October 18, 2017

“Touch Me, Lord Jesus”

grieving family

Yesterday, I was with a black family in the city after their loved one passed. The spouse wasn’t home at the time, and the other family members didn’t want to let him know until he arrived, for fear it would affect his driving on the way.

When he did get home, he was shaken and tearful. It took him a long time to go in the house to see his wife.

It was one of those city scenes I’ve witnessed often. The front porch was overflowing with relatives and friends, spilling over to neighboring houses and their porches and yards, along the sidewalk and across the busy street. People went in and out of the house, where the heat was even more stifling in the oven-like rooms inside. All ages were there. The young ones kept mostly silent and looked at their phones. The older ones smoked cigarettes or bantered with family members they hadn’t seen for awhile. The husband hung back on the periphery, not at all desirous to be the center of attention, but not knowing what to do with himself. He stayed across the street by his truck, smoked, paced, shook his head, cried and muttered to himself.

The house was small and sparsely furnished. The deceased lay on a hospital bed in the dining room, where the small table and chairs had been pushed up against the wall to make room. The AM gospel station was playing on a radio across the room from her. As people came in and out of the front room adjacent to her, few passed the boundary and entered that dining room; if someone did, it was only for a moment. We gathered for prayer around her at one point, but as soon as I said “Amen” the room emptied.

We waited about an hour and a half for the funeral home folks to arrive, and most of it was spent in this uncomfortable silence.

Until the husband put in a DVD.

It was a concert of gospel music sung and played by some of its “legends.” Father and son sat on the sofa and used the remote to pick their favorite songs, sing along, weep, close their eyes and try to feel the presence of the Lord in that place of mourning. When they found a performance that was particularly moving, they pumped up the volume and swayed as they sang and cried.

I thought it kind of ironic that I had been involved in a conversation here on the blog all day about the mourners at the AME church in Charleston, SC, and then was given the chance to be with this family at the moment of their loss. It made me more attentive to what was happening. And what I saw was genuine lament.

I have always appreciated it when I’ve attended funerals in the historically black churches. It does my soul good. I have found that the music in particular strikes a chord with my emotions and enables me to look up when all seems to have fallen down around me. They do know how to lament in a way that few traditions can. And like the biblical lament psalms, their songs don’t leave them in darkness, but help them find a way to see the light of faith and bright hope.

Anyway, this man figured out where to go when he didn’t know where to go. Here’s one of the songs that touched him the most yesterday. Perhaps it can help us as we pray for all who are sorrowing or afraid, and as we face those feelings ourselves.

TOUCH ME, LORD JESUS

Touch, touch me Lord Jesus
With Thy hand of mercy
Make each throbbing heartbeat
Feel Thy power divine
Take my will forever
I will doubt Thee never
Cleanse, cleanse me dear Saviour
Make me wholly Thine

Guide, Guide Me Jehovah
Through this vale of sorrow
I am saved forever
Trusting in Thy love
Bear me through the current
O’er the chilly Jordan
Lead, lead me dear Master
To my home above

Lucie E. Campbell (1885-1963)

 

Comments

  1. Christiane says:

    thank you for this, Chaplain Mike

  2. Great, great song and loved how it wasn’t just a performance but a group experience.

  3. “I have always appreciated it when I’ve attended funerals in the historically black churches. It does my soul good. I have found that the music in particular strikes a chord with my emotions and enables me to look up when all seems to have fallen down around me. They do know how to lament in a way that few traditions can. And like the biblical lament psalms, their songs don’t leave them in darkness, but help them find a way to see the light of faith and bright hope.”

    In this period of grief in my life, I found myself returned to the piano and picking up oil pastels for the first time. I have wondered if in a place where I couldn’t access truth and goodness, God used beauty to back me into those realities that were hidden from me. And I now wonder if this is what gospel music was for the father and son? And for another day, I wonder how corporate disconnection from beauty–my old church was in a fitness center among other things–has been a disservice to my evangelical community.

    • This is profoundly true, Andie. Beauty creates a place of peace and order, of refuge from ugliness; in the words of Orson Scott Card, it is an act of Making that pushes back against the evil of the Unmaker. Churches who dismiss it as decadent or unnecessary — or who never even think of it at all — do a disservice to their congregants. I hope you can find some comfort in your own and others’ acts of beauty.

      • Chris A says:

        Damaris,

        Beauty is very important to God as well. Going all the way back to Genesis 2:9, ” And the LORD God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground–trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”

        So, God placed the beauty of the trees before their nourishment. Seems He was pretty serious about this beauty thing…..

    • flatrocker says:

      Andie,
      Reminds me of a saying I have always tried to remember…”Show them beauty and it will lead them to truth”

      I think what most of us want to do is hit them over the head with the sledgehammer of truth and expect them to see beauty in their dazed and confused condition. So many times we get it exactly backwards.

      Keep painting.

  4. Christiane says:

    ” They do know how to lament in a way that few traditions can. And like the biblical lament psalms, their songs don’t leave them in darkness, but help them find a way to see the light of faith and bright hope.”

    Last week-end, I was watching a report on the Charleston massacre by Melissa Harris-Perry who closed by reciting a powerful passage from Lamentations, this:

    “” I called on Your name, O LORD,
    Out of the lowest pit. You have heard my voice,
    “Do not hide Your ear from my prayer for relief, From my cry for help.”
    You drew near when I called on You ;
    You said, “DO NOT FEAR !” ”

    (Lamentations 3:55-57)

  5. Suzanne says:

    White evangelical Protestants don’t lament well. It doesn’t fit in with their view of Jesus as the micromanager king of our lives who’s job it is to make everything work out in our favor and make us Winners!!

    Watching the news coverage of Charleston, I’ve been struck again and again by the people’s ability to find peace in the lamentation. Maybe it’s the history of the church and the history of slavery and prejudice that leads them to know things mostly aren’t going to work out in their favor in this world but they seem to grasp that God is there in the pit with them and brings his peace to them, even there.
    I don’t know. I’m guess I’m just rambling.

  6. OldProphet says:

    “White,Evangelical Protestants don’t lament well”. That’s the type of comment that proves that many of the bloggers on Imonk are spiritually and theologically clueles about a large group of believers. Stereotypical? You think?

    • Klasie Kraalogies says:

      You know that most of us here were for some time, even for a very long time, some sort of “white evangelical protestant”. Maybe you shouldn’t be so sensitive about it.

    • I’m not sure it’s a stereotype. I’ve lived in nine eleven different states, and spent time in multiple church traditions, but all of them white evangelical protestant. I am still in a white evangelical protestant church. I can only think of one instance where I saw lament done well. On the other hand, every tradition has its weak points. Maybe Klasie has a point.

  7. OldProphet says:

    I’ll understand if this gets moderated but if someone used the word black instead of white? How about white Evangelical Protestant women? Latino Evangelical Protrstants? I’m 60 years old. I haven’t got time to be “sensitive.”

    • Suzanne says:

      I certainly did not intend to start a firestorm. I am a white Protestant and I’ve been to many funerals and I see more of a mentality that it’s not ok to mourn, grieve, lament. I’m speaking of the upper middle class suburban church type church, which are generally majority white Protestant. God is the God of success, of your best life now, of winning. Lamenting doesn’t fit into the model very well. At least in my experience.

      I should learn not to ramble.

  8. Robert F says:

    My family is Catholic Italian. My father was from Italy, and my mother’s parents were also. I’ve been to more than a couple of old fashioned Italian wake/funerals, where demonstrative public lament, including weeping and keening, and spontaneous singing-recitation of the deceased’s life, was freely expressed. Mourners on more than one occasion threw themselves on the casket and the remains before it was to be closed for the final time.

    I can tell you that, as far as I could see, none of that lament seemed to help my relatives, or the friends of our family, negotiate the hard passages of grief after the official mourning period had ended any better than the average, emotionally restrained Protestant Anglo-American family. In fact, for me as a child some of it was scary, and later as I matured some of it seemed like a performance to me. I can’t say that my family or their friends were any better at grieving than most of than anybody else for all the lament they engaged in.

  9. Nothing I can add to what’s been said here, or to that song.

    But I certainly liked what Andie said about beauty. In the beauty and community of that church service, surely there was comfort and hope for the congregants.

  10. Robert F says:

    What a wonderful song.

    Touch me, Lord Jesus.

  11. petrushka1611 says:

    CM, you have no idea how happy it makes me that you posted that song. That song by those singers has been my favorite black gospel song for a very long time. I can’t get enough of it!