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Archive for October, 2016

black-hole-ii

There are actually two God-designed holes which the soul longs to have filled –
one, a God-shaped hole; the second, an eternity-shaped hole.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
“You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless,
until they can find rest in you.” ~ Augustine

– – – – –
The God-Shaped Hole:

“What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, …though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.”

~ Blaise Pascal, Pensées VII (425)

That Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, and that you… may be able to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:17-19).

– – – – –
An Eternity-Shaped Hole:

If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.

~ C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, New York, Macmillan, 1960), p. 119

“…He has put eternity into man’s heart…” (Ecclesiastes 3:11).

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grave-i

Folks don’t often make death a ready topic, even among Christians who claim that Earth is not our home and we await the better country of heaven (Hebrews 11:16).  The agrarian society of our ancestors lived a lot closer to death than we do today and most of us are quite removed from much exposure to it.  Even the glut of violent media we consume does not prepare us for the illness and death of those for whom we actually care.  Our dear pastor, Walt Barrett, is taking about a month and a half to preach on what happens after we die.  As he has said, it is a bit of an elephant in the room.

 

In opening up the Scriptures to us regarding our eternal hope and home, Pastor Walt shared a deeply introspective poem about one man’s desire to finish his earthly assignment well.  This has reminded me of two other poems, one of which was set to music by Robert Lowry in the 19th century; the other, I am told, was one Abraham Lincoln’s favorite poems.

 

This latter poem, Mortality, written by William Knox (who himself died at the age of 36 years), is a bit Ecclesiastes-like.  It provides no Christian hope, but certainly speaks to the brevity of life and the proximity of death as Pastor Walt puts it.  There is an inescapable conclusion: The grave is a sure end for all who breathe this Earth’s air.  That there is anything of substance after the grave is never addressed, but perhaps seeing the frailness of life is a good first step to awakening the hope that our lives might have meaning past our Earthly existence.

– – – – –

Mortality
by William Knox, 1789-1825

O why should the spirit of mortal be proud?
Like a fast-flitting meteor, a fast-flying cloud,
A flash of the lightning, a break of the wave,
He passes from life to his rest in the grave.

The leaves of the oak and the willow shall fade,
Be scattered around, and together be laid;
And the young and the old, and the low and the high,
Shall moulder to dust, and together shall lie.

The child that a mother attended and loved,
The mother that infant’s affection that proved;
The husband that mother and infant that blessed,
Each, all, are away to their dwelling of rest.

The maid on whose cheek, on whose brow, in whose eye,
Shone beauty and pleasure,—her triumphs are by;
And the memory of those that beloved her and praised
Are alike from the minds of the living erased.

The hand of the king that the scepter hath borne,
The brow of the priest that the miter hath worn,
The eye of the sage, and the heart of the brave,
Are hidden and lost in the depths of the grave.

The peasant whose lot was to sow and to reap,
The herdsman who climbed with his goats to the steep,
The beggar that wandered in search of his bread,
Have faded away like the grass that we tread.

The saint that enjoyed the communion of heaven,
The sinner that dared to remain unforgiven,
The wise and the foolish, the guilty and just,
Have quietly mingled their bones in the dust.

So the multitude goes, like the flower and the weed
That wither away to let others succeed;
So the multitude comes, even those we behold,
To repeat every tale that hath often been told.

For we are the same that our fathers have been;
We see the same sights that our fathers have seen,—
We drink the same stream, and we feel the same sun,
And we run the same course that our fathers have run.

The thoughts we are thinking, our fathers would think;
From the death we are shrinking, they too would shrink;
To the life we are clinging to, they too would cling;
But it speeds from the earth like a bird on the wing.

They loved, but the story we cannot unfold;
They scorned, but the heart of the haughty is cold;
They grieved, but no wail from their slumber may come;
They enjoyed, but the voice of their gladness is dumb.

They died, ay! they died! and we things that are now,
Who walk on the turf that lies over their brow,
Who make in their dwellings a transient abode,
Meet the changes they met on their pilgrimage road.

Yea! hope and despondence, and pleasure and pain,
Are mingled together like sunshine and rain;
And the smile and the tear, and the song and the dirge,
Still follow each other, like surge upon surge.

‘Tis the wink of an eye, ‘tis the draught of a breath,
From the blossom of health to the paleness of death,
From the gilded saloon to the bier and the shroud,—
O why should the spirit of mortal be proud?

– – – – –

The poem to follow is the one shared by Pastor Walt, titled Let Me Get Home Before Dark.  I’m given to understand that the author, Robertson McQuilken, had watched his wife succumb to early on-set Alzheimers.   McQuilken was forced to resign his position as president at Columbia International University to care for her.  His resignation speech regarding his intentions is an ode in itself to love, loyalty, and sacrifice.  As he was growing old, he began to be concerned that he was not going to finish his earthly mission well.  He did not want to ruin Christ’s reputation by making shipwreck of his faith in the end.  This is a topic to which Dana and I return for ourselves – we want to be found faithful when we meet the Lord.  It is the very language I hear Joni Eareckson Tada use as she struggles with her 50+ years of paraplegia after a diving accident in her teens.

Let Me Get Home Before Dark

It’s sundown, Lord.
The shadows of my life stretch back
into the dimness of the years long spent.
I fear not death, for that grim foe betrays himself at last,
thrusting me forever into life:

Life with You, unsoiled and free.
But I do fear.
I fear the Dark Specter may come too soon
– or do I mean, too late?
That I should end before I finish or finish, but not well.
That I should stain Your honor, shame Your name,
grieve Your loving heart.

Few, they tell me, finish well . . .
Lord, let me get home before dark.

The darkness of a spirit grown mean and small,
fruit shriveled on the vine,
bitter to the taste of my companions,
burden to be borne by those brave few who love me still.
No, Lord.  Let the fruit grow lush and sweet,
A joy to all who taste;
Spirit- sign of God at work,
stronger, fuller, brighter at the end.
Lord, let me get home before dark.

The darkness of tattered gifts,
rust-locked, half-spent or ill-spent,
A life that once was used of God now set aside.
Grief for glories gone or
Fretting for a task God never gave.
Mourning in the hollow chambers of memory,
Gazing on the faded banners of victories long gone.
Cannot I run well unto the end?
Lord, let me get home before dark.

The outer me decays –
I do not fret or ask reprieve.
The ebbing strength but weans me from mother earth
and grows me up for heaven.
I do not cling to shadows cast by immortality.
I do not patch the scaffold lent to build the real, eternal me.
I do not clutch about me my cocoon,
vainly struggling to hold hostage
a free spirit pressing to be born.

But will I reach the gate
in lingering pain, body distorted, grotesque?
Or will it be a mind wandering untethered
among light phantasies or grim terrors?

Of Your grace, Father, I humbly ask. . .
Let me get home before dark.

– – – – –

The last poem I share is the brightest of the mix.  It was penned by the beloved hymn writer, Fanny Crosby, who was blinded at six weeks of age.  In her life she is said to have written over 8,000 hymns.  Regarding her blindness, Fanny said:

“It seemed intended by the blessed providence of God that I should be blind all my life, and I thank him for the dispensation. If perfect earthly sight were offered me tomorrow I would not accept it. I might not have sung hymns to the praise of God if I had been distracted by the beautiful and interesting things about me.”

Her hymn All the Way My Savior Leads Me has long given Christian believers the words to declare their eternal hope.  All the way – through life, death, and life after death – our Savior will lead us.  What’s more?  Whatever may befall us on our journey… Jesus doeth all things well.

All the Way My Savior Leads Me

All the way my Savior leads me;
What have I to ask beside?
Can I doubt His tender mercy,
Who through life has been my guide?
Heav’nly peace, divinest comfort,
Here by faith in Him to dwell!
For I know, whate’er befall me,
Jesus doeth all things well;
For I know, whate’er befall me,
Jesus doeth all things well.

All the way my Savior leads me,
Cheers each winding path I tread;
Gives me grace for every trial,
Feeds me with the living bread.
Though my weary steps may falter,
And my soul athirst may be,
Gushing from the rock before me,
Lo! A spring of joy I see;
Gushing from the rock before me,
Lo! A spring of joy I see.

All the way my Savior leads me
O the fullness of His love!
Perfect rest to me is promised
In my Father’s house above.
When my spirit, clothed immortal,
Wings its flight to realms of day
This my song through endless ages—
Jesus led me all the way;
This my song through endless ages—
Jesus led me all the way.

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