Our Daily Bread
A Reflection from the Daily Lectionary
January 23, 2020
“We have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul. . . .”
Consider all the things that unsettle our souls, send our souls flying like frightened birds: fear of disease, personal crisis, loss, natural disaster. The human soul can sometimes feel like a haunted thing. The soul is something you catch a glimpse of while you’re out walking, or you feel it, like a bird emerging from an unseen place, that narrowly avoids a collision with your head. Maybe it wouldn’t be wrong to say that the soul feels wild. It does not behave in a reasonable way.
For the Hebrew, the heart is the center of the human will. For surgeons, who have opened up a patient for heart surgery, the heart beats almost angrily, determined and frantic. Another description says that of our internal organs, most do their work quietly; by contrast, the heart is dramatic, speeding up with feelings of anger, or love, or changing with sadness, or despond. Maybe it reflects our soul, as it exaggerates fear, or distorts our perception — and scatters our thoughts. I suppose as we watch the impeachment proceedings, we feel that our nation is at sea, seemingly without an anchor to secure it, uncertain of our future.
For the writer of Hebrews, Jesus enters the restlessness of our souls, the fevers of our days, with a strong center. The writer of Hebrews frequently refers to Jesus; quotes scripture as though they were Jesus’ very words to us, and understands Jesus to be the anchor and hope (or destiny) of our lives.
The writer of Hebrews gets why we try to center ourselves. But where is that center? Who is the “center”? Can anyone possibly find their center once that center has been lost? Do we have a center without relationships? Can a leaf, torn from its branch, find its way back to the tree? In a sense, we could say, yes, we do “find” our centers; but it only feels like we “seek” or “find” our center. In the thinking of Hebrews, Jesus seeks us before we seek him, centers us before we knew there was a center where we might be centered. Augustine says it this way: “I could not seek you, if you had not already found me” (Augustine, Confessions, Book I).
Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem, Ode to the West Wind, depicts the upheaval of our souls, the way we, as “. . . leaves dead / Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing, / Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red, / Pestilence-stricken multitudes.” Shelley sees the fall leaves, their chaotic swirling, their hues of red and yellow and black as a metaphor for our own sense of dishevelment. But by the end of the poem, Shelley senses that it is the Spirit who drives us, the Spirit who carries us, and the Spirit who promises us hope for the future: “Drive my dead thoughts over the universe / Like wither’d leaves to quicken a new birth!” In the end, he asks, “O Wind, if winter comes, can Spring be far behind?”
Shelley comes to see that dishevelment is only the symptom of God’s presence in our lives — or, as the writer of Hebrews would have it, the anchor of our days is to be found in Jesus who enters the world in the fullness of his love, our hope and destination.
- What kinds of “winds” carry us away, leaving us feeling out of control?
- With whom do you experience a sense of, “I am where I belong and I may not know where I am going, but I know the One who goes with me”?
- How might these winds, which can seem terrifying, also be signs of God’s future, bringing well-being? How might our hearts joyfully go with the Spirit?
you call us to ventures
of which we cannot see the ending,
by paths as yet untrodden,
through perils unknown.
Give faith to us to go out with courage,
not knowing where we go,
but only that your hand is leading us
and your love supporting us;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
(From the Book of Common Worship: Daily Prayer)