Tag Archives: Death

When Easter is (and isn’t) about Hope

[Hope] is an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart;
it transcends the world that is immediately experienced,
and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons.
(Václav Havel, Disturbing the Peace)

tulips

A parishioner approaches me during coffee hour. We hug for a long time and I tell her I’m so sorry. She’s just lost a dear friend to a long battle with lung cancer. Although I don’t know her friend, we have been talking and praying about her journey with treatment during our regular women’s Bible study group, and the loss feels deeply sad for all of us.

“I just don’t think it was her time to go,” she says. “It doesn’t make any sense.” A person so full of strength and positivity, a single mother living (and now dying) far from her family, leaving behind a nine-year-old daughter. I’m struck by her words, especially now, in the midst of Holy Week.

I tell her that sometimes Easter doesn’t come three days after death, sometimes healing and new life takes much longer. I tell her some years, Easter Sunday rolls around only to find us still stuck in the middle of waiting, still stuck in the darkness of the tomb. Sometimes Easter isn’t about the fulfillment of hope; it’s about the reminder that hope can still be possible.

And she nods. She already knows.

Wishing you deep peace, friends, wherever this Holy Week finds your heart.

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Filed under Lectionary Reflections, Lent 2015, Theology and Faith

Searching for Meaning: A response to Sandy Hook

escalante river

A Message of Death

When 32 people were shot and killed at Virginia Tech in April 2007, I was in the middle of the desert.

I’d been there for over a week, hiking through the canyons of Utah, doing invasive species removal with a group of volunteers for the National Park Service. We were too far to be reached by telephone signals or electrical wires.

But not too far to be reached by death.

The park ranger’s brother passed away unexpectedly while we were in the field. The Park Service flew signal plans over the canyon where we were camped, lights blinking trouble-trouble, until he climbed to the top of a nearby ridge where we could get a weak radio signal.

Come back, they told him, there’s been an emergency. So we cleaned up camp, cached our tools, and hiked the 7 miles back out of the desert, returning a few days earlier than planned.

I noticed the minute my feet hit the concrete: all the flags were at half mast.

Then I found a newspaper.

It was a strange way to find out about national tragedy. For days our little group had communed only with each other and the stars. We had worried only about getting our work done, about not disturbing sleeping snakes, about properly purifying our water.

It is shock enough to come back from the wilderness, but it was worse to come back to a different reality than the one we’d left.

Indeed, grief is a far-flung messenger that will find you no matter where you hide.

Meaning Beyond Absurdity

It didn’t take so long for the message of Sandy Hook to reach me.

Friday morning, as events unfolded somewhere else, I was playing piano at a funeral for a beloved woman I never knew. It was a message of death that was bittersweet, welcomed at the end of a well-lived life, and we, her congregation, gathered to eat and sing and pray together, to give thanks for her life and death, to speak hope for life beyond.

I heard about Sandy Hook the minute I turned on my car radio.

When I heard the number of deaths, I had to pull over to put both hands on my face. Out to dinner that night, I cried in a public restaurant just trying to speak of those children, of the children in my life that I know and love.

Didn’t we all pull over and cry in public? Didn’t we all lean on each other, rub our knees raw, search for something meaningful to say about tragedy and violence?

Aren’t we still searching?

Ten days before his death, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel did a television interview for NBC. When asked if he had a special message for young people, he nodded.

Remember that there is a meaning beyond absurdity.
Be sure that every little deed counts, that every word has power,
and that we do, everyone, our share to redeem the world,
in spite of all absurdities, and all the frustrations, and all the disappointment.
(Interview transcript can be found here)

Even if we do not know what to make of this tragedy — in the face of absurdity, frustration, and disappointment — there is yet meaning. Though we don’t know what to say or do that can possibly be adequate, we try anyway, because we cannot say or do nothing.

Every little deed counts; every word has power. And together we are responsible for redeeming the world.

Tikkun olam, as the Jewish teaching says, heal the world.

The Work of Redemption

And then it’s Christmas.

We have been waiting this Advent. We knew we were waiting for redeemer come, but we did not know we were waiting for this — for a message of death, for absurdity and grief.

Death came anyway, and we are still waiting for that redeemer to be born, tiny and fragile, into our midst. Has Advent ever felt so long?

Over the weekend, we asked our youth to hold a moment of silence for the victims, and one boy asked Why? It doesn’t make any difference to remember. Why should we hold silence?

But it does matter.

Our waiting — in this Advent season, in this time of grief, in this very moment of silence — matters.

Our grieving — for brothers lost unexpectedly, for beloved grandmothers who lived life full, for tiny children who were only strangers — matters.

Our hoping — for peace in our communities, for the healing of our hearts, for the coming of our redeemer — matters.

May we not tire in waiting, grieving, and hoping — for this is the work of redemption that belongs to each one of us.

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Filed under Advent 2012

Human Broken Church

Human

Advent is a good time to be human.

This is a gritty, earthy time. Born out of the tradition of Lent, Advent is a season of dust and ashes, of humanness, of bodily incarnation.

Sometimes I think Mary, who would have been now eight months pregnant — tired and swollen, overwhelmed by her duty of bearing so much divinity and humanity all at once.

At this point, she was still carrying all of that inside her. She was waiting for this birth, and now we wait for it, too.

And when this birth comes, it is not sterile or easy. It is impromptu and uncomfortable. This peasant couple, far from home, welcoming a miracle into their family, into the world.

I think of Mary, leaning against her midwife, muscles clenched and brow sweaty, leaning into the possibility of new life. Glorious. Perfect.

These are the universal experiences of humanity: birth and death. And here we are, centuries later, celebrating them over and over.

Broken

Because it is a good time to be human,

because being human means being built of the dust of the earth, breathed with the life-breath of God,

because we are waiting for this perfectly imperfect birth again and again…

Because of these things, Advent is a good time to be broken.

This same body that is born will be broken, like bread, will bleed, like wine, and will die. This body is like ours: dust.

And we will celebrate this body’s death, over and over, like we celebrate its birth.

We will bow before the mystery that divinity, too, could look like this. That grace could come as this child and move as this man and die as this savior. That the story goes on, far beyond that death.

Church

When that body is dead (but only in one sense), the story will spread and grow, and lives will be pulled toward it, will be pulled into it, will be changed by it.

We will call them, too, body. They will be also human, also broken, also glorious.

They will long to speak the words that Jesus spoke, to live the love that Jesus lived, but sometimes they will fall short.

This, too, is universal: heartbreak.

The seeds of forgiveness must be planted deep and tended well enough to grow into fruit. This body must be gentle with itself, welcoming all its parts into the whole, lest one is forgotten and lost.

Advent is the re-beginning. Here we can start again, fresh as newborns, expectant as mothers. We can lean into the possibility of new life — our new life.

We can welcome God to come walk among us, to show us how to live in this body.

Advent is a good time to be human, a good time to be broken, a good time to be the church.

So let us wait for the Word together one more time.

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Folks are sharing stories of redemptive brokenness over at Prodigal Magazine for the Broken Hallelujah link-up. Please take some time to go visit…

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Filed under Advent 2012, Liturgy