Days of Darkness

Last week began on the negative side of my mental ledger. Of late, several things in which I’m involved have not been going particularly well or as I had planned, so already by Tuesday morning clouds outside and within had blown in -- one of those “days of darkness” the hymnwriter talked about. During the second half of my life I’ve become a fairly positive person, but the early part of last week, I was just plain sad.

I have never forgotten one point our pastor Frank made in his sermon the Sunday after 9/11, the essence of which was “when things in life are dark, keep your routine, doing what you know to do, and look for a handle to grab onto…” His text was Psalm 25, what my Bible calls an “Acrostic Prayer for Instruction.” Each stanza of that psalm begins with the letter in order of the Hebrew alphabet. That day Frank surmised that the psalmist may have been in the midst of a dark day or perhaps a national crisis – as we were post 9/11 -- and grabbed a hold of any available handle on which to hang his personal routine.

Normally on Tuesday mornings my Belmont Bible study group meets but with several of our seven being out, we didn’t meet last week. Some of you know my recent routine has included walking a couple of miles inside Cool Springs Mall before heading to the office nearby. So, sans Bible study I decided to keep the morning walk ritual secretly hoping I might encounter one of my new mall friends or even make a new one.

Periodically, I had noticed and waved to a gentleman who always seemed to walk alone and whom I had not met. Monday (the previous day) I had seen him again, waved cordially across the divide when the thought crossed my mind that, for whatever reason, he may have never connected with any other mallers and perhaps our paths would naturally cross one of these days at which time I would break the ice.

Sure enough, the very next day -- dark Tuesday -- halfway around the perimeter of the food court on my first of four laps, through the outside door walked this gentleman whom I greeted and fell into lockstep never breaking stride. It couldn’t have been choreographed any more seamlessly…and I’m not making this up.

Meet Reece. He is retired from mostly the retail and wholesale hardware business so with my liking of hardware we had a lot to talk about. I enjoyed a short history of the hardware business in downtown nearby Franklin. In our early days in middle Tennessee the kids and I even bought a few things in his store and he may well have waited on us. He is a long-time member of Walker Memorial Baptist Church in Franklin and knows my friends Jana and Tommy, both of whom are former music directors at his church. We both remembered fondly Jana’s daughter Laura, whom, apparently, Reece’s wife taught in preschool Sunday School and later as a real smart Vanderbilt student sang in the Sanctuary Choir at our church downtown after I retired. One morning during worship Laura sang a solo I’ll never forget -- not the song, but her authentic delivery of it. It was a simple, childlike song -- just right for her voice and spirit. I didn’t hear or need anything else that morning. After church she told me it was her first time to sing a solo in worship.

Leaving the mall, the clouds outside were still there but the ones inside had all but vanished. A new friend and remembering a couple of high moments in worship lifted my spirit noticeably -- a helping handle in my routine.

I’m pressing on the upward way,
     new heights I’m gaining every day;
     still praying as I onward bound,
     “Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.”

My heart has no desire to stay
     where doubts arise and fears dismay;
     though some may dwell where these abound,
     my prayer, my aim is higher ground.

I want to live above the world
     though Satan’s darts at me are hurled;
     for faith has caught the joyful sound,
     the song of saints on higher ground.

I want to scale the utmost height
     and catch a gleam of glory bright;
     but still I’ll pray till heaven I’ve found,
     “Lord, lead me on to higher ground.”

(All together on the Chorus)

Lord, lift me up and let me stand,
     by faith, on heaven’s table-land,
     a higher place than I have found;
     Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.

Words – Johnson Oatman, Jr. – 1892

Those are good words to sing and live into, for sure; but the fact remains that, in this life, not every day is higher and brighter and better. But in times of downness, darkness and danger, sometimes in keeping our routine earnestly pressing, praying and aiming for the upward way, the Lord somehow places our feet on higher ground. That day Reece and remembering Laura together was part of God’s lifting me up and helping me stand.

Thanks be to God!

- Mark