Waiting for Seven Ducks in a Muddy Pond

duckchelan2

 

Perhaps it was his plain talk about the Word of God. Perhaps it was his folksy stories tying that Word to our lives. Perhaps it was because he was, like the rest of us, so fully a flawed and forgiven human being. Pastor Bruce Hemple ministered to thousands over his lifetime of service, yet the simple act of climbing the steps up to the pulpit at Wiser Lake Chapel was nearly impossible for him.

Bruce had one leg. The other was lost to an above the knee amputation due to severe diabetes. He wore an ill-fitting prosthetic leg that never allowed a normal stride and certainly proved a challenge when ascending stairs. He would come early to the sanctuary to climb the several steps to the chair behind the pulpit so he would not have to struggle in front of the congregation at the start of the service. As we would enter to find our pew seats, he would be deep in thought and prayer, already seated by the pulpit.

He often said he knew he was a difficult person to live with because of his constant pain and health problems. His family confirmed that was indeed true, but what crankiness he exhibited through much of the week evaporated once he was at the pulpit. Standing there balanced on his good leg with his prosthesis acting as a brace, he was transformed and blessed with clarity of thought and expression. His pain was left behind.

He came to our church after many years of military chaplaincy, having served in Korea and Vietnam and a number of stateside assignments. He liked to say he “learned to meet people where they were” rather than where he thought they needed to be. His work brought him face to face with thousands of soldiers from diverse faiths and backgrounds, or in many cases, no faith at all, yet he ministered to each one in the way that was needed at that moment. He helped some as they lay dying and others who suffered so profoundly they wished they would die. He was there for them all and he was there for us.

One of his memorable sermons came from 2Kings 5: 1-19 about the healing of the great warrior Naaman who was afflicted with leprosy. Pastor Bruce clearly identified with Naaman and emphasized the message of obedience to God as the key to Naaman’s healing. Like Naaman, no one would desire “Seven Ducks in a Muddy Pond” but once Naaman was obedient despite his pride and doubts, he was cured of the incurable by bathing in the muddy Jordan River.

Even upon his retirement, Bruce continued to preach when churches needed a fill in pastor, and he took a part time job managing a community food and clothing bank, connecting with people who needed his words of encouragement. He was called regularly to officiate at weddings and funerals, especially for those without a church. He would oblige as his time and health allowed.

His last sermon was delivered on a freezing windy December day at a graveside service for a young suicide victim he had never known personally. Pastor Bruce was standing at the head of the casket and having concluded his message, he bowed his head to pray, continued to bend forward, appeared to embrace the casket and breathed his last. He was gone, just like that.

He was not standing up high at the pulpit the day he died. He was obediently getting muddy in the muck and mess of life, and waiting, as we all are, for the moment he’d be washed clean.

 

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God Among Us: Drop Down Dew

thistledowndrizzle

The seed will grow well, the vine will yield its fruit, the ground will produce its crops, and the heavens will drop their dew. I will give all these things as an inheritance to the remnant of this people.
Zechariah 8:12

Listen, you heavens, and I will speak;
    hear, you earth, the words of my mouth.
Let my teaching fall like rain
    and my words descend like dew,
like showers on new grass,
    like abundant rain on tender plants.
Deuteronomy 32:1-2

 

He hath abolished the old drouth,
And rivers run where all was dry,
The field is sopp’d with merciful dew.
The words are old, the purport new,
And taught my lips to quote this word
That I shall live, I shall not die…
~Gerard Manley Hopkins

 

We are God’s people, wandering homeless in the desert for years before being allowed to enter the Promised Land.  To us, there is great hope in the possibility of moisture coming from heaven as the bountiful gift Moses describes in an analogy for his words and teaching.   The dew of heaven becomes the representation of God’s all-encompassing Spirit and gift of grace in this and other Old Testament scripture passages.

Ultimately, God’s Word descended like dew from heaven in the form of a newborn baby in a manger come to dwell among us.   Like dew, He becomes flesh at no cost to us, to be among us freely, coming in the night, into the darkness, as a gentle covering of all things dry and dying, to refresh, to restore, to soften, to make what was withered fruitful once again.  We live again because of this Word of flesh quickening within us.  EPG

 

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webdrizzle

Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain the Just One.

Latin lyrics:

Rorate caeli desuper, et nubes pluant iustum.

The Air Sighs

marchmoonbaker

When, in the cavern darkness, the child
first opened his mouth (even before
his eyes widened to see the supple world
his lungs had breathed into being),
could he have known that breathing
trumps seeing? Did he love the way air sighs
as it brushes in and out through flesh
to sustain the tiny heart’s iambic beating,
tramping the crossroads of the brain
like donkey tracks, the blood dazzling and
invisible, the corpuscles skittering to the earlobes
and toenails? Did he have any idea it
would take all his breath to speak in stories
that would change the world?
~Luci Shaw “Breath”
Breath that created the world
by forming the Words
that tell the stories
that change the world.
We rest in that breath today,
sighing in Sabbath.

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For My Returning

photo by Josh Scholten
photo by Josh Scholten

The spider, dropping down from twig,
Unfolds a plan of her devising,
A thin premeditated rig
To use in rising.

And all that journey down through space,
In cool descent and loyal hearted,
She spins a ladder to the place
From where she started.

Thus I, gone forth as spiders do
In spider’s web a truth discerning,
Attach one silken thread to you
For my returning.
~E.B. White  A Spider’s Web (A Natural History)

Attached in ways I can not always see
but surely feel,
I go astray,
wander afar,
lose my way,
yet the thread remains
to return me
to where I belong.
A silken umbilical cord
continues to pump
what I need to be alive,
anchoring me,
releasing me without letting go.
My soul hangs
by this gossamer thread,
this silken connection
to eternity.
photo by Josh Scholten
photo by Josh Scholten
Till the bridge you will need be form’d, till the ductile anchor hold,
Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.
~Walt Whitman from “A Noiseless Patient Spider”

Holding On

 

photo by Josh Scholten
photo by Josh Scholten

Many a night I woke to the murmur of paper and knew (Dad) was up, sitting in the kitchen with frayed King James – oh, but he worked that book; he held to it like a rope ladder.
Leif Enger in Peace Like a River

Some nights are like that.  The footing underneath is loose and my feet are slipping.  I have the distinct feeling of plummeting while lying completely still in bed.  I feel the need to grab hold of something, anything, in order to avoid free falling… to what?  to where?  My dream is so vivid, the sudden descent so visceral, I wake sweating with my heart racing.

So I grab fast to the Word –a woven rope of faith– frayed though it may be with nicks and scars and scorches, meant for clinging for safety.  It is a ladder to security, challenging to ascend, difficult to hold on to without accumulating blisters and scrapes along the way.  The going is tough, sometimes too daunting for my limitations.  The familiar ground below appears farther and farther away.

So I keep going, hand over hand, page over page, word beside word.  There is only up now.  It is the only way.

photo by Josh Scholten
photo by Josh Scholten