Tag Archives: Escape

How I Should Grieve!

How I Should Grieve! (CaD Lam 2) Wayfarer

The hearts of the people
    cry out to the Lord.
You walls of Daughter Zion,
    let your tears flow like a river
    day and night;
give yourself no relief,
    your eyes no rest.

Lamentations 2:18 (NIV)

I have a friend who is experiencing pain in life that I can’t imagine. Every day is a torment. My friend has actually compared daily life to Sisyphus, who perpetually struggled to roll a boulder up the hill only to have the law of physics win every time. He would watch as the boulder rolled back down requiring him to start again, and again, and again.

My friend steadfastly refuses to talk much about it.

“I remember you telling me thirty years ago about these old farmers in the church where you interned that one summer,” my friend said to me. “How these old guys were so stoic they would refuse to go to the doctor or the hospital even though they were suffering and dying. I’ve always admired that.”

I don’t begrudge the sentiment. I’ve observed that human nature often leads one to do almost anything to avoid pain. This is especially true when that pain is perpetual. I might find ways to numb out and avoid it. I might distract my mind and soul with any number of things. I might, like the old farmers my friend admired, stoically stuff my pain and suffering down deep and stoically steel myself to silently endure. In each case, I’m still just avoiding what the Great Story states, quite directly multiple times in multiple ways: the path of spiritual progress in this life is in pain, trouble, trials, and suffering. Jeremiah’s amazing five poems of Lamentation might easily be presented as Exhibit A.

Here’s a little Jeopardy! trivia: The Hebrew title of the book of Lamentations is “How” (Hebrew: ‘êkâ), after the first word of the first line of chapters 1, 2, and 4. Here are the three lines in succession:

How deserted lies the city,
    once so full of people!
How the Lord has covered Daughter Zion
    with the cloud of his anger!
How the gold has lost its luster,
    the fine gold become dull!

There’s something I really love about that. It recognizes what I find to be exactly what I need when I’m suffering struggles on this life journey: to honestly, emotionally, and unashamedly express my thoughts and emotions in a healthy way. That’s exactly what Jeremiah’s five-poem volume, How, is all about.

How I should grieve!

Along my spiritual journey, I’ve found it interesting to observe so many people who have a base assumption that life should be free of trouble, and that when experiencing trouble one should deny it, avoid it, and pretend that everything is okay. On the contrary, my perpetual journey through the Great Story reminds me constantly to experience trouble head-on, to fully express sorrow, and to allow life’s troubles to do their spiritual work in me as I cling to hope in God’s promises and have faith that there are good things on the other side of the pain.

The Sage of Ecclesiastes said that there is a time and season to mourn and grieve on this journey just as there is a time and season to dance. I love the juxtaposition of those realities in one verse. It gives me permission (I might even say it commands me) to fully feel and express my grief, but it doesn’t allow me to sit in and wallow in victim status forever. Rather, it is in fully working through my grief that I make my way out of the valley and to the next mountain vista where I can just as fully dance on the summit. They are part of one another. My grieving gives fullness to the dancing. My dancing gives perspective to the grieving. I find that treating them as either-or experiences in life is spiritually anorexic. Experiencing their both-and interconnectedness is spiritually empowering.

In the quiet this morning, I’m reminded that there are times in this life when God gives me permission, even commands me to:

Cry out! Wail! Moan! Sing the blues!
Let my tears torrentially flow like a raging river.
Let it out around the clock.
Don’t stop until it’s done.

It’s through the free flow of my grief that God spiritually transports me to where He’s leading me.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Doing Something

Doing Something (CaD Ex 12) Wayfarer

…on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord.
Exodus 12:12 (NRSVCE)

We are living through strange times.

Yesterday Wendy and I attended our local gathering of Jesus’ followers which was meeting corporately for the first time in months. With everything set up and following social distancing rules by local and state authorities, it just felt weird and disconcerting. This physical and relational reality only intensified the spiritual and emotional turmoil Wendy and I found ourselves in as we grapple with the inexcusable murder of George Floyd and the intensity of reactions it sparked across our nation and the world.

As worship began I fell to my knees as the emotional dam burst within me. Wendy and I wept together. Like almost everyone else with whom we discuss the situation, we are sad and angry. We agonize over what we can and must do in the wake of this crime and the evil, complex, vast, and multi-dimensional injustice of racism that continues to perpetuate in our nation, as it has for hundreds of years.

As I read today’s chapter, I felt the synchronicity that often comes in the morning when I open to the chapter that has fallen onto my schedule that day. It felt like no mistake that I was reading of the Hebrews’ climactic escape from their slavery in Egypt. What struck me this morning, and which I never internalized in the countless times I’ve read and studied it, is that the event is more than just the freedom of the Hebrews out of the chains of their slavery. Their escape took place amidst the wailing cries of their oppressors. God arranged for the oppressors to experience the pain, suffering, and loss that they and their system had visited on others for hundreds of years.

I also cannot help but mull over the fact that this same Hebrew/Arab conflict has lasted for millennia. The hatred and acts of aggression, oppression, and violence have gone back and forth and lasted for so long that I personally consider it impossible to completely plumb the depths. Guilt and innocence, oppression and suffering are found on both sides throughout history. From ancient tribal disputes to the settlement disputes on the West Bank today. How strange to read today’s chapter and to realize that the events lie at the root of yet another vast, complex, multi-dimensional human conflict that continues to perpetuate to this day.

So where does that leave us?

Wendy arranged for us to have a Zoom meeting with our children yesterday afternoon. From their homes in South Carolina and Scotland, we all talked and shared about our thoughts, feelings, experiences, struggles, and desire to do something. Every one of us shared our thoughts and intentions around what we can do.

In our local gathering of Jesus’ followers, we heard a humble, vulnerable, and honest message from Kevin Korver who, to his credit, passionately addressed the situation head-on. In the end, he led us in this corporate action list:

As we remain and abide in the circle of love, the divine dance of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we will:
Repent and confess
Bear good fruit
Listen, hear, and pray with love
Bless not curse
Love sacrificially
Become a bridge builder
Seek new friends
.

Will it make a difference? It’s not a miraculous answer to the evil, complex, vast, and multi-dimensional injustice that continues to perpetuate in our nation. But, perhaps if I who profess to be a follower of Jesus actually and intentionally do these things it will make a change in me and those around me.

I’m reminded this morning that Harriett Tubman led approximately 70 slaves to freedom on some 13 missions. Seventy out of some 6 million slaves. She courageously and intentionally did what she could.

There’s no reason I can’t expect the same from myself.

Angels

“You’re out of your mind,” they told her. When she kept insisting that it was so, they said, “It must be his angel.”
Acts 12:15 (NIV)

Just over a decade ago there was an original series that premiered on the TNT network. It was called Saving Grace. Wendy and I absolutely loved it. The show centered around a very hard, broken, and flawed police detective named Grace who was expertly played by Holly Hunter. Grace’s life was all sorts of messed up, and in the opening episode we find her on the verge of suicide. That’s when Earl shows up. The scraggly, dumpy-looking Earl is actually an angel sent to help save Grace from herself, hence the title of the show. The show ran for four seasons.

Across the Great Story there are numerous times that angels enter the narrative. Certainly in the life of Jesus and throughout the book of Acts angels play an active role, as in today’s chapter. Dr. Luke describes Peter’s imprisonment by Herod and his being shackled continually between four armed guards. In the middle of the night an angel arrives to arrange for Peter’s “Great Escape.” Peter is rescued and returns to where the fellow believers are staying.

I love that Luke adds the detail about a servant girl named Rhoda who comes to the door when Peter arrives and knocks. The servant girl is so excited to see Peter that she runs to tell the household forgetting to actually unlock the door and let Peter inside. Upon telling the believers that Peter is outside at the door, they insist she is out of her mind, saying “It must be his angel.”

The Greek word Luke used in describing the event was atou which is correctly translated as a personal, possessive pronoun. It is clear that the believers understood that Peter had a personal angel assigned to him, and this verse is among the passages that have led to the popular belief that each of us has a “guardian angel.” (Matt 8:10 and Heb 1:14 are two others).

For the record, I do believe in angels even though I don’t have a great story like Peter’s (which I’m okay with, btw). I find it interesting that Hollywood regularly uses the humorous device of choosing a very  unangelic presence when depicting angels. I think both of the scraggly Earl in Saving Grace and the elderly, diminutive Clarence in It’s a Wonderful Life.

This morning in the quiet I’m thinking about angels. When writing about “fallen angels,” otherwise known as demons, C.S. Lewis wisely wrote that we can make one of two foolish mistakes. One is to waste time thinking too much about them. The second, Lewis said, is to be dismissive of them altogether. I’ve always agreed with Lewis on this, and so I don’t think too much about angels and demons except when I encounter a chapter like today’s. So, this morning I’m allowing myself some creative fun with the notion that every one does have a guardian angel and how my angel might be personified.

I think his name is probably Walter.

By the way, Saving Grace is available to rent through Amazon Prime.

Have a great day, everyone.

photo: by Frank Okenfels; Leon Rippy as Earl

Returning Home

While the angel who was speaking to me was leaving, another angel came to meet him and said to him: “Run, tell that young man, ‘Jerusalem will be a city without walls because of the great number of people and animals in it.
Zechariah 2:3-4 (NIV)

Just over twelve years ago hurricane Katrina ravaged the southern part of the United States and decimated the city of New Orleans. I remember the timing because Wendy and I had reservations to honeymoon in New Orleans and had to scuttle our plans. Residents made homeless by the storm were scattered to communities around the United States willing to take them in.

One of the “Katrina” families lived in an apartment complex across the street from us. We live in a great little community of incredibly generous people, but I remember wondering how long the refugees would stay. Midwest winters are a tough challenge for those who aren’t used to them.

The theme of exiles returning home is a particularly timely one here in the States. Our own country is grappling with what to do about programs that offered “temporary” resident status to people displaced by tragic circumstances in their own country but who have no desire to return to their home country.

The more things change the more they stay the same.

The prophet Zechariah began to record his visions during a very specific time in history. The city of Jerusalem had been reduced to rubble under the hand of the Babylonians. People like Daniel and Ezekiel and thousands of others had been taken captive to live in Babylon. Others had been scattered to live as refugees among neighboring nations.

About 50 years later Nehemiah led a group to people back to the rubble of Jerusalem to rebuild the wall and rebuild the Temple. It was difficult work fraught with obstacles and threats on all sides. Zechariah began his writing nearly 20 years into the restoration and renovation process. The question plaguing the campaign was, “Will anyone come back to Jerusalem?” The people had been living in Babylon and other countries for over a generation. They’d put down roots, started occupations, grew families and their home land had become a distant, painful memory. Would anyone actually come back?

In today’s chapter, Zechariah has a vision of two angels, one of whom assures Zac that there will one day be so many people and animals in Jerusalem that the city walls couldn’t contain them all.

Fast forward again to current headlines. Jerusalem is a boiling hot spot of people from different nationalities, religions, political bents, and cultures. It is the center of world debate and political conflict. The city walls that remain from the Middle Ages frame a small central section of the expansive city. I couldn’t help to remember this morning my own experiences of walking around the city. The featured photo of this post is one I took from the King David hotel looking at the walls of the old city at sunrise.

This morning I’m once again meditating on the theme of “returning.” The wise teacher of Ecclesiastes reminds us that there is a time for everything under the sun. There is a time for wandering, and there is a time for returning. It is a common human experience to be scattered, to wander, and even to run away. It is just as common an experience in this life journey to realize that, at some point, we need to return home.

Chapter-a-Day Isaiah 32

Long journey. Yes, weep and grieve until the Spirit is poured down on us from above…. Isaiah 32:15a (MSG)

There are no shortcuts through grief. There are only side roads which, deceptively, exit and escape grief's path for a time but which never take you where you need to go.

Grief's road must be fully traversed before the Spirit is poured down from above and a new leg of the journey can begin.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr & cowmonger