My wife took our three young kids to her parents’ house this week to add some variety to the suddenly three-week spring break produced by coronavirus-related school closures. The kids are enjoying the longer break and playing with cousins, while I finish up taxes and knock out some “honey-do’s” in the midst of adjusting to my new pajama-clad work-from-home reality.
I left the house for a couple errands today. OK, I drove to Chicken Express to indulge in a delicious, single-colored meal that has become my tradition when my wife is out of town. I love it, and she (the healthier and more grown-up in our house) does not. At the stoplight across from the fast-food joint, though, my salivation was interrupted by something I haven’t heard in years: the bells of the old church on the corner.
They weren’t chiming the hour; no, they were resonating with the ancient melody and haunting harmony of a Scottish hymn from 1847. I hadn’t heard the song since my childhood, but today I was transported back to the United Methodist sanctuary of my upbringing. I found myself humming along, even recalling some words:
Abide with me, fast falls the even tide;
The darkness deepens, Lord with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, o, abide with me.
So there I sat, waiting for the light to turn green. Part of me hoped it wouldn’t. Because in the midst of a chaotic week, surrounded by layers of global uncertainty, I found myself — for just a moment — at peace.
GOOD NEWS IN THE MIDST OF CHAOS
Church bells date back to at least the A.D. 400’s and were popular across Europe by the Middle Ages before they spread globally. They towered over their cities and (literally) rang forth news. Sometimes they tolled bad news, warning townspeople of things like wars and fires. But more often they reminded people of good news, calling people to worship God, to remember and proclaim Jesus’ death and resurrection through communion, and to pause for prayer.
Once church bells became more sophisticated, they not only marked time, but throughout the day they would do what the one at my stoplight did: they would play melodies to common hymns. Their hearers would recall the words within each hymn. And whatever people were doing, at a given moment in their everyday lives, they would be reminded of some element of God’s truth, set to music.
Today we’re surrounded by noise: TV’s blast thousands of channels; audiobooks download in seconds; news blares through car speakers; music is accessible at the touch of a glass screen. And that’s just the external noise. Stimulation, social media, and stress fill our minds; busyness and buzzing devices distract us from our families; decision fatigue and dopamine fasts are new label. Politics take their toll, national division rings louder every day, and never-ending information streams ring into our ears. And without warning, a global pandemic suddenly towers over it all. Chaos seems to be the exclusive theme of our lives in this moment, in whatever variation it comes.
EVERYDAY REMINDERS OF A GREATER TRUTH
In uncertain times, some of us have a tendency to overreact. We need the truth of Jesus spoken into our souls. Some of us have a tendency to under-react. We need the truth of Jesus spoken into our souls too. We all need proverbial church bells in 2020. We need regular reminders in our lives to call us back to a quieter and slower life, even in the midst of today’s chaos. We need daily reminders of God, His goodness, and His power in the face of today’s uncertainty. We need people and disciplines that speak a greater truth to our souls. We need the Spirit of God to sound forth the true peace, joy, and hope of Christ reminding us that “when other helpers fail and comforts flee,” there is a greater “Help” who does “abide with me.”
It doesn’t have to be church bells. It could be a phone alarm, a helpful Tweet, a song, Bible verse, or an act of kindness. For one disciplined friend, it’s every time he sees a red car (really). The point is, we need reminders of truths that are more eternal, more true, and more sustaining than anything in this broken and fading world. Whether we walk through the valley of the shadow of death or feel like we’re at the edge of a cliff, God is a taller, stronger, and eternal Tower, whose bells toll only truth, not just on each hour but every moment, all day.
Somewhere, right now, there might be some bells reminding people of that.
A strong tower is the Lord our God, to shelter and defend us;
Our shield his arm, our sword his rod, against our foes befriend us.
That ancient Enemy, his gathering power we see, his terrors and his toils,
Yet victory with its spoils, Not earth but heaven shall send us.
Hymn 1: “Abide With Me.” Henry Lyte, 1847.
Hymn 2: “A Strong Tower is the Lord our God.” Martin Luther, circa 1500’s
How is Jesus inviting you to abide with Him today?
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