Frail Children of Dust

From the moment I started thinking about Ash Wednesday this year, I have had one line of a hymn playing in my head:

Frail children of dust, and feeble as frail…

I am in the grocery store, looking for my favorite brand of coffee, and suddenly I was humming the tune to which I only knew one line:

Frail children of dust, and feeble as frail…

I am listening to someone speak, and as if from another realm, the line would be there between us:

Frail children of dust, and feeble as frail…

I am sitting in a movie theater, engrossed in a dramatic moment that is suddenly interrupted my the incessant, insistent words:

Frail children of dust, and feeble as frail…

I’m talking with a friend about Ash Wednesday when the pursuing phrase catches me again:

Frail children of dust, and feeble as frail…

“Do you know where this line comes from?” I ask. “Frail children of dust, and feeble as frail…?” My friend does what I should have done days before and Googled it.

It is from the hymn O Worship the King. The whole line is:

Frail children of dust, and feeble as frail, 

In Thee do we trust, nor find Thee to fail.

Ash Wednesday invites reflection on both lines. We are frail children of dust. We hear the words spoken over us as we feel the sandy, ashen fingers trace first horizontal – “Remember, you are dust” – then vertical – “and to dust you shall return.”

When I am being honest, I know I am on my own a feeble husband and father and pastor. When I look at the world in which we live, I know so many of our efforts to bring about peace, to protect the vulnerable, to heal the broken, are feeble. Feeble are our attempts to secure ourselves, feeble the certitudes we hold so tightly, feeble the scrambling for power.

Ash Wednesday is the great day of truth-telling about ourselves and our world. We were born in dust, and to dust we shall return. So too all the things we cherish and clutch and covet – all of it is passing away as surely as we are.

Frail children of dust, and feeble as frail…

And yet…and yet…to forget, as I did, the next line, is to experience only part of the truth Ash Wednesday proclaims. Our discovery that we are frail children of dust and feeble as frail opens up a new world for us. It forces upon us the realization that although we are dust, we are beloved. It opens our eyes to the grace that molded us and breathed into us the breath of life. It shatters our illusions of self-sufficiency, our false certainties, our pretensions of power. It is a discovery that offers the chance for the thing that so often eludes us – trust.

Trust gives birth to humility. Trust gives birth to gratitude. Trust gives birth to love. Trust turns us from the deathly self-centeredness that threatens to undo us all. Trust turns us toward the Source of all that is, and toward one another. Trust makes me a better and more authentic husband and father and pastor. Trust imbues all our feeble efforts with humility, gratitude, and love, thereby giving those efforts a power beyond any they could conjure on their own.

I believe in the end Ash Wednesday is a day to renew our trust and thereby our lives. It is a day to remember:

Frail children of dust, and feeble as frail,

In Thee do we trust, nor find Thee to fail.

May it be so.

The Next Step

   
 
Above are nighttime images of Moria Camp. This is the place where the refugees come after the boat has landed and they’ve received care on the beach at Lighthouse Camp. They are loaded onto large buses and driven here. The next step. 

Two nights ago, New Years Eve,  Elizabeth and I worked the midnight shift at Moria. Because the seas were still rough no buses arrived. We spent the first part of the evening welcoming in the New Year with refugees already there from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Morocco, Iran, Syria and Iraq, as well as volunteers from Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Canada, Ireland, Scotland, England, and fellow Americans from California, New York and Illinois. 

We learned that night that the inherent hope that accompanies a new year truly knows no boundaries. We are one in that hope for a new day. 

Later in the night we worked hard picking up and sorting blankets and cleaning the camp, preparing for the eventual, inevitable arrival of new refugees once the seas were more favorable. The next step. 

The next night, last night, Cathy, Kim and I were back for the midnight shift. The seas were calmer, it was a new year,and the boats came. Thus the buses came. In our shift alone a dozen large buses arrived. By the time the evening was over, Moria will filled with 1500 refugees. 

We worked hard again, Cathy distributing dry clothes to those who were still wet underneath their UN blankets. Kim and I were responsible for walking the refugees who were ready for bed to the family compound. We had to walk these men, women, and many children up a large hill and then through a gate where dry beds and heat awaited them. They were exhausted and yet in the midst found ways to communicate thanks, joy and profound hope.

I know when our team returns they will have many more specific stories to tell about our time at the Lighthouse beach, Lighthouse Camp, and Moria. For now, it is enough to say these were next steps for them in what had already been a journey from their home countries filled with danger and heartache. But now they are here, taking the next step, and the next, and the next, toward healing and freedom. They were already drinking in the hope and joy that accompanies such steps. We are grateful to be able to take a few of those steps alongside them. 

It is not a bad question to ask ourselves in the new year as individuals and congregations who bear the name of Christ. What will be our next step in discipleship, in mission, in solidarity not only with these refugees, but with all human beings who suffer and yet hope, who are cut down and yet rise up, who long for a new day and companions to walk beside them into it? 

It is a new year, time to take the next step. I look forward to doing so, led by the Spirit into a broken world beloved by God.  

Prayer Based on Psalm 46 by Kim Joiner

A prayer for a new year using Psalm 46 During the dark night I recall that God is a mighty fortress and always ready to help in times of trouble. I am in prayer for my brothers and sisters traveling through a stormy sea to a better life. 

I know they must be very afraid. I pray they can feel God’s presence and the fear will subside. 

Oh the earth is trembling and the mountains and rocks are being stormed with high gusty winds and treacherous waves. The Aegean Sea is roaring. The temperatures have dropped dangerously low. It is dreary and dark. Nations are raging. Cities are destroyed. Families are separated and loved ones are dying. 

The image of a calm river and flowing streams are calling to a new home. There will be joy again. I pray it will be so. I know it will come. Joy comes in the morning. 

God will help at dawn. I long for the sunrise over the horizon. The powerful sun will show Gods light. The wars will end. I long for peace on earth. I pray these refugees will find solace of a new home.

God commands us: Be still and know that I am God! 

The Light shines forth. I am still. I know God is always present. I will share the light of Christ with all I meet today. 

I pray this from a new day: January 1.2016. I pray this in a new place: Lesvos, Greece. I pray this for a new year: a peaceful time for all God’s children. 
  (Photo by Cathy McCall) 
When the sun arose the boats came. We carried babies and children. We assisted mothers and fathers and grandparents. We offered dry clothes, hot tea and soup. We offered the hands and feet of Christ. 

Light in the Darkness

No boats arrived last night. 

This is a very good thing because of the cold weather and very rough seas. Any boat trying to get over probably would not have made it. 

However, boat or no boat, life at the lighthouse night shift is the same every day as it has been since this site was organized in response to the thousands of refugees washing ashore after the five mile journey from Turkey. The reason the lighthouse site was founded, and its primary mission, is to spot boats in the Aegean Sea early enough to call in the coast guard and divert the boat to a safer landing area. Many boats are understandably drawn to the bright lights of the lighthouse, not recognizing that they stand as warning. Instead they are lured by the light, but if they get to the lighthouse they find a rocky, treacherous landing awaits. So we are divided into three watches. There are two to three of us on each watch. The rest of the team attempts to sleep on tents along the back of the lighthouse while one team watches the water using regular and night vision binoculars. If a boat is spotted, everyone is awakened and immediately follows a set protocol. This happened only once for us around 1:30 in the morning, but it turned out to be a false alarm. 

As we watch and wait, we have come to know these beautiful people who lead us, people like Jade, who told me as we stood on the hillside far above the lighthouse looking out on the sea, “Do you know that all of this, all that is happening on this island is the result of volunteers? When I grew up I had a negative view of humanity. No more. You always hear how many died. But what about all who lived, and that was all because people, just regular people like you and me, we decided to come. It’s so beautiful. It’s so wonderful.” 

Thanks for the ongoing prayers for the refugees and this sea of volunteers working to insure their safety. We were told yesterday these are not so much volunteers as those who stand in solidarity with fellow human beings.  It is an accurate reflection of the spirit of those we have met and certainly our spirit as well. We stand with them because we believe Christ’s call to love all knows no boundaries. 

Unfortunately, as you can see, many boats do attempt to land here. Some have died. 

Many more have lived. 

Thanks be to God for all who have answered the call to love neighbor as they love thenselves. When that happens beauty and wonder are brought forth and impact the world. We are seeing that on this tiny island and glad to play a small part in this miracle of grace. 

   
    
    
    
  Photos – Jade, above, making a potent Greek coffee, a light in the small lighthouse room where the fire and coffee keep shifts warm. Photos of beach after sunrise and the life vests and boats left behind from crossings and rescues. 

Below – Harding keeping watch at sunrise. The light shines in the darkness. 

  

A Note from Cathy McCall

Here are some words from yesterday from Cathy McCall. Since she wrote it we’ve had a twelve hour shift on the beach. After some sleep, I will update the blog wih photos and words about that shift and all that has happened. For now, enjoy these great words from Cathy: 

We enjoyed a good first night of sleep before being briefed by Arnab volunteer with Disaster Medics & Aleya, a volunteer with Lighthouse Relief. We will all be taking the night shift tonight- half of us at the Lighthouse Medic camp receiving and half at the Lighthouse Beach Patrol watching for boats. The seas are extremely choppy here the past two days. We found our that sadly the Refugees are being given a discount of half off the fare paid to the smugglers to make the crossing. Please keep these refugee families, those who have been here receiving them and our team in your prayers as we work together for safety and relief. 

 

Kairos

After we got to Athens and started seeing all the Greek words, Claire – our leader – said she assumed I knew Greek. I had to say I knew ( and let’s use the term “knew” loosely here) a form of Greek that was pretty much a dead language now, the Greek spoken in the time of Jesus.

But I was struck as we made our way first to Newark, then Zurich, then Athens, and finally Lesvos, how appropriate one Greek word is to what is happening in this place, and among us.

The word is “kairos,” and it means in the most literal sense, “time.” But as with many words in Greek, there are several words for time. The most common is “chronos,” which is where we get the word “chronological.” It means simply clock time, time we can measure. We did a lot of that kind of measuring as we flew forward across eight times zones and dealt with the fatigue of over 24 hours of travel.

But we also sensed the presence of another kind of time, which the Greek language calls “kairos.” This is God’s time, the fullness of time, the sense of the inbreaking of grace into chronological time, transforming it and giving it new meaning.

This island is beautiful. As we drove into it for the first time last night, we noticed Christmas lights all around, bustling villages, and breathtaking landscapes. It was good to see life going on as normal here as it has for millennia.

But in the midst of this beauty and normalcy, signs are present everywhere of the fact that hundreds of thousands of refugees have made their way to these shores and still come by the scores every day and night. This is the kairos moment existing in the midst of the routine chronos.

The woman who runs the car rental agency extended great hospitality to us and said, “We are so glad you are here. There are not enough of us on the island to handle it alone.” We are glad to be here as well, if only for a week. We hope our presence, and the presence of many others we’ve already had the chance to meet, will be a sign of the kairos time of God breaking in to God’s world and into all our hearts with peace.

As of now it looks like our team of nine from First Presbyterian will be divided into two teams. We will work two shifts – one from 5:00- midnight, and the other from midnight-8 a.m. Our job will be to patrol a portion of the beach and be prepared to welcome and assist boats of refugees as they come ashore.

I have a few travel photos here. Not sure the quality is the best, but we will have more photos and reflections from the team here as we are able in coming days. Thank you for your prayers. Please continue to pray that we will see and follow God’s kairos time in this place.

Our crew below (l-r top row – Tony Inglis, Kim Joiner, me, Robin Pulliam, Cathy McCall, Harding McCall. l-r bottom row – Elizabeth Stiver, Claire Crunk, and Lexie Pulliam).  
  Above- Zurich Airport. Below – Our team in Athens airport with luggage and supplies 
  Above- the tiny airport in Lesvos. Below – photo from plane of Swiss Alps. 
 Above – enjoying Italian food while on a long layover in Athens airport