Monthly Archives: July 2016

“Out of the Depths I Cry to You, O Lord!”

 

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It’s amazing how often we can find ourselves within the pages of the biblical Book of Psalms. Consider Psalm 130.

I hope we’re not in this psalmist’s sandals often, but anyone who has lived very long can empathize with him. Hurting and almost hopeless, he writes, “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord!” And then he reveals something about the nature of this fallen world, the nature of needy humans, and the nature of our mighty and merciful God.

The rendering in The Message well paints the picture: “Help, God—the bottom has fallen out of my life! Master, hear my cries for help! Listen hard! Open your ears! Listen to my cries for mercy.”

A Latin term has at times served as a title for this psalm: De Profundis. Something that is “profound” is deep, and the word used for “depths” here has to do with deep waters.

The psalmist is saying, “I’m in trouble! I’m sinking in the deep waters. I’m headed down into dark oblivion! I can’t get myself out! Dear God, help!”

When you’re going down, it’s not a time for polite words: “If you don’t mind, would you help me, please? Ever so sorry to be a bother, but I really believe that I may be drowning.”

In Uganda, in 2007, my wife and I visited our sons who were then in Uganda, and son Joshua and I went rafting down the Nile. We had great guides, and most of the trip was incredibly beautiful. But part of the descent was through what has been called “five of the greatest kilometers of big volume white water on the planet.” (That famous section is lost now, submerged under waters piled up behind the new—in 2012—Bujagali Dam. I’m so glad we rafted it when we did.)

As we came to the Class 5 rapid named Silverback, we knew we’d be tossed out of the raft—yet again. But we wanted to ride it as long as we could. Outside the boat in that class of white water it is surprisingly difficult to get your breath even if you’re on the surface—and we soon weren’t. Cast into the depths and carried off underwater in different directions, we later both confessed that for several long dark moments, we thought drowning was not unlikely. (In the accompanying photo, Josh  & I are in the front of the raft, and headed, in every sense of the word, down.)

“O Lord, out of the depths I cry to you!”

You don’t have to go rafting down the Nile to understand the psalmist. Life has tumbled in, and gone are the illusions that we can handle it ourselves with our strength, our bank account and investments, our professional expertise, our uncommon common sense, our noble character. No! We’re going down, and we’re fresh out of wise words and self-help strategies.

Our words are cut down to three: “O God, help!” From the “depths,” we recognize God as our only help, our only hope. No longer foolish enough to assume we deserve anything, we plead instead for sheer mercy.

In the Lord, both we and the psalmist find forgiveness and mercy and hope. And we praise Him: “My soul waits for the Lord / more than watchmen wait for the morning.”

We can trust our God. He won’t leave us in the depths.

 

 

     You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

 

Copyright 2016 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

 

 


“We Have Given Our Hearts Away”

 

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In one of Jan Karon’s delightful “Mitford” books, the winsome Episcopal priest Father Tim Cavanaugh shares with his dear old organist some lines from the sonnet (1807) by Wordsworth:

The world is too much with us; late and soon,

Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;

Little we see in Nature that is ours;

We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!

I admit it: the English major under my hat has always felt a bit (a lot!) deficient with regard to poetry. I love Father Tim, but the good rector is not only a far better pastor than am I, he has a far better grasp on poetry!

But if I understand Wordsworth’s lines at all, I’m with him. The “world” is far too much “with us.” Twenty-four hour news, one of the scourges of our time, is at least 23 1/2 hours too much, a curse to our souls. And, yes, “getting and spending” occupy far too much of our precious time.

Forgetting that the real “bottom line” of our lives has nothing at all to do with the bottom line of any balance sheet, we hurry and scurry and worry our way through God’s gift of life, and barely pause to really “see” nature or, for that matter, beauty of any kind. We hardly notice the stealthy atrophying of our hearts, the shriveling of our souls.

Ah, but we produce, in hopes that the balance sheet nailed to our tombstone will be quite impressive.

I’m reminded of an interesting article from The Washington Post (“Pearls Before Breakfast” (4/8/07), by Gene Weingarten who tried a fascinating experiment with the invaluable aid of Joshua Bell, arguably the best classical violinist in the world.

At 7:51 on a Friday morning, the 39-year-old Bell stood by a trash can at the Metro subway stop at L’Enfant Plaza in Washing-ton, D.C., and played his violin for 43 minutes as a street musician. Tickets to hear this “street musician” routinely fetch three figures. And, by the way, this “street musician” was playing a $3.5 million Stradivarius violin.

As Joshua Bell played three of the most beautiful violin pieces ever written, the whole thing was captured on video. Sixty-three people walked by before one even slowed his pace. Of the 1,097 people who hurried by, 27 people, barely slowing down, threw $37.13 into his violin case. Seven stopped for just a minute to listen, but there was never a crowd. A few children wanted to stop, but their parents were far too rushed.

Many of those who get off the Metro at L’Enfant Plaza are government workers rushing off to crunch numbers and catalog regulations. Bureau-crats and bean counters rarely have time for beauty. But I’m afraid those of us whose lives they live to complicate have exactly the same disease.

We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!

 

      You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

  

 

Copyright 2016 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


A Decidedly Delusional Discourse in the Key of D

 

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I wonder why “D” words are so often downers?

Death, disease, depression, despair, desperation, divorce, doom, despondency, doldrums, detritus.

Decompose, destruct, deconstruct, demoralize, demonize.

Decrepit, dim-witted, dumb, disheartened, disemboweled (sorry), dead, discombobulated, dilapidated, dingy, delusional, desperate.

That last one’s a cheat. We’ve already listed its brother Darrell and its other brother Darrell: “despair” and “desperation.” Darn!

On, though, we go. Don’t forget dark, drear, and dreary. Cheating again. I admit it.

“It was a dark and stormy night.”

I don’t doubt it. I’m betting it was dreary, too. But I’ll betcha dollars to donuts that it wouldn’t have been half that dismal if it had been a night described with “J” words. It’s the “D” words that tend to be joyless and short on [exception noted] delight.

Just admit it. For general dreariness, the “Ds” double down. To get to the heart of “gloom, despair, and agony on me,” you go to the “Ds.”

In the, uh, duh, “D” section, the “Dis-” section (not to be confused with actual dissection) could easily fill up their own dreary chapter. Some of these we’ve already mentioned.

Disgraced, dishonored, disheartened, disenfranchised, discombobulated (my favorite).

Yeah, and a dodgy, downright whiny cut-rate word degraded as a verb, a word that was much more respectable as a noun: disrespect. Ironically, it’s used most by folks who are misbehaving and haven’t figured out that respect, unlike love, can’t be bestowed on demand. By its very nature, the real thing has to be earned.

But “demand” brings us back around to the “Ds” and a dismal start to a downer of a story.

“It really was a dark and dreary night. Demas Diddledeedump, quite frankly a bit of a dim-witted, disheartening, sometimes almost delusional doofus, dwelt in a dingy, dilapidated dive of a domicile, almost as dark and dreary as the night. He lodged with an attack dog, a defanged dachshund, amidst the decomposing detritus of what might be despondently described as a discombobulated and decidedly depressing life.” Hmm.

I admit it. This story, which I’ll not complete, and inDDDeed, this entire essay, isn’t worth a drat and has no particular direction. Since I write columns with points all the time, I figured it was high time for a pointless one.

But here’s a little bit of a blunt point, and if you have any wordsmithing in your blood, poetry in your soul, or any alliterative inclination, you’ll be cursing me in the key of D (which is easy) after you’ve read this. You see, if you breathe “D” air too long, all you can see is da Ds. A little like an ear-worm of a song, it’s more of a tongue-tying twist.

I’d suggest, as God’s people, we skip on over to H for hope, J for joy. Or just center on a different D. Just a little of God’s real Delight trumps a boatload of Ds of the depressing sort. That’s something delicious worth dwelling on.

 

     You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

Copyright 2016 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


Americans Need to Keep Hyphens in Perspective

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As an English major and an occasional copy editor, may I say that the hyphen, as tricky at times as it is versatile (think, confusingly, of dashes, en hyphens, em hyphens, etc.), is a noble and useful mark of punctuation. But it pays to keep hyphens in perspective.

In our present age and culture, the hyphen, too often seen as a mark of division, can serve us better as a mark of unity, all the more noble because that unity occurs in the richness of genuine and joyful diversity, as opposed to the insipid and sterile “politically correct” kind.

I’m just thinking, during this Independence Day week, that almost all of us in America can justly lay claim in one way or another to a hyphen. Some of us just got here. But many others of us are from families who have been in America for generations and are so mixed up genetically that our hyphens might actually extend for paragraphs. Even so, lots of us still have at least some idea of the parts of the world from whence many of our ancestors hailed. Hence, hyphens can happen.

My particular hyphen firmly links British with American. British-American.   I’ve never understood why we rarely, if ever, hear that particular hyphenated term of ancestral description. Prejudice? I don’t know. We hear of Italian-Americans, Polish-Americans, Spanish-Americans, Mexican-Americans, African-Americans, etc. Why don’t we hear of British-Americans? I’m not kidding. I really wonder.

In any case, in my case, the Shelburne & Caudle, Shropshire & Key blood mingling in my veins points back to merry old England. And, for what it’s worth, though I had nothing to do with my birth, I am absolutely okay with that. When I read the words of my personal heroes, like the man singly most responsible for leading in the defeat of Hitler in World War II, Winston Churchill (whose mother, by the way, was American and who himself near the end of his life received honorary American citizenship), I look back on the long history of British-American relations and am thankful for the exceptionally warm ties of friendship and, for most of their histories, faith, that have long bound England and America wonderfully and almost always together.

But what about your own hyphen and your own heroes? I can be happy with mine and at the same time be completely happy that you’re happy with yours. I guarantee you, I’m richer (and fatter) for having feasted on the food, enjoyed the flair, and learned to love a bunch of the customs that have come with lots of different hyphens to the nation that nurtures us all. We are first and foremost simply Americans, hyphens be celebrated or hyphens be hanged.

God, the Father of us all, hates divisiveness. He paid the highest price to unite his children. But he loves, celebrates, and makes possible genuine and joyful diversity of the very best and richest sort. If you doubt that, just visit a zoo. Or . . . America.

 

     You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

Copyright 2016 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

 


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