And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. Hebrews 10:24-25 (NIV)
One of the things that changed for many Jesus followers during the COVID pandemic was our “meeting together.” Our local gathering, like most others, moved to produce weekly worship online. I don’t think I’ll ever forget delivering messages to an empty auditorium and a camera.
Like everything in life, there were both opportunities and challenges with staying home and watching worship online. I confess that it was nice to enjoy a lazy morning sitting on the couch in my pajamas. Likewise, I know a lot of families who took advantage of online church to consciously make it a family event. “When life gives you lemons,” as they say.
Our community has been back in regular meeting mode for a long time, though we’re still broadcasting worship online each week. Data from the Institute for Family Studies revealed that the number of regular attenders is down in every demographic while the number of “never attend” is up by similar percentages. There are a number of factors to this decline. Some have legitimate health concerns and a reason to continue being cautious. There are other reasons, however, including those who simply found that they prefer watching, on their couch, in their pajamas.
I thought about this as I read the author of Hebrews encouragement to “not give up meeting together.” For the author, the decline in regular in-person participation was very different. He is writing to Hebrew believers who had gone back to the Jewish synagogue and the sacrificial system of Moses. It’s why he has written so much, and so passionately, about the old system becoming obsolete as Christ ushered in an entirely new spiritual reality. Some couldn’t, or wouldn’t, make the change. They walked away and went back. Old habits die hard.
In the quiet this morning, I find myself mulling over both the opportunities and challenges I’ve experienced in the return to a new “normal.” Since in-person meetings opened back up again, Wendy and I have chosen a couple of times to stay home together and watch online. It was a bit of a sabbath from the routine, and it was good for the soul. We also have loved being able to watch online when we travel or are at the lake, and it’s kept us more connected when we’re away.
At the same time, I have personally found that there’s no substitute for meeting together in person. This is also true in business, as the work world has embraced video meetings as a substitute for in-person meetings. What I’ve observed is that there is so much relationship, connection, and conversation that happens around the meetings themselves. Just this past Sunday I caught up with so many friends who are going through different struggles and circumstances in life. I get to hug them, hear how things are going, and learn how I can pray more specifically for them and their situation.
I thought this morning about every personal interaction and conversation I had with individuals before and after our last meeting together. I made a list in my head, pictured the individuals, and considered what we talked about. I then asked myself if those interactions were beneficial for me, for my life, and my relationships, and whether I would have been missing something had I stayed home and watched on the couch in my pajamas. For me, there’s no doubt about the answer. Those personal interactions are as vital and life-giving as anything that happened within the meeting itself.
Things change, and I’m sure that COVID has changed life in ways that we’ll be sorting out for decades to come. Reading about these changes in the media, I observe that the take is often the way the media enjoys simplifying things into binary choices: good or bad. When it comes to people not returning to in-person worship I find it a “yes, and.” There are both good things and bad things that have resulted in the change. C’est la vie.
As for me, I know that spurring fellow believers on and being spurred on by them, encouraging and being encouraged, and loving and being loved don’t happen in equal measure when I’m sitting on the couch watching in my pajamas.
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.
…and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. Hebrews 2:15 (NIV)
Over the weekend, I was informed by a client that one of their team members passed away from Covid. I had just spoken to her a few weeks ago while I was on-site doing some training sessions. In fact, she and I had a very pleasant conversation one morning as we waited for some of her colleagues to arrive for a meeting. The news came as a shock.
The pandemic has been a life-altering event for humanity. We have lived through a historic period of history. Some of the effects may very well reverberate through the rest of our lives or beyond.
For me, one of the fascinating aspects of the pandemic has been to witness fear and its effects on people’s thoughts and behaviors. It is completely natural for people to fear death, yet along my life journey, I’ve come to observe that it’s easy for most people around me to keep thoughts of death successfully at bay. This is especially true living in a developed, affluent society in which life expectancy is long and temporal distractions are virtually endless. Having officiated many funerals along my journey, I came to realize that for many people attending the funeral it might be one of the few times in life they contemplated their own mortality. It’s hard not to when there’s a dead body in the room.
I was struck this morning by the author of the letter to the Hebrews observing that people could be enslaved by their fear of death. I believe it resonated deeply with me simply because I’ve witnessed what that looks like in people during the pandemic.
For followers of Jesus, tomorrow is Ash Wednesday and the beginning of an annual 40-day remembrance of Jesus’ journey to death that ends in the celebration of His resurrection. That is the defining moment as a follower of Jesus. Death was not a dead end to be feared, but the path to resurrection and eternal Life.
If I truly believe what I say I believe then my perception of, and attitude toward, death is forever altered. Jesus’ resurrection turns the one thing that I most fear, my own death, into an event filled with hope, promise, and expectation. I am no longer shackled by my fear of death. Without those chains, I have perceived my anxiety level to be far lower than many I have observed around me during the past couple of years. The contrast has been brought acutely into focus.
In the quiet this morning, I am grateful for the increasing signs of the pandemic becoming endemic. I am hopeful for life to return to some semblance of pre-pandemic normality. I’m grateful for clients who know that I not only do business with them, but that I care about them, walk with them, grieve with them, and will pray for them in times of death and grief. I’m grateful that through Jesus’ death and resurrection, I am free from slavery to the fear of death.
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:19-21 (NIV)
Last autumn, I spent a lot of time meditating on the ancient sage wisdom of Ecclesiastes. The Teacher spent a lot of time expounding on the grim reality that one spends a lifetime saving, acquiring, and hoarding wealth and possessions only to die and have it all passed on to someone else. In fact, it goes to others who didn’t do the working, saving, and acquiring. The Teacher called this hevel in Hebrew. It’s futile, empty, and meaningless. It’s all smoke and mirrors.
I’m getting to the stage in life when retirement starts to become an increasingly important topic of discussion. It’s always been out there in the distant future, but now I can see it there on the horizon. I have friends who have already retired. I have friends and colleagues who are almost there. The eyes start looking more seriously at what all the working, planning and saving have accumulated.
The lessons of the Teacher echoed in my spirit as I read today’s chapter. We’re still in Jesus’ famous message on the hill. Jesus spends most of the chapter addressing common religious practices: giving, praying, and fasting. He tells His followers to carry out the disciplines of faith quietly and privately as though only God need witness it.
Jesus then seems to address the Teacher of Ecclesiastes. Indeed, the building up of earthly treasure is hevel, Jesus agrees. It rusts, rots, and is given away when you die. So, don’t do it. Instead, Jesus recommends investing in heavenly treasure that has eternal value.
The further I get in my spiritual journey, and especially in the past two years of Covid, I’ve observed how myopically focused one can be on this earthly life. If this earthly life is all there is and my years here are some cosmic coincidence which comes to an abrupt and final end when I die, then I might as well moan and wail along with the Teacher and the bitter pill of life’s meaninglessness. If, however, Jesus is who He said He was and there is an eternity of life waiting on the other side of the grave as He said there is, then His investment advice is profound.
In the quiet this morning, I find myself pondering those I know in my circle of influence who appear focused on earthly treasure is if it is the most important thing in life. I’m ponder yet others who appear to live as if death is an utterly final, bad thing to be feared, avoided, and delayed at all costs for as long as possible. Fear is rampant everywhere I look, which makes perfect sense to me if I’m living in the hevel of a hopeless, meaningless, material world.
I contrast this, of course, with being a follower of Jesus. Death, Jesus taught, is the prerequisite for Life. Death was the mission to make resurrection possible. Death is not a bitter and final end but rather the gateway to a resurrected Life more real than the one on this earth. If I truly believe what I say I believe, then it changes how I view this life, what I consider of real value, how I invest my personal resources, and how I approach my impending death.
As a follower of Jesus, I’m mindful of the fact that I have two retirement funds. One is for this life, and whatever is left will end up with our children and grandchildren. The other is for the next life, where it can be enjoyed for eternity. If I’m wise, Jesus taught in the message on the hill, I will invest in both accordingly.
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.
New Year’s Eve 2020 was our 15th wedding anniversary, and we had planned a cruise down the Mexican Riviera. Covid messed up those plans like so many other things in life, and we ended up pushing it back a year.
Wendy and I headed to San Diego on December 28 where we worked remotely and took the opportunity to visit two of our team members who live there. On the 31st, our friends Chad and Shay arrived to join us for our anniversary celebration and embark with us on the cruise.
We made a late afternoon jaunt to the Gaslamp District of San Diego. It was crazy busy already so we opted to grab a quick bite at a small burger joint and pick up some wine at Ralph’s to enjoy back at the hotel. It ended up being a quiet celebration and an early night.
On New Year’s day, we headed to a great breakfast joint and did some shopping along the harbor. Chad and I found a bar to watch the Iowa Hawkeyes choke away their bowl game in the last eight minutes. We then walked up to the U.S.S. Midway museum. The decommissioned aircraft carrier was fascinating to tour. Even the ladies enjoyed it more than they thought they would. We had a ball.
The next day we boarded Holland America’s Koningsdam and headed down the Pacific coast of Mexico. After a day at sea, we made ports of call in Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan, and Puerto Vallarta. Wendy and I chose to stay on the ship in Cabo and Puerto Vallarta. We really desired to enjoy the quiet on this trip. Other than a mid-day trip to the pool to enjoy a stogie while I read, Wendy and I spent a lot of time in our cabin and on our verandah. It was awesome.
A lot of people have been curious about how Covid affected the trip. The cruise required all passengers to be vaccinated and we had to produce a negative Covid test that was taken no more than 48 hours before embarkation. Masks were required in hallways, elevators, and interior public spaces when you weren’t eating or drinking. The ship seemed to be about half-full, so it never really seemed very crowded. The two things we really noticed were that the ship seemed to have a smaller staff so we sometimes had to wait longer than expected for someone to take a drink order around the pool, and we only got to hear the B.B. King All-Stars perform once. We assume that one of them must have gotten sick because all of their subsequent performances were canceled.
Wendy and I did get off the ship in Mazatlan to see Wendy’s sister, Suzanna, her husband, Chino, and our new nephew, Ian. Suzanna and Chino live in Mazatlan where they serve on the base of Youth With a Mission (YWAM). It was fun to see their apartment, get a tour of the YWAM base, and have lunch together right on the beach. The day flew by before we knew it and we had to depart. It was so much fun to see them!
Wendy and Shay enjoyed time in the Ship’s spa during the week, and we all enjoyed our evening dinners together. The final two days of the cruise were days at sea as we journeyed from Puerto Vallarta all the way back up the Mexican coast to San Diego. It was a great week. After the winter storm that we just experienced yesterday, we all agreed that we’d rather be back on the ship!
Pilgrimage, Pandemic, and Perspective (CaD Gen 47) –
And Jacob said to Pharaoh, “The years of my pilgrimage are a hundred and thirty. My years have been few and difficult, and they do not equal the years of the pilgrimage of my fathers.” Genesis 47:9 (NIV)
This morning as I booted up to write this post and record the podcast, one app flashed a big banner saying “2021 is a Wrap” and offering to show me all the stats and data from the last twelve months. And so, it begins. December and January are typically times of contemplation about where we’ve been and where we’re going. Get ready for media to start posting all of the lists of the “bests,” “worsts,” and “mosts” for 2021.
We’re coming up on two years since COVID changed life on our planet. In early 2020, Wendy and I went on a cruise with friends. The pandemic had barely begun and was believed at that point to be confined to China. Our cruise line told us that passengers from China had been barred from the cruise. Within a few weeks after that cruise, the world was in full lockdown.
One of the observations I’ve made in these two years is the degree to which people fear death, and just how powerfully that fear can drive a person’s thoughts, words, and actions.
Today’s chapter is fascinating to read in the context of our own times. The known world was in a similar state of mass insecurity due to the seven years of famine they were experiencing. Step-by-step, Egyptians submitted their money, livestock, land, and their very selves to the State in exchange for their survival. By the time the famine was over, the State of Egypt owned everything and everyone.
The thing that resonated most deeply with me was Jacob’s answer to Pharaoh when asked his age. He speaks of his life as a pilgrimage. The Hebrew word is māgôr and it isn’t very common, though it’s already been used a few times in reference to the lives of Jacob, his father, and grandfather. What struck me was the metaphor. He sees his entire life as a pilgrimage, a sojourn, a period of exile on this earth. As the songwriter put it: “This world is not my home, I’m a just a passin’ through.”
Jesus called His followers to have this same perspective as Jacob. He called me to understand that what happens after this earthly life is more real, more important, and valuable than what happens here on this earth. What comes after this life is where Jesus tells me to invest my treasure, which in turn changes the way I observe, think, believe, and live in my own pilgrimage as a “poor wayfaring stranger traveling through this world of woe.” Jesus also tells me to expect trouble on the earthly journey and to be at peace in the midst of it.
In the quiet this morning, I’m reminded by Jacob’s experience that there is nothing new under the sun. Pandemics, famines, floods, earthquakes, wars, and eruptions dot human history. Jesus not only tells me to expect more of the same but also calls them the birth pains which will lead to the nativity of something profoundly new.
Wendy and I are once again going on a cruise with friends to start 2022. I’m looking forward to it despite the continued restrictions. Just as our last cruise marked, for me, the beginning bookend of COVD, I’m hoping I might look back on this cruise as the other bookend. In the meantime, I continue to press on in my own pilgrimage on this earthly journey and expectantly look forward to a homecoming that lies beyond its end.
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.
Wendy and I arrived at the lake last night. We’re getting things ready for our annual Memorial Day Weekend celebration with the JPs and VLs. Hello summer!
The last time I posted on “The Latest” was just about a year ago, and what a year it has been. 2020 was the year of COVID-19 and we weathered the storm like everyone else while managing to do so with our close family and friends.
Here are the highlights from the last year… the year of Covid.
June 2020 in Kansas City
Wendy and I enjoyed a really strange weekend in Kansas City amidst the pandemic. We went to see our longtime friends, Matt and Tara. Despite a narrow list of things we could do, we managed to get out for a wonderful evening with our friends and enjoy Covid-KC.
Grandma Vander Hart Turns 93
In July of 2020 the Vander Hart family gathered to celebrate Henrietta’s 93rd birthday. Since none of her children are in Pella anymore, Wendy has been helping her with her daily needs, shopping, doctor’s appointments, and etc. Wendy says with all the years Grandma watched her when she was a kid, she’s glad she has this opportunity to return the love.
Fourth of the July at the Lake
The JPs, VLs, and Schempers joined us at the lake for the Fourth of July this past year. Wendy and I actually spent less time at the lake last summer than ever. We got down just for the holiday weekends.
For the past few years my college roommate, Steve Elliott, and I have been talking about actually getting together. In July, we made it happen by meeting each other half-way in Galena, IL. Steve drove his wife’s Mustang convertible and we spent the afternoon exploring the backroads of the Mississippi River valley through northwest Illinois and southwest Wisconsin, making a stop when we stumbled upon a craft brewery.
Labor Day Weekend at the Lake
While Memorial Day and Fourth of July are typically family affairs, the Labor Day weekend has been a traditional adult weekend for the JPs, VLs, and V-Dubs. Always a nice way to celebrate the end of summer. Even summer of COVID.
Tay and Clay’s Highlands Wedding with a Stegosaurus
It was a beautiful wedding. We wish we could have been there. We wish anyone could have been there. Taylor and Clayton had hoped to have a private ceremony in Edinburgh with their close friends and then a quiet dinner. Then lockdowns nixed that. So, they opted for an even more private ceremony in the middle of the Scottish highlands with just the photographer and Milo. Milo requested to be a Stegosaurus for the special occasion, so, why not (at least for part of the time)?
Autumn Trip to Austin, Texas
Long before anyone had heard of the Coronavirus, we had scheduled a trip to Austin with our friends Kev and Beck. We had to do so to secure the lodging we wanted. We were determined to do enjoy what we could. As is always the case with the four of us, Beck had thoroughly investigated options and restrictions in order to structure an entire calendar of “fun” places where we could do what we love: enjoy good food, good drink, and good conversation.
Crowning a New Tulip Queen
A couple of years ago I was asked to be Master of Ceremonies for Pella’s annual Tulip Queen Announcement Party (TQAP), which is to say “it’s not a pageant!” Realizing that I’d had a blast doing it and would be doing it again, Wendy decided to sign-on for a six-year stint as a member of the TQAP Committee. So it was that we enjoyed working with the 13 young ladies (who were all amazing) to prepare for their presentations and I was honored to announce the new Tulip Queen and her Court for Pella’s 2021 Tulip Time.
Thanksgiving was a quiet family gathering at our house for a small gathering of Wendy’s family.
Christmas and Covid 2020
Wendy and I felt so blessed to have the whole fam at our house for Christmas, and an entire Christmas Day together. Tay, Clay, and Milo arrived in early December. They spent a few weeks with us, and a few weeks with other family. Madison and Garrett arrived in time for Christmas. Ya-Ya (Grandma Wendy) enjoyed Milo being her little helper with Christmas cookies, smoothies, and other cooking duties. We had a Christmas cookie decorating contest and the adults all participated in a Christmas cocktail contest. There were no losers.
To honest, Wendy’s birthday was overshadowed this year as she played hostess, baker, cook, and caretaker. Nevertheless, her heart was full of joy. We even took the rare opportunity of being together to have some family portraits taken.
Christmas Day began with opening stockings before Ya-Ya’s amazing Christmas breakfast complete with cinnamon rolls. Gifts were opened and we enjoyed an equally amazing charcuterie spread for lunch/dinner as we binged on The Crown. I got to use the nifty Lifegoo precision screwdriver set in my stocking to repair Lightning McQueen for Milo.
The Andersons headed back and the Vander-Boeyinks headed to Des Moines for a week of Christmas celebrations with family there. Wendy and I had originally scheduled a cruise to celebrate our 15th Anniversary (New Year’s Eve) but that had long-since been cancelled. I believe we spent a quiet evening at home and went to bed early.
The ‘Rona came to our house on January 3rd with Tay, Clay and Milo’s return. All five of us ended up getting it. Taylor, Wendy, and I had relatively minor, flu-like symptoms. For me it was a day-or-two with body aches followed by a few weeks with zero-energy. Clay and Milo were asymptomatic. Their return to Scotland got delayed due to our quarantine together, and we made the best of our unexpected, extended family time. They eventually flew back to the UK in February.
Getting Out of Dodge
In February, Kev and I were commiserating about feeling a mutual case of cabin fever due to COVID. Deciding we’d like to look at different walls for a few days, we scooted down to the lake for a week of guy-time and working remotely from a different location.
Lake Work Weekend
We returned to the lake in April for a work weekend with the JPs and VLs. It’s hard to believe that it’s been over a decade since we built the Playhouse and there was a fairly decent list of things that needed sprucing up, repaired, updated, and improved.
JP discovered that our dock had been torn from the gangway due to the low water level this winter. He, along with our neighbor, got it repaired. There was a lot of power-washing, labeling, clearing out, and organization.
It also happened to be Shay’s birthday that weekend, so we celebrated the senorita at our favorite local Mexican haunt at the lake.
Easter was a quiet affair at our house. My folks and Wendy’s folks came to Pell and Grandma Vander Hart joined us for a light lunch and an afternoon of family time. It was so good to have my parents here. They spent so much of the year in lockdown in their senior community. To actually have them physically present was such a blessing.
Weekend in “COLA”
Wendy and I headed to South Carolina in April to spend a long weekend with Madison and G. It was our first time in SC since their wedding in October of 2019, and the first visit to the house they purchased last year. We also got to meet our grand dog, Bertha. Madison arranged for both Wendy and me to have facials at the salon where she works, Pout.
We enjoyed a quiet weekend and enjoyed some great restaurants in Columbia. G’s family were in town that weekend and we all got together for breakfast on Saturday morning. It was nice to spend time with them, as well. G demonstrated his grilling skills for us before we left on Sunday, and on the way to the airport we stopped to pick-up a new grand dog, a puppy named Hazel.
I got to wear a sombrero like Shay, when my bud Matthew took me out for lunch to celebrate my birthday at the end of April. Actually, Kev, Beck and I all have birthdays within 13 days of one another, so it’s become a tradition to get together to celebrate each year. This year the celebration was in Pella. We enjoyed some time at the Peanut Pub and the rooftop of Butcher’s Brewhuis before retiring to Vander Well Manor with George’s Pizza.
Tulip Time and Mother’s Day2021
There was a modified Tulip Time this year, but at least it didn’t get completely cancelled like it did last year. Wendy and did our annual turn as Pella’s founding couple. We make a couple of pop-up appearances each day of the festival to give a little spiel about the history of Pella. There was a great turnout for the festival and, as usual, we got stopped many times each day to have our pictures taken with new friends from all over.
Not to be redundant, but the year of Covid-19 was a year of a lot of redundancy in so many ways. Mother’s Day (the Sunday of Tulip Time weekend) we hosted Wendy’s grandma, folks, and my folks. Wendy’s brother, Josh, was also back in Iowa for a visit. We had a light lunch and shared family stories around the table. It was good, once again, just to be together.
And, there you have it. The highlights of the past year. More memories to be made this weekend as Memorial Day kicks off another summer.
On this Wayfarer Weekend (WW) podcast I welcome Dr. Eric Recker to the Vander Well Pub for a conversation about his mission from God that sprung out of the COVID-19 pandemic and one of the most difficult days of his life. On our conversational journey, we intersect on exceptional situations, finding relationships, and how essential it is to have good companions on this earthly trek.
Let this be written for a future generation, that a people not yet created may praise the Lord… Psalm 102:18 (NIV)
One of the silver linings of our family’s COVID plague has been the extended amount of time we’ve had with our grandson. This includes both moments of three-year-old hilarity and DEFCON FIVE toddler tantrums.
One of the more endearing developments has been Milo’s insistence on praying for our meal every night. Some nights he insists that we hold hands and pray two or three random times during the meal as he prays:
“God is grape. God is good. And we thank Him for the food.”
The sweetness melts this grandparent’s heart, of course. But for me it’s also witnessing the innocent openness and sensitivity of Spirit in the wee one.
Today’s chapter, Psalm 102, is another ancient Hebrew song lyric that was written during a time of intense illness. In fact, the songwriter was not sure that he was going to make it. The song begins with the writer calling out to God to hear and quickly respond, then he pours out the angst-filled description of his medical and emotional symptoms.
As the song proceeds, the tone of the lyric makes an abrupt switch. The writer stops focusing on his momentary circumstance and, instead, focuses on God’s eternal nature and the perpetuity of life. It’s as though the writer is saying “Even if this is it for me, and my number is up, life will go on. That which is eternal perseveres. The universe continues to expand. The next generation will emerge, then the next, and then the next.”
One of the oft-forgotten themes of the Great Story is that of descendence.
“Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.” Genesis 1:28 “God said to Noah and his sons with him: ‘I now establish my covenant with you and your descendants.’” Genesis 9:8-9 To Abram: “I will make you into a great nation.” Genesis 12:2 Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors, as many as the days that the heavens are above the earth. Deuteronomy 11:18-21 (NIV)
The Great Story is a story because it continues, it goes on even when my role is over and I make my final exit. Even in the most tragic and bleak dystopian imaginings, the premise is that Life endures and the story continues.
In the quiet this morning I feel the lingering effects of the virus on my body and realize that at this point in this life journey I don’t bounce back the way I once did. I listen to the unbridled energy of my grandson whose body felt none of the viral effects and who will live his earthly journey without remembering these weeks shut-in with Papa and Yaya.
That doesn’t mean they aren’t important, for him or for me. No matter the narrative of my story, life will continue in his story. Life gets handed off, a little bit each day, as we sit around the dinner table, holding hands and listening to that little voice say “God is grape.”
Exalt the Lord our God and worship at his holy mountain, for the Lord our God is holy. Psalm 99:9 (NIV)
While being in quarantine has frustrated my extroverted need for interpersonal interaction over the past ten days, I have also been mindful each day to appreciate the opportunity it has afforded Wendy and me to spend lots of time with our grandson, Milo, who normally resides across the pond in Scotland. Yesterday, my exercise monitor informed me that I’d set a new personal record for exercise in one day. If you’re having a hard time getting into that New Year’s workout routine, I suggest finding someone to loan you their three-year-old for a few days.
One of the more endearing developments during our extended time together has been Milo’s desire to go to sleep at night in Papa and Yaya’s bed. Last night, Wendy and I climbed onto the bed with Milo between us. We read three books together, then turned out the light. We sang softly in the darkness. Wendy reached over Milo and held my hand as we lay and sang with Milo nestled between us. Even with my hearing impairment, I could hear Milo’s deep breaths as he drifted to sleep. We then whispered a prayer over him before slipping out of the room.
That, my friend, was a special moment. I wanted to just stay in that moment forever. If only I could bottle it up and hold onto it. I immediately knew that it was a memory I will remember and cherish always.
Today’s chapter, Psalm 99, continues in this section of ancient Hebrew praise songs. They were likely used for liturgical purposes to call the Hebrews to worship in the temple. The lyricist of Psalm 99 layered this call to praise with metaphorical meaning that casual readers in English would never pick up.
Remember in yesterday’s post/podcast I shared that “everything is connected?” The Hebrews found spiritual connections with numbers. Each number had meaning. Seven was a number that meant “completeness.” Three was a number spiritually connected to the divine. There are three stanzas, each with four verses (4+3=7). Seven times the songwriter uses the Hebrew name of God, Yahweh. Seven times he uses Hebrew independent personal pronouns. Three times he refers to God as “holy” (Hebrew: qadosh).
I confess that “holy” is a word, and a spiritual concept, that I failed to fully understand, or flat out got wrong, for most of my journey. The concept of holiness as communicated by the institutional churches I’ve been involved in my whole life made holiness out to be simple moral purity in the utmost sense. The equation was “no sin” plus “going to church” equaled “holiness” (x + y = z). Which meant that holiness, unless you were Mother Theresa, was pretty much unattainable.
I have come to understand, however, that qadosh has a much larger meaning. There are moments in life in which everyone in the room knows there is something meaningful, something special, something larger that is happening in the moment.
Our daughter, Taylor, has an audiotape of the moment she entered the world in the delivery room. You hear her squeaky cries. You hear Dr. Shaw announce it‘s a girl. You hear me talking to her on the warming table. That moment is qadosh.
Last October I stood with our daughter, Madison, in a courtyard. We watched the congregation stand and turn toward us. The beautiful bride, whom I taught to walk, I now walked down the aisle to “give her away” to the man she loves. People smiled and wept. That moment was qadosh.
I sat in the dark room of the nursing home as my grandmother’s life ebbed away with each strained breath. Through the wee hours I kept watch over her. I held her hand. I sang her favorite hymn. I read the final chapter of the Great Story to her and I realized in the moment that it was like reading a travel brochure for the trip she was about to take. That moment was qadosh.
Last night as Wendy and I held hands and hovered over our peaceful, sleeping grandson lying in our bed. We sang. We prayed blessings over him. It was a holy moment. That’s qadosh.
Throughout the Great Story, when God made a special appearance (theologians call that a theophany) the person to whom God appears is mesmerized, speechless, dumbfounded, or overwhelmed. To be in the presence of God, described by lyricist of Psalm 99 as the royal King of Kings. That moment is qadosh.
When the psalmist calls me to worship, he’s not religiously demanding that I dutifully “go to church” in an effort to attain some pinnacle of moral purity. In fact, when I meditate on the fullness of all the qadosh moments I’ve recalled, then all my old notions of what it means to be “holy” are silly in their triteness. The psalmist is calling me into the mysterious, beautiful, meaningful moment of qadosh.
The Lord reigns, let the earth be glad; let the distant shores rejoice. Psalm 97:1
Zion hears and rejoices and the villages of Judah are glad because of your judgments, Lord. Psalm 97:8
This past week was among the most unique experiences of my entire journey. I spent the week in quarantine with Wendy, our daughter, and her family. While we were cooped up in the house together, the outside world here in the States seemed to sink deeper into a level of crazy I would have never thought possible were I not witnessing it. I have found the juxtaposition of those two realities are a bit strange and unsettling.
And yet, I sit here in the quiet at the beginning of another day, and a new work week. Each is a clean slate. Both are tiny reset buttons in this journey. Just as the prophet Jeremiah wrote as he sat amidst the chaotic rubble of Jerusalem, his life, and everything he had ever known:
Yet this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. Lamentations 3:21-23 (NIV)
Today’s chapter, Psalm 97, is another in a series of celebratory songs of praise. The editors of the anthology of ancient Hebrew song lyrics we know as the Psalms, put several of them together in this section we happen to be trekking through. Psalm 97 is a call to the listener to join in rejoicing and praising God.
This song is two thematic sections (vss 1-6; 8-12) that are hinged on a central verse (vs 7). What I found interesting as I read through it and meditated on it in the quiet this morning is that the first section recognizes God as Lord over creation, the universe, and literally everything. The second section brings things down to God being the Lord over Jerusalem, the little villages of Judah, and God’s people therein.
As I mulled this over, I was reminded of one of my recent posts and my morning pages. In my stream-of-consciousness journaling I discovered that I seem to have an easier time trusting God with the big things of the creation, time, and the universe. It’s in the small, personal things of my own personal journey that I tend to struggle.
The macro and the micro.
Chaos in the world outside and family quarantine here in our house.
In the quiet this morning, I hear God’s Spirit whispering to my spirit. The Spirit gently reminds me that, in both the macro and the micro, “I’ve got this.”
I simply have to listen, receive, embrace, and believe in each strange moment of the strange, present realities in which I find myself on both the macro and micro levels.