Wednesday, I made the first fire of the year with my daughters. There, in our jackets, huddled on the drive, we piled leaves and grass and twigs. They delight, as I always have, in the gentle flame and the needful tending. The flame cannot be rushed-too quick a heat and the kindling will not fully light-nor left-too little attention and the flame snuffs out. The very act of tending a fire demands pause, consideration, peace, concentration, contemplation.
Such experiences are my joy in the Fall season. The cooler weather offering a cooling, it seems, of the rush of summer’s heat, the weather mirroring (producing?) a presence of mind, a move from the frenetic to the contemplative.
I was reminded of Wendell Berry’s “On the Peace of Wild Things.”
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
There is much in this season that may be frenetic, or call us to be so, much that might be cause for despair, for us and for our children. The current election certainly the most looming presence, coupled with (and influencing) wars and rumors of wars, racial tensions and conflicts ending in so many deaths so harmful and unjustified, the consequent cries for justice and righteousness, the mourning, the loss, the anger, confusion. With the work of RestoreOKC, coming to know more the grief and loss in our own city-widows and orphans in distress, racial and social bias personal and systemic.
It is precisely when the world grows frantic that we are in need of pause. It is not frenetic entry into the frenzy that is needed, but pause, contemplation, reflection-in another word, worship.
In Psalm 73, the Psalmist grows indignant. He begins with a lament:
But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled,
my steps had nearly slipped.
3 For I was envious of the arrogant
when I saw the prosperity of the wicked
He continues with a record of the wrongs of others, and hence, a record of the wrongs God allows and seems to condone. Around him, the rich grow fat in the eyes, those who seek evil pursue it and accomplish their desire. The righteous suffer. He grows tempted to curse God-at the point of his greatest torment, what gives him pause?
The psalmist tells us:
But when I thought how to understand this,
it seemed to me a wearisome task,
17 until I went into the sanctuary of God;
then I discerned their end.
What is it that changes the psalmist? What is it that moves him from anger, indignation, a desire for evil-to a just reaction, hope in redemption, movement in love? Worship.
And not just a worship divorced from action. He goes into the sanctuary of God. Corporate worship reforms His heart, realigns his vision, reshapes his affections, redirects his actions.
Worship (and relatedly, contemplation, leisure) is not cessation from action; it is action mostly rightly directed in which we offer to God our griefs, pains, joys, triumphs, and receive from Him grace, peace, mercy. We receive back from Him what we offer to Him, sanctified, given for proper ordering and use.
We do so in the company of God’s people. Left no longer to consider ourselves in our own ruminations, we find unity in the body. No longer a sole piece disconnected from a living whole, we are grafted again in relationship, built up and receiving life from the head, Christ Himself.
For it is out of such a repose, in peace and with generosity of thought and affection, that we are enabled to walk in the frenzy of the world without frenetic hearts, that we are equipped to speak and to act, always in love-patient, kind, enduring love.
So tonight, we’ll light another fire and commune together, a small light against the darkness, a bush burning but we not burnt.