Gratitude and Full redemption

I’m borrowing Katie’s words tonight.

Her mom died yesterday – young, hip grandma, loved the Lord with her whole everything – recent cancer diagnosis, a few days in home hospice, and she was gone.

Since Mom’s death on July 9th, when I hear stories like Katie’s – like her mom’s – I have found a compassion in me that I’ve never tapped into before. I can only think that it’s the promise of the Lord in his word – from 2 Corinthians, chapter 1:

3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 5 For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.

Our Comfort abounds. Indeed. Anyway, I have to be careful because I’ve always been the dramatic type, and I can tend to take other people’s stories onto myself, which becomes a skewed form of entertainment. And if you’re still with me after that admission, then you must be a real friend.

But I digress.

The Lord has been my comfort. I have experienced His nearness and goodness in ways that I can’t really explain. I have had moments of hopelessness, of anger, and of real sadness. But I have never doubted that God is sovereign, and good, and worthy to be trusted, even in this.

So when I found Katie’s post last night about her dear mom, something in me grieved so deeply, but I also felt like the Lord watered a seed of hope deep within me. I ache for her, for her family. And I still believe that God is good. Like Katie does.




This morning I woke up early.  I went right in to see my mom.  The last couple of days I’ve done my bible study near her and even though she doesn’t really respond, I still read some of the verses out loud to her.  She loves the Word.  Today she was just such a faint shadow of herself.  It was hard to even read the verses out loud…  I placed my hand on her stomach and prayed once again that God would heal her from her pain, from her sickness, I prayed that she would live so that I could have her longer in my life, but more so that He would get the ultimate glory for stretching out His mighty arm to heal her.  I read about Abraham about how God parted the red sea and I prayed this verse:

LORD, I have heard of Your fame;
I stand in awe of Your deeds, O Lord.
Renew them in our time, make them known!
Hab 3:2

I prayed believing, and prayed asking Him what His will was.  I wanted to know what He would do, I had grown so weary from waiting…  from watching my mom slip further and further away from whom I have known her to be.  And then I came across this passage:
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.  For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the sons of God.  For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.
For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.  And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.
For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees?  But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.
Rom 8:18-25

This is her calling:  to eagerly await her adoption as daughter, the redemption of her body.  She belongs with Him.  She is His beloved, His child, His daughter.  It could not have been more clear to me.  She belongs with Him.  I needed to come to the understanding that, when praying for healing, God’s discernment is ultimate and it is good.  He has taught me that there is no shame in asking and hoping and that He is, in fact, mighty to save.  There are times when He discerns that He will hold off on the adoption of one of His children so that His ultimate good can be done, and then there are times when He decides that it is best to take His child. So I sat there with my mom, crying and praying, realizing that she would be best with Him, happiest, most fulfilled.  And I knew that, while He could heal her, He was not going to, He was going to take her.

And He did.  She left this world this afternoon.  She is no longer here.  She has been redeemed.

Sadness washes over us, but it does not take our hope.  We will again Praise Him.  We will bless His name forever and ever.
Here is how Abraham started his faith journey:
“By faith Abraham when he was called,
obeyed by going out to a place which
he was to receive for an inheritance; and he
went out, not knowing where he was going.”
Heb 11:8
And that is how we will start our journey now; without my mom, by faith, not knowing where we are going. And, like my mom, we will go out and lead a life of love, eagerly awaiting our adoption as sons of God.  Our lives will never be what they were.  Please pray for us.


And now we turn the corner to Thanksgiving. Dad is coming down, he’s cooking [how blessed are we?!] and hanging out for a couple of days. Thursday is November 25th – Mom and Dad’s 56th wedding anniversary. They were married on Thanksgiving Day 1954 – Mom spent a year as a teacher [she HATED it!] and the only time they could get even a brief honeymoon was over Thanksgiving weekend. They were married in Platteville, vacationed in Chicago, and were back to work near Madison on Monday. In 2004 we hosted a dinner for their 50th anniversary – also on Thanksgiving day that year. So it has such a special meaning for us. It will be hard. Yes. But it will be good.

I am counting on it.


My Sentiments Exactly

windy fall

Autumn Movement by Carl Sandburg

I cried over beautiful things knowing no beautiful thing lasts.

The field of cornflower yellow is a scarf at the neck of the copper sunburned woman, the mother of the year, the taker of seeds.

The northwest wind comes and the yellow is torn full of holes, new beautiful things come in the first spit of snow on the northwest wind, and the old things go, not one lasts.

For Mom. For life.

I had a thought yesterday that took my breath away. It sounds foolish, I think, and a little silly, and obvious. But I realized for the first time that this feeling of missing my mom is never going to go away – there is no end to this. When a friend dies, or someone with whom you’re not as close, or even a more distant relative, it feels to me more like an event – a thing that has a beginning, but also wanes to an end. (Maybe that’s because, too, I’m so often involved in funerals for people in those categories. As much as one can be, I’m used to such things.) The realization that there will be no abating to this feeling – I will *always* miss my mom – hit me hard. Maybe that’s a signal that I’m moving to another stage of grief – the part that’s beyond sadness – somehow deeper. The thought of the long-haul missing is exhausting, even at the front end of it. Mom’s been gone now for 16 weeks. Sixteen Fridays since the Friday she died. She loved – adored – the fall, and this one has been spectacular in every way – an October of sunshine and incredible colors. Last weekend when I took my son to his final soccer game of the season, we drove on highway 33 to the interstate. When I came around the corner to The Narrows, I promptly burst into tears at the beauty of it all. Seriously – everyone said that it was past peak. Nonsense. It was amazing.

My heart has been tender this fall. I am quick to cry, and quick to need to sleep. Sometimes it’s not obvious that my moods are impacted by grief, but I feel as though there is a meltdown just below the surface of my days most of the time. The children have been wonderful – transitions to school have been much better than we anticipated, and the littlest one and I have a great time at home doing our thing while the other kids are at school.

Dad and Steph road trip to Mineral Point and Platteville

We have spent several days in Green Bay helping dad as he prepares to move to Baraboo as soon as the house sells. Poignant, bittersweet – but also just a plain old heck of a lot of work. Ezra has been my buddy for those road trips. He’s a sweetheart and he loves Grandpa. So do I. Dad has been a rock star – pressing on, doing the hard work that’s going to set him free for the rest of his life – the more we purge now, the more comfortable and settled he will be once he gets here. This morning Dad is at the funeral of his niece/my cousin, Linda, who was far too young to die of cancer – in fact, the same cancer as Mom’s, with the same sort of hyper-fast progression. I was asked to sing, but because of a dress rehearsal for our All Hallows Eve service, I couldn’t. Frankly, it was a bit of a relief to be forced to say no. I haven’t done a funeral since Mom’s.

Part of the pressing on for me this fall has been participating in a Spinning class. Not wool, not yarns, not tales, but group cycling. Twice a week I’m on the bike, and it’s helping me to find my way. Seriously – the physical work of this kind of exercise taps into something deep in me – not sure if it’s my inner athlete, or a part of me that has long been forgotten… but I think it has something to do with having watched Mom die as a result of not caring for herself in the ways that she could have, and should have. I would like to think that I would, as much as it depends on me, live as well as I can to avoid disease and illness. I am well aware that this is not fully within my control – but I have a renewed sense of wanting to do better. And so I am. At class on Thursday, we biked to Melissa Etheridge’s I Run for Life – which, I have to say, is a fabulous anthem. Do you know it?

We did a hill to that song… standing up, crazy high resistance, running for life – tears and snot, hope and memory, all of it making for a pretty intense experience. I run for my life, and in memory of Mom’s, and for my heroes like Crescent and Jan and Kathy and Bobbi and Carrie and Barb and Linda and….

Crescent, finishing her treatment. This is hope.

It goes without saying, but I will say it anyway – the Lord has not left me alone in my sadness. He has been present in ways that I have expected, and ways that have caught me by surprise. The state of my heart is not a surprise to Him. I am grateful.

So, I’m off to help get costumes ready, to practice ‘For All the Saints’ for our evensong tomorrow night, as we commemorate those who have gone before us, and the Lord who has made the way. It is Mom’s first All Hallows Eve in the presence of the Lord. She wins. As for me, in the rhythm of life, I continue on with a grateful heart.

So, anyway, as I was saying….

I forgot.

I have a blog.

I am ready to return with a full report of the summer of 2010 – probably more full than you, my dear and few readers, want to experience. But I’m feeling the itch to process.

I shall do it here.

Because I need you, and your wisdom, and your prayers, and your love.

And this seems to be as good a place as any to gather together.

Stay tuned.


An Unexpected Lenten Feast


Lent, Interrupted.

I think this flight is delayed so that I can finally get a blog post done. I’m in Charlotte where it’s warm, sunny, and glorious. Wish I could be on the other side of that great big window.

It is customary in our tradition to lay our al—uias aside during the season of Lent. It might seem a small and unimportant thing, but I have learned now over the last several years that removing the word from 6 weeks of worship services does very much matter – when the Easter Vigil reaches the glorious moment of declaring that Christ is risen, the word that has been missing for so long suddenly comes back – with life, and meaning, and import, and glory. I love it. What a great moment. We sing it more times than we can count at the Vigil and on Easter morning.

It is true, too, that Sundays are always considered a feast of the Resurrection, and if one wanted to, one could very easily justify feasting on the Sundays of Lent – or at least not fasting. [did that make sense?] In other words, the church gathers for worship because Christ is risen, and that isn’t any less true during Lent.

In an incredible convergence of time and liturgical season, our little church had the opportunity to mark the death and honor the life of a woman who did nothing less than live her life out loud – for 95 years. Sara died on a Thursday, and her family planned her funeral service to take place on the following Sunday afternoon. That this all happened during one of my trips away, and while my daughter had the stomach flu causing my husband to be writing sermons late in to the night on Saturday is of little notice [but was worth mentioning nonetheless. :)] My husband, the Rector of our little parish, was able to visit with Sara twice during her last days of life, even being present to pray with her just an hour or so before she died.

Sara’s life looked, by all outward accounts, like a lonely one. She never married. She had little family. She was rather transient over her long lifetime. But just beneath the surface of Sara’s story, for those who would take the time to look, and ask, and see, simmered a rich history of experience, service, and love that was a ministry to anyone who encountered her. Sara was a pilot in World War II. Sara was a lawyer. After her lawyering days were done, at age 66, Sara was ordained as an Episcopal priest, and she served a parish for 20 years – until she was 86. At that time, she decided to move closer to family, so she came to Wisconsin to live near her niece. Sara’s last 10 years of life were spent in an assisted living center, and her last 10 years as a worshiper bound by time were spent at Trinity Episcopal Church in Baraboo. From our first day there, we were intrigued by Sara, in her wheelchair in the front row, obviously afflicted by a failing body, but also obviously very much alive and engaged in her head and her heart.

The church bulletins that we inherited at Trinity had the tradition of including study notes on the readings for the week. The notes were provided by the national church, and as such, they were a little flighty. Nothing to write home about. I began to nag Scott to ‘get those notes out of there’. It wasn’t more than a week later that Sara, after the service, said to Scott, ‘Thank you so much for continuing to provide the notes on the readings in the bulletin. I use them when I lead my Bible study at the nursing home every week.”

The notes stayed in the bulletin.

When we gathered for her service last Sunday, the late-afternoon sun was shining through the stained glass windows, adding a noticeable glow to the room. Seriously – it was so beautiful. The Service for Burial of the Dead in the Book of Common Prayer opens with this anthem:

All stand while one or more of the following anthems are sung or said.
I am Resurrection and I am Life, says the Lord.

Whoever has faith in me shall have life,
even though he die.
And everyone who has life,
and has committed himself to me in faith,
shall not die for ever.

As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives
and that at the last he will stand upon the earth.
After my awaking, he will raise me up;
and in my body I shall see God.
I myself shall see, and my eyes behold him
who is my friend and not a stranger.

For none of us has life in himself,
and none becomes his own master when he dies.
For if we have life, we are alive in the Lord,
and if we die, we die in the Lord.
So, then, whether we live or die,
we are the Lord’s possession.

Happy from now on
are those who die in the Lord!
So it is, says the Spirit,
for they rest from their labors.

Can you imagine the drama of that moment? A golden sanctuary; a gathered people; a prelude of Bach tunes, then the silence that precedes the anthem, which is read by the Rector as he processes with the crucifer in front of him – if there’s a casket, it comes behind the cross. It is an extraordinary moment.

When we reach the end of the service, during the committal, the line is said:

….and even at the grave we make our song – Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

And the congregation repeats the Al—uia. It’s amazing. And coupled with the context of honoring this amazing life, on an amazing Lenten Sunday, it was a feast for the senses.

We miss Sara’s encouraging presence in the front row. It became harder and harder for her to come. But she did. She was there. Incredible.

So my Lent was interrupted with a Sunday Alleluia song. And that’s ok with me.

In the starkness of the Lenten journey, as we round the corner now, coming up on Palm Sunday  just one week away, I hear the faint, whispered song on the wind — the song that we will sing, even at the grave – because it is empty. The work is completed. Death has lost its sting.

I want to know Christ… and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings.

[The other thing I want is for my flight to leave O’Hare tonight. The window through which I’m peering now isn’t warm and sunny, but it’s filled with snow and the clouds from the de-icing trucks. But that’s another blog post. :)]

Lent 2010 – Let Us Ever Walk With Jesus

“Let Us Ever Walk With Jesus”Handbook to the by Sigismund von Birken, 1626-1681
Translated by J. Adam Rimbach, 1871-1941

Click here for a MIDI of the tune

Let us ever walk with Jesus, follow His example pure,

Through a world that would deceive us and to sin our spirits lure.

Onward in His footsteps treading, pilgrims here, our home above,

Full of faith and hope and love, let us do our Father’s bidding,

Faithful Lord, with me abide; I shall follow where You guide.

Let us suffer here with Jesus, and with patience bear our cross.

Joy will follow all our sadness; where He is, there is no loss.

Though today we sow no laughter, we shall reap celestial joy;

All discomforts that annoy shall give way to mirth here-after..

Jesus, here I share Your woe; help me there Your joy to know.

Let us gladly die with Jesus. Since by death He conquered death,

He will free us from destruction, give to us immortal breath.

Let us mortify all passion that would lead us into sin;

And the grave that shuts us in shall but prove the gate to heaven.

Jesus, here with You I die, there to live with You on high.

Let us also live with Jesus, He has risen from the dead

That to life we may awaken. Jesus, you are now our head.

We are Your own living members; where You live, there we shall be

In Your presence constantly, living there with You forever.

Jesus, let me faithful be, life eternal grant to me.

Ok, I’ll just say it. Even though I pick the hymns, plan the services, live with the Rector, and follow the lectionary, lent snuck up on me this year. All of my worship eggs were in the Transfiguration Sunday basket . The final Sunday of Epiphany was a blow-out-pull-out-the-virtual-stops sort of day. It was a glimpse of glory in so many ways, and I had been anticipating it for weeks. But the thing about the final Sunday of Lent is that Ash Wednesday is just around the corner. Quite literally. And so here I sit at 3 in the afternoon on this penitential day, a little shell-shocked that it has come.

I have had the above hymn running through my head…. since high school. I have never seen or sung it anywhere except the Green LBW – Lutheran Book of Worship – with which I learned my first hymnody as a high school student. I don’t even really remember singing it at Calvary, but I spent many hours playing through that hymnal in my living room, and I always came back to this hymn. Maybe it’s the walking. Maybe it’s the transformation. Maybe it’s the journey. Maybe it’s the future hope. I don’t know. But it’s my theme for Lent 2010. Our life with Christ is lived one step at a time, with God’s grace, the hope of heaven, the love of the Father, and the equipping of the Holy Spirit as our constant companions. Lent, to me, is a specific season each year to make deep, abiding investments in that journey. Living so much of my Christian life in mega-church Evangelicalism helped to deepen my walk with Christ, but [for me] cheapened my Easter experience because we were not a Lenten people. I am profoundly grateful for each chapter of the story that Jesus is writing in and with and through my life. I wouldn’t want to be where I am now without the experiences of my life before. And my life before lives in deeper relief in my memory because of the elements of it that I miss now.

Anyway, I digress.

There’s always the talk of giving up stuff for Lent. Chocolate, candy, bread, Facebook, celebrity blogs, The Bachelor – the list is endless. I think there is a lot of merit to the idea of asceticism for the sake of knowing Christ more deeply. I think of Philippians 3 – giving up adored things for Lent is one small way that we can share in the fellowship of His sufferings. Skipping peanut butter cups isn’t going to make me more like Christ, though, if it’s a mere 40-day religious habit. But if peanut butter cups are part of something that cause me to think of myself more than others, that distract me from discipleship, that rob me of a God-centered life, then Lent is a great time to add the discipline of skipping them.

So, Stephanie, you ask, what are you giving up for Lent? Nothing. I’m putting something on for Lent. And I’ll state them publicly for the good of the order.

Reading during Lent:  NT Wright’s Reflecting the Glory , and also finishing the Thoene Zion Covenant series – again. The Wright makes me want to be more like Christ, and the Thoene reminds me to pray for the persecuted in our broken world. It breaks my heart. And I need my heart to be broken.

Putting on during Lent: I will tell you this if you promise you won’t laugh. Promise? ok. Jillian Michaels 30 Day Shred will be a 40 Day Shred for me, Sundays off. Some discipline with my body and with exercise is dramatically necessary at this moment in my life. I love this DVD, it kicks my butt, and making it a 40 day commitment with the intention of honoring Christ with my temple sounds like a very good thing to do.

Committing to memory during Lent: The te deum (see below), and the words to the hymn above will be read every morning and every night. I intend to commit them both to memory. I can’t think of anything better on which to fix my eyes and ears.

Communicating during Lent: I’ll be blogging my way through. The discipline helps me, whether anyone reads it or not.

I have several gigs over the next 40 days in non-Lenten contexts… I’m opening for Fernando Ortega in Madison on March 12th, leading worship for the Women in Christian Media national conference on February 26th, working with Jill Briscoe and Anne Graham Lotz for Just Give Me Jesus in Greenville on March 19-20, so there are many opportunities to make deep spiritual investments in my own life that will have the opportunity to overflow and bless others. That’s what I’m praying, but I’m mostly praying that my soul’s journey will bless the Lord, and that all within me will bless His holy name. The Lord to me is so infinitely kind.

Love to you, dear brothers and sisters in the faith.


We praise thee, O God:
we acknowledge thee to be the Lord.
All the earth doth worship thee:
the Father everlasting.
To thee all Angels cry aloud:
the Heavens, and all the Powers therein.
To thee Cherubin and Seraphim
continually do cry,
Holy, Holy, Holy :
Lord God of Sabaoth;
Heaven and earth are full of the Majesty
of thy glory.
The glorious company of the Apostles praise thee.
The goodly fellowship of the Prophets praise thee.
The noble army of Martyrs  praise thee.
The holy Church throughout all the world
doth acknowledge thee;
The Father of an infinite Majesty;
Thine honourable, true and only Son;
Also the Holy Ghost the Comforter.
Thou art the King of Glory  O Christ.
Thou art the everlasting Son of the Father.
When thou tookest upon thee to deliver man
thou didst not abhor the Virgin’s womb.
When thou hadst overcome the sharpness of death
thou didst open the Kingdom of Heaven to all believers.
Thou sittest at the right hand of God in the glory of the Father.
We believe that thou shalt come to be our Judge.
We therefore pray thee, help thy servants
whom thou hast redeemed with thy precious blood.
Make them to be numbered with thy Saints in glory everlasting.
O Lord, save thy people
and bless thine heritage.
Govern them and lift them up for ever.
Day by day we magnify thee;
And we worship thy Name  ever world without end.
Vouchsafe, O Lord to keep us this day without sin.
O Lord, have mercy upon us have mercy upon us.
O Lord, let thy mercy lighten upon us
as our trust is in thee.
O Lord, in thee have I trusted
let me never be confounded.

Comfort and joy, comfort and loss, comfort and hope

I love my silver tree.

Comfort and Joy

Such tidings! What a wonderful Christmas we are having here in Baraboo. Our Christmas Eve service at Trinity was one for the record books – because of the ice storm, of course, but also because of the turn-out despite the ice storm, and the loveliness of this incredible and historic building. Greenery hanging everywhere… candles at every corner… lights throughout at half beam… it was glorious. From the Willcocks arrangements of hymns to the Communion Hymn for Christmas, the music was marvelous, and the congregation responded beautifully. The choir chanted Psalm 96 to one of Joseph Kucharski’s tunes. Glory! We were particularly moved as a family because it was our first Christmas as Rector and Family, and people were so unbelievably generous with us and with our children. It was wonderful, indeed. And of course our daughter turned 5 on Christmas Day, which always adds a sweetness to Christmas – caused both by celebrating her birthday, but also by recounting the Christmas Eve service 5 years ago when my water broke at church as I was about to begin playing organ and piano, directing the choir, and singing several solos. What a rich memory. Comfort and joy!

Comfort and Loss

Christmastide equals memory, so I have heard it told. True, I think, though there is clearly much more to Christmas than what is in the past. Haven’t the proclaimers of such limited truths ever read Dickens? Nonetheless, I always experience a melancholy just on the other side of the Christmas joy – remembering years and beloveds gone by, I suppose, and experiencing the reality that you never can go home again. This year, though, Christmas for me has the deeper sadness of the death of a friend. Amy’s second pregnancy started off quite normal, but when tests revealed that her unborn son would be the bearer of a chromosomal disorder called Trisomy 18, we all knew that Micah’s birth would be one of great complexity. Amy went into labor on the night of the 26th, and Micah was born almost 6 weeks early, on the 27th. His heart beat for a moment, and then he was gone – from life with mom to life with Jesus. Not a bad deal for him, but a heartbreaking one for those of us who love him and who love Amy and her family. Amy and Doug are standing on the steadfast and sure person of Christ Jesus, and are receiving comfort that they will undoubtedly one day tap into to comfort another. But in the meantime, they grieve. We all do. Comfort and loss.

Comfort and Hope

In the meantime, November and December have been marked by the breast cancer diagnosis of one of my best and dearest friends from college, C. C and I were inseparable for a couple of years as I rounded out my [lengthy] undergrad career. She was a freshman when I was a super senior, and our hearts were knit together by a common love of musical theater, ABBA, and Very Bad Movies. She was Cinderella to my Wicked Stepmother in Into the Woods. Years, marriage, time and space made their way into our friendship and we had sort of lost track of one another as time had gone by.  Every now and then when her name would pop up onto my yahoo chat screen, we’d say hello and giggle and that was that. This fall, though, we had managed to reconnect more significantly just before word came in that her biopsy was not filled with good news. C has cancer. C is starting chemo in January. C has been my hero for the last 2 months. Her real-life acceptance of this journey has been filled with hope on every level. She and her awesome husband don’t have kids. Yet. What this all means for the future of their family, they don’t know. But they continue to be filled with hope. C has a fantastic family – I mean, hardcore, the real deal, awesome people – and she’s surrounded by love. If anyone has the courage to face this head on, it’s C. I’d be grateful if you’d remember her in your prayers. Just reference her as The Rock Star. The Lord will know. Comfort and hope.

And I’m off to put a 1-year-old down for a nap.

Now to the Lord sing praises all you within this place,
And with true love and brotherhood each other now embrace;
This holy tide of Christmas all others doth deface.
Oh tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy,
Oh tidings of comfort and joy.

Advent III – Comfort.

Comfort, comfort ye my people,
speak ye peace, thus saith our God;
comfort those who sit in darkness,
mourning ‘neath their sorrow’s load;
speak ye to Jerusalem
of the peace that waits for them;
tell her that her sins I cover,
and her warfare now is over.

For the herald’s voice is crying
in the desert far and near,
bidding all men to repentance,
since the kingdom now is here.
O that warning cry obey!
Now prepare for God a way!
Let the valleys rise to meet him,
and the hills bow down to greet him.

Make ye straight what long was crooked,
make the rougher places plain:
let your hearts be true and humble,
as befits his holy reign,
For the glory of the Lord
now o’er the earth is shed abroad,
and all flesh shall see the token
that his word is never broken.

Words: Johann G. Olearius, 1671;
trans. Catherine Winkworth, 1863

Music: Psalm 42 Midi tune found here. [with one really bad chord in it.. trying to find a better recording.]

There is a short list of songs that, in certain seasons of the year, I would desperately miss during my mega-church-Evangelicalism season of life. Elements of the church calendar were mentioned in passing but, with the occasional exception of Lent, they weren’t at all integrated into our services or worship times. This hymn is the one that I would always miss the most during Advent. The tune, while rhythmically interesting, is not hard, but it’s unique. And the text is a fabulous setting of several of the preparation texts that are commonly read during Advent. I especially love the third verse, that reflects on crooked being made straight, rough places plain, and the glory of God revealed. I hang my hat on this preparation for Advent III this year.

I continue to be shocked at how quickly the season is passing. Only one more Sunday of Advent in 2009. We’ll be decking our halls sometime this weekend, as we always wait until after Advent IV to do so. I’m anxious to get there, but not so anxious that I want to miss the message of the ensuing days. Christmas concerts abound this week for our kids at their schools, and that’s all very fun. It’s so beautiful here in Baraboo – we have SO much snow, but it’s also wicked cold. All the more reason to stay cozy inside, and to contemplate what it will take in my life this week to make straight what was crooked, to make plain what was rough, and, most importantly, to let my heart be true and humble to befit His holy reign. That’s good stuff.

No lightning bolts this week, but a steady, paced movement toward Christmas Eve. May my heart and soul and life be ready!

Advent II – and a snow day

Hark, A Thrilling Voice is Sounding

Hark! a thrilling voice is sounding.
“Christ is nigh,” it seems to say;
“Cast away the works of darkness,
O ye children of the day.”

Wakened by the solemn warning,
let the earth-bound soul arise;
Christ, her Sun, all sloth dispelling,
shines upon the morning skies.

Lo! the Lamb, so long expected,
comes with pardon down from heaven;
let us all, with tears of sorrow,
pray that we may be forgiven;

that when next he comes with glory,
and the world is wrapped in fear,
with his mercy he may shield us,
and with words of love draw near.

Honor, glory, might, and blessing
to the Father and the Son,
with the everlasting Spirit,
while eternal ages run.

Words: Latin, sixth century;
trans. Edward Caswall (1814-1878) as “Hark, an awful voice is sounding”.
Murray’s Hymnal of 1852 changed the first line to “a thrilling voice”
and Hymns Ancient & Modern of 1861 altered the text further into its present form.

First of all, as Scott and I always say when we encounter a video or snippet from a church service that delights us, ‘I would TOTALLY go to church here.” Can you imagine? That organ! That chancel! Those ROBES! That BRASS! Oh my, a feast for the senses, all pointing to the King of glory, declared in Advent terms to be the one who not only has come, but will come again in glory. The fourth stanza above gives me goosebumps every year when we sing it – the very person who has come will shield us by Himself from the judgment of the One who is coming – by Himself, by His blood, by the forgiveness of sins offered to us in the person of the Lord Jesus. It’s a spinning spiral of now and not yet; redeemed and fallen; sinner and saint. It is precisely in the middle of this paradox where we live our lives… knowing the end, watching for a King, clinging to one who has already come – oh, the drama! Perhaps this is why I
am so continually drawn to liturgical worship, too  – to participate in the retelling of the story, the drama of the light and the darkness, the visual of the Gospel lesson being processed to the center of the church every Sunday – a picture of the Incarnation week after week.

It is into this darkness that He comes. And it is my commitment this week, to that end, to cast away as many of the works of darkness that I can, and to be a bringer of light into the darkest corners. Come, Lord Jesus.

We spent last weekend in South Carolina for the Ordination to the Priesthood of our great friend Marcus Kaiser. Marcus and his wife Kim were our seminary housemates for a year, and for the two years that we served in Racine, they traveled to do Marcus’ field education with us at St. Michael’s. Every Sunday. And most Tuesdays. Scott and I marvel at our friendship with them for many reasons, but the simple fact is that this is a couple that we love equally, met at the same time, and enjoy in the same manner. I love Kim. Scott loves Kim. I love Marcus. Scott loves Marcus. Our kids love their kids. It’s an absolute delight. They are too far away for our liking, but the roadtrip was actually quite fun, and the Ordination service was one for the record books. Scott preached an extraordinary sermon – I mean, I’m biased, but I’m also opinionated. This one was a keeper. My spirit was emboldened by Scott’s work.

I played organ for part of the service, and sang a song or two. I felt like Jacob while I was playing that instrument – it was a wrestling match for sure, and I wasn’t going to let it go until it blessed me. And bless me, it did. Holy cow. Festival trumpets, and a Rutter arrangement. That’s all I need to say about that. But it was thrilling – THRILLING – to participate in this service together. I married up. I highly recommend it.

We made it home between blizzards. Today the kids have been given a snow day, so we’re all cozy inside and watching the foot and a half of snow that has fallen through icy windows. It’s appropriate that it’s cold, and so dark now. Because we’re getting close to the shortest day of the year, which comes right before the Darkness Turns to Dawn. But that’s our next Advent hymn. So stay tuned.

Advent I – On Jordan’s Bank

When singing this at church yesterday, I just knew that this would be our hymn to begin our Advent
series. I love the sense of expectant preparation in this text. Many Advent hymns focus on the now-and-
not-yet of the season, but this one, to me, simply says ‘He’s coming. Make way.’ That’s exactly what I intend
to do in these next weeks.

On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry
announces that the Lord is nigh;
awake and hearken, for he brings
glad tidings of the King of kings.

Then cleansed be every breast from sin;
make straight the way for God within,
prepare we in our hearts a home
where such a mighty Guest may come.

For thou art our salvation, Lord,
our refuge and our great reward;
without thy grace we waste away
like flowers that wither and decay.

To heal the sick stretch out thine hand,
and bid the fallen sinner stand;
shine forth and let thy light restore
earth’s own true loveliness once more.

All praise, eternal Son, to thee,
whose advent doth thy people free;
whom with the Father we adore
and Holy Ghost for evermore.
Words: Charles Coffin, 1736;
trans. John Chandler, 1837
Music: Winchester New

But how do I prepare? How do I endeavor to allow the Lord to use me to “let thy light restore
earth’s own true loveliness once more”? For me, it’s simple ways – more time in the scriptures, a prayer book with me, and at least making an effort – at least for these first 2 weeks – to avoid straight-on Christmas music. That’s the hard part. Our culture doesn’t help us – most throw away their Christmas trees on Dec. 26th, the Christmas music stops – we don’t even put ours UP until the 24th!

I’m not intending or recommending scrooginess. Not at all. But a tempering to the Christmas celebration now will
bear significant fruit in your experience of the Christ child, and of Epiphany!

But I’m getting ahead of myself. For now, we wait in expectation. In anticipation. And even in a bit of tension. For
this is Advent, and a King is coming. Make straight a highway for our God.