February 11, Joy comes with the morning

Joy comes with the morning

Psalm 30

Well, you’ve been patient through this season of Epiphany – with several weeks in a row of scriptures from the Psalms as our scripture texts for worship. Psalms, of course, are poetry – and not everybody likes poetry, not everybody understands poetry, and not everybody knows how to teach or talk about poetry. But, you’ve been patient with the Psalms over these last four weeks – and with my efforts and Jim’s efforts to reflect on these ancient poetic songs…and I’d ask your patience yet again today, because we have one more Sunday – today – left in this season of Epiphany and I’ve got one more Psalm to put before you.

Again, it’s a Psalm written by David, and again, as has been the case for the last couple of weeks, it lifts up, among other things, the theme of praise.

But this one is a little different than the ones we’ve looked at over the last several weeks. This one is not a Psalm of praise concerning the wonders of creation or the abundance of God’s gifts and blessings. This one is about recovery. This is the kind of “thank God!” poem that is spoken not with a spirit of easy buoyancy, but with the sputtering relief of a person who just almost drowned: Thank God! Thank God I’m alive!

This Psalm is about what happens and what you feel when you’ve been dropped into the pit, and somehow, some way, you are pulled back out.

This is a Psalm with the word “praise” spoken not from the top of the mountain, but rather from that place where you thought you were done in, but somehow, you’re still kicking.

This is a Psalm that speaks of the kind praise you offer when you thought you wouldn’t see another day, but somehow you are still around when the sun comes up again.

This is a Psalm that expresses the kind of praise you speak aloud, but maybe only in a whisper, when you can only just catch your breath as you cling there to the edge of the gaping hole that opened up under your feet.

This is the praise you offer when you’ve been in a deep and dark place of grief, and now you see the beginnings of the dawn.

This is the praise you offer when you thought you’d never be happy again, or healthy or whole again, and yet, to your surprise, you are able to stand up once more on your own two feet, and you sense that maybe, just maybe, there could be some kind of light, or even lightness, about to enter your life again.

But I want to say again that this is praise poetry, not a praise prescription. It’s a song of hope, not a formula or a recipe. You don’t start with sadness, and then add a dash of faith, and mix well with a bold rescue, and then simmer with patience until finally you come out of the other end with relief and joy.

No, no, no. When David, the Psalmist, says, “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning,” he’s not giving a guarantee; he’s singing a song, his song, a song about his faith and his experience and how the two are intertwined. And he’s inviting the company of people, the congregation, to sing that song as well.

And it’s sung from a clear place of awareness, or realization, that it could have gone the other way. Everything that’s happened could have led to death. And maybe there is death threaded into the story of what’s happened. But in the end, the story has instead taken him to a place of affirmation and assurance…and life. David sees it this way, and sings it this way: “God has given me another chance at life.”

He isn’t saying it had to turn out this way. The poetry is not a “this is the way it is” statement; it’s an “I believe” statement: I believe that “weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” I can’t prove it. I can’t quantify it. I can’t guarantee it…but I believe it.

I’ve seen the top of the mountain (says David) and I’ve seen the bottom of the pit, and I know, (that is, it’s been my experience) that through all of it, God teaches us humility and teaches us trust; that God helps us when we need help; and that after the night, comes the morning; after the weeping is over, joy slips back into the space within us and around us – and fills that space with new possibility, new life. We can even turn our backs on God – and David confesses that at times he has done so – but it’s not too late to turn back. And as we turn back, there is God – facing us, helping us. And tears turn to rejoicing.

My German grandmother used to say something that seems quite different: “Nach lachen kommt weinen” -- after laughter comes tears. And what she meant is that when a small child laughs and laughs and laughs, at some point that laughter will (quite literally) lead to tears. Children can become so overcome with emotions, that the things they feel most deeply can get mixed together and turned inside out – and before they can reel the emotions back in, laughter can become tears.

David seems to be suggesting the opposite, in a way: that tears can give way to laughter. But I wonder if it’s maybe the same thing from the other direction: that the feelings we have and hold most deeply – feelings of grief or despair – have the same root as a feeling like relief or gratitude. Because when you are opened up, things that matter can pour in and pour out; and maybe hope and despair aren’t that far apart. Maybe joy only comes into clearest focus after the weeping, like the dawn comes after the night.

In 2011, my oldest son Rainer, now a college student, was 14 years old. He had been to sailing camp at Camp Mack, and he got the “sailing bug,” so much so that he took steps to find and buy his own small 12 foot Aquacat catamaran sailboat, purchased with a loan from me and paid off with money made from chores and small jobs.

That summer, during my sabbatical, I decided to take each of my children individually on a father/child trip or activity. For Rainer, I chose a sailing school in Maryland on the Chesapeake Bay. The plan was that we would go to sailing school, take the American Sailing Association 101 course that would certify us as qualified sailors, and then we would rent a 22 foot sailboat and sail on the bay ourselves.

The course was with a certified captain, and the students were Rainer and I and an older couple from Pennsylvania. I already told you why Rainer and I were there, but the older couple, Eric and Joanne, were there because (from as much as they would tell us), there had been some sort of sailing incident on the lake where they lived and Joanne decreed that even though Eric had served in the Navy and in his opinion, that meant that he was a sailor, they would not go out on their boat again until they had taken some lessons.

As you might imagine, Rainer was the star sailing student, I was okay, and Eric and Joanne struggled. Rainer didn’t learn a lot that he didn’t already know; I felt like I learned quite a bit, especially on the technical and terminology side of it; Eric and Joanne studied the sailing information book with great dedication and concentration, but seemed to have a harder time applying the concepts to actually sailing on the water, so they needed more time at the helm, and more instruction from the sailing instructor.

Their inability slowed us down a lot, and instead of moving as quickly as we had been promised toward more active sailing, for the first couple of days we worked on simple concepts over and over again, sailing in small circles a stone’s throw away from the marina. For Rainer, it was kind of depressing.

But the last day of our course, the captain said we would sail out in the bay, practicing moving up and down the bay in the boat channels. Rainer and I were excited, but that morning the fog was thick and it was raining.

Sailing is all about the weather, right? The captain kept us on a short leash that morning. By noon the weather was getting better, but our day of sailing was almost done, since we had to go in and take the test to pass the course. We did take the test, we passed, we said goodbye to our classmates.

As we left the marina that afternoon, I wondered whether our final day would be any better. Nothing so far had lived up to what I had hoped for. Rainer had been patient (at least outwardly) and I was proud of him for that, but I had had so much expectation, and I imagined he had as well. And well, this wasn’t the way I thought it would be.

The next morning, our last day in Havre de Grace, we returned to the marina to rent our boat and sail for the day. On our own at last, I was a little nervous, but my 14-year-old didn’t seem concerned in the least. We got our boat and out we went. It was a glorious day – bright, beautiful, breezy. A perfect day to be on the bay.

And so, after a series of days that hadn’t been quite what we had hoped they would be, we got the day we wished for and we sailed – for hours. Back and forth and back and forth across the bay. Rainer at the tiller, making the decisions and steering the boat; me sliding back and forth, ducking the boom, pulling in or letting out or tying off lines as instructed.

Finally, after a long time, late in the day, Rainer looked at me and apologized. It had only just occurred to him, he said, that I must not be having fun. What he meant was that he had been making all the decisions and I had just been doing what I was told, sliding back and forth under the boom.

I said “Why don’t you think I’m having fun?” He said, “You don’t look happy.” I said, “Do I look unhappy?” “No,” he said. “You don’t look unhappy, but you don’t look happy either – so I can’t tell whether you’ve enjoyed this or not.”

And maybe he was right about that – maybe my face wasn’t smiling all day, but in fact, I was happy. And although perhaps my face hadn’t revealed it, there were a lot of good and complex things that were happening in my heart and mind that day – things finally untangling, a feeling of relief slipping in, and a real sense of joy starting to…finally…bubble up.

My father had died two years before that. And that day, as we sailed back and forth on the bay, I was thinking about how my father used to take me sailing when I was a boy. What I remembered most from those times, was him at the tiller and me and my sister moving back and forth under the boom. It was eerily similar – almost as if for that day of sailing on the Chesapeake, I was in a way transported back in time, except my son became my father. But it wasn’t just that.

Maybe you know about the joy of seeing your child fully exploring and experiencing something they are passionate about. And you just happen to be lucky enough to have a front row seat to seeing it. But because you are more than a spectator, because you’re a helper, your child doesn’t really notice you watching and so you see even more clearly how much he or she is enjoying it. So that was happening, but it was not just that either.

On one trip across the bay, we caught the perfect wind, and we started going at a really fast clip and it felt a little bit like we were flying, and so there’s the physical sensation of joy. But it was not just that either.

There was this as well: I had one particular moment during the day when I vividly sensed my father’s spiritual or maybe emotional presence – so strongly, so acutely, that it brought tears of joy and gratitude to my eyes – tears that the wind then wiped from my face. It was that sense that sometimes, blessedly, things come full circle, and that endings touch beginnings, and that after the nighttime, the sun shines again.

I wrote later in my sabbatical journal that my father would have been proud of us that day. But that wasn’t it. I felt like my father was with us that day. And although grief unwinds in all different kinds of ways, and at all different points along the way, that particular day sailing on the Chesapeake was a turning point in my grieving I think. Joy snuck up on me on a beautiful day on the bay as I watched my son having a full day of supreme confidence and enjoyment, and I got to come along. And this week when I read again “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning,” that’s what I thought about.

What’s your story about weeping fading away and joy coming into view? Where was the turn? When did things come full circle? When was the moment when relief and gratitude became the solid ground again under your feet? Or perhaps the wind in your sail?

For me, one such moment was on the Chesapeake, but I think it will come again. I think that God is ready to meet us again, to redeem our lives, to change our weeping into joy.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow.  

Amen.

 

Benediction: (From the senior high youth song)

Grief may tarry for a while,

but it’s gonna get better.

Yes it is.

Amen.

 

Kurt Borgmann

Manchester Church of the Brethren

February 11, 2018