Of Praise and Thanks

Words to one of my favorite hymns paired with snapshots I’ve captured over the past few weeks. 


For the beauty of the earth, 

for the glory of the skies, 
for the love which from our birth 

over and around us lies; 

Lord of all, to thee we raise 

this our hymn of grateful praise. 


For the beauty of each hour 

of the day and of the night, 

hill and vale, and tree and flower, 

sun and moon, and stars of light; 

Lord of all, to thee we raise 

this our hymn of grateful praise. 

For the joy of ear and eye, 

for the heart and mind’s delight, 

for the mystic harmony, 

linking sense to sound and sight; 

Lord of all, to thee we raise 

this our hymn of grateful praise. 


For the joy of human love, 

brother, sister, parent, child, 

friends on earth and friends above, 

for all gentle thoughts and mild; 

Lord of all, to thee we raise 

this our hymn of grateful praise. 

For thy church, that evermore 

lifteth holy hands above, 

offering up on every shore 

her pure sacrifice of love; 

Lord of all, to thee we raise 

this our hymn of grateful praise. 


For thyself, best Gift Divine, 

to the world so freely given, 

for that great, great love of thine, 

peace on earth, and joy in heaven: 

Lord of all, to thee we raise 

this our hymn of grateful praise. 
Text by Folliot S Pierpoint 

Music by Conrad Kocher

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Musings from a $1.50 retreat 

Sometimes gifts come in the most unsuspecting ways, like several weeks ago when I picked up a book for $1.50 at a thrift store. I was taking my mother-in-law to an appointment and she loves to stop by thrift stores along the way. The last thing I need is more books, but that section inevtiably sucks me in like a gnat to vinegar. This round of treasures included “A Seven Day Journey With Thomas Merton” by Esther de Waal. 


The point of the book is to intentionally carve out quiet time with God. I love that idea, but my prayers these days are often while I’m driving down the road with a million other things on my mind. 

Waal’s opening recognizes that taking a weekend or week alone is nearly impossible for many of us, yet we still need to create spaces of quiet time with God. For some that might be smaller amounts every day and for others perhaps larger spaces of time once a week, depending on our individual circumstances. 

“… if I am to take myself seriously,” Waal writes,  “to respect the whole of myself, body, mind, and spirit, and acknowledge how essential it is to nurture myself, I know that time apart is essential. It is essential to find time to stand back, to draw breath, not only for my own sake but also for my relationships with my family, colleagues, friends, and above all for an ever deepening relationship with God.”

 

As an extroverted introvert, I am often misunderstood as someone who functions best by being constantly surrounded by people. My chaotic schedule itself would be proof enough to some that I must always be doing. Nothing could be further from the truth. While I absolutely love people and relationships and caring for others, I get overwhelmed in crowds and am uncomfortable in large groups. I crave time alone, yet I’m regrettably negligent in making that priority. 

“The reason why we don’t take time is a feeling that we have to keep moving,” Merton says, “This is a real sickness. Today time is a commodity, and for each one of us time is mortgaged… we are threatened by a chain reaction: overwork – overstimulation – overcompensation – overkill.” 

Guilty. Right here. Those words are for me. And I try to pay attention to where that drive comes from for me. Ultimately, I believe, it is because I buy into the lie that I am never enough, can never do enough, be enough, care enough, accomplish enough. Always striving, but never arriving. I buy into the lie that solitude is selfish, there is too much to be done to rest. 

I memorized this poem by Maltbie Davenport Babcock at a young age and have too long kept it a personal mantra. 

Be Strong by Maltbie Davenport Babcock

Be strong!

We are not here to play, to dream, to drift;

We have hard work to do and loads to lift;

Shun not the struggle, face it, ’tis God’s gift.

Be strong, be strong, be strong!

Be strong!

Say not the days are evil—who’s to blame?

And fold the hands and acquiesce—O shame!

Stand up, speak out, and bravely, in God’s Name.

Be strong, be strong, be strong!

Be strong!

It matters not how deep entrenched the wrong,

How hard the battle goes, the day, how long;

Faint not, fight on! Tomorrow comes the song.

Be strong, be strong, be strong!

I still love the message, but one cannot be strong without addressing one’s weakness. I cannot truly offer compassionate care to others without first offering it to myself. In solitude with God I can recognize and own my weaknesses and rest in His strength and sufficiency. It is in solitude with God that I more fully experience His love for me and mine for Him. 

“We have to remember that we look for solitude in order to grow there in love for God and in love for others,” Merton writes. “We do not go into the desert to escape people but to learn how to find them: we do not leave them in order to have nothing more to do with them, but to find out the way to do them the most good. But this is always a secondary end. The one end that includes all others is the love of God.” 

In that time of personal retreat, the prayer and Scripture and reflection bring everything else into refreshing focus. Merton sums up the rejuvenation of Scripture-reading with the following, “By the reading of Scripture I am so renewed that all nature seems renewed around me and with me. The sky seems to be a purer, a cooler blue, the trees a deeper green, light is sharper on the outlines of the forests and the hills and the whole world is charged with the glory of God and I feel fire and music in the earth under my feet.” 



It is only in intentional retreat with God, that I can truly revel in the wonderful aspects of my life and find strength within the difficulties. In that time I am reminded of God’s love in every celebration and concern of life and see that God is with me in it all.  

“It is God’s love that warms me in the sun and God’s love that sends the cold rain,” Waal says. “It is God’s love that feeds me in the bread I eat and God’s love that feeds me also by hungar and fasting… It is God who breathes on me with light winds off the river and in the breezes out of the wood.”

In intentional retreat with God I am reminded of my uniqueness as a person and the specific tasks to which I have been called. I have never bought into the “I’m special and God has a great plan for my life,” teaching that makes everyone feel like they will produce profound and wonderful accomplishments for the Kingdom of God. My personal belief falls more in line with this quote from Waal. “A tree gives glory to God by being a tree. For in being what God means it to be it is obeying Him… The more a tree is like itself it is like Him. This particular tree will give glory to God by spreading out its roots in the earth and raising its branches into the air and the light in a way that no other tree before or after it ever did or ever will do.” 


There are many trees in this world, some of which will never be beholden by human eye or evoke awe in those who see it, but they are nonetheless unique and praising God as no other tree before or after. Our names, our life’s work may never be noticed by others or recognized beyond our family and friends, and yet we can still give glory to God by being who we’re created to be in Him and living for what we are called to do. 

“If I am supposed to hoe a garden or make a table, then I will be obeying God if I am true to the task that I am performing,” Waal writes. “To do the work carefully and well, with love and respect for the nature of my task and with due attention to its purpose, is to unite myself to God’s will in my work. In this way I become His instrument. He works through me.” 

I am still working my way through this sweet little gem of a book from the thrift store, but I am so thankful for a this personal retreat for the price of $1.50. The price for not taking this to heart is much costlier. 

Tattoos, Tributes, and the Harlow Family Seal

I’ve learned to ask for stories behind tattoos. Many are in tribute to a life or a belief, while others have no real thought behind them. In the child-loss community, some have initials, angel wings, or even actual pictures, foot prints or echocardiograms of their child.  

I’m not a tattoo person myself, but at our Sadie Rose Grief Retreat, hearing all the meaningful stories and seeing the unique expressions of tattooed tributes to their loved ones, I began to wonder if I was missing out. 

What I came up with instead of a tattoo is the Harlow Family Seal; a symbol that encompasses our story of life, death, adoption, and hope, that can be used as a stamp, a letterhead, on a t-shirt, or made into pins and buttons. 

De profundis is Latin and means, “from the depths. A heartfelt cry of appeal expressing deep feelings of sorrow or anguish.”

We knew de profundis when our daughter died. 

SEEK are the initials of our four children, Sadie, Eli, Elsie, and Korana. 

From the depths, SEEK joy!

Psalm 30 is a personal favorite that speaks of God rescuing from the depths, turning weeping into laughter and sorrow into joy. 

Psalm 30 NIV Translation



1 I will exalt you, Lord,

    for you lifted me out of the depths…

2 Lord my God, I called to you for help,

    and you healed me.

3 You, Lord, brought me up from the realm of the dead;

    you spared me from going down to the pit…

weeping may stay for the night,

    but rejoicing comes in the morning…

10 Hear, Lord, and be merciful to me;
    Lord, be my help.”

11 You turned my wailing into dancing;

    you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,

12 that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent.

    Lord my God, I will praise you forever.

Read all of Psalm 30 here. 

From the depths, de profundis, from the anguish of the death of our sweet Sadie Rose, the joy of our beloved Eli, Elsie, and Korana is that much sweeter. We will always miss our first born, the one who made us parents. Our arms always ache for Sadie’s presence. Tears still slip from my eyes and there are days I still struggle to function, even ten years later. Yet we love more deeply, savoring moments more fully with each other and our living children, because we know all too well the frailty and brevity of life. Truly de profundis, from the depths, we SEEK (Sadie, Eli, Elsie, and Korana) and have found joy!

The cross in the middle of the seal symbolizes the faith that has carried us through it all. Only God in his great love and mercy could turn our weeping to laughter and our sorrow to joy. Bittersweet as it is, we are grateful for laughter and joy. 

The bottom of the symbol carries an H for Harlow and a c for Cyzick, weaving Lee and I into the circle and the story. 

When you see this symbol, we hope you’re also encouraged to seek joy de profundis. 

From our hearts to yours, 

The Harlows

Spiritual pride versus truth in love

Her dark brown hair was pulled back into a tight bun. On top was a perfectly placed white head covering, complete with white strings, her modest caped dress hung well below her knees. The 17-year-old scooped ice cream from the cooler as she tried to place the customer’s accent.

“Why do you wear that,” He asked, pointing to her head.

Regina 2
As a young lady (Sorry I con’t figure out how to rotate the photo)

She referenced 1 Corinthians 11 where Paul instructs women to keep their heads covered and Ephesians 5 where the Paul tells women to submit to their husbands. That’s the only answer she knew. Not too long prior, she had called her older sister who had stopped wearing the covering, pleading with her to come back to the faith.

“I’m curious,” the customer continued, “I’d like to know more about your religion. Come see me at the table over there when you get a break.”

She was used to people’s questions and curiosity. She was curious about him. Her first free moment, she walked over to the table where he waited patiently. Their conversation flowed easily. He was a businessman from South Africa and that brought him to the area. He had never seen Mennonites before and had lots of questions about their faith.

“What do they believe about the Holy Trinity,” he asked.

“The what?” She replied.

“The Holy Trinity, you know, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”

“Um, I don’t really know,” She muttered, embarrassed. “I’m not sure I really know much about the Holy Spirit.”

“Wow! Really?!” He gasped. “You don’t know what you are missing out on!”

He went to great lengths to share with her how the Holy Spirit guides, convicts, woos, calls, changes, sets free. He told her that while he respected her religion, it seemed to come with a great deal of bondage, unlike the freedom Christ offers. He shared enthusiastically, but with love and joy, not condemning or mocking like she was used to from those who didn’t understand her religion. He seemed to understand that her faith was not just a personal interpretation of Scripture, but was rooted in generations of tradition and ritual that had become her very identity. In her mind she was wondering what kind of flake she was talking to, but something in her spirit stirred.

I am that girl.

Charles and I stayed in touch, writing occasionally, even though I never saw him again. Several years went by. I eventually stopped wearing the head covering and plain clothes and at some point the letters from Charles ceased. I never gave it much thought. I was always amazed he had taken so much time and interest in a little Mennonite girl from across the pond anyway.

Then one day I received another letter post-marked South Africa. This time it was Charles’ mother telling me he had died unexpectedly of a heart attack at 42 years old. While she grieved she consoled me, his long distance friend, that he was ready to meet God and that he would be waiting for us when our time came. She told me that he had often spoken of me to her and that he was excited about the freedom I was finding in my own relationship with God.

I still have a refrigerator magnet he sent me some twenty years ago. Every time it catches my eye, I thank God for sending Charles my way.

As my freedom grew, so did my “Holy Spirit Fire.” I wanted everyone to have a taste of this freedom. I shared with anyone and everyone with or without their consent. I knew the truth and it had set me free.

I got bold with my new-found freedom, but not everyone was ready to be enlightened. I could rapid-fire loveless truth bullets faster than lightening, leaving a trail of stunned, wounded loved ones in my wake.

One day I drove my rusty (not-so-trusty) Chevy Blazer to an Old Order Mennonite preacher’s house, kicking up a trail of dust as I barreled down the long gravel driveway. I caught him completely off-guard in the garden and demanded answers to questions about this faith I’d always had, but was too afraid to ask before. By this point I had studied Scripture on my own and I had a Scriptural rebuttal for every single answer he gave me. He was speechless and I was proud.

Nobody won that day. Although I did eventually gain a reputation as a “Scripture authority to be reckoned with,” I lost friends. A lot of them. No one wanted this freedom I had when it caused me to be arrogant and heartless toward those who understood and interpreted Scripture differently than I.

Over time my message softened. I began to remember where I’d come from and how firmly and faithfully I believed what I believed, despite the bondage. I no longer consider myself any more enlightened than the next person, because we are all on an individual faith journey. I also came to love and cherish the foundations of my faith formed in youth and childhood.

We can boldly proclaim our freedom and enlightenment all day long, but I quote Paul in Galatians 5:13-15 NLT. “For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you are always biting and devouring one another, watch out! Be aware of destroying one another.”

I go back to my story about Charles. If he had presented his Holy Spirit theology in an arrogant or demeaning way, I would never have listened. I would have been defensive and closed, spouting off my rhetorical answers like a pre-programmed champion. But instead he shared with love and my spirit resonated with his words.

We can dispute our theologies all day long, we can argue man’s laws and God’s laws, and which ones were historical and cultural and which ones are timeless and eternal. But this I can assure you, “the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is NO LAW against these things.” (Galatians 5:22-23 NLT). Emphasis mine.

There will always be people who disagree or understand differently. We should expect and respect that. But they are living as faithfully to the Gospel as they understand it. I am always eager to break bread together, to share honestly and openly and safely, and to learn from one another. I am faithfully living out my call as best as I can understand it with my finite and imperfect being and enjoy walking this road with others.

neighboring-clip-art

Our faith stories are important. Let’s not diminish or hinder the work of God in one another with loveless truth bullets that maim and wound other parts of the body who understand and interpret Scripture differently. Find common ground and build trusting relationships with people outside of your circle of influence and see what fruit grows. Seeds sown in discourse and contention will reap simply that. Seeds sown in love… Well…

Hebrews 10:24 NLT “Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works.”

Song leader says ‘Singing gets into people’s souls’

While searching for another church-related piece, I came across this article I wrote that originally appeared in the The Shenandoah Journal, (Dayton, VA) – Tuesday, February 24, 2009. Although my personal taste in music varies from opera, classical, folk, blues, classic rock, southern rock, roots, old country, bluegrass, world music, etc., the four-part harmony acapella singing is still what gets into my soul. It was in the first setting described in this article of the Old Order Mennonite Church where I first felt the connection to Someone/Something way bigger than myself. It was where I first found God. 

I’ve included a poor-quality cell phone video of the described four-part harmony singing during our Hickory Hollow School reunion in 2011.

Song leader says ‘singing gets into people’s souls’

Author: Regina Cyzick Harlow ; STAFF WRITER

ROCKINGHAM COUNTY – Enter one church where stoical parishioners sit on slatted wooden benches and quiet children rest on their parents’ laps. The minister calls a hymn number from behind the pulpit and reads the first verse from a small hymnal. Then a man from the congregation begins singing the first line and slowly others join in. By the end of the first verse, the church echoes with four-part harmony.

Down the street in another church, several people gather on a carpeted stage. The worship music begins with keyboards, electric and acoustic guitars, drums and bass. The congregation joins in with the singers, sometimes clapping to the beat and reading the words from a projector.

Two churches – two styles of worship – praising one God.

While different congregations follow different musical doctrines, they all agree that music is an expression of worship and plays an important role in their services.

Even among conservative Mennonite congregations, the style of music varies. According to an Old Order Mennonite minister, instruments are not allowed in the service “for fear of honoring man the creature more than God the Creator.”

However, acapella singing is an important part of their worship. Joining in song is one of the only times during an Old Order service in which the congregation participates; the rest of the service is conducted solely by the ministers.

Singing “gives you a measure of unity you would not have otherwise,” said one song leader, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “It allows you to become a participant.”

The congregation uses several tunes for many sets of lyrics. The first meters of the tunes are depicted in shape notes in the back of the small black hymnbooks.

The importance of singing together is emphasized among the youth who gather nearly every Sunday evening for singings in a church member’s home.

Calvary Mennonite Church, in Mount Clinton, shares some doctrinal beliefs with its more conservative Old Order roots. Instruments are used only on special occasions.

Pastor Paul Emerson said music is important as a preparation to teach the scriptures. His congregation generally sings hymns and gospel songs, with the aid of hymnbooks familiar to most Sunday church-goers.

Music is not viewed as an evangelistic tool and Emerson thinks an emphasis on its selection and presentation to draw congregants is “unfortunate.”

Emerson isn’t opposed to contemporary music, but he “can’t see leaving two thousand years of history behind for a passing fancy.”

“It’s not a question of old versus new. It’s a question of musical structure and harmony,” he said. “We’re talking about a good and best comparison, not a right and wrong.”

He thinks there are distinct disadvantages to its performance-oriented structure. Most praise and worship music is “not well-structured” and appeals only to one generation, he said. In addition, congregants do not participate as much. While listening, they tend to focus on the people on stage.

Mainstream traditional Protestant churches often add piano or organ accompaniment to their songs and hymns are led by the choir or song leader, but do not use church music for entertainment purposes.

“It is to praise God and to communicate and proclaim the gospel,” said Jeffery Sonafelt, pastor of Reformation Evangelical Lutheran Church in New Market, adding that many of the Lutheran hymns are “Biblically-based.”

The Rev. Kathleen Miko, with St. Paul’s Lutheran and Rader Lutheran in Timberville, said while the congregation generally sings hymns during worship, they occasionally add a guitar, violin or flute.

People are drawn to certain styles of music, Miko said.

“I’ve seen people move from church to church because of music.”

Praise and worship music is a major part of the services in some inter-denominational and non-denominational churches such as New Beginnings in Bridgewater and The Potter’s House Worship Center in Harrisonburg. Both churches open the service with several worship songs, accompanied by a full band.

The Potter’s House music information on their Web site references II Chronicles 5:13-14 where the “choir and the trumpet made one voice of praise and thanks to God…”

Although the majority of songs at New Beginnings are modern praise songs, they try to incorporate a hymn into their service weekly.

“The culture we live in now does not really appreciate hymns from the early church,” New Beginnings Pastor Ed Heatwole said. “With a band, we can jazz up the music without changing the lyrics.”

A multimedia projector displays images that correlate with the theme of the words being sung. For example, if the congregation is singing a song about God the Creator, scenic images are played, and if the congregation is receiving communion, images of a cross might be used.

“The background themes are important,” Heatwole said. “We give a lot of attention to that. It draws worshipers into the presence of God.”

According to Heatwole, their worship band is also a tool of evangelism. Nonbelievers in the band have developed a relationship with the Lord because of the music.

“We sing songs that really speak about the person and character of Christ and how he relates in our everyday life,” he said.

Heatwole believes that music touches people’s emotions, regardless of its form of delivery. “God inhabits the praises of his people,” he said, “and that can be all forms of singing.”

The praise and worship band at Potter’s House Worship Center uses contemporary music, and seldom sings a hymn.

“I think that because there are so many different churches and so many different tastes, people gravitate to a church that plays the music they like best,” said Renee Garber, co-pastor and worship leader.

Although there are different preferences in the style of music, most churches share the philosophy that sacred music is an expression of worship and a preparation for the message to follow.

“It’s a form of worship and connecting with the Lord,” Garber said. “It’s also an act of prayer. Songs are musical prayers.”

“Music is one of the most important things we do in church,” Heatwole said. “It draws you into the presence of God.”

“Music is one’s expression to God in worship,” Emerson said.

Singing allows the congregation to participate in the service in whatever style the church uses.

“Singing gets into people’s souls,” said a song leader for an Old Order Mennonite congregation. “It adds a charismatic spirit, some involvement. I guess it brightens the soul.”

Record Number: 10032360 Copyright (c) 2009, Byrd Newspapers, All Rights Reserved.

Of kings, horses, politics, and hope

“Some trust in chariots, some in horses…” Psalm 20:7a (NIV)

I have known this to be true literally and figuratively. I still have a copy of the letter my mom received by the Old Order Mennonite couple who bought our buggy when mom left the church at age 47. With all sincerity and love, the letter includes chastisement for falling away from the faith (no longer driving a horse and buggy or dressing as a conservative Mennonite) and the immediate and eternal consequences one can expect when they do.

I can read past the judgement now, to see the love and concern they had for our family, but every time I think of this verse from Psalm 20, I simultaneously think of that letter.

Besides putting our trust in our preparedness, wealth, possessions, religious rituals, etc., we also tend to put our trust in our leaders and potential leaders. I get it. I have my own feelings about it all.

But to think that any one candidate alone can save our nation and ourselves, or to think that we are beyond hope and God cannot move or save if our candidate of choice does not win is preposterous.To put our trust in nations, kings, horses, and chariots, (people or possessions) is to miss the point of trusting God alone.

The second half of that verse from Psalm 20 reads, “but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.”

Here is the verse altogether. “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.” Psalm 20:7 (NIV) Read all of Psalm 20 here. 

If we say our hope is in God, if we proclaim that we know and follow Jesus and his teachings, then we should “Let [our] conversation be gracious and attractive so that [we] will have the right response for everyone.” Colossians 4:6 (NLT.) 

“Do everything without complaining and arguing, so that no one can criticize you. Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people.” Philippians 2:14-15 (NLT)

 “Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land.” 2 Chronicles 7:14 (NLT)

Let us trust in the name of the Lord our God alone, for indeed, He is our only hope.

Interruptions

No less than 20 inches of snow have fallen outside our window throughout the past 16 hours and it is still coming down. The winter wonderland is beautiful, but it has interrupted our lives in that my husband’s flight was cancelled and now he is making the treacherous journey home in a rental car. He has already spent one more night away from us than planned because of this storm.

Thankfully, we use a wood stove for heat and have firewood stockpiled next to the stove, we have a nice cozy house and I planned ahead to make sure our refrigerator and cabinets had plenty of food. So while we wish for Lee to come home safely, the interruption could be much worse.

It seems we’ve had our share of interruptions lately. Unemployment, job changes and a chronically sick child have been some of the larger interruptions, and then there are the small, everyday inconveniences of running late, running behind, and everything in between. The death of our daughter five years ago was a most unwelcome interruption that nearly destroyed me.

Interruptions happen. Life happens. Death happens. Most often I can point to these life-altering interruptions and see that is seems like something terrible is always involved, and indeed, in many cases that is so. But how we respond to the interruptions can destroy us or make us stronger. Obviously, some take a lot more time, practice, and working through than others, but they can all be tools that change and shape us into more loving compassionate and empathetic human beings or can harden our hearts with bitterness and anger.

One of my favorite Scriptures says…

“But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
 For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” Isaiah 43:1-3

These words have guided me, comforted me and sometimes were the only thing that carried me through my life’s interruptions. When I passed through the waters and felt I would drown in my tears, I was sustained and comforted by this ancient text written by another who knew about life’s interruptions. Although I can’t always see the other side of the river or I feel the heat of the flames consuming my flesh, I find refuge in the Holy One of Israel and know that if I live I live with God and if I die I die with God; either way, I am with God.

In this, I can know that these interruptions have a greater purpose than what my mind can conceive or understand.

If you are experiencing interruptions today, whether they are mere inconveniences or life-altering, I pray that you too experience the comfort of the Holy One of Israel.