Editor’s note: This Lent season, Bread Blog is running a series of devotionals written by staff, alumni, and friends of the San Francisco Theological Seminary, which is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A).
By Rev. Tim Lanham
I: Frigus (Cold) “Where is your God?” Psalm 42:2a
It isn’t really that cold. But the temperature is cold enough. Cold enough to gnaw through your gloves, your boots, your coat. After a while, everything begins to hurt. And I begin to feel the debilitating cold reach all the way into my soul.
Last month’s cold snap was worse. But it wasn’t long. And there is a challenge, even a novelty to surviving through the bitter, bitter cold. Can you get your pickup to start after being out all night when the temperature is -25? I can.
At this place where the thermometer hovers between ten and fifteen degrees, there is no novelty. There is no sense of adventure. There is just the struggle along the ragged edge of Spring. The cold wraps around everything like a python and squeezes away as much life as it can. From here, Spring’s promise seems like a dream – an impossible dream. Will it come and chase the cold away?
Will the Spring ever come? I wonder. And I hope.
II: Noctis (Night) “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me?” Psalm 42:5a
The coyotes howl. Their ethereal cries echo across the darkling landscape. During the day, they are rarely heard or seen. Only at night do they come around. Under the canopy of darkness, they howl and roam and freely stalk their prey.
This is where I struggle. I struggle through the long, dark night. In the pasture close to the barn, the cattle struggle with me. The coyotes make them restless, anxious, afraid. One cow mothers up to her calf to keep it safe. Another stamps her hooves and shakes her head. They hear the coyotes. And they are worried.
Such concern is instinctive. At night, you have to worry. You almost have to be afraid because under the cover of darkness, the predators who lurk in the shadows stalk their victims. Only the daylight will scatter them. But morning feels impossibly far away. Will it come?
Will the morning ever come? I wonder. And I hope.
III: Ventus (Wind) “Why must I walk about mournfully because the enemy oppresses me?” Psalm 42:9b
The wind rages downslope from the mountains. It blows hard and unrestrained. I remember hearing wind like this through the ears of my city-slicker cousin when a similar storm roused him from sleep. “What’s that noise? Some kind of animal?” he wondered. It’s the wind, I explained to him. Just the wind.
Times like this, the wind is more like a tyrant than a natural phenomenon. It fiercely demands subservience of everything in its way. I watch as it ripples across the valley towards the hills to the east. The limbs of our ancient cottonwood tree creak and moan against the strain.
How can I describe the wind? It is a force which accepts no quarter. The only thing to do in a storm like this is wait it out. But that is easier said than done. I make my way from the house to the barn, every step a struggle. Like a thief, the wind tries to steal away my energy, my soul, my life. Will this tempest ever be made to surrender?
Will the wind ever stop? I wonder. And I hope.
IV: Matutinus (Dawn) “Hope in God; for I shall again praise God, my help and my God.” Psalm 42:11b
The wind stops. The morning comes. The sun arcs over the far horizon, carrying with it a warmth that reaches into my soul. The struggle’s questions find their answer here, at the break of day. The moment compresses into a promise I hold close to my heart. Along Spring’s ragged edge, the struggle continues. Easter hasn’t settled it all. Even in this moment of grace, I understand that.
Easter hasn’t settled it all. But ultimately, it will. And I hope. I hope in the promise of the crucified and risen Lord. And my struggle surrenders to praise.
Rev. Tim Lanham is pastor at Sunrise Presbyterian Church in Great Falls, Mont.