Revive Us Again

To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven.

A time to …

Be born – die

Plant – reap

Tears – laughter

Casting out – gathering up

A time for silence – a time to speak


These beautiful images from Ecclesiastes 3 were the inspiration for a song most of us know written by Pete Seeger & Lee Hayes in the 1950s, then made popular by the Byrds (with the late David Crosby) in 1960s (& others since). Both the scripture & song eloquently express the paradoxes & endless changes we experience throughout our lives …, over & over again. Today, I’m going to ask you to ponder some of these contrasting images with me, starting with: A time for silence –-- & a time to speak.


Ecclesiasticus 20: 5-7 speaks to the difficulty of knowing when to speak: “There are those who keep quiet & are considered wise, while others are hated for talking too much.  Then there are those who keep quiet not knowing how to answer, while others keep quiet because they know when to speak. The wise one will keep quiet till the right moment, but the fool always misjudges.”


Which brings to mind this quote by Emily Dickinson:

“Saying nothing sometimes says the most.”


The story of Esther is one of my favorites in the Old Testament. Esther was Jewish, but her husband, King Ahasuerus didn’t know this, & he had issued a decree to have all Jews killed. Esther was afraid to appeal to her husband on behalf of her people knowing the risk that she, too, would be killed.


But Esther’s cousin - Mordecai (who had raised her from childhood) sent her this message that’s in chapter 4:14: “Esther, perhaps you have become queen, perhaps - you were even born, for just such a time as this.” Esther agreed with Mordecai & went before the king, revealing that she herself was Jewish, & convincing him that he must rescind the murderous decree. So ultimately, it was Esther’s courage to speak up in “just such a time”…, that saved her people.


In a letter from the Birmingham jail, Doctor MLK Jr. responded to white Christian pastors & theologians who had been criticizing him for leading protests against racial discrimination by calling it “untimely”.  He wrote back to them from his jail cell saying, “Justice too long delayed is justice denied.”  [The book he later wrote based on that letter is fittingly titled, “Why We Can’t Wait”.]


Today we must ask this question again, how long can one wait before taking meaningful steps to address such realities as gun violence …, climate change …, nuclear weapons proliferation …? [And the list goes on.]  These things can’t wait. They are too urgent to wait any longer! 


Those of you who have heard much of my music know that many of the songs I write are about speaking out & standing up for something or someone, about taking action against war & injustice, in “just such a time as this”.


But having stressed the importance of taking a stand & doing something, I want to go back to the contrasts in Ecclesiastes 3.  There’s a time to speak, & … what?  

[… a time to keep silent.]  


I wrote a story in one of the early Chicken Soup for the Soul books – Stories for a Better World, which is titled “Don’t Just Do Something …, Stand There. That title was intended to be a catchy twist on the more common expression “Don’t just stand there, do something!”.  But my meaning still implied a kind of action. Standing still - suggested getting in the way of oppression, supporting someone who needed help.  When Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white person (as was required by law) - she was simply sitting there.  But it was outside the bounds of Alabama state law at the time, it led to her arrest, & it helped inspire the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott. And that changed history


But now I want to paint an even more vivid contrast to that sense of urgency that many of us feel to constantly be doing something about the massive problems that plague our society & the world.  Can you guess who wrote this?

Every now & then, go away

Have a little relaxation

For when you come back to your work

Your judgment will be surer

Since to remain constantly at work

Will cause you to lose power of judgment

Go some distance away

Because the work appears smaller

And more of it can be taken in at a glance

And a lack of harmony or proportion Is more readily seen


[Anyone guess who said this …?] Leonardo De Vinci (1452 – 1519)


How true it that? I mean, what happens to any of us if we stay in such a state of perpetual crisis – no matter how important our work may be – that we don’t take time to sleep …, or we forget to eat …, or feel too busy to go outside, to walk (through Volunteer Park), to play, laugh with friends …, or to silently pray?


Many times, I think the most precious gifts we can give (or receive) become more elusive when we try too hard to make them happen. I’ve increasingly come to believe that this mystical, expectant, waiting spirit is absolutely needed to complement - without abandoning - the goals we strive so hard to accomplish. This can be particularly true in relationships, parenting, & the creative process - like in art & music – spaces are crucial, rests & pauses are essential.


The song I’m going to do now was inspired by a poem I read many years ago by Chief Dan George titled “Words to a Grandchild”.   The song is called, “Let It Happen”:


Each day brings an hour of magic. 

Listen, things will whisper their secrets to you

You will know what fills herbs with goodness

And turns the stars - if you let it happen


You are a person who has few possessions

Better having few good things than a whole worthless lot

You will know this, your life will show it

Yes, it will - if you let it happen



Heed the days when the wind blows

The skies hang low & new colors show

After the rain the light will shift, the fog will lift

Heart’s a beating gift


When storms are raging, we can remember

Love is the very blood flowing through our veins

Like trembling moments of compassion

If we let it happen




Each day brings an hour of magic. 

Listen, things will whisper their secrets to you

You will know what fills herbs with goodness

And turns the stars - if you let it happen


Let’s look at another contrast - night & day.  One might say they are different as … what? [Night & day.]  And where do they intersect? [At dawn or sunset.]

And what is it about dawn & sunset that has caused people since the beginning of time to gaze in inspiration & wonder, & has sparked renewal?


Once a rabbi gathered her students and asked them, “When – precisely - does nighttime end and day begin?” The most confident student rose immediately & said, “It’s when the sun rises in the east.” 


The rabbi waited without saying anything.  So, a second student said,

“The day really begins when we wake up and have breakfast.” 


The rabbi still waited till a third student spoke up.

“The day begins when the rooster first crows.”


Since the rabbi didn’t respond, a fourth student offered “The day begins when there is enough light to see fruit that hangs on a tree in the distance.” 


The rabbi appeared to be pondering all their responses, until finally the youngest student - who was little more than a child - said, “The night ends when you can look in the face of a stranger …, and see a neighbor. And the day begins when you can look in the face of an enemy …, & see a friend.


The rabbi’s eyes filled with tears, & the rest of the students said nothing at all because they realized - precisely at that moment - that nothing more needed to be said.


When – precisely – does making something happen meet with letting something happen? When a woman gives birth, or after an Olympic athlete performs their all-time best, or a world class ballet dancer performs - they often identify this truth: The hard work of preparation, rehearsing, attention to technique & training are all essential to getting there, but in the moment of truth, they had to let go of all that preparation in order to take flight, & to do something they had never been able to do before …, being freer, going faster, lasting longer, reaching higher, performing better.  And likewise, when we experience excruciating pain from losses beyond our control - it’s the “letting go”, or essentially surrendering our own will – that is not merely our only alternative - but ironically – can become our saving grace. 


My key point today is this. Many of the things we generally perceive as opposites, are in fact inseparable partners: night & day, speaking out versus keeping silent, activism versus prayerful contemplation - the sense of urgency to make something happen versus letting it happen.  At certain points (or places in time) these contrasts are so close, so complimentary, so intimate in fact, that a sort of bridge is formed between them that renders them more complete - precisely when & where they touch each other – more poignant & powerful than either one of them could ever be apart from the other. And at the very place they intersect, we find a spark of revitalizing energy. 


Dr. MLK Jr wrote a story about Mother Pollard, an elder at Ebenezer Baptist where he was pastor. One Sunday she asked him “how he was – really?" He had tried to avoid going into how fatigued & fearful he actually felt at that point in time. Remember this story? She looked into his eyes & said something like, “Now you know that I know you’re not FINE. But we’re with you all the way. And even if we ain’t with you, God’s gonna take care of you.” And Dr. King described how - precisely at that moment - “everything in me quivered & quickened with the pulsing tremor of raw energy.” So, here is yet another intersection of perceived opposites: quivering & quaking intersect with …, what? [… Courage.] And what did Doctor King say happened there, in that very moment? “A pulsing tremor of raw energy”. Reviving us ---, again.


Today’s scripture from Psalm 85 also says something about bridges that connect contrasting entities: Peace & Justice will kiss. Righteousness & Mercy will embraceIt is in these intersections with God, I think – that if we listen …, we may hear God speak to us, & find ways that hopefully - allow God to speak through us. 


Response song: “Revive Us Again”

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