Tag Archives: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

In our Hearts Grief and Grace often Ride Side by Side

By Eugene C. Scott

“Red Rocks is one of the finest places on the planet to perform,” James Taylor said near the end of his show last night.*

He’s right.

Towering above us ancient and unmovable were Ship Rock on the left and Creation Rock on the right. Taylor’s smooth, ageless voice filling the space between. Rock and wind and sky surrounded us while song and poetry and story filled us. The lights of Denver danced in the night sky above the back wall of the amphitheater. It was remarkable.

“There is a young cowboy, he lives on the range,” Taylor sang his famous lullaby. I closed my eyes and imagined that cowboy and sang along to myself, “deep greens and blues are the colors I choose, won’t you let me go down in my dreams?” I breathed deep.

But Taylor was painting a different picture of life than the one many Coloradans had lived out in the last four days. I opened my eyes and saw Alameda Boulevard stretched out west to east in a straight line of lights from the foothills to Aurora. There on the far horizon I imagined one of the lights was the theater. There still lurking was the pain and heart ache of twelve innocent people dying and many more being wounded physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Guilt buffeted against my peace. Should I be enjoying myself? How can this beauty, my sense of well-being, co-exist with that?

Still they seemed to. Drawing my eyes and heart back to the stage–to the here and now, to what I can be and do–Taylor sang, “Shower the people you love with love.”

And I could see, on the screen, in his now creased 64 year-old face, his alive but tired eyes, that he too has known pain. Yet he still believed what he was singing.

Maybe JT, right there on stage, without knowing it, was living out a truth: that in our hearts grief and grace often ride side by side.

As Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote in his famous poem “Christmas Bells:”

“And in despair I bowed my head

‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said;

‘For hate is strong

And mocks the song

Of peace on earth good-will to men!’

“Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:

“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;

The Wrong shall fail,

The Right prevail,

With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

Maybe that’s the thing. Song, poetry–art in general–remind us of this dichotomy of life. In the midst of horrific pain and evil, beauty is undiminished. Grace prevails. Maybe it’s even made more beautiful. James Taylor put on one of the best shows I’ve seen in years. In a stunning setting. The clarity and sweetness of his voice matched the clarity and power of the message I heard God whisper in my heart. “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

*July 23, 2012. This may be a slight paraphrase since I did not write his quote down word for word.

4 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Revelation: The Most Misused and Misinterpreted Book in the Bible

The end is near. It’s true. For those of you participating in Daily Bible Conversations with us, we are almost done. Twenty-three days to go. For me it’s been a fabulous journey.

But that’s not what I mean. Today we begin reading the most misused, misunderstood, and misinterpreted book in the Bible: The Revelation of Jesus Christ. Revelation, the last book in the Bible but the first book in the library of those predicting the end of the world.

Predicting the end of the world has always been a popular past-time. But does Revelation actually predict the end of the world or does it have a larger more hopeful message?

Eugene C. Scott joins Mike in writing A Daily Bible Conversation twice a week.

TODAY’S READING (click here to view today’s reading online)

Joel 1:1-3:21

Revelation 1:1-20

Psalm 128:1-6

Proverbs 29:18

If you’ve found A Daily Bible Conversation helpful, share it with your friends. Forward your daily email or send them a link to the website: www.bibleconversation.com.

THE WORD MADE FRESH

At first disturbing glance, Revelation does seem to predict the end of the world. Near the beginning of the book John of Patmos reports that, “the time is near,” though he doesn’t say exactly what time. Then a few verses later, John continues, “Look he [Jesus] is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him . . . .” From there, as Eugene H. Peterson writes in The Message, a “rush of color and sound, image and energy leaves us reeling.”

We read of scrolls and seals, censers and trumpets, angels and devils, dragons, destruction and doom, judgement and, finally, a new Jerusalem. Many have connected these vague symbols and metaphors to current events and in so doing predict the end is near.

Hal Lindsey became famous (or infamous) doing this. He reported there was a three-story computer (this was 1974) that could give a mark to every human on earth, a code, the equivalent of 666. The computer was supposedly nick-named “The Beast.” It turns out the computer was pure fiction. Using this system of turning symbols into literal events, people, or things, Lindsey predicts, “Within forty years or so of 1948 [when Israel became a nation] all these things could take place.” If he was right, we’ve all been “Left Behind.”

But to be fair, Lindsey was not the only one to read Revelation as a literal prediction of the end of the world. Also the symbolic language of Revelation is complex and confusing. It is easy to get lost trying to interpret them and miss the bigger themes of the book.

The most powerful theme is worship. John is in worship when he receives his vision and from then on every person, nation, and creature in the book ends up bowing down, voluntarily or involuntarily, in worship. Praise, adoration, and servitude fill the book. “Holy, holy, holy,” all heaven sings. Maybe many of these symbols are not to be wrestled into literalism but rather are there to show poetically how all of God’s amazing creation will fall before him in worship.

If so, Revelation is not so much a prediction about how and when the world will end but rather a description that when the end comes, God will be triumphant over all. And our response to that great victory will be to rejoice and worship him.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow captured this truth in his Christmas poem written during the seemingly endless pain and evil of the Civil War. John Gorka musically rearranged this hymn/poem as a more modern Christmas song:

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

I heard the bells on Christmas day

Their old familiar carols play,

And wild and sweet

The words repeat

Of peace on earth, good will to men.

 

I thought how, as the day had come,

The belfries of all Christendom

Had rolled along

The unbroken song

Of peace on earth, good will to men.

 

And in despair I bowed my head;

“There is no peace on earth,” I said,

“For hate is strong,

And mocks the song

Of peace on earth good will to men.

 

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:

“God is not dead, nor doth he sleep:

The wrong shall fail,

The right prevail,

With peace on earth, good will to men.”

 

Till ringing, singing on its way,

The world revolved from night to day,

A Voice, a chime,

A chant sub-lime,

Of peace on earth, good will to men.

It may be by God’s design we are reading this difficult book at Christmas when our hopes our supposed to soar. Because, though the world seems to be spiralling toward a horrible and destructive end, Revelation is a vision not of a fearful end of the world, though there are terrifying visions there, but a picture of the culmination God’s powerful redemption that began on Christmas Day. Revelation envisions a hopeful end of pain, fear, death, sin, Satan, and all that opposes God. But it is not the end of the world. Rather Jesus proclaims from his throne, “I am making everything new.” Let’s celebrate.

If you’re reading this blog on Facebook and you’d like to join the conversation, click here. www.bibleconversation.com.

Eugene co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, CO and writes a blog eugenesgodsightings.blogspot.com

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized