The first time I recall truly thinking about what the future held for me was during the summer of 1961 as I was about to enter the fourth grade. My older sister graduated from high school earlier that spring. She made several trips visiting colleges across the country, trying to decide where she’d spend the next four years. And, on one of those trips she brought me a t-shirt that read “Calvin College, Class of 19??”

Now my first thought upon getting this gift was that she had no idea when I would graduate from college, if ever, hence the “19??” But the more I pondered this, the more I thought about the future and what it might hold. As a fourth grader, my thoughts about what lay ahead were more whimsical and fantastical then grounded in reality: in a world where there’d be flying cars, TV wrist watches a la Dick Tracy, space travel. And I thought of the year 2000: would I even be alive? After all I’d be 48, definitely ancient!

I don’t remember how much thought I gave to the future after that; who remembers what goes through the minds of 9 year-olds or 12 or 14 year-olds? But what I do remember with a great deal of clarity is the summer of 1968, a time of turmoil and upheaval – and feelings of uncertainty about the future.

As I was beginning to think about my college career – where I’d go and what I’d study – what really colored my world, was the state of the present. In a world where there were assassinations ((MLK, RFK); the Prague Spring; widespread protests against racism, sexism, and the Vietnam war; the rise of the Black Panthers; the demonstrations at the Democratic National Convention; and the political statement made by Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the ‘68 Summer Olympics, the lesson learned was that nothing was secure – not in the present, and certainly not in the future. Insecurity and apprehension reigned; revolution seemed imminent, but what would inevitably stand is the historical view that 1968 was the year that changed America forever.

Thoughts of the future, however, shifted and eventually were tempered by college graduation, marriage, a professional career, children, grad school, job advancement – factors that seemingly demanded immediate attention, here and now, with that occasional glance toward retirement and the golden years.

Yet, today, the Spring of 2020, in a world where we see the rise of a pandemic, the fear rises once again that nothing is secure. We turn on the news, and the airwaves fill us with anxiety and trepidation. This is not the way we envisioned the future, not this moment. Are we facing the end?

In 1987, REM released the Document album which contained the track, “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine).” The song is known for its quick flying, seemingly stream of consciousness rant with a number of diverse references, from Leonid Brezhnev to Lenny Bruce to the Rapture, and now, in this moment in 2020, it’s becoming popular once again.

That’s great, it starts with an earthquake
Birds and snakes, an aeroplane
Lenny Bruce is not afraid
Eye of a hurricane, listen to yourself churn
World serves its own needs, don’t misserve your own needs
Speed it up a notch . . .

Left of west and coming in a hurry
With the Furies breathing down your neck
Team by team, reporters baffled, trumped, tethered, cropped . . .

Uh oh, overflow, population, common food
But it’ll do, save yourself, serve yourself.
World serves its own needs, listen to your heart bleed
Tell me with the Rapture and the reverent in the right . . .

It’s the end of the world as we know it
It’s the end of the world as we know it
It’s the end of the world as we know it
And I feel fine

Mike Mills, Michael Stipe, Peter Buck & Bill Berry

1987

We are filled with anxiousness – not only for ourselves, but also for those we love deeply and care about, both family and friends. What will happen to us? To them? What will happen next – next week, next month, next year? Will there even be a next year? And with those questions, we invariably question God – why, why is this happening? What are we to do? Even King David had his moments of despair –

1 I cry to the Lord; I call and call to him. Oh, that he would listen. 2 I am in deep trouble and I need his help so much. All night long I pray, lifting my hands to heaven, pleading. There can be no joy for me until he acts. 3 I think of God and moan, overwhelmed with longing for his help. 4 I cannot sleep until you act. I am too distressed even to pray! 5 I keep thinking of the good old days of the past, long since ended. 6 Then my nights were filled with joyous songs. I search my soul and meditate upon the difference now.

13 O God, your ways are holy. Where is there any other as mighty as you? 14 You are the God of miracles and wonders! You still demonstrate your awesome power.

Psalm 77: 1 – 6, 13 – 14 (TLB)

Like David, what we seek, what we really want is comfort and reassurance. And where do we go for that?

Since the New Year began, I’ve been using the sermons of the late Eugene Peterson as the basis for my Sunday school lessons, using two of his books – Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places and When Kingfishers Catch Fire – as resources. Both of these books look to the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins as inspiration, notably these lines:

. . .  myself,  it speaks and spells,

Crying What I do is me: for that I came.

 

I say more: the just man justices;

Keeps grace: that keeps all his goings graces;

Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is—

Christ. For Christ plays in ten thousand places,

Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his

To the father through the features of men’s faces.

 

from “As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame”

Gerard Manley Hopkins (1877)

In a world where all seems to chaotic, what I’ve found is that reading, reflection, and prayer have provided moments of solace and respite to those pressing questions, and part of that reading for me  has been the poetry of Hopkins and that found in Psalms and Isaiah. Consider the following . . .

49-50 Never forget your promises to me your servant, for they are my only hope. They give me strength in all my troubles; how they refresh and revive me!  52b  . . . your Word has been my comfort.

Psalm 119: 49 – 50, 52b (TLB)

1“Comfort, yes, comfort my people,” says your God. 2 “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and tell her that her sad days are gone. Her sins are pardoned, and I have punished her in full for all her sins.”

3 Listen! I hear the voice of someone shouting, “Make a road for the Lord through the wilderness; make him a straight, smooth road through the desert. 4 Fill the valleys; level the hills; straighten out the crooked paths, and smooth off the rough spots in the road. 5 The glory of the Lord will be seen by all mankind together.” The Lord has spoken—it shall be.

Isaiah 40: 1 – 5 (TLB)

Isaiah declares the promise of comfort in the form of the Savior. Job, who more than any other, faced trials no one could imagine, declared . . .

25 “But as for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and that he will stand upon the earth at last. 26 And I know that after this body has decayed, this body shall see God! 27 Then he will be on my side! Yes, I shall see him, not as a stranger, but as a friend! What a glorious hope!

Christ himself promised His disciples, and us, that He would provide comfort for us with the reassurance He would not leave us, as Hopkins noted “For Christ plays in ten thousand places . . .”

15-17a “If you love me, obey me; and I will ask the Father and he will give you another Comforter, and he will never leave you.  He is the Holy Spirit, the Spirit who leads into all truth . . .  18 No, I will not abandon you or leave you as orphans in the storm—I will come to you.

John 14: 15 – 17a, 18 (TLB)

And while you’re reading, check this out . . .

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/irreverin/2020/03/how-to-keep-being-church-when-church-is-canceled/

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