Hope for light on Epiphany

Today is the Day of the Epiphany when western Christians celebrate the arrival of the Magi (the “Wise”) at the manger in Bethlehem.

In this dark time of anxiety we look again for the light of an epiphany – a new awakening, a dawning of the light through the shadows – that will help us to circumvent Herod’s cruel way.

Sometimes light comes from the blind, as it did from Fanny Crosby (1890-1920), a poet and hymn writer who lost her sight when she was six-weeks old. Ms. Crosby was educated at the New York Institution for the Blind. She went on to teach English grammar, rhetoric, and American history. She never learned to tweet, but she left us more than one worthy thought that seems apt for this Day of Epiphany when a meeting is taking place on gold-plated chairs in a New York City penthouse.

Oh, the unsearchable riches of Christ!
Wealth that can never be told;
Riches exhaustless or mercy and grace,
Precious, more precious than gold!

May God grant to our blindness the wealth that can never be told – the wisdom and light seen by Fanny Crosby.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, January 6, 2017

Of Guide Dogs and Legislatures

Verse – The Blind Leading the Blind

To train a guide dog for the blind
it has been learned a puppy should
be taken from the mother on
the forty-ninth day exactly.

But in my State of Illinois,
there is a Law that says eight weeks,
not seven, is the earliest
a little pup can leave the dam.

The bonding to the new feeder
and comforter will not take place
so soon or easily, but this
was not known by the law-makers.

Or maybe some bad lobbyist
with deep pockets got to them first
“Eight…seven–no matter which!
Just let the blind fall in the ditch…”

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, August 11, 2014

The school bus driver

The white cane moving back and forth in front of him belongs to seven-year-old Sam. The little guy moves cautiously, as the blind must do, hand-in-hand with a young woman I presume to be his mother, on his way into the Artist’s Reception.

Many of the people here on this Friday night are school bus drivers for District 112 School District. I’m wondering if perhaps Sam’s mother is a school bus driver.

Turns out that the featured artist, John Lince-Hopkins, is Sam’s school bus driver. John has invited Sam to see “Morning has broken: a Celebration of Light”, the collection of oil painting that now hangs on the walls of the Gathering Space at Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church in Chaska where I serve as pastor.

It’s an evening of revelation about a very special group of people who know their passengers by name, quietly welcome each child every morning, say good-bye to them in the afternoon, and watch to be sure that children like Sam with his white cane make it safely across the street no matter what dark clouds may cross their paths that day on their slow, daily journey toward adulthood.

Most of my teachers’ names are long forgotten. But I remember my school bus driver. Why we called Mr. Thompson “Tommy” is a sign of the time in which I grew up when, sadly, school bus drivers did not command the respect that lawyers and doctors do. “Good morning, Gordon.” “Good morning, Mr. Thompson.” All these years later Mr. Thompson stands out in my memory. Bus drivers are special people. Perhaps because they call no attention to themselves, they stand out in our memories as signs of light.

John welcomes Sam in that special way some bus drivers have. “Would you like to see a painting?”

John, whose art has sold for thousands of dollars in Texas, Alaska, New Mexico, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, is inviting Sam to do what most landscape artists most dread. He’s inviting Sam to touch his paintings, to “see” the only way Sam can: by touch.

Lifted high so he can touch the oils of the cloud formations and the light of “Morning Has Broken: a Celebration of Light” Sam reaches out his hand. Very carefully he runs his fingers over the dry paint that allows him to see the light and contours of the clouds and landscapes of his bus driver’s paintings, more raptly attentive to the art than those of us who presume to see what we are viewing.

On this night John’s art is a bus ride into the light of morning breaking into the darkness of night. A seven-year-old boy named Sam, whose eyes have never seen light, gets to touch it for himself.

Morning has broken like the first morning, blackbird has spoken like the first bird. Praise for the singing! Praise for the morning! Praise for them, springing, fresh from the Word!”

Stevie Wonder and the Blind

Remember Stevie Wonder’s song that lifted our spirits and brought tears to our eyes? Click We are the World.

There’s a choice we’re making
We’re saving our own lives
It’s true we’ll make a better day
Just you and me

Stevie Wonder got it then, and he gets it now. He’s made a choice to help save lives.

He has announced that he will no longer appear in the state of Florida. He’s boycotting Florida and every other place with “Stand Your Ground” laws in the wake of the Trayvon Martin jury verdict.

The acquittal of George Zimmermann brings to the fore once more gun violence, race, and the Stand Your Ground laws that move the right to defend one’s home without retreat into the streets.

The dark sun glasses are a trademark of the performer who cannot see, but he sees some things very clearly. This is one time the blind need to follow the blind man who sees. “Once I was blind, but now I see,” wrote John Newton, the captain of a slave-trade ship, after he came to his senses and refused to participate any longer in the evil of the slave trade.

It’s choices like Stevie Wonder’s that help us to save our own lives. Decisions like Stevie’s shine a light on the blindness of a society whose laws in Florida and elsewhere turn back the clock to the old days of vigilante violence.

Someday hence it will be said that America suffered years of temporary blindness – that we forgot that we are the world – and that a blind man named Stevie led America in singing with joy the hymn of the old slave ship captain: “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound…I once was blind, but now I see.”

Click We are the World.

Loneliness and Love


George Matheson wrote this hymn. Matheson (1842-1906) was one of Scotland’s great preachers. Most people didn’t know that he was blind. When the sister on whom he had depended to be his eyes and his companion was married, he was left alone to fend for himself. He wrote “O love that wilt not let me go” the night he had “celebrated” the joy of her new life. The rendition in the video captures the emotion and the faith of the hymn-writer, whose faith and poetry still encourage later generations in times of personal loss and loneliness.

I Live with doubt

I live with doubt

A hymn by Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, In honor of John Newton (1725-1807), author of “Amazing Grace.”

I live with doubt:  my faith is weak,
Dark clouds are what I see.
A God of love is all I seek,
Can such a good God be?

The world is full of greed and lies,
Of war and talk of war.
Can any savior hear my cries
And hope and peace restore?

When Jesus met the man born blind,
He touched his eyes with clay.
He bid him wash and he did find
His sight and a new day,

The sun breaks through, I see ahead
My task to feed the poor.
I still have doubts, but grace instead
Of fear I feel much more!

My thoughts and feelings come and go
Like sun dissolves the snow;
But God is firm, and now I see,
That God has faith in me.
Garrison Keillor’s “The Writer’s Almanac”posting on the anniversary of the birthday of John Newton, converted slave ship captain, prompted Steve to write these stanzas in honor of the author of “Amazing Grace.”  Steve’s hymn can be sung to the same tune. The meter is the same.