I had some blessed quiet time to read this weekend and found this among piles of jewels from perceptive, expressive souls,
A life is seen now not as the story of an individual’s strengths and weaknesses, but as a story of God’s mercy. (John Welch, O. Carm., in The Carmelite Way)
New Year’s Resolutions shift the focus back onto the clashing power and paucity of me, myself and I. And magical thinking is lurking there in the idea that the flip of a calendar page releases glittering pixie dust to change our hardened habits.
The Christian proclamation, in almost all of its fragmented expressions claiming the title church, always comes back to the centrality of what God has done, is doing and will do.
I fight that with the best of resolution makers, wanting to take up my lance and attack windmills in hopes of – validating? requalifying for? earning? maybe even replacing? – God’s favor poured over and into my life.
Lately I’ve had some living reminders to drop the lance, the projection of my own wishes and fantasies, and take up the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
I have an active and elaborate prayer life, but I’ve noticed my wife progressing and changing with a simple recollection of Psalm 51:11, Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.
I think the power there is in the Hebrew verb for create, which in that verse is the same as in Genesis 1:1, a verb reserved for actions of which only God is capable. Resolve what we might, there is change that only God can accomplish.
Lately I’ve been assisting (not leading – they lead themselves quite well) a Dinka (South Sudanese) congregation here. Their Deacon came to the house yesterday to help me learn some of their hymns. He was gloriously patient – it must have been like teaching a child new words but he stuck with it and now I can throw my heart, mind and voice into verses like Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty in Dinka. (And like Hebrew having a verb for creation reserved to God, Dinka expresses God’s might via a combination of singular and plural nouns something like “power greater than any other powers”).
I had to get out of my own way to learn from Deacon John, gracious as he was. My head was filled with thoughts of “performing well,” getting praise for my ability to learn and providing paternalistic proof of my cross cultural munificence, etc.
So I prayed to God, extolling him as the Lord of language, the one who spoke all into existence, confounded vanity at Babel and sent power to preach Good News at Pentecost. I prayed to get out of the way so I could learn the words and tunes to the extent that they brought Him glory and blessed His people.
The Dinka liturgy is about 2 hours from now. I’m practicing and all that, but it’s less about my nervous and ego saturated resolve to sing in a new language then about loving God and neighbor in worship. And before and after worship.
Which I won’t resolve to do because it’s beyond my doing.