What Can I Say?

One of my hangups as a writer (a blogger, a liturgist, a preacher, all of it) is: What can I possibly say?

In this nightmarish time in our history, what can I say that hasn’t already been said, been said better, been said by people who are better equipped? Why should anyone read me, listen to me? I wouldn’t, if I were you. That’s the truth. There is nothing I can say that is more worth your time than many, many other writers, bloggers, pray-ers, preachers out there. They’re speaking all our fears and griefs and hopes. You should go find them. I am.

Still, I have a commitment to myself to keep reflecting in this space, so here, in the middle of a nightmare, I am trying to make words.

This blog post isn’t so much what I’m thinking (like everyone, I have a lot of thoughts), or what two cents I want to get into the conversation (like everyone, I have a lot more than two cents). There’s a spiritual discipline to shutting up and listening. So instead, this post is about a couple of unexpected things I’ve “heard” in the past few days, and that I’m still listening for in the uncertain days ahead.

I hear the cloud of witnesses.

As I’ve written (many times) before, we moved mid-Covid-life to a new city and state. We’ve lived here nearly five months now and my kids have never met their teachers. We don’t have a church. We have one relative who lives in town; apart from her, and my husband’s work colleagues, we know no one.

I can “introvert” with the best of ’em, but even I feel isolated… on a good day. And these aren’t good days. These are days when we most need community, kindred. We need griefs and fears and hopes shared.

On Thursday last week, the day after hell broke loose, I tried to turn attention to Bible study for the curriculum unit I am supposed to be writing. (What will church folks need to hear in fifteen months? What will “normal life” and church life even look like then? I have a great imagination, but I can’t imagine.) But I set out as I always do in the initial stage of curriculum-prep: I got out my Bible and my standby commentaries. And I opened to the intro page so I could jot down the info I’ll need for the bibliography.

And (because apparently I am a giant weird baby) I dissolved in tears.

Fred Craddock was my mentor’s mentor. I spent the last year of my seminary education listening to hundreds of hours of Dr. Craddock’s sermons, transcribing hundreds of “Craddock stories” for a book my professor was compiling. Once when my prof had a schedule conflict, he gave me his ticket to a dinner event where Dr. Craddock would be preaching, and neglected to tell me his seat at the dinner was right next to Fred. (He probably didn’t tell me on purpose, because he knew I wouldn’t have taken the ticket if I had known!) Dr. Craddock’s voice in my head… his presence in the pulpit… my introvert awkwardness at the table… the great gift of mentorship passed down, “pay-ed forward” by an insightful (if sneaky) teacher…

All it took was the sight of that book page to make me feel, suddenly, less alone.

There is a cloud of witnesses, friends, though we may not always sense it. (And yes, I have tears running down my face as I write this. #giantweirdbaby) We are part of generations, not only of biology but—perhaps more vitally—of faith, of hope through hateful days, of sermons and stories and songs in the darkness. However alone we may feel—however alone we may be—there is a communion of saints gathered around us. I’m listening for their voices.

God, help me to make them proud.

I hear the people sing.

One of my “new year” practices is daily music, whether it’s violin or ukulele or piano. On Thursday I couldn’t muster the physical effort for violin (my shoulders and neck were holding too much tension already) so I sat at the piano and flipped through a book of hymns. My much-neglected piano skills only allow for the simplest noodling, but I played some “Rejoice, the Lord is King,” and a little bit of “O beautiful for spacious skies.”

I tried “Abide With Me,” and I was surprised when it didn’t speak to me; it’s one of my comfort-food-song favorites, but the prayer for God’s presence felt like wishful thinking.

Then I came upon this.

It is not lost on me that “Nearer, My God, to Thee” was (at least by some accounts) the song the ship’s band played as the Titanic sank.

I hope we’re not sinking yet. I’m not convinced, but I hope. Hope is, after all, the “evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1), and right now all the visible evidence is very, very troubling. But what struck me about this song, compared to the prayer for God’s presence in “Abide with Me,” is that it takes the opposite viewpoint. Instead of saying, God, please come be with me, it says: God, let me be where you are. Wherever that is.

I can’t do much. That’s part of what is so overwhelming. I can watch the news, fear and fret, and then I have to go back to raising my children and studying for my writing project and doing the laundry and walking on the treadmill.

But I can listen. I can follow the voice of God, wherever it’s coming from, where I hear it in story and sermon and song. I can listen especially for need and hurt and fear, and I can get nearer, nearer… because God is already at work there, bringing comfort, and community, and courage. In the darkness, in this nightmare, our world seems to tilt sideways, and the reality is we may yet be pulled under. I’m listening for the voice of God, so I can know where to go.

God, help me to hear you. Help me to follow you, and to find you, and to join you at work.

And help me to go in peace.

Quotation from Fred B. Craddock; artwork by Suzanne L. Vinson.

4 thoughts on “What Can I Say?

  1. I want to read your writings Nikki. They strike me as honest. And this time I feel an urgency to respond. I’ve cried for you this last week Nikki, and prayed for your country. I’ve felt a suffering a despair that I hear in you.
    I’ve been suffering from covid since Christmas Day, having a week of being unable to breathe properly, heart rate soaring and coughing myself dry (sick until I had nothing left to cough up) and had a day in hospital being monitored and put on a fluids drip and sent home with injections and the encouragement ‘it will get easier’. It’s been scary – and I’m only in the ‘moderately ill’ group. My mind takes over at times like this, it becomes the thing that could drag me down if I let it. Memories, thoughts and the worst of the situation come to the forefront of my mind and make me want to give up. I’ve had to remind myself to live, to fight. I’ve beenputting on music to take me out of my fear and into resting in Him. I’ve literally had to fight my brain which has wanted to give up. ‘You [God] are the air I breathe’ from a worship song became my mantra when I couldn’t breathe and ‘you have a plan for me’, Jeremiah29 verse 11, became my mantra – words I repeated to myself over and over.
    I’m through the worst of my covid suffering now but am left weak still with a heartbeat racing one minute and going oh so slow thel next, headaches, body aches and so, so tired. And I can’t get back to work yet, and that makes me sad, so sad. But I can’t give up. I must battle on.
    We must go on. I’ve learnt, through past times of struggle, that we can grab a hold onto Him. Not just potter by His side, remembering Him but not really trusting, but grab a hold – let Him be our lifebelt rescuing us, keeping us afloat, and then, when we are able we can swim to shore and move on. I’m doing some study (just a little) on taking claim of my thoughts – channeling the despair and distraction to praise and worship. I’m searching for God in it all, with my whole heart, Jeremiah 29 verses 12 and 13 and I’m praying so hard for Him to restore, verse 14. I’m playing worship songs – and listening to my husband learning the ukele so he can ‘Praise Him on trumpet, psaltery and harp’ – a worship he is encouraging the whole church at home to get into instead of just sitting by and spectating our faith. I can’t do much at the moment – this is making my brain ache to write – so I am using my lifebelt a lot to keep me afloat but I am battling as I am able.
    Keep battling Nikki, and everyone reading this. Keep a hold of the one who is in control – whatever is going on (and I cannot even imagine the trauma you are suffering). Do indeed look for ways to reach out, to your family – giving them stability is great – to your work. And listen and stay close to God. And pray, pray as never before. I fear that is the best we can do. Pray, remembering that it’s not how good the speaker (I struggle to always say what I mean in my prayers and I trail off badly at the end ‘you know what I mean Lord… ‘) but it is but how good the listener is. He hears, He cares.
    And Nikki, keep on writing. You inspire me, encourage me and challenge me. I need that. Thank you

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  2. Beautiful words, Nikki. I can’t imagine moving during a pandemic, what a most difficult thing in the midst of the most difficult of times. I, too, am thankful for the cloud of witnesses. I am thankful for you, also.

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  3. This is just what I needed. I’ve been thinking a lot about the cloud of witnesses. One of the recent additions wears a Hawaiian shirt–at least in my imagination.

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