((While Michael is away on vacation, I found one of his Fear Not articles from May 2021. The message still feels appropriate and worth sharing again.))
As I think of a Fear Not for today, I kept hearing in my head the hymn line “Grant us wisdom, grant us courage for the living of these days.”
It’s Harry Emerson Fosdick’s hymn, “God of Grace, and God of Glory.” When you are a minister who went to Colgate University (Fosdick’s alma mater) and was ordained at Riverside Church (the church John D. Rockefeller had built for Fosdick’s ministry), “God of Grace, and God of Glory” is never too far from your memory.
But I have thought of it more in this past year. I’m not sure if the challenges and losses alongside of COVID have been greater or just feel greater in light of the shadow that COVID casts on everything? Either way, for many of us, the difficulties of this past year leave us feeling tender and vulnerable.
I have people in my life who ask me how I am doing. When I offer back the almost reflexive, “I’m fine,” they respond with gentle skepticism and care, reminding me that it is also okay not to be “fine.” I borrow from their example, and remind you all that it’s okay not to be fine. I want to be a friend like that to you. And not the only one…
I think, during this pandemic, we have learned something about the courage that comes from staying together. That’s been our success at church. I’m talking about both the emotional and physical embrace of our friends. About giving of time and dedicating the effort not to lose one another.
Tell the stories of your friends’ goodness. Light a candle for them (rather than aim at stoic resistance). Isn’t it always better to send up brief prayers of gratitude for the gifts our friends are in our lives?
“On your people pour your power” is the second line from this hymn, and it too keeps echoing in my head, or heart. That power is often a courage for living these days, that feels more related to moment to moment reality than some kind of Hollywood mountaintop heroism. It’s about carrying on and getting through. It’s the courage that knows you will survive even when you can’t figure out how.
Courage that calls you ahead to the tasks of this day, this season, this year. Courage that sometimes asks you to sojourn or sit with grief. Courage that sometimes nudges you politely, and other times is more pressing, even brusque. Courage that lifts you to the challenges this day places before you.
But courage that also whispers insistently that you are not alone. Michael Coffey, a Lutheran pastor in Austin, Texas wrote a poem titled “God’s Bathrobe.” It’s a riff off of the vision of God in Isaiah 6:
“God sat Sunday in her Adirondack chair,
reading the New York Times and sipping strawberry lemonade
her pink robe flowing down to the ground
the garment hem was fluff and frill
and it spilled holiness down into the sanctuary
into the cup and the nostrils of the singing people
one thread trickled loveliness into a funeral rite
as the mourners looked in the face of death
and heard the story of a life truer than goodness
a torn piece of the robe’s edge flopped onto
a war in southern Sudan and caused heartbeats
to skip and soldiers looked into themselves deeply
one threadbare strand of the divine belt
almost knocked over a polar bear floating
on a loose berg in the warming sea
one silky string wove its way through Jesus’ cross
and tied itself to desert-parched immigrants with swollen tongues
and a woman with ovarian cancer and two young sons
you won’t believe this, but a single hair-thin fiber
floated onto the yacht of a rich man and he gasped
when he saw everything as it really was
the hem fell to and fro across the universe
filling space and time and gaps between the sub-atomic world
with the effervescent presence of the one who is the is
and even in the slight space between lovers in bed
the holiness flows and wakes up the body
to feel beyond the feeling and know beyond the knowing
and even as we monetheize and trinitize
and speculate and doubt even our doubting
the threads of holiness trickle into our lives
and the seraphim keep singing ‘holy, holy, holy’
and flapping their wings like baby birds
and God says: give it a rest a while
and God takes another sip of her summertime drink
and smiles at the way your are reading this filament now
and hums; it’s a good day to be God.”
I take the poem to mean that God is busy with all in the world trying to make it better, using us as instruments of love and comfort for each other as well as others outside our church and our other communities. I take it to mean that God is in the business of hope.
See you in faith, hope and love,