Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 116; 147:12-20, Genesis 23:1-20, Hebrews 11:32-12:2, John 6:60-71
Pauls’s letter to the Hebrews describes the faith of many heroes of the Old Testament, including Abel, Noah, Abraham, Moses and others. None of them were perfect, but by faith they did amazing things. They are examples and inspirations that endure. Paul describes them – and all the faithful departed – as a “great cloud of witnesses” that surrounds us always.
Over the years the cloud has only grown larger.
From the 20th century alone we might add names of heroes like Martin Luther King, Jr., Edith Stein, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Or minds like C.S. Lewis, Thomas Merton, and Dorothy Day. Still more are less well known, but influential in our lives. When we struggle we can look to their lives, works, and words for strength.
Yet during difficult times, many of us insist on toughing it out alone. We convince ourselves no one has experienced the pain, grief, loss, or doubt that we endure. We isolate ourselves because no one could possibly understand us, relate to our situation, or stand to be around us. The beauty of leaning on the cloud of witnesses is that they are beyond feeling burdened by us. And they have so much to teach us.
Feeling despair? Crack open The Dark Night of the Soul by Saint John of the Cross, and you’ll probably start to feel like an amateur. Not much of a reader? Listen to recordings of the Psalms – number 137 reveals anguish at its purest. We don’t seek out these works to wallow in misery like a jilted lover listening to break-up songs, but because they offer wisdom from others who have overcome similar trials. Otto von Bismarck wrote: “A fool learns from his mistakes, but a truly wise man learns from the mistakes of others.” We can also learn from their triumphs.
Despite our occasional insistence to the contrary, we are never alone. Those witnesses who have gone before us, and those who stand beside us today, are a mortal manifestation of the strength and hope that come from faith. No matter where we are in life, we can plug into The Cloud.
Comfort: The entire history of God’s people is available to support you.
Challenge: Next time you feel compelled to isolate yourself because you think others wouldn’t understand, get in touch with someone to share your story.
Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for the legacy of all who have come before me. Help me to be a worthy heir and addition to the great cloud of witnesses. Amen.
Discussion: In times of difficult, are you more likely to go it alone, or ask for assistance? What do you think that reveals about your attitude toward those who need help?
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