Essay

From Durham to Cuba

By March 26, 2019 10 Comments
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On a rather dreary and damp Sunday morning, I walked alone through the streets of Durham, England making my way to St. Nicholas’ Anglican Church right on the old town square.

I was just beginning my graduate studies, unsure of what the next few years would bring.

Truthfully,I was unsure of myself and my abilities. I was anxious. Worship seemed an appropriate way to begin this journey. Walking in the doors, the coolness and dampness of the outside melted away with the warmth of the sanctuary, the kindness of the people, and the sheer comfort of sitting with the people of God. In that moment, and with those emotions, the organ thundered in a way that only an organ really can. As a congregation we sang:

Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord!
Unnumbered blessings give my spirit voice;
Tender to me the promise of His Word;
In God my Savior shall my heart rejoice.

Tell out, my soul, the greatness of His name!
Make known His might, the deeds His arm has done;
His mercy sure, from age to age the same;
His holy Name, the Lord, the mighty One.

Tell out, my soul, the greatness of His might!
Powers and dominions lay their glory by;
Proud hearts and stubborn wills are put to flight;
The hungry fed, the humble lifted high.

Tell out, my soul, the glories of His Word!
Firm is His promise, and His mercy sure.
Tell out my soul, the greatness of the Lord
To children’s children and forevermore!

I had never sung this hymn before. It has become one of my favorites. The words are sure, the tune is powerful, and it brings back in my mind the security I felt on that dreary day.

Meanwhile Back in Michigan…

Once a year or so our worship director includes this hymn in our worship service. A few weeks ago I noticed that it was in our liturgy for the following Sunday. I was excited. I began to sing this song to myself all week just in case our worship leader needed me to come out of the bullpen. It’s a call that never comes.

That Wednesday evening about 50 of us were sitting in the foyer just outside of our sanctuary. We had gathered to listen to the stories of two of our congregants who fled from Cuba to the United States after the revolution. They told us what their lives were like before Castro. Family, school, and overall good times, even though they did not have much.

As they shared these stories, I heard the organ from the sanctuary. Our worship team practices on Wednesday nights and as the group began to sing my favorite hymn, my mind wandered to the song and the memories that come with it.

I was brought back by the sound of tears. While both of these women were now telling the stories of life under Castro that caused them to flee, one was especially moved and wept. She told of the harassment that her husband experienced at the hands of their oppressors since he would not support the Communist Party. She told of how he was arrested for a political crime and thrown into prison without any real trial. Finally, through tears, she spoke of the day she received word that her husband had “died” in prison. No official reason was ever given nor was his body ever released. Alone, she boarded a ship to a new life. The room was dead silent…except for the faint sound of the organ.

I again found myself caught between two worlds. To hear the stories of these women and countless others makes me question God and God’s goodness at times. And in the background is the profession of faith through song that God is sovereign. God is merciful.God will bring justice. God is in control.

Powers and dominions lay their glory by. Do they? Why does evil seem so strong? His mercy sure? Where was God’s mercy in that Cuban prison? Where is God’s mercy to those who still suffer injustice and hostility? Where is God’s mercy when…? Tell out, my soul? Sometimes I’m not sure that people really want to hear the story that my soul would tell.

Between Two Worlds in Lent

Lent is a time when we live in these two worlds. The journey to the cross, the way of suffering, and the call to follow Jesus are juxtaposed with the reality that we live in a post-resurrection world. Christ has already defeated evil in all of its forms, but not yet. God is good, God is powerful, God is merciful and yet evil and its effects continue to fill our lives and world.

In Lent, we remember that we do not dart back and forth between the profession of God’s sovereignty and the painful realities of our world. Rather it is in the midst of our deepest pain that we are able to fully meet God even though we don’t have all the answers.

I was reminded of this by my dear friend who spoke of God’s goodness and provision in her life through pain and loss, relocation, and restoration. Her soul was telling out not in spite of her suffering but through it. I guess that shouldn’t surprise me. If God’s victory came through suffering, we shouldn’t expect anything different today.

From Durham to Cuba, from pastors to prisoners, from the wealthy to the widow, may our souls continue recount what God has done. Sometimes through thundering organ and others through quiet tears, Tell Out, My Soul, Tell Out.

Chad Pierce

Chad Pierce is pastor of Faith Christian Reformed Church in Holland, Michigan.

10 Comments

  • John Amell says:

    Thank you for such a thoughtful message during this great season of reflection.

  • Dale Cooper says:

    Your reflection blesses me, Chad. I give our Lord thanks for it–and for you and your gifts.

    Dale Cooper

  • Mero says:

    Thanks for this meaningful message. I’d love to hear this song.

  • Marilyn Norman says:

    Sometimes it’s hard to believe this truth, but truth it is. And, the organ is a wonderful instrument.

  • RLG says:

    You win some and you lose some. Some would say, it’s just a matter of dumb luck. Or sh*t happens. Christians have no problem explaining the good in life. God gets all the credit. But when it comes to hardship, pain and sorrow, how can a good God inflict such on people, even good people, even good Christian people? If life were a horse race, you’d be no better off putting your money on a Christian horse as opposed to a non Christian one. Both stand the same chances of collapsing halfway through the race.

    So, Chad, how does your Lenten thought make any common sense, “Christ has defeated evil in all its forms…” That doesn’t seem to ring true for the Cuban wife whose husband died in prison at the hands of an abusive government, or the many others that suffer pain and sorrow. We can sing out “the greatness of the Lord,” but that doesn’t explain the hardships that many suffer. Maybe it really is just a matter of the coin toss.

    • Matt Huisman says:

      “Her soul was telling out not in spite of her suffering but through it. I guess that shouldn’t surprise me. If God’s victory came through suffering, we shouldn’t expect anything different today.”

      RLG – we have reason to believe that God redeems the hardships of this life. And so we live by faith. Have you ever lived by faith? It’s quite a thing. Flipping coins sounds lame.

  • RLG says:

    Thanks, Matt, for the comment and question. You say, – “If God’s victory came through suffering, we shouldn’t expect any different.” – Why not? Doesn’t a father show such love to his children that he will do what he can so they will not suffer, especially if they are good kids? Didn’t God tell the Israelites if they demonstrated love for him with obedience, he would bless them above all nations? Didn’t the Christian God send his son to the cross so his chosen children would not have to suffer the anguishes of hell?

    As to flipping coins sounding lame, it is done before every professional football game to see who will kick or who will receive the ball. It’s a show of no preferential treatment. The chances are equal as to who get to receive the ball.

    If you might have noticed (or not) the author of “Tell Out My Soul,” tells of the Lord’s greatness for all the good he does. I don’t see where there is any praise for the sufferings people are inflicted with.

    And yes, Matt, I live by faith every day. As for you, do you live by faith, and does it accord with common sense?

    • Matt Huisman says:

      Actually, we have songs about praising God in the storm. So we accept that’s actually part of the deal.

      And so do coin flippers, only there’s no meaning in it for them. Or fairness or redemption. Just curse God and die. Common sense tells me that’s lame.

  • Nice meditation, Chad.

    Thank you.

    If I mightparaphrase: In suffering, dying and in the gift to his disciples of the experience of his rising, Christ defeated the power of evil to extinguish faith, hope and love in the midst of the sufferings of the creation.

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