Keeping Vigil | A Pitiless Universe or a Lover’s World?

My friend Morley is a thoughtful atheist and, I might add,  a fine and interesting fellow. He came to a concert of mine a few years ago and that sparked more than one evening of friendly but challenging conversation over a few beers along the Corydon strip of cafes in Winnipeg called “Little Italy”.

Steve in NashvilleTo sum it up, Morley believes, as passionately as I do not, that ours is a meaningless and pitiless universe in which we need to bravely choose how to live according to whatever standards make sense to us.  I, however, believe differently, that ours is an ordered creation sustained by and reflecting the eternal loving communion of the Trinity.  Of course, neither of us can prove our belief to the other simply because both positions fall under the category of faith.  Simply put, science can neither prove or disprove the existence of God. Both the belief in God and belief in the non-existence of God are beliefs that cannot be empirically proven.  Ian Benson writes quite eloquently about this,  maintaining that the realm of the secular is not the place where faith is absent – because there is no such realm –  but rather, it is the realm of competing faith claims.

In the end, what we do have is our experiences and their interpretation. I have written elsewhere that I didn’t become a Christian because I was convinced by a robust, rational defense of Christianity – rather I am a Christian simply because I have always felt like I am known and cherished by some deep personhood quite outside of myself.  Convincing? Probably not, but that’s my story and all the mini-stories I tell are some version of this larger narrative that I am helpless to not believe.

So… this last week, my daughter Sarah and grandson Luca have been in town.  It’s impossible to describe the depth of feeling I have for my own kids –  and then there’s this grandchild thing.  There’s an ache of love there that is almost painful. And when I meet other grandparents, there’s always this “knowing” look.  We are the lucky ones, no doubt.

Sarah and Luca in hospital.
Sarah and Luca in hospital.

One day Luca was chewing on a pea pod (not a good idea) and got some of that stringy goodness caught in his windpipe. He was able to breathe but developed an alarming wheez in his chest. As a result we spent the next 24 hours at the Children’s Hospital waiting for a procedure for removing the offending legume.  While we were in the waiting room at the beginning of our ordeal, there was a young couple there – kinda rough looking. Obviously the young woman was sick and her thugish looking boyfriend sat emotionless beside her as they waited to be called.  Luca (13 months) was toddling around as toddlers do until at one point he fixed his attention on the guy and started to walk toward him.  As Luca approached, to everyone’s surprise he raised his hands to the startled young man whose stony face suddenly softened as he leaned over and picked up Luca. Luca wrapped his arms around the guy’s neck and gave him a big hug before settling rather contentedly on his lap.  The fellow burst into the most rapturous boyish grin and exclaimed, “This never happens to me!”

Luca sat peacefully on his lap for a few minutes before sliding off and going on with his explorations.  And the fellow, visibly moved, remained a little stunned in his chair.

I had the distinct impression the fellow was a little shaken by the event.  And I sat there thinking we had just witnessed a holy moment where God reached out and touched that kid through our one year old.

As difficult as it was watching Luca suffer through the rest of the ordeal, I couldn’t shake that moment.  For the next 24 hours I watched other parents with their suffering children and shared in the loving ache for our precious ones.  This is not a pitiless universe.  It is, in the words of Jim Croegaert’s song, “a lover’s world.”  Wars and famine and pestilence will come and go, people will forget their dignity and pursue themselves, but in the end,  love continues to rise from the ashes  and her plume astonishes and ennobles us every time.

In closing I’ll share a song I’ve not thought about for some time.  Keeping Vigil is a song I recorded on the Romantics and Mystics album.  For some reason I rarely perform it, but have been humming it relentlessly this last week.  It’s funny how songs step up to the plate exactly when they’re needed. What a gift!

Click HERE to read lyrics for Keeping Vigil

Jim and I in Chicago  August/ 09
Jim and I in Chicago August/ 09

Keeping Vigil is a song written by  Jim Croegaert. If you are familiar with my music you may know several of Jim’s other songs:  Here by the Water, Why Do We Hunger for Beauty and We Come.

Jim lives with his wife Jana-Lee in Chicago and he supports his songwriting habit  working as a hospital chaplain.

15 thoughts on “Keeping Vigil | A Pitiless Universe or a Lover’s World?

  1. thanks Steve. i had forgotten how far the depths of that tune would take me, or perhaps i just didn’t know.
    by the way, i’ve mentioned you in a bunch of posts on my blog. blessings on your ministry, i know that you help me.

  2. I am really enjoying Steve’s blogs. Thank you so much! Reading this blog and reading these lyrics, I have been touched again by God’s Spirit, I feel kind of teary and choked up and I am encouraged. I have this CD and enjoy this song but reading the lyrics has been very meaningful, as has reading the other blogs and lyrics.
    We had an experience last summer like this one in the hospital where you just felt it was monumental in seeing God reaching out to someone. We were in Memphis, Tennessee in the south. We were going to a home that had been used as part of the underground railway to help slaves escape. The young African American girl that was showing us around seemed angry and had an edge to her with us “whites”. We heard her bitterness as she talked about a prominent slave owner in the area who had a monument to him in the city and was still honored by people 2 days ago on his birthday. As we asked questions throughout the tour and she saw and heard our tears in our eyes at what happened, we watched her soften. The manager approached us later to thank us for coming. She said that she tells the young people that people who come to the museum want to be there, and that education will break down the deception and barriers. She and I hugged. It was such a special time, very moving…a lover’s world.

  3. Steve…you did undoubtedly witness a holy moment. The beauty of God in knowing how to love on this young guy is astonishing isn’t it? How pure, how raw and how remarkably precious is such a moment. Thank you for sharing…and glad to hear Luca made out all right!

  4. Hi Steve,
    Your poetic ponderings on life and love are just beautiful and so moving. You have a gift. Thanks for sharing it thru your music and thru this blog. Most inspirational. Continue enjoying the blessing of your grandchild. And man, if having grandkids is anywhere near as heart-wrenchingly wonderful as having children, I’m in for some serious pain 🙂 By the way, Peter says hi!

  5. Excellent news about your grandson, and excellent blog! As always, you’ve touched my heart and inspired me!

    It’s amazing the many ways the goodness and beauty and love of God is expressed to us in each day, but it’s often overlooked because we’re not looking for it and have become too mindful instead of a world without God, a world with much hardship & busyness & tribulation.

    I’m guilty of that, but have been encouraged here to start paying more attention to the “holy moments”, where God is reaching out in the simpliest of ways, and touching us in love!

  6. Oh man Steve,
    I often try to describe the love, respect and pride I feel for my kids, and then it’s extremity that I feel for my grandkids. Thanks for sharing, I’ve seen that “knowing look”, and hadn’t figured outut how to describe it to others, can I steal your phrase? You hint, in your memory of the “Keeping Vigil” song, at the ppower of music. I just saw a documentary on Netflix about Music and Instinct, a watch for all musicians. Thanks again for your memory!

  7. Yep, lovers world definately. Thank you for that beautiful story of God through Luca. Some of us are fortunate to have the veil removed and be able to witness acts of God that others don’t. What a gift you have received and are willing to share with us Steve. (I’m blubbering away here.)

    What a helpless feeling when our petite loved ones are in the hospital. Athough Gus is a big strapping 19 year old it seems like not so long ago he was my firstborn, one year old in hospital for a minor (to everyone else) surgery -very difficult.

    And don’t forget all the well wishes you and Nancy and Sarah’s family received while you were waiting…

  8. Steve,
    Speaking of kids and hospitals, I always wanted to tell you that 5 years ago I found myself following an ambulance at 2 a.m. that was carrying my 7-yr-old son to the ER after he had had a huge seizure in the middle of the night. Of course, I was frantic and stunned with disbelief, and then slowly, I noticed the song that was playing on the CD: “Wings of an Eagle”…”As we hope in the Lord, we will gain our strength…” And I was calmed.

    It was a long year as we treated him for a brain tumor, but we rejoice to say that he is healed and seizure-free and listens to your music with me all the time, hoping to be as good as you someday:) I smile whenever that song comes on as it reminds me of the peace and hope I find in God every day.

    Wow – can’t imagine. Thanks for sharing that Cathryn | Steve

  9. Thank you so much for sharing this story. As a new mom myself (our daughter is 11 months old), I now understand the aching love for your children. We live in London, but my husband and I have been involved with a wonderful church in Toronto – Sanctuary – which I believe you are familiar with. Since having Mira we have been able to visit Sanctuary twice, and hope to continue this tradition for years to come. It almost brings tears to my eyes to see the people who go to the drop ins there, rough around the edges, smelly, drug addicts and prostitues, interact with our happy girl. The joy that she is able to bring to people can only be described as a pure joy, only from our Creator. I have learned so much about truly seeing people as God sees them through our daughter.

  10. Loved this glimpse of a humanizing moment that Luca wrought on an unsuspecting soul. Prayers for Luca’s continued well-being, that the procedure was thorough, and that he has returned to full vigor. Prayers for the young man whose armor was pierced by an unarmed child whose arms slew the dragon of fear and denial, that he will hearken to the light of the Lover behind this universe.

    How is it that you had to wait 24 hours after arriving at the hospital for this dire situation to be addressed?

  11. Hi Steve!

    Thanks for sharing your heart. It is very moving story and surely God does touch through us somehow.

    God bless you and your family!

    Irene

    P.S. Glad your grandson is ok!

  12. This is a powerful reflection – when I first knew God in my own soul I had a sense of huge love for me and around me. Since then that presence and experience of love continues – not only in me but around me.

    My late husband of 28 years had a huge love for me, so big that now God has blessed me with a new husband, I have a reservoir of love to pour into him. Without a doubt, the abundant, over flowing love is of God – I know, that I know, that is is a love greater than I am capable of within solely a human existence.

    So blessed am I by God in an ever growing love relationship. Though I have never had children – I have known the love that creates the ache you described. Is this not the same love-ache God felt for us through the sacrifice of Christ?

  13. I received this email today, and as I was reading it I kept thinking about this blog of yours, Steve….. it has a similar massage. Thought you might find it interesting…

    “Perception”

    …something to think about…

    Washington, DC Metro Station on a cold January morning in 2007. The man with a violin played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time approx. 2 thousand people went through the station, most of them on their way to work. After 3 minutes a middle aged man noticed there was a musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried to meet his schedule.

    4 minutes later:

    The violinist received his first dollar: a woman threw the money in the hat and, without stopping, continued to walk.

    6 minutes:

    A young man leaned against the wall to listen to him, then looked at his watch and started to walk again.

    10 minutes:

    A 3-year old boy stopped but his mother tugged him along hurriedly. The kid stopped to look at the violinist again, but the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk, turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children. Every parent, without exception, forced their children to move on quickly.

    45 minutes:

    The musician played continuously. Only 6 people stopped and listened for a short while. About 20 gave money but continued to walk at their normal pace. The man collected a total of $32.

    1 hour:

    He finished playing and silence took over. No one noticed. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.

    No one knew this, but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the greatest musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, with a violin worth $3.5 million dollars. Two days before, Joshua Bell sold out a theater in Boston where the seats averaged $100.

    This is a true story. Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste and people’s priorities.

    The questions raised: in a commonplace environment at an inappropriate hour, do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize talent in an unexpected context?

    One possible conclusion reached from this experiment could be this: If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world, playing some of the finest music ever written, with one of the most beautiful instruments ever made…How many other things are we missing?

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