Notes from Ray – Essential Elements

Devotional by Dr. T. Ray Wheeler, Director of Traditional and Choral Music

About a month ago – although it seems like several years ago now – I did a reading during the Ash Wednesday service at our church from the song Prayers of the People.  Ken Weatherford, our contemporary worship leader at FUMC Bentonville, asked me to read this prayer:


This is the day we freely say we are scorched.

This is the day we are marked by what has made it through the burning.

 When I read those words in the urgency of worship, my heart broke for how true these statements were for so many.  How true they were for me.

Now that we are in the midst of a medical and financial emergency, these words come back to me.  This emergency feels scorching and I find myself angry about what has been taken away from all of us.  I am scorched by the anxiety and fear that we all live with daily.  I am hurt by the lack of face-to-face contact with my friends and the church family that I have come to love dearly. Most heartbreaking of all is the suffering of those who are sick and the increasing death toll of this virus.

But that second statement in the prayer gives me pause.  I think about what it means to be marked by what has made it through the burning.  During the Ash Wednesday service, it meant the ash cross that marked my forehead and reminded me that I was dust and would return to dust.  But I think of what that might mean during the trial we are all currently facing.  In my own life, I believe I have a new perspective on what is truly important, what I think of as essential parts of my life.  The essentials are my loved ones, now very close, and my extended family that I reach out to through the world of virtual communications.  I think of the special moments with loved ones that might not have happened otherwise, and the heightened focus and intentionality I experience as I pray and commune with God.  These things have grown in importance.  It is easy to see what we have lost, but let’s also appreciate some things we have gained.  This idea is wonderfully expressed in the recent message from Pope Francis regarding the Coronavirus outbreak:

“You are calling us to seize this special time of trial as a time of choosing.  It is not a time of your judgment, but of our judgement: a time to choose what matters and what passes away, a time to separate what is necessary from what is not.”

 I agree with the Pope, this is not a trial sent by God.  But I do believe God can use this situation to help us change our perspective and show us the essential elements of our lives.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Romans 15:13 (NRSV)