Alchemy in the Wilderness

The notion that we are each fully capable, all mighty, and contain all the power we need to manifest a life of beauty and abundance is a popular theme in new age literature. Trouble is, belief in this notion leaves us basking and playing in the lower valleys thinking we have reached the mountain top. And, for a while, all does seem idyllic as we enthusiastically go about applying the natural laws of attraction. In the book The Alchemist this phenomenon is called the principle of favorability. The Soul of the World wants to give us a taste of success. But, inevitably, when we are duly ripe, the mountain calls.

And, what is the mountain calling us to do? Surrender that very sense of self-aggrandizement we so relish to discover the deeper Truth of the Soul of the World – that we are each simply a glorious integral part of all that is and that the Soul of the World waits to guide, sustain, and carry us deep into its very essence – Love. It calls us to leave the comfort of the known in the valley to travel into the unknown to discover our Personal Legend, our true purpose, what we have been created for in this lifetime, so that all we’ve learned along the way can finally make sense. It is asking of us exactly the opposite of what we experience in the valley. How do we know this? Maktub. Maktub means it is written in the Soul of the World.

Some sleepy part of us, just beginning to waken, knows the sound of the call. We hear it in moments – moments our heart sneaks in a whisper when our mind isn’t paying attention. Moments. Listen carefully for that’s all we’ve got. Still, we pause at this juncture for we instinctively know that to make the climb requires nothing short of the ultimate sacrifice – the death of our favorability and the full surrender of any sense of control or unilateral power we may claim to have. But remember, the Soul of the World is Love and Love being the strongest force in the universe will not be denied – most lucky for us.

So, we begin the climb because not to climb becomes scarier than so-called death. Besides, “What greater way to die than in pursuit of your Personal Legend?” the alchemist tells us. Indeed! For just as Arjuna discovers in the Bhagavad Gita or Much Afraid in Hinds’ Feet on High Places or Saint Teresa of Avila in the journey into the Interior Castle, such death, brought about by nothing short of our full surrender, brings life – life unlike anything we may experience basking in the valleys below.

Moments. How quickly they can dissolve into the daily requirements of living. How we all so routinely forget that, truly, there are only so many moments left in this life experience. But, once we commit to conscious living, to the mountainous quest of truly living our Personal Legend, we begin to hear, sometimes in moments unforeseen, whispers from the Soul of the World. The immediate result is a growing and profound awareness of our interconnectedness with all that is. Suddenly, we can hear the Spirit of all things talking to us…if we have a moment…

Some of the things I heard in the wilds of Maine in response to my sharing heart…

From the Spirit of the Stream…You wind your way through the marsh until I can’t see you anymore and you are lost to me in the dense cover. Come. Follow me and I will take you into the unknown where all things are known.

From the Spirit of the Tiny Yellow & Purple Flowers…How lovely you are basking in the sun. I feel just the hint of chill in the air signaling my end of days. Like you, there’s not a moment to waste. Delight. Joy is all around.

From the Spirit of the Lake…You call me. Leave all behind and enter naked into my depths. I will baptize you in the pure sound of silence just below the water’s edge. The loons gliding on my surface will serenade you. This is how you will be born again…and again…and again…

From the Spirit of the Sun…Every morning you rise up over the ridge. So ho-hum as to be tritely dismissed, this extraordinary blessing of a new day peels my eyes awake to see right before me what I’ve gone blind to in the ordinary halls of memory. And, what will you do with this extraordinary gift?

The journey up the mountain is steep, rugged and, at every turn, will test our grit and commitment. It is, simply, the hero-heroine’s journey I spoke of in my last blog. But, I notice that as I become more and more attuned to the language of the Soul of the World I fear less and less the loss of so-called control or even death. It would not occur to me now to travel alone for I have heard the wondrous Spirit of the Earth and the voices of the angels in the Spirit of the Heavens all held in Love by the Soul of the World. I trust their guidance for they have led me to where I could have known not. And, graciously, they have called me into unity with all things so I could clearly see how my uniqueness is only one expression of all that is.

So, gladly, I leave behind the self-aggrandizing assumptions of our day. I would much rather remove my clothes, submerge myself into the water’s depth, and humbly make my way up the mountain depending only upon the markers whispered by the Soul of the World which holds all things in the Spirit of Love.

In the end, it is the destiny of all us to do so – when it is our time. How do I know?

Maktub

Pictures taken below from the wonderful Pines Lodge and wilderness sites.

Sunrise pic.JPGLake pic.JPG

Sunset Image.JPG

New site stream.JPG

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A Monomyth: The Heroine’s Journey

“You and I have the power to change the world – one encounter at a time,” I declared with what felt like a heart explosion of love as I looked out over the auditorium and into the cameras. This was how I started my TEDx talk but I didn’t know I was going to start that way until that very morning – yes, that very morning – not until after the early arrival, not until we nine speakers had gathered briefly to collectively prepare ourselves for the day to come, not until our host for the event, who happened to be my speaker coach, was giving us a pep talk and said without much fan fair, “Each of you has the power to change the world with your talk.” In that amazing instant, I felt a familiar jolt and I knew, clearly, I had just been given instructions to reframe my entire talk with this inspirational glue. I decided to start with “You and I” to emphasize inclusion and added “one encounter at a time” to frame my talk’s three stories. Later, my coach would say he was thinking of my talk when he made that statement. I love how the Unseen Hand works!

Now, until that moment, I had been very happy with my talk but I could not say I was on fire with it. I had chalked this up to having been exceptionally busy in other areas of my life and had decided to simply trust that in the moment the Holy Spirit would come through as had long been my experience. After all, I did so believe in the importance of the message of my talk – that it was possible, indeed critical to our very survival, for each of us to reach across political, religious and socio-economic divisions to connect with those with whom we may have thought of as the other, or very different from us. It was possible if we could only allow ourselves to catch a glimpse of our common humanity. I felt that by sharing true personal stories from my own experience, experiences that had informed me, I could best authentically demonstrate this possibility.

I could have ended my reporting of the day’s exciting events there, for I feel so very blessed to say that I don’t believe the talk could have gone any better but, in truth, a greater story had been unfolding over the six months leading up to the talk, one I am compelled to share here as it relates ever more deeply to all our journeys. It speaks to how, if we are to serve a greater good, as I truly believe in this instance my talk was inspired and created to do, we must prepare ourselves for what is being asked of us. This often puts us on what the likes of Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung have described as a monomyth, or a hero-heroine’s journey. Here, the heroine goes on a journey, faces some decisive crisis and, if victorious, comes home changed or transformed. The critical aspect of the journey is to transform the fears and road blocks that stand in the way of our victorious assent, or expansion, into the next level of consciousness being required by the task at hand. How romantic it all sounds on paper. How absolutely terrifying, beyond all measure, in real life. Below is a summary of my journey offered here in the spirit that it may find resonance with your monomyth journeys.

It all started innocently enough. The subject line in the October 2017 email read simply, “One More Thing.” It was from Christy Sperrazza who wrote, “You may be getting something in the mail from TEDx. I hope it’s OK but I nominated you to be one of the speakers at their next event in June 2018.” What?!! Sure enough, I did receive information and was invited to apply along with the over 80 people vying for one of the nine spots. Next, I was interviewed and on December 18, 2018 learned I had been chosen. Up until that point, I was totally excited about it all focusing only on winning one of the prize spots.

But, once the initial excitement began to settle, the full import of what had happened and what it could mean started overshadowing all anticipation. There I stood, as Arjuna from the Bhagavad Gita, clearly having been called to do my duty on the battlefield of life in service to a greater good, and, like Arjuna, I found myself suddenly feeling wimpy, cowardly and vehemently resisting. Yet, at the very same time, I knew it was absolute futile to do so.

Some explanation is in order here to put this journey into context for those of you who may not know an instrumental part of my early story. At 10 years of age, I had a life-changing experience when my grandfather, whom I totally idolized, suddenly rejected me in a way I could have never imagined or seen coming. I was completely devastated and soon after began to stutter. Returning to school was the worst because I was constantly mocked and laughed at every time I had to speak, especially in front of others in any way. I wrote a poem about this that’s posted on my website, https://www.stephanierutt.com.

As I grew up, I learned to control it most of the time and, to my great surprise, later discovered I was meant to be a teacher – and that, to my delighted heart, was a very good one at that. Still, I would spend many years healing those deep early wounds. But, as truly, all things really do work for good for them that love God (ref. Romans 8:28), I discovered a nugget of gold in that deep suffering and it was right there that the true goodness was to be revealed.

How so? Well, especially in the early years, every time I had to walk out in front of a class of students, I would be so petrified, sometimes to the point of panic, that I would desperately pray to God to speak for me because I just knew I could not.  And, every time, God came through leaving me, again and again, humble and silent as I could have had no doubt who had just taught the class. Not only could I speak but lectures, talks, workshops, would just unfold in the most amazing ways. This is why I would never dream of reading anything or preparing beyond dot-points. I have learned over and over again that God can do it so much better than I! And, it’s so much more fun!

The important take-away from my long journey with speaking is that stuttering has been the greatest gift of my life because it brought me to total, complete and unequivocal surrender to my Beloved God. Not possible to fake this one! And, so, I can tell you today that those terrible years of struggling to speak were, most assuredly, a small price to pay for what I’ve received. For what I’ve received is grace beyond measure, security beyond question and a love beyond any understanding I could possibly express or explain. I have walked into what I felt was most-assured death and found only life, abundant, grace filled life, breathing through me, speaking me, causing me to become that which was well beyond any hope or scope I could have possibly imagined or mustered on my own.

Those early experiences engraved upon me an unquestionable trust in my God and, over my life, I have truly found Grace saving me again and again. I know deeply what St. Francis meant when he said, “For it is in dying that we are born into eternal life,” for each time I have called upon that Grace, that lives just beyond the edges of my self-proclaimed autonomy, each time I have been made to bow low in complete surrender, I have felt my silent humble heart infused once again with the wonder of God.

But, back to the journey! When I knew I had been called to give the TEDx talk, for the first time in many years, my inner little girl who couldn’t speak starting freaking out! Some mornings I would wake with such dread I hated to get out of bed. So, I did what I always do when I need help. I went to straight to my God. Then, early in 2018 in my spiritual practice, I received a clear and beautiful vision. I saw the blessed Mother Mary take my hand, of myself as that young girl, and walk me out onto a stage. There, I was shown what was to come and was most lovingly assured that all would be well.

Some of you may remember my journey through Lyme disease, Bell’s Palsy and the threat of lung cancer and then came the arrival of the breathing blessing bracelet directly from Medjugorje, where the Blessed Mother was spotted, from my dear friend Jane in Mississippi who had no idea what I was going through. I knew clearly this would be the second time the Blessed Mother had come to save me. Every night, I slept with my Mother Teresa rosary close by and part of my daily prayers became the beautiful hymn, You Raise Me Up by Selah. All along I held fast to the vision I had been given but found my little girl still needed assurance that she could rise up and meet the challenge. Together, we prayed constantly that the love of God would have its way with us and the vision could be fulfilled.

And, so it was.

When, being last, it was finally my turn to speak, I was waiting in the wings praying and thanking Mother Mary for being with me. Then I heard, “Join me in welcoming…” As I took my first step, I instantly felt a kind of wind under my feet. It was like I was literally being lifted and propelled forward – like a wanted to skip! I felt completely happy, present and, most of all, absolutely laser clear about what was being asked of me. “You and I have the power to change the world – one encounter at a time.” My stories of “The Caller,” “The Mormons and Me,” and “The Homeless Man” rang out strong as I shared how they had informed me and how each had catapulted me into a place of great hope showing clearly how it was possible to find one another again beyond the crippling political, religious and socio-economic divisiveness of our day.  I could feel clearly how the message was so much bigger than me and that I was simply the reporter, the messenger, for with every word Love had its way that day. Love, indeed, had its way.

I’ve heard from many who were there. “It was like time stood still.” “You held all of us.” “People around me were crying.” And, on and on. Even now it is still hard to speak of it and I have not found myself ready to write about it until today.

I have wondered if others who have had similar monomyth journeys feel as I do. Along the way, I discovered it is largely a solitary journey. I shared only in spurts with my dear husband. On the other side of the experience, I have learned that it does not feel like a hero’s or heroine’s journey at all for I know I can take absolutely no credit. I did not create the blessed vision that was given to me. I did not create the wind beneath my feet that day any more than it was I who created fluent speech in those many classrooms all those years ago. No, rather, I have come to believe it is the Beloved’s journey through us, breathing through our heart’s hollow reeds making us hallowed instruments of Grace, Goodness, Beauty and Truth. And, in the aftermath, we are left silent, humble and grateful and, mostly…

ecstatically still in the wonder of God.

Thank you, dear Mother Mary.

PS: As soon as the talk is public, I’ll let you know!

 

 

 

 

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A Kiddy Bowl & A Grown-Up Spoon: God’s True Blessing

One afternoon, shortly after Easter, I had just gotten my five-year-old granddaughter off the bus and we were relaxing at her kitchen table enjoying a snack. Suddenly, she quite excitedly started telling me about going to a very big, really beautiful, church where she saw the priest bless the Easter food. I responded by saying how wonderful that must have been and just let the moment be full with the memory.

Then, I said casually, “You know how when you came to our house for a meal and we go around the table saying something we’re grateful for and then we thank the animal for its life, for the meat we’re about to eat?”

“Yea.”

“Well, I think of that as a kind of blessing. So, anytime you want to remember how thankful you are for all the good food you have, you can offer a blessing too. Just fold your hands like this and say something like, ‘Thank you God for all this good food I’m about to eat and thank you chicken, (or whatever the animal is), for your life so I can grow big and ­strong.’”

A pause and I could see the wheels turning. “You mean I can bless the food?”

“Of course,” I answered.

And, before I knew it, she jumped up and pointed with strong resolve to the cupboard where her and her younger brother’s dishes were kept.

“Quick, Grandma! Get a bowl and put water in it and get me a spoon – a big grown-up spoon.” Dutifully, I did as I was ordered as I could sense something quite special was swirling around in that sweet heart of hers. It’s why I call her Sweetness. So, I filled the small plastic bowl, one with a suction bottom, half full of water and placed it on the table in front of her along with a large spoon. Meanwhile, she ran to get some Polish pastries she and her dad had made that she said, “didn’t taste so good.”

Then, seating herself before the bowl and spoon, she paused, folded her hands, closed her eyes, and prayed, “Please God bless this food so it will taste good by tomorrow. My daddy and I tried to make it good but it didn’t work.” She then took the spoon and half flung, half dripped, water over the pastries.

“There,” she said, quite satisfied and with unwavering assurance, “I’m sure they’ll taste good by tomorrow.”

“Yikes!” I thought. “Now, what do I do?” Besides, I rationalized, the pastries could taste better by tomorrow, right? Miracles do happen!

Finally, I arrived on something I thought might save her heart-felt blessing. I said, “Well, honey, I don’t know if they’ll taste better by tomorrow but your blessing was very sweet and, you know, I think that just you and your dad making something together, just like when you and your mom do, is probably the biggest blessing.”

Woops! Furled brow!

“No, Grandma! I blessed the food. I know it will taste better tomorrow!”

“Okay, honey. I’m quite sure you’re right.”

“Grandma, let’s play now!” Blessing time was over.

I didn’t see Sweetness until a week later and in the annals of a five-year-old’s memory that’s a lifetime so I never did inquire if the pastries had, indeed, tasted better the next day. Instead, I chose to believe simply that one of those unexplained miracles had surely transpired and to hold what had come to me to be the true blessings of that afternoon…

One of God’s beloved children had learned that, with a heartfelt prayer, she, too, could bless that which she felt was most in need of blessing in her small world, be it on that day it was the Polish pastries. No, it was not in a big beautiful church or in some other special surroundings. It was not offered by a special person sprinkling holy water from a coveted chalice.

It was at a modest kitchen table offered by a five-year-old’s praying hands. All that was needed was a small plastic kiddy bowl half-filled with I’m-sure-it-must-have-been-holy water from the tap and, oh yes, a grown-up spoon. I do believe it was…

God’s true blessing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Flower Told Me So

We are in the midst of a great spiritual awakening. The more eclectic term inter-spiritual is replacing the more religious based inter-faith. The old paradigm of church is evolving. Communities are witnessing the emptying of pews as many are leaving to join the growing ranks of those self-identifying as “spiritual but not religious.” No longer satisfied with the standard liturgies gone rote, I believe many are leaving on a quest for God – their own personal quest – to discover for themselves that intimate experience beyond understanding. The great Dr. George Washington Carver, who was born a slave but lived a master, predicted this over a hundred years ago by simply saying, “The flower told me so.” (See “The Man Who Talks with the Flowers” by Glenn Clark.)

“There is going to be a great spiritual awakening in the world and it’s going to come from laymen, from men who are going about their work and putting God into what they do, from men who believe in prayer, and who want to make God real to mankind.” Dr. Carver went on to describe the qualities necessary to this awakening: Love: “…not a mere sentimental attachment but a force which holds the stars…” Humility: “…resulting in a complete relaxing of all self-imposed emotions…relaxed as the flowers.” Expectancy: “…born of faith…awe…wonder…”

 As an inter-faith minister, I feel myself straddling this growing chasm between that ‘ole time religion,’ anchored in the ancient texts, and the new spiritual awakening beautifully described by Dr. Carver. Why? Because I have found just a taste of that Love beyond understanding and have been left in quiet Humility, filled with some unknown Expectancy palpable with awe, by just what is found in those ancient texts. Oh, I can hardly think of it! Where would I be if I had never chanted the great Gayatri from the Hindu Vedas, Psalm 23 in Hebrew from the Hebrew Bible, the La illa ha illa allah from the Qur’an, or Jesus’ Lord’s Prayer in his own language of Aramaic, to name just a few? Where would I be if I had never sat in that sweet stillness following the chanting of those wonderous prayers to suddenly, unexpectedly, hear the silent voice of God?

So, as I continue to straddle the chasm, I urgently sound an alarm, indeed, a more shrill, mournful cry, “Wait! Do not leave the old behind! Rather, let’s glean from its depths what is there for us today!” Remember the experience of the Holy is eternal, beyond time and space. Listen to the mystics from across world faiths and you’ll hear the same Knowing. Let’s distill the ancient practices, portals to this eternal while, yes, leaving behind the many ways religion has been used to divide and harm rather than unite and serve.

Let’s pause…practice…and listen. Who knows? We, too, just might catch a whiff of the fragrance from that flower Dr. George Washington Carver always wore in the buttonhole of his jacket.

And, if so, we, too, may hear what we might have missed before: the voice of the flower, like the voice of God, silent and eternal.

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And Love Comes Calling

Those of you who know my writing have read many times about what I call the will and surrender dance with God. In this blessed dance, we use our will to engage our daily practice where we may be tuned and made ready, like fine instruments, to be played at the discretion of the Master Conductor – often in ways we may not ever have anticipated. And, always, in the fulfillment of such moments, our hearts can only bow in sweet surrender for we recognize, again and again, that it is not we who are creating the melody but our Blessed Creator breathing through us.

This is not just a nice sounding philosophical concept. It has absolutely been my life’s experience. It’s why many of you have heard me say, “I’m so glad I’m not in charge of my life for I could have never anticipated the many ways the Beloved has chosen to use me. Left to my own devices, my life would have been so much more limited!” So, I’ve learned to trust the Master Conductor, that infinite, unfolding, amazing, awe-filled Mystery. And, this is the most humbling awareness which, without fail, puts a giggle in my heart.

And, of course, as the One we call by many names is most succinctly characterized by an unbound and ecstatic Love, I call such moments when the Master Conductor appears with some new melody, Love comes calling. I’m delighted to share with you that I have been given two new melodies. First, Rev. Deb-Ellen Brown, Class of 2015, just absolutely insisted I send workshop proposals to the Haden Institute’s Summer Dream and Spirituality Conference happening the last week in May in Asheville, NC. Both she and Rev. Susan Cass, Class of 2017, are graduates of their Spiritual Direction Training program. Frankly, I was not particularly hopeful as the director’s initial response was that my proposals were somewhat different from what they normally offered. I had proposed two: “Mantra Prayer,” based on my book, Doorway to the Sacred: Transform Your Life with Mantra Prayer and “The Lord’s Prayer in Aramaic,” based on my book, Living the Prayer of Jesus: A Study of the Lord’s Prayer in Aramaic. At best, I thought they might consider one. Well, I have been informed that they are offering both!!

The second melody was instigated by Rev. Christy Sperrazza, Class of 2011, when she informed me that she had nominated me for a TEDx talk. With over 80 people nominated, I am so honored to tell you that I was one of 10 selected! My talk entitled, The Shaykh and The Preacher: Finding One Another Beyond Religious Difference, will be part of the event held at Pinkerton Academy’s Stockbridge Theatre in Derry, New Hampshire, Saturday, June 2, 2018. I will be drawing from the experience I shared on my blog in February of 2016 in a post called The Shaykh and The Preacher. This piece, expanded to include my talk, has already been accepted for publication in Celene Ibrahim’s, The Islam and Interfaith Leadership, now under contract with Wipf and Stock Publishers.

Both of these assignments feel quite synchronous and in direct response to the intention I’ve been carrying in my heart: to take our Tree of Life interfaith theological perspective out into the world – that, indeed, we are united by one divinity and one key way we discover this is by the personal engagement and experience of spiritual practices offered across faith traditions. It is in this way we truly discover that Many are the ways we pray to One God. It is my deepest prayer that as I serve as I’ve been called that all I share will serve to bring more and more people to know about our Tree of Life Interfaith Temple and Seminary Program. How blessed. How very wonderful.

Blessed community, as we go forward, I pray that, together, we may tune, listen and wait. For in the most perfect time and way, the Master Conductor will surely appear and, graciously, we will find ourselves, again and again…

Dancing with God.   

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Making Holy

One of my favorite things about the holidays, right along side those Salvation Army bells ringing my heart awake again and again, is to rise before the sun and go down and sit in the glow of the Christmas lights for my spiritual practice. There, I always include Andrea Bocelli, with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, singing The Lord’s Prayer. And, each time I listen, I am absolutely certain I have been transported to heaven. There is no doubt! This morning, New Year’s Day, I woke especially early as I knew it would be the last morning for this my most special time with God – at least in the glow of those silver, red, green and gold starlight, star bright, lights.

Each line of The Lord’s Prayer, particularly when I say it in the language of Jesus, Aramaic, makes my heart quiver with some melody always new to me and I am left still, quietly suspended in some state of unnamed wonder. This morning, the second line has particularly captured my heart: Nethqadash shmakh, Hallowed be thy name. It feels appropriate for the New Year as Nethqadash means to make “holy” and, in particular, signals the need for a kind of clearing, a setting apart, of our most consecrated self for the purpose of preparing for a specific purpose.

To walk in the full awareness of our inner holiness brings the deepest humility. Unable to name, contain or fully explain that which created us, breathed us into life and sustains our every heartbeat, leaves nothing but silent gratitude in its wake. And, as Jesus told us that the kingdom of God is within (Luke 17:21 King James Bible), suddenly, we realize that we, being made in the image of God, are hallowed, that we too have a hallowed name, a unique vibration that point us in the direction of our true purpose just waiting and ready to serve the greatest good.

Hallowed in a time when it appears we have entered into the valley of the shadow of death. Hallowed when it appears truth and justice have become arbitrary and faith, hope and love mere sentiments. Hallowed when hatred has become sanctified as normal. Hallowed when intimidation and discrimination have become the status quo. Hallowed when the new Commandment given by Jesus in John 13:34, “Love one another as I have loved you,” has taken a back seat to personal and national aggrandizement. Hallowed when it appears we are no longer able to see, beyond color, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, our brother, our sister standing there right before us.

Hallowed! This is our great charge! To walk humbly through this valley with our God; to raise the sword of justice and offer hope to all who suffer; to speak love when we hear hatred; to allow no one on our watch to be marginalized; to humbly and vigorously seek the true nature of love for others as our self; to practice adjusting our vision to see, regardless of circumstance, our brother, our sister right there in front of us, on the street or around the world.

Maybe then, just maybe, we may come to know the true meaning of Nethqadash shmakh…

To know, more fully, the great blessing of walking, humbly and courageously, right through this valley of the shadow of death…

making Holy…

Happy New Year Everyone!

 

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And the Bells They’re Ringing…

The holidays are not an easy time for many. Infused with emotions, they can make despair even more poignant and any expression of love feel cold and superficial. And, so it was for Henry Wadsworth Longfellow on Christmas Day 1863. His country was embroiled in a war he hated. His son had returned home with severe wounds. His beloved wife had died after a freak accident in their home two years before and he was sorely missing her. In his sadness he had written, “How inexpressibly sad are all holidays. I can make no record of these days. Better to leave them wrapped in silence. Perhaps someday God will give me peace.”

But, on this Christmas Day, with the Civil War still raging, he wrote a poem called “Christmas Bells” which would become the beloved Christmas carol, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” In the first part of the poem, he unabashedly records his despair:

I heard the bells on Christmas day.

Their old familiar carols play.

And wild and sweet their songs repeat

of peace on earth good will to men.

 

And in despair I bowed my head.

“There is no peace on earth,” I said.

For hate is strong and mocks the song

of peace on earth good will to men.

Have there not been Christmases when we have felt the same? Have there not been times when those bells we heard rang empty, not true? But, toward the end of the poem, something happens for Longfellow. Let’s listen:

Then rang the bells more loud and deep.

God is not dead nor does He sleep.

The wrong shall fail. The right prevail.

Peace on earth good will to men.

 

Then ringing singing on His way.

The world revolves from night to day.

A voice, a chime, a chance of life

of peace on earth good will to men.

Somehow those bells rang more loud and deep and he remembered that God is not dead. No, indeed, for to know God is to know life! And, God does not sleep. Indeed not, for in each moment He is guiding, honing, sounding, walking, shaping us in, around, and through our very breath. And, suddenly, a remembrance, and a peace not-known-before bathes away despair leaving only the sound of those bells echoing through the chambers of his heart. And, Jesus’ words in John 4: 27 now rang true, “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you: not as the world gives, I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”

And, suddenly, we too hear the bells…as Casting Crowns’ version of this carol sings…

And the bells they’re ringing…Peace on Earth

Like a choir they’re singing…Peace on Earth

And in our hearts we’ll hear them…Peace on Earth

Good will to men

 

Do you hear the bells they’re ringing?

Peace on Earth

Like the angels singing

Peace on Earth

Open up your heart and hear them

Peace on Earth…Good will to men

In our Christmas worship, we gathered and sang out with full voice and unleashed emotion Peace on Earth…for we heard the bells a’ ringing…Peace on Earth…and we sang like angels singing…Peace on Earth…! And, as I looked out I knew there were some of us who were facing deeply challenging times and still…we stood and held together and with open hearts we sang out…Peace on Earth…!

 And, in that moment, I knew there was nothing we could not do – together…

So now, with those bells still a’ ringing, echoing through the chambers of our collective heart, I pray we too will hear those bells on Christmas Day…and every day…

Ringing out…Peace on Earth…Good will to men…

 A Blessed Merry Christmas Everyone!

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