Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Mortal flesh

I am not a person easily moved to tears. In fact, some in my extended family say I am a "stone." Not true (a two minute Hallmark commercial will leave me with a wet face), but I do try to contain and control my emotions, especially times of tearfulness.

A week ago Sunday, a friend in our church who is a few years younger than I am and who sings in our church choir with me experienced a very grievous time. She awoke to a sound that led her to find her husband had ended his life. He had struggled with deep depression for years. Details are not necessary here. She has a son in the military overseas, a daughter with juvenile court issues, and a daughter who she is trying to keep from following in the sister's footsteps.

This lady is a strong person. But even strength is tested to the limits sometimes. Hers and ours.

Forward to this past Sunday when our little country church choir presented our Christmas cantata. Minutes before we were to enter the sanctuary, the lady who lost her husband walked through the door to the choir room. She held her head high. Her eyes were dry. And she said that she had to begin to regain some normalcy to life, to start by putting one foot in front of the other. I admired her strength and courage to face the world so early after her tragedy.

As the choir rose to sing, this lady was standing somewhere to my right. The cantata began, and I could see that the church was full. On a row toward the back sat all the members of this lady's family: the military son, her parents, her two daughters, her sister.

Emotions were in control. Until we got to the song midway through. The song, part solo and part choir, was a reflection of this "Child of Promise." Maybe it was because the choir was not singing right then, or maybe it was the message of the song. Or maybe it had nothing to do with the music. When I noticed a hand holding a tissue raise, I knew it was her hand. And I knew her tears had emerged. But she did not leave. She remained resolute to see this through.

The combination of knowing her real life struggle with raw emotions, hearing the words about this child of promise who had come to redeem humanity miserable and deep in sin, and seeing her family begin to raise tissue-filled hands to their eyes called forth my own tears against my will.

Always-in-emotional-control, especially in public, here I am on the front row, right in the middle. No hiding place. Then I experienced a sort of like leaving-your-body thing. As the soloist was singing, my mind was thinking in that weird kind of warp speed.

What a mess humanity is in. How terribly we need a Redeemer because we can never fix the mess we are in. We try to fix things only to create a worse mess.
My mind thinks about the sandpaper child of mine who cannot seem to easily find a place of responsibility and reputation in the world right now. At least a place I think is responsible and reputable.
What a mess our lives are in. Inside ourselves. Inside our relationships.
The music calls me back to attention. It's time for the choir to sing in response to the solo. My mouth opens but my tears begin to drop. I am so not in control. I try to deep breathe and mouth words until they can come out without a sob. Tears begin to run down my cheeks. My nose runs. I see her hand go up again to her face. More tears. I see her wayward daughter sob. More tears and that choking feeling deep inside my throat trying to suppress my own sob.
Humanity is in such a mess. We all have such struggles we can never, and will never, voice to another person. How we need this to be fixed.
Finally, I just stop trying to sing and stare at my music until I am assured of some semblance of composure. Seconds seem like endless minutes. I try to discretely wipe my cheeks, then my nose without a tissue that somehow reminds me of the runny-nosed animals in the royal stable long ago. Psalm 58:6 comes to mind - Put my tears in your bottle. So does God and sinners reconciled from "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing."
Yes, humanity is a mess. But there is a Redeemer of the mess. That's the only reason --the only hope-- to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
Tragedies are terrible any time. When they happen at this time of the year, they seem worse. And I wonder if we are not more sensitive to our real need of a Redeemer now than at other times of the year.

Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
and with fear and trembling stand;
ponder nothing earthly minded,
for with blessing in his hand,
Christ our God to earth descendeth,
our full homage to demand.


Carol in Oregon said...

Tears running down my face...what a tender story. Music can touch that deep spot in our souls at times both private and public.

After my father died I remember singing in the choir unable to make it through a hymn without tears.

Your friend and her family is in my prayers. Let all mortal flesh keep silence. Lord, have mercy.

Carrie K. said...

I will be praying, too.

I was on the worship team the morning my grandfather died. We sang a song that includes the line, "All of heaven's singing the song of the redeemed." And I couldn't continue. Music allows us to grieve when we need to, even if we'd rather not.

Sherry said...

Silence indeed. I am praying, too.

Poiema said...

Since hitting my 50th birthday, the "tears in a bottle" verse has become one I hang onto. It is more than hormones. There is a grieving for the brokenness of humanity, just as you described. I think that perhaps the most poignant verse in the Bible is "Jesus wept." Your experience was deeply moving~~thanks for sharing it.