Resting in the Everlasting Arms

 Everlasting Arms

Deuteronomy 32:27: Our eternal refuge with Our Creator eternal, and God’s almighty arms underneath are everlasting.

I am almost three weeks into my radiation treatments for prostate cancer (my prognosis is positive and the treatments are quick and painless, and I am thankful that so far I have had no adverse effects), and share a ride with a woman whom I’ll call Sharon from our church. It’s nice to have company on the 32-mile round trip drive, and I’ve gotten to know Sharon better over the past couple of weeks.

The past couple of weeks, Sharon has shared a number of stories from her past with me. She grew up in Derry, a small town in New Hampshire and went to the local high school, where Robert Frost taught for a while. (She told me she did not have him as a teacher.) The population was so small that one school bus covered the entire attendance area. And I thought I had a long bus ride in high school! Sharon went on to say that buses were only for students through grade eight. After that, they were on their own. Her father went to work at 6:30 AM and dropped her at a traffic circle about a half mile from school. The janitor lived at the school so he had the building open and stoves going when she arrived. I imagine it was a glimpse of Paradise to come in to a warm building from the New Hampshire winter.

Sharon’s older brother was born in 1930. While he was still an infant, his mother stood holding him in their living room while an electrical storm raged about them. Lightning struck the house, traveled into the room and hit the baby, not harming the mother at all. Of course the infant suffered neurological damage and had seizures and other medical problems the rest of his short life. He passed away at age seven when Marge was four, and she spoke with great tenderness of taking care of this unfortunate child.

I had never heard of a babe in arms being struck by lightning, much less while being held in loving arms. It seems to me a parallel to how God treats each of us as God’s eternal children. We are babes in this world, and as the storms of life rage about us, sometimes we are struck by any number of destructive forces. But no matter how we are harmed or the extent of our injuries and diseases, the arms that hold us are everlasting. Let us praise God for God’s goodness, care, compassion and eternal vigilance over us, who are to the Creator as babies to their mothers.




High and Lifted Up

Road Leading to High Mountains

Isaiah 6:1: In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple.

I don’t know that many of us think about escalators and elevators. They’re there and we use them, and a few people aside who have claustrophobia or a fear of falling, most of us think they’re convenient. Evensong Bells thinks an elevator in this building would be a gift from God, and while God’s time is best, my hope as someone who plays bells and, as part of the job, schleps cases around when we play in the front of the sanctuary or take our bell songs on the road. It takes either two bell players to carry one of the two largest cases, but Jim Harris can carry both at once. He is one strong man. And here ends the commercial from Evensong.

I’ve always been fond of any device that can transport me to a higher level be it airplane, funicular, ski lift, rescue basket, and of course escalator and elevator. (I’m talking physically being lifted up here–hold on for the spiritual transport. You’re on your own for the emotional version.

Now, if you’re claustrophobia and must avoid elevators, I can’t help you much. But I can do something about fear of an elevator cable snapping as it seems to in the movies and a car packed with people falling to their horrible demise. In our local writing group, Write by the Rails we had a visitor one evening who was an elevator inspector. Normally we go around at the end of the meeting and talk for a few minutes about what we’re doing and what help we may need, if any. When our guest’s turn came up, someone asked about falling elevators such as those we see in disaster movies. His answer was that it’s physically impossible for an elevator in good repair to fall because of the way they’re designed. Think about—how many times is there a story about an elevator falling with multiple fatalities on the news? I can’t ever remember seeing one. Not that that proves anything, but if you find out about such an accident, please let me know.

Escalators fascinated me from an early age. If I had to choose between them and elevators, I would choose the moving steps. The engineering is fantastic, and while you’re more likely to be injured on an escalator, if you tie your shoes, watch where you’re putting your feet and hold on to the handrail, you’ll be fine. (The preceding announcement was brought to you by your mom, who also wants to remind you to wear a raincoat, eat healthy food and not talk to strangers.)

On teacher workdays in elementary and intermediate school, our mom would take my brother Ron and me to what was then called Parkington and now Virginia Square. Parkington was so called because of the large multi-story parking garage behind the multi-story Hecht Company building, whose façade was made up of large glass windows. It was an imposing sight and sported escalators which, while new and made of steel, lacked the soul of the ones in a store at our next stop, McCrory’s in Clarendon. For most of my pre-high school career, they had wooden escalators. I wish I could tell you what kind of wood they used, but I didn’t develop an appreciation for different kinds of wood until high school. The escalators at McCrory’s were old and funky, and our mom would leave us to ride the escalators up and down while we shopped. We would have ridden all day had she not threatened to leave us and see how much we would enjoy walking the thirteen miles to our house in Fairfax. Somehow, we managed to never make that walk, which would have spoiled a nice day of riding elevators.

Now, it seems to me that sometimes God lets us carry the heaviest hand bell cases over all kinds of terrain, including high mountains. At other times, he provides a nice wooden escalator to take us to new heights. And at other times, we have those rapid breathtaking ascents as we do in one of those glass elevators that pop out from the building and we feel there’s nothing holding us up but the floor. All these experiences are part of the journey we’re on, and whether we’re toiling up the mountain on foot or riding in style to the top the God who created us and loves us so much is there with us and ahead of us. Thanks be to God for God’s eternal presence and care!

Changing Drivers, or, the Legacy of Faith

John 1: 1-3: That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.

 I don’t know if you’ve ever changed drivers while driving. Now, I’m not talking about changing drivers when you stop for a meal at a Cracker Barrel and spend about an hour eating the Southern fried special and then another hour shopping for oddments in the conveniently located store section. Nor am I talking about changing drivers at a pit stop even if you just get gas and visit the restroom. No, I’m talking about changing drivers while driving. I don’t necessarily advocate this and I don’t think I could do it anymore, but I’m here to tell you it is possible. I asked Becky if she had ever changed drivers while driving and she allowed as how the thought had never occurred to her and probably never would. But, as Monk says, “Here’s what happened.”

I spent the first two and a half years of my college career on an all-male campus. I’m not sure why I chose this option: I liked women and still do as a group of people and as individuals. I think they’re pretty cool. Anyhow, we wanted to find women to date, and it would have been beneath us to date any of the ladies in the town (affectionately referred to as “townies”) so we had to range far afield to attempt to find companions. A guy on my hall had a big old 1962 Chevy Impala with bench seats and a column-mounted automatic shift lever (These are important details in the story of changing drivers while driving). As we struck out closer to home we had to go further and further away to find new prospects. I think by our junior year we (three buddies and I) were driving four hours one way to New England women’s colleges. Probably moving in a pack like that lessened our chances but that never occurred to us. One of my buddies finally resorted to standing in the middle of a quad surrounded by four dorms at some now-forgotten women’s school and shouting at the top of his voice “Does anybody want a date?” That didn’t work either.

 As our trips got longer we had to split up the driving. Now, as guys we hated to stop until we got where we were going. Sometimes we had to for gas and a bathroom break, although I think if we could have refueled from a moving tanker truck we would have. And I’m sure we could have figured out the other part of that problem.

 For times when we didn’t have to make a pit stop we worked out a way to change drivers while driving. I’m almost appalled we did this but we were full of the foolhardiness of youth (with an emphasis on fool). We’d get to a straight stretch of road without much traffic around. The driver replacement would slide over underneath the driver who would raise up to allow his buddy to sit underneath him. It’s worth noting we all weighed about 120 pounds so this was possible then. The replacement driver would reach around and grab the wheel; at the command, “Switch,” the driver would slide to the right and the new driver would press on the gas and continue on. We got pretty good at this. It would have been easier with cruise control. The process reminded me of a double play and some snakes, beautiful but also dangerous.

 I don’t switch drivers any more but I was thinking about it on our trip a few years back to North Carolina. We went to Greenville, the home of East Carolina University where Becky went to school. A highlight of the trip was our visit to her college piano teacher, Eleanor Toll, who is 94 and in a nursing home. Mrs. Toll taught at ECU from 1942 until 1976. She met her husband there, who was also on the music faculty. Mrs. Toll taught thousands of students over the years, some of whom called her “Ma.” She had no children of her own, but thousands of the musical kind. She is still alert and active and a delight to talk to.

 We also met with Fonda Smithwick, who was Becky’s chorus teacher in high school and also taught by Mrs. Toll. Fonda looks in on Mrs. Toll several times a week since she has no relatives. Just think of a taller Wanda Boley and you have a good idea of what Fonda is like. She and her husband had a chicken farm in North Carolina until they were bought out by Frank Perdue. I think they also sheltered wolves at one point. I could envision the wolf pens next to the chicken yard as a sort of Gary Larsen “trouble brewing” cartoon. Fonda drives a great huge Cadillac at warp speeds and also pilots a Piper Cherokee. After trying to follow her to a cafeteria for dinner I think she is sometimes confused as to which one she’s in.

Sitting there in that nursing home room with those three women I was thinking about how the torch of music had been passed from Mrs. Toll to Fonda and Becky. There were three generations of a musical family present, and if I considered our daughter Amy whom Becky taught and the students in the choruses Amy sometimes accompanies and the children in the choir she works with, there is a line stretching through five generations.

This is how what is important is passed on—through hard work, dedication, passion, personal contact and a large measure of love. And if we think about it, it is how our faith is passed on—from person to person, from generation to generation. I would suggest that our faith is transmitted not so much by statements of belief or institutions or hierarchies of the church but through, as Joseph Martin says, holding the hymnal—a parent showing a child a hymn, passing on the legacy of the faith. John begins his letter this way: ”We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.” Faith is caught, not taught, passed on like changing drivers, like a love for music in those four generations of women. And may we all be instruments of God’s love, playing the sweet song of new life to a world yearning for holy music.