Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Letting go…

We had a tough January, didn’t we? And I’m obviously talking about more than cold weather. A couple beloved members passed into God’s forever embrace. That’s tough, although I think one of the most sacred things about church is the time we take to honor departed sisters and brothers in faith. From hospital visits and phone calls, to funeral and graveside services, to remembrances on All Saints Day or using Memorial Funds to leave legacies. This matters because I think our culture has a dysfunctional relationship to death. We barely mention it, manically fear it, put dying people into homes and hospitals for few to see.

But as Dorothy Bass claims in her excellent Practicing Our Faith, proper Christian faith nurtures the practice of “dying well”. And by that she means more than going out the most painless way possible. Rather, “dying well” is about preparing for the end, not endlessly avoiding it. Holding a scared friend’s hand as days grow dim, softly stroking her aching limbs. Singing long-cherished hymns with a sister in faith who lost her voice, or a brother in faith who can’t remember anything else. Looking a dying friend in the eye, saying, “Be strong. We’ll meet again.” And meaning it, in Jesus’ name.

Here’s a wonderful poem- Holy Sonnet 10 by John Donne- that’s bounced around my head the past several weeks:

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those, whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy picture[s] be,
Much pleasure, then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery.
Thou'rt slave to Fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy, or charms can make us sleep as well,
And better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then ?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And Death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

At a recent meeting, I recited those words with almost defiant passion. After all, these days my spirit’s waters are churning and roiling and certainly far from the stillness of Psalm 23. But it occurred to me just after that, for Christians committed to Christ, we need not defy Death, nor confront that enemy with anger, screaming, “Our God won!” Rather, as Emma Thomson’s character observes in the brilliant film Wit, that last sentence uses but a comma, a short and whimsical pause, almost apologetic: Death, thou shalt die.

You’ve maybe heard by now that I helped write the 2013 Lenten devotional published by our denomination’s publishing house. We have copies in the office, only $3. The book is organized so that every day includes a scripture, a reflection and a prayer, i.e. 3-5 short minutes to start or end your day with divine companionship.

And the theme for this devotional is “Letting Go.” Which makes sense, right? It’s Lent. “Letting go” of many things makes sense during this season especially. Thus, each week the writers reflect on their attempts to “let go” of something- fear, consumption, control, sin, self…control. We chose that notion because the end of Lent, that glorious Easter morn, when Jesus overcame even Death itself, is that wondrous moment revealing to Christians that new life and hope are perpetually possible. And to experience that anew this year, we wanted to challenge Disciples to slough off our baggage, acknowledge what’s holding us back and just let go! So I encourage you to join me in reading that daily this Lent; I plan to gather folk at church each Wednesday of the season (starting February 20, 6 PM) for conversation on what we’re learning. Then, each Sunday, I’ll preach on one of those themes. Given all that’s flooded my (our?) spirit this past month, I’m ready again to let go! To attempt once more to cast myself fully into the eternally supportive love of God.

You should join me.

Grace and Peace,
Read more!