Tag Archives: Healing

Music and the Blues

Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Lord….
Exodus 15:1 (NRSVCE)

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I have a confession to make. I have always wished I had a gift in music. Sure, I did the requisite year or two of lessons as a kid, but nothing every really clicked for me. I sang in the church youth choir and continued to sing in church and school groups for years. I taught myself a bunch of chords on the guitar so I could sing a few Bob Dylan songs on my back porch on a summer evening, and serenade our daughters to sleep singing Forever Young. But, that’s not the gift of music.

I remember an episode of M*A*S*H I watched as a kid. One of the doctors, Major Winchester, was a patrician blue blood with a knowledge of all the fine things of life. He finds himself having to amputate the hand of a patient, only to recognize the young man as one of the world’s up-and-coming virtuoso pianists. The Major goes to great lengths to ensure that the man does not let the loss of his hand prevent him from playing. His response was that young man had a gift and he couldn’t let that go to waste. “I could always play the notes,” Winchester said, “but I could never make the music.”

Bingo! One of the best delineations between competence and giftedness I’ve ever heard.

So, I’ve never been a gifted musicians, and that’s okay. My gifts are in other areas. But it doesn’t stop me from appreciating music. I believe that God infused music with powerful properties. One of them is the way music ties us emotionally and spiritually to moments of our life journeys.

When I started to read the lyrics to the Hebrews’ victory song in today’s chapter I was immediately transported back to my high school youth group on a summer morning clapping and singing these same lyrics to an acoustic guitar.

As soon as I hear the Hollies’ classing Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress I am ten years old and in cabin 3 at Camp Idelwood on Rainy Lake, Minnesota. It’s a cold, rainy day and I’m stuck in the cabin with Mark Malone, Piper, Matt, and my sister Jody.

When I hear The Old Rugged Cross you might notice me smile softly and catch a tear welling-up in my eye. That was my grandma Golly’s song, and the music connects me forever to her.

You get it. I know you do. We all do. That’s the power of music.

Three Times a Lady: My first kiss.
Bridge of Troubled Waters: Road trip to Le Mars and 8-track tapes.
The Joshua Tree: Judson College
Psycho-Killer: Backstage. Pre-show. Kirk.

In today’s chapter, the Hebrews celebrate what God has done with a song. They lyrics are recorded and handed down generation-to-generation. What the tune originally sounded like is lost in the depths of time, but thousands of years later me and my friends at church were singing the same lyrics as we clapped and sang and worshipped God on a summer morning.

How cool is that?

I don’t know about you, but life has felt so heavy the past week or two. The weight of months of quarantine and social distancing, life out-of-whack, George Floyd, riots, violence. Ugh.

As I returned from my road trip on Wednesday I happened upon Bob Dylan and gospel great Mavis Staples singing Dylan’s song called Change My Way of Thinkin’. In one of the strangest things I’ve ever heard in modern music, they stop the music to act out a scripted vignette in which Dylan tells Mavis that he’s got the blues.

Dylan: I been up all night with insomnia reading Snoozeweek.

Staples: Snoozeweek? That ain’t no way to get rid of the blues. You’ve got to sing!

With that, they launch back into the raucous gospel-blues tune.

Here’s the song on Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/track/0ssPo81sHtsS1VfFn4DtjH?si=ftZZt5b0SMKc7BYQjgSBUw

Thanks, Mavis. What a good reminder. And this morning in the quiet it reminds me that in connecting us emotionally and spiritually to people, places, and events, music also has healing properties.

Mavis Staples is right. Staying awake all night watching the news is no cure for the blues. We need music. We need to surround ourselves in the beat, the melody, the lyrics that will lift our spirit and help us extricate the weight of the moment by expressing it.

Gonna Change My Way of Thinkin’ did that for me.

Think about it. Try it. Let me know what song or songs help you. I’m curious to know.

Rock on, my friend.

Want to Read More?

Simply click on the image above or click here to be taken to a page with a simple photo index to all posts from this series on Exodus.

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

Spiritual Hearing and Sight Impairment

Moses told this to the Israelites; but they would not listen to Moses, because of their broken spirit and their cruel slavery.
Exodus 6:9 (NRSVCE)

When Jesus was teaching, He would repetitiously tag his message by saying, “Those who have ears to hear, let them hear.” This phrase has always resonated with me. Maybe more so because in the experience of delivering a message I have always experienced that some people really “hear” the message and others do not. Jesus was constantly acknowledging this truth. In explaining to His followers the reason He taught with parables He went so far as to embrace that this is part of a larger spiritual mystery revealed by the prophet, Isaiah:

That’s why I tell stories: to create readiness, to nudge the people toward receptive insight. In their present state they can stare till doomsday and not see it, listen till they’re blue in the face and not get it. I don’t want Isaiah’s forecast repeated all over again:
“Your ears are open but you don’t hear a thing.
    Your eyes are awake but you don’t see a thing.
The people are blockheads!
They stick their fingers in their ears
    so they won’t have to listen;
They screw their eyes shut
    so they won’t have to look,
    so they won’t have to deal with me face-to-face
    and let me heal them.
“But you have God-blessed eyes—eyes that see! And God-blessed ears—ears that hear!”

Matthew 13 :13-16 (MSG)

Not everyone wants to see it or hear it in this moment.

Not everyone is ready to see it or hear it in this moment.

In yesterday’s chapter, Moses’ first attempt at getting Pharaoh to let the Hebrew people go was a dismal failure. Not only did Pharaoh reject the appeal, but he made life even worse for the Hebrews whom Moses is trying to lead. In today’s chapter, Moses is prompted by God to have another go at it but his people would not listen “because of their broken spirit and their cruel slavery.”

In the quiet this morning, I find myself meditating on those whom I observe to be suffering from spiritual hearing and sight impairment. In my experience, the institutional church and its regulatory minions have been too quick to diagnose such a person with a terminal spiritual condition. Judgment and condemnation quickly follow before shaking the dust off and returning to the cloister. I confess that, in my own spiritual journey, I have been guilty of this very attitude.

Mea culpa.

As I began to walk life’s journey along-side those who are struggling to spiritually see and hear, I found them to be a lot like the Hebrews in today’s chapter. There is something broken spiritually. Often it is something old and painful that is deep-seated. Typically it is of no fault of their own. It is the scars of circumstance. I have also observed that there is almost always a true desire to spiritually hear and see, but there is a process. Like the blind man whom Jesus healed, the first time Jesus rubbed the man’s eyes everything was blurry. It took another repetition before the man gained his full sight.

It’s going to take repetition for Moses’ people, too. They are broken. They’re struggling under the weight of their chains and the scars of their overseers. It’s going to take time, repetition, and perseverance before they can hear what God is saying and see what God is doing through Moses.

Along the way, I’ve learned that if someone is spiritually deaf and blind, it simply means I need to keep speaking in love, listening patiently, acting kindly, responding gently, serving faithfully, and controlling my reactions. I’m reminded that on the night before His crucifixion, Jesus was still complaining that His closest followers weren’t hearing Him or seeing what He was doing.

Some things take time.

Want to Read More?

Simply click on the image above or click here to be taken to a page with a simple photo index to all posts from this series on Exodus.

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

Let Good Rule

Then Jesus said to them, “I ask you, which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?”
Luke 6:9 (NIV)

Religion loves rules.

When I was a young man I, for a short time, found myself living among a conservative, legalistic, religious Christians. I stop short of calling them Jesus’ followers because I eventually came to realize that they were the spiritual descendants of the religious leaders who, for two chapters now, have been keeping their critical, judgemental, condemning eyes on Jesus. Their motivation is to catch Jesus doing something wrong so that they can dismiss Him, judge Him, and condemn Him. In doing so, they can feel righteous about ignoring Jesus’ teaching and proud of leading others to do the same.

Religion loves rules.

In Jesus’ day, there was no better example of religious rule-keeping than the Sabbath. The Sabbath was established at the very beginning, right after creation:

By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.

Genesis 2:2 (NIV)

This was a long time before God gave the Top Ten through Moses (Sabbath made it to #4 on the Top Ten commandments list).

Sabbath simply means a prescribed time of rest. It’s a day-off, a time-out, a quiet time, and it’s all about R&R, recharging, and being refreshed. Sabbath began as a spiritual principle God exemplified for all of humanity. After six days of work, everyone could use a little break from the daily grind, even God. It’s good for your body, mind, and spirit.

The problem with humanity, of course, is that we struggle with principles. They are so, well, gray…

“What does ‘rest’ mean exactly? I need that defined. And ‘work’ too. Is feeding my cat work? What about taking out the trash with my baby’s stinky diaper? And, speaking of stinky, what about having to watch the stinkin’ Packers game with my in-laws (that always feels like a lot of work)?”

“We’re supposed to labor for six days and rest on the seventh? What if I work weekends?”

“By ‘work,’ are we talking gainful employment here? What if I’m currently unemployed?”

“You tell me how in the world I’m supposed to rest from being a mother. There is no rest from these rug rats and their incessant demands!”

Along life’s journey, I’ve come to observe that humanity is given to rule-making in almost every area of life. Government institutions become bureaucracies with libraries dedicated to tracking all of the laws, codes, rules, and regulations. In fact, according to LegalZoom, if you’re driving through certain rural parts of Pennsylvania you are legally required to stop every mile and shoot off a flare to mark your position. In North Dakota, it’s unlawful to buy beer and pretzels at the same time. Women in Florida are forbidden by law to fall asleep under a hair-dryer.

Another example is how the notion of taxing citizens to pay for Government services has resulted in the 74,608 page U.S. Tax Code.

When it comes to religion, we humans do the same things. Well-intentioned religious institutions start with a spiritual principle about getting some much-needed rest and end up with an endless list of rules which, eventually, require a lot of work to keep straight and follow. This is where things stood in the days when Jesus was teaching in today’s chapter. Breaking the “sabbath” rules was something that Jesus and His followers were accused of doing repeatedly.

In today’s chapter, the Sabbath police were following Jesus around just waiting for Him to break one of the rules. That’s the other thing about religious and social rule-keeping, it typically ends up with some kind of group who police the masses. Of course, Jesus knew they were there.

Jesus asks, “I ask you, which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?” The answer, of course, goes back to the principle of rest that was the heart of Sabbath in the beginning. The tome of sabbath rules, sub-rules, and clarifications had both perverted the principle intent (keeping the Sabbath became work) and allowed the perpetuation of evil (people refused to help out a neighbor in an emergency in order not to be caught by the Sabbath police).

So, Jesus healed a man’s paralyzed hand in front of the crowd on the Sabbath.

Let good rule!

The religious rule-keepers immediately went into judge, jury, and executioner mode.

There’s something grossly wrong with this picture, and that was what Jesus was trying to get people to see and understand for themselves.

My time among the legalistic Christians didn’t last very long. All of the silly rules about clothes, hair, shoes, music, and fraternization were more than I could take. I did, however, make a number of worthwhile observations and I learned a lot of very valuable lessons. I came to understand that legalism keeps people imprisoned to rules, codes, and regulations while keeping them from developing the spiritual maturity and self-discipline necessary to develop Godly wisdom.

This morning I find myself reminded that doing a good thing for someone else should never be against the rules.

Have you missed the previous chapter-a-day posts from this journey through the Gospel of Luke? Click on this image and it will take you to a quick index of the other posts!

Pre-Scribed Events and Reimagined Narratives

But Naaman went away angry and said, “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy.
2 Kings 5:11 (NIV)

I’ve always had a rather active imagination. As a kid I spent a lot of time in the land of make-believe. I can remember many scenes of war and espionage played out in my back yard and neighborhood. There were all sort of athletic miracles and Rudy-like moments that took place on the neighbor’s basketball court. I can even remember drawing colorful geometric shapes on notebook paper, taping them to the wall in a line and transforming my room in to the command deck of the Starship Enterprise. The final frontier alive and well in the limited space of my bedroom. I was that kid.

As I’ve continued on in my life journey, I’ve come to the realization that my active imagination has some unintended consequences. Because I have this unconscious ability to make up a narrative in my head, I sometimes find myself applying my imagination to real life. I just read the other day how, according to the author of the article, eye-witness testimony has become one of the least reliable forms of evidence in today’s justice system. People testify to what they honestly imagined they saw. I get that. Wendy sometimes corrects my retelling of events as my imagination makes changes and embellishments to the facts over time.

I have also found that I like the stories I tell myself. In fact, if I’m honest, I often like my own imaginative narratives better than the one God seems to be dictating in my current “real life” and present circumstances.

So it was that I found myself uncomfortably identifying with Namaan in today’s chapter. The worldly rich and power leper came to the prophet Elisha for healing. He also came with an imaginative narrative already written in his head how the events of his healing would unfold. Perhaps he’d heard others’ stories, or perhaps someone planted ideas in his head of what Elisha would experience (here I go again, imagining what might have happened). What we do read in this morning’s chapter is that when circumstances didn’t live up to the imagined narrative Namaan had prescribed for himself he became disappointed, frustrated, angry, and finally was utterly dismissive of the instructions Elisha prescribed for healing.

Namaan almost missed out on being healed of his leprosy because it didn’t match the events as he’d imagined them and pre-scribed (think of the word pre-scribed, literally: “scripted ahead of time“) them in his head!

In the quiet of this beautiful summer morning I’m glancing back into the past and honestly taking stock of ways that I have attempted to pre-scribe life along my own journey. I’m also doing my best to genuinely search for ways I may have imaginatively reimagined past events to place myself in a better role, give myself better lines, and alter others’ perceptions of events to place myself in a more favorable light within the scene.

I confess that I do these things more than I’d like to imagine.

[sigh]

Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.

 

Willingness

Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said.
Matthew 8:3a (NIV)

When my daughter Madison was about four years old I called out to her from my home office in the basement of our home. She came scampering in my office from the next room where she had been playing. I needed something (I can’t remember what it was) retrieved from upstairs. “Will you go upstairs and get it?” I asked.

“Sure Dad!” she said with a big smile and child-like excitement. “I’ll be happy to!” And with that she ran off, immediately did as I asked, and cheerfully returned with the item.

I sat there for a moment thoroughly dumbstruck by her willing attitude. I can vividly remember sitting there and enjoying that little moment. She didn’t do what I asked grudgingly. She didn’t do what I asked dutifully. She didn’t do what I asked because I paid her allowance. She didn’t do what I asked out of obligation or familial obedience. She did what I asked out of a cheerful, willing attitude. I’ve never forgotten that moment.

One of the rarely demonstrated service skills I teach my clients is the simple act of expressing your willingness to do what a customer asks.

“Can you…?”
“I’ll be more than happy to do that for you.”

“Will you…?”
“You bet I will. I’m on it.”

“Is it possible…?”
“It sure is. And I’ll be glad to take care of it.”

In this morning’s chapter, Jesus begins by using this simple service skill when asked by leper if He’d be “willing” to heal him.

“I am willing,” Jesus said, and I imagine the warm smile on his face as he reaches out to touch the contagious, infected, deformed leper.

The rest of the chapter reveals so much about Jesus willingness:

  • Willingness to heal the son of a member of the despised Roman occupational force. (I’m guessing that Jesus’ disciple, Simon the Zealot, would have preferred Jesus kill both the Roman Centurion and his son).
  • Willingness to cast out evil spirits and heal anyone and everyone who came to him.
  • Willingness to heal the mother of his friend, Peter.
  • Willingness to use His power and authority to calm both the sea, and his followers fears.
  • Willingness to show mercy, even to His spiritual enemies, and grant the demons’ request.’

This morning I’m enjoying the memory of Madison’s cheerful attitude. I’m thinking about Jesus willing attitude, and I’m recalling what He said in yesterday’s chapter as He concluded His “Sermon on the Mount”:

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!

I must confess that I, too often, approach God and Life with the attitude of scarcity. I expect that God wants to punish more than bless, and even if He does bless me He will be miserly doling out those blessings. “After all,” I think to myself, “I’m such a wretch that I should be grateful for anything I receive.” I sometimes attach to God my own warped image of the begrudging parent. Ugh. I see God out of the lens of my own personal shortcomings.

“If you’re willing,” I hear Jesus whispering to my heart this morning in the quiet of my home office, “you can choose to see me differently. To see me as I am: Willing.”

Yes, Lord. I’d be happy to do so. By the way, thank you for your willingness to be patient, and to help open my eyes.

Deaf Amidst the Din

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
    and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
Isaiah 35:5 (NIV)

This past weekend was the close of our local community theatre’s holiday show. After the final performance on Saturday afternoon the entire cast and crew worked diligently to strike the set, clean up the stage and dressing rooms, put away all the props, and return the costumes to the costume shop. Then it was time for the requisite cast party and celebration.

Between cast, crew and family there were over sixty people gathered in our friend’s home for the cast party. As a hearing impaired person this can be a challenge. Even with hearing aids, the loud din made by a celebratory crowd in a small space makes distinguishing words in conversation a challenge. I can hear the sounds and I try my best to read the lips, but distinguishing the actual words being said to me is sometimes impossible.

In today’s chapter, the prophet Isaiah foresees that one day the Messiah will open the eyes of the blind and unstop the dears of the deaf. In fact, Jesus alluded to Isaiah’s prophetic words when He told the followers of his cousin, John the Baptist:

“Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.”

Yet while the miraculous physical healing of the blind and deaf was witnessed and well-chronicled by Jesus’ followers, the healing of the physical body was just the surface of Jesus’ intention. He made it clear that His mission was clearly focused on infirmities of the spirit. Those who physically see and hear perfectly well can, at the same time, be spiritually blind and deaf. Jesus quoted another one of Isaiah’s prophetic words when He described the crowds following him:

Though seeing, they do not see;
    though hearing, they do not hear or understand.”

That’s a concept I increasingly understand as I sit amidst the loud din of a cast party or a crowded restaurant. I can hear the sounds all around, but I am deaf to the messages being spoken directly to me by a friend. Though hearing, I am deaf.

This morning I am thinking about being blind and deaf. I wonder if there isn’t, for some, a reciprocal relationship between the physical and spiritual; As my eyes fail my spiritual sight becomes more acute, and as my ears become increasingly deaf my spiritual hearing reaches new levels of clarity. This is my hope. I can manage relatively well if my ears and eyes fail along my journey. The circumstances are more dire if the eyes and ears of my heart remain blind and deaf.

If you want to…

The person who has the leprous disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head be disheveled; and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, “Unclean, unclean.” He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease; he is unclean. He shall live alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp.
Leviticus 13:45-46 (NRSV)

I have a nasty cold. You don’t want to shake my hand.”

It’s not uncommon to hear that phrase when greeting someone during cold and flu season. With all we know about germs, bacteria, and viruses, it’s considered courteous and a socially appropriate way to show concern for, and protect the health of, another person. We don’t even think that much about it.

Today’s lengthy chapter is fascinating when I consider what scant medical knowledge must have existed when these laws about visible infections were given thousands of years ago. The prescribed actions in today’s chapter describe a systematic diagnosis of symptoms, the quarantine of infected individuals, the destruction of infected clothing, and the public communication of such infections so as to protect the larger community from transmittal.

What was considered necessary for the health and welfare of the society could also be incredibly shaming for the infected person. You were expected to make yourself look sick and disheveled so others could spot you and would want to avoid you. You were to proclaim loudly and repeatedly “Unclean!” so that others could stay away. How awful for those who lived their entire lives in such a way. I can’t imagine what it would do to my soul to live life always on the periphery of “normal” society, continually repelling people with my appearance and forever announcing to people who I was “unclean.” Talk about tragic.

It brings to mind this morning one of my favorite stories about Jesus. It happens so quickly that it is often forgotten among the wondrous things Jesus did on his miraculous mystery tour:

Then a leper appeared and went to his knees before Jesus, praying, “Master, if you want to, you can heal my body.”

Jesus reached out and touched him, saying, “I want to. Be clean.”

I think about this leper in terms of today’s chapter with its rigid legal and religious societal prescription. This is a person who has been alienated from family and society, perhaps their whole lives. This is a person who has had people perpetually avoid them, look at them in disgust, and treat them with contempt. This is a person who may very well have not felt the touch of another human being for as long as they could remember. No warm hugs, no human intimacy, no loving caress of a mother or spouse. This is a person who, in word and action, has been repeatedly fed a message by society: “I don’t want to see you. I don’t want to touch you. I don’t want you near me or my loved ones.”

Imagine this wounded soul coming to Jesus at the height of Jesus’ popularity. The crowds were enormous.

“Unclean!” the person shouts hoarsely as the crowds part. Mothers protect their children and hurry them away. People look away in disgust. Shouts and insults erupt as the “normal” people urge this person to leave and get away from them. Perhaps a few even picked up stones to throw in order to physically drive the leper away from them.

But Jesus watches quietly as the leper kneels and proclaims a simple statement of faith. “If you want to, you can make me clean.”

Then Jesus reaches out and touches the leper. “I want to,” Jesus says.

This morning I am thinking about my leprous soul that no one sees. I am thinking about the many ways I am “unclean” and infected with envy, hatred, prejudice, and pride. I am thinking of the ways I secretly identify with the leper, and all the ways I don’t have a flipping’ clue.

Jesus, If you want to, you can make me clean.

chapter a day banner 2015

featured image by Hans Splinter via Flickr

Haunted by a Seemingly Simple Question

When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?”
John 5:6 (NRSV)

As I journey again and again through God’s Message, there are certain words, phrases, and stories that haunt me. Every time I encounter them they impact my spirit in a profound way. I can’t escape them. They come to mind at random times. And, despite the perpetual impact I always sense that the full truth of them continue to elude me.

In today’s chapter, it’s the simple question Jesus asks of a paralytic who, for 38 years, had lain on his mat next to a pool that was rumored to have healing powers.

“Do you want to get well?”

Really, Jesus? Really? Seriously? Are you kidding me? I make my family carry me here every day for 38 years hoping for a miracle. I sit here every day. This is my life. And, you want to know if I want to get well. What a silly question.

But it’s not silly at all. I have learned along life’s road, and from my own experience, that my true motives are often hidden beneath carefully crafted appearances. I say I want healing, but the truth is I am content in my sickness. I complain about our sicknesses, weaknesses, and shortcomings , but I’ve become so used to living with them that I’m secretly afraid of life without them. I complain about my paralysis, but if actually do learn to walk my family is going to expect me to actually get a job. Hm.

Being a victim comes with addictive perks that we don’t really talk about.

“Do you want to get well?”

There’s a lot more to that question than it seems. There are layers of questions in those six words. Many of them are uncomfortable questions I’m not sure I want asked. Today, I’m once again haunted by a seemingly simple question Jesus asked.

The Healthy Act of Human Expression

The Scream by artist Edvard Munch. Lithography...
The Scream by artist Edvard Munch. Lithography, 1895. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

How long, O God, will you allow our enemies to insult you?
Will you let them dishonor your name forever?
Psalm 74:10 (NLT)

The lyrics of this song of Asaph were written during a period of history when his country had been besieged and destroyed. The prophet Jeremiah is commonly attributed to have described the conditions of the same event in his own lyric poem we now know as Lamentations. The city of Jerusalem and Solomon’s wondrous temple were destroyed. Women and children were slaughtered. Many were enslaved (like Daniel) and taken back to Babylon. Those unfortunate few who were left in the desolation of the city were literally starving. The rich bartered their family treasures and heirlooms for a loaf of bread. The poor who had no other means were reduced to cannibalism. It was not a pretty sight.

Tragic circumstances and events are part of living in a fallen world. The news of late has been of tornadoes that killed small children when an elementary school was hit, of religious zealots publicly hacking a man to death on the street, and unspeakable horrors inflicted on human beings on both sides of armed conflict in Syria and in multiple conflicts in Africa. I listen to those who argue that the human condition is continuing to evolve and get better, who believe that there is increasing good in mankind. Then I read the world headlines and find continuous evidence that humanity, despite technological and societal advances is (as the Talking Heads put it) “the same as it ever was.”

We could debate this question over a pint or two. The truth remains that we will all face various levels of tragedy in our respective life journeys. We all have questions for God. There is something in us, as children made in the likeness of our Creator, to express ourselves creatively and metaphorically. Asaph and Jeremiah picked up their styluses and wrote songs and poems to try and express the unanswerable questions that plagued their souls at the incomprehensible horrors they witnessed. Art, in all of its many forms, heals.

Today I am reminded that creative expression is a prescription for my spiritual and mental health. I will experience and witness tragedy. The question is not “Will it happen?” but “What will I do with it when it happens?” I can stuff it and cover it over until it begins to eat me away from the inside out in unhealthy ways, or I can get my questions and emotions out into the light of day where they can be acknowledged and lose their destructive power. Asaph wrote a blues song. Jeremiah wrote a lyric poem. Edward Munch painted “The Scream.” Eugene O’Neill wrote the play A Long Day’s Journey into Night. These are examples most everyone knows. But most expressions are not public expressions. I myself have written pages and pages of words and lyric thoughts no one will ever read. They are not for public consumption. But, I wrote them. I wrote them to get out my questions, to make my case, to express my anger, sadness, doubts, pain, frustration, hopelessness, and to scream at God. I transmitted them from my mind and soul through my pen and onto the page.

What have you done with your own tragedies?

The Right Words at the Wrong Time

4thingsThese are the twelve tribes of Israel, and this is what their father said as he told his sons good-bye. He blessed each one with an appropriate message. Genesis 49:28 (NLT)

What we say as parents and, perhaps more importantly, what we left unsaid can create soul-wounds which can and will negatively affect generations of a family. A few months ago, Wendy and I had the privilege of participating in a service project in which we read part of an audiobook that will be used by our local hospice when families have a loved one who is dying. The book, The Four Things That Matter Most, was written by Dr. Ira Bock who is an authority in the area palliative and end-of-life care. In his book, Dr. Bock recommends four messages that need to be said between loved ones before death:

  • “Please forgive me.”
  • “I forgive you.”
  • “Thank you.”
  • “I love you.”

I thought about Dr. Bock’s book this morning as I read Jacob’s death-bed words to each of his sons. I put myself in the shoes of each son and considered what each might have felt upon hearing the words. I came up with a broad range of emotions from shame, guilt, envy, curiosity, hurt, anger, bewilderment, and pride. While there were some positive emotions in the list, they were overshadowed by the negative.

I believe Jacob spoke the right words, but they were at the wrong time. I’m sure that he spoke spoke truth to his sons and expressed what his heart felt before he died, but as I look at the diverse list of emotions I jotted down I can only imagine that Jacob’s words created more wounds and division than healing and harmony among the brothers. Furthermore, Jacob purged his heart and mind before he died, giving no opportunity for conversation, reflection and relational healing.

There is a time for everything, a time to wound and a time to heal. There is a time for confrontation and honesty, but confrontation and honesty right before one breathes his or her last tends to create a one way monologue that may open wounds in their loved ones which will never heal this side of death. The time for that crucial conversation is when both parties are able to have a conversation, perhaps a series of conversations, along with the necessary time and space to work things out and come to a mutual understanding. When this is done in a timely way in life, there is a greater opportunity to hear the four things that matter most to be said before death.

Our words have the power to wound or to heal. Let us be careful how we wield them, especially with those whom we love most in this life.