Stopping to Grieve

Stopping to Grieve

Blessing Bowl for Meaningful Moments

We don’t become hopeful by talking about hope. We become hopeful by entering darkness and waiting for light.
Mark Yaconelli

As part of my parish visitations each Sunday, I meet with vestry members. We typically focus on the congregation’s ministry and whatever joys and concerns those gathered would like to share. I love these conversations and am often humbled by what I hear.

Last Sunday I brought with me a Blessing Bowl for Meaningful Moments, a simple tool that encourages personal reflection. The bowl contains small stones, each symbolizing a particular experience, such as an occasion for gratitude, a mountain high or valley low, a quest or adventure, a sacred moment, an ending or beginning, or a time of grief.

I started by sharing that a young woman whom I had baptized and known as a child died unexpectedly last week and how I was holding the deep grief of her family and friends. I hadn’t planned to talk about her before I came, nor for our conversation to center around grief. But others spoke at length about the loss of a family member, the effects of prolonged illness, and worries that kept them up at night.

Some shared moments of gratitude and even adventure. Yet grief hovered over us all, if not for ourselves, then for someone close, and certainly as we watch yet another nation engulfed in war. Later the rector told me that he was not aware of the depth of sorrow so many were carrying. We agreed that we rarely know the burdens that others bear, even those closest us.

We are surrounded by grief. Sometimes it touches us personally, other times we are its witnesses. “Sorrow is so woven through us, so much a part of our souls,” writes the poet Christian Wiman, “that every experience is dyed with its color.”1

What are we to do with the pain?

If you’re in church on Sunday, you will hear a vignette from Jesus’ long walk from Galilee to Jerursalem. At a resting place near his destination, a group of Pharisees warns him to turn back, for King Herod wanted him dead. Jesus dismisses them out of hand.

But then something happens that gives us a glimpse into Jesus’ heart: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem,” he cries out, “the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Luke 13:31-35)

This is Jesus’ lament for the people he loves, and also for himself. It doesn’t surprise or seem to bother him that religious and political authorities are hostile. But imagine his pain at the rejection and indifference from those he had hoped to heal and to save.

What did Jesus do with his grief?

First, he allows himself to feel it, and to cry out loud. He offers himself the same compassion he so freely gave to others, and honors his pain.

Then, after his tears are spent, Jesus gets up and continues on. He knows what will happen if he continues to Jerusalem, but he goes anyway. He knows that while Herod would be the one ultimately to sentence him to death, the people he loves will also play a part in his demise. But he loves them anyway.

We all need time and space to grieve, and to be there for others in their sorrow. On his way to Jerusalem, Jesus took the time he needed. Surely you and I can do the same, for ourselves and all who are hurting now. Then by grace we rise and keep going.

~~~

1Quoted in The Gift of Hard Things: Finding Grace in Unexpected Places, by Mark Yaconelli (Downers Grove, IL, 2016) 95.

Lent: A New Perspective

Lent: A New Perspective

Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray.
Luke 9:28

As we come to the end of one season in the Christian calendar and are about to begin another, I’m struck by how a new perspective on the same circumstances can be life-transforming. Lent invites us to see ourselves and our world through its particular lens, and it changes everything, even if, on the surface, life seems much the same.

If you’re in church this Sunday, you’ll hear of a time when Jesus went up a mountain to pray and had a mystical encounter with the spirits of Moses and Elijah. They wanted to speak to him, according to Luke, “about his departure, which he was about to accomplish in Jerusalem.”

In other words, Moses and Elijah were preparing Jesus for his death. The word Luke uses to describe their encounter is glory. Jesus seemed illuminated by the experience, changed, somehow. It shouldn’t surprise us that Peter, James and John didn’t understand what was happening, because the experience wasn’t meant for them. It was meant for Jesus. Later in the same chapter Luke tells us that Jesus decided “to turn his face” toward where his destiny lay.

Lent begins next Wednesday with a reminder of our mortality. It lasts 40 days, patterned after Jesus’ time in the wilderness before he began his public ministry. But we can also take our Lenten inspiration from his long walk from the mountain of glory to the cross.

When Jesus came down, the whirlwind of human need awaited him. Before he had a chance to catch his breath, he was back at work as before. Even as he trekked to Jerusalem, life seemed much the same. He told some of his most memorable parables on the road, including the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan. He made a point of traveling to areas that other Jews avoided, and he spoke to those deemed as outcasts of God’s inclusive love. He had dinner with his close friends Martha, Mary and Lazarus and honored Mary’s choice to take her place among the men rather than busy herself in the kitchen. These are the stories we remember, not the journey on which they took place.

But for Jesus it was the journey that mattered, its destination foremost in his mind. The one clue we’re given that time was running out was in the way Jesus taught his disciples. There was an urgency to his tone, as he repeatedly told them that he would not be with them much longer—something they did their best to ignore.

Lent begins with this exhortation: Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. I have said these words while imposing ashes on the foreheads of octogenarians and young children, of people whose funeral I would preside at later that year and those who may well attend my funeral someday.

Facing our mortality isn’t meant to be morbid; in fact, it helps us live with as much meaning and joy as possible, every day we’re blessed to be alive.

I’ve had a few brushes with death in my lifetime–near misses, mostly, that took my breath away in the moment and then passed so quickly that, if I chose, I could forget they ever happened. Each time, however, I was left with overwhelming gratitude that I was still alive, and an acute awareness that life is precious, to be lived each day, not merely endured.

Lent provides the opportunity for a spiritual or personal reset, the resolve to begin or renew a practice or intention. 40 days is long enough to establish a new habit, learn something new, make a meaningful commitment, or set out on an adventure. One church I admire is asking its members how they want to be different by Easter. It’s a great question, one that I’m pondering for myself.

Your local congregation is a good place to find opportunities for growth and connection, and I hope that you find an offering that speaks to you. They aren’t meant to add one more thing to your life, but rather provide a different lens through which to experience your life.

My invitation to you is this: find a quiet place each day in Lent and turn your gaze toward Jesus. Ask him to give you the grace to see yourself as he sees you. Ask him to help you savor the day, and live it well, through all its challenges and blessings. Ask to be a blessing. Then rise, to live your same life with a new perspective.