There is a balm in Gilead

I can’t help but post this…his sad faces are among the cutest.


My brother reminded Johannah and me this New Year’s Eve how we watched every single moment of the Lord of the Rings special features for all three films a few years ago.  Johannah went on to remind me of how we both cried through them – the special features, I mean. I did! When the last moment of the last special feature on the Return of the King disc was over, I was especially sad. It was truly over. We finally had to face facts: we were not, currently, residing in Middle Earth.

The last homely home.

I like to use that phrase as much as possible in real life. If you recall, this is what Rivendell was called in the books. It was the last bastion of rest and healing, of song and story and beauty and peace in the midst of a world which was, yes, becoming influenced by darkness but also just changing. “Moving on,” as the Gunslinger would put it, if I can mix my fantasy stories. I like how even in the books, places like Rivendell and Lothlorien sound so incredibly heavenly but pale in comparison to the distant Valinor.

Maybe it’s plain to you how the church is like Rivendell. If so, I think you are one of the lucky ones who has seen the Church the way it was meant to be. I haven’t always felt it to be so. I know for many people, the church has been anything but a safe haven of rest and wholeness. I have to hope for more churches with a “come as you are” policy. Don’t get me wrong though. I’m not saying I hope for more churches who want to LEAVE us as we are. That’s a whole different thing. And very dangerous.

I think the main thing about those Rivendell Elves  is that they aren’t setting out to create a really beautiful party where everyone has a good time. The beauty is a by-product of the fact that their lives are about preserving something sacred. I, especially, am susceptible to getting this one wrong. I like things to look pretty but there’s always this danger of “things” becoming  in actuality not very pretty under their veneer.

I have to admit that our son is named after two fantasy series. The first, Gilead, is from the Stephen King Dark Tower series. The protagonist is kind of a knight who is on this journey which has outlasted his mythical home, Gilead, by hundreds of years. Gilead was the source of civilization and order and Roland (another name I liked) is the last Gunslinger – a line of men born and bred to protect the world from the encroaching evil and chaos.

Gilead is also mentioned in the Bible, first in Genesis, as a piece of land. It was the place to which King David fled when his son Absalom was trying to kill him. There are several references to Gilead in Jeremiah which allude to the availability of healing for God’s people which they will not take. Gilead was a place where people went who needed healing. The well-known spiritual “There is a Balm in Gilead” refers to the same availability of healing for God’s people through Jesus:

There is a balm in Gilead

To make the wounded whole

There is a balm in Gilead

To heal the sin-sick soul

Here’s where it gets cool: Gilead means “hill of testimony” but Christ is Balm in Gilead to which the Old Testament refers. For me, Gilead’s name is a declaration that God not only has a place for me to receive healing but that he is making of me a place to offer healing to others. It is my fervent hope that our future embodies some very real way of offering up to the world the “last homely home.” Even if it’s only in our  family in our small way: offering someone a cup of tea and homemade bread let’s say. After all, the hobbits had their fair share of homeliness to offer without all the grandeur of  the Elvish songs.

We’ve talked about several ways this might look. Early on, our conversations were about alternative education and starting a school that would share all the best things about homeschooling with all of the wonders of having teachers who are actually passionate about what they are teaching. Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the Catholic Hours – the services of the day where you stop what you are doing and devote yourself to prayer. I’ve been daydreaming about starting what would essentially be a monastery only with a couple of families. I want to build this beautiful House with a chapel for worship and open it to all who wanted to come and worship God and eat good food and have good conversations and read good books and rest. Those of us who lived there would, like the elves, do these things day in and day out. I imagine space there for music and art to be created, but mostly I like the idea of doing the mundane things really reverently and well. I like the idea that we’d be intentionally clearing our lives of the superfluous voices and just cooking, cleaning, making things, eating and praying. Above all, praying. Doesn’t that make you salivate? Doesn’t it make you long for this life?

Tangent: a friend of mine – we’ll call him Chris “Smurf” – has expressed in the past some perplexity over the fact that his sisters had liked to play and read about all things “pioneer” or “olden days” when they were young. I feel like I tried at one time to explain to him “our” ardor for these things and failed, but this is what it is: that was when things were more pure; when people made things with their own hands. What they had was plain and their lives were not easy, but there was so much grace in, for instance, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s depiction of sewing a dress that wasn’t present in my life as a girl. Pretending was the best way I knew to get there.

Anyway, since I’ve also always had a thing for stories about journeys and survival I think it’s only fitting that our son’s nickname – Lee – was inspired by Battlestar Galactica. Even though I love Anne of Green Gables (and all things L.M. Montgomery for the same reasons as I loved playing pioneers), I didn’t want Gilead to be shortened to Gil or Gillie(!) and I already liked the name Lee on its own.

So there is my long-winded and twisty way of explaining the whole meaning behind our son’s name and the hope we have for our family. I went nursing bra shopping yesterday with my mom and upon being asked by the store clerk how we got that name I realized I don’t have anything like a short answer. The best I’ve been able to come up with is that I like the idea of hope for healing. She replied to this that it’s kind of like how some people name their daughters “Sedona” because of the healing properties of that location in Arizona. I wanted to say “not really” and probably should have. Then we would have gotten into a much bigger conversation. I can’t help thinking about how our rector would do it as I wonder right now why I automatically didn’t. Oh well…I’m sure I’ll have many more years of explaining Gilead’s name to many people. 🙂

One thought on “There is a balm in Gilead

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  1. Jen, so beautiful! You are still an exquisite writer. I love the name Gilead! And I love the promise of healing. I read both of your recent blogs…so happy for you having a son. Love you lots,

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