Fellow Passengers: This week’s Poetry Passage* (Psalm 86) transports us to a troubled land where the arrogant attack and ruthless bands show no regard for the righteous and the Psalmist is struggling to learn sign language. The suffering songwriter continues to praise God and seek the Way in the midst of the troubles, but needs some confirmation. Give me a sign of your goodness, he sings. We humans are a sign-reading lot, learning from early ages to read signs, to interpret signals, to read significance into everything we experience. But we are not always so good at reading God’s sign language. The interpretations are not always clear and evident. What would a sign of God’s goodness look like? For many people of privilege and prestige, their status is a sign of God’s favor. Is that always the case? For many people of poverty, their suffering is a sign of God’s disfavor. Is that always the case? What do our life experiences signify?
For Macbeth, life itself is a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. For the Mel Gibson film character Graham Hess, crop circles were a sign of alien invaders. For novelist John Irving, the quirky Owen Meany was always searching for the sign of when he was to become a hero. For many in the African-American community, there is a whole means of communication, or mis-communication, known as “signifying,” in which tricksters use language to confuse the listeners. For a good example of that, check out the African folk-tale, The Signifying Monkey, which has a gullible lion misreading signs time and time again. For many old-time farm folks, signs are found in the phases of the moon. Old almanacs have drawings of the “Man of Signs” showing where in the anatomy the Zodiac signs are located, in the legs or arms or bowels or the “secrets.” You learn to interpret the Man of Signs to know when to plant and when to weed and when to have surgery and and when to have teeth pulled.
Our collective soul searching boils down to a simple petition, Give me a word, give me a sign, show me where to look, and tell me, what will I find? What signs can we find of God’s goodness? We are likely to receive the very same signals as Macbeth and moon-gazers and gullible lions and alien watchers and tragic heroes to be. Life presents the same signs to one and all. Significance is in the eye of the beholder. And with eyes of faith, every sign is a sign of God’s goodness. Every sign is a sign of God’s grace. Like Annie Sullivan with Helen Keller at the water pump, God is grabbing our hands and spelling out I. L.O.V.E. Y.O.U. With eyes of Lenten faith, I can feel the nail-scarred hand of Jesus in every experience of life, from planting potatoes and waking up next to the love of my life to having my computer crash and coping with failure. It’s all life. It can be heartbreakingly beautiful or it can be heartbreakingly tragic, but it’s life, and for me, it all has significance. All the signs point to the presence of God, to the crucified and risen Christ invading every experience.
*Daily Passages are the weekday reflections of Stan Dotson, connecting culture to biblical texts. Each week takes its guiding theme for the daily posts from the gospel reading on Monday, the “Primary Passage.” This week’s theme is “Seeing the Signs.” As always, your feedback and comments are welcome. Feel free to share where the passages take you in your journey of faith.