Eric Youngblood: Singing In The Thunderstorm

Tuesday, September 19, 2017 - by Eric Youngblood

The more vivid our imagination, the more keen our apprehensions about what might be. 

And of course for many, especially those of us John Newton might’ve described as “of the fearful, doubting cast,” what might be, is almost always stained with trauma, trouble, or despair. 

Wendell Berry poetically renders our vulnerability to the assaults of tomorrow:

“When despair for the world grows in me

and I wake in the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,

I go and lie down where the wood drake

rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.”

Then, as if having sipped a nerve-soothing Chamomile tea of our Lord’s words from the Sermon on the Mount about a lily’s lovely, God-tailored, spring fashions, a calm settles his jangled nerves. And we get this stirring line: 

“I come to into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief.”

The forethought of grief is what taxes our lives most on any given worrisome day. The anticipation of tomorrow’s troubles is the pesky mosquito that agitates our present. 

CS Lewis came to the same conclusion when writing to a widow on a fixed income, bewailing her own lack of financial independence in Letters to An American Lady

“I’m a panic-y person about money myself (which is a most shameful confession and a thing dead against Our Lord’s words) and poverty frightens me more than anything else except large spiders and the tops of cliffs: one is sometimes even tempted to say that if God wanted us to live like the lilies of the field He might have given us an organism more like theirs! But of course He is right. And when you meet anyone who does live like the lilies, one sees that He is.”

Imagination Fueled Panic

Imagination starts the drip-drip-drip percolating of all our panickiness. 

The blooming hydrangea, the beaming dogwood and the handsome magnolia all have something in common besides their sturdy and tender loveliness. Not a one of them has a lick of imagination. 

They don’t dread a week of rain that might pummel them until their flowering petals are lopped off, only to drown in a puddle. They don’t anticipate being cut through with a chainsaw, pierced by a stab of lightening, or withering as the heat of summer steadily breathes down their necks. 

We on the other hands have forethoughts.

We have hurt before and suspect (and rightly so) that we will hurt again. And inconveniently, we can imagine hurts more kaleidoscopic than Joseph’s favorite kid of Jacob coat.

We have lost before and so can anticipate the army of griefs that might march against us. 

We have known the distress of trouble and so easily tremble like a leaf at shadows, thoughts and premonitions of gut-socking distress that must surely be headed our way.

Consider the Birds of the Window Sill

And of course, it might be. But it’s the preoccupation with what “might” happen that spoils our actual moments faster than a gallon of unpasteurized milk forgotten in the cab of a pickup in long-term parking in August.

Martin Luther once graphically instructed about this affliction of worrying by describing a nearby robin:

“I have one preacher that I love better than any other on earth; it is my little tame robin, who preaches to me daily. I put some crumbs upon my window sill, especially at night. He hops onto the window sill when he wants his supply, and takes as much as he desires to satisfy his need. From thence he always hops to a little tree close by, lifts up his voice to God and sings his carol of praise and gratitude, then tucks his little head under his wing, goes fast to sleep, and leaves tomorrow to care for itself. He is the best preacher that I have on earth!"

Berry, Lewis, and Luther each from a different angle depict the Savior’s permission to ignore the potpourri of next week’s potential ailments, a penicillin prescription of sorts for the rapidly reproducing bacteria of tomorrow’s possibilities, which often produce attention-demanding anxieties.

And those of us with responsibility disorders who tend to presume that worry equals love, may just start to see that it doesn’t. Worry is not normally love. It is a disabling affliction of nerves, imagination, and gross misinterpretations about whose arms are upholding the earth. We therefore, have divine permission to override it and to ignore it. 

But are able to do so only inasmuch as we entrust our times to the God of Luther’s pious robin.

Singing in the Thunderstorm

One morning in July we were awakened by a threatening thunder storm. As atmospheric cymbals collided, jarring the skies, we heard a slight chirping sound. A clear tweet of some sort or another. My wife presumed it was the alarm on my phone. 

But it turned out to be an ensemble of birds vocally accompanying the terrifying orchestra of the thunderstorm. Singing their soprano praises.

She experienced her own momentary version of the “peace of wild things” and drew my attention to what a lovely picture we’d been shown.

There in a terrifying storm, as the earth seemed to shake, and thunder rumbled menacingly, defenseless birds steadied under God’s watch were giving a concert.

They were singing in the thunderstorm.

I hope we will not get too far ahead of ourselves with our worry. That perhaps we’ll occasionally pull back the leash on our roving imaginations to keep them from wandering too far off, down too many tomorrows. 

If we do, we might just find ourselves singing, whether laments, or carols of praise, our even or needs for today, but singing nonetheless, even in Timpani-drum rumbling thunderstorms to the God who is right nearby. 

The God of the “wild things’ peace”, upon whom we can certainly count in the future, but who always resides in the eternal present, where he invites us to dwell trustingly alongside, refusing to “tax our lives with the forethought of grief.”

---

Contact Eric Youngblood, pastor of Rock Creek Fellowship on Lookout Mountain, at eric@rockcreekfellowship.org



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