When we were in Istanbul a year ago, Ginger and I were both taken by the calls to prayer that went out from the mosques five times a day. Istanbul has more mosques than Dallas has Baptist churches, so the various calls wound together in a haunting sacred harmony that moved us both, even though we could not understand the words being sung. Then we noticed that we were the only ones on the street who stopped to listen or notice it was time to pray, a realization that saddened us both.
Our worship service has a fairly regular form, particularly at the beginning: the prelude is followed by announcements, then a choral introit to mark our move from having gathered to beginning to worship, and a responsive call to worship. Sometimes, I’ll admit, I’m about as attentive as the people we saw on those Istanbul streets until we get to the first hymn, but today the call to worship grabbed me and held on.
Here’s what we said:
Nothing we do is complete: No statement says all that should be said; no prayer fully confesses our faith; no set of goals or objectives includes everything.
This is what we are about:
We plant seeds that one day will grow or maybe die; we water seeds already planted knowing that they hold future promise; we lay foundations that will need further development;
We provide yeast that leavens far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and we can find in that realization a sense of liberation that enables us to do something and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning; a step along the way.
It is an opportunity for divine grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the results.
We are workers, not master builders; we are prophets of a future that is not our own.
(adapted from a prayer by Oscar Romero)
On the day following a weekend where I worked twenty-five hours out of thirty-six, on a day that marks the fourth anniversary of the beginning of the genocide in Darfur and a rally in Boston (among other cities) I was too tired to attend, on a day when more car bombs went off in Iraq, on a day when I awakened thinking of two or three things I had promised to do by today and had not yet completed, I was greeted with an invitation to come to terms – even to embrace – the finitude of my humanity: I’m not everything – perhaps not even enough — and I’ll have to learn to live with that in Jesus’ name.
Then we sang:
There is a balm in Gilead that makes the wounded whole
There is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin sick soul
O, love that will not let me go
I rest my weary soul in thee
I give thee back the life I owe
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer fuller be
George Matheson, who wrote the hymn, said this about his composition:
My hymn was composed in the manse of Innelan [Argyleshire, Scotland] on the evening of the 6th of June 1882, when I was 40 years of age. I was alone in the manse at that time. It was the night of my sister’s marriage, and the rest of the family were staying overnight in Glasgow. Something happened to me, which was known only to myself, and which caused me the most severe mental suffering. The hymn was the fruit of that suffering. It was the quickest bit of work I ever did in my life.
What happened was he told his fiancée he was going blind and she walked out on him because she didn’t want to be married to a blind man. The words that came so quickly to him, in the face of his humanity, were “O, love that will not let me go.”
I am not enough and I am loved unfathomably. Talk about your creative tension.
The sermon was about Tabitha, whom Peter resurrected after she died because the widows she cared for implored him to do so. Her vocation in the church was to take care of the widows, among the most disenfranchised of people in that time. Though the church had other people, perhaps, who could have picked up the ministry, the widows convinced Peter that Tabitha’s life was essential to them and so he “woke her up.”
Ginger’s question for us, as she unpacked the story, was, “Is our church like Tabitha: so vital that we too need to wake up because people are counting on us?”
One of the terms we imported from French so we didn’t have to figure out a way to translate it and could sound cool when we say it is raison d’etre: reason for being. If we can’t be enough, then why are we here? There is more to life than quiet desperation or pompous grandiosity. Our reason for being is not to justify our existence or prove we are worthy of our creation. We matter because we’re breathing. We are wonderfully created in the image of God. Our raison d’etre, therefore, is to create and sustain life in what we say and do for and to one another.
When I worked as a hospital chaplain, one of my patients taught me the difference between thinking of herself as living with cancer, rather than dying with cancer. The change in vocabulary gave her resurrective possibilities even in her final days on the planet. I’m not called to be essential, important, or famous; I am called to be creative – to give life, to sustain life, to love life every chance I get.
I heard yesterday that, in his new book, Pat Robertson predicted the world was going to end today, April 29, 2007. That’s one way to kill your book sales. Since he’s in Virginia, I’m assuming he was talking about Eastern Daylight Time, which means I’ve got about an hour and a half once I finish writing. My guess is I’ll be here for breakfast and beyond. The unintentional humor in his prediction notwithstanding, I don’t find much that helps me. The One he’s expecting is coming with fangs out and teeth bared to wreak havoc on the world. Telling us all to look busy because Jesus is coming doesn’t call us to live, but to fear. The point of the Rapture is to make sure we know some of us are getting left behind.
It sounds like he’s expecting a bomb in Gilead.
I can’t get it all done. When my life comes to an end, I will leave things unfinished. (Hell, I’m doing that already.) I will never be enough and I can’t allow myself to be satisfied with what I perceive as my limitations. Tabitha woke up because of the creative power of those around her. When I take my place in the creative lineage of the people of God who are committed to incarnating love any and every way they can, I am taking my place in the realm of God that is unending. I am a prophet of a future that is not my own. However my life comes to a close, whatever happens to this planet we inhabit, love never dies.
And it never, never lets go.