This past Sunday,we spent the morning singing our favorite Gospel hymns. A fun and poignant morning, at least for me.
As we sang, "Rock of Ages," written over 250 years ago, the exquisite language and the need expressed--that God, our Rock, would indeed open ("cleft") for us and provide a safe hiding place--touched me deeply.
Three things spoke to me.
One, partly because I am feeling especially vulnerable right now as I deal with some health issues (as they say, getting older is NOT for sissies) and facing the ongoing challenges of pastoring a church in an increasingly complex, consumeristic society, is the need for some periodic safety.
As a friend of mine put it yesterday, I need a break from the unrelenting pressure and demands.
I need that Rock to open up and shelter me for a while from the storms, the pressures, the reports, the complaints, and the endless "to-do" lists. The kinds of breaks where full freedom from the unique calling of the pastorate rarely show up. There is always another message or article that must be prepared; there are always people who need to be contacted and meetings that need to be held; and always, at least for me, a lingering sense of guilt that I still have not done enough, that many express disappointment in me, that the church suffers because of who I am and what I bring to the table.
But there was more. As we sang, I saw the need for each of us to find our own rocks--the solid places upon which we can build our lives and make decisions. What will I base my life upon? What truths for me are unshakable, and give me the strength to go forward? What is it that I am willing to die for? What is merely window dressing, nice but discardable if necessary?
All of us need to define our rocks, the non-negotiables of our lives. Otherwise, the shifting sands underneath our feet give us no more stability than a tree with unsubstantial roots has in a hurricane. The powerful winds of life simply blow us over, exposing the lack of substance underneath. If we do not identify our own rocks, we become dangerously subject to harmful group-think, as in lemings going over a cliff. But we when know who we are and what we know to be true, we find the power to say a healthy "No" when necessary.
Finally, I realized that the very exquisiteness of the language and the rich theology of the hymn meant that many found the words incomprehensible. Something that for me flowed with richness and brought me to tears would pass without impact through their ears, minds and souls.
What happens when we lose the ability to understand our heritage and history?
At one point, I took an acting class to help improve my stage presence. We were given a passage from Shakespeare, told to put it in modern language so we'd understand the meaning, and then memorize the words in the original for presentation. I had no problem with the task. Years steeped in Bible study and reading classic literature served me well. No one else, all much younger than I, had a clue how to access the meaning of Shakespeare's words. Their blankness startled both me and the instructor.
This inability to know and understand our heritage, be it religious, cultural, scientific or political, puts our entire way of life onto precarious, shifting-sand footing. With the cuts in school funding, it will only get worse.
All I can suggest is this: turn off the TV. Stop putting ourselves and our children in front of screens, be they big or micro-sized. Start reading. A generation of illiterates cannot solve complex problems. And we have a bundle of them before us.