(Bruce Cockburn – 24 June 1995. Philadelphia.) (Watch him perform this song here.)

Sunset is an angel weeping
Holding out a bloody sword
No matter how I squint I cannot
Make out what it’s pointing toward
Sometimes you feel like you live too long
Days drip slowly on the page
You catch yourself
Pacing the cage

I’ve proven who I am so many times
The magnetic strip’s worn thin
And each time I was someone else
And every one was taken in
Powers chatter in high places
Stir up eddies in the dust of rage
Set me to pacing the cage

I never knew what you all wanted
So I gave you everything
All that I could pillage
All the spells that I could sing
It’s as if the thing were written
In the constitution of the age
Sooner or later you’ll wind up
Pacing the cage

Sometimes the best map will not guide you
You can’t see what’s round the bend
Sometimes the road leads through dark places
Sometimes the darkness is your friend
Today these eyes scan bleached-out land
For the coming of the outbound stage
Pacing the cage
Pacing the cage

The longer I live the more I can relate to this song by Bruce Cockburn. In this world of ever changing careers, values, and practises, I sometimes feel like “I’ve proven who I am so many times, the magnetic strip’s worn thin.” We can never rest on yesterday’s successes. That holds true for folk-singers, scientists, authors, bloggers, pastors, and church planters. “Sometimes the best map will not guide you; you can’t see what’s round the bend. Sometimes the road leads through dark places; sometimes the darkness is your friend.” All too often I catch myself pacing the cage.

Jeremiah knew these emotions as he wrote Lamentations 3:1-8,

I am the man who has seen affliction
Because of the rod of His wrath.
He has driven me and made me walk
In darkness and not in light.
Surely against me He has turned His hand
Repeatedly all the day.
He has caused my flesh and my skin to waste away,
He has broken my bones.
He has besieged and encompassed me with bitterness and hardship.
In dark places He has made me dwell,
Like those who have long been dead.
He has walled me in so that I cannot go out;
He has made my chain heavy.
Even when I cry out and call for help,
He shuts out my prayer.

It is unclear whether Jeremiah had truly been shut out by God. More likely, Jeremiah is expressing how he feels God has treated him and is prophetically speaking of how God will one day abandon his Son, Jesus, on the cross. Later, Jeremiah seems to realize that God is more gracious and loving and attentive than Jeremiah had made him out to be. In 3:21-26 he says,

Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”
The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him,
to the one who seeks him;
it is good to wait quietly
for the salvation of the LORD.

So, just as we cannot rest on yesterday’s successes, we must use the best map we have even if it is insufficient to the task of guiding us, and we must strike out to where the road leads even if it is through dark places. As we go, we can take a fresh measure of God’s great love and his compassions; for they are new every morning and made fresh each day for every one of us. “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him. The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.”

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