Does this ever happen to you? All yesterday morning I had a hymn tune and text stuck in my head. As a minister, I want to assure you that my cranial collection includes popular, secular music as well. Yesterday's selection was the gospel hymn, "Close to Thee", which was included in the Christ Church worship service Sunday morning. We printed out the words and sang along with the Facebook stream of the service, a Sunday morning duet in the Snyder sunroom.
Many know this old favorite by heart and we sing out the first line with abandon: "Thou my everlasting portion, more than friend or life to me, all along my pilgrim journey, Savior, let me walk with thee. Close to thee, close to thee…", then the last line repeats. When the prolific hymnodist, Fanny Crosby, penned this text in 1874, she employed an archaic use of the word "portion" - here meaning one's destiny or lot in life. The text is an abandonment of self into an eternal destiny with God.
Our modern use of "portion" has the sense of a part of a whole, an allotment from something larger. In the age of super-sizing, this is, with pun fully intended, an expanding problem (see pictures above)! We live in a culture where more is always better, and size and quantity reign. We order a small drink and can nearly drown in it. A favorite comedian observed a few years ago when the 64-ounce soft drink appeared, that we would need a drink this large "only after walking off the face of the sun!"
Kitty and I were both raised in families who knew what it meant to live without, mine married in time to live through the Great depression, Kitty's with the uncertainties of coal mining labor. Later in their lives, on both sides, family dinners were occasions of abundance. We always knew after thanks had been returned, Kitty’s mom’s mantra would be, "Gosh, I hope there's enough!"
Buzz-words also abound in our culture. One phrase that was coined in response to the eating habits of the millions of overweight Americans (as one wag observed, "These are round figures"), is "portion control". Hundreds of marketed diets, food programs, and help groups have been created. Many people have been helped to reconfigure what, how, and how much they eat. They and those who help them are to be applauded.
In an age of excess, portion control is needed in so many areas of life: civic discourse; corporate greed; environmental threats; systems which perpetuate racial, ethnic, and economic disparity, the list goes on. Excess is one area frequently means deprivation in another; too much for some results in too little for others. Squandering costs lives.
Do we need portion control in our spiritual lives? I think it depends. While I am not sure that we can ever be spiritually overfed, when we experience a God-moment, feel the drenching of the Spirit, understand where our stories intersects with God’s story, do we share this abundance with others? Do we apportion our fullness and enthusiasm, our love and tangible caring this generates in us with those also seeking the Divine, those who may be spiritually underfed?
Fanny Crosby wrote over 8,500 gospel hymns (move over, Charles Wesley!); of "Close to Thee", she remembered its inspiration: "Toward the close of a day in the year 1874 I was sitting in my room thinking of the nearness of God through Christ as the constant companion of my pilgrim journey, when my heart burst out with the words." She identified the presence of God as a present life experience and an eternal hope; the nearness of God through Christ as her lot, her destiny. This portion needs no control.
Faithfully, in love, Pastor Tom+
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