” Bless the Living One, O my soul,
and do not forget all Their benefits—
… who satisfies you with good as long as you live
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.”
One of the darkest times in my life was the year 2015. In that year, multiple losses unmoored me, shaking me to my core.
A friend of over a decade passed in a way that brought to mind the loss of one of my closest college friends, suddenly and without warning. Then a long time mentor passed, as he succumbed to the final effects of a long-time illness. And, as the final blow, my wife of a dozen years died in her sleep from a neurological condition she had been battling for some three years.
That morning I woke to find her not breathing, it was like the ground had fallen out beneath me and all the brightness blotted out from the sky. I felt like I was plunging into blackness.
I remember sitting speechless, heart broken, wondering how I could even go on. How would life ever be worth living again?
I did what I could to keep going – at times forcing myself to reach out and connect with friends, forcing myself to be active in things in the community that were life giving, going through the motions at work sometimes empty and dead inside. Then one day, I began to notice light and beauty again. I began to notice the birds singing in the trees, the quiet rustle of deer in the woods, the joy in my chest from full-throated laughter with friends. Something clicked and I felt alive again.
Now, over two years since that first loss and more than a year from Katharine’s passing in her sleep, I find myself again awake to and in love with life. I am active and engaged in the work that drives me. I am engaged in the community, again connecting with new and long-time people in my life.
I have seen this transformation occur in my work as chaplain and minister. Individuals who felt their life was falling apart around them discovered it afresh. Some lost themselves due to the pain of loss or the way in which incurable illness separated them from their idea of who they were. Some lost connection with themselves through experiences of abuse or relationships ending.
Yet, as they connected with what I call God, they begin to regain a sense of life, meaning, purpose, and drive again, even though not all of them use the name “God” to describe this source of newness and life.
This discovering of life again is exactly what the Psalmist describes in the language of youth being renewed like an eagle. In the ancient world, the molting of an eagle where it lost old feathers and gained new ones was viewed in a similar way to the story of the phoenix in Western mythology. Its old self dying, in the phoenix’s case through fire and in the eagle’s case through molting, it returned renewed and alive again.
The presence of the Living One is found in those experiences when, in the face of feeling destroyed and dead, we discover life again. We come to ourselves when long estranged by the pain, trauma, grief, and loss that weigh upon us and at times find even deeper life and meaning.
How have you experienced this in your life? How have those close to you?
Your progressive redneck preacher,