I wandered away from The Seattle School, my face red and tears still lingering in my beard. I found my way to a small rocky beach in the sculpture park that overlooked the choppy water toward West Seattle. The sky was nearly pure grey everywhere like it had been for weeks, but over the water blue was finally breaking through, and even bursts of intense sunlight were beginning to fight their way down. It was beautiful. My old habit of thanking God for this crept into my throat, but I swallowed it down.

I can’t today, I thought. I wonder what atheists think when they see this? I do not want to give God credit for this.

The thought passed through me, and I let it settle and rattle within my chest as my ears caught a hold of something beautiful. The vague strain of a trumpet rose up just south of me. I turned toward it, humming along until I was able to put the words to the music:

This is my Father’s world,
I rest me in the thought
Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas;
His hands the wonders wrought.

I laughed and my heart softened just a little at the irony of hearing that song at that moment. I strained my ears and caught wind of the hymn again, as I followed along with a later verse:

This is my Father’s world.
O let me ne’er forget
That though the wrongs seem oft so strong,
God is the ruler yet.

The trumpet fell mute. This time, the words brought back my anger, and my chest tightened. The wrongs seem oft so strong. So, so strong. Not that I had let it matter. Growing up, I had developed a belief in a distant, weak, small God. This was a helpful distance for me. This God was one who could love me without being accountable for my pain, one who I could never blame.

But that distance, that smallness and weakness was melting away during my time at The Seattle School. I was being put face to face with a close, strong, big and powerful God, a God who is the ruler yet. I was beginning to think that the God I was meeting at The Seattle School was more true than the God I had grown so comfortable with. And that revelation was ripping me open and releasing sadness and grief I had not allowed myself to feel.

God is the ruler yet where was God in the darkest moments of my life? God is the ruler yet I have felt God abandon me. God is the ruler yet God has let tragedy consume me and the people I love. Questions of Why?, of How dare You?, or Where were You? had been bursting out of me the past few weeks, and I wanted to abandon God. But that desire was only compounded by the fact that I can’t stop believing.

I wanted to break that stupid trumpet in half. I wondered if there was no trumpet, and instead if this God had just made me hear the strains of that hymn just to taunt me, this time with a new tune. I was able to latch on the words more quickly than before.

Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father;
there is no shadow of turning with thee.
Thou changest not, thy compassions, they fail not;
as thou hast been thou forever will be.

I stepped off the rocks and began walking south as the sound faded, fists clenched and heartbeat racing. I raced down the sidewalk with purpose, eyes vigilant. I had sung these hymns so often and so hopefully in my youth but now they stood as accusations against this God, minefields of sadness and anger, reminders of hope quickly dismissed by intense despair.

I stopped in the middle of the sidewalk, staring at him. A stout, balding man in a red rain jacket stood overlooking the pier, pointing his trumpet out over Alaskan Way, with a burning cigar resting beside him. The rest of Seattle scurried around me as he began a new tune.

Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!
O what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God,
Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.

He stopped, laid down his trumpet, and took a long puff of his cigar. My lips tightened as I felt my eyes welling up with tears. I wanted to yell up at him and tell him to keep playing. It felt like he was all I had in that moment, all that was keeping me alive. Finally, he picked up his trumpet and began playing again.

This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior, all the day long.
This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior, all the day long.

My eyes were full of tears now. I watched as he stuffed the trumpet back in his case and took one last puff of his cigar. Then he put on a helmet and hopped on a nearby bike, riding off down the trail toward the beach.

I gathered myself and stood up facing The Seattle School once again. I walked each block singing those hymns under my breath, each word fighting its way out of my throat, past the grief and anger in my chest, past my clenched jaw and gritted teeth. But out the words flowed, against everything in me desiring that they would leave me alone. There I was, still angry and sad as before, but I was singing.

I was still singing.