Saturday, November 14, 2015

This morning,

This week is the anniversary of our last week with Dad. Today is the anniversary of the day Harvey ran out into the road and to his death. My mind is filled with images of Dad, both of the months and years before his death, and of that intense week of holding each other while we cared for him. And even though it seems silly and trivial in comparison and in impact, I also miss the way Harvey leaned his bulk against me every morning as he greeted me for the day.

Yesterday was the terrorist attacks in Paris. This last week had the protests at Missouri University. Every day contains news of death, of fleeing homelands, of human trafficking, of racism. There are so many people hurting in so many ways.  

Lighting my candle and repeating my prayers seems so small.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *

My grandchildren were here yesterday. We went outside to play. The boys saw a rabbit run across the yard in front of the barn and went to investigate.

Chuck keeps the A-houses that need repairs in a row in front of the barn. For those of you unfamiliar with our farm, the A-houses are the right size for one sow and her litter. During the seasons when their litters are being born, the A-houses are arranged in yards surrounded by dirt and divided by hot wires. The sows are given straw for nesting and their babies are born and raised there until it is time for weaning...about 2 months.

Luke, the 7 year old, climbed up on top of the first A-house to try to see where the rabbit had gone. Aaron, who is tall for a 4 year old but not quite tall enough, tried and failed to climb up beside his brother. Luke called to Aaron and reached out his hands. Aaron reached up. Between the pulling from the older and the scrambling from the younger, Aaron easily made it up.

The search for the rabbit was soon abandoned, but that row of A-houses was now an obstacle course to be conquered. The boys would jump down from one. Luke would climb up the next one, stop and turn, and reach down his hands to his brother. Aaron would reach up and scramble, and then they would both be up on top just for a moment before repeating the process on the next one over.

I wish I had pictures of them grasping hands and pulling up.

Sometime during the second or third trip back and forth through the row, Aaron scrambled up by himself alongside Luke. He'd watched enough and figured out how to use speed and leverage, and done something he could not do before. His face at that moment showed a mix of surprise, joy, and pride in his accomplishment. The game changed at that moment to a game of equals rather than helping.

I wish I had a picture of him in that moment, hands outspread, joy and awe on his face.

I'm not sure what the lesson is in this but it helps me somehow on this day of horrible news events to keep those mental pictures in my mind. 

The hands grasping hands to help one another. 

The delight in becoming able to fend for oneself without help. 

The joy of playing hard as equals.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Living Life or Documenting It? Yes

One of my quirks is that I have a flat perception of time. I see things as they are now and forget that they were different before or may be different in the future. The season I'm in now will last forever. The age I am now is the age I've always been, and may or may not be my actual chronological age.

Of course that is a generalization. I know I wasn't always this age. I remember being a child, being single, having children in my house, all of those things. But all those times are still an integral part of me...I still am all those ages.

This is how it is, was, will be.

When I prepared to go to the Walnut Valley Bluegrass Festival a couple of weeks ago, I packed all the same rain ponchos that I have always packed and rarely needed. Rain was in the forecast.

On Friday at Stage 2, it began to rain. I had placed a rain poncho in my bag with Ben's name on it. Ben is 33. I got the poncho out of its bag and quickly realized that Ben owned this poncho when he was much much younger than 33. Maybe he owned it when he was eight. It was long enough that if I was sitting low to the ground on my Winfield chair I could just cover my knees with it. I could barely push my head through the neck opening. The tiny hood would definitely not fit. My straw hat took care of protecting my head.

How did I forget that an old rain poncho would likely have been purchased for a child?

For me the essence of Ben is the person I know now. He was always smart, thoughtful, funny, interested in details, a deep thinker. He still is. Size is peripheral in my perception of Ben. I can see it if I look for it, but I don't necessarily notice it. What I notice is that he is my son, that I enjoy him, that it would be fun to wear something he left behind. In some sense, when I am with Ben, I am with all the ages of Ben.

This evening I read a blog post from the On Being blog about capturing our lives in pictures for Facebook and Instagram. The writer talked about the value of having photographs of the memories. She wondered about the value of living out the experiences without withdrawing emotionally in order to snap and post pictures. What would happen if we chose to be completely present in the moment, and then let it pass without recording it?

It is a lot to think about.

If I want to remember what one of my children looked like at any given age, I have to remember a photograph that I have stored somewhere in a drawer or a hard drive. I don't need to see the photo. It is fixed in my memory. Laura at the age of six months is the sleepy baby just waking up with a smile, the warm yellow light from the morning sun on her face as she welcomed the day. Becca at one is reveling in a mud puddle as she escaped the grasp of my hand and quickly made for her favorite form of play that spring.  Ron at two is playing with a small red tractor on his high chair tray. James at five is wearing a new sweater and standing up straight in a Christmas program. Ben at four is holding a plastic snake and smiling a mischievous smile in a Colorado campground. Wes at two wears a navy shirt and smiles so hard it looks like it could hurt. Six or seven year old Tim flexes his biceps in front of my parents' house. Those are a few of the images.

I can't remember their faces without the photographs we took. I can remember words we spoke, feelings we experienced, the smell of my babies pressed up against my face, the feeling of small arms around my neck, the concern I felt when they were sick, the fear during emergency room visits, the wonder I experienced as I observed them develop skills and talents and interests.

That is true of Chuck as well. Sometimes I look at him and try to visualize what he looked like when we were dating. We have changed so much from 16 to 60. Except for the pictures we took, I would not be able to remember what he looked like when we were younger.

I can remember what my parents looked like even before I was born because of photographs. But my actual memories of them without photographs are primarily of conversations, emotions, events, locations. The faces are missing from the memories. What is most present to me is the essence of them, the reality of them, which comes from all of our relationship.

It reminds me of a scene from the movie, "Corina, Corina", about a father and a little girl coping with the death of their wife/mother. In the scene the little girl is frantic because she is losing the memory of what her mother looked like. Maybe that visual fades quickly for all of us, but we retain the essential memory of that person we love. In the movie, even at the end where they have moved beyond the depths of grief into joy again, they still retain the essence of the delight they had in their relationship with her.

So I wonder about this concern whether documenting our lives takes us too much out of the actual living of our lives.

Clearly the continuous documenting of our lives on facebook or instagram or twitter is a modern concept, but documenting our lives in other ways is not modern. There are prehistoric paintings in caves. As soon as there was written language, there were also historians. Before written language there were oral histories. It is human to document our lives, to believe in the significance of events, to hope to enjoy memories, and to strive to learn from mistakes.

Some people do most of their documenting through pictures. Scrapbooks also often add words and descriptions to fill out memories. I'm glad for the friends and relatives who do this. I'm so grateful for the photographs and memories.

Writing in my journals is probably my most common form of documenting life. If I open one from years ago, the intensity of the emotions of those days is instantly accessible. My writing is less a record of events and more an attempt to make sense of them. I don't know when it rained, or when we started harvest in any given year. I do know some of the things I pondered. My anger with God as well as my amazement at God are both well represented as I worked to understand God's workings in my life. Present also are more mundane and unworthy rants and drivel. My journals are proof of both my desire for God and my ability to fall so very short of who I wish to be.

Unfortunately, journals are much less shareable than photographs, because the content is so raw and personal. Ann Morrow Lindbergh chose to edit her journals and collections of correspondence so that they could be shared. I won't be doing that.

I think we are created with a need for our stories. We are created in the image of God, who also documented, or led people to document God's actions in the world, complete with stories and poetry and correspondence. Maybe documenting isn't stepping away from life as much as it is just another part of life.

The trick is to balance. We must live fully our parts of the story, and also document it in our own ways. There is no balance that is the same for everyone.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Rambling thoughts on time, loss, memory, and being present

Beginning in late spring, we fixed up our extra downstairs bedroom, repairing some water damage to the ceiling, adding a new ceiling fan, and changing the furniture to create a comfortable guest room. It is good to have a guest room on main floor for summer guests because we have only one air conditioning vent on our second floor. Upstairs guests are subject to the whims of summer weather.

Into that room went a rug purchased from my niece, a quilt bought several years ago from the MCC sale, and the bedroom furniture that was given to my Schmidt grandparents upon their wedding. The room could still use some wall decor, but I love its simplicity.

I also love remembering my grandparents every time I walk past the door of that room.

One morning about a month ago, I sat at the edge of that bed, freshly made with sheets smelling of summer sunshine. How can it be that my grandparents' bed has more permanence than my grandparents themselves? We talk so often about how we over value our possessions. People are so much more important than things, we affirm, and rightly so. But things outlast generations. If I care for those pieces of furniture well, my grandchildren could use them someday, although without any memories of the two people who used them first.

The words from Ash Wednesday seem appropriate. "From dust you came and to dust you shall return."

When we were on vacation I saw a book about how to behave when you are older than dirt. No one gets to be older than dirt. As much as I wish for another conversation or joke or song together with those whom I miss, what I have instead is their stuff, their photographs, their memories.

I got my hair cut short recently and one of the remarks I remember was that the haircut reminded that person of Cookie. And even though our lives have moved around and shifted since Cookie's death, wouldn't it be fun to have a walk with her again? Where do I find the wisdom that resided in her?

Our vacation was planned around a main event---a Colorado camp out with as many of Chuck's family as could attend at one of his father's favorite camp grounds.

Chalk Lake

Devotions together

On vacation, the sweetest part of each evening was the time when uncles and cousins brought out their guitars, mandolins, banjos, fiddles and basses. I hated the ten o'clock quiet rule because I could have listened all night. I wished for Chuck's dad to be there among us, leading in his favorites, showcasing the talents of the grandchildren, making sure each person had a time to shine. Of course those things still happened. The grandchildren were still showcased. Each person's individual solos and parts were celebrated and enjoyed. He taught us well.

Impromptu afternoon music (I didn't take any pics of the evening jam sessions)

We visited the Sand Dunes after the Regier family ended their campout.

It was a fun day of unexpected cool weather and hiking, As we came down from the dunes we passed a family that had a dog who looked like Harvey. I caught my breath.

The next morning, after an amazing breakfast with Tim and Michelle at Patio Pancakes, I had some time alone. I realized that woven throughout all these experiences is the reality that my Dad is also gone. It was quite a soggy morning.

At the end of that morning, when I was trying through my tears to tell Chuck my thoughts, he showed me a devotional that his mother had highlighted years ago from a book she often took along to Colorado for family trips. The devotional is too long to reprint here but I'll try to get the main points.

The writer was telling about a long float trip he had taken down a river with a guide and group. Each day they made progress down the river and then set up camp quickly, leaving time to explore the beauty, learn the history, find the treasures. There was never enough time. Each day some things were left unexplored, some history left untold, some beauty left unseen. Always there was a sense of loss as darkness ended the day's activities. Couldn't they stay just a little bit longer? Surely the time allotted was too brief.

And...always there was a sense of anticipation for what lay ahead. More river. More beauty. More history. More conversations. More experiences.

This year the shortness of time and the losses have taken a more prominent place. I'm at the evening part of the day where I wish I'd had a little more daylight to do more of what I loved. It is a discipline to continue to remind myself of the adventures ahead, the beauty yet to see, the stories I've not yet experienced. In some sense, I fight it.

I'm reading a book called "The Power of Now" by Eckhart Tolle. Tolle writes convincingly of how we circumvent our own well-being by insisting on spending most of our thought lives on the past or the future. We relive the past or fear the future instead of being fully present in the current moment. Of course, living in the present moment includes acknowledging the emotions that accompany loss. It also includes noticing the blessing of a quiet house, the cool smoothness of the wood floors under my feet, the beauty of a sleeping dog four feet away from me, the comforting regularity of my noisy wall clock marking the passing of each second, the tang and sweetness of yogurt mixed with sliced peaches for breakfast, the self care of freshly brewed coffee in my mug next to me. Being present in now also means letting the tears fall when they come, allowing the emotions to come and then fade without denying their reality or intensity, and without prolonging them beyond their natural beginnings and endings.

There are good things and hard things both to remember and to look forward to, and what I have is now. I have the goodness of now as it has been shaped by the past and as it shapes the future. I have my Grandma's bed to nap in with my grandchildren.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Can Church Be a Safe Space???

Our church has begun conversations together about gender differences, the goal being to begin to see the church as a safe place to talk about our beliefs and questions and dreams and fears, even when we may not agree. This is a hard process. We come to the meetings with a whole spectrum of emotions.

There are those of us who fear being judged for being completely ready and impatient to affirm and welcome persons of all gender expressions.

There are those of us who fear being judged for being completely convinced it is wrong to affirm and welcome those practicing any other than committed heterosexual relationships.

There are those of us (who probably have not attended the conversations) who are of differing gender identities who fear being judged for being honest about their identities and their questions and their relationship to God.

There are those of us who have friends, relatives, loved ones who have been excluded or have chosen to leave church because of the possibility of being judged for having a different gender identity.

There are those of us who have no close relationships (that we know of) with those of other than heterosexual gender identity, who have questioned the assumptions they grew up with, but have no safe place to talk about those questions in a church setting because of fear of being judged.

And now we come together to try just to talk around tables in the same room and show love to each other, making the assumption that each person at the table, no matter what their position on this issue,

  • loves Jesus
  • wants wholeheartedly to follow Jesus
  • is loved by Jesus
  • is on a journey together with all the rest of the people in the room to love each other and love God as well as we possibly can.
  • believes that the Bible is our truth.

There is holiness when we meet, but also fear. Will this discussion split our church? Are people still not coming to the conversations because they do not feel safe even in this place that we have tried to make safe?

I don't have a lot of answers.

In my own life, the tendency to be like the Pharisees is a huge temptation.

As a child I dedicated my life to Jesus many times, mostly to stay out of hell. I was afraid of a God who was waiting for me to make a mistake. I wanted to have said the right words, prayed the right prayer, done the right things, avoided the wrong things, in order to be saved. I did all of those things. And still, on days when the house was very very quiet, I would go to check on my younger brothers as they slept. I'd been taught that when Jesus comes again the sinners would be left behind, but I knew God would not leave a child behind, so if my brothers were still there, I was safe. That is a miserable way to live, and a false way to see God.

I was not able to feel safe in my relationship with God until sometime in high school when I discovered that God absolutely loved me. God was not out there waiting for me to fail so that he could catch me at it and let me have the consequences for all eternity. God was in love with me, saw good in me, was cheering me on, wanted me to be my best self. That kind of love was something I wanted. Knowing the God who offered it, knowing Jesus who made it flesh, was something I wanted in this life, regardless of eternity.

But throughout my life I have still managed to slip back to the Pharisee side of things.

What is the Pharisee side of things? To my way of thinking, the Pharisee was someone who placed a very high value on worshiping God and on righteous living as a result of that worship. The Pharisee wanted every part of their life to line up with God's values, and so they took the things they knew about God, and then set out rules for themselves in order to stay inside the lines they saw as God's boundaries. Their intention was to honor God. Their practice ended up being a litmus test for who was in and who was out. Keeping the Sabbath is such a good thing that can nurture faith, but it is easy to slide away from keeping the Sabbath until bit by bit there is no Sabbath left. So the Pharisees made rules to help them know. You can walk this far but no farther. You can do this much but no more. It is easy to see if I'm OK or not. It is easy for me to see if you are OK or not.

As a child, I subscribed to this by wanting to say the right words, pray the right prayer, and then to be 'in'. Throughout my life I continue to slip back into it. I want to have a prescription that lines out for me what will keep me in good standing with God and what will edge me out into "condemned" territory. Must I have devotions every day? What if I miss a day? or a week? Does my tithe have to be exactly 10 percent. Am I holier if I give more? Am I still OK if I give less? Does time count as part of the tithe? 

Throughout my life, God continues to challenge this way of looking at life and at faith. 

The apostle Paul was one who spent  his early life doing everything out of a desire for holy living. He followed all the laws and took them more seriously than the average Hebrew. After he met Jesus on the road to Damascus, he wrote of his 'resume' for following the law and his rigorous desire to be a righteous Jew as being worthless. Seeing faith this way is something to repent from, for it isn't faith. It is a contract. 

The Pharisees (and I) wanted to know the definition of being in the kingdom so that they (and I) could be sure to be on the right side. But the thing that happens when we use these prescriptions for right living to order our lives is judgement and self-righteousness. We judge ourselves to have followed or not followed the rules. We judge others as to whether they follow the rules. Then we rest on these assessments instead of realizing we can never do enough to become perfect. 

Certainly many of these practices are very helpful to faith. But when we use them to measure ourselves as to being fit for the kingdom or fit for destruction, we are looking to see who is in and who is out. And sadly, that is what the church in the United States seems to be known for these days. 

The church is already split.

We come to our conversations together afraid that people will leave because we are having this conversation. The thing is, people already have left. They left because we have not had the conversation, or because they could not be welcomed here, or because their friends/family members could not be welcomed here. They have left because we are too liberal and they have left because we are too conservative and they have left because our worship is different than the worship they find meaningful. They left because someone said hurtful things, or they left because no one really made them welcome.They disappeared quietly and they will not be back because they have found faith communities elsewhere, or because they have given up on faith communities.

There are others who stand on the cusp of leaving, sure that God will not be honored if the conversation goes one way or another. The church has become so used to being a litmus test that we can't conceive of being church together if we disagree. This is me too. I have had those thoughts as well, that I can't continue with this or that group of believers if we continue to do this or that expression of belief. I'm guilty too.

Why are we so prone to leaving?

How do we become the kind of church where it is safe and good to bring our hardest questions about life and faith without fear?

How do we become the kind of church that demonstrates the kind of love and acceptance from God that brought me head over heels into the arms of Jesus when I was a teenager?

How do we become the kind of church where we are committed to staying and working through the hard questions together in love so that we can bring up the questions and struggle with the answers without losing our fellowship?

If I tell you that I need you in my church even though we disagree, that I need you perhaps precisely because we disagree, will my needing you here be enough to make it worth it for you to stay? Will you needing me be enough to make me stay? Can we be church together even if we see things very very differently?

Can we talk about our disagreements but also talk about the ways we see God working in each other? Can we value each other's gifts even as we wrestle with our questions? Can we see our love for each other and the goodness in each other every bit as clearly as we see the differences between us? Can we refuse to put each other in a box labeled 'right' or 'wrong' that conveniently allows us to stop listening or caring?

Is there ever a good time to give up on finding answers together and leave to find more like-minded, or more true understandings of faith? Should we bless each other to go and trust each other with that decision and not see it as a failure?

Is it possible to have a church that includes everyone who wants to follow Jesus regardless of every other difference, trusting that we are all on a journey, that we all do not fully understand, that we all need grace, that we are all chosen and loved by God?

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

I think I need to get better at living with the questions. If there were answers to the questions, those answers would probably be the kinds of answers we Pharisees would like.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Lenten Practice

As we move through the Lenten season, I'm glad for the thoughts of others on the meaning and practice of celebrating Lent. Paul Schrag wrote for Mennonite World Review about repentance and these words especially caught my attention:

"In a time when disagreements are escalating among Christians and conflict is dividing our churches, what are the sins we need to confess? In our zeal to keep other people's sins always before us, do we fail to see those others as children of God? How might putting our own sins first in our mind improve our ability to get along?"

Since reading this, I've decided to make a daily practice of looking at my day for my own sins. Paul is right and it is too easy to keep the sins of others before us.

Another practice I have been adding to my days during Lent, and hopefully longer, is to be writing at least a little bit that is thoughtful or seeking insight. It can be a journal entry or an email or a thank you note or a blog post or just general writing practice.

And the third practice that isn't necessarily Lenten but seems to be needed during this particular Lent is to be practicing mindfulness regularly. Breathing in and out, aware of the feeling of air moving. Observing my thoughts objectively rather than subjectively living inside them. Letting them go and returning my focus back to my breath. Sometimes repeating a short prayer with each in and out breath. This practice seems to be the best treatment for worry and anxiety, and has eased me back to sleep in spite of many middle of the night worried thoughts.

I am aware that we are moving toward the first Easter without our dads. Just yesterday I was thinking about how it was time to assemble the ingredients for paska, and then had sadness. I make paska for Dad more than for myself. It was his mother who made it long before I did. I found it important every year to get a loaf to their house before Easter morning so that their breakfast could be paska. This year he will not be there to eat it.

I rearranged a table in the living room yesterday, removing clutter and deciding what things are important to be displayed right now. This is how it looks.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Clean Hearts

We are learning about the Beatitudes in our children's midweek program at church, and I am privileged to be one of the leaders. An advantage of being a leader is the discipline of attentiveness. Because of the time spent in preparation, my heart is attentive to how other parts of life fit into the truth I am hoping to engage with the children.

We are nearly through the Beatitudes. Our verse was Matthew 5:8, "Blessed are those whose hearts are clean, they will see God."  Other versions interpret the blessing to be for those whose hearts are pure. Either way, a complicated concept for children, or so I thought.

The timing of this beatitude lesson was serendipitous. We had not planned for it to work out this way, but our lesson happened to fall on Ash Wednesday, which this year was four days after Valentine's Day. It was good timing for focusing on clean hearts. We chose to participate with the other age groups of the church in the Ash Wednesday service during the last 20 minutes of our time together.

The children begin with music,  and our leaders, not knowing of our choice to talke about clean hearts, never-the-less chose songs about clean hearts. 

"Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence, O Lord, and take not thy Holy Spirit from me. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me." 

"Lord prepare me to be a sanctuary, pure and holy, tried and true. With thanksgiving, I'll be a living sanctuary for you."

I have no idea how much the children thought about the words they were singing, but the words met a need in me to see that God  was present and active, and that the lesson was more in God's hands than it was in mine.

I had worked long days babysitting in the three days leading up to this lesson and had only been able to give the lesson cursory attention. It was not planned in the way I liked to plan. I did not have the details in my head well enough to be sure that I could convey to the children the questions I had, the explanations that would help them to explore their own faith journey. I came to church with the materials only partly prepared and my heart anxious and frantic. Not a good way to teach. 

During our drive to church, with three little grands in the back who  were tired and hungry, I wondered how the lesson would go. Maybe it was God, or maybe just the wisdom that comes from experience, but my thoughts were turned to the truth that  for the kids, no one lesson ever stands out as pivotal in their faith. Rather it is people who love them, who respect them and nurture is relationship that is pivotal. No matter how my lesson went, I could definitely offer relationship, because I do truly love each of the children who come.

We sat in a circle after music and read through the verse together, talking about our ideas of what it meant to have a clean heart. 

We talked about Ash Wednesday, about Lent, about remembering Jesus fasting and being tempted in the desert, about the tradition of giving up something or taking on something new as a practice to strengthen ourselves spiritually as we look forward to Easter. 
Jesus gave up food and took on prayer. 
They could choose. 
Did they want to try a Lenten practice? 
Did they want to give up sweets, or tv, or video games, or any habit they wished they could be free of for a while? 
Did they want to take on prayer, or gratitude, or acts of kindness, or good habits they had been wanting to try?

There was  active discussion with earnestness mixed with silliness. They took home a Lenten calendar and a small paper on which they could choose to write down a Lenten practice to which they would commit themselves. Some began writing right away.  Others  gave it more thought or laid it aside. Some came to me to share their decision. Some came again more than once to share how they were thinking it through and tweaking their practice to make it something  to which they could give themselves.

We had a snack and then quietly went upstairs to the Ash Wednesday service, where we sat together in the front rows. This is not a quiet group of children, but on this night, as on Ash Wednesday last year, they quickly grasped the solemnity of the occasion and sat in silence, singing or reading along with the hymns, listening to the scriptures, and choosing whether or not to go forward to be given the sign of the cross in ashes on their foreheads.

One of the scriptures read was Psalm 51, which includes the words of the song we had sung earlier in the evening. Here are some excerpts that were meaningful for me as I listened to the words with children  seated around me.

"Be gracious to me, O God, according to your lovingkindness;
according to the greatness of your compassion blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin....
Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
Wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.
Make me to hear joy and gladness,
Let the bones which you have broken rejoice...
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence and do not take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and sustain me with a willing spirit."

As  we left, individuals still came to me with more ideas about their Lenten practices. It was an evening of grace, of reminders that this is God's  work and not mine. My part is small and God had used others to orchestrate a full and blessed evening  focused on Jesus, and on purifying our hearts as Jesus did.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Worship and Grief

A few Sundays ago the topic for worship was... worship. Our text was Psalm 100, one of the twelve texts our church has chosen as foundational. Our sermon included the truth that worship is active.
  • Make a joyful noise
  • Come before him with joyful songs
  • Know that the Lord is God
  • Enter his gates
  • Give thanks
  • Praise his name
It also included the truth that we worship because of who God is and because of who we are. God is good. God is creator. God loves forever and is faithful forever. We are created, the sheep of his pasture.

Worship is a return to the foundational truth of our lives.

It is good to ponder this when some foundations seem to be shaken by the deaths of our fathers. No matter what happens, these things are still true.

I know that grief is different for everyone. Some find that heaven seems very near when someone close to them has died. That has not been true for me. The most real thing to me is the finality of loss. It doesn't matter how many times I walk into a living room and glance toward a recliner, there will not be a dad in that chair.

I've always been slow to be able to adjust to loss. It seems to be almost organic in the way it happens for me. I know that my mind will fight with reality for a time, and that I can't control how long that fight will last. I know that there will be several days in a row when it seems like that fight is over, and then it will come back fresh. I know that if several days go by without any sadness, that tears will come unbidden even when I'm absorbed in something unrelated to my losses. And I know that when I struggle with sadness or any other difficult emotion, for me it will be a spiritual struggle as well as an emotional one.

This time around, I have been so aware of how wrong death seems. Not wrong as in too soon, for both our dad's lived full lives, but wrong because it is so hard to comprehend it being over, at least in this world.

I know that with our physiology, living forever is not possible and that wishing for it would be wishing for an everlasting helplessness after our vigorous years are over.

At the same time, the change from here to gone is so huge. It is abhorrent.

There is something that fights against it even as I push to accept it.

It is a mystery. Maybe that is all that can be said.

During that Sunday morning worship service about worship, several from the congregation shared about what worship means to them. One thing especially was memorable to me.  “Worship is a place where the distance between heaven and earth becomes small.”

Those words came back to me this week when I had a dream about Dad.

In the dream, I was going to the local private college to hear a concert of sacred music sung by a men's choir. I knew that Dad would be there. As I entered the auditorium I was surprised to see Dad seated in the front row of the choir, with other older men I did not recognize filling the row on either side of him. The rest of the choir was made up of younger men, including my son, who was in the row behind Dad. As the singing began, Dad sang with a smile on his face, enjoying the music. A bird had somehow gotten into the building and as it flew among the rafters, the choir smiled and watched it as they sang. All of their faces brightened, and they seemed to be singing to or with the bird as it flew above us. But mostly I remember Dad's face. It wasn't some ethereal smile or anything like that. It was just him, enjoying singing together while something delightful was happening in the room. I did not have a sense that he was aware of me.

I don't know anything about the interpretation of dreams, but I'm grateful for this one. The bird seems important, as does the smile on Dad's face as he sang sacred music and watched the bird soaring above him. I'm grateful for the dream, and for the ability to remember it daily. I'm grateful for the words of my friend. 

Worship is a place where the distance between heaven and earth becomes small.

thanks to Jerry Jost for sharing his photograph

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Another goodbye

Middle of the night phone calls always catch at the heart. And so it was on January 10, when the phone rang in the night, signalling the end of Chuck's dad's life. Chuck left quickly for the hospital where he met his siblings and his mom, where they sang "Thank the Lord With Bounteous Measure" one last time in the presence of that beloved body, now empty of the soul.

I remained at home, breathing in and out, waiting for the phone to ring again with the news that we were again being plunged into that other reality that is the time between death and the new normal. This is a time of gathering, of being held gently by our community, of remembering, of making plans and choosing how to honor a life, of telling stories, eating food we did not cook, writing thank you notes, gathering photos, and especially in this family, of making music together.

In both the deaths of our fathers, gratitude has been the strongest emotion in those days between the time of death until after the memorial celebration is over. Grief is strong as well, but it takes a bigger role afterwards. 

In our case there was gratitude for so many things:

a life lived fully with so much love offered not only to family but to many many friends and acquaintances

small personal jokes between Edwin and so many of the children, in-laws, and grand-children

Edwin's ability to draw others in and include them

the music that Edwin shared with his children, grandchildren, and friends

the faith that was important to him and that he passed on

the ability for such a large group of family members to plan together a burial and a service that honored so well the man they loved

evening time with family spent making the music that Edwin had led us in so many times before

overwhelming sense of how very many people loved Edwin and love us

I did not call him Edwin. I chose to learn to call him Dad. He did not take the place of my own dad but he became a beloved second dad to me. His joke with me, and with other non-coffee drinkers, was to offer coffee whenever we were together. He was generous and affectionate, and those who knew him also knew they were loved. I'm grateful to have married into this family and had the opportunity to call him Dad.