Psalm 90, adapted from CEB.
O Living One in whom we live, you have been our help,
generation after generation.
2 Before the mountains were born,
before you birthed the earth and the inhabited world—
from forever in the past
to forever in the future, you are God.
3 You return people to dust,
saying, “Go back, humans,”
4 because in your perspective a thousand years
are like yesterday past,
like a short period during the night watch.
5 You sweep humans away like a dream,
like grass that is renewed in the morning.
6 True, in the morning it thrives, renewed,
but come evening it withers, all dried up.
7 Yes, we are wasting away because of your wrath;
we are paralyzed with fear on account of your rage.
8 You put our sins right in front of you,
set our hidden faults in the light from your face.
9 Yes, all our days slip away because of your fury;
we finish up our years with a whimper.
10 We live at best to be seventy years old,
maybe eighty, if we’re strong.
But their duration brings hard work and trouble
because they go by so quickly.
And then we fly off.
11 Who can comprehend the power of your anger?
The honor that is due you corresponds to your wrath.
12 Teach us to number our days
so we can have a wise heart.
13 Come back to us, O Life-bringer!
Have some compassion for your servants!
14 Fill us full every morning with your faithful love
so we can rejoice and celebrate our whole life long.
15 Make us happy for the same amount of time that you afflicted us—
for the same number of years that we saw only trouble.
16 Let your acts be seen by your servants;
let your glory be seen by their children.
17 Let the kindness of the the One Who Lives, of our God, be over us.
Make the work of our hands last.
Make the work of our hands last!
I am in the stage in processing the grief I have had to face, which never fully leaves but about which I have a found a peace, I am discovering life again. An unexpected peace has filled me with which to live in my world.
One of the things I’ve found about facing into this grief is that in order to become at home in my world again, I had to let go. To say goodbye.
I let go of my wife, beginning on All Saints Day, when I took off my ring and put it on a chain which I wore for a month every day on my neck. And then, without realizing it, I forget to put the chain on and have not yet.
For me that movement, though painful, of taking off that ring was a recognition. I recognized that Kat’s life was not over, but changed. She went on, as all the saints do, into the glory-land which is not a land at all, but a living presence in all the things that are holy. In my belief, as it says in Romans, if the batch of bread offered at the temple is holy, all the bread is holy. If part of life is holy, than our whole lives are holy and aglow with living fire.
And so legitimately people all over tell me of Kat sightings, moment at times different but often in simultaneity in which they sense her presence, feel her care, and experience the wisdom of her life breaking forth. I believe very firmly she lives on, in the next world, and that the barrier between it and ours is as thin as the air itself but just as unseen and unknowable.
And I am keenly aware that my life goes on, in this world. I do not think Kat as she goes on, living in whatever way the holy ones do beyond this world, that she lives with breath or lungs in which to hold it. But since I walked in on her not breathing, I am keenly aware when I open my eyes every morning that I have breath.
Near the end of her life, Kat was in horrible pain where daily tasks were an agony. And yet, she always would say “I will always hurt some. But if I let my pain stop me from fully living, that stroke should have taken me. I have to, pain and all, find my joy every single day and live it out to the fullest”.
Because of this, I have had to let go of the idea of Kat as my wife, and to believe we both go on, but in different realms. Our marriage was not forever, nor ever was intended to be, despite the pretty words of every romance. No, as this Psalm says, our days are short and full of trouble. We have but a breath in which to live, and it passes as quickly as it comes.
I have had great joy under the sun with a love that lasts beyond the marriage’s end, but with a relationship that cannot go on. God called my Kat into a new world, a journey I cannot take until is my time. When it is, I will be different, not the man she loved, and she too must change. For to live is to grow, to grow is to evolve. And if from moment to moment we are not the same as we were, and in a year’s time we transform, what can eternity do but transform us all into beauties beyond imagining?
This is I think why in the resurrection stories, where the life Jesus entered beyond the deep chasm of death and into which the Christian faith pictures Jesus also drawing us and making open for all creation, He is not at first recognized. He is seen as a familiar stranger. For he is the man he was, but now so much more.
And so I am changing. I am letting go of the idea of being Kat’s husband. In fact I already am at peace with the fact that she has gone on, her suffering ending, and our relationship changing. Now I do not weep that she is not with me, for I know being with me would have meant pain and suffering. I have seen those resuscitated from such neurological events, living in a state so near death to make you weep yet so far from that it is painful to wait. She did not want that.
I have let go of the idea of this home I live in as ours, and am making my own. I am letting go — and have — of the dreams we shared and am opening up to creating my own dreams, wild and beautiful, with which to paint this world. This process is my way of learning to become at home in God again. To become so at home means to become at home in Life itself, yet again swimming with those waters on their upward flow. For the name for God our Scriptures teach us, alternately Yahweh or Jehovah, does not remain “Lord” as often so translated, a term of some patriarchal tyrant however benevolent, but rather like the Hindu name for God as the Ultimate Soul of life, derives from the Hebrew word to be, to live, to exist. Our God is the One who is the well-spring of life itself, found present and active in every life that breaks forth in the midst of death, every freedom embraced in the midst of oppression. To be at home in God is to embrace becoming at home in my world.
As St. Irenaeus oft said, the glory of God is a human being made fully alive.
And so I must live.
To do this has involved some deconstruction. It is as if I have had to let the work of grief begin to pick away at all in my life that is not me, but instead the expectations of family, the messaging of our culture, and even the life I shared with Kat. I find so many things I did not expect are what I keep. And so many are so different from anything I would be as myself I must let them fall away.
This journey to lay aside the baggage is beautifully pictured to me by the writings of the Muslim mytic, Rumi, who has become my patron saint on the journey of grief.
About this journey he writes:
“Tear down this house. A hundred thousand new houses can be built from the transparent yellow gemstone buried underneath it. The only way to get to that is to do the work of demolishing and then digging under the foundation. With that value in hand all the new construction will be done without effort. And anyway, sooner or later this house will fall on its own. The jewel treasure will be uncovered but it won’t be yours then. The buried wealth is your pay for doing the demolition, the pick and shovel work.. If you wait and just let it happen, you’ll bite your hand and say “I didn’t do as I knew I should have.” This is a rented house. You don’t own the deed. You have a lease and you’ve make your living sewing patches on torn clothing. Yet only a few feet underneath are two veins of pure red and bright gold gemstone. Take the pickaxe and pry the foundation . You’ve go to quit this seamstress work. What does the patch-sewing mean, you ask? Eating and drinking. The heavy cloak of the body is always getting torn. You patch it with food and other restless ego satisfactions. Rip up one board from the shop floor and look into the basement. You’ll see two glints in the dirt.”
To me Rumi’s words mirror those of the vexing yet profound Christian writer of the last century, C. S. Lewis. Though Lewis consistently uses patriarchal language, in which God is consistently depicted in masculine language without recognition of the feminine as also an embodiment of the Sacred One of life (let alone those who transcend the bounds of gender as God does in God’s own self), his words show that this process St. Rumi describes is also one central to the faith I have as a Christian:
“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.” — Mere Christianity
Friends, I do not know what walls need to fall, what doors be broken down, for you to fully find your place in Life, with you at home in God and God at home in you. I hope it does not take the heartache I have faced. But, friend, I want you to know with all my heart, it is worth it. Though the pain breaks your heart, at times in order to break open our hearts first must break. But to be open, fully open to yourself, to life, to love, to others. Oh my friend that is to be alive. It is to have God in you and you in God.
And it is worth doing.
Your progressive redneck preacher,