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Perhaps this isn’t the cheeriest of subjects about which I could reinstate my blog, but it is, without doubt, the most universally applicable.  Viktor Frankl, John Donne, Qoheleth (the writer of Ecclesiastes), and Randy Pausch (the late author of “The Last Lecture”) — What do these men have in common?  They all confronted head-on the most ultimate of subjects: death.  Each man highlights a different aspect of death and gives it a color that only extensive personal experience can do.  Being a nurse-in-training, going to class or clinical is a daily reminder of that which shall one day claim us all.  But it is my desire to show that this is not an exercise in futility; indeed thinking clearly about death serves to affirm its antithesis.

We don’t like to think about death.  In the United States, so much of our popular culture seems hell-bent on ignoring this inevitability, as if by doing so one could make his present circumstances more bearable; as if the only path to happiness were paved in whatever can distract us from that ultimate destination.  On the other hand, focusing too much on death can lead to a denial of the present and philosophical fatalism.  I’m reminded of the classic conversation between Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal in “When Harry Met Sally”:

Harry: …Do you think about death?

Sally: Yes.

Harry: Sure you do, a fleeting thought that drifts in and out of the transom of your mind.  I spend hours, I spend days —

Sally:  — and you think this makes you a better person?

Harry: Look, when the shit comes down, I’m gonna be ready, and you’re not.  That’s all I’m saying.

Sally:  And in the meantime you’re going to ruin your whole life waiting for it.

True.  We find it easy to see this one extreme: ruining one’s life by obsessing about death.  But too often we ignore the other extreme: ruining one’s life by ignoring it.  This is the truth Frankl, Donne, Qoheleth and Pausch were grappling with.  If I were to try to incorporate the thoughts of all these men in a single blog, I don’t think even I would want to read it, so let me go in phases.

First I want to look at some thoughts of Viktor Frankl, a psychotherapist in the Vienna tradition of Freud and Adler, but much less obsessed with his mother.  He developed his theories of psychotherapy as a prisoner in German concentration camps as he observed who survived those atrocities, those who didn’t, and why.

Then I’ll be looking at the Holy Sonnets of John Donne — make no mistake, this will be no scholarly endeavor.  I intend to only extrapolate what speaks to me and I’ll probably comment on the movie “Wit” with Emma Thompson which utilizes Donne’s poetry as a platform from which to portray a woman’s bout with ovarian cancer.

Thirdly I hope to do justice to Qoheleth, the mysterious author of Ecclesiastes…no small task.  And finally I’d like to take a modern look at death from the point of view of Randy Pausch, author of “The Last Lecture” who, in light of his diagnosis of terminal cancer (with 3-4 months to live), wrote a book of what he considered to be life’s greatest lessons.

I hope you’ll stay tuned for these installments.  Being a full-time student it may take some time to get these out; still none are meant to be exhaustive and all I hope will spawn positive discussion and introspection.

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For so long I thought I was the only one in seminary thinking this way, constantly wondering what the point of it all was. I have wondered when and why seminary became the only way one could make a career out of ministry in an established denomination. I have wondered what all these guys and gals (myself included) are really learning if all we do is read about what other people learned by actually living. I have found that theological books in isolation from experience do little or nothing (or worse yet, do damage) for our pursuit of real wisdom and true service to Christ. Hence the distinction between knowledge and wisdom. The brightest people in the world may prove to be dull in wisdom. Likewise, the most promising “theologians” may not have a clue as to how to speak into the lives of normal people unless they’ve learned how their knowledge plays out in real life.

The idea that I was the only one feeling this way was quite disconcerting and I was beginning to wonder what my place would be in the whole equation. Could I really be an integral part of ministry and the academic community if I saw that environment’s limitations as irreparably debilitating (or at least heading in that direction)? Then I found out I wasn’t the only one who felt that way. Apart from other students who have expressed concern for the American approach to education in general, I also found allegiance with a more notable fellow, one who (and this shouldn’t surprise us in the least) was an integral part of a theological revolution. He said,

“It is through living, indeed through dying and being damned that one becomes a theologian, not through understanding, reading, or speculation.”

That man was Martin Luther. His words were, as was just about everything at that point in time, reactionary to what heluther.jpg saw to be a mistaken projection of scholasticism in theological education. And while I’d personally love to use that quote to try to get out of my assigned reading, I believe there is something much more important on the fundamental level that Luther is getting at. I can conceive of a very well-read individual who has absolutely no life experience, no practical outcroppings of his knowledge. In my mind, this man has little or nothing to contribute and I would be very wary to accept anything he had to say. On the flip side, I can conceive of an individual well-versed in the ways of the world yet with no desire to search God’s Word or be challenged in his mind. This man, likewise, has little to offer since his wisdom is not grounded. God’s Word, however, calls us to do both. Nowhere in it does it say, “Be ye therefore satisfied with knowing as much as possible and keeping it to yourself.” Nor does it say, “Blessed art thou who doesn’t waste his time studying or increasing in knowledge but interacts with people a lot.” That’s because everywhere you see a call to increased knowledge, you see a complementary call to work it out practically. Each is dead without the other. Somewhat ironically, even Luther’s quote is based on events that could not have happened had Luther not been VERY well-read. The Reformation may have been spawned by an academic reaction to scholasticism, but what fueled the fire was Luther’s (and others) refusal to allow faith to be relegated to an academic exercise. It was life and death for these men. What have we let our faith become?

What I think Luther meant was that all his education, all his reading and knowledge meant relatively little until it was placed in the realm of life and death. Only then can you really know what it means, for example, when Paul says, “For to lavendar_lotus.jpgme to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Only then can you really know what it means to love your neighbor as yourself. Only then does Christ’s commands to feed the hungry and minister to the widows and orphans become lenses through which the whole Gospel is viewed. Only through being persecuted can we really understand “Blessed are you when people persecute you because of me.” How can we know what that means just by reading it or by reading what others say about it? The heart of the Gospel is rooted in knowledge, but it blooms through experience, and each is useless without the other.

PART I

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I was doing homework for my hermeneutics class the other day and “stumbled upon” a passage somewhat unrelated to the passage I was studying. I say “somewhat” because, as we learn at Westminster, EVERY passage is related in some way to EVERY other passage in the Bible (yes, even Leviticus)…it’s rather amazing, really. Anyway, the passage I happened upon was Isaiah 48 (specifically 1-11). As I casually glanced over the first few verses my eye caught verse 4:

“Because I know that you are obstinate,
and your neck is an iron sinew
and your forehead brass…”

I found myself chuckling, not just because it sounded like my mom talking to my dad, but also because I realized that God was speaking directly to me, and it was the kind of eureka moment that was just plain humorous. It defined me so well (especially the “forehead of brass” part — I’m really thick-headed sometimes!) that it compelled me to continue on.

Of particular interest to me was the “because…therefore” idea presented between verses 4 and 5. The thrust of verse 5 is that God declared “the former things” (prophecies of what He would do, especially in relation to obstinate Israel) before they happened so that the people would not stray towards other gods (see Jeremiah 44:15-17). God did this, not because He had to (see vs. 9 later on), but because the Israelites were “brass-headed”. Because of their obstinacy, God knew they would run to other gods in the face of adversity. So He told them in advance that this was what He would do.

jewsinexile.jpgNow we see in verse 6 and onward that God is announcing new things through Isaiah and calling Israel to remember the Lord’s ways concerning the “former things”; basically a call to obedience despite not having understanding. These were things previously unknown to the Israelites, prophecies about how God would deal with them, most immediately in their return from exile, but ultimately looking forward to the coming of Christ and redemption through Christ.

One might posit that it seems this passage is saying God had to do all this, otherwise He would’ve lost His creation. As if we needed to be reminded that God owes us nothing and needs us for nothing (He is utterly self-sufficient), we receive some glorious insight in verse 9: Not only does this verse tell us that we deserve the implications of God’s anger, it also tells us that God restrains his anger “for my name’s sake,” “for the sake of my praise,” and “for my sake, for my sake.” Could He make it any clearer?

In Malachi 3:6 the covenantal aspect is added in: “For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.” We are not consumed because God has promised that He will not let His anger burn against His children. He is bound by the covenant only in that he voluntarily entered into a covenant with His people and it is not possible that God should lie (Hebrews 6:17-18). Thus we have encouragement to press onward in our faith, knowing we shall not be deserted nor destroyed. Yet this does not mean we won’t be tried. As the Israelites endured the Exile as their “furnace of affliction” (vs. 10), God has found it necessary and pleasing to refine His people through such trials.

(to keep the length of this post down I’ve broken it up into 2. As such, your comments could very well shape the continuation as it will include my thoughts and reflections on this passage personally…I’d love to make this a corporately reflected post, so leave your thoughts/experiences for all of us to be blessed by…)

To be continued…

At the risk of encriminating myself do I write this current post. It is an issue that has occupied the recesses of my mind for months, making it’s way to conscious thought only sporadically. But now I find little else demanding my cognitive energy, so I’ll take that as my cue to discuss the issue of responsiblogity. I should say from the outset, that I am referring quite exclusively to those debates of potentially caustic nature that exist in our theological bubbles.

It occurred to me when I was writing my very first post in the blogosphere last year that a certain pretension was accompanying my words. There was a powerful element to it, and it was sweet. Perhaps it’s because I’m the youngest in my family and always feel my words are never quite taken seriously, perhaps it’s because of simply arrogance and pride; whatever the reason, it made me feel important to know that other people, random people would be reading what I had to say. And when I received recognition from other bloggers, my gosh there’s something seductive about that wine. Now I’m not saying we shouldn’t link to blogs we find interesting, informative, perplexing, etc. But I am confessing this, and likewise charging others to look into themselves concerning what and how they blog.

The experience gave me a sense of authority that I did not deserve. People, most of us are not professionals in our fields, so why do we get recognition as such? Most of us are not professionals, so why do we speak as if we are? There needs to be a humility accompanying our words concerning issues of delicate manner that naturally occur only when speaking face to face with our opponents. Let us remember, blogging is BY FAR THE WORST MEDIUM POSSIBLE for debate. THE ABSOLUTE WORST! We are more apt to write things to nameless, faceless entities that we would not (and should not) otherwise write out of mere respect for our peers and elders.

Again, I am not advocating that we avoid the touchy issues, but rather that we engage in what I’ve termed “responsiblogity”. While the word doesn’t actually exist, I don’t think I really need to go too far into defining it. But some simple guidelines may suffice concerning our theological debates:

  1. Pray before you write.
  2. Pretend the person (your opponent) is sitting right next to you.
  3. Don’t say anything that would prevent you from later being able to say, “I love you brother (or sister) and may God bless you and our discussion.”
  4. Remember the possibility that when we get to heaven, there’s a great possibility that ALL of us will say, “Oh, crap! I was way off!”
  5. Consider others better than yourself (sound familiar?).
  6. If your intent isn’t for the edification of the kingdom, it isn’t worth writing.
  7. Guess what: most of this stuff only enters the conscious thought of about .000001% of the world’s population.
  8. Ask yourself, “Is this issue worth dividing between me and a brother (or sister)?” Your answer to that question better be “No.” the majority of the time. Write with that in mind.
  9. Write what you want, show it to someone who you trust to deal honestly with you and discuss it, sleep on it, then re-write it.
  10. Be slow to speak, slow to anger; be quick to love and serve.

Now surely there are others, much of which can be categorized under “common sense”, but others perhaps not so much. I guess what I’m trying to say is we must constantly seek to keep peace if at all possible amongst ourselves and make sure our love for each other shines through even more in the midst of our disagreements, lest the world look at us and say, “They’re just like us.”

“…but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” I Peter 3:15

“We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ…” II Cor. 10:5

I was sitting in the Barnes and Noble café today, sipping on my imposter coffee (I brought my own; it’s not Starbucks ‘cause I don’t work there anymore and only now realize the ridiculousness of their prices), whilst nibbling on a grotesquely overpriced chocolate cupcake and reading Donald Miller’s Searching For God Knows What. My attention was drawn to a conversation the employees were having behind the counter concerning a customer who was looking for the section containing the Bibles.

Guy – Hey, how come you knew the exact location of the Bibles?

Gal – Please, I’m a good Catholic girl, of course I knew where the Bibles were. What about you, aren’t you Jewish?

Guy – Yeah, but only by descent. I’m definitely not religious in any way at all.

Gal – Aww, that’s sad.

Guy – Is it?

Gal – Yeah, you should believe in something. I mean, you don’t have to believe in Judaism, but you really should believe in something…not even necessarily God, but maybe in, like, the animals or trees…something!

My mind was flooded with all sorts of thoughts and feelings at that moment. It was obvious that by “believing in something” they meant “live for something.” One thought of mine was, “Mike, say something. Tell them everyone believes in something whether they realize it or not. Tell him that if nothing else, people live for themselves (which I’d say is at least better than living for trees!).” And then, of course, after saying this, I’d whip out my Van Tillian lightsaber and completely shatter the world as they knew it by exposing their foundational presuppositions (note sarcasm).

I found it interesting how that short conversation defined “religion.” Basically, religion was relegated to whatever it is that drives you in life. And apparently, to this girl, trees could be a sufficient reason for living. Maybe she was referring to nature in general, that Baha’I idea of our connectedness with it and, therefore, our responsibility to it. I dunno, I didn’t spend too much time thinking about it.

Another thought was just how sad it was that a self-proclaimed Catholic woman would endorse such malarkey (that may be the first time I’ve ever used that word). Then I figured that this is probably the approach the majority of secular America would take towards Truth, at least functionally, and that I was surrounded by that very same secular America. And then a thought entered my mind that saddened me more than all the others put together: I had sat there, and said nothing, content to yet again remain an anonymous Christian, fearful of the waves an absolute assertion for Biblical Truth would make in this relativistic post-modern world.

But it goes deeper. Why hadn’t I said anything? Was it really because I feared their response? Was I afraid I wouldn’t have the answers to their questions? Was it because I wanted them to think well of me (or at least not think anything of me at all)? I came to this conclusion: I was afraid they’d see that I didn’t really buy the product I was selling. Or perhaps more accurately, I was afraid they might actually be convinced of my position, when I myself wasn’t even sure of what that position was. Now just a disclaimer here, I’m not doubting my faith, but rather echoing Miller’s words, “… I am only saying I think I know who [God] is, then I figure out I don’t know very much at all.” So it’s not that the product is bad or in any way faulty, but I’m starting to realize (again) that it doesn’t quite work the way I thought.

If you read my previous couple blogs, you’ll get a glimpse at the workout my faith has been getting as of late. And I’m confident (and thankful) that I will not be the same on the other side of this valley as I was before entering it. I guess that’s the whole point. Yet these valleys do not excuse us from the mandate spelled out in I Peter and II Corinthians. According to I Peter, sharing our faith is not an expression of how well we feel spiritually at that moment, but rather an expression of honor towards the Lord who is holy. It is God’s holiness that demands we share our faith, which precludes any spiritual temperament we might have at any given time. And even if we are experiencing confusion or dryness in our faith, we trust that our words will still go forth and be blessed according to God’s unfailing power and sovereignty.

Perhaps one of the most frustrating aspects of being a stranger in a strange land is dealing with these awkward and problematic earthly vehicles our souls have taken on. On the one hand, we see in their infinitely genius design the very hand of God. But in a sin-broken world, the details of that genius tend to go awry. And so we’re left with inconveniences such as headaches, acne, hangnails, receeding hairlines, gastrointestinal discomfort (hehe), and the list goes on. We’re also left with diseases of a more tragic nature: cancer, AIDS, strokes, infertility, bullet and stab wounds, etc. As believers, we’re called to view even the worst of these things in light of God’s Word, and more specifically, in light of His progressive plan of redemption, re-creation, and sanctification. Easier said than done.

But at the risk of simplifying the issue, I’d like to at least broach the subject, and I hope people have more to say in commentary. This issue has come to the fore for me in recent days as I’ve been suffering from seeminly endless shin splints (I think I may have actually fractured my shin, but the result is the same). Unlike many people, I run because I enjoy it. I enjoy the creation around me, the mechanics of the human body, the rush from having beaten a previous time, and for some reason, life seems clearer and my path less obstructed after a nice long run. Recently I’ve been training to take part in the NYC Marathon in November, with several shorter races between now and then.

So, to be stricken with shin splints (or fracture) has become not only a frustration, but also a profoundly spiritual struggle. I question why God would allow me to be laid up when I’m just trying to keep my body in shape (I realize I’m deluding myself here, certainly there are elements of self-righteousness involved). My frustration is not unlike a child whose parent has just taken away his favorite toy because he’s been naughty. Yet my temper tantrum continues.

The other day, in my Hermeneutics class, Dr. Poythress was going on about steps in the hermeneutical process, yet in the context he interjected this bit of wisdom: “Our bodies experience decay so that we might not put our hope in this world, but rather in God.” Bam, right in my stomach. My immediate thought was, “Ok, I’ll put my hope in you, God…BUT PLEASE FIX MY SHIN!!!” I don’t think that was quite the response God was searching for. I’ve always been a tough nut to crack, but I can feel myself cracking now. My shin probably will get better with time…but it may not. And to be ok with that, I need to first detach myself from the hope I have in this world and my own selfish pursuits, replacing them with a hope in what can not be destroyed. Not that I shouldn’t have any hope that my shin will get better or that I’ll someday have a stable job etc., all those hopes in and of themselves are quite honorable. But they must not supplant our desires for allowing God to mold us and shape us in his own perfect way. In another class that same week (I forget which), the professor made the observation that of the hundreds of prayers in the Bible, a relative few are of the “Gimme this…I need that” sort. Now Christ did teach us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread…” but at the same time, it seems that today’s Christian world (or at least mine) is more likely to concentrate on this type of prayer rather than laud and honor, and simply basking in the sovereignty of God even in the midst of desperate struggle (e.g., Psalm 40).

So where do we derive our hope?

I think of my mom’s fibromyalsia and the seeming nonsense of it. Does she have this debilitating ailment because she refuses to find her hope in God? Not necessarily, but if there must be a reason, certainly one is for her to be an example to me of great perseverance in placing her hope in Him who will one day redeem that disease as His own and she will no longer suffer in it. I don’t think my mom has given up hope of being relieved of her pain this side of heaven, but I do think she’s come to the peaceful resignation of being able to say, “God, even if you never take this from me, my hope will still be in you.” She may be able to find meaning in her suffering by virtue of being an example to her son, but that only goes so far: it is virtuous enough, but our suffering has profound meaning completely apart from anything we might be able to see in this life, simply because we are sharing in Christ’s sufferings.

I must include this final thought, which could be the topic of a whole new post, but considering all that has happened this week, this post would be incomplete without it. For years, I thought (perhaps subconsciously) that assurance meant being sure of your faith. This is completely backwards and will never hold water in the face of struggle or adversity. Our assurance comes from the fact that even when we struggle so much or find ourselves in such a pit of despair that we can’t even see our own faith, God’s hand is still around us.  Our assurance doesn’t come from us holding on to God.  It comes from HIM holding on to US.

Amen?

I long for the days when it didn’t feel like my faith was contingent upon exhaustively understanding the deep intricacies of presuppositional apologetics or reformed systematic theology. I long for the days when I was content to read my Bible IN ENGLISH (including the parts I didn’t understand) and not worry about who the real author of Exodus was or when it was written, or how evidence should be used as an apologetic tool (if at all), or what the hell happened to the Septuagint and why anyone would ever want to base a translation on it, or…I could go on for hours. I guess in a nutshell, I’m saying I long for the days when ignorance was bliss, but my faith was bliss too.

Yet, I can recall days back then when I knew there was so much behind what I was reading that could and should be explored, and it was such a compelling force to begin that adventure. But now I feel my faith has been relegated to an academic exercise, something that might only be worth a ‘C’ if that’s what I happen to get on my next paper or exam. I can honestly only blame myself for allowing this situation to occur. On the one hand Westminster is an academic institution and has made no secret of that. But on the other hand attempts are made daily to remind me, the student, of the proper, God-glorifying end which we pursue. But for me, there is currently a disconnect between the wealth of information I receive in my ears and the amount of spiritual sustenance it delivers to my soul. When done correctly the two should inform and sustain each other. But as it is, my head is filling up with knowledge while my soul withers in the sun.

I have felt this to a certain degree for some time. Yet today marked a culmination of feelings of helplessness, homelessness, emptiness, waywardness, and a whole host of other “nesses” that I find to be more than coincidental. Let me explain: I try not to chalk too much up to spiritual warfare, because it can easily become a copout: I don’t like to shift responsibility from myself. But the timing of this “crisis” leads me to at least consider the possibility that part of what I’m experiencing is from the enemy. This past Saturday afternoon was the memorial service of a beloved professor at Westminster, Dr. Al Groves. During the service, as I listened to various people reflect upon the servant-heart of this man, I realized I despised who I had become. Later that evening I confessed to a dear friend of mine that I had allowed myself to become very self-centered in recent months, and I felt my faith was suffering because of it. That night I felt a turning of the tide, an opportunity to rediscover the joys of Christian service. But just over 24 hours later, I could hear whispers of discouragement and malice, doubt and fear, rage…it was all so tangible this morning.

On the one hand, it could be Satan trying to thwart God’s plan to call me back to repentance. On the other hand, it could be that in order for me to truly repent, I need to be absolutely torn down to nothing, and that the pain I’m feeling is akin to the pain one might feel after having a cancerous tumor removed. Or, I guess it could be both, Satan intending it for one purpose and God for His own. And finally, to be fair, it could just be me…sinful, wretched me trying desperately to hold on to the sin I love so much.

Reading back through this post, I’m tempted to see two distinct issues at work here. No doubt there are several others, but these are prevalent: my disenchantment with theological education, and the spiritual pain I’m experiencing in the deepest parts of my soul. But perhaps they aren’t as distinct as they appear. Since they inform and sustain each other (as I mentioned above), it would follow that a detriment in one would lead to a detriment in the other, which is exactly what I feel at the moment. Do I, then, actually long for the days of ignorance? I suppose not. I just wish my “education” didn’t come at the expense of my joy. It shouldn’t, and it doesn’t have to, but as it is related to a deeply spiritual issue of mine, I imagine it will require some deep spiritual pain for me to once again see those two in harmony.

For those of you who read this who are believers, I write this so that you might pray for me: that God would be faithful in tearing me to pieces with the end that my faith might be stronger and my commitment to service to Him and death to self might persevere. For anyone who reads this who is not a believer, I hope you do not understand this struggle as an indicator of a lack of God’s faithfulness, but rather mine. And as such, this process is a greater indication of God’s faithfulness, because no matter how much I writhe and scream, He refuses to let me, His child, go.

About a year and a half ago I returned from a two-year mission term in Ecuador. Among other things, my time there was one of frequent turmoil, a constant battleground for control of my heart. Often times I didn’t know who I was battling, since I spent considerable time fighting both God and my own sinful nature. Below is a poem I wrote while in the field. It is a story that I think many of us experience in faith. If you think you’re alone in your doubts and fear, you may find it to be true that we all come through this wilderness at times. But my hope is that the progression to redemption I’ve tried to express will also mirror how God might be calling you. It is written unabashedly, admitting crippling doubt and exhaustion. But in the end, it is not I who fights to win, but God who never lets go of His child.

“High King of heaven, my victory won,
May I reach heaven’s joys, O bright heaven’s Sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all.”

Redemption by Michael P. Van Gilst

Desire no more for that which can save,
Strength no more to resist the grave,
Faith no more to strengthen my bones;
To give me desire; abandon my groans.

Beaten and battered and torn down in shame,
Ready and willing to give up this game.
Knowing that this is just what I can’t do
For living is fighting and taming that shrew.

What option awaits then, in days yet to come?
I hear the beat pounding: the enemy’s drum.
Rolling and rumbling, grumbling thump
Louder and closer and ready to jump.

Stormy horizon and thunder close by
Foretell of a no-longer-cloudless night sky.
I with my satchel and naught else to fight
‘Gainst rain clouds and drumbeats that smother my light.

No where but not here a hiding place be
For here is just wasteland: a planar Hades.
The enemy sees me and knows I’m afraid.
Contemptuous laughter, a bloodthirsty blade.

Yet somehow in past years I’ve conquered this foe
I’ve relit my lamp and heard the cock crow.
I’ve stood in the presence of darkness and hate
And lived on to tell of my enemy’s fate.

But here in the midst of my fear and my doubt
I look to the heavens and holler and shout.
With no other weapon I’m forced to rely
On that which I know is my only ally.

Tears of frustration, exhaustion and pain
Stream from a body too weak to restrain
There in the downpour I cease to resist
And lay down the satchel that’s clenched in my fist.

The lines of the faces of enemies near
Jagged teeth, sneering sneers beckoning fear
The ringing and pounding! the drums will not cease!
Cacophonous symphony screaming, “Decease!”
From whence cometh help? I see nothing above
Abandoned and helpless, collapsed in the mud.
Grip of death strikes me, so seized by the dark
Yet softly I whisper a song from my heart:

“Be Thou my battle Shield, Sword for the fight;
Be Thou my Dignity, Thou my Delight;
Thou my soul’s Shelter, Thou my high Tower:
Raise Thou me heav’nward, O power of my power!”

With final breath drawn and prepared to depart,
Expecting the blade to cut straight through the heart
I notice the deafening silence around
No hand upon me, nor blade can be found.

For out of the canopied rain-stricken gloom
Descends a white dove with the brightness of noon.
I lay there bewildered and barely aware
That now the drum beating is something more fair.

Softly yet gradually bolder with time
Announcing the feat, the change of the tide,
The clearing of trumpets triumphantly sound
For once what was lost in death has now been found.

Slowly I look up and see face to face
My ally behind me in radiant grace.
No where but elsewhere my enemy be
For darkness has fled me and now I can see.

I have not my satchel yet care not for this
For that which is useless is not to be missed.
All that is needed is faith to go on
Knowing the Ally is never far-gone.

-Excerpts taken from “Be Thou My Vision” (translation by Mary Elizabeth Byrne)


El puesto del sol desde la terraza de mi departamento en Ecuador (Sunset from the terraza of my apartment in Ecuador)