The voices of the distant past return.
Like haunted echoes through the canyon walls, their cries of mourning and anguish retell the story of old. There in the northwest corner of Italy, they were forced into isolation. They were hunted like animals, labeled as heretics: their crime, merely sharing and evangelizing the Word of God. In that foregone time, the troops could be seen coming from afar. Standing on the abyss of the mountain tops, the faithful ancient Waldensians, or people of the valleys, knew their only hope of survival, other than having faith, was to retreat to the upper mountain passes; to the places where even Angels feared to tread. There, in those high, Alpine meadows and caves, they survived. Their legacy, the very Word of God. For through their faithfulness, they had planted the seeds of the reformation.
Today, those voices are once again crying out. Unlike before, their torment is not from man, but rather, from an unseen enemy, a virus. The sickness has permeated their region to the point that the government has called for a total lockdown; nobody can be on the streets without justification. Even vending machine use is forbidden. Again, the people of the valleys, the descendants of the ancient Waldensians, face a darkness that slowly invades their land. Like armies of death marching to seek and destroy, they find once more their hope of survival is that of finding refuge in those high, solitary lands. The remote valleys once more become the perfect setting for isolation and self-quarantine. Having lived through past invasions, plagues, and economic strife, their heritage has taught them to be complacent with impoverished life. Yet, we must decrease so that he may increase, as the Apostle Paul would say.
Forced isolation caused those ancient people to learn how to cope with less. While eeking out a meager existence just to survive, they turned inward to find solace in the scriptures, and in those pages, found hope. Their fears had been diminished by knowing that their trials were only preparing them for a more magnificent journey someday. In those dimly lit stone caverns, they found comfort in the gifts that their Creator had bestowed upon them. Using these blessings, they would use them to pass on their faith, culture, and heritage. Today, one can find a more significant percentage of those ancient Waldensian descendants with all manner of creative talents than in typical societies. It is no wonder that their time in isolation had proved beneficial in not only keeping them alive but also it afforded them the time to enrich their souls.
Last night, as we passed the time in our own home, thousands of miles from those battling to survive in Northern Italy, I was reminded of how when we turn our thoughts to our brethren, our real gifts begin to be seen for what they were intended; to lift those up around us and to be the light for our world. As my eyes scanned through various social media platforms, a message began to emerge.
Musical artists of all ages began to stream live free music. From the stage of the Grand Ole Opry, Marty Stuart, Vince Gill, and Brad Paisley played and sang to an empty Ryman Auditorium. Meanwhile, across our country, various bands played in front of phone cameras to professional-grade videography. In some cases, husband and wife duets performed for the world after having put their children to bed. It was an evening of sharing and uplifting songs. As the performers played, they all spoke in like tone; prayers for our country and for those people facing the uncertainty of tomorrow. Unlike traditional performances, the platform of social media allowed people to give instant feedback to their entertainers. Those of us watching could see a much-needed catharsis taking place as people would praise the singers and lift family members up in prayer.
In all my years, I had never witnessed anything like it.
But it didn’t stop with music. Poets were reading their works to the public to enlighten others. Individuals were sharing inspirational words of encouragement and scriptures. It was as if the world of social media had turned off the news and found themselves once more.
Then, this morning, after I had begun my morning coffee and finished my devotional, I once more wondered what the rest of the world was doing for Sunday morning worship. Once more, scanning through the pages of social media, I was once again blessed to find all manner of preachers, congregations, and individuals finding creative ways to share the Word of God. In my heart, there was a renewed feeling of hope. Gone was the negativity of the new media, and in its place, the true spirit of our country began to emerge, a voice of love, faith, and determination.
Today, as my own family found time for a walk together with the newest family member, Bear the puppy, a sense of purpose, a restoration of hope began to return. In my mind, I tried to drink in the moment. Just being in their presence was enough.
Sadly, there are those in our world that don’t have the ability to receive help from all of those bands on social media. Some have no family with which they can find solace. Many sit alone in the solitary confines of a dark room waiting, listening to the sound of their own heartbeat. Some wishing that it would end.
Reading over the scriptures this evening, I asked God to send a message; to show me the scripture that would help to give hope to the world. It was then the voice said to look upon Isaiah. It was then the words over the recreation of the Church at Ciabas on the Trail of Faith came to me. The inscription reads, “Le Petit de Sion,” meaning, “God will surely find comfort on Zion,” taken from Isaiah 51:3.
Turning to the scriptures, I read once more, “Hearken ye to me, ye that follow after righteousness, ye that seek the LORD; look unto the rock whence ye were hewn, and to the hole from the pit whence ye are digged…For the LORD shall comfort Zion: he will comfort all her waste places: and he will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the LORD; o and gladness shall be found therein thanking, and the voice of melody.”
I was reminded of those ancient people of the valleys. They didn’t allow their solitude to destroy their faith. Their heartiness, their ability to live and survive at high altitudes of long periods, as if hewn from the granite upon which they trod, came to mind. Much like the spirit of the American people today, beneath the ambiguity and divisiveness that some would want to portray, we are a hearty people. When we are pushed into a corner, the true American spirit begins to return; one of faith, hope, and charity. Satan wants nothing better than to see us fight over rolls of toilet paper and to hate our neighbor. The fear and despair that Satan preaches can only be spread by those who have no hope of tomorrow. It is up to us who know the truth, those of us who share a belief that God has a purpose in all that we do, to share our faith and hope of tomorrow with those around us. We must be reminded that although we face an unseen enemy, it is no different than any other day we face the same enemy, except it usually isn’t called a virus, it is called sin.
This next week, I urge each of us to lift up your family, your brethren, and your neighbor. Seek to use the gifts God has bestowed upon you to bring light to someone’s dark world. Make someone’s wilderness an Eden; their desert a garden of the Lord. There, when you share with those souls abandoned to dark rooms of despair, you will find hearts floating in the air, and the smile of gratitude spread across their faces. In that moment, when the happiness begins to shine in their hearts once more, listen for the voice of melody, and you will know God has spoken through you.
Yes, gladness, thanksgiving, and the voice of melody will return.
Thanks be to God.