It happened again the other day…
We’re reading a Bible chapter a day for supper devotions (Genesis—front—to Revelation—back) and, after slogging through Isaiah’s seemingly endless bad-news-for-the-nations chapters, we finally came to a gorgeously familiar part which ended with phrases that instantly awakened an old rousing conference song:
“…therefore the redeemed of the Lord
and come with singing into Zion,
and everlasting joy shall…”
and then came the “it”: for the rest of the evening, I couldn’t stop humming the tune! It was mostly nourishing: past joys coming to mind, holy visions dancing around the edges of an often-creaking retired body—humming a remembered tune can almost carry you. However, when it begins to interfere with sleep, well…
Psalm 112 provided that same kind of jolt for me.
The Psalm reading for this epiphany day is a wisdom poem underlining the trajectory of the righteous life. For the one
“who fears the Lord…who
is gracious and compassionate and
righteous and generous and lends freely
and conducts his/her affairs with justice”,
blessings abound, and they are delicious (just reread the psalm), and, as the wise know, they abound in the long run.
It was the line from verse 4 that unlocked my memory bank:
“…even in darkness light dawns”,
and, at this, a tune rushed back from an old LP that I knew I’d find downstairs in my crumbling collection. I took the time to page through and found…ah, James Ward, “No Bad News”, from the album “Faith Takes A Vision” (1981). The song offers his take on Psalm 112. In it, he captures the chapter’s spirit well, and, appropriately, the lines that repeat most often are these:
“he won’t fear no bad news,”
“even in darkness light dawns
for the gracious and upright.”
I’ve been replaying it for weeks, spinning it from the turntable and from the strings of my heart as I’m walking my dog or reading my novel or shoveling the snow:
“he won’t fear no bad news,
steady as she goes….”
It’s a catchy tune and I can’t get it out of my head, which I thank God for (mostly) because it’s a pretty good and wise set of words for navigating this groaning 2017 creation and world. These days, there’s plenty of bad news, and even plenty of things to fear, but I keep humming the tune—sometimes against my will:
“even in darkness light dawns,
even in darkness, light.”
Humming the tune doesn’t help me escape the bad and the dark, but it keeps putting things in perspective, reminding me that incredible words have been spoken over me and my baptized body that no bad news and no just-plain-bad can touch, showing me slivers of the light from the kingdom come and coming that is just about out of reach.
My favorite “humming” story comes out of a 2nd world war prisoner camp in Japan. It was a place of torture and humiliation—awful. Each day, the sloughing prisoners were paraded out to work fields in sweltering heat: unfed, unwashed, miserable. But one of them was a hummer, “and he as he watched and waited ‘til his billy boiled.” The guards were not familiar with “Waltzing Matilda”, but some of the other prisoners were, and eventually they joined in. The tune, they said, awoke images—images of home and wide open spaces and coral reefs and Tilda—and pretty soon there was a choir of hummers, and the guards were left unaware of the hopefulness and the defiance and the joy with which the song filled the prisoners, and the way it kept them going through some of the darkest cruelties recorded in those years.
Most of us are not nearly in that kind of place, but following the God of Psalm 112 who is revealed fully in Jesus—loving what the Lord loves and hating what the Savior hates—has enough potential, of burden, joy, disappointment, pleasant surprise, doubt, and faith, to need the occasional tune worth humming. Let one find you.
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