Monday, March 24, 2008

Arise My Soul

On Good Friday night, as is traditional in our congregation, we had a communion service. On Sunday evening we had a service centered around Easter hymns sung by the congregation, interspersed with singing by the older kids from school and also the local Gospel Echoes group that sings with the prison ministry.

Both services were lovely.

At one point we sang, "Arise, My Soul, Arise" and I was instantly transported back in that strange way that music can take you back, the full experience, sights, emotions, smells, everything.

I was back at the little Beachy-Amish church where I grew up, on a chilly spring communion Sunday, sitting on the front row with all the not-yet-youth girls, dressed in traditional communion black, hungry (since we were always encouraged to fast on communion morning), with oniony casserole smells wafting up from the basement through the registers. And I was very guilty and miserable, singing Arise My Soul, Arise, while my soul was actually very low and nearly dead.

I wonder sometimes how I could grow up going to church 3 times a week and so thoroughly miss the gist of the Gospel.

I also wonder if everyone around me was in the same boat or if my conclusions were the convoluted result of an overly sensitive child, with no one to discuss things with, exposed to sermons that were, well, I am trying to think of a kind adjective here because these men meant well, but they were mostly untaught farmers struggling to preach.

So I sat there at communion twice a year and knew I was not measuring up, not to the church's standards of black nylons and tied covering-strings, and not to God's standards of holiness either. I had asked Jesus to forgive me, oh, maybe a hundred thousand times, give or take a few, but it only worked for a very short time and then I had an angry thought about my sister and it was back to square one and I was lost again and we would sing, "Sin can never enter there. . .so if at the judgment bar, sinful spots your soul shall mar, you can never enter there" and I knew there wasn't much hope for me unless I happened to have the good fortune to die right after God had forgiven me for one sin and before I stumbled into the next one.

I don't know when, exactly, I discovered Grace. I just know that somewhere along the way the light slowly dawned that the whole point of the Gospel was that I could never be good enough to get or stay saved, and that was why Jesus died for me and rose from the dead. I was loved. I was forgiven. I was kept. I was allowed to make mistakes. Which meant, paradoxically, that I lived in a lot more victory over sin, than back in the fall-and-flinch-with-fear days, and a lot more joy too, believe me.

So last night I sang, "Arise my soul arise, shake off thy guilty fears, a bleeding sacrifice, in my behalf appears. Before the throne my surety name is written on his hands," and I wondered how I could sing that song back then and not "get it." Well, by God's mercy I get it now and I wish I could go back and take that frightened hungry child in the black dress in the front row out of that oppressive oniony atmosphere and have a long long talk in the sunshine.

Quote of the Day:
" 'Lift and pull' indeed! More like yank, twist, pull, bite. . ."
--Ben, trying to open a ranch dressing bottle.


  1. Sometimes I think we went to a different church together.

  2. I could use an interpretation of that first comment. :)

    For myself, I thought of Acts 4:13 -- "Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus."

    Is that the kind of knowledge people take of me?

  3. Beautiful post. :) I read it earlier and finally signed up for this blog to be able to comment.

  4. I know the fear you are talking about, and I'm learning about the Grace. I'm so grateful I don't have to be good enough. I'm afraid there are many others out there that have not yet learned the truth.

  5. Wow! How I identify with what you wrote! I was the daughter of a minister... a good man, but I did not understand grace. Being raised on a church bench, I became aware of my sinful state at a very young age, but I didn't do anything about it until age 9 because I thought the adults would think I was too young to understand. So I remember especially being afraid every New Year's eve for several years because I thought Jesus might pick the stroke of midnight to return and I wasn't ready to meet Him! Midnight would pass and I would breath a sigh of relief. (It was years before I thought about the fact that there are about 24 time zones in the world!) Even after "raising my hand" and going through instruction and baptism, I felt saved and unsaved just as you described. My overly tender conscience had me saying "I think" and "maybe" even when I knew something to be true. I don't remember the details, but I do know that I was 17 years old when I came to the realization that I was cheapening the blood and work of Jesus by not accepting that it covers and removes my sins as far as the east is from the west. And that His sacrifice covered my unintentional daily slip-ups. I am 65 years old now and still enjoying the "wonderful grace of Jesus" Thanks for putting it all into words for me.

  6. You may not feel like getting into apologetics, but doesn't Amish doctrine teach that salvation is not a for-sure thing ~ is that what you were speaking to here: the difference between your Amish and Mennonite experiences? Or are you just speaking more generally about maturing in your faith over the years?

    I know I was raised Protestant but didn't really learn until adulthood that I shouldn't have to be on pins and needles wondering if I was really "saved" or not and what will happen to me after I die. I hope I do a better job teaching my kids so they don't have all those fears.

  7. I understand so well.

  8. I am a 41 year old mother and reading that post made me remember all those doubts that I had in the Beachy church. Why didn't I go to my parents, I don't know. But I have children now and I am wondering do they have to find that grace for themselves or is something missing in our doctrine or in "us" teaching them.

    As Emily said, I am tempted to delete this comment quickly before I sent it, like I have done so often before, but today I will be brave!

  9. Oh my can I identify with that!!! I read back over my journals when I was a teen and my heart breaks for how riddled with angst I was over my inabability to be perfect--to measure up to all those standards held out for me. Grace is even better than sliced bread in my opinion...Glory hallelujah!! =D

  10. To JustMe--I was mostly talking about my personal journey. I don't think our church had a defined, thought-out theology, and everyone sort of bumbled along with what they had, with plenty of influences from their Amish pasts. Thankfully not all Amish/Beachy-Amish/Mennonite churches are like this.

  11. This post speaks for me! I now enjoy 'Amazing Grace'!!

  12. Yes!!!
    your post leaves my heart full. bless you.

  13. Oh I can relate!! When I think back to what kind of a little girl I was...I could just cry. Thank God for Grace!!

  14. Thank you Dorcas for this beautiful posting about God's grace. I need to read this often as I tend to go on guilt trips..I can really relate to many of the comments here also.
    I'm still learning about grace (and making it both heart & head knowledge) but it sure is a slow process with setbacks. Thank God, He is most patient and is not done with me yet!!
    Thanks again!