Tag Archives: Grief

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

Loss & Despair on the Road to Emmaus

I’m reading the story of the walk to Emmaus over and over this week because sometimes the lectionary is a signpost that helps me remember the way I have come, that helps me find my way home again. Every time we cycle around to this story of Jesus strangely appearing to his friends on the road, I feel its fragmented in-betweeness, its unexplained mystery and desperate confusion.

It resonates for me because this is a story of loss and despair.

When Jesus comes upon the disciples, they are “standing still and looking sad,” and, though he already knows their hearts, he still asks them to share with him: What grieves you so?

The disciples ache for the friend and leader they have lost, so much that they can’t even perceive him as he walks among them. Hours pass as they tell and re-tell the story of their community splintering apart at his death. They don’t understand what has happened, and they’ve given up.

We had hoped, they tell this stranger. We had hoped that this man Jesus would save us, but we hope no longer. Everything is over now.

Of course, they’re wrong.

Everything is not over. Their hearts will “burn within them” as they look back on this day and realize they have spent it looking into the face of what they desire most, yet missing it all along.

But I love this story for that, for not passing over the heavy grief and hopeless sadness of the community that experienced Jesus’ death. They don’t just get to skip to the certainty of a risen Jesus: first they have to deal with the confusion of an empty tomb.

I’m glad this part of the story gets told because otherwise we’d be missing a critical piece of the narrative. Scripture is sacred to me because it gives words to the stories I already know as true in my own life, and this story is one that rings deeply inside of me.

Sometimes we are so shaken by the storms of life that we can do nothing more than stand still and look sad in the midst of it all.

Sometimes we are so blinded by grief that we cannot manage to hope for a future, even if that future has come to walk beside us and listen to our story.

Sometimes our hearts burn, so full do they become of that strange mixture of clarity and absurdity that comes from trying to process an experience of tragedy.

And always, no matter what, we have the opportunity to take the walk, however long, to Emmaus together.

– — –

What stories of scripture are resonating in your life right now? How do you see your community responding to its experiences of grief or loss? Who walks to Emmaus with you?

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Filed under Lectionary Reflections, My Faith Journey

Speaking into spiritual darkness

“[The dark night of the soul] is a time of special vulnerability,
not only the kind that makes you feel weak,
but also the kind that opens you to signals in the world around you…
You may think that the time spent in a dark night is a waste.
You accomplish nothing… [but] you need to see
the waste of your life as having a place in the nature of things.”
Thomas Moore, Dark Nights of the Soul,

Talking about spiritual suffering

It’s been difficult to write about spirituality over the last year. Mostly that’s because I haven’t been feeling very spiritual, and that can be difficult to admit — especially as someone who makes my living as a religious leader.

Our spiritual lives are intimate parts of our selves, parts that are often difficult to express in words. Working in ministry, I continue to be amazed at the depth and unique complexity of the spiritual lives of every person I encounter.

So, why is it so hard to say when we’re suffering spiritually?

A missing conversation

One of the main challenges I’ve encountered in my own effort to be authentic and transparent is that we just don’t talk about spiritual sorrow very much in the church.

Sometimes it seems to fall into that category of off-limit topics in the church — like divorce, addiction, financial accountability, or racism. You don’t hear very many pastors preaching about their own “dark nights of the soul,” seasons of spiritual darkness and separation from God. Even grief can become a topic that we push to the more private corners of our worship and congregational lives.

Perhaps it’s that we’re not sure how to measure our own spiritual well-being. Or perhaps it’s something too personal to share. Still, I’ve found myself longing for more openness and conversation within my religious community about the struggle to connect with God.

And I don’t think I’m alone. Often people in conversation with me — many of them also ministers or seminarians — will quietly admit that, secretly, they don’t have any kind of prayer life to speak of, or that they don’t actually get very much out of worship.

I wonder what resonance and edification might be possible if we brought those kinds of conversations into the open.

Re-framing spiritual language

One of the most profound insights I’ve had during my own journey with spiritual atrophy is that a deadened, grieving, or strained spiritual life is still a spiritual life.

We are not spiritual beings only when we are spiritually flourishing: we are always spiritual beings, no matter what our spiritual state.

One of the most helpful exercises for me has been identifying new images for God as my personal faith shifts and moves into new landscapes. Scripture, hymns, and poetry are filled with descriptions of a God that feels distant, or even entirely absent. Sometimes, we relate more to the God who forsakes us than we do to the God who shelters us under wings.

I think it is important to make sure we include these kind of dark or difficult images, names, and descriptions of God in our worship so that people who find themselves in a period of spiritual dryness may know that they are not alone in their struggle and that they may perhaps find new language for what they are experiencing. Otherwise we may unintentionally give the impression that the only God the church knows is the God of spiritual vitality and connection.

And how good it is that God is bigger than that. How good it is that, as Rilke writes, “even when we do not desire it, God is ripening.”

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Filed under Church, My Faith Journey, Spirituality, Worship