To endure

In this morning’s Fruit of the Vine, Christine Riffel Herbel shares that “years ago, my mother wrote on a sticky note, ‘It’s always too soon to despair.’ I kept that note to remind me to endure.” Christine is writing a reflection on 2 Corinthians 4:8 – “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair” – a reflection in which she relates the story of Aron Ralston.

In April 2003, Aron was trapped in a Utah canyon for more than 5 days when his arm was pinned under a dislodged boulder. Aron escaped, and he tells the story of that escape in Between a Rock and a Hard Place. Christine writes that we, too, “may have times in our lives when it seems like we are riding down a mountain at full speed on an avalanche, and life is falling out of control. We feel helpless.” Or we may find ourselves “caught between a rock and a hard place. . . . We feel like we are holding on for dear life.”

In times like these, we long for escape. And escape sometimes comes. But while we wait, the temptation is to despair. Christine writes that it’s in times like these that she holds to the promise in 2 Corinthians 4:17 – “For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure.”

And she remembers her mother’s words, “It’s always too soon to despair.”

Eric Muhr

The seeds of spring

In this morning’s Fruit of the Vine, Chuck Orwiler reminds us that “the seeds of spring wait in the cold darkness of winter.” It is cold. The days are short. But silently and invisibly, just beneath the soil’s surface, there are seeds — waiting for the ground to soften, waiting for the rain to come, waiting for a little more warmth — and spring after spring after spring, they emerge. We know they are coming. We know that there’s reason for hope. We know that what we endure today isn’t permanent.

As Chuck writes, “We may be in a winterish season, which sucks us into its darkness. We may have thoughts and behavior of which we are not proud.” But there’s hope because “the God of resurrection is not as easily sidetracked as we are.” God knows what’s coming. God knows what good there is, silently and invisibly waiting just beneath the soil’s surface. That’s why “our dead ends are often God’s beginnings.”

In his reflection on 1 Samuel 1:4-11, Chuck admits that even though “Hannah was a woman of prayer . . . she was embroiled in a rivalry that left more of her humanity showing than she might like. But that is not all. Something deep within her was touched, and she cried out to God with all her heart.”

I think this is the key to the story in 1 Samuel. Hannah admitted her need. She begged God for help. Then there was spring. “We raise our hand to heaven and cry out from the depths of our being,” and God hears us. God listens. God responds.

At the end of this morning’s reflection, Chuck offers this prayer: “O Lord Almighty, if you will only look upon your servant’s misery and remember me.” And God will. Because even “in a winterish season . . . we attend to that which burns within us” while “the seeds of spring wait.” 

Someday soon, what has been waiting will emerge, and it will be beautiful.

Eric Muhr

We begin to see

I made a mistake this weekend. I forgot to make sure I’d written and queued a newsletter email for Monday morning. And then, yesterday morning, for the first Monday in a year, there was no Long Story Short. Dan McCracken sent me an email, wondering if I was performing a public response test. I wasn’t. But it was an encouragement to know that what we’re doing at Barclay Press makes a difference and that when we don’t do it, people notice.

In this morning’s Fruit of the Vine, Nancy Thomas makes a suggestion about how we learn to notice over time: “With humility and patience we combine prayer with attention to God’s word, and the Spirit unfolds that word, layer by layer. The unfolding of the word brings light.” That word — “light” — is why I chose the photo in the header of this email.

The week before Christmas, there was heavy fog in the valley floor, so I drove up into the Chehalem Mountains, hoping for a good photo of tree trunks in the mist. I remembered, halfway up to Bald Peak State Scenic Viewpoint, that fog in the valley often means clear skies in the mountains. And when I got to Bald Peak, the setting sun — reflecting off the low-lying clouds — lit up this stand of trees. There was so much light. All day long, I’d been living down on the valley floor, and it was dark. But just before sunset, after a drive up to Bald Peak, I was surrounded by light — blazing light — a completely different world.

Nancy writes that this is what happens when “the Spirit punctuates the Old Testament with assurances of God’s guidance . . . with bright promises of greater guidance available to all God’s people.” In Ezekiel, for instance, “we learn that the same Spirit who will anoint Jesus will also be given to his followers, opening up to them the possibility of receiving revelation from God.”

And there is light. The psalmist asks God in Psalm 119:18 to “open my eyes.” In verse 105, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path,” and “the unfolding of your words gives light” in verse 130. 

We live on the valley floor. The fog is thick. The day is dark. But up on the mountain, there is clear sky, bright sun, a sea of blazing light. Because “in God’s time, we begin to see. Bright promises, indeed.”

Eric Muhr