Anna and Simeon Sightings? Two Poems in Praise of Ancient Saints

There is so much grace, mystery, wonder to be seen, and I mostly miss it, but today I saw a blessing.  An elderly woman was making her way toward the local Lutheran facility where the church gathers weekly for worship (St. Stephen, you may know of whom I speak); she looked frail and ancient leaning on her cane, and yet there she was making her way toward the place where she expected, by grace, to meet the God she’s forever known in Christ.  I suspect she was unnoticed  because this is who she is and what she does; most Sundays I have also missed her on the way but today I saw and marveled at her faith, her steadfastness, her enduring perseverance that was Spirit-inspired to move her toward worship once more.

Her witness reminded me of another moment of mystery and wonder I encountered in a small Methodist church building in Bournemouth, England in 2004, with a group of students from the Wesley Foundation at The College of William and Mary.  Worship was being led by Kara Cooper, a W&M alum, now a British citizen and Methodist chaplain at Lancaster University.  What I will remembers always from that Sunday was a trio of members coming forth, the middle an elderly WW 2 veteran aided and upheld by his fellow sisters in Christ who had come and brought him to the Lord’s Table.  There is a hunger and a thirst that only God can quench, that draws us until we draw our last breath, and is a blessing.  These poems respond to the epiphanies I was blessed to see today here and then, in England.

She creeps

Her three-legged crawl near imperceptible

By drivers passing on their way

Like a vine she moves

Carefully, cautiously, gently toward the Light

 

She grasps

Her outstretched hand feeling for the sign

Aptly marking the privileged place for her

Who no longer moves so fast or far

As others do and once she did

But blesses and is grateful for a place

Reserved for her

 

She steps

Shyly lightly curb-toeing her way up

Wondering not if it can bear her up

But if she can bear herself to that low height

Rocking back and up once twice thrice

The small swell of success waving her on

 

She processes

A one-woman band gliding toward the parade

Others also drawn toward the Light

Just inside the door

Where she expects to meet the Door

The Shepherd True Gate Way Life

 

She follows

The path paved every first day of life

A lifetime lifelong journey

She cannot think not going

Woman toward the well where the thirsty Savior waits

Thirsty to bless and be blessed

To feed and be fed

Welcomed Home once more grateful

 

II.

Call sounded

Invitation sent

Table set and prayer ended

Bread fractured Cup filled

They come

Hungry hearts anticipating

Empty hands filled with hope

 

The pastor stands

Dispensing grace

Ordinary ways ordinary folk

Mundane, ho-hum

Nothing new as always

Until he comes they come as one

Mystery on the move

 

An ancient man

Armed with two women

Who stand him guide him on

Lest he fall or fail

To reach the goal of God

No rush ever patient

They have eternity

Slowly shuffling

Feet sliding on holy ground

 

Once young guarding shore

Ludicrously armed with battle axe

Now feebly muscled yet faith strong armed

He comes as two stand guard and lead

The pastor ready at her post to feed and bless

A miracle seen at life’s ebbing shore

Old soldier at ease before the soul’s Guard

At peace and fed and blessed

By two by all by One

And blessing he because I saw

-2017, David M. Hindman, soli Deo gloria.

Mother’s Day Gratitude

I Thank My God for You

(words and music by Joseph M. Martin)

For a lovely choral presentation of this anthem, go to

I thank my God for you each time I think of you.

Each time I pray for you, I’m filled with thanksgiving.

For ev’ry word and deed, for helping those in need,

I thank the Lord for you and give Him the glory.

And even when we are apart, you are always in my heart.

We are bonded by God’s Holy Spirit for we are one in God’s embrace,

one in love’s unfailing grace.

We give voice to one great Alleluia.

I give thanks. I thank my God and give my praise. Alleluia.

I thank my God for you and each time I think of you.

Each time I pray for you, I’m filled with thanksgiving.

And when the day is done, and ev’ry race is run,

God’s perfect grace will bring us home.

We will be together. for ever and evermore.

I thank my God.

At the gathering for worship in which I participated today, this was the anthem, inspired by Paul’s letter to the Philippians, “ I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you…” (1:3).  In our worship we celebrated the 5th Sunday of Easter, observed the secular Mother’s Day holiday, and The United Methodist Church’s Festival of the Christian Home.  In addition to a marvelously broad-stroked pastoral prayer, this anthem was a worship highlight for me, not only for its beauty of language and melody but because it led me to reflect on the thanks I give for my mother and the family into which I was welcomed, nurtured and formed.  

It is nearly two and a half years since my mother, Hilda Mitchell Hindman, died in her 100th year.  My father, Neville Millard Hindman, has been dead nearly 30 years.  Today marks the 35th year since I asked my wife to marry me; my parents celebrated 38 years of marriage and so I find myself being mindful of the brief, precious and beautiful  gift we receive in marriage and family.  No matter how many days we have, they are soon gone and we fly away; but today I sense my parents’ nearness in the great cloud of witnesses, and am especially thankful for them.  In the words of the anthem, Mamma and Daddy, “I thank the Lord for you and give him glory.  And even when we are apart, you are always in my heart.  We are bonded by God’s Holy Spirit for we are one in God’s embrace, one in love’s unfailing grace. We give voice (here and on that far shore and in a greater light) to one great Alleluia.”

What follows is not a perfect nor exhaustive listing, and it is not intended as a list of perfect family or parental gifts or characteristics.  It is simply my list of those things for which I give thanks to God for my mother and father;

I thank my God for you each time I think of you.  From you I learned

*the mystery, wonder and gift of faith in Christ

*to give God preeminence in all things, and to participate in the church, not because it is perfect but because it is beloved and cherished by Christ

*to give thanks to God every day for simple things like food, and to form the discipline of daily and regular prayer, lest I take life for granted or miss its wonder

*to be true to my word and a reliable person on whom others can surely count

*I am not at the center of the universe and to be content with what life brings

*one role I have in life is to help others and to be generous with time, talent and treasure

*music and song are beautiful and worth the discipline

*integrity, honesty, character are irreplaceable treasures to be enacted in small as well as great ways

*there is honor in hard work, perseverance, and determination

*to speak my mind without fear

*over the years that the above gift can be both bane and blessing

*to cherish family and remember that this is one of God’s best gifts

If this serves as a prompt for you to enter into a similar season of reflection and gratitude for those who welcomed, nurtured and formed you, all the better.  May your day be an occasion to say, “I thank my God for you each time I think of you.”

Thanksgiving on the Cusp of Advent

(PERSONAL NOTE: The last Sunday in the church year can focus either on Thanksgiving or on Christ the King as it anticipates the beginning of the new year and the season of Advent. This year’s Epistle text for November 20 could be used for Thanksgiving or Christ the King with its focus on giving thanks and the nearness of God. What follows is my musing on that text and how those two aspects of reality might relate to one another.)
“The Lord is near; do not be anxious, but in everything make your requests known to God in prayer and petition with thanksgiving. Then the peace of God, which is beyond all understanding, will guard your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus.”  (Philippians 4:5b-7, REB)
          It sounds too easy, “in everything make your requests known to God in prayer and petition with thanksgiving.” This is not something you simply will yourself to do; it is not as easy to learn as your ABCs. Sometimes we preachers speak glibly about this challenging, daunting imperative issued by St. Paul; we turn gratitude into yet another thing we must do if we are to be good Christians, and as a result we are given yet one more reason to feel guilty because we don’t measure up to this high standard. Apparently we can’t pull ourselves up by our own spiritual bootstraps, so if we are not able in everything to be thankful, it’s our fault or our own failure of faith, or a spiritual work we are too weak to accomplish.
          But seriously!? In all things pray with thanksgiving? How is that possible? How is that possible for Syrian refugees who have fled for their lives only to meet a wall of hostility and suspicion? How is that possible for the Palestinian farmer whose olive trees have just been bulldozed by Israeli Defense Forces with no excuse needed or legal recourse available? How is that possible for the person wrongly imprisoned but lacking funds to pursue DNA testing and the needed legal counsel? How is that possible for the mother mourning her dead child, or the man who recently received the news that his cancer has returned and he needs to get his affairs in order? How can a child of color or a GLBTQ young adult or a Muslim give thanks in all times and all places when their welcome and place in society is not as sure and certain as it was a month ago?   There are times when we cannot on our own imagine giving thanks always, and the thought of doing so dries our mouth, clogs our throat, and turns God once again into a cruel taskmaster who asks the impossible of us.
          Perhaps that is the clue. It is not left solely to us; such gratitude is not a task but a promise; not a burden but a blessed gift. Perhaps the solution to the riddle is found in the beginning of the text: “The Lord is near.” Perhaps that is how we can be thankful; we are not alone and the Lord is near us even in our most godforsaken circumstances. It is a great mystery, but a deep truth – when we feel most abandoned, alone and forgotten, God is most near to console, comfort, strengthen and encourage. One of the most powerful scenes in the Jesus story, as told by Mark and Matthew, is when Jesus on the cross cries in agony and despair, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And yet it is there that an onlooker is persuaded that he truly is God’s Son, God’s messenger to us, God with us in the flesh. As a modern affirmation puts it, “In life, in death, in life beyond death, we are not alone; God is with us. Thanks be to God.”
          In seminary one of my professors told the story of receiving news on Christmas Eve that a young father in the church had died suddenly and unexpectedly while shopping that afternoon; now he was needed to go to the man’s home to break the news to his children and wife. My professor recalled walking with a heavy heart up the sidewalk toward the house bright with decorations and lights; through the glass door he could see children scampering before the tree, awaiting with expectation and excitement the father who would not be coming home. With one word my mentor knew he could destroy their Christmas joy, their hopes and dreams, and extinguish the light in their lives. But he also knew another Word that could somehow see them through: Immanuel, God with us. The father would not be returning home, but by God’s grace and generosity they knew a Father who would love and comfort and strengthen them and would never leave or forsake them, even in their most forsaken time.
          It is that nearness that allows us to be grateful – not for every thing that happens to us but for the promise that we are not alone and today’s disappointment and distress will not have the final say in our lives. The Lord is near; there is another Actor on the stage beyond us and today’s terrors, and beside us with a mystical holy Presence and in the nearness of others in Christ’s Body we have been given to “bear the load and hold the Christ light for us.” The Lord is near – somehow we are given a gift to know and trust that promise – and can count on other faithful folks to claim that hope for us and to trust it for us when our faith is frail and our hope is dim. And the promise is not that we can achieve all this on our own – we can’t. The promise is that as we lean into those everlasting arms and rest in that near Presence, we are given one more gift – peace that is beyond our understanding and comprehension, but real nevertheless, to guard our hearts and minds and see us through. And for that we can always give thanks.