One of my dear blogging buddies, the gifted author and musician Pam McAllister, has written a variety of beautiful and sensitive reflections on a variety of hymns. She recently sent me this one knowing of my grief and affection for my dear friend Rick who passed from this life on Sunday morning. As you can see, her spiritual depth and compassion is profound. I share it with you so that you, too, might be nourished and comforted as I was.
Something God Alone Can See
In the bulb there is a flower; in the seed, an apple tree...
There is so much we don’t understand. Young people go to their deaths, abrupt and brutal, on highways and battlefields, while beloved elderly drift away ever so slowly, on little ice floes of dementia. Why? We want to make sense of what seems senseless. What does God see in all this beauty and suffering? With voices full of hope, we sing of seeds and hidden promises, mysteries and melodies. We sing, too, of darkness, doubt, and death. There is no judgment here, but there is the reality of unanswered questions.
Peace and civil rights activist William Sloane Coffin was pastor of Riverside Church in Manhattan from 1977 to 1987. In one of his most memorable sermons, delivered just days after his son was killed in a car accident, he told the congregation about a quiche-bearing woman who, meaning to comfort, muttered sadly about the mystery of “God’s will.” Coffin, by his own account, unleashed his grief and rage at her. He explained from the pulpit: “My own consolation lies in knowing that it was not the will of God that Alex die; that when the waves closed over the sinking car, God’s heart was the first of all our hearts to break.”
Natalie Sleeth (1930-1992), American church organist and composer, was only 62 when she died of cancer at the height of her creativity. Her hymn is one of overlapping circles rather than straight lines. In writing it, Sleeth borrowed from T.S. Eliot’s “Four Quartets” -- “In the end is my beginning...” and wrote, in the spirit of Ecclesiastes, of seasons more than reasons.
Merciful God, we are impatient with what we do not understand. Hold us close when we struggle to make sense of our suffering, longing for answers to be revealed, for the impossible to be explained. Cradle us -- the living and the dying -- in your loving arms, and help us find comfort there. God, you see what we can’t. See us in our distress.