Category Archives: Leadership

A Weary World Rejoices

In my experience some of the best ideas in life and ministry are borrowed, so with a nod to Pastor Adam Hamilton of Resurrection United Methodist Church, who’s Christmas Service message bears the title “A Weary World Rejoices”; I offer my own musings on that theme. I assume Hamilton is borrowing the title from the well-known lyric of “O Holy Night”. One can quickly go down a rabbit hole searching the origin of that song, but let’s assume, for the sake of giving credit, that it was an adaptation of a French-language poem by poet Placide Cappeau, written in 1843, composed to music in 1847 by Adolphe Adam.

I confess ignorance as to what may have prompted reflection on being weary in 1840’s Europe, but I imagine each age has its own reasons to feel weary. Indeed it is the juxtaposition of that phrase “a weary world” that can yet “rejoice” that captures my eye and ear. We are a weary world these days, are we not? Weary in so many ways. Let’s recount just a few: We are, of course, weary of the Covid-19 pandemic, weary of death and disease, weary of yet another variant and spike in cases the world over. We are weary of tests, weary of masks, weary of wondering if it’s safe to gather, and what the vaccination status of our neighbor or extended family member at those gatherings may or may not be. In addition, we are worn out by the residual layers that have piled on and fueled our fatigue: division, politics, protests, animosity, recklessness, selfishness, anxiety, stress, and a lack of regard for the other. Yes, weary comes in all kinds of expressions these days the world over. But is it any worse, any more severe than in days past? Even the days that greeted the birth of the Messiah?

That world, at least the part of the world into which Jesus was born, had to have been weary. The people of Judea knew occupation, the absence of true self-rule, oppression at the hands of a foreign empire which taxed them economically, socially and spiritually. It was a world divided, where various sects and groups sought a better future through varied means – strict legalism, power through political partnerships, zealous separatism. Disease and a short life expectancy were also common place for the common person. Weary? There was surely some weariness present in Herod’s, Caesar’s and Caiphas’ world. This was the world of Joseph and Mary, pilgrims who trod from Nazareth to Bethlehem, a long three-days journey by foot, to comply with a mandated registration.

Yet, it was into that world that rejoicing broke forth. Luke tells us that an angel of the Lord broke the joyous news to shepherds, near Bethlehem: I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. (Lk 2:10-11) In response a “multitude” of angels brought forth a celestial flash mob singing: Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors! (Lk 2:14)

Yes, a weary world rejoiced. Shepherds and angels among the flocks and fields of Bethlehem, and not far away a young couple who had just experienced the miracle of birth and new life – swaddling their son in cloth and putting him down for a first nap in a manger. Weariness and joy are natural partners in childbirth, when it goes well.

So, I ask: If then, why not now? Why can’t the weary world of today wrap its collective self around this simple yet profound natal story and rejoice yet again? To think, ours is a world with a benevolent Creator, who having given us free-will did not then walk away from the creation, but set forth a plan to redeem it. Ours is a world created by a God who loves us, seeks restoration with us, and came to be among us – one of us – in order to sort out the mess we humans had made of things. Isn’t that a cause for rejoicing?

We humans continue to make a mess of things, in my opinion. We can no more come to agreement, much less collaborate for the common good, today than in the days of the Herod’s and Caesar’s. The names of those in power have changed, but the behavior isn’t much different. Nations continue to be at odds with one another. Rather than rally together in response to a virus that threatens life, we’ve splintered into camps that point fingers and seek to lay blame. Might we instead set aside the discord for the harmony of Christmas? Can we come together in this season to once again rejoice in the birth of a Savior? That in itself might serve as a balm for our weariness. The act of rejoicing, joining in common joy, thanksgiving, and praise; it’s an other centered act. It takes our focus away from self and puts it on the reason for joy. It’s a recipe for the thwarting of weariness. Let’s try it. What do we have to lose?

Consider afresh the lyrics from the carol, O Holy Night.

O holy night, the stars are brightly shining
It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Till he appeared and the soul felt its worth.
The thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees,
Oh, hear the angel voices
O night divine,
O night when Christ was born
O night divine,
O night, O night divine,

The thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees,
Oh, hear the angel voices
O night divine,
O night when Christ was born
O night divine,
O night, O night divine,

O holy night

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A Word Salad of Sorrows

*Note: Each time the United States has surpassed a 100K marker in deaths due to the Covid-19 pandemic I have felt compelled to lament those who’ve lost their lives. Early on, when there were no vaccinations, this observance felt like a common public lament. Now, when science tells us that vaccinations will safely curb the outcome of deaths and tremendously reduce the chance of hospitalizations, the “common” element seems to have fractured into camps standing in opposition. This is sad. As one who hopes and prays for the greater good, and advocates for public health and love of neighbor; I confess frustration with the stubborn nature of humankind. So often, when presented with a better path, we prove reluctant to take it, and seemingly so determined to stand with a fist. So, putting my cards on the table and owning my opinion, I pray for changed hearts and once again offer this lament on the occasion of our nation having now surpassed 800,000 deaths due to Covid-19. What follows are simply words that came to mind as I took time to reflect on the sad milestone reported on the news today.

A Word Salad of Sorrows

800,000
Lives Lost
Families Grieving
Futures Changed

Variants Identified
Vaccinations Shunned
Pandemic Prolonged
Science Ignored

A Weary World
Silent Nights
Long Haulers with . . .
. . a Different Supply Chain

Prayers Recited
Boosters Offered
Patience Thin
Patients a Plenty

Choosing the Other
Loving a Neighbor
Common Good
Balcony View

Finding the Will
Cooperating Together
Mitigating the Spread
Avoiding 900,000?

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700,000

The sisters of Our Lady of Grace, a Benedictine Monastery in Beech Grove, Indiana toll a bell for every Hoosier who died that day from Covid-19 during their evening prayers. (see link to news story below) They began this practice on July 29, 2020 and have tolled the bell roughly 10,000 times to date. Had they begun in March of 2020 the bell would’ve tolled 15,165 times by now – once for each life lost to Covid-19 in Indiana. One day in December 2020 it tolled 164 times. Were these nuns to take on a national bell tolling, this week the bell would have surpassed 700,000 tolls. Globally the number is now in excess of 4.55 million who have died from the coronavirus.

There is something quite somber about the tolling of a single, solitary bell. It has the capacity to catch your ear, stop and settle your mind, and call you to prayer. The unique ring and tone are quite foreign to the daily noise of life, an exception in the cacophony of sound with which we’ve become too familiar. A bell tolling can cut through the noise, calling for silence and reflection.

This must be the intent behind the nuns’ daily prayer vigil. As the bell is tolled, however many times called for by that day, each ring is given it’s just due – moments of reflection and prayer offered for another life lost. During the week ending September 29, 2021 the bell tolled another 31 times as that many of our fellow Hoosiers gave up the fight, overcome by the effects of Covid-19.

While I cannot speak for the impact this practice has had on the sisters, I suspect it to be wearing and weighty. It seems much of society has moved past a daily reckoning of Covid-19 data, but not the nuns of Our Lady of Grace. No, the bell continues to toll, as many times as needed during evening prayers, in the monastery just south of Indy. These servants of Christ are keeping watch, and holding vigil, for those for whom the bell tolls. I thank them for their ministry.

For Whom the Bell Tolls
by
John Donne
 No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

WTHR story of Our Lady of Grace

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Passageways

I’m drawn to them, those places and images that invite a going through or coming toward. They are passageways, entry and exit points from what has been to what will be. Thresholds and more, offering promise and prompting thanksgiving. Call it a professional hazard of one who has been present as folks unite to cross a threshold, welcome a new beginning, or share a “farewell” and “see you later”. To be present at the passageway times of life – birth, marriage, death – is sacred work. It’s also humbling work, peeking into the intimacy of a family system and coming to share a presence and a word.

These passageways crop up in life, in nature, in travel and in the mundane. It seems we are always coming and going, sometimes with a lack of awareness and abandon that approaches the cliffs in danger; other times in a measured gait that belies our reluctance to enter the work at all.

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The Freedom Trail

On a recent family excursion to Boston we explored the famed “Freedom Trail”. This is a 2.5 mile path that meanders through downtown Boston, passing by 16 historic locations significant in the nation’s colonial journey toward independence and freedom. It’s an interesting walk that combines the preserved markers of history in the middle of a contemporary urban center that is filled with the sights and sounds of progress. One particular visual that I found noteworthy was an old burying ground adorned with weathered markers and headstones, some of which were located flat against the foundation of a modern office building. The office building’s windows overlook the resting place of revolutionary heroes, buried just feet beyond. Such is the juxtaposition of contemporary life in the midst of history.

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