"Abide with me
Fast breaks the morning light
Our daystar rises
Banishing all night
Thou art our strength
O Truth that maketh free
We would unfailingly abide in Thee…"
- W. H. Monk
Today I am thinking a lot about what it means to really abide in God, to "abide in the doctrine of Christ"….not just visit.
This timeless hymn's last verse, and I always seem to hear it in Mindy Jostyn's beautiful voice, began to give me a glimpse…
"…I know Thy presence
every passing hour,
I know Thy peace,
for Thou alone art power;
O Love divine,
I need not plead,
Thou dost abide with me."
This hymn has long been a companion in times when I have felt like I was standing on the precipice of change…looking down into the chasm of "what if", wondering when the fall will come, if it will hurt, and then backing away as if God needed my consent to move me forward.
In those moments it is as if I forget that I am not waiting for Him to put His hand in mine so that with Him I could handle…or maybe even survive…the fall, but that He is the very chasm I am backing away from. He is All-in-all. There is no place, circumstance or situation I can find myself in that He is separate from. It is my perception of the chasm as darkness and emptiness that I need to replace with the understanding of His omni-presence. Where could I fall, but, as my grandmother used to say, "into the wideness of His lap."
One winter I faced a life-threatening health crisis. One that left me feeling as if I was no longer on the precipice of a chasm, but already within one of those spiraling slides at the playground…only this one was a dark tunnel of pain and fear. I could not see a circle of light at the end…only more darkness. I was spinning out of control. I could not find a way to stop myself. I was gripped by the fear that without health insurance, the medication I might need for pain management so that I could stay mentally free enough to pray for myself would devastate us financially, the terror of not being able to care for my daughters…the doubt that I could face another night without losing my spiritual poise...seemed to draw me deeper and deeper into the tunnel.
Late one night as I lay on my back under a blanket of crushing pain and fear, the words from this hymn started to pierce the palpable blackness with pinpicks of the light. And it was enough. With only the glimmer of light from those tiny pinpricks I found my lost courage cowering in a corner. I slipped out of bed, into an old cardigan and padded my way across the cold wood floors, through pools of golden lamplight and into my office.
The panes of glass in the French doors were frosted and the harsh edges softened, the lamplight from the city streets cast a soft beam upon the painting above my desk. It is a painting by artist Brooks Anderson of the Collegiate Peaks, a range of 14,000 foot mountains that cradle the Arkansas Valley. It is my heart's home. It is where camp is located, and readers of this blog know that this is where my thoughts rest when I am lost in prayer.
That night, lying in the dark, I had wondered if I would ever see my "home" in the valley again…if I would ever sit on the porch of my cabin, "Crows Nest" and look out at the Sleeping Indian range and listen to the laughter of campers and counselors on the lawn of Valerie Lodge. As I stood in the deep blue pre-dawn light filling my office I realized that a beam of streetlamp light had found the spot on the painting where camp sits…in the palm of those five fingers…five avalanche chutes that fill with snow each winter and are often still traced in white when summer begins.
I thought of Mary Baker Eddy's statement:
"The astronomer will no longer look up to the stars, -
he will look out from them upon the universe..."
For the next few weeks this speck of paint became my home…my abiding place with God…the focus of my mental space…I looked out from the perspective I have when I am at camp…the "God with us" that is so evident when I watch teens abandon selfishness and help eachother, listen to hearts hungering for "something more", and feel the glow of their inspired journeys. I sat on my porch looking out from the space of that painting in my office night after night while the winds of winter shook the tall sycamore trees and scattered the lamplight around me. I used that painting to re-focus my vantage point. I was not alone in the dark, in pain and afraid…I was sitting on the porch of Crowsnest watching God work His wonders. I could feel His presence in their smiles, hear His voice in their laughter, see His hand in their discoveries.
While the world slept in the hibernating cold of a long winter's "night" I was awake and alive to His promises. I was living in a dot of paint, the slip of a sable brushstroke, a flick of light on canvas...I was abiding in summer's lanscape of healing and discovery, the space of expectation...pregnant with healing...full of the evidence of His love.
I did go back to camp that summer. I sat on my porch and it was wonderful, glorious, beautiful…but then, I had already been there all winter…I knew it would be.