Monday, April 6, 2020

Lament


O Lord, how long will you forget me?
How long will you look the other way?
                            -Psalm 13: 1  NLT 

Lament.

It's a word we don't hear very often.  When I have heard it in the past, I've put it into the category of whining, venting, complaining to God from the depths of my soul.  And maybe it is all of that.  But in these past weeks of worldwide misery and panic and self-isolation, the concept of lament has come to the fore.  Psalms I didn't pay particular attention to have taken on new relevance.

I asked my experts, aka my friends.  
What does it mean to you to lament?
Have you lamented in this time?
Do you feel lost, abandoned or hopeless?

They never let me down.  One said "It's an expression of grief, born out of regret or mourning."
Another said "It is helplessness and anguish and it is a deep to the core emotion."
Friend Judy, who often says she cries out to God, says lamenting is beyond sorrow.  "It's crying out and petitioning God for yourself or someone else."

Lamenting may be helpless, but it's not hopeless.  As one gal said, it's the reason why I need Jesus.  Otherwise I would feel defeated or without hope.  There's the heart of it, right there.

Anglican Bishop and New Testament scholar N. T. Wright has offered insight on lament in an article titled Five Things to Know About Lament at ntwrightonline.org.  He says that lament is:
1. a form of praise
2. proof of the relationship
3. a pathway to intimacy with God
4. prayer to God for action
5. participation in the pain of others

The prayer of lament is not the final prayer, he says, it is 
a prayer in the meantime. 

With all of this in mind, I was led to read again the Book of Lamentations.  It is a tough read, recounting the horrible sufferings of the Jews during their captivity in Babylon.  But right there in the middle of all the depravity and misery and sorrow is Chapter 3.  It gives us one of the most beautiful statements of faith which still brings hope and comfort to Christians today in the form of a beloved hymn.  I hope you will take a moment to enjoy it as it was presented by my daughter,
Becky Loar, at Deermeadows Baptist Church, Jacksonville, Florida, with the choir and orchestra directed by Mark Groves.  It is on her recording How Can I Keep From Singing.  






Wednesday, March 18, 2020

A Golden Sky


When you walk through a storm
Hold your chin up high
And don't be afraid of the dark.
At the end of the storm 
Is a golden sky
And the sweet, silver song of a lark.
Walk on through the wind,
Walk on through the rain,
Though your dreams be tossed and blown.
Walk on, walk on 
With hope in your heart,
And you'll never walk alone...
You'll never walk alone.
                                            -Oscar Hammerstein II


Three weeks ago, I sat in a theater on the campus of the University of South Carolina.  My daughter Becky Loar, a doctoral student of voice performance, was appearing in the university's opera production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Carousel.  Bringing life to the role of Nettie Fowler, she sang the most memorable song from the play.  You'll Never Walk Alone has been a favorite of mine since I first heard it many years ago.  It's a testimony of hope in a dark time.  The words have lifted me up in many difficult times, not the least of which were my days of cancer treatment seven years ago.

I was fortunate to be in Columbia, SC, for two performances of Carousel.  It's not an easy story: domestic violence and suicide are rough stuff.  Becky sang the song as she and the rest of the cast stood over the body of the lead character, Billy Bigelow.  Although the play and the song were written in 1945, this song is a classic that steps out of that story and applies to anyone who hears it.  To your story and mine.  

Little did we know the storm that was approaching, engulfing the entire world in the clutches of a virus that so far has defied containment.  It can be deadly, especially for the older generation.  It's been hard to wrap my head around the fact that my husband and I are part of the older generation!  But here we are, doing what the authorities say and staying home...holding chins up high...and trying to keep the dark at bay.  Dreams get tossed and blown, thrown apart by the winds of change that tell us things may never be the same again.  Hopes and plans may be altered, even derailed, but ultimately life will go on.

In our family, we believe, based on our past history, that there will be a golden sky and the sweet, silver song of a lark.  We've walked before with hope in our hearts and we've seen the sky and heard the lark...in beautiful sunsets...in walks along the shore...in the laughter of the children.  We've come through because we were not walking alone.

We...and the country...will walk through the storm again.

(My thanks to my friend, Joie Hall, for her beautiful picture of the golden sky.)

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

My Most Memorable Ash Wednesday





ASHES FOR A LITTLE GIRL



…did you not know
what the Holy One
can do with dust?


-Jan Richardson, 
“Blessing the Dust” 
CIRCLE OF GRACE



Our pastors were away on a trip to the Holy Land.  I was asked to assist the visiting pastor with the Ash Wednesday service.  While I have held the Communion Cup and dispensed the bread many times, I had never dispensed ashes.  I looked forward to it with a mix of joy and humility.  The logistics are a bit more challenging than tearing bread from a loaf or holding a cup for the dipping.



As it turned out, there was no cause for concern.  The visiting pastor was our District Superintendent…a pastor who has risen through the ranks of the church to the administrative position over all the churches in the district.  In other words, this wasn’t his first rodeo.  He was at ease and put the rest of us at ease.  He showed me how he dipped his thumb into the wet sponge then into the bowl of ashes.  With the dark residue on his thumb, he made the cross on the person’s forehead.  The words to the Believers were simple:  “Repent. And believe the Gospel.”


The service progressed…the songs sung, Scriptures read, meditation given.  Then the invitation for the people to come forward to receive the ashes.  They made two lines, one in front of him and his assistant (the sponge holder) and one in front of me and my helper.  This was a profound experience for me because this congregation includes many who have taught me and many who are close friends.  Doing what I was charged to do, I held my emotions in check…looking these beautiful people in the eyes and saying “Repent…and believe the Gospel.”



About halfway through the group, in front of me appeared Ava.  Ava is four years old and she and her grandmother often share the table with me at Wednesday night supper.  Ava is a doll baby.  Big, beautiful eyes, long brown hair, lovely features.  She stood there, looking up at me with those innocent wondering eyes, holding her mother’s hand.  For a split second, I wondered if I should put ashes on such a small child.  What is the doctrine of the church?  This was not a moment of doctrinal purity.  It was a moment of “Jesus loves you.”  I dipped my thumb in the ashes, bent down and made the cross on that tiny forehead.  I could not speak.  Holding my breath, I marked her mother and her grandmother, and the line moved on. 



Later, I took the evening’s program and across the bottom wrote a note to Ava.  I simply wanted to confirm what I know she hears from her pre-school teachers and her grandmother…”Jesus loves you.”  I gave the note to her grandmother.  Maybe someday, when Ava is an adult and goes through her grandmother’s things, she will find that note and have some memory of the night she got her ashes from Miss Sue at church.



For me, it was the highlight of the evening…a true Faith Breeze moment when the veil between heaven and earth was very thin.  Who knows what the Holy One will do with the dust that makes up a little girl named Ava.

The story of Ava receiving her ashes appears in my book, 
Cradle and Cross: Reflections on Christmas and Easter.
Available on Amazon.com.




Monday, February 17, 2020

I Recommend: The Bathsheba Battle!

Several years ago, I attended a writer's conference.  It was a good conference and I learned some stuff that has been beneficial.  But the best thing I got from those three days of meetings was a friendship with a truly delightful young gal named Natalie Snapp.  It's a nice friendship...she's about the age of my kids so we each bring our particular perspective to the conversation.






At that time, Natalie and I were embarking on the world of being published authors with our first books.  She was working on Heart Sisters and sold her project to the agent from Abingdon Press.  I left the conference fully realizing that for someone at my stage of life, the world of self-publishing and print on demand was the way for me to go.  So she published Heart Sisters and I published Faith Breezes.  Time passed and with it a whole lot of LIFE and here we are today.  I've just published Cradle and Cross and her latest, The Bathsheba Battle, came on the scene at almost the same time.  Finding hope when life takes an unexpected turn...that's what The Bathsheba Battle is all about.  By delving into the story of Bathsheba's relationship with King David, Natalie takes us through the process of sorting through the suffering and then moving forward.  "With every valley we tread, we experience that much more freedom and that much less fear," she says.  "The effort is almost always worth the outcome."

Ultimately, "Bathsheba's suffering led her to bear fruit that grew while she was in the deepest valley of her life and her story shows us all how God restores and brings beauty from ashes every single time."

Natalie writes with a warm "girlfriend" tone that draws the reader in and appeals across the lines of age.  After all, whose life hasn't taken an unexpected turn?  

Natalie Chambers Snapp is the author of Heart Sisters: Be the Friend You Want to Have and the accompanying Bible study Becoming Heart Sisters: A Bible Study on Authentic Friendships.  She has also written for various blogs and online devotionals, including Proverbs 31.  You can find her at www.abingdonpress.com.