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Be still my soul

Be still, my soul: the Lord is on thy side.

Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain.

Leave to thy God to order and provide;

In every change, He faithful will remain.

Be still, my soul: thy best, thy heav’nly Friend

Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

 

A year ago, this second Sunday in Advent, I was up in time to sit on my sofa in my pajamas to watch the live-stream service from the National Cathedral in Washington, DC. Mariann Budde, the bishop of Washington, was the preacher for the service and she began her sermon by singing, very gently and quietly, this first verse of the hymn Be Still, My Soul. 

 

Her message that followed has stayed with me, but as well what struck me was how intimate the experience was – something that I don’t think could have been conveyed if I had been sitting in a seat in that vast cathedral, yards away from the tall pulpit. It was only the closeness of the camera that allowed me to see every expression of her face that added to the impact of her words. Again, I was reminded that there have been unexpected gifts during this time when so much seems to have been taken away, when we have lost so much and so many, and we are longing for that complete return to what we took for granted as normal. I know that for many of you worshiping on Zoom rather than going live stream much sooner, also offered you a gift of intimate gathering that just watching a service would not have provided. And here we are a long year later but able to gather face to face even if slightly obscured by our masks. 

A delight to my eyes and my heart.

 

In every change, God faithful will remain. And this has been a time of tremendous change. It seems to many of us as though our lives have been turned upside down – socially, economically, politically. We are waiting this Advent not only for the coming birth, but are longing for a time when our government will function less adversarially, when we can turn on the news and not hear of more mass shootings, or of increasing numbers of displaced people, or of yet another sign that our environment is under threat; when we can experience a sense of stability without quite so many surprises coming at us, and maybe even a time when we no longer are divided between the vaccinated and the unvaxed, between right and left, red and blue.    

 

One stable thing that we do experience is the changing of the seasons as Mark spoke of in his sermon last week about time being circular, not only linear as we so often think of it. Our liturgical calendar also offers us a sense of stability, of knowing what to expect. Yet within that sense of comfort there is also and always the call to change, to grow, to reorient ourselves. 

 

The word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness. Wilderness. Here in the northwest the image that readily comes to mind is the vast forests of our region. A place it might be all too easy to become disoriented if you were to stray from a marked trail. This was brought home to me the time I went snowshoeing up at Snoqualmie Pass one winter. With the unfamiliar paths obliterated by snow, it would have been easy to go astray without our guide. When I was in Israel the wilderness, somewhat to my surprise, was more likely to be an arid landscape devoid of vegetation with few landmarks to mark one’s route by. Back in my mid-twenties, when I was living in England, I once led a group on a walk up onto the edge of Exmoor. On that occasion what made it wilderness, even though I had a route guide naming various landmarks to look for, was incredibly dense fog. Without the compass I carried, and the fact that the guide included directional references, we could easily have wandered far from the path that would lead us home. With all the changes and chances of life these last few years the world has often felt like an unfamiliar landscape. 

 

Wilderness – a place of disorientation. But also of reorientation. It is there in the wilderness that John receives the word of God; the call that leads him back into the midst of the people to share his message of repentance and forgiveness of sins. A baptism of reorientation, of heading in a new direction, or getting back on the path from which we have strayed. And the people flocked to him, anxious to learn and respond, to be baptized. If you google “Godspell” and “Prepare ye the way of the Lord” as I did yesterday afternoon, you will see a clip from the film of folk about their usual routines hear the voice of John, who is seen clinging to the angel in a fountain that looks like it’s in the middle of Central Park in New York. Individually they come, shedding shoes or bags as they do, and ending up joyously splashing each other in the fountain as repeated over and over again are those same words: Prepare ye the way of the Lord. While change can be hard, even very hard, and disorientation is disconcerting at best, there is also joy to be found in that cleansing and rebirth, in Benedict’s saying: Always we begin again. 

 

Searching that phrase, I came across a blogger, Dami Oludumila, a young Nigerian living here in the US who has made it her life’s mantra. She writes: “. Beginning again is about acknowledging the present but having hope in a better future, it’s telling yourself “I’m not going to let this get to me or beat myself up over things outside my control, I’ll move on from it the very minute I can”. I can’t even explain how much the quality of my life has improved since I discovered this saying. If things go wrong, we keep our chin up and begin again. If things go right, we celebrate and begin again. ALWAYS we begin again.”

 

And so as we begin again, as we move further into Advent and approach the shortest day of the year we wait expectantly this coming birth – the promise of new life. The promise that in all the change that we experience and open ourselves up to, the possibility of new life awaits. Our old year has ended and our new year is begun. Advent invites us into the darkness of the womb. What new life will be born in us as we welcome the birth of the one who has promised life in all its fullness, and whose promises are sure. Birthing something new is always painful. Yet through all the pain and discomfort, the very real grief over what is lost or left behind, we live in sure and certain hope for the future both here and beyond what we can see; when as Isaiah says: 

 

Every valley shall be filled,

        And ever mountain and hill shall be made low,

And the crooked shall be made straight,

        And the rough ways made smooth, 

And all flesh shall see the salvation of God. 

 

Be still, my soul: the Lord is on thy side.

Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain.

Leave to thy God to order and provide;

In every change, He faithful will remain.

Be still, my soul: thy best, thy heav’nly Friend

Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

 

Dami Oludumila quote https://dumss.medium.com/always-we-begin-again-f9d7dbe6fbd5

https://dumss.medium.com/always-we-begin-again-f9d7dbe6fbd5

Video of the Rt Rev Mariann Budde’s sermon 6 December 2020

https://cathedral.org/sermons/sermon-the-right-rev-mariann-edgar-budde-16/

 

Video of “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord” from Godspell