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The Grace of the Morning




"For years, early morning was a time I dreaded. In the process of waking up, my mind would run with panic. All the worries of the previous day would still be with me, spinning around with old regrets as well as fears for the future."

-Kathleen Norris, The Cloister Walk

 

Some greet the morning with mirth songs and bird chirps, but I resonate more with Kathleen Norris’ dreaded description. 


Sometimes I greet the morning like a troubled atheist, lost in a god-empty story that cannot handle what frightens me. In the words of Phillip Larkin’s haunting poem, “Aubade,” I wake up staring into “soundless dark . . . unresting death,” experiencing “a special way of being afraid” amid “all the uncaring intricate rented world.”


On such mornings, I need the name of Jesus spoken and his true story told to me afresh. I grab a pencil from the lampstand and scribble grace-words on a page. 

 

'The spell of night-tales broken,

at the name of Jesus spoken,

and I am myself again."

 

It is only 5:56 am. But I’ve already fought a battle for first love. My first love is with me and for me. He helps me awake. He takes my hand and says, “Follow me.”


 

The gospels reveal how Jesus inhabits the morning. 


He prays (Mk. 1:35).

He eats  and

He walks (Matt. 21:18).

He teaches (Jn. 8:2).


To follow Jesus into the morning is to revisit the memory of Eden. We learn to get on with the small tasks of being human in God’s world. Talking to God. Eating food. Walking with friends. Doing the work given to us.

Sometimes we dislike the sunrise. It seems like a “busy old fool” interrupting a cherished night. Or it appears more like a messenger of unwanted things that wait for us within the day. 


And yet, for King David, sunrise is like a bridegroom love-struck and happy, running to his bride (Ps. 19:5). The sun, as David the psalmist sees it, is no melancholy like me, tired of shining again unnoticed, frustrated by traveling the same old path every day, bored with routine.


No! The sun—and all creation with it—is like that runner in “Chariots of Fire” who when he ran, lifted his head, and tasted the pleasures of God. The sun shines love-stubborn above the thunderclouds. No stormy sky can quench it!


The sun still rises when it’s a time to weep just as it does when it’s a time for laughter. The sun rises whether this particular morning is a time of birth or death. Whether we are losing or finding, tearing down or building up, the dawn still wakes us.


What if the sun rising every morning is a good harbinger of God? A liturgy for our remembering?

 

In the morning,

night tears end and Joy comes (Ps. 30:5).

 

In the morning,

God outlasts the darkness. We’ve a song to sing (Ps. 59:16).

 

In the morning,

God is with us. Our help has come (Ps. 46:5).

 

In the morning,

God is one step closer to overcoming all that is wretched (Ps. 101:8).

 

In the morning,

God’s love remains. His love won’t quit (Ps. 143:8).

 

In the morning,

We are heard (Ps. 5:3).

 

So many mornings Jesus experienced the intimacy of His Father, withdrawing to desolate places and seeking him with prayer (Lk. 5:16; 6:12-13). It was also the morning when Jesus’ enemies bound his hands with murderous intent. (M. 15:1) That evil morning, did Jesus see himself pictured in the bridegroom sun?


Could the bright star the son of God called into existence somehow have nodded to its maker as wicked men bound our Lord’s hands and feet and sought to take his breath away? There’d been many mornings before those men who killed him were born. And there would come a morning on the third day after they succeeded. Death would die, and like the sun, Jesus would rise.


The morning proclaims that resurrection and life outlast the night. Grace greets us in the morning.


We rise. God’s love is here!

We pray. God’s guidance is with us!

We hope again and cry out anew. God is overcoming the darkness!

We eat the daily bread we have. God has provided!

We get to the work before us. God has something to show us!

The dawn has come. The tomb is empty!


No wonder, as Kathleen Norris grew in familiarity with the Psalms, she changed her mind about the mornings. Later in life, she no longer spoke of them with the dread she penned in our opening quote. Hope resides here for any of us still gloomed by the dawn.


This is God’s world. The morning is his idea and gift, a poem of enduring hope, a parable of darkness overcome, a sermon looking forward to the promised morning that once it dawns, will never end. 


I often turn to Saint Patrick’s prayer for the morning. I invite you to join me.

 

"I arise today,Through a mighty strength,

the invocation of the Trinity . . .the Creator of creation . . .

I arise today, through

God's strength to pilot me,

God's might to uphold me,

God's wisdom to guide me,

God's eye to look before me,

God's ear to hear me,

God's word to speak for me,

God's hand to guard me,

God's shield to protect me,

God's host to save me.



 

Zack Eswine (Rev. Ph.D.), serves as lead pastor of Riverside Church in Webster Groves, Missouri. Zack's books include Recovering Eden: The Gospel According to Ecclesiastes and The Imperfect Pastor and he writes poems and stories at The Good Dark.


Zack and his wife Jessica co-founded Sage Christianity (sagechristianity.com) to create hospitable spaces for bringing honest questions into conversation with the wisdom of Jesus.

 

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Photo by Simon Berger on Unsplash

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