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The Gate of the Year

Splish. Splosh. Splash.  I should have pulled on my rubber chore boots instead of my suede snow boots to walk down the drive and deliver my envelopes to the mailbox, but I hadn’t expected puddles and mud in January. Snow had melted and puddles had grown until rivulets ran down the hill.  The snow had inhaled the the glorious sunshine one day and exhaled it the next in a dense fog.

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I peered left, then right into the mist before crossing the road, but the cars and trucks were nearly to my driveway before I could see them–and then only as headlights and ghostly shapes.

Then I paused to listen.  I could hear the cars long before I could see them. So I trusted a different sense to help me safely ford the asphalt road and the January thaw running alongside its shoulders.

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Waiting to recross the road, I wondered would I be brave enough to travel these fog-obscured roads at 60 mph? Perhaps, since I knew the road so well and remembered where it dipped, where it curved to the east, and where it met the highway at the bottom of the hill. I could depend on memory, but what did the men and women who had never driven this stretch of road depend on? Faith.

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Faith that the road did not halt suddenly at the edge of a precipice,

faith that the painted yellow and white markers led somewhere,

faith that the driver in the car in front knew where he was going,

faith in the few glimpses of familiar roadside objects:  mailboxes, ghostly trees, and cross-like telephone poles,

faith that the sun would shine again and that the wind would rise sharp and scrape away the fog.

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 We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!

1 Cor. 13:12   MSG

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I watched a 1940 James Stewart movie recently, The Mortal Storm, an anti-Nazi film released the year before the United States entered WWII. The movie ends with a quote from the poem commonly known as The Gate of the Year. The poem had become popular after Great Britain’s King George VI quoted from it in his 1939 Christmas broadcast.

“The Gate of the Year” or “God Knows” by Minnie Louise Haskins

And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied:
Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.
So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night.
And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.

So heart be still:
What need our little life
Our human life to know,
If God hath comprehension?
In all the dizzy strife
Of things both high and low,
God hideth His intention.

God knows. His will
Is best. The stretch of years
Which wind ahead, so dim
To our imperfect vision,
Are clear to God. Our fears
Are premature; In Him,
All time hath full provision.

Then rest: until
God moves to lift the veil
From our impatient eyes,
When, as the sweeter features
Of Life’s stern face we hail,
Fair beyond all surmise
God’s thought around His creatures
Our mind shall fill.

We may not be facing the unknowns of  World War II, as Britain was, but we all face uncertainties in life.

We travel a road together that ultimately leads into the “undiscover’d country,” a place Hamlet spoke of as the land after death. If you’re not familiar with Shakespeare, maybe you remember the phrase “undiscovered country” reinterpreted in the movie Star Trek VI to mean the future.

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None of us knows the future. Every January we face the unknown of a new year. Will this year be a time of peace or war? Weddings or funerals? Health or sickness? It is all uncharted land.

We can listen to the advice given by the keeper at the “gate of the year” and step into the dark fog with faith, placing our hand into the hand of God.

For I am the Lord your God
    who takes hold of your right hand
and says to you, Do not fear;
    I will help you.

Isaiah 41:13   NIV

Dots and Dashes

The diagnosis,

the “I do” that changes to “I don’t,”

the 3 am phone call,

the job that evaporates,

the no-win choice,

the friend’s betrayal . . .

The deep hurts that

make us ask

   Why is this happening to me?

make us plead

   Take it away. Make it like it used to be.

make us groan

   It makes no sense. I don’t understand.

make us yearn

   I need to hear from you, Lord. I strain to hear your voice.

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 What if God is taking the seeming chaos of our lives, the heart-aches, the disasters and making them into something beautiful, but we couldn’t see it from where we are? What if we’re too close to our problems?  What if we lack long-term perspective?

What if the Lord is trying to speak to us through the crackling interference of our stormy lives? What if we need to listen and then listen some more to learn to recognize the Savior’s voice?

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Sunday afternoon on the Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat (nineteenth century, French, Post-Impressionist)

Georges Seurat’s most famous painting, Sunday Afternoon on the Grande Jatte, is nearly 7 feet tall by 10 feet wide (2 x 3 meters). In order to take in the entire scene from a park in the 1800s, you might need to stand back, across the room.  If you were to walk closer to this famous work of art, you would see that it is painted with tiny dots and dashes of oil paint. From a distance the small spots of color blur together into different tones. Tiny bits of blue next to yellow will be seen as green–your eye does the mixing. Seurat is famous for this technique of painting, called pointillism, from the French word for points.

dots and dashes

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Detail from Seurat’s La Parade de Cirque

We can’t stand far enough back to see the whole painting of our lives. All we often see  is a canvas full of splotches of oil paint. We can’t make out the pattern and have to trust that God is making exquisite art of our days, and that someday we will see and understand it all.

Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.
 I Cor. 13:12   NLT

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dots and dashes

If you’re a ham radio operator or a Boy Scout, you might have learned Morse Code. Some of you might even recognize the SOS distress signal because you have seen it in a movie or read it in a book:   . . .   – – –   . . .

Most of us, however, would have no idea what a series of dots and dashes mean.

– – .   – – –   – . .       . .   . . .       . – . .   – – –   . . . –   .       (God is love)

Morse Code teachers found that students learn better when the code is taught as a language that is heard, instead of read. We  need to listen repeatedly to the dits and dahs of letters and words in Morse Code to begin to make sense of it.

In Morse Code, if “CQ” is broadcast, it means “seek you” (I’d like to converse with anyone who can hear my signal).  God is sending out a “CQ.” He wants to talk with us, to guide us, to be with us during the dark and painful times.

When we listen and listen and listen some more, we begin to hear letters and words take form from the garble of dots and dashes. We begin to recognize Jesus’ voice because we hear it so often.

I learn the pattern of your righteous ways.   Psalm 119:7   MSG
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My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.   John 10:27   NIV

My prayer for us all:

May God take the dots and dashes–the small, the painful, the messy bits of our lives and make something beautiful. May He change the static and indecipherable patterns into the clear truths spoken by the gentle Shepherd’s voice. May we have eyes to see and ears to hear!

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shepherd and sheep photo by Barb Briggs,

taken at Foreside Acres farm
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