or that I have participated in unjust systems, there is a part of me that wants to pretend like I don’t know.
Austin Channing Brown says in her book, I’m Still Here:
Our only chance at dismantling racial injustice is being more curious about its origin than we are worried about our comfort. It’s not a comfortable conversation for any of us. It is risky and messy.
May God grant us curiosity and community to explore what we discover.
This past week the lectionary came from Romans and it talked about loving our neighbor, a concept that we most often associate with the sayings of Jesus recorded in the gospel. What struck me about this instruction in Romans is that it comes after the reminder in Romans 12:1-2 to “offer our bodies as living sacrifices” and to “renewing of our minds” so that we “do not conform any longer to the patterns of the world.”
Following this passage, in Romans 13 is the reminder that we are all uniquely gifted and beloved. Each of us having something important to offer the body of Christ. The mention of the body of Christ here in Romans might sound like 1 Corinthians 12 and it is similar. Here the indication is that we can’t recognize our belovedness or the unique gifts and talents we have that bring important and good things to the body of Christ.
And then and only then can we love our neighbor. Perhaps the amount of foundational and soul work that has to be done before we can get to the mindset and wholeness is what is really preventing us from loving each other deeply. We can’t love our neighbor because we haven’t renewed our minds and we are beliving the cultural language that creates us vs. them. We can’t love our neighbor because of the cultural influences of consumerism that wants us to believe that we are not enough or that we are flawed in some way that a product or service can cure.
We can’t love our neighbor because there is so much soul work to do before we can get there. There is more to the division and divisiveness that permeates our American society. There are deep soul questions, “Will my life matter?” “Am I worthy?” “Am I good?” “Am I enough?”
May God grant us the ears to hear below the surface of noise. May God grant us the heart to have compassion for those who are seeking answers to deep and important questions.
Over six months ago, churches all across the United States scrambled to answer the question, “How do we worship online?” We have fought and struggled with technology and with the Divine wondering when we would have to stop answer this question and when we could safely come back together.
I can remember distinctly the first Sunday of worship and the way I purposefully and intentionally created an outdoor chapel on our porch knowing that the signs of Spring blooming as a backdrop would serve as the perfect picture of hope in the midst of uncertain times.
Just two short weeks later, I discovered that the Columbia heat isn’t great for devices and that when they overheat, they just turn off abruptly stopping and cutting the connection not caring whether you were in the middle of preaching or not. This interruption led to creating an indoor chapel with my grandmother’s quilt draped over boxes for a makeshift altar and a painting of a cottage in the woods surrounded by flowers.
Now that the seasons are changing and the breeze is whispering of cooler weather and beautiful changes, I am asking the Divine to help me create again. I am searching our home for inspiration asking myself not how to we worship online, but rather how do we create sanctuary?
One of the ways that we find reconnect our body and our souls and get them back in communion is to notice. It sounds like a simple thing and it is, but we are so busy moving from one thing to another that we often forget to notice.
When I woke up this morning, I noticed some pain and soreness. I noticed that my right hamstring, the one that has always given me trouble since that one time I overtrained after a half marathon, was sore. I noticed that I had some soreness in my core where I did some work to yesterday to strengthen my core after carrying and caring for babies. I noticed that I didn’t have the heaviness under my eyes that I have had so many mornings. I noticed that it was later and that the children had slept a little longer.
My noticing turned into gratitude for rest for the children and relief from the heaviness under my eyes. My noticing turned into plans to take my run a little slower today to not strain my hamstring anymore. My noticing turned into thankfulness for the time in the mornings to not rush to school, but to be present in the new day’s light.
Noticing reminds us that we are not just a mind. Noticing reminds us that we are not just a physical body. Noticing gives space for our souls to speak to us and to bring us into the new day with intention, reflection, and gratitude.
This morning our walk was different. The air was cool and the wind was gusty sending leaves changing colors whirling to the ground. This is a season of change. The inbetween-ness of summer and fall. The new routines and new schedules. The new unexpectedness of whether the morning will feel like hot and humid summer or just a little chilly.
The light is different too. It’s not the morning light of summer that promises sunburns and sweat beading down your back. It’s softer, warmer, and more welcoming. Easing into the day rather than starting the day bright and brilliant.
As we were walking on our Saturday path that leads us to a trail, the four-year-old looked at me and asked, “Mama, can we sit on that bench awhile?” I smiled. Maybe he too was noticing how things were changing. Maybe he too wanted to bask a little longer.
“Let’s do it!”
We watched the leaves whirling and twirling and laughed as hair got blown in our eyes and then back out just as quickly. We talked about the new books we had found at the Little Free Libraries along our paths. We talked about how we might have to get some of our long-sleeved clothes out. We waved at walkers and laughed at dogs chasing squirrels.
There was nothing particularly significant about our conversation except that there was time for our conversation. There was time to sit on the bench and notice and wonder. There was time to be together.
This gift of time is changing us, inviting us to slower pace, beckoning us to reconnect to each other and the world around us.