I hope my life was penned in such a way that when time comes to write my epitaph someone might think to say not that I was good so much as kind and that I wrote quite well beyond my means because it was the wind of grace blown down that gave me words and moved my sluggish hands, and that I always sought to know the unseen things and though I loved the breadth of language for my art, my heart always seemed fixed on a day when all the sound and words would fall away, and that I was quite hopeful to the last if anyone would choose one line to inscribe my memory in stone it surely should be the simple supposition I know right: there merely is no synonym for light. ~Margaret Ingraham “Epitaph” from Exploring This Terrain
The world can feel like a fearsome place with endless stories of tragedy and loss, so much pain and suffering, blinding me in darkness so I fail to see the light all around me.
How to describe a Light that transforms all that is bleak?
With these Words:
Be not afraid Come have breakfast Touch and see Follow me Do you love me? Feed my sheep Peace be with you
As I am mere breath and bone, a wisp in a moment of time, His truth anchors my heart and illuminates my soul: I am called forth into His Light.
The world is indeed full of peril and in it there are many dark places. But still there is much that is fair. And though in all lands, love is now mingled with grief, it still grows, perhaps, the greater. — J. R. R. Tolkien from The Fellowship of the Ring
Worldwide. a tsunami of tears overflows in households and communities as COVID-19 wreaks physical and economic havoc in hundreds of thousands of lives. We experience deep sadness and grief when older folks with health conditions are taken by a virulent pneumonia within a matter of days, often dying without a familiar face nearby. And there is no end to our distress when up to 40% of hospitalizations are for younger victims of the virus, most of whom survive, but too many don’t and won’t.
Our sorrow fills a chasm so deep and dark that it is a fearsome thing to even peer from the edge, as so many of us do, praying for far-flung family and friends to remain healthy and unable to be of any direct assistance even if they become ill. We join the helplessness of countless people in human history who have lived through times that seem unendurable.
We don’t understand why inexplicable tragedy befalls good and gracious people, taking them when they are not yet finished with their work on earth. From quakes that topple buildings burying people, to waves that wipe out whole cities and sweep away thousands of people, to a pathogen too swift and powerful for all the weapons of modern medicine, we are reminded every day – we live on perilous ground and our time here has always been finite. We don’t have control over the amount of time, but we do have control over how our love is heard and spread.
There is assurance in knowing we do not weep alone; Our Lord is acquainted with grief. Our grieving is so familiar to a suffering God who too wept at the death of a beloved friend, and who cried out when He was tasked with enduring the unendurable.
There is comfort in knowing He too peered into the chasm of darkness; He willingly entered its depths to come to our rescue with His incomparable capacity for Light and Love.
This year’s Lenten theme for Barnstorming:
God sees us as we are, loves us as we are, and accepts us as we are. But by His grace, He does not leave us where we are. ~Tim Keller
Angels, where you soar Up to God’s own light Take my own lost bird On your hearts tonight; And as grief once more Mounts to heaven and sings Let my love be heard Whispering in your wings ~Alfred Noyes
Outside the house the wind is howling and the trees are creaking horribly. This is an old story with its old beginning, as I lay me down to sleep. But when I wake up, sunlight has taken over the room. You have already made the coffee and the radio brings us music from a confident age. In the paper bad news is set in distant places. Whatever was bound to happen in my story did not happen. But I know there are rules that cannot be broken. Perhaps a name was changed. A small mistake. Perhaps a woman I do not know is facing the day with the heavy heart that, by all rights, should have been mine. ~Lisel Mueller “In November”
It does not escape me~ (I wake every day knowing this) the earthquake happened somewhere else, a tornado leveled some other town, a plane full of ordinary people like me was shot out of the sky, a drunk driver destroyed a family, a fire left a forest and homes in ashes, a missing son’s body was found frozen in an avalanche, a devastating diagnosis darkens someone’s remaining days.
No mistake has been made, yet I wake knowing this part of my story has not yet visited me- the heavy heart that should have been mine awaits, still breaking, still bleeding, still beating still believing miracles can happen.
We think of him as safe beneath the steeple, Or cosy in a crib beside the font, But he is with a million displaced people On the long road of weariness and want. For even as we sing our final carol His family is up and on that road, Fleeing the wrath of someone else’s quarrel, Glancing behind and shouldering their load. Whilst Herod rages still from his dark tower Christ clings to Mary, fingers tightly curled, The lambs are slaughtered by the men of power, And death squads spread their curse across the world. But every Herod dies, and comes alone To stand before the Lamb upon the throne. ~Malcolm Guite “Refugee”
…as you sit beneath your beautifully decorated tree, eat the rich food of celebration, and laugh with your loved ones, you must not let yourself forget the horror and violence at the beginning and end of the Christmas story. The story begins with the horrible slaughter of children and ends with the violent murder of the Son of God. The slaughter depicts how much the earth needs grace. The murder is the moment when that grace is given.
Look into that manger representing a new life and see the One who came to die. Hear the angels’ celebratory song and remember that sad death would be the only way that peace would be given. Look at your tree and remember another tree – one not decorated with shining ornaments, but stained with the blood of God.
As you celebrate, remember that the pathway to your celebration was the death of the One you celebrate, and be thankful. ~Paul Tripp
There can be no consolation; only mourning and great weeping, sobbing that wrings dry every human cell, leaving dust behind, dust, only dust which is beginning and end.
He came to us for times such as this, born of the dust of woman and the breath of Spirit, God who bent down to lie in barn dust, walk on roads of dust, die and be laid to rest as dust in order to conquer such evil as this that could terrify masses and massacre innocents.
He became dust to be like us He began a mere speck in a womb like us, so easily washed away as unexpected, unneeded, unwanted.
Lord, You are long expected. You are needed You are wanted.
Your heart beat like ours breathing each breath like ours until a fearful fallen world took Your and our breath away.
You shine through the shadows of death to guide our stumbling uncertain feet. Your tender mercies flow freely when there is no consolation when there is no comfort.
You hear our cries as You cry too. You know our tears as You weep too. You know our mourning as You mourned too. You know our dying as You died too.
Only God can glue together what evil has shattered.
We will know His peace when He comes to bring us home, our tears finally dried, our cells no longer just dust, as we are glued together by the breath of God forevermore.
the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace. Luke 1: 78-79
As the house of a person in age sometimes grows cluttered with what is too loved or too heavy to part with, the heart may grow cluttered. And still the house will be emptied, and still the heart.
Empty and filled, like the curling half-light of morning, in which everything is still possible and so why not.
Filled and empty, like the curling half-light of evening, in which everything now is finished and so why not.
Beloved, what can be, what was, will be taken from us. I have disappointed. I am sorry. I knew no better.
A root seeks water. Tenderness only breaks open the earth. This morning, out the window, the deer stood like a blessing, then vanished. ~Jane Hirschfield from “The Standing Deer”
My first time ever seated next to my mother in a movie theater, just a skinny four year old girl practically folded up in half by a large padded chair whose seat won’t stay down, bursting with anticipation to see Disney’s Bambi.
Enthralled with so much color, motion, music, songs and fun characters, I am wholly lost in a new world of animated reality when suddenly Bambi’s mother looks up, alarmed, from eating a clump of grass growing in the snow.
My heart leaps with worry. She tells him to run for the thicket, to seek safety where she has always kept him warm next to her.
She follows behind, tells him to run faster, not to look back, don’t ever look back.
The gun shot hits my belly too.
My stomach twists as he cries out for his mother, pleading for her. I know in my heart she is lost forever, sacrificed for him.
I sob as my mother reaches out to me, telling me not to look. I bury my face inside her hug, knowing Bambi is cold and alone with no mother at all.
She took me home before the end. I could not bear to watch the rest of the movie for years. His cries still echo in my ears.
Now, my children are grown and have children of their own to protect. My mother is gone from this earth, my thicket emptying, my heart full, my stomach stronger, I even keep the seat from folding me up in a movie theater.
I now can look back and weep inconsolably once more.
If you go back to the etymology of the word “threshold,” it comes from “threshing,” which is to separate the grain from the husk. So the threshold, in a way, is a place where you move into more critical and challenging and worthy fullness.
There are huge thresholds in every life.
You know that, for instance, if you are in the middle of your life in a busy evening, fifty things to do and you get a phone call that somebody you love has suddenly died, it takes ten seconds to communicate that information.
But when you put the phone down, you are already standing in a different world. Suddenly everything that seems so important before is all gone and now you are thinking of this.
So the given world that we think is there and the solid ground we are on is so tentative. And a threshold is a line which separates two territories of spirit, and very often how we cross is the key thing.
I emerge from the mind’s cave into the worse darkness outside, where things pass and the Lord is in none of them. I have heard the still, small voice and it was that of the bacteria demolishing my cosmos. I have lingered too long on this threshold, but where can I go? To look back is to lose the soul I was leading upwards towards the light. To look forward? Ah, what balance is needed at the edges of such an abyss. I am alone on the surface of a turning planet. What to do but, like Michelangelo’s Adam, put my hand out into unknown space, hoping for the reciprocating touch? ~R.S. Thomas “Threshold”
Yet three more “mass shootings of the week” making it 32 so far this year: -garlic festival attendees, WalMart shoppers, entertainment venues –
so which of us will be next?
We are unwillingly forced to a threshold we must cross over. Yet we stand stubborn defending our second amendment rights, immobilized, frozen to tradition while dying on the spot, peering out in fear but never peering inward in self-examination.
What prevents us from stopping this insanity of violence from continuing?
The answer is not that more of us should bear arms so a shoot-out is possible no matter where we go. Mass shooters choose to die in their most public and heinous act of hatred and nihilism – being shot to death is no disincentive for them.
We sweep people into office from both parties who only voice platitudes in the face of this repetitive tragedy and offer no viable solutions. Yes, victims (including children!) and their families need our prayers, but they should never have become victims in the first place. We have failed them, again and again and again.
So how many more innocents need to perish? When is it our own turn to be gunned down while simply living out our daily routine? Instead of submitting to the necessary threshing- a crushing winnowing to blow away the chaff of our lives- we defend the status quo and somehow convince ourselves the next shooter will not come to our store, our church, our school or our neighborhood.
History will continue to repeat itself as we die every day, by our own hand or by others’. We must cross the threshold to sane policies together, arm in arm, united in the need to move forward beyond this mess we have made for ourselves.
We all need a good threshing, badly. We need to be worthy of our privileges. We need, in our desperation, to reach out our hands into an unknown space, searching for that reciprocating touch, hoping and praying Someone is there to grab hold and lead us across to a better day and a better way.
Of course there are no guarantees — no matter how selfless we are, how devout our practices, how righteous we appear in others’ eyes.
The natural disaster still happens, the illness progresses, the unexpected still happens because there is no warranty on how things must go while we’re here.
What is guaranteed is our vision of God’s glory as portrayed through His infinite sacrifice, His infinite worth, His infinite value, His infinite presence and transcendence. We glorify him through our enjoyment of Him — right now, right here — the bonus of another morning, another noon, another evening. It is bonus, not anything we are owed.
In great deeds, something abides. On great fields, something stays. Forms change and pass; bodies disappear; but spirits linger, to consecrate ground for the vision-place of souls. And reverent men and women from afar, and generations that know us not and that we know not of, heart-drawn to see where and by whom great things were suffered and done for them, shall come to this deathless field, to ponder and dream;
and lo! the shadow of a mighty presence shall wrap them in its bosom, and the power of the vision pass into their souls. This is the great reward of service. To live, far out and on, in the life of others; this is the mystery of the Christ, –to give life’s best for such high sake that it shall be found again unto life eternal. ~Major-General Joshua Chamberlain at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania 1889
Riley Howell and Kendrick Castillo were just regular high school students only a week ago – preparing for the end of the school year and for their long lives ahead of them.
Now their families and friends grieve their loss in the wake of more school shootings.
These two young men are now wrapped in the bosom of God forever; they gave their all and gave their best < themselves > to protect others when it was the right and brave thing to do. We can only stand in awe and reverence, heart-drawn at this act, in gratitude for their sacrifice.
Courage is not acting fearlessly. It is acting in spite of fear, knowing it may cost you everything.
May there never be another reason for someone to have to throw themselves at a shooter to stop the bullets. May evil intentions be crushed before they can ever be realized. May the selfless acts of brave souls abide in our hearts so we too will do the right thing to make sure this never happens again.
The ghosts swarm. They speak as one person. Each loves you. Each has left something undone.
Today’s edges are so sharp
they might cut anything that moved. ~Rae Armantrout from “Unbidden”
The grace of God means something like: Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are… Here is the world.
Beautiful and terrible things will happen.
Don’t be afraid.
I am with you.
~Frederick Buechner in “Wishful Thinking and later” in Beyond Words
Seventeen years ago
a day started with bright sun above
and ended in tears and bloodshed below.
It is a day for recollection;
we live out remembrance
with weeping eyes open,
yet close our eyelids
to the red that flowed that day.
The day’s edges were so sharp
we all bled and still bear the scars.
By these three days all the world is called to attention.
Everything that is and ever was and ever will be,
the macro and the micro,
the galaxies beyond number and the microbes beyond notice –
everything is mysteriously entangled with what happened,
with what happens, in these days.…
Every human life,
conceived from eternity and destined to eternity,
here finds its story truly told.
In this killing that some call senseless
we are brought to our senses.
Here we find out who we most truly are because
here is the One who is what we are called to be.
The derelict cries, “Come, follow me.”
Follow him there?
We close our ears.
We hurry on to Easter.
But we will not know what to do with Easter’s light
if we shun the friendship of the darkness that is wisdom’s way to light.
~Richard Neuhaus from Death on a Friday Afternoon
So many recent killings of innocents — needless, heartbreaking death at the hands of others — people abruptly wrenched from their routine lives, their families left with empty arms and eyes filling, spilling endlessly with tears.
Such senseless tragedies, we say, recoiling and withdrawing as if we can close our ears to more bad news. Some take to the streets to march in protest.
How to make sense of deaths that arise from the darkness found in every soul?
This is the day in between when nothing makes sense; we are lost, hopeless, grieving.
Yet we are brought to our senses by this one Death, this premeditated killing, this senseless act that darkened the skies, shook the earth and tore down the curtained barriers to the Living Eternal God.
The worst has already happened, no matter how horrific the events that fill our headlines.
This Holy Saturday we are in between, stumbling in the darkness but aware of hints of light, of buds, of life, of promised fruit to come.
The best has already happened. Happening now even when we are oblivious to its impossibility.
We move through this Saturday, doing what is possible even when it feels senseless.
Tomorrow it will all make sense: our hope brings us face to face with our God who does the impossible.
The Holy Saturday of our life must be the preparation for Easter,
the persistent hope for the final glory of God. The virtue of our daily life is the hope which does what is possible
and expects God to do the impossible. To express it somewhat paradoxically, but nevertheless seriously: the worst has actually already happened; we exist,
and even death cannot deprive us of this. Now is the Holy Saturday of our ordinary life, but there will also be Easter, our true and eternal life. ~Karl Rahner “Holy Saturday” in The Great Church Year