Tag Archives: Death

Journey’s End

Remember him—before the silver cord is severed,
    and the golden bowl is broken;
before the pitcher is shattered at the spring,
    and the wheel broken at the well,
and the dust returns to the ground it came from,
    and the spirit returns to God who gave it.

Ecclesiastes 12:6-7 (NIV)

I remember driving to northwest Iowa while I was still a young man to spend some time with my grandfather. He was well into his nineties, and living in a care facility. It was the last time I remember being with him. We walked the hallways together, me pushing him in his wheelchair. We sat at a table in the common room and had “coffee time.” We talked together, though it was obvious that dementia was beginning to set in. He would sharing a story with me and I would suddenly realize that he was addressing me as a stranger, an acquaintance. In the moment, I it was obvious he didn’t remember who I was. Nevertheless, he was still relatively sharp and was able to articulate his thoughts and feelings.

“I’m the only one left,” he said with sadness as he stared out the window. “Every one I knew is already gone.”

My grandfather was not known for his silence. The man could weave a tapestry of stories and talk non-stop for hours and he was happy to do so for any stranger who would listen. I’m not exaggerating. I have clear memories of tugging gently on his arm and trying to help free some poor, anonymous housewife in the baking goods aisle who was nodding vacantly as my grandfather regaled her with stories about his ice-box cookies that won a blue ribbon at the Plymouth County fair.

“The secret is getting the cookies sliced nice and thin, but they have to be evenly sliced. The best way to do that is….”

“Come on, Grandpa. We’ve got to check-out and get back home,” I’d say as I silently mouthed an “I’m sorry” to the gracious stranger.

I have many memories of feeling the non-verbal signals of impatience from family members and friends who were trapped in the torrent of grandpa’s stories.

On this final afternoon with him, however, I remember long periods of silence as we sat together. The shift in him was obvious to me. He was in the homestretch of his earthly journey.

He felt spent, and alone.

I drove home that evening meditating on many things. It was one of the first times I recall really observing the weariness of life in an elderly person whom I’d once known in the fullness of life’s vigor.

I was reminded of that afternoon as I read today’s final chapter of Ecclesiastes. The ancient Hebrew Sage concludes his treatise of wisdom by penning a poem that beautifully describes the weariness of life one experiences when the end of the earthly journey is a long, slow descent to dust.

“Remember the Creator in your youth,” the poem begins.

Remember the Creator before you find your life spent, and alone,” the poem ends.

The sage then reminds me of where his wise discourse began: this earthly journey is a fleeting fog, a flitting vapor, a transient mist.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking about the reality that I’m not much younger than my grandfather was when I was born. I am in the same stage of life’s vigor that I remember in my earliest memories of my grandfather.

I began this journey through Ecclesiastes stating that the Sage’s theme was not about the futility of this earthly life, but really about what’s valuable in this earthly life. Here at the end of his dissertation, I still feel it. In fact, I feel it more acutely.

I am reminded by Wisdom to live my life backwards. I find myself prodded to begin each day, to live each day, to reflect on each day with the journey’s end in mind.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

The Two Certainties

The Two Certainties (CaD Ecc 7) Wayfarer

It is better to go to a house of mourning
    than to go to a house of feasting,
for death is the destiny of everyone;
    the living should take this to heart.

Ecclesiastes 7:2 (NIV)

Just this last month, Wendy and I happened to run into a couple with whom we are acquainted. They are a stretch or two ahead of us on this road of Life, and we rarely get an opportunity to chat with them. We took the occasion of our running into them to ask them about their respective journeys, and what they have been doing with their lives. Their answer intrigued us. In fact, Wendy and I talked about it multiple times ever since. We’d like to hear more.

What our friends shared with us is that they have been been working together in a personal initiative to help both individuals and organizations to understand that in our current era a person can spend almost as many years in retirement as they spent in the workforce. Their desire is to see individuals realize the value of remaining engaged and productive, while helping organizations tap the value that this growing number of “retired” individuals can bring with their wisdom and experience.

This conversation came to mind this morning as I read the chapter. Last night Wendy and I spent time praying as we drove home from the lake. As I prayed about work and business, it struck me that for my entire life the thought of “retirement” has been just an idea. It has always resided well beyond the horizon. Suddenly, it’s a fixed point on the edge of the horizon.

Then I woke to read the wisdom of Ecclesiastes’ Sage, who tells me that there is wisdom in beginning each day with the end in mind. In this case, he’s talking about the permanent retirement from this earthly journey that lies ever before me. Unlike retirement from labor, which is somewhat fixed on the calendar as a planned end-date, my permanent retirement is less certain.

It might be closer than I think.

It also, to our friends’ line of thinking, might be further away than I imagine. What if I reach that waypoint of “retirement” and still have 20 or 30 years in which I am relatively healthy and capable? What am I going to do with those 7,000-11,000 days?

In the quiet this morning, I hear God’s Spirit reminding me through the words of the Sage that all my tomorrows are simply “what ifs.” There are really only two certainties. Today, thus far, is the first. My permanent retirement, that mysteriously sits “out there” on my horizon is the second. This means that from a practical perspective, “What am I going to do with this day, which is a certainty?” is one of the most important questions with which I could occupy myself, in light of the permanent retirement that certainly lies ahead.

It’s time for me to occupy myself with the first certainty.

Have a great day, my friend.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

The Inescapable Fact

The Inescapable Fact (CaD Ecc 3) Wayfarer

All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return.
Ecclesiastes 3:20 (NIV)

Like most people, Wendy and I spent much of the year of COVID finding old television shows to watch. We found ourselves falling in love with a handful of British series. There is a bit of a formula that the Brits have mastered. First, you set the show in a gorgeous, remote landscape. Second, you find a protagonist detective who is just a bit broken. Third, you surround the protagonist with team members who have their own unique issues. Then, of course, people in this gorgeous, remote area of the United Kingdom die all the time in strange ways.

It’s predictable, but it works. It always works. Death is the number one ingredient in our stories. Protagonists are constantly threatened with death, escaping death, and chasing a perpetrator of death. Antagonists are constantly threatening people with death, initiating the death of others, and they often become victims of death in the end. Television, movies, novels, and comic books are filled with death.

I am going to die.

This is an inescapable fact.

I have probably been around death more than most people. I have stood over individuals as they took their last breath. I have officiated many funerals. I have buried loved ones and complete strangers, individuals and couples, infants and aged.

Along my life journey, I’ve observed something ironic. We entertain ourselves ceaselessly with stories in which death is the main ingredient, yet most of us want to pull a Houdini when it comes to this inescapable fact. We want to avoid thinking about it. We want to avoid talking about it. We want to put it off as long as humanly possible.

The ancient Sage of Ecclesiastes wants me to stop trying to escape this fact. He want me to stop running from the inevitable and look this inescapable fact straight in the eye. He makes it a matter-of-fact statement:

There is a time to be born. Check. April 30, 1966. St. Luke’s hospital in Sioux City, Iowa.

There is a time to die. Date unknown. Location unknown. Still inevitable.

I mentioned back at the beginning of this chapter-a-day trek through Ecclesiastes that the Sage is pushing into what is really of value in this life. In the quiet this morning, I hear him telling me that there is value in considering my day, this very day, in light of this inescapable fact. David Gibson wrote about it in his book Living Life Backwards:

I am convinced that only a proper perspective on death provides the true perspective on life. Living in the light of your death will help you to live wisely and freely and generously. It will give you a big heart and open hands, and enable you to relish all the small things of life in deeply profound ways. Death can teach you the meaning of mirth.

I want to persuade you that only if you prepare to die can you really learn how to live.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself pondering two things as I things as I prepare to press on into this day:

One: I think I should allow the inescapable fact of my impending death to inform what I value.

Two: A disproportionate number of arcane murders seem to occur in gorgeous, remote areas of the UK, if one believes what one sees on the telly.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

My Inmost Being

My Inmost Being (CaD Ps 103) Wayfarer

Praise the Lord, my soul;
    all my inmost being, praise his holy name.

Psalm 103:1 (NIV)

In a few weeks, I will mark a milestone in my spiritual journey. It was a frigidly cold February night in 1981 when I decided to become a follower of Jesus. It’s been forty years.

The number 40 is significant in the Great Story. It is the number of trial, testing, and ordeal:

Noah’s flood resulted from 40 days of rain.

Moses lived 40 years in Egypt, then led the Hebrews through the wilderness for 40 years.

Jesus was in the wilderness 40 days being tempted by the Evil One.

The resurrected Jesus appeared to his followers over a 40 day period before ascending to Heaven.

Ezekiel laid on his side for 40 days as a word picture of the sins of the kingdom of Judah.

Elijah fasted for 40 days on Mount Horeb.

So, I’ve found myself meditating on my spiritual journey of late as I mark the milestone. I had been raised going to church as a child, but the experience for me was largely about ritual. It was something I did because it was what my family did each week. It’s not to say that it wasn’t without its lessons and benefits, but it was largely a weekly physical routine and family ritual to be endured. After completing my confirmation coursework at the age of 13 my parents told me that I could decide on my own if I wanted to go to church or not. So, I stopped going.

What happened a couple of years later on that cold February night was something completely different than anything I’d ever experienced. It was not a religious ritual or physical routine. It was something that happened in my inmost being. I opened my spirit and invited Jesus to come in. I made a spirit decision to surrender myself to following Jesus, whatever that might mean. Something was spiritually birthed in me that is still growing 40 years later.

Jesus gave His followers a word picture about the most religious people of His day. He said that religion was an ornate marble crypt you might see in your local cemetery. It looks beautiful, majestic, and expensive from the outside as you’re driving by, but if you step inside the crypt you’ll only find darkness, cobwebs, and decomposing bones.

If find that a really accurate description of my spiritual experience before that February night forty years ago. I physically went through religious rituals. I mentally considered the things I was taught. I took a class, learned what was required to take a test, and got a piece of paper telling me I was now a member of the institution. Yet, there was no spiritual change.

In today’s chapter, Psalm 103, King David pens the lyrics to a really beautiful song of praise to God. When David was still a kid, God called him “a man after my own heart” and Psalm 103 is a testimony to the intimate Spirit relationship David experienced.

In the very first verse David says that it praise comes from his soul. The Hebrew word he uses there (nepes) alludes to “breath” or the “essence” and “life force.” He then states that his “inmost being” (the Hebrew word is qereb) praises. This word alludes to the intimate interior of the heart that is the seat of thought and emotion. In other words, David is not calling his listeners to trek to church each Sunday and go through the ritualistic motions. This is David, who once got so intense in his worshp that he peeled down to his tighty-whities as he danced and publicly embarrassed his wife. David is calling his listener to an experiential rendevouz with the Creator. He is calling for an all-out ecstatic expression that comes from the depths of one’s soul. A personal exhale of life force in a euphoric song and dance with the divine.

In the quiet this morning, I find my spirit stirred by David’s spirit and the words it motivated in his lyrics. Dude, I get it. It isn’t about empty religious ritual and rote mental and physical machinations. That’s just a crypt. It’s about that which is spiritually alive in me that has to get out. It’s what the prophet Jeremiah described: a fire shut-up in my bones. It’s that life that was birthed in my inmost being forty years ago. I look back from 40 years further down life’s road and find that it only grows stronger within me, even as my body grows slowly weaker.

“God is Grape”

"God is Grape" (CaD Ps 102) Wayfarer

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.”

The Day the Music Died

The Day the Music Died (CaD Ps 72) Wayfarer

This concludes the prayers of David son of Jesse.
Psalm 72:20 (NIV)

I have the Don McLean classic American Pie going through my head in the quiet this morning. It’s funny how songs connect to so many thoughts and feelings. The first verse stirs so many memories of being a paperboy at the age of 12. Frigid Iowa mornings being the first person to see the headlines, and trudging in the dark before dawn hand-delivering newspapers to the doorsteps up and down the block.

McLean’s lyrics go like this…

A long, long time ago
I can still remember how that music used to make me smile
And I knew if I had my chance that I could make those people dance
And maybe they’d be happy for a while
But February made me shiver
With every paper I’d deliver
Bad news on the doorstep
I couldn’t take one more step
I can’t remember if I cried
When I read about his widowed bride
But something touched me deep inside
The day the music died

I think the inspiration for those words has already been lost to most people. As Mclean’s lyric reveals, it was an event that became known as “The Day the Music Died.” A small plane crashed in an Iowa field and tragically took the lives of three of the most popular rock-and-roll musicians of their day: Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. Richardson.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 72, isn’t as meaningful to the causal reader without understanding the context of both the song and its placement in the larger work we know as the book of Psalms. As I’ve mentioned before, this anthology of ancient Hebrew song lyrics was compiled by unknown editors. They’ve been lost in the fog of history, but they probably did their compilation sometime around the time the Hebrews were in Exile in Babylon about 500-600 B.C.

The editors didn’t just throw the songs together willy-nilly. There was tremendous thought put into themes, authorship, chronology, and how the individual songs fit into the larger whole. The Psalms are actually broken up into five sections we call “Books.” As I mentioned in yesterday’s post/podcast, we’ve come to the end of Book II with Psalm 72. Most all of the songs lyrics in the anthology, thus far, have been penned by King David. Yesterday’s lyrics revealed David’s thoughts and expressions near the end of his life.

The final song of Book II is an abrupt transition. The liner notes reveal that it is “of” Solomon or “for” Solomon (perhaps both/and), the youngest son of David and the offspring of Bethsheba (yep, the woman with whom he had a scandalous affair). Psalm 72 is a coronation song, meant to be used during the public rituals when a new king is crowned. As if the meaning of this song coming immediately after David’s aged reflections in Psalm 71, and the fact that we’re at the end of Book II, wasn’t clear enough, the anonymous editors of the anthology added a line at the end of the lyrics:

This concludes the prayers of David son of Jesse.

Old things pass away. New things come.

David, the warrior-king, God’s minstrel, has passed on.

It was “the day the music died” for the Hebrew people.

Psalm 72 reads like an idyllic vision of monarchy. Like an inauguration speech from a new President, it is full of hope for a new leader who will rule with justice, end poverty, end violence, provide for those in need, be esteemed by world leaders, and be forever established as God’s person for the job. The vision is so idyllic that both Hebrew scholars and early followers of Jesus viewed the metaphors as layered with meaning both as a national anthem for the newly crowned Solomon, and a prophetic vision of the coming and reigning Messiah.

In the quiet this morning, my Enneagram Four-ness can’t shake the melancholy (go figure). A little boy delivering newspapers in the cold, inspired in the grief of a terrible tragedy. In tragics deaths of an Iowa winter, a seed is planted in that little boy which will one day creatively spring to life in a new song that will mesmerize the music world for generations.

What a beautiful image of creation, of life, death, and new life. That’s the theme. That’s the theme of the Great Story.

Creation, Garden, Fall, Salvation.

Birth, life, death, new life.

A time and a season for all things under the sun.

Old things pass away. New things come.

As the Mandalorians in Star Wars would say: “This is the way.”

So, no matter where the journey finds you today, in joy or grief, in melancholy or happiness, take courage, my friend. The best is yet to come.

I have spoken. 😉

Journey

Journey (CaD Ps 68) Wayfarer

Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior,
    who daily bears our burdens.
Our God is a God who saves;
    from the Sovereign Lord comes escape from death.

Psalm 68:19-20 (NIV)

Quite obviously, my entire blog and podcast is predicated on the metaphor of the journey. This is not novel or new. All the great epic stories are journeys. The journey is everywhere in the Great Story.

Adam and Eve are expelled from the Garden, and find themselves journeying out of fellowship with God into exile into the world.

When God calls Abram, He is told to leave his home and follow to a land that God would show him.

Joseph is sold in slavery by his brothers and journeys to Egypt, where God establishes him in preparation to save his family.

Moses journeys out of Egypt to Midian, then back to Egypt, then through the wilderness to the Promised Land.

The Hebrew people journey from Egypt through the wilderness, to the Promised Land in Canaan.

David flees and journeys through the wilderness until God leads him back and establishes his throne in Jerusalem.

The 23rd Psalm is a journey from pastures, through the valley of the shadow of death, and to the house of the Lord.

Jesus’ ministry was essentially a journey, complete with a period of wilderness wandering, from the rural flyover country of Galilee to His climactic death and resurrection in Jerusalem.

The story of the early Jesus movement was essentially a journey out of Jerusalem and into the world.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 68, is epic in its length. Scholars believe that it was meant to be a liturgical song sung as worshippers journeyed in procession to the temple in Jerusalem. It’s basically a song of two-halves.

The first half (verses 1-18) references the journey of the Hebrews from Mount Sinai, where God gave Moses the Ten Commandments and the Hebrew Law, to Mount Zion in Jerusalem where David established God’s temple.

The second half of the song, (verses 19-35) envisions God’s throne established on earth with the nations journeying to Jerusalem to offer gifts to God.

What really stood out to the early followers of Jesus were the first verses of the second half of the song which seems to prophetically point to the suffering and risen Christ:

Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior,
    who daily bears our burdens.
Our God is a God who saves;
    from the Sovereign Lord comes escape from death.

With that being the hinge, the early believers viewed the second half of the song as a parallel vision to that of John in the Book of Revelation Jesus’ return.

In the quiet this morning I can’t help but meditate on this metaphor of journey. Why does it resonate so deeply in me? What is it about the journey that seems to weave itself into the fabric of everything? We even envision time as a line that moves from one waypoint to another.

For me, the journey resonates with purpose. Remember, I’m an Enneagram Four. Purpose is our core motivation. If this is just a material universe in which life emerged as a cosmic accident, then there is no real purpose to anything other than those things in which we choose to find purpose. But if there is no God, no eternity, no larger purpose to my existence, then it’s all smoke and mirrors and I’m only just fooling myself.

But if I really believe what I say I believe, the 19,927 days from April 30, 1966 to November 18, 2020 has been a journey from one point in time to another. I’ve matured, developed, learned, and progressed. I am not who I was, and not yet who I will be. My past mistakes have led to growth in understanding. My life, and my journey, are part of something larger than myself in the grand scheme, in the Great Story.

I can take comfort in that. It keeps me going. It frames each day. It leads me on, hinged on a savior who daily bears my burdens, who saves, and through whom death is swallowed up in victorious life.

Wisdom & Winnowing

Wisdom and Winnowing (CaD Ps 49) Wayfarer

When we look at the wise, they die;
    fool and dolt perish together
    and leave their wealth to others.

Psalm 49:10 (NRSVCE)

Over the past few years, I have watched, and assisted, as my parents’ lives have gotten significantly smaller in footprint. From a giant ranch home where grandchildren hung out together and spent a week each summer at “grandma camp,” to a townhouse, a two-bedroom apartment, and now a smaller apartment. With every subsequent move, there is a winnowing of life’s material possessions.

“Does anyone want this?”

“What should we do with that?”

Somebody might use that. Let’s give it to the Many Hands Thrift Store.”

Seriously. Nobody wants that. Throw it in the dumpster.”

Some time ago I was listening to a teacher who encouraged listeners to perform a virtual winnowing of life in your head. Think about everything you own. Not just the big items like homes, cars, and furniture, but the boxes of stuff in storage rooms, attics, and garages. Think about the collective contents of junk drawers, closet shelves, and storage bins. Having taken an exhaustive mental inventory, now consider where it’s all going to end up, and who is going to own it, when you die. Note: Someone else will own everything that doesn’t get pitched into the dumpster. And believe me, for many of us there will be a dumpster.

Today’s chapter continues a string of ancient Hebrew song lyrics written for a specific purpose. Psalm 49 is one of just two songs in the anthology of 150 songs written as “Wisdom Literature.” Across antiquity, sages throughout the Near East created proverbs, songs, parables, and literary works intended to teach and pass along wisdom.

As I shared in this chapter-a-day journey through the book of Proverbs (a classic example of “Wisdom Literature”), even in the Great Story wisdom is personified in a woman often referred to as Sophia. Wisdom Literature is typically marked by a calling out to or from wisdom as the songwriter does today in verses 3-4:

My mouth shall speak wisdom;
    the meditation of my heart shall be understanding.
I will incline my ear to a proverb;
    I will solve my riddle to the music of the harp.

The songwriter then challenges us as listeners and readers to consider the fact that rich-and-poor, wise-and-foolish, good-and-bad all end up in the same place and leave everything behind. Even the Egyptians who packed King Tut’s tomb with stuff for him to use in the afterlife only ended up lining the pockets of Lord Carnarvon and the displays of various museums.

Of course, Lady Wisdom calls out to me to think about this in relationship to what it means for me today, and I hear the echo of Jesus in my soul:

“Don’t hoard treasure down here where it gets eaten by moths and corroded by rust or—worse!—stolen by burglars. Stockpile treasure in heaven, where it’s safe from moth and rust and burglars. It’s obvious, isn’t it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being.
Matthew 19-21 (MSG)

In the quiet this morning, I hear Wisdom, Jesus, and Holy Spirit whispering to my soul. The exercise of virtual winnowing needs to lead me to actual physical winnowing, or else they have simply wasted their collective breath.

“Sit On It”

“SIT ON IT” (CaD Ps 39) Wayfarer

“Surely everyone goes around like a mere phantom;
    in vain they rush about, heaping up wealth
    without knowing whose it will finally be.”

Psalm 39:6 (NIV)

Wendy and I are in Austin, Texas this week with some friends. It’s a getaway we had planned well over a year ago. We’re spending part of the day working and then enjoying the rest of our time together going out for meals in Austin’s amazing diversity of dining options.

Last night we went to a wonderful restaurant. It’s a popular spot for which reservations are required well in advance and they serve a crowd every night. Thus, we found ourselves looking around the lobby while we waited for our table. It doubled as a gift shop selling mostly jewelry. The hostess informed us that the jewelry came mostly from estate sales. As I browsed through the rings and the necklaces I wondered to myself about their original owners. Where were they from? What was it that attracted them to this strange-looking ring? Or, was it a gift they would never wear in a million years, but they never felt right getting rid of it?

There were few rings for men as I let my eyes wander through the table full of jewelry. I finally spied one large silver ring and lifted it up to look at it. It was definitely a men’s ring. It was flat on top and hand-stamped on it was the phrase “SIT ON IT,” a kitschy fad phrase made popular in my childhood by the character Fonzie in the television series Happy Days. It made me laugh. For the record, I chose not to spend the $95 they wanted for it.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, the four psalms from 38-41 were placed together in the compilation of ancient song lyrics because they had a common theme of confession, contrition, and lament. In today’s chapter, Psalm 39, David is waxing introspective in light of his physical ailments. He’s thinking about his own death. As with yesterday’s song, David clearly believes that his troubles are some form of divine discipline so he is crying out for mercy, healing, and deliverance. In the time of David, the Hebrew people had no developed understanding of eternity or life after death, so there is a brooding undertone as David considers his life journey’s brevity and the finality.

David’s song was structured symmetrically. The central theme of his song is placed in the center, with two verses on either side of it each with five lines in one and three lines in the other. The crux of what David is getting at is that central verse which I pasted at the top of the post:

“Surely everyone goes around like a mere phantom;
    in vain they rush about, heaping up wealth
    without knowing whose it will finally be.”

In the quiet this morning I couldn’t help but think about that stupid “SIT ON IT” ring I looked at last night. When I was a child, Happy Days was a cultural phenomenon and anything Fonzie said was repeated endlessly on the playground, including the shouting “Sit on it!” when telling a friend to piss off (which was actually a good thing because “piss off” would have gotten me in big trouble!).

Someone back in the 1970s bowed to popular culture and a viral fad. They bought a big silver ring with “SIT ON IT” hand-stamped on it. It ended up in an estate sale with who knows what other earthly possessions. One generation later it ended up on sale in the lobby of a restaurant in Austin, Texas.

It’s the same thing David was mulling over in his song. Everything I own and every possession I value will outlast me on this Earth. I couldn’t help but chuckle as I thought perhaps this morning this is an important reality, and the Spirit is telling me to “sit on it” for a few minutes and ponder.

David, as he always did, channels his brooding into a prayer. He proclaims hope in God to which he is clinging then cries out in a plea for healing and the chance to find joy in life before his number comes up and his earthly journey ends.

Today’s chapter is not a cheery pick-me-up for a day of vacation, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I can easily intoxicate myself with endless distractions to the point I am never sober-minded about significant matters of Life and Spirit. Today’s chapter is a good reminder to fully enjoy the goodness of Life on this day that lies before me. A day may come when I, like David, desperately struggle to do so.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

The Simple, Complex Mystery

The Simple, Complex Mystery (CaD Ps 37) Wayfarer

Turn from evil and do good;
    then you will dwell in the land forever.

Psalm 37:27 (NIV)

A while back I found myself in a conversation with a friend who is a very strong Enneagram Type One. Ones have a very strong moral center with an instinctive “gut” for sensing right-and-wrong, black-and-white, and this influences their own lives. It also influences how they perceive and approach the rest of the world. I, however, am an Enneagram Type Four and Fours tend to see the world in the broad spectrum of gradients between black and white. We Fours live well in the gray, which gives us tremendous empathy for others wherever they find themselves on that spectrum.

The conversation with my friend basically boiled down to our contrasting temperaments. My friends saw the issue we were discussing in very simple, black-and-white terms which made things very simple for him. I saw the issue in all the subtle complexities that it presented for people in everyday realities. It was a spirited conversation that ended up with us agreeing on the essential issue but having to agree to disagree on what to do about the issue.

Along my life journey, I have struggled with simplistic contrasts. We don’t think about it much, but our lives are full of them. As children, we’re taught that Santa will find you “naughty” or “nice” which will be the determining factor in your Christmas haul. When we grow up there are all sorts of other binary ways we continue to approach life. In fact, we’re having major social upheaval in our world because of all sorts of issues that we and the media have reduced to simple binary, black-and-white issues. I’m “mask” or “no masks.” I’m “racist” or “BLM.” I’m “conservative” or “progressive.” I’m “Democrat” or “Republican.” And, we’re making choices about how we perceive and treat others based on how their binary choices line up against ours. It breaks my heart.

In today’s chapter, Psalm 37, I am confronted with the reality that even the Great Story often reduces life and matters of Spirit into simple, binary, black-and-white terms. The entire song is dedicated to contrasting the “righteous” and the “wicked” and bringing it down to almost Santa-like “naughty-or-nice” terms.

Simple contrasting metaphors are a foundational spiritual building block throughout the Great Story. In the days of Moses, God places before the Hebrew people “Life” or “Death” and asks them to choose. Hundreds of years later the prophet Elijah stood on Mount Carmel and asked the people, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If God is God, go his way. If Baal (an ancient deity in Mesopotamian cultures) is God, go his way.” Hundreds of years later, Jesus spoke of Judgement Day in terms of separating humanity into “sheep” (good) and the “goats” (bad).

In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking back to the conversation with my Type One friend. In my spiritual journey, I learned that following Jesus begins with very simple “yes” or “no.” Here is another simple, contrasting metaphor Jesus used:

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” Matthew 7:13-14 (NIV)

My journey with Jesus began on a cold February night when, to the lyrics of modern psalm proclaiming “I have decided to follow Jesus,” I made that simple decision. I don’t know how to describe the way my life changed that night. There were all sorts of simple binary choices I then began to make about my life, words, relationship, and behavior based on that foundational yes-or-no decision.

At the same time, the further I traveled down life’s road I found that the journey of being a Jesus follower has been a never-ending, daily experiment in figuring out what it means to continue walking that “narrow road.” Sometimes I find things coming down to a very simple black-and-white choice. More often, I find a gradient of complexity in things. So, seeing the world in simple binary terms isn’t such a simple binary issue. I’m sure my Type One friends find it much easier than I do, but that only feeds my point. There are nine Enneagram Types and we’re not all Ones.

In the quiet this morning I find myself back at the mystery of things being “yes, and.” This journey of following Jesus is both simple and infinitely complex. Lest my Type Four heart get lost in the infinite mystery of living in gray, I always have Psalm 37 to pull me back and remind me that sometimes life does simply come back to a black-or-white choice to do either the thing I know is right or the thing I know is wrong, recognizing that there are natural consequences of life and Spirit that will follow the choice I make.

Another day of choices in a very complex world lies before me. Pray I simply make good ones.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.