Something about this season causes me to remember things - old stories passed around the family and events from a childhood of involvement with my home church, in Fountain City, TN.
When I was young I would go and sing for Sunday school classes and Bible study meetings - usually those of elderly folks. I think the first few times it happened I'd been invited because of my grandmother's involvement. I don't remember a whole lot about those events - I remember the sorts of songs I'd usually sing and who a few of the classes were being taught by, but I would get very nervous and so most of the details are lost in the back of my mind.
At some point these little singing engagements for class meetings led to an invitation to sing something for the Sunday evening Vespers service that had only recently begun meeting in the gym - it was a big deal at the church because it was supposed to be a "contemporary" offering for the congregation.
I was nervous.
For some reason it felt more important than the other meetings. I'd always sung without accompaniment before - old folk hymns and things from the 1930's that my grandmother loved. So I prepared "Stand By Me" and showed up that Sunday night to sing it all by myself. I couldn't have been more than 11.
I remember the congregation sitting on either side of me, a small gathering - maybe 30 people. I remember that the lights were dim, candles up by a makeshift altar in the front. My palms were sweaty and I kept wiping them back and forth against my blue jeans. The words of the song were running over and over in my head - 3 verses. I'd hummed the first line about a million times while waiting to stand up, just to make sure I'd pitched it comfortably.
I stood up there by myself and started to sing. And there it was . . . that one line that messed with my head. "In the midst of faults and failures, stand by me, in the midst of faults and failures, stand by me - - -" I waited . . . a beat . . . another beat . . . three more beats. The words were gone! No place in my head. I couldn't remember how to finish it. The tune was gone, too. I just stood there in the awkward silence, looking around - what to do?
And then I heard her - my mother. She whistled it, I think. The tune snapped back together in my head and there were the words, too - I finished it and sat down.
"When I've done the best I can . . . and my friends misunderstand - Thou who knowest all about me, stand by me."
Take from that story what you will - the symbolism runs deep, doesn't it?
Very few memorable events in my life have been free of symbolic weight. I find that the important things make themselves known if one is trying hard to listen.
Recently I have been moving through a time of personal turmoil. I won't go into the details - they are monumentally unimportant. Sometimes a very small thing can send us into a tailspin, right? A misplaced word, something unsaid, something said that shouldn't have been - one or two seconds of anything at the wrong time can totally derail us for a long time. Maybe that's because we're relational creatures.
I think about my mom and this particular story when I'm in a tailspin - it's happened many times before.
I think about her whistling the tune to rescue me - not by finishing it for me, but by calling me back to a place of recognition - "Oh! Yeaaaah - that's how it goes."
Doesn't God do that for us? If we'll let Him?
This past week, still spinning my wheels on a problem with no apparent solution, I got a message from an old friend. A message I almost overlooked! It was two weeks old, sitting in my box, unread.
She had no idea - no clue how perfect the timing was.
This particular friend once gave me a shofar. Just in case you don't know what a shofar is, check out that little snapshot of the google images page for "shofar."
It's a wind instrument made of a ram's horn. Mentioned several times in scripture, it's a symbol of calling, bravery, victory - lots of things.
She left it for me before moving away, and her message to me went something like, "Your flock knows the sound of your voice, and they'll come with you if you call them by their names." For a young music minister feeling nervous and alone, that was a big encouragement.
Seeing her message sitting there last week gave me a sense of hope and also remembrance - "I've been here before....it's going to be ok." I experienced the sense of comfort a person might have from realizing they're closer to their destination than they thought, or maybe the feeling a person would get from recognizing a landmark after believing they've been driving around lost for hours.
I love this song.
I love the line, "peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled."
Finding yourself found rather than lost is a kind of reconciliation.
I'm a sinner, and so is every other honest person out there - but God comes calling - He calls us with the voices of those who help us find our place in the song we've been singing - He calls us with messages from friends we haven't seen in years. He calls us, "reconciled" . . . renames us, redefines us.
Reconciliation is not a free pass.
Reconciliation is a state of giftedness offered to all of us, and then we're supposed to take the gift and pay it forward - reconciling ourselves to others, reconciling ourselves to the Earth we inhabit, reconciling in every way that we can.
Reconciliation is not a one time thing. For most of us it will have to be a repetitious choice - we will have to wake up and choose it again, because the Good Shepherd is not the only one trying to get our attention. There are many, many other voices trying to compete with the voice of the One who loves us and wants us to love each other.
All this to say: he Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never been able to overcome it.
Yes, friends, there are other voices trying to convince us to be unreconciled . . . to be lost, separated . . . to forget the words to the song. But God isn't finished. God is never finished. We still have an opportunity to catch the tune He's whistling - we can still take that and run with it.