I can relate with this. In what feels to short a time ago, my wife had a health episode in which we both feared the outcome might be death. The rush of doctors, the recovery, the fear all was like a storm of uncertainty. Like the psalmist, I felt like she was wrapped in the cords of death and that our shared life together would be dragged down into nothingness. My heart broke and I shed many a shaky tear, afraid I might lose her.
I remember the joy of sitting in the doctor’s office when he told both of us not only did it look like the condition would not be fatal, but in fact even the risky surgery it usually required was not necessary. My heart leaped. The breath was knocked out of me with joy. It was like receiving back the one I love, my dear wife, from death, and knowing we still have many years to share together.
Yet I think this is not the only way we experience God as life breaking forth in the way of death.
At times we also face dead-ends in life, where our dreams lie shattered. The career we worked toward, the ministry we were building, the relationship we’d invested in falls apart. It dies. Our heart breaks and we feel alone. In those moments there are people and experiences that help heal those broken places in our lives. They believe in us. They help us to hope again by their trust in us. To me such moments and people are this in-breaking of life in the midst of death. Ultimately when you have been so low and finally you saw your life open up again, it is like discovering life after feeling you were sliding into the pit of death.
As a person who works right now as a hospice chaplain, where often the prayers for healing I share with people do not end in the disease ending but in death itself, it is important for me to notice that this life the Psalmist talks of breaks forth, too, in situations of incurable illness and situations in which the physical particulars you face in life are not eradicated. It may be someone does lose their mobility or vision, but learns to find meaning, purpose, and fulfillment in a full life with their disability. Healing is finding wholeness as they are. It might be that someone does die but comes to accept their death as a part of life, and in so doing finds peace that allows them to live each day as fully alive as they can. I’ve seen life come in the midst of death in families that are torn apart and divided yet through the experience of loss, illness, or tragedy heal old wounds and learn to be together for each other again.
The ways in which life appears in the midst of death are countless. It is right like the Psalmist for us to take time to acknowledge them and recognize them. To show gratitude.
The Psalmist’s gratitude leads them to praise God, thank God, to tell the story of the inbreaking of God’s love and life in their own time of tragedy. I think that is a good model for us. When we find life beyond all hope breaking forth in our darkening night of sorrow and loss, it ought to re-shape our life. It is a word of God as much as Scripture itself, calling us to new or renewed vision. It calls us to be people of life, who willingly cooperate with the Spirit whom Hildegard of Bingen called the bringer of veriditas, the power of life that makes the world green and vibrant. We each in our way can pay forward these experiences of life breaking forth beyond all hope by being people who choose to use our experience of life-renewing Spirit to help others discover, embrace, and feel the life return where and when death seems to reign in their midst.
For me, this is the work of healing all true people of God have shared in from the beginning. Let’s embrace our lives, living fully alive, and help others find the life the Spirit of God is reaching out to extend in each situation, no matter how dark or broken.
And I ain’t whistling no Dixie, folks,
Your progressive redneck preacher,