When I was a pastor, I directed the choir for years, and I used to always say, “One day, we’re going to Carnegie Hall!” I was joking in a way, but what I was saying was that the excellence I was demanding wasn’t just for the moment. It was preparation for something greater. We were not “just” a church choir. We were a body of musicians, determined to “sing a joyful song” that would be healing and empowering and inspiring for anyone who listened.
I could “see” us in Carnegie Hall, and I could “see” us giving a concert in my church, with full orchestra. I could “see” the singers in long black dresses and the men in tuxedos. I “saw” that vision every day.
And then it happened. Not Carnegie Hall but “the concert. It was like from out of the blue – only it wasn’t – but there it was, the vision, fulfilled. I stood in my church, members of the Columbus Symphony Orchestra sitting in chairs with their instruments and music stands on the floor and the choir standing or risers in front of me. I looked down at a full orchestral score – with all the parts for all of the instruments before me- and it hit me. The vision had come to fruition. I remembered the words of Habakkuk,. Write the vision and make it plain so that a herald may run with it. For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay” (Hab. 2:2-3)
I had forgotten the power of vision. I had forgotten, in the journeys I have taken recently, that within all of us there is the power of vision. What we see, our spirits see as well, and our spirits take over and begin to carry us toward what we have seen. We are working, yes, but our spirits are working with us, concomitantly. We are walking up steep mountains, and find ourselves sometimes in dark spaces, in the wilderness, in waters that are too deep for us to handle ourselves, but the vision within us keeps us moving. Once the vision takes hold of our spirits, the walk has been navigated, and our spirits keep us moving toward what we have seen even when we have physically given up.
Visions are not realistic; they almost always are higher than anything that makes sense to us or to anyone around us. They make us understand that “the impossible” is not so impossible, but subject to interruption by the human spirit which has been watered and nurtured by God. Visions are sometimes so big that we dare not say a word to anyone about what we “see” for fear of being ridiculed, yet the same visions are so exciting that we frequently cannot keep them to ourselves.
When trouble comes in our lives, we sometimes shut down and cannot see a thing other than our own distress, and when that happens, we have compromised one of the functions of God. God celebrates our willingness to risk believing in all that God can make happen. God celebrates us recognizing that what we do is not done on our own but with God’s constant presence, nudging and encouragement. When we see mountains that are too high for us to clime alone, but begin the journey anyway, God grins, because it allows a deeper relationship with God, one which will only increase our faith and allow God to insert God’s glory and strength into everything that we do.
I had forgotten the power of vision, and it is probably the case that many of us do at certain periods of our lives. I had forgotten that us having a vision is, for God, an exciting thing; the vision coming to life in us must be like a birth experience for God. God sees the vision grow within us and then burst out of us because it can no longer be contained. Vision is so powerful that we often do not think of its power; such magnificence is too great for us.
On this day, I am thanking God for reminding me of that day when I stood looking at the orchestral score. I am thanking God for reminding me that before me were violins and violas and cellos; there was a harp and percussion, trumpets, trombones, coronets, flutes, vibes …there was a orchestra in my little church! I am thanking God for making me remember hearing the musicians ask for the downbeat, for the upbeat, for the correct rhythm…I am thanking God for reminding me of the glorious sound of the choir.
I am thanking God for vision.
And I am praying that our eyes will see what we dare not even share with anyone, not yet. The struggles we have been through will make the vision greater and though it tarry …it will surely come. Surely
Amen and amen.
God of healing, come. Someone today needs a soul healing, a burrowing down into the depths of their spirits to get to their spiritual tumor which has been making them sick for years. For some, the tumor is lying dormant, but pressing down on their capacity to feel joy and release from that pressure. For others, the tumor has metastasized, and has gotten into every part of their beings. Just like physical tumors, spiritual tumors are not uncommon. Something goes wrong with our spiritual systems, compromising the functioning of the conduit between You and us which allows Your healing presence to saturate our beings. The tumors come, and they cause soul sickness. Sometimes we don’t know the tumors are there until they have damaged us so much that we do not recognize ourselves. We thank You, God, because if we present ourselves and our spirits and souls to You, You can begin what You do to lead us toward healing. You help us identify the tumor, where it is and why it is there. You help us “see” it so that we can even direct our prayers toward it, calling it by name. You bring healing when nothing else can. You don’t damage the parts of our spirits that are well and whole but rather, Your Holy Spirit, which flows to our sickened souls as we turn to You for healing, strengthens the affected parts of our spirit which then equips our own spiritual immune systems to fight the tumor. God, someone today needs a soul healing. The tumor has caused too much pain from fear, anger, insecurity, bitterness, grief, and so much more. Someone is tired of hurting. God of healing, come.
No matter who we are, we all deal with deception. We deceive ourselves, we deceive others, and we are deceived by others. Along with deception comes betrayal, and again, it is three-fold: we betray ourselves, others and are betrayed by others. It is a part of life, unfortunately, but the question is, how do we deal with it?
Sometimes deception is necessary. I recently heard a story about how, in nature, the goal is to not get eaten! The example was of a specific kind of spider which ants to eat. In order not to get eaten, these spiders study the ants – how they move, how they move their antennae, and all else they can see – and they learn to mimic the ant. When they sense danger – i.e., hungry ants – they go into imitation mode. They mimic the ant and in so doing, in engaging in this deception, they save themselves. They do not always succeed but the succession rate is night enough that the mimicry has continued down through time.
It occurs that part of life is “necessary deception.” We have to engage in some kind of mimicry in order not to get eaten. Nature is inclusive; what goes on in the wild with the animals goes on in the human sphere as well, and that being the case, we must learn from what occurs in nature. Someone or some entity is always trying to “eat” us, trying to take our joy, our spirits, our confidence. And so there are times we have to mimic those who seem to be the predators – their confidence, their command of their environment. Predators are dangerous but they are also instructive on how to survive, and sometimes, we can gain great confidence by imitating their antics and in so doing, defeat them.
Necessary deception for survival can turn into self-deception if we lose sight of the fact that necessary deception is employed for a purpose, but that when a specific threat has passed, we must settle down and get in touch with who we are. We go so much by what other people say to us and think of us, and too many of us internalize their ideas about us and stop working to find the depths of our own being. Anyone and everyone can have an opinion of us, but their opinion loses its power over us when we finally stop deceiving ourselves into believing what others say and decide to do the work to find our own essence. I once had a professor say that if you are accused of beating your wife and you are not sure if you have the capacity to beat your wife, you get defensive, but when you know you would not ever beat your wife, you don’t give an iota of power to what someone says you might do. It takes work to plow through all that we have internalized over the years, causing us to believe things about ourselves that are not true, things that keep us hiding and behind a wall of shame, guilt or insecurity. Doing the work, asking the hard questions, and accepting the answers which our spirits give to us helps take us away from the demoralizing place where self-deception places us.
We are betrayed and we betray others, and we deceive ourselves when we fall into self-pity when we are betrayed, forgetting that we have done the same. There are no victims here in the sense that betrayal is part of human behavior, but insult is added to injury if we insist upon sitting in saucers of pain and indignation when we are betrayed and forget that someone is sitting in a similar saucer because of having been betrayed by us. It seems to be a moment for going to God if we can go to God when we are betrayed, and confess to God how we have betrayed others and pray for the healing of that person or those persons, even as we hurt from having been betrayed at this given moment. The going to God at a moment of pain caused by betrayal to pray for those whom we have betrayed is an act of mercy, which is required of all of us.
At the end of the day, there is no Nirvana, a place where deception does not and cannot reside. We must learn to mimic those who have been through the fire and have come out burned a little but still standing. We have to learn to survive deception by imitating those who have been betrayed so that when we are deceived, we are not consumed by anger, pain, resentment and worse. We must be the spider which imitates the ant; we must be the children of God who imitate Jesus the Christ, who knew betrayal well and still did the work God called him to do. In the end, our mimicry of the “ants” in our lives and our imitation of Jesus the Christ will give us the power to look to God for strength and to walk in a way that will stave the predators off, if only for a time. We must learn to look to the hills from which comes our help to survive being betrayed, and look to God for enough ingestion of God’s spirit not to betray others or ourselves. We must become sincere, as Howard Thurman says, in our relationships with ourselves, and with others; such sincerity is equal to sincerity to God.
Amen and amen.