April 15, 2014

Mark Millican: The birds hushed their singing

Mark Millican

— “There’s still time to change the road you’re on.” — Robert Plant, 1971

For the uninitiated, that line is from what many consider the greatest rock song of all time, “Stairway to Heaven,” by Led Zeppelin. Its appeal, I believe, is that many of us who grew up listening to it felt like we knew someone — in the song’s case, a young lady — who had everything in life but threw it all away through substance abuse in some vain hope of finding heaven.

But it wasn’t just my generation. Last fall when my mom and I were driving back from Alabama and I was trying to tune in the Georgia game, she said something about Led Zeppelin when I skipped over a snippet of one of their tunes.

My mother knows Zeppelin? Well, she did teach teenagers for over 30 years, I mused.

Statistics tell us drug use is highest in the field of construction work.

Reports reveal drug abuse can be rampant among factory workers who seek to dull the drudgery of repetitive tasks.

There are even studies that show drug use is endemic among migrant workers as they travel from town to town.

Teens are certainly not immune from trying drugs just to be, like, hip or “cool.”

And behind divorces, broken homes, fatherless children, DUI fatalities and drug overdose deaths there often sits, stands or lies passed out one fragile, broken member of the human species who felt the crushing weight of life itself could not be lived without something to take off the edge.

And it just got worse from there.

Speaking of heaven, someone asked once why Jesus was born in a stable among smelly beasts of burden and his first cradle was a dirty, bacteria-laden feeding trough. The answer is so no one else in the world could say this God-turned-man was born into high cotton and therefore looked down on others. That way, millions and millions of people who are hopelessly stuck in substance abuse and other life challenges can reach out and find a friend, not an overseer or tyrant or a demagogue.

And too, his humble beginning as the son of a construction worker, and eventual extreme sacrifice, show us we, too, can be overcomers — although it is unlikely we’ll be asked to prove it by dying on a cross.

I’ve always been amazed how God becomes a gracious intruder into people’s lives — through a complete stranger met in a park, a chance encounter in a convenience store, or words written on a page.

Take, for instance, another song. Although it is not specifically about Gethsemane — the garden where Jesus prayed before being arrested — the hymn “In the Garden” reminds us of his great test and resultant sorrow at having to die, and how he prayed on his knees through tribulation and was still able to say, “Nonetheless, not my will, but your will be done.”

I wonder ... if anyone is reading these words today and may be thinking, “You don’t understand. I’ve tried everything. Nothing’s working, and it’s getting worse.”

That may be true. But all I can tell you is that no matter how your concept of him may have gotten warped through upbringing and/or personal experiences, God knows. And he cares. And he loves you.

And he’s expecting to hear from you.

In the hymn, Jesus speaks and the birds hush their singing. One would think the author of the song, Charles Austin Miles, sat with quill and paper in a garden redolent with fragrances as he wrote those evocative words in 1912. But that’s not the way it happened at all, according to his great-granddaughter, Nadine Mesnard Alldridge.

“In the Garden” was written “on a cold dreary day in a cold, dreary and leaky basement in New Jersey that didn’t even have a window in it, let alone a view of the garden,” she said.

Miles refused to look at his condition and surroundings and instead looked up and found something worthy that endured. And so can you.

I’m positive the birds hushed their singing as they watched Jesus die on the cross. But when they heard the disciples excitedly spreading the news that he was no longer in the tomb on Resurrection Sunday morning, they burst out joyously in every melody that could be attributed to their varied genuses and species.

Translation? Oh, it’s undeniable …

“He is risen! He is risen! He is risen!”

Indeed — for you, and for me.