Ocean depths and sun’s rays

Birthday weekend is over! Whew! Chef Em (with me acting as her assistant) created her second cake in two days. This one is Jake's. I couldn't get the black writing on brown frosting to be bright enough in my camera lens, so here is what it said: Happy Birthday, Jedi Jake. Star Wars." The light saber is rice crispy treat covered in frosting and then in marshmallow fondant.

This past week I ran across the hymn “Oh Love that will not let me go” and was amazed at how much it speaks to the questions about significance that I’ve been writing about lately. So I did some research on the hymn writer: George Matheson (1842-1906), a man who experienced the failure of several significant dreams. He was born with poor eyesight, and it progressively grew worse until he went completely blind at age 18. That was when his fiancé decided she couldn’t be married to a blind man and broke off their engagement. Still, Matheson didn’t give up on his other passion: study. He was an excellent student, but he couldn’t become the scholar he wanted to without being able to read. His sister learned Latin, Greek, and Hebrew so she could read to him. He graduated from university and wrote a book on theology, that—though critics called it brilliant— contained several serious research errors. Matheson realized he couldn’t pursue scholarship at the level he wanted without the use of his eyes. He became a pastor instead and was able to memorize Scripture and his sermons so well that first-time listeners often did not realize he was blind.

Despite his fruitful ministry as a preacher, it was not his first dream, and Matheson saw his life as “an obstructed life, a circumscribed life… but a life of quenchless hopefulness, a life which has beaten persistently against the cage of circumstance, and which even at the time of abandoned work has said not ‘Good night’ but ‘Good morning.’”

Wow!

The blows continued. On the night of his sister’s wedding (the same sister who learned languages for him, his very close companion), Matheson, forty years old, never married, was alone at home. He wrote this about that night: “Something happened to me, which was known only to myself, and which caused me the most severe mental suffering. The hymn {“Oh Love That Will Not Let Me Go”} was the fruit of that suf­fer­ing. It was the quick­est bit of work I ever did in my life. I had the im­press­ion of hav­ing it dic­tat­ed to me by some in­ward voice ra­ther than of work­ing it out my­self. I am quite sure that the whole work was com­plet­ed in five min­utes, and equal­ly sure that it ne­ver re­ceived at my hands any re­touch­ing or cor­rect­ion. I have no na­tur­al gift of rhy­thm. All the other vers­es I have ever writ­ten are man­u­fact­ured ar­ti­cles; this came like a day­spring from on high.”

These are the words to that hymn:

Oh Love that will not let me go

I rest my weary soul in thee

I give thee back the life I owe

That in Thine ocean depths its flow

May richer, fuller be

O light that followest all my way,
I yield my flickering torch to thee;
My heart restores its borrowed ray,
That in thy sunshine’s blaze its day
May brighter, fairer be.

O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.

O Cross that liftest up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from thee;
I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
And from the ground there blossoms red
Life that shall endless be.

I obviously don’t know what Matheson’s “mental suffering” was, but I imagine him feeling thwarted, insignificant, and alone. But God gave him the image of his life being a small stream joining with the ocean, and somehow, in that joining, finding true significance. Matheson saw his little flame shining bright and true in the blaze of God’s great shining Son. In the middle of deep disappointment he heard God’s whisper: “Look for the rainbow. Morning is coming.” I know I’m just repeating his images, but they are powerful and vivid, and they bear repetition.

I also read I Corinthians 3 and 4 this week. Paul didn’t hold any punches when he warned the church at Corinth of the dangers of seeking significance the way the world around them did. “I follow Paul,” said one; “I’m an Apollos guy,” said another. It sounds a lot like the things we glory in today: our friends or acquaintances, degrees or experiences, responsibilities and accomplishments, and our STUFF.

But Paul has a lot to say about that: God’s wisdom is different. Don’t put men and men’s “stuff” in places of importance. You belong to Christ and God, not yourselves. Everything you “have” is a gift—how can you boast in it when it is provided FOR you and is not of your own making? Why are you pursuing the world’s values when you have the example of Christ—and now of the apostles—living for the purposes of eternity?

I think Paul would have liked Matheson’s song. I think he, too, would have sung, “O Cross that liftest up my head, I dare not ask to fly from thee; I lay in dust life’s glory dead, and from the ground there blossoms red, life that shall endless be.”

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