Friday, December 2, 2011

Alleluia: Praising God in the Dark

Today's writing is quite personal in nature, but inspired in reflecting on yesterday's Service of Praise and Thanksgiving as friends gathered to comfort a grieving wife who is also a pastor and friend. If you know her, perhaps you'll be prompted to pray for her. If you do not know her, may the offering of these words be an encouragement to each of us to use our time and meager resources to build up one another through whatever means the Lord brings to mind.

Dear Vicki,
I will write a real note, but for now....while the word is so fresh....and while the image of your gentleness and beauty so lovingly, tenderly, yet powerfully offering a tribute for Kevin at the close of the service lingers in my memory, I must let you know how much I worshiped in this service. May I join the host of family and friends to say I got a picture of Kevin that was vibrant and real -- something I think you would like to know. I hope you were touched as well by the throng of people who lined up for hours to speak a word to you. You are a beloved child of God!
Your personal mementos of Kevin and photos the girls gathered displayed his smile and the life and times you two shared over the past nine years beautifully. Your annotated order of worship reflected you and your desire to share the essence of Kevin today.
The piano music set a welcome tone, planting seeds of lyrics in familiar melodies throughout the gathering. Call me old-fashioned, or call me country, but I like great piano music in a church. The "Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken" was a triumphant piece when you all entered, weaving through the standing-room-only crowd.
The Bishop was warm and honest in her appraisal that life is hard and that Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life. The two operate at the same time; they don't cancel each other out. I could almost feel Jesus weeping with his friends over Lazarus in her scripture and at the church with us today. I did not know that Psalm 130 is used in every single service of Resurrection in the UMC. I will read it more carefully next time.
The musicians took my breath away with words and pure tones that fell on my ears and closed eyes as I prayed and worshiped.

The three men who spoke and shared honestly their stories about Kevin gave color and depth to an obviously well-loved life they will miss fervently. Their brokenness was palpable.
The last verse to Hallelujah is one I'll have to find. Sharon and Toby and Lindsey truly rose to the occasion. I love the old embroidered Alleluia on the white altar cloth as they sang. The church universal has known the power of resurrection, and we keep telling the story--each in our own age. We must.


I've heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don't really care for music, do you?
It goes like this
The fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
There was a time when you let me know
What's really going on below
But now you never show it to me, do you?
And remember when I moved in you
The holy dove was moving too
And every breath we drew was Hallelujah
I did my best, it wasn't much
I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch
I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool you
And even though it all went wrong
I'll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah

Breathless silence. Musical magic in the air.
Rev. Hicks did a masterful job to me of wrapping us in stories of Kevin that felt like the real thing. No artifice. Nothing added. Just straight up Kevin. Delivered with tenderness and a lovely style, he did so well what you would love to have done, but  did not need to. I liked what he said, and hope, most of all, that you did too.
But then you wowed us all and took the stand yourself.
When you rose and began that walk you never expected to make this week, that walk from the Family Pew, from the Widow's Seat you've looked out upon so many times before, there was a barely-audible collective held breath and pause I sensed. You assumed your familiar place behind the pulpit and were - we could all tell - right at home. Even while a wayfaring stranger in a strange new land of grief, you knew the way home, Vicki. You stepped into that place and God graced you with a mantle of peace to share a personal word. I don't know how you did it.
The way home, however faltering the steps may be, took you through the gate of gratitude.

You expressed thanks to each one--to each person who had lifted you in prayer, had written a note or sent a facebook message or had come to give a hug. Thanksgiving was a verb today, not a noun. 

You gracefully did what you do so well: You loved a congregation of folks who were hurting right along with you. 

You kept the Light shining even in the darkest hour. 

You allowed a glimmer to shine through you, and in doing so, to radiate joy-in-sorrow upon us all. 

You became part of the mystery of faith: How the darkness does not overcome the light. How majesty dwells with the mundane in our humanity because Christ dwells within.
"At that moment you will know absolutely that I'm in my Father and you're in me and I"m in you."

This was one of those moments.
Or, in Kevin's preferred KJV:

John 14:18-20

King James Version (KJV)
18I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.
19Yet a little while, and the world seeth me no more; but ye see me: because I live, ye shall live also.
20At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you.

You love the Hymn of Promise, and growing things, and nature's beauty even in winter. I always remember that about you, Vicki. The pine boughs and cones bearing seeds adorned the altar and stood before us today. Everywhere you stood - in the Community Center reception afterwards or in the sanctuary - you were always near a green bough. Did you notice? Of course.... You planned it all, with tenderness and love. It could not have been any better. I pray the singing bird will come to the green bough in your heart.
When I got home with you gentle on my mind, I read this from Ann Voskamp in her writing today about advent, and I wanted to share it with you. I also want to share your lovely service for Kevin with our friends who were unable to be there today, for we all love you and pray for God's immeasurable grace to fill your life one hour at a time, especially at this beginning of Advent.

"...The beginning of December, that is what I set out on the counter: a bowl of seeds. Through Advent, through all the waiting days, waiting for the Bread of Heaven to come down, we plant seeds of wheat. God, He gestated. God was a seed. I think this, holding a seed in the palm of my hand......
and then she continues:

"...Because the economy scrapes its dark underbelly too low and who can breathe, and some phone call can hang up on all our dreams and everything goes dim, and one kid, one parent, one hope, can falls into shadows overnight.
And this Gospel? It doesn’t come wrapped in twinkling lights and satin bows; it comes straight into our pitchest black. The Gospel of Christ, it’s a messy, bloody thing and this is how God was born, bloody and bruised, and that’s how God chose to die, bloody and beaten. And our God, He knows the comings and goings of our bloody battles, and this is exactly where He meets us.
The Gospel is good news in the eye of the worst news.
Advent is the believing this, and this is how Christ comes:
A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him…” Isaiah 11: 1-2

May God bear you up, dear Vicki, and comfort the brokenhearted. I love you, my friend.
For our Russian friends reading, аллилуйя.
Alleluia. Hallelujah. It still spells praise in any language.

(from Please read in its entirety. I recommend her unreservedly.

Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen.


  1. i'm praying for your dear friend. these words are so beautiful and meaningful! i know she'll treasure your thoughtfulness.

  2. Holy Spirit you are wanted and welcomed!