Saturday, May 14, 2016

Solace in the Midst of Woe

"Cool Refreshment in the Heat"
- on a triple digit desert day-

The son of one of my dearest friends just announced that he has been diagnosed with ALS, an incurable neurodegenerative disease - it was devastating news. This brave young man was vulnerable and courageous enough to make the announcement of his diagnosis on his Facebook page and almost immediately responses came flooding in. While the news of his diagnosis saddened me deeply, the comments from his friends and family filled me with a sense of profound hope.

As I read through comment after comment on that Facebook page, I noticed that a theme began to emerge. Almost every single response to that young man who shared his diagnosis expressed a profound solidarity with him and his family in this time of his weakness. “We surround you with love and we stand with you though it all” was a constant theme that prevailed throughout almost everything everyone said. As I read through these messages of support, I was brought to tears and I realized that I was witnessing the presence of “God” revealed in it all because this is exactly who “God” is and what “God” does.  “God” is with us through all that comes to us in life- an abiding energy of love that surrounds us and stands in solidarity with us.   

Tomorrow is Pentecost Sunday on the Christian calendar.  According to the story of Pentecost, after his death and resurrection, Jesus "went away," ascending back up into heaven. So, after he left them, Jesus’ disciples had all gathered together racked with fear and wondering what might now become of them since their master and teacher had gone away. Suddenly, they heard a wind blowing and they were engulfed in and surrounded by an energy of blazing Love (symbolized by tongues of flame resting over each of their heads). They realized Jesus hadn’t gone anywhere, his Holy Spirit was among them. "God" was not up in heaven, living in some distant ivory tower, “God” was with them - a power of blazing Love ever abiding in their midst no matter what might come their way in life.

There is a beautiful and very ancient Christian hymn sung at Pentecost that proclaims a faith in the abiding Presence of Holy Love. The hymn acknowledges the “Holy Spirit” as:

Cool refreshment in the heat.
Solace in the midst of woe.

When woe comes our way and when the dry times come along in life, people often turn to a “God” up there asking that he might come down and make it all better, take away the woe, make the pain go away, cure the incurable illness. But, as I see it, that’s not how it works. Instead, “God” abides in the midst of it all, even in the midst of all the chaos, with us in our joy and with us in our woe as we stand in solidarity with one another and surround each other with love to face whatever comes our way.

I think I was so moved the other day as I read those comments made after that young man announced his diagnosis because I was witnessing a Pentecost story. He was being engulfed in and surrounded by the unconquerable power of blazing Love – solace in the midst of woe, cool refreshment in the heat.

The other thing that struck me when I saw that flood of comments was that this great outpouring of Love would have never happened if that young man had locked himself away and hidden his pain from others; instead he was courageous and vulnerable enough to open his heart and share his own suffering.

Our vulnerability makes love possible and when love abides healing happens.

I am reminded of a favorite line from a Leonard Cohen song:

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.


  1. So very beautiful. This family and young man are beloved by all who know them. They have given so much and will get much in return..They are surrounded by many of us who would do anything in our power for them

    1. Thank you Nan- yes, they are a wonderful family and they are blessed to have friends like you.

  2. This is exactly what has happened over the past few days with my Dad who has been caught up in something terrible. He has no control over it, and neither do we, but we have all surrounded him with love. It is the only thing we can do and he feels this love all around him. It is incredibly healing. Thanks Paul xxx