Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable-if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me or seen in me – put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4: 8-9)
Ella Wheeler Wilcox, a popular poet of the late 19th and early 20th Century, was the youngest of four children born near Janesville in 1850 into a family that lost whatever wealth they had in her early life. She learned at a tender age to do what she could with what she had. Her poems were well-known to my grandmother and this short version of a longer poem has come into my mind often in recent days as I think about the admonitions in Philippians and the challenges of the pandemic. There is much we can’t control, but clearly it is what we do with what we can. Wilcox wrote:
The Winds of Fate
One ship drives east and another drives west
With the selfsame winds that blow.
'Tis the set of the sails,
And not the gales,
That tell us the way to go.
Like the winds of the sea are the ways of fate;
As we voyage along through life,
'Tis the set of a soul
That decides its goal,
And not the calm or the strife.
We can surely "set our sails" to focus on what is noble, right, pure, lovely admirable and act in ways that will bring God’s peace to us. I was deeply moved when I heard of a smaller church that focused on the question of how to break isolation and keep people connected, while staying safe and preventing the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19. They purchased some simple-to-use tablets with New Way grant money from our Wisconsin United Methodist Foundation. The tablets were then given to people at risk for isolation. I was delighted to see a church member attend a Zoom church conference from her new tablet. Another church re-instituted the old phone prayer chain to answer the very same question. Instead of complaining about what they can’t do, they got to work doing what they can, connecting with each other, praying for each other, sharing God’s love. Wilcox was right. It is the set of the sail (our attitude) and not the gale (our circumstance) that tells us the way to go and the set our soul that decides our goal.
Lord help us to set our minds on the things that you would have us give our attention to, that we might set into motion actions that will please you and show love to our neighbor. Amen.
May this devotion provide you with a moment of faithful reflection and care. You are involved in ministries of justice and witness, in ministries of standing up and standing with people working to create better systems and communities, in ministries of learning and searching and researching to become more aware and awakened, more technologically savvy and proficient, more virtually and personally present in your churches and communities and world. Each of us who serve as members of your Wisconsin Cabinet write these devotions in grateful prayer for you – for sustenance and buoyancy, for strength and courage, for safety and just actions, and for faith and love to be full and fulfilled in your daily lives. God’s grace and blessings, God’s challenge and healthy discomfort, God’s Spirit and energy be with you, in the hope Christ offers us all.