Since our household routine has changed, my almost daily walks occur in our neighborhood. It is a great course, mostly flat but a few gentle extended inclines for elevating one’s heart-rate. Just right! The main “loop” is just over two miles, but multiple cul-de-sacs along the route provide good options for extending the experience. I prefer to walk just before the break of day; as an old college professor used to quip -- “well, somebody’s got to help the Lord get the day started.”
Assisting getting the boys (7, 9, and soon to be 13) off to school these days means that I’m usually not able to walk that early, not until after they catch the bus. But later walks offer better opportunities to meet neighbor walkers, some of whom I have seen and waved at many years as I left for work. Just last week I met Joe who has walked our neighborhood for at least fifteen years, but he lives on the other side of the neighborhood and the occasion for connection has just never occurred. It turns out he also retired in 2007 as the exec of the Boy Scouts of America and is an active member of Brentwood United Methodist Church.
This week the boys are on Fall Break with Chris back in west Tennessee, so I was out early this morning and it was great. Apparently all the neighbors were sleeping in, which is fine. I do a fair amount of pre-dawn devotionalizing while walking alone, usually as a result of practicing a hymn I’m trying to commit to memory.
I find that hymns are much like scripture -- the more time one spends with a good hymn, the richer the experience because of the unfolding depth and truth. I have found that singing a hymn is not the same as saying it. I’ve sung (and led) hymns all my life and music certainly beautifies the poetry but, for me, saying a hymn has become the more inspirational practice.
One of my most recent hymns has been “For All the Saints,” maybe selected because we are easing up on All Saint’s Day. Regrettably, that commemoration is not in my Baptist background, but now I look forward to it, particularly since Honey died two and a half years ago. Walking along reciting those five stanzas, it occurred to me that I may miss Honey more in the Fall of the year than at any other time. That’s a little surprising since she was such a Christmas gal. By this time every year she would be well into her Christmas shopping, UPS seemed to begin making daily deliveries to our place, and at least one weekly trip to the mall was part of Honey’s fall liturgy. Even her Christmas earrings were already beginning to squabble among themselves as to which pair would be chosen first to announce the season.
Okay, back to the hymn:
For all the saints, who from their labors rest,
who Thee, by faith before the world confessed.
Thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest.
Thou wast their Rock, their Fortress, and their Might;
Thou, Lord, their Captain in the well-fought fight;
Thou in the darkness drear their one true light.
O blest communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine,
yet all are one in Thee, for all are thine.
And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long,
steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
and hearts are brave again and arms are strong.
I see Honey in every stanza of this old hymn: she now rests from her earthly labor and, in her faithful way, confessed Jesus here to her earthly world. God was, indeed, her Rock, Might, and Light in her well-fought fight and she shines even more now in glory than she shone here -- and that’s saying something! Her earthly strife became fierce and long, but the distant song in her ear made her brave and strong. But the final stanza is the best:
From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast,
through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
singing to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost:
Since much of the Bible talk of heaven is poetic and metaphoric, we don’t know how heaven really is or how it actually works, but the image of God’s people from all corners of the earth streaming into the heavenly realm for eternity is just pretty cool. And if there’s a welcoming committee at the gate, I’m just sure Honey is there smiling broadly, hugging “red and yellow, black and white,” young and old, male and female, Jew and Greek. That’s just the way she was and I suspect the way she is. That’s worth remembering and celebrating.