To Dispel a Fog
Yesterday morning began with a heavy fog. Heavy and portentous, as it turned out, because my day matched the weather outside. Foggy, dull, grey. It was one of those days where it’s difficult to summon the energy to contribute anything of value to the world. Days when it feels like a victory to make it to bed time without causing a fight or forgetting something or failing someone. Days when a kind of uncreative lethargy moves unbidden into the living room, kicks off its shoes and rudely puts its feet up on the table.
Yesterday afternoon was spent attempting (and mostly failing) to do some sustained reading. The Internet has, evidently, beaten my poor brain into weary submission. I read a paragraph, looked around for some shiny object to click on, forgot what I had read and began again. On and on it went. I decided to shelf the reading for the time being and half-heartedly gestured toward some mostly fruitless sermon preparation. After an hour of toil, I read what I had written and quite literally couldn’t conceive of a human that these words might interest or inspire. I packed up my stuff and decided to call it a day.
But as I was walking out the door the phone rang, as phones are in the habit of doing. Often at the least opportune time. “Hello sir, I’m wondering if your church is open to sponsoring any more refugees…” The voice sounded like it originated from somewhere in Africa. “You see, I have some family that I need to bring to Canada…” I sighed, knowing that our group is not in a position to take on any more sponsorships at this time, and that many Sponsorship Agreement Holders (agencies that work on behalf of private sponsorship groups) are putting the brakes on “named” sponsorships in order to prioritize those in the direst need. I hate having these conversations. I’ve had too many of them over the last few years. I hate saying no, often to people in truly desperate situations.
“I’m sorry,” I said in what I imagine was a selfish and perfunctory way. “Our group isn’t taking on any more sponsorships at this time.” There was a brief pause, she thanked me for my time, and we said goodbye.
I wasn’t five minutes down the road before I was furious with myself. I could have at least asked her to tell me her story. I could have inquired about who she was and how long she had been here. I could have let her know that I cared about her family and the unimagineable difficulties they were going through. I could have exhibited even the smallest modicum of warmth and kindness. Even if my answer would have been the same at the end, I could have treated her like a human being rather than an inconvenience.
The fog settled further in.
As today began, I found myself in desperate need of some good words. Words that breathe a bit of life into dry bones. Words that remind me that the road is long, that God is good, that love endures, that even the smallest of offerings matter. I came across two collections of good words today.
The first came in the form of a poem. This is called “So?”, by Leonard Nathan:
So you aren’t Tolstoy or St. Francis
or even a well-known singer
of popular songs and will never read Greek
or speak French fluently,
will never see something no one else
has seen before through a lens
or with the naked eye.
You’ve been given just the one life
in this world that matters
and upon which every other life
somehow depends as long as you live,
and also given the costly gifts of hunger,
choice, and pain with which to raise
a modest shrine to meaning.
The second came via a song. I received Steve Bell’s new album in the mail yesterday. Unsurprisingly, it’s delightful in countless ways. An early favourite of mine is “Wait Alone in Stillness.” He wrote it, interestingly, as the first Syrian refugees were arriving in Canada last year:
On God alone my soul in stillness waits
The glory and the hope of my salvation
The rock on which all form of fury breaks
My stronghold so that I may not be shaken
Wait alone in stillness, O my soul
Wait alone in stillness, wait alone O my soul
The steadfast love of God be all my strength
The enemies of God in vain rehearse
A plot to undermine the hope of nations
With their tongues they bless
But with their hearts they curse
And lie in wait to bait love’s termination
Wait alone in stillness…
We children of the earth are but a breath
On the scales we are lighter than a feather
I believe and I have heard it said
All power belongs to God altogether
Good words, these. Words that invite their readers/listeners into beauty and goodness, possibility and purpose, hope and life. Words to dispel a fog.
Image above courtesy of Ruth Bergen Braun.