Refresh Worship Service
Trinity United Methodist Church / Beaumont, Texas
Wednesday, October 17, 2018
“A Handsome Mixture”
dedicated to Barbara Hambright Scribner, on her birthday
and Brenda Robertson Garey, who sings in the night
Phoebe Hambright Dishman, Lay Speaker
The Lord GOD gave me a skilled tongue, to know how to speak a timely word to the weary. Morning by morning, he rouses, he rouses my ear to give heed like one being taught. The Lord GOD opened my ears, and I did not disobey,
I did not run away. Isaiah 50:4-5
John Philip Newell is a pastor and a poet. I know nothing more of him than that, but this week I came across something he wrote, and it stopped me in my proverbial tracks. Listen:
In one of her . . . visions of Jesus, Julian [of Norwich (1342–1416)] realizes that he is [a] “handsome mixture.” . . . His face speaks of a knowledge of life’s delight and a knowledge of life’s pain. It is not a face that is naïve to the world’s sufferings or to the personal experience of sorrow. Nor is it a face that is so overwhelmed by sorrow that it loses its openness and wonder. . . . It is a soul that has experienced the heights and the depths of human life. . . . To look life straight in the eye, to see its pain and to see its beauty—this is an essential part of glimpsing the way forward.
The mystic Julian sees Jesus. What does she see? A handsome mixture. A handsome mixture with the capacity to look life straight in the eye, to see its pain and its beauty. To glimpse a way forward. To be the change we want to see. Surely that is what God is working in each one of us. If, that is, we don’t run away. Lord, give us courage to stay. Give us courage to bear what must be borne, so we can give birth to what wants to be.
I was born some time ago, and my parents are long gone, and I’m beginning to lose close friends, and now I’m a grandmother. These circumstances are shaping in me a handsome mixture, well acquainted with sorrow, growing in intimacy with disappearance, yet ever-determined to put the song back in the world. This is hard. And the growing pains are acute. And oh, the terrible things I see. Things that try to crush and silence my song. When I see angry idiots addicted to being triggered, when I see them snarling over red meat thrown at them, when I see the rise of the machines, when I see the relentless raping of this good earth, when I see the way we’re stupefied and diverted by the latest bright toy waved in front of us, when I see the hyper-management projects we come up with to soothe our fear in a world beyond our control, when I see my own potential to be all of that, it breaks my heart.
On the other hand, when I see the goodness and kindness all around me and in me, when I see my baby granddaughter pulling up, engaging all kinds of fascinating mouth movements to get ready to take her place as a creature who speaks, when I throw back my head and laugh in sheer surprised delight at the finely crafted humor of a TV program, it healsmy heart.
It heals my heart. Richard Rohr says that ‘the first step toward healing is truthfully acknowledging evil, while trusting the inherent goodness of reality.’
Ever broken, ever restored. That’s me. And you. A handsome mixture, clear-eyed and sturdy to serve. So…morning by morning the LORD rouses, he rouses my ear to give heed like one being taught. Like one dismantled and disoriented, yet picking up joy on the wind and thrumming with a reasonable measure of energy and inclination to tell out the good news. What a ride!
My friend awoke in the night to a song, from who knows where.
It sang itself inside her, over and over. “I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free. His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me.”
The songbird who wrote Psalm 16 nods her head, and adds this:
The LORD is my allotted share and portion; you control my fate.
Delightful country has fallen to my lot; lovely indeed is my estate.
I bless the LORD who has guided me;
my conscience admonishes me in the night.
I am ever mindful of the LORD’s presence; he is at my right hand;
I shall never be shaken.
So my heart rejoices, my whole being exults, and my body rests secure.
For you will not abandon me to Sheol, or let your faithful one see the Pit.
You will teach me the path of life.
In your presence is perfect joy; delights are ever in Your right hand.
In your presence is perfect joy. But wait. Do you hear it? The Psalmist is delighted, yes. She’s lyrically grateful. She’s also well aware of the painful struggle we call conscience, and the looming Pit of things going wrong. The Psalmist is a handsome mixture. A handsome mixture with the capacity to look life straight in the eye, to see its pain and its beauty. To glimpse a way forward. To be the change she wants to see. Surely this is what God is working in her. If, that is, she doesn’t run away. Maybe sometimes she feels like running away. When that happens, what does she do? She sings. The LORD is my allotted share and portion. I am ever mindful of his presence. So my heart rejoices, my whole being exults. I sing because I’m happy. I sing because I’m free.
The poet Emily Dickinson puts it like this:
Hope is that thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
The prophet Isaiah puts it like this: The Lord GOD gave me a skilled tongue, to know how to speak a timely word to the weary. Morning by morning, he rouses, he rouses my ear to give heed like one being taught. The Lord GOD opened my ears, and I did not disobey, I did not run away.
Morning by morning, he rouses. At nine months, just getting started, my granddaughter feels the imperative to get up every morning and refine her skills. She does not disobey, nor run away. Neither do I.
Monday morning I was up at five and obediently at my computer to read a weekly delight – Terry Hershey’s “Sabbath Moment.” As always his words did me good. As always he included at the end of his meditation a list of recommended music videos. By the time I reach this list, it’s usually time to go do something else. But this morning, I lingered. I stayed. My heart swelled with the beauty of song and image, how “he aint’ heavy, he’s my brother.” Other noble and fortifying thoughts. Then I came to Pete Seeger’s “Where have all the flowers gone?” I am here to tell you that by song’s end my heart was in shards, shards of shattered glass on the floor, and I was wailing. “When will we ever learn?” I just let it all go and howled, for all of us.
The storm passed. I sat there, drained, in a silent pool of light, alone in a dark house, the world little changed by my outcry. Outside, it was still ‘slap dark.’ Then, from the sable darkness, a song rang out. The singer was a catbird, Dumetella carolinensis. Or so I believe. What it was doing up so long before sunrise, who can say. Where it got the bell-like clarity, when it usually murmurs and burbles, who can say. Whether its brief series of ‘take heart and do not fear’ angel-notes was for me, who can say.
Who can say? And yet, I am bold to say, with the prophet Isaiah:
The Lord GOD gave me a skilled tongue, to know how to speak a timely word to the weary. Morning by morning, he rouses, he rouses my ear to give heed like one being taught. The Lord GOD opened my ears, and I did not disobey, I did not run away.
I reckon I’ll trust that, and keep showing up. We need more handsome mixtures. More wounded songbirds, healed and set free. Amen.