Why We Sing

For thirty plus Christmas’ I’ve led groups of carolers.  I can’t carry a tune.  But I understand the importance and value of singing.  Particularly when singing to those among us who are feeling vulnerable.

First Baptist in Beverly, sharing the love.

We sing in nursing homes, memory centers, jails, retirement communities and on street corners.  We sing to folk who have lost a loved one.  We sing to encourage neighbors wrestling with addiction.

We sing to remind people that they are not forgotten.  To remind ourselves and those we sing for,  that as dark as any given moment may seem, that the light will come.  To lift up and celebrate the beauty found in community and mutual care.

In the Gospel of Matthew we hear these words:

The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.

Matthew quoting words from the prophet Isaiah, reminds us that the embodiment of this light is Jesus.  It is this light come to earth in the story of Jesus, which inspires us to sing, to hope, to persevere.

Christmas is often a difficult time for people.  We have so many expectations of what the season should be…family, gifts, comfort, joy, peace.

Yet the reality for many doesn’t match the expectations.   Many of us are estranged from family, struggle to pay the bills, wrestle with addiction, face health challenges or worry over the future our children and grandchildren will inherit.

There is a lot of darkness in the world.  This is true.

Yet our faith teaches that the light enters into the darkness.   Light which cannot be extinguished  or contained.

Each year the story of Christmas comes to remind us that light has come.  An unlikely light in the form of an infant, born to peasant parents, during a time of military occupation. This child born homeless, wrapped in rags and placed in a feeding trough.

From this humble beginning a life-sustaining light has come.  A light which still burns.  A light that rests upon each woman, man, girl and boy.

This is why we sing.  To remind ourselves and those we sing to, that darkness never has the final word.  The light has come, once again.

Let us raise our voice in song.

 

 

Living with Pain

I have several friends and people in my extended family who live with chronic pain. Pain that grabs you by the throat and takes your breath away. Pain that is so unrelenting that it can telescope your parameters as to what is possible, to the point that all one sees and knows is the pain. For some of us the pain is emotional for others it is physical. For some a combination of the two.

Richard Rohr the Franciscan monk and author writes that such pain can be the door to facing tough spiritual questions that we otherwise avoid. Questions such as: Is there really a God? If God is good and all powerful then why am I or the people I love suffering?

Such questions Rohr suggest arise when we are faced with difficulties and nothing is more challenging than chronic pain. I’ve known some people who have wrestled with such questions only to walk away from their faith. I’ve known others who have found meaning and strength in their spiritual life, giving them strength and hope.

In the classic book by Rabbi Harold Kushner ‘When Bad Things Happen to Good People’, Kushner reflects out of his own pain on the nature of God and the unfairness of life. He wrote following the death of his son Aaron who died in adolescence after a life long illness.

Kushner writes: “I’ve never received a good answer as to why God allows bad things to happen to good people. But I do know where God is when bad things happen.” For Kushner God showed up in the kindness of friends who didn’t give platitudes but simply listened. God showed up when meals were brought by neighbors and loving prayers were voiced by people he and his wife didn’t know. And, God showed up in a deep-seated awareness that he and his family including his son, were being carried through the most painful of times.

Can this awareness be proven, quantified or measured? No. But for Kushner this awareness of that loving presence he calls God, is a real as the death of his son.

For Kushner and so many others this awareness of not being alone is a source of hope. Hope opens something in the human heart. Like shutters slowly parting to admit a winter dawn, hope permits strands of light to make their way to us, even when we still stand in darkness; but hope also reveals a landscape beyond us into which we can live and move and have our being.

photo of candle

For those who follow the Christian calendar, December is the season of Advent when believers and seekers move from darkness towards light. December 16th is the beginning of Hanukkah in the Jewish calendar a festival of light in the midst of a dark time.

My prayer for all who journey with pain that ‘you be graced with moments of hope that remind you that you are not alone and that you are loved’. May this awareness illuminate our path.

The Gift of Robin Williams

We mourn the passing of Robin Williams at age 63. He was an extraordinary person who touched the lives of millions as a comedian and actor. Initial reports suggest that he took his own life. A spokesperson for the family say that he wrestled for much of his life with depression and addiction.

His comedic genius served as a backdrop to my generation and touched the life of my children’s generation through endearing performances such as the Genie in the Disney animated film, ‘Aladdin’.

Robin Williams Photo

As an actor he won an academy award for his role as a grieving, empathetic therapist in ‘Goodwill Hunting’. In the film ‘Dead Poets Society’ he portrayed a beloved teacher who drew from his own reservoir of pain and spoke to the deepest longings of his students.

Robin Williams portrayal of these two fragile characters rings true because we sense that he brought his own vulnerability to the role. His experience resonated with our own sense of vulnerability and struggle.

As a comedian he had us rolling on the floor in laughter, even as we sensed that his comedic gift came from a fragile place. This connection between darkness and laughter wasn’t unique to Williams. His death feels so personal because his authenticity as a human being touched us deeply.

Robin didn’t hide his struggles but put them out for all to see. My hope is that his example will encourage and challenge each of us to be honest about who we are. One truth I’ve learned in 30 plus years of being a pastor is that no one has their act completely together, certainly not me.

We all have our areas of light and shadow, hope and despair. This mixed bag is what it means to be human. That Robin’s despair ultimately took his life should not discourage us from being open about our own vulnerability and struggles as well as our hopes and dreams.

His example challenges us to respond to the seemingly polite question: ‘How are you today?’, with an honest answer: ‘I feel good, happy’. Or, ‘I feel alone/anxious/sad/hopeless/angry’. The truth is most of us feel a mix of emotions every day.

In choosing to be emotionally authentic with each other, we have a responsibility to listen and be compassionate and caring. To let each other know that we have each other’s back. This is what it means to be part of a healthy community.

This is a bittersweet time. We are full of grief at the passing of an immensely talented, flawed and courageous human being. And, we are full of gratitude for the joy and depth of humanity that Robin Williams brought to us all. May God’s comfort be with his family and all who grieve his passing. To the Creator’s love we return his expansive soul.