I started the day at the hospital. John Dyson, my friend of twenty years, was there and we were talking. I told him how much the Psalm reading the day before had moved me and what all that reading had revealed to me about what we are going through. I kept talking but John looked puzzled. Finally he said, "that is a wonderful passage Dan but it wasn't yesterday's Psalm. When we reminded me of where we currently reading from. I realized that I had read the "wrong" passage the day before.
For years, John and I have read the suggested daily passages from the Book of Common Prayer each morning. We follow what is called the "daily office," an ancient discipline for turning daily Bible reading into prayer. We often discuss the issues of the church we serve in light of the passages we have read that day. This has been a powerful prayer tool for us both.
Of course, in the light of my wife's current struggle for life, making a little mistake about the daily reading is probably at the very bottom of my priorities. Interestingly enough though, the realization that I had read the "wrong" passages the day before became the thought around which the events of my day decided to wrap themselves.
Pastor Hardwick called me from Nashville. Among the many encouraging things he said, he reminded me, "Dan, a good man's steps are ordered of the Lord." After we talked, I thought to myself, "in a fallen world we often stumble more than we walk. If a good man's steps are ordered of the Lord, perhaps sometimes a good man's stumbling are ordered by the Lord too!" Maybe its not always about taking confident, deliberate steps. Maybe sometimes its is about trusting God to make all our stumbling right.
I went in to see Trish.
"No change," the nurse said.
I took my wife's hand. I said, " Darling, I am going to read to you some passages from the scripture."
So I opened up today's Psalm. The 40th, as it turns out.
"He lifted me out of a desolate pit, out of the mire and the clay. He sat my feet upon a high cliff and made my footing sure."
I prayed, "Lord, Trish is in a deep pit right now. Lift her up. Set her feet on the rock"
Her body shook. She tried to open her eyes to pray with me. We had a moment. Just a brief moment to be sure, but a wonderful moment nonetheless. We had stumbled together. The Lord had "set our feet upon a rock."
I was raised Pentecostal; a song can leap in my head without warning at any time. Since I was praying the 40th Psalm, words and music from my childhood naturally came flooding into my mind and heart:
"He brought me out of the miry clay! He set my feet on the rock to stay. He put a song in my heart to stay -- a song of praise, Hallelulla!"
The day went on.
Don Montgomery came by.
Don is a Roman Catholic man here in Phoenix whom I heard speak at a Cursillo (Tres Dias) weekend. He is retired and now serves God by making crosses for people. Don stumbles around trying to do good and God uses him. When he had spoken at the Tres Dias meeting, I had felt the presence of God. So I asked if he would come and pray with us. He came and prayed.
The doctor decided to do an MRI. Trish has not been moving her left side and the doctors wanted to know why. After they were finished, the doctor said "the MRI was real good. No abnormalities. The blood has drained. The bleeding has stopped."
The song returned --
"I'll sing of the pit with its gloom and despair. I'll praise my dear Father who answered my prayer! He brought me out of the miry clay."
I went to a friend's house to rest and fell into a deep sleep for an hour or so. Then I went to my daughters house to eat dinner.
I returned to the hospital about 8:00 PM and went in to see Trish. I took her hand. "Hi sweetheart," I said.
Suddenly, she gripped my hand, opened her eyes and began to cry. Trish's mother, father, sister and our daughter all came in, one at a time. Trish was obviously distressed. She was frustrated and confused with the breathing tube. Finally, the nurse even decided to sedate her again. Nonetheless, she had been with us for several minutes. The Lord had allowed her to emerge from her desolate pit for a glimpse of the world outside her head. She was obviously healing. She will soon be lifted upon a rock. God will soon fill her heart with a song of praise to her God. Halleluiah!
Tonight, I am praising God because my wife recognized me! I am praising God because she gripped my hand! I am praising God because my wife is emerging from her desolate pit.
This joy and gratitude brings me at the end of my day returning to the question I posed to myself early this morning. "Why did I read the 'wrong' passage yesterday? And why was the "wrong" passage really the 'right' one?" ( I hope most of you are not as obsessive as I am!)
I believe there is an answer.
Last Sunday was Pentecost and Pentecost is the really last "big" Sunday of the church year. After Pentecost, one enters "ordinary time." Yuck! Ordinary time is months and months of "nothing special." It is week after week of just reading the Bible, praying, visiting the sick and simple stuff like that. It is the time of the year when we are supposed to work into the fabric of our lives all the lessons we heard at Christmas, Easter, Pentecost and all the other exciting and "special" days. But really it just feels a long stretch of nothing.
Easter and Christmas are wonderful for everyone. Sometimes in church work we keep trying to make every Sunday Christmas or Easter. Most of us just don't like ordinary time. But the truth is, if we don't learn what to do with ordinary time, we never really become disciples at all.
I am convinced that constantly working to put on good dramas, being anxious about buying the best and latest kinds of electronic gadgetry or always having some impressive speaker for Sunday services -- constantly trying to make all these special and fun things the essence of our faith -- simply won't help when we face seasons such as the one Trish and I are now facing. Even all the yelling and thrashing about that some people think of as the "anointing pf the Spirit " is next to worthless in days like we have been facing this week. For weeks like this one, we must know how faith looks in ordinary time, how faith functions when things are just what they are; how faith works when we stumble because we are suddenly not very good at walking through such slippery places.
Today I learned that when you know that God is about to deliver you from the desolate pit, you can become delighted simply because you feel the grip of your partners hand. I learned that if I am always running from ordinary time, if my faith can only be expressed through big and powerful things, I will never discover the bliss often hides within such mundane and ordinary things. So I learned today that life is good, even when it is ordinary. No, especially when it is ordinary! And I learned that if we stumble, its no big deal. We just need to stumble on the right road and in the right direction.
Ordinary time is going to be good this year. Christmas can wait.