Posts Tagged ‘9-11’

9-11-2020: Remembering beauty for ashes

September 11, 2020

Today, September 11, 2020, marks the 19th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington DC. In addition, the nation pauses to remember the eighth anniversary of the September 11, 2012 attack against the U.S. consulate in Benghazi where four Americans were killed, including the U.S. Ambassador to Libya. On such solemn occasions, we look for rays of hope, like radiant beams of light that penetrate plumes of dust and debris on that fateful day, September 11, 2001. This morning I thought of the passage from Isaiah 61:3:

To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified.

Today, we reflect upon God’s amazing ability to transform the most horrific circumstances into a glorious display of His wisdom, power, and might. The expression “beauty for ashes” from Isaiah 61:3 offers a series of such transformations or exchanges that only He can give. That particular verse introduces this original poem with that title:

Beauty for Ashes

To console those who mourn in Zion,
To give them beauty for ashes,
The oil of joy for mourning,
The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;
That they may be called trees of righteousness,
The planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified.

Isaiah 61:3


Beauty for ashes–we are transformed to testify
Of lives so radically changed that we might glorify
The God of Heaven who touches the earth with His love
That overflows with bountiful blessings from above.
We are blessed and highly favored–no one can deny.

That we should be chosen by God some may wonder why,
But none can fathom God’s grace, no matter how they try.
Ascend into God’s presence on the wings of a dove:
Beauty for ashes.

Many times it may seem as if life has passed us by,
But God is faithful; on Him, we can always rely.
Nothing in this life surpasses God’s unchanging love;
It is far beyond all that we could ask or think of.
Remember that God is not a man that He should lie:
Beauty for ashes.

I also recall having completed another poem containing a reference to Isaiah 61:3. Shortly after writing the poem, I was asked to officiate at a funeral service and do the eulogy for someone who had not been affiliated with a local church. It was an unusual service for me in that for the first time the individual being eulogized had been cremated. On a table in front of the mortuary was an urn that contained the ashes of the deceased. As it turned out, this was the perfect occasion for sharing the previously composed poem with the line “Just as from ashes, beauty and splendor arise.” The poem also contains a theme related to God with whom all things are possible and with whom nothing is impossible.

No Matter How You Phrase It

And Jesus looking upon them saith, With men, it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible
Mark 10:27

For with God, nothing shall be impossible.
Luke 1:37


There is none like God who never fails to come through:
Whether you say “With God all things are possible”
Or say “With God, nothing shall be impossible.”
No matter how you phrase it, the Word is still true.
As those who observe the times, we wisely surmise
That the Prince of Peace ascended to end all strife,
Leading captive even death to release new life.
Just as from ashes, beauty and splendor arise,
We boldly declare the Word of God and assert
The Providence of an all-wise Father who makes
Barrenness to bloom with rivers in the desert.
With the Word of Life, even death itself awakes.
We seek to walk in wisdom and number our days,
Humbly discerning that His ways are not our ways.

In addition to reading the poem as part of the eulogy, I also commented about the beauty of gemstones that are formed from volcanic ash. Did you know that ashes in volcanoes under extreme heat and pressure provide the perfect conditions to form certain precious stones, such as diamonds? As the volcanoes erupt, they push the gemstones to the surface where they can be seen after the site has cooled. So, indeed, God both figuratively and literally “gives beauty for ashes.”

Crystal Lewis and Ron Kenoly offer a tender rendition of the song “Beauty for Ashes.”

On the anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 9-11, we recall God’s amazing power to transform an unimaginable disaster into a glorious display of His power and grace to restore.

Asking questions in Psalm 121

September 11, 2016

psalm121

The Verse of the Day for September 11, 2016 is a familiar passage from one of the most recognized Psalms of David, as we examine Psalm 121: 1-2 in the Message Bible:

[A Pilgrim Song] I look up to the mountains; does my strength come from mountains? No, my strength comes from God, who made heaven, and earth, and mountains.

The passage is rendered this way in the familiar King James Version:

Psalm 121:1-2

I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.

My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth.

In contrast to the statement that opens Psalm 121 in the King James Version, the Message Bible raises a question in verse 1 and offers a response in verse two. In a previous blog post, I also indicated that verse one should be more precisely rendered as a question. I pointed out that KC Pillai, converted Hindu scholar whose area of biblical studies included Orientalisms or customs from the Eastern sectors of the world, and other scholars also raise questions about the opening verses of the celebrated psalm.  Pillai suggests that the verse should be read: “Shall I lift up my eyes to the hills? From whence comes my help?”  The answer follows in verse two: “My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth.”

The previous post goes on to discuss other aspects of Psalm 121 in this excerpt:

This particular psalm is said to be among the Psalms of Degrees or Songs (Psalms) of Ascent. Psalms 120-134 comprise a “hymn book” from which pilgrims sang as they were ascending Mount Zion, the highest point in Jerusalem, the place of celebration of the annual feasts mandated by God for the Children of Israel.  Paul Stroble, in his blog devoted to this psalm points out that “Clift McCann writes in The New Interpreter’s Bible that these psalms are all short enough to be memorized and several contain references to everyday life, implying that these psalms reflect the experiences of everyday people traveling or arriving at Jerusalem.”

Stroble, also mentions that various writers refer to Psalm 121 as “the psalm for the journey of life,” and “the psalm for sojourners.”  He continues his discussion of the merits of this psalm that he finds especially meaningful “because of the comfort of its promises as one travels literally and figuratively.”

On the 15th anniversary of the life-altering events of 9-11, as we endeavor to stand in midst of the turmoil of the perilous times that are so difficult to deal with, we find strength and encouragement from Psalm 121 in its entirety in the Amplified Bible:

I will lift up my eyes to the hills [of Jerusalem]—
From where shall my help come?

My help comes from the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth.

He will not allow your foot to slip;
He who keeps you will not slumber.

Behold, He who keeps Israel
Will neither slumber [briefly] nor sleep [soundly].


The Lord is your keeper;
The Lord is your shade on your right hand.

The sun will not strike you by day,
Nor the moon by night.

The Lord will protect you from all evil;
He will keep your life.

The Lord will guard you’re going out and your coming in [everything that you do]
From this time forth and forever.

We close with a musical compositions inspired by Psalm 121 and offered by the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir:

 

On 9-11-13: Remembering beauty for ashes

September 11, 2013

The lower perimeter columns of the north and west faces of Two World Trade Center (south tower) after the collapse of the building.

The lower perimeter columns of the north and west faces of the World Trade Center (south tower) after the collapse of the building following the attack on 9-11.

Today, September 11, 2013, marks the 12th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington DC. In addition, the nation pauses to remember the one-year anniversary of the September 11, 2012 attack against the U.S. consulate in Benghazi where four Americans were killed, including the U.S. Ambassador to Libya. On such solemn occasions, we look for rays of hope, like radiant beams of light that penetrated plumes of dust and debris on that fateful day, September 11, 2001 . This morning I thought of the passage from Isaiah 61:3 which makes known the transforming power of God:

To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified.

The God of universe, the all-wise, all-powerful, all-loving God, can utterly transform what appears the most devastating disaster into a glorious triumph that defies all attempts to figure out how such a grand outcome is even conceivable. I thought of a blog post on Dr. J’s Apothecary Shoppe inspired by this comforting passage from Isaiah. I thought it would be appropriate to re-post this two-part entry on this another 9-11 commemoration:

https://drlej.wordpress.com/2012/10/20/beauty-for-ashes-and-the-power-of-god-parts-1-and-2/

https://drlej.wordpress.com/2012/10/20/beauty-for-ashes-and-the-power-of-god-part-2/

A view of the World Trade Center 9-11-11 Tribute in light from Jersey City, NJ. The red, white & blue building on the left is the new World Trade Center building (formerly known as The Freedom Tower).

A view of the World Trade Center 9-11-11 Tribute in light from Jersey City, NJ. The red, white & blue building on the left is the new World Trade Center building (formerly known as The Freedom Tower).