The title for Mark Ramsey’s sermon at Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church yesterday morning was “overwhelming.” It definitely got my attention since I have such a problem with being overwhelmed. This is really an issue for folks who are brain injury survivors. Over stimulation, cognitive overload, and mental fatigue are just a few words which describe our feeling of being overwhelmed.
This picture was printed in the bulletin and I loved the Call to Worship. I enter the sanctuary from behind the organ to avoid the overwhelming situation when I join the processional with the choir so I usually miss this part of the service. However, for some reason yesterday I stood back on the stairs where I could hear it.
O God, open us to the powerful winds of your Spirit.
Open our eyes to the wonders of your creation.
Open our senses to the smells of new life.
Open our ears to the words of justice and truth.
Open our mouths to the taste of freedom and love.
Open our arms to the embrace of peace.
I am trying to be open to the winds of God’s Spirit but it is hard. In the past I thought being open to the Spirit meant getting involved in everything that came my way. This didn’t work. It only stressed me out and I wasn’t good to anyone especially to God! So when I moved to Asheville, I regrouped and didn’t get involved in much of anything. What happened? I got bored.
Now I’m trying to balance things out. I’m beginning to think that folks stay busy because they are afraid to be seized by the Spirit. It’s easier to say “yes” to everything than it is to discern if something is what God is calling us to do. I think this saying “yes” allows us to feel important. But we miss out on so much of God’s world when we do this!
I’ll never forget the hours I spent watching those baby robins hatch and grow until they were big enough to leave the nest. (see 5/13/12 post) I stopped what I had to do and watched. I opened my arms to God’s embrace.
Mark said something in his sermon yesterday that made sense to me. “If we are going to do anything about the problems that beset us, we have to confront the problems honestly. During an age of overwhelmedness, however, it is difficult to look at things honestly.”
Sixteen years after sustaining my brain injury, I’m finally looking at things honestly. I’m no longer pretending I remember someone’s name when I don’t, even after hearing it 125 times! I’m no longer expecting to know my way when I’m going somewhere for the first time. In fact, I don’t even expect to know my way after going there hundreds of times. It doesn’t mean I’m stupid. It only means my brain was injured. It’s who I am now and I can’t be someone I’m not, just to fit in.
I loved the way Mark referred to this past Sunday which was the “Reign of Christ ” Sunday. He said, “Here, at the end of the church’s year, we have a Sunday which we call the ‘Reign of Christ.’ Whether we can see it or NOT – we’re supposed to celebrate “the Reign of Christ.'”
“Yeah right”, I wanted to shout. “Where in the world is Christ now? People don’t have any where to live and it’s cold outside! I’m tired of getting lost everywhere I go! I want to work and earn my keep just like everyone else in this world! And why are there so many people who have brain injuries who can barely get by on what little Social Security benefits they get?” I look around and it doesn’t seem like Christ reigns at all.
Mark pointed out that the book of Revelation is a story that arises out of a troubled church. “You can almost see them there – a little band of Christians, surrounded in the pagan cities. They seemed so small, so overwhelmed…Where on earth might one find HOPE for the future in such circumstances?” He reminded us that Revelation is known for its “sustained outburst of exuberant joy and praise. The vision begins, not in despair – but in doxology, in praise, in cadences that scholars believe were derived in great part from some of the hymns of the early church.”
He tells about the Wesley brothers and how they lived in the mid-18th century. “The gin trade had led to huge problems with alcoholism….Child labor was the scourge of the land. There was vast social dislocation and chaos. Things seemed overwhelming.” Yet in spite of this, they wrote some of our most beloved hymns such as “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing, Hark the Herald Angels Sing, and Love Divine, All Loves Excelling.”
Mark suggests “if we really want to face our problems squarely, if we really want to stride into this new emerging world with confidence, the best thing we could do…is to sing. Against all odds, when we join our voices together in some great hymn of praise, then you know – in the very depths of your being – that Jesus Christ reigns, that he shall rule until all things have been put under his feet, that the enemies of God will ultimately be defeated, that good will have the last word over evil, and tht all shall be well.”
Singing and listening to music touches a place deep in my soul. I really cannot explain it but every time I sing, play or listen to music, I leave my body and spend time with God. I’ve been listening to classical music every day for this purpose. Today I listened to Bloch’s Baal Shem Suite for violin and piano. The first movement is Vidui (Contrition) which has a meditative quality. When I hear it (and when I played it all those years ago) it felt like I was approaching God quietly, gently.
The second movement is Nigun (Improvisation) and that is where the music really soars. Bloch expresses outgoing and uninhibited emotions here. When I listen, my spirit cries out to God “Why is there so much pain everywhere? Where are You? Don’t you care?” Finally comes the third movement, Simchas Torah (Rejoicing). It’s as if God says to my spirit, “It’s okay. I know it’s difficult some times but I am the center of all being. Just hang on a little longer and rejoice in my creation!” When I hear it (and when I played it) I felt God’s joy and my own spirit sang.
John Wesley and the other great hymn writers felt it. Ernest Bloch felt it. When I listen, sing or play their music I feel it too. Mark ends his sermon with these words: “Praise…is how we were created to live, even in the most unlikely times and places. You cannot know that…unless you live just that way. And then, you experience an overwhelming, utterly hopeful way to live….even to the end of the world…..Amen”