Archive | January 2014

“Just As I Am”–a story of the hymn

Just as I am, without one plea

but that thy blood was shed for me,

and that thou bidd’st me come to thee,

O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

     I spent my teen-age years in a church where an invitation to “accept Jesus as your personal Saviour” was extended at the end of each service.  Those desiring to do so were asked to walk down the aisle to the front of the sanctuary.  Often we sang “Just As I Am” as the preacher persistently urged folks to make this big decision.  And often, as we sang verse after verse after verse of this hymn, I would nervously twitch in my seat.  Yes, I knew myself to be a child of God, but the preacher would always remind us that maybe we weren’t being all that we should be, that maybe we needed to re-commit our lives to Jesus.  Should I go forward (again!) or shouldn’t I?  Was it time to re-commit myself to Jesus and determine to live a more godly life?  Or was I (more or less) okay? 

     For years into my adult life I was simply unable to sing “Just As I Am.”  Any beauty of the hymn had been buried for me in a shroud of memories of those long sessions of unhealthy introspection during the seemingly endless singing of the hymn in my teen years.  I was relieved to be worshiping in churches that didn’t offer end-of-service invitations.  Relieved that this hymn was seldom, if ever, sung.

***

Just as I am, though tossed about

with many a conflict, many a doubt,

fightings and fears within, without,

O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

     Years later, well into my mid-life years and after I had been trained and then ordained as a pastor, I was preparing one day for a Sunday service when we would be celebrating the sacrament of Holy Communion in our church.  Knowing that some in the congregation were struggling with difficult issues in their lives, some with guilt, and some with questions about their faith, I wanted to find a hymn that would re-assure us all that God always receives us at God’s holy table, asking only that we come with open, penitent hearts.  Leafing through the hymnbook, suddenly I saw it—“Just As I Am”—an invitation so clear, so simple.  The shroud faded away, and I now saw in this hymn a beautiful invitation to come to God’s Table just as we are, with our sinfulness, with our doubts, with our fears.  To come and receive in the bread and in the wine the unbounded, immeasurable love of God.

     Who had written this hymn, I wondered?  And what were the circumstances in which it had been written?  I did some research and learned that the author, Charlotte Elliot, had become an invalid at 30 years of age and remained an invalid until her death at age 82 in 1871.  In the early years of her illness, she became depressed, and struggling with doubts, fears, anger, and many questions, she felt very distant from God.  In time, a spiritual advisor helped her by suggesting she come to God “just as she was”—bringing herself to God, not trying to be a pious, uncomplaining saint who quietly accepted her unhappy lot, but rather as a person filled with anger, fear, and doubt.  To bring herself to God “just as she was.”  Charlotte followed his advice, and she soon found herself embraced in a strong sense of God’s acceptance and love.  She later wrote this hymn about her experience.

     After this “discovery,” I often used this hymn to lead my congregation into the holy, joyous solemnity of a communion service.  Now, in my retirement, as I sit in the pews rather than presiding from the pulpit, I am often delighted to sing this hymn with the choir and the congregation during the service of the holy supper, as I receive the elements and hear those life-giving words, “the body of Christ given for you,” and “the blood of Christ shed for you.”

***

Just as I am, thou wilt receive,

wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;

because thy promise I believe,

O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

 

Just as I am; thy love unknown

has broken every barrier down;

now to be thine, yea, thine alone,

O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

     We sang this hymn during Holy Communion this past Sunday.  The words echoed in my soul as I returned to my pew, and I found myself thinking, “I do believe that this may well be one of the hymns I would like to have sung at my funeral some day.”  For at the moment of my death, I thought, I will be no closer to sainthood than I am now, but I can be assured that, even then, “just as I am, thou wilt receive, wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve .”  At the moment of my death, I also realized, the very last barrier between me and the God who died for me will at last be broken down by that unknown, unbounded love of God.  I will be free, free at last, to savor the heavenly feast in God’s nearer presence, with loved ones, with friends, with all the saints who have gone before.  And who knows, I wondered, who knows—perhaps as we kneel before the Lamb, we just might sing together: 

Just as I am, without one plea,

but that thy blood was shed for me,

and that thou bidd’st me come to thee,

O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

 

 

Misty Morning Lament

misty morning

I wake to dampness

dripping from the eaves;

dank shadows lurk in

trees and creep across my

bed; my limbs hang limp, the

moisture seeping into bones;

my eyes are filled with gray as

far as they can see—not very

far; my world is almost gone.

A siren slices through the rain that

beats hard on my window, shouting

wet disdain for all our loneliness and pain.

Are we still here?  Have we, too,

vanished in this soggy mist?  The siren

moans again, its wail an echo of the

ancient cry, “O God, hide not your face from me.” 

O God, hide not your face;

shower our dark, O God, with your light,

reminding us that we are here;

reminding us that so are you.

New Eyes for a New Year

006 - Copy - Copy

I ask this year for eyes—new eyes to see, to really see—

the shimmer of a winter sun dappled through the emptiness of trees;

the cosmic black of tiny titmouse eye—the sense of awe, the touch of

fear, the gravity so far beyond his tiny self;

for eyes to see the anxious twitch of squirrel tail, paws scrabbling

desperate through snow to find his hidden cache—how can I not forgive his

intermittent thieving from the feeders for the birds?

For eyes to read the poems of the wind, lines ragged,

harsh at times, but often soft and rhythmic, even kind; for eyes to

fathom something of the hallowedness in all this vibrant

life that breathes and dances just beyond my door.

*

I ask this year for eyes—new eyes to see, to really see—

the dazzle of imago dei just behind the masks that

greet me in the store or on the street;

to see the loneliness that hunches gray beside the

widower who sits near me in church;

to see the hope that glimmers in the hand of a child reaching

up and up and up.

*

I ask this year for eyes, new eyes—

that reach beyond my narrow life to vision

mother huddled in the soundless cold, her

children’s hollow eyes the only paintings on her

walls, confined now to a tent among the

rows and rows of tents that shelter

other refugees; for eyes that reach to

frame so many lives that ache with yearning for the

simplest things—food and water, schools, and freedom from

hostility and war that has defined, consumed all

they have ever known.

*

This year—no resolutions; just the

wish, the hope, the prayer, for new, unshuttered

eyes that open up my soul and

let the world come in.