In rearranging blogs, I decided to move some sermons from Oodellaly over here. This first entry, "Soul" is more of a meditation.
In 1871 the city of Chicago was nearly destroyed by the Great Chicago Fire. Over 300 people died from the flames and 100,000 were left homeless. Horatio Gates Spafford, an attorney, had lost a great deal of real estate in the fire. Despite such great personal financial loss and the untimely death of his son during this same time period, Spafford helped to assist the needs of the homeless, impoverished, and grief-stricken by the fire.
After about two years of such work, Spafford and his family decided to take a vacation. Because Spafford was a loyal friend and supporter of Dwight L. Moody, he decided that they would meet up with Moody on one of his evangelistic campaigns in England, and then travel from there to the continent. Just as the Spaffords were preparing to leave the States, Horatio was unexpectedly detained by urgent business concerns. The decision was made that his wife Anna and their four daughters would continue on as scheduled to England.
Their ship collided with an English sailing vessel, the Loch Earn, off Newfoundland. It sank rapidly. Mrs. Spafford was only one of the 47 to survive; all four of her daughters were among the 226 lost. Anna Spafford’s heartbreaking telegram to her husband simply read: “Saved alone.” Horatio immediately set sail for England to join his grief-stricken wife. As the ship that he was traveling on passed the approximate location where his daughters had drowned, it is reported that due to his deep sorrow mingled with his unwavering faith in God’s goodness, he penned the words of his now famous hymn - “It Is Well with My Soul.”
The story of Horatio Spafford confirms what we have suspected - that our soul must be transcendent. How else, how else could he have lost all five of his children and not perished with the grief?
There is no hiding from struggle, and real struggle hurts. We achieve, and we acquire, and we become, and we finally find ourselves just where we want to be and life just the way we want to make it. And now things are perfect, we think, now things are finally settled. Now we are safe and in control and secure, and thinking that, of course, makes us least secure of all.
Everything in life is in flux. Life itself has become a series of life-changing interruptions we are meant to expect and to broach with very little help. Life swirls around us, and the people we count on go their own changing ways. The regularity of small and irritating, great and debilitating losses that threaten the death of the heart, that interrupt the flow of life are of the essence of the fullness of living.
It seems skewed, not quite right. To face tremendous loss and call it the fullness of life? Do I really mean that? I do. It is not the absence of struggle that makes us human, that makes us whole. It is the ability to lose, to win, to feel, to love, to mourn, and to endure. Whatever else it is, our soul must be transcendent, for it lends us the ability to meet another day.
I have a son. He is fourteen months old. And all of the clichés you have ever heard about babies are true. They are soft. They smell good. There is nothing so peaceful as a sleeping baby. You can see the wisdom of eternity in his eyes. Their lives are all of the possibilities of all of the new beginnings imaginable.
Every day the baby’s father and I have to make a thousand little choices about his life, his upbringing, what he eats, what he wears, where he goes, what he is exposed to. He is a constant challenge to my soul, because so often I want to possess him. But he is not mine. He was entrusted to us by God, and I have to answer to God for the choices I make concerning this baby – let alone concerning my own life of faith, my own relationships, my own actions in the world. I’ve spent fourteen months figuring out how to honor my own spirituality while at the same time growing his, and I know I will spend the next fourteen years in the same pursuit.
My own soul rediscovers the joy of creation when I think about the things that my son has yet to experience: the magic of words, through speaking and reading, riding a bike, going to the zoo, watching the sun set over the ocean, his first tooth, his first day of school, his first love – let alone fried chicken, mashed potatoes and sweet tea, so that he doesn't forget that his parents both have Southern roots. And I know that he will also experience more teething, bad dreams, and broken hearts.
But for now, the summer beackons, and the days go by, and more often than not I can meet my own gaze in the mirror and say, “It is well, it is well with my soul.”