I knew I had to go to church on Sunday. It was essential, the priority. The beauty of church -community coming together in best and worst of times, made perfect through the gathering of imperfect people, joined by longing, need, celebration, joy. Our work, to show up. God’s work to complete.
When peace like a river attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.
I grew up singing these words, It is Well With my Soul. This hymn often sung in response to tragedy or suffering…a way to defy the hold of hopelessness, to proclaim the words, to own the redemption in the narrative God has been writing within human history, within our hearts. Rarely can I sing these lyrics, which I deeply love. I adore pairing my voice with others in church, claiming the harmony, the depth, the rise and fall of the notes, the words. This song, renders me mute, my emotions fail me. I fall apart, overcome, silently weeping throughout.
Part of the reason for the difficulty I face lies in the history of the hymn itself. In 1873, Horatio Spafford, penned the lyrics in response to the tragic death of his four daughters. Standing aboard a vessel, en route to meet his surviving wife, these words were recorded while he stood over the location of the accident, the bodies below.
The agony, the trust, the questioning, the grief…
My sin – O the joy of this glorious thought
My sin, not in part, but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more:
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O My soul!
Yet, isn’t it in our suffering, in our terror, our wounded-ness where we get to see the heart of Jesus? Isn’t this where we get to enter into the life of another? When we can set aside our differences, our prejudices, our principles and seek to understand, to enter into the questions? Our suffering binds us to the suffering wounds of Jesus. The suffering eventually leads us to a place where we can croak in a weepy mess and eventually proclaim: It Is Well! It is Well With My Soul!
This past Sunday was remarkable. We went to church. We have been attending a congregation in Denver, one that seems to be meeting the criteria in Dreaming of Church. An inclusive, open and affirming congregation. One where all people are invited to sit, rest, receive, become. To be there on the Sunday after the Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v Hodges. What a day of celebration! Standing in an auditorium, my white, heterosexual family and me, with 400 other people, the majority who KNOW suffering. These words rang. The walls vibrating with voices raised harmoniously, ebbing and flowing.
It is well. It is well. With my soul. With my soul. It is well, it is well, with my soul.
To be here on this particular day with my LGBTQ brothers and sisters. To be in church, singing this together, receiving with arms raised, eyes closed, tears streaming. I can’t think of a greater gift…for me, to personally witness, for them, to receive the gift of God’s abundant mercy and grace. Validation. In church.
Jesus has redeemed us all. The work is done. We are called, invited to live in freedom, to live whole, to live approved. Every single one of us is loved beyond measure. Nothing can separate us from the Love of God, not even the church.
And voices crescendo, hands raise higher, tears stream further…the fullest decibel:
And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll:
The trump shall resound and the Lord shall descend,
“Even so” – it is well with my soul.
Beauty, beauty – sheer, relevant, palpable beauty! Grace filling, tumbling, pouring out upon the auditorium. Grace not measured precisely, to the nearest ounce, but dumped like an offering upon each and every head, each and every person with eyes to see and hands to receive, inviting each and every one of us to accept the abundance, the love, the hope.
Each one of us accepted, approved, invited into radiant mercy.