Abiding in Exile 4/14/2022

Abiding in Exile 4/14/2022

April 12, 2022


By: Nan Smith


Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. Romans 8: 26 (NRSV)

I was having a bad week. You know the kind of week where there were pressures coming from all sorts of directions, all demanding my immediate attention; a week where the expectations were many and none seemed to be being met completely. I knew I was going to drop the ball somewhere and let others down. It happens. It was a week where there were too many things that required my attention; where there were too many distractions pulling me away; and where there was too much brokenness happening in the world and in my congregation.

Maybe you have had a week like that. For me, by the end of the week, my spirit felt a little bruised and battered by all that was being demanded of it.

It was towards the end of that bad week, when I finally found some down time. I sat in my chair, listening to the night fall upon the woods, drinking in the peace and the quiet it offered. That’s when I heard it – the lone plaintive howl of a coyote. First one, then another, and soon a whole chorus, yipping, yapping, and howling into the stillness of the night.

Now remember, I am and probably will always be a naturalist (an environmental educator), so those howls stirred something deep within me. They touched upon something primal and provided a thread that connected me to creation. Those howls lamented the grief, stress, and the despair that the week had brought for me. And before my more rational part kicked in, I was up and out of my chair, standing in the night, lifting my voice with theirs, offering out one long howl.

It felt unbelievably good! Such a necessary emptying.

There were no spoken words, no carefully thought-out phrases, no salutes to a gracious and loving God, no praise or thanksgiving, only a raw howl pulled out from the depths of somewhere. I believe it was a prayer, of sorts — a joining of my soul with the groaning of creation. I’m guessing, on that night, the Spirit was to be found in voices raised up in howls.

As we move through Holy Week, I wonder if Jesus ever wanted to give one long howl into the night. I wonder if he would have wanted to join his voice with the coyotes, because his spirit was feeling battered and bruised. Maybe his disciples might have wanted to join in too — filling out the chorus.

Certainly, Holy Week was a rollercoaster of emotions for Jesus. There was the fickleness of the gathered crowd whose chants went from hosanna to crucify. There was the deep sadness of leaving those whom he loved. Undoubtedly, there was human fear, contemplating the agony that was to come. There were just so many expectations heaped upon Jesus. He was expected to save the people from the heavy yoke of Roman rule. He was to usher in this new kingdom. Regrettably, a kingdom that most people didn’t really comprehend. Yes, I would guess Jesus knew he would disappoint many that week.

I would also think that his disciples felt a profound disillusionment when their dreams and hopes were snuffed out upon the cross. I’m sure their grief of losing someone they loved was overwhelming. And, of course, hidden in the shadows, was the guilt they felt of being unable to stand with Jesus in his time of need.

Sometimes all we can do is howl. Loudly!

In this season, where I am particularly feeling the weight of our Good Friday world, it can be hard not to get stuck in that place and be paralyzed by what has been happening around us. Good Friday is always tugging at my soul. It demands my attention; however, I will not stay in that place.

My howl, lifted up that night, silenced the woods. The coyotes became still and quiet, but that one howl was enough. Actually, more than enough to renew my spirit, because beyond the howls of Good Friday always lies the hope and promise of Easter. Blessings! 


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