Like a Feather

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My life is light, waiting for the death wind,
Like a feather on the back of my hand.
Dust in sunlight and memory in corners
Wait for the wind that chills towards the dead land.

Grant us thy peace.
~T.S. Eliot from A Song for Simeon

 

 

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Often we feel heavy, so burdened,
weighted down, waiting for what may never come:
yet truly our life is light as a feather,
only dust and memory,
a mere breath could carry us away in a moment
and will…
and we will know peace.

 

 

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God Was Here: Light Upon Light

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…my eyes have seen your salvation
that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to your people Israel.

And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him. 
And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother,
“Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel,
and for a sign that is opposed
(and a sword will pierce through your own soul also),
so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.

~Luke 2: 30-35 from the Song of Simeon

 

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The Song of Simeon by Rembrandt

 

…Grant us thy peace.
Before the stations of the mountain of desolation,
Before the certain hour of maternal sorrow,
Now at this birth season of decease,
Let the Infant, the still unspeaking and unspoken Word,
Grant Israel’s consolation
To one who has eighty years and no to-morrow. According to thy word.
They shall praise Thee and suffer in every generation
With glory and derision,
Light upon light, mounting the saints’ stair.
Not for me the martyrdom, the ecstasy of thought and prayer,
Not for me the ultimate vision.
Grant me thy peace.
(And a sword shall pierce thy heart,
Thine also).
~T.S. Eliot from “A Song for Simeon”

 

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Simeon had waited and waited for this promised moment of meeting the Son of God face to face, not knowing when or how, not knowing he would be able to hold him fast in his arms, not knowing he would be able to personally bless the parents of this holy child.

He certainly could not know this child would be the cause of so much joy and sorrow for all those who love Him deeply.

That sword of painful truth pierces into our soul, opening us with the precision of a surgeon under high beam lights in the operating room where nothing is left unilluminated.  We are, by the birth of Jesus, bared completely, our darkness thrust into dawn, our hearts revealed as never before, no matter who we are, our place of origin, our faith or lack thereof.  This is an equal opportunity surgery.

It is terrifying, this mountain of desolation, all cracks and crevices thrust into the light.   And it should be, given what we are, every one of us.

Yet God is who we wait for, longing and hungry for peace.  We are tired, too tired to continue to hide within the darkness and conflict of our sin.  We, like Simeon, are desperate for the peace of His appearance among us, dwelling with us, when we can gather Him into our arms, when all becomes known and understood and forgiven.

His birth is the end of our death, the beginning of the outward radiance of His peace, and wide open to all who open themselves to Him.

Light upon Light.

 

 

Dismissed in Peace

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Seventy two years ago this week, my parents were married. Christmas Eve certainly wasn’t a typical wedding anniversary, but it did make it easy to remember during their years together. It was a date of necessity, only because a justice of the peace was available to marry a score of war-time couples in Quantico, Virginia, shortly before the newly trained Marine officers were shipped out to the South Pacific to fight in WWII.

Now that they are both gone, when I look at their young faces in their only wedding portrait, I see a hint of the impulsive decision that led to that wedding just a week before my father left for 30 months. They had known each other for over a year, had talked about a future together, but with my mother starting a teaching job, and the war potentially impacting all young men’s lives very directly, they had not set a date.

My father had to put his college education on hold to enlist, knowing that would give him some options he wouldn’t have if drafted, so they went their separate ways as he headed east to Virginia for his Marine officer training, and Mom started her high school teaching career as a speech and drama teacher in rural Colville in Eastern Washington. One day in early December, he called her and said, “If we’re going to get married, it’ll need to be before the end of the year. I’m shipping out the first week in January.” Mom went to her high school principal, asked for a two week leave of absence which was granted, told her astonished parents, bought a dress, and headed east on the train with a friend who had received a similar call from her boyfriend. This was a completely uncharacteristic thing for my overly cautious mother to do so it must have been love.

They were married in a brief civil ceremony with another couple as the witnesses. They stayed in Virginia only a couple days and took the train back to San Diego, and my father left. Just like that. Mom returned to her teaching position and the first three years of their married life was letter correspondence only, with gaps of up to a month during certain island battles when no mail could be delivered or posted.

As I sorted through my mother’s things following her death six years ago, their letters to each other, stacked neatly and tied together, reside now in a box in my bedroom. I have not yet opened them but will when I’m ready. What I will find there will be words written by two young people who could not have foretold the struggles that lay ahead for them during and after the war but who both depended on faith and trust to persevere despite the unknowns. The War itself seemed struggle enough for the millions of couples who endured the separation, the losses and grieving, as well as the eventual injuries–both physical and psychological.  It did not seem possible that beyond those realities, things could go sour after reuniting.

The hope and expectation of happiness and bliss must have been overwhelming, and real life doesn’t often deliver.  After raising three children, their 35 year marriage fell apart with traumatic finality.  When my father returned (again) over a decade later, asking for forgiveness, they remarried and had five more years together before my father died.

And so too there must have been expectations of happiness in the barn on that first Christmas Eve. It must have been frightening for the parents of this special Baby, knowing in their minds but not completely understanding in their hearts what responsibility lay in their arms. They had to find faith and trust, not just in God who had determined what their future held, but in each other, to support one another when things became very difficult. Those challenges mounted up quickly: there was to be no room for them, there was a baby to deliver without assistance from anyone, and the threat of Herod’s murder of innocents eventually drove them from their home country.

When Mary and Joseph go to the temple for the circumcision and consecration of their son the following week, they allow a “righteous and devout man”, Simeon,  to hold their baby as, moved by the Holy Spirit, he tells them the role this child is to play in the world.  He prays to the Lord, “As you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace.  For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”

It must have been like looking into a crystal ball to hear Simeon speak, as we’re told “the child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him.” But Simeon didn’t whitewash the reality to come. It would have been easy to do so– simply mention salvation, the light and the glory that will come to the people due to this little baby, but leave out the part about how His existence would cause division in Israel as well as the rejection, anguish and suffering that He would experience. Not only that, but the pain is not His alone but will be His parents’ to bear as well. I’m sure that statement must have ended the sense of “marvel” they were feeling, and replaced it instead with great sorrow and trepidation.

Christmas is a time of joy, a celebration of new beginnings and new life when God became man, humble, vulnerable and tender. But it also gives us a foretaste for the profound sacrifice made in giving up this earthly life, not always so gently. A baby in a manger is a lovely story to “treasure up” in our hearts but once He became a bleeding Redeemer on a cross, it pierces our living beating hearts, just as Simeon foretold.

My parents, such young idealistic adults 72 years ago, now servants dismissed from this life in peace. As I peer at their faces in their wedding photo, I know those same eyes, then unaware of what was to come,  now behold the light, the salvation and the glory~~the ultimate Christmas~~in His presence.

Song of Simeon by Aert De Gelder, a student of Rembrandt
Song of Simeon by Aert De Gelder, a student of Rembrandt

Awaiting His Arrival: From Frantic to Centered

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Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
    you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
 For my eyes have seen your salvation…
~Luke 2: 29-30

Life is meant to be lived from a Center,
a divine Center…
Life from the Center is a life of unhurried peace and power.
It is simple.
It is serene.
It is amazing.
It is triumphant.
It is radiant.
It takes no time, but it occupies all our time.
We need not get frantic.
He is at the helm.
And when our little day is done we lie down quietly in peace,
for all is well.
~Thomas Kelly

Simeon and Anna waited patiently in the temple for their glimpse of the Lord, and once granted that glimpse they were ready to lie down quietly in peace.   They lived from the Center, and accepted that He is at the helm, no matter what, no matter when, no matter how.   All is well.

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A Canticle for Advent: Their Wildest Dreams

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The Lord God said when time was full
He would shine His light in the darkness
He said a virgin would conceive
And give birth to the Promise
For a thousand years the dreamers dreamt
And hoped to see His love
The Promise showed their wildest dreams
had simply not been wild enough
But the Promise showed their wildest dreams
Had simply not been wild enough

Chorus
The Promise was love and the Promise was life
The Promise meant light to the world
Living proof Jehovah saves
For the name of the Promise was Jesus

The Faithful One saw time was full
And the ancient pledge was honored
So God the Son, the Incarnate One
His final Word, His own Son
Was born in Bethlehem
But came into our hearts to live
What more could God have given
Tell me what more did He have to give
What more could God have given
Tell me what more did He have to give

Chorus

The Promise was love and the Promise was life
The Promise meant light to the world
Living proof Jehovah saves
For the name of the Promise was Jesus
At last the proof Jehovah saves
For the name of the Promise was Jesus
~Michael Card 1986

Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

29 “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
30 For my eyes have seen your salvation,
31     which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel.”
Luke 2: 28-32

 

These daily Advent reflections are each devoted to one Christmas carol (or canticle) to prepare us for God dwelling among us– then, now and forever more.

Advent Sings: Departing in Peace

And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,

 “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word..”
Luke 2: 26-29 from the Song of Simeon

In my clinical work and in my personal life, I’ve kept vigil while patients or loved ones are dying.  It is quite common that even those who are so ill as to be unresponsive will seem to wait to take their final breath until an absent family member makes it to the bedside.    They seem to be waiting, even unconsciously, for the fulfillment of family around them, a need for the fullness of their life to be acknowledged and celebrated before they depart.   At that point, they can let go and move on.

So Simeon was waiting patiently, day after day, to see the Savior.   He was ready to let go of this life, but not until he knew that salvation was at hand.

The scene in the temple that day must have been touching to witness.
An old man searching the eyes of everyone who entered, wondering which might be the long awaited and expected Messiah.
A father and mother with baby in arms coming in for a customary blessing, carrying a humble sacrifice of two doves.   There was nothing obvious to distinguish them from hundreds of other families.
The old man struck by the Spirit, given incredible words to say and sing, approaches the mother and asks to hold her child, this particular child, just for a minute.
Mary gives Jesus over, as she will, again and again, during His life and death.
Simeon, with the Son of God held fast in his arms, sings his beautiful song, as he cradles the fulfillment of the promise made to him.
Simeon, old and ready for death, sings of the fullness of his life,
the fullness of the rich blessing of promises made and kept,
the fullness of a father and mother willing to share their child,
the fullness of being in the presence of the glory of the Lord.

Simeon in faith meets the Messiah he has longed for.
We wait as well for the next Advent of His coming, not to cradle as Simeon did, but to be cradled.
When it is our time to depart in peace, it will be straight to the arms of Jesus.
And we, like Simeon, will sing as never before.

Advent is a time of waiting.  Our whole life, however if Advent — that is, a time of waiting for the ultimate, for the time when there will be a new heaven and a new earth, when all people are brothers and sisters and one rejoices in the words of the angels: “On earth peace to those on whom God’s favor rests.”  Learn to wait, because he has promised to come.  “I stand at the door…”   We however call to him:  “yes, come soon, Lord Jesus!”  Amen.
~Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Lenten Reflection–Piercing the Soul

“This child is like a pearl,
Some men will forfeit everything
To have his love, while others cling
To worthless things and forfeit life.
He is a source of peace—and strife.
And many thoughts he will reveal
That men have thought they could conceal.
And you, most blessed woman too,
Will see what wicked men can do.
Your love to him will take its toll,
And like a sword will pierce your soul.”
from John Piper in “Simeon

Older than eternity, now he
is new. Now native to earth as I am, nailed
to my poor planet, caught
that I might be free, blind in my womb
to know my darkness ended,
brought to this birth for me to be new-born,
and for him to see me mended
I must see him torn.
from “Accompanied by Angels” by Luci Shaw

The God of curved space, the dry
God, is not going to help us, but the son
whose blood splattered
the hem of his mother’s robe.
“Looking at Stars”  by Jane Kenyon

This was the day she had been told would come yet she could not have anticipated how horrific would be His suffering, how hideous His wounds, how extensively His blood covered those around Him.  She could not have imagined the helplessness she felt in being unable to comfort Him, ease His pain, or smooth His torn brow.  She could not have known she would feel His hurt so deeply; it was as if she too had been lacerated and drained of life herself.

Yet looking down at her from the cross, despite His own distress, He compassionately provides for her future care and protection.  He continues loving her even when He is beyond her reach. He doesn’t abandon her even as He endures the unendurable–separation from His Father and betrayal by His people.

She shed her blood bearing Him, birthing Him to breathe and walk and live fully on this earth;  now her heart breaking,  she watches Him surrender and take His last breath.
He sheds His cleansing blood in parting, once and for all mending all that is pierced and broken in us, yet rending forever that which separates us from God.