There is this strange idea in some strands of Christianity that we will never have problems or have “bad things happen” if we are truly Jesus-loving people. As if.
From the first fig leaf, humanity has seen and known pain, discouragement and doubt. But that’s not what sells, is it?
The kiddie Bible my kids had growing up reinforced this. All the characters (who were remarkably Caucasian looking… which is another essay…) were all smiling and content. There were a few pictures of the Israelites frowning about manna burgers, I guess. And maybe a few tears at the tombs of Lazarus and Jesus, but the Christian faith was, for the most part, this “in-right-out-right-up-right-down-right-happy-all-the-time” religion. (That song still makes me shudder. And bonus points to you if you don’t know it. If I just gave you an ear worm, I’m sorry!)
I’m not suggesting we teach children “life sucks and then you die” either (just to be clear). But there needs to be a balance. Enough of a balance that when the hard times come, there is a reserve of faith that says, “I will get through this… with the help of God and God’s people.”
We live in disturbing times. Frustrating times. Fear-mongering times. Hate speech fills the airwaves.
This should not surprise us. It is as much a part of our Christian lives as walking in joy and seeing glory! A full-rounded faith does celebrate, but it also mourns. We are called to embracing pain. Accepting change. Finding hope in the unknown. Making sense out of nonsense.
When I was thinking about the world’s events over the last few months, the old hymn by Robert Matheson came to mind. How often do I remember that God is made real in our lives is many ways?
A Love that will not let me go… A Light that follows my way… A Joy that seeks me through pain… The cross that lifts up my head…
(Full lyrics here.)
Yes, it’s a schmaltzy old hymn. But the thread of faith through the verses brings me some comfort and courage. Perhaps you, as well.
O Joy? Yes. Joy. One frustrated, tired, hoping, yearning step at a time. There’s joy.
From my journal recently:
I’d like to know why, God. I really would. I could go through the whole alphabet of whys… And I can say trite words and cheap phrases to make myself feel better… But that’s not how faith works.
And every time I think I might understand A little more Another piece of insight into Your world, Some tsunami of stupid knocks me flat. And here I am Again. Asking why.
So there’s doubts. O God, so many doubts. And there’s pain. I’m tired of pain. But then… There’s beauty and grace and love And laughter and hope and joy, so much joy!! And the Spirit winging me upward for just a glimpse for just a taste of Glory.
And it’s enough. It’s enough to say one more day, I love you. Thank you. Let’s do this thing called “life” one more day.
It is just an echo
of the Creator’s Masterpiece.
Her former glory now hints
of brilliance and beauty.
Impressions of the Divine’s handiwork
You must keep looking.
This world is still
in the hands of the Almighty.
The gun violence
the self-interested corporations
are just a symptom
of this broken world.
Take the steps that are necessary
to send Light
streaming into minds and hearts,
to broadcast the wailing,
to comfort the mourning,
to offer hope to the forever-changed.
Be their voice.
Say their names.
Call out the questions
to the entitled and smug who champion
“the right to bear arms”
and who have more blood on their hands.
Be the David against Goliath.
Be Christ’s hands and feet.
But most of all…
The cover shows a blurred image of balloons rising over a football field at sunset. It was a sight that must have been viewed through eyes blurred by tears at the Rockville High School stadium that night.
The friends, family and teachers of Michelle Miller gathered to offer words of hope, grief and joy, even as they struggled to understand why a 31 year old Army recruiter, Adam Arndt, shot first Miller and then himself in a murder-suicide. They lofted helium balloons with messages of love, hope and courage.
“Release the balloons,” a clear, young voice booms through the sound system.
We have been waiting for this moment. It is truly awesome as hundreds of brightly colored balloons seem to light up the sky as they float through the last rays of fading sunlight.
For a few moments the stadium is silent as we all watch our balloons, which like Michelle’s bright spirit, are now heading for the heavens. (All That Bright Light, page 28).
Coming to grips with a loss this devastating seems impossible. How does one find a way to make sense of it? Why did a young woman, full of joy, vibrancy and promise, have her life ended in such a brutal way? How do you embrace your faith, your family and your sense of fairness? What do you do when you feel that justice has not been served? Can you forgive? How do you forgive?
These and other questions flow thoughtfully and with reflective realism from the author, Alice Miller. A psychotherapist, she has been the consoler and counselor to others who were in deep grief. Now, just weeks before her beloved granddaughter, nicknamed Lulu, was to graduate from high school, she was killed by the 31-year-old Army sergeant who recruited her for an Army ROTC program.
This is a story that breaks the heart. And it is a story of conflict between the Army and a heartbroken family.
Alice shares her personal journals from this tragedy, from the moments they found out that Michelle was dead, to the grim details of her death. She talks about the outpouring of love, meals and care that surrounded the family. She writes of her own grieving process, one that she fully understands is not over.
Grief, I have learned, is like a cocoon, which from the beginning has encased me in its pain. Now, gradually I need to learn to emerge from that sorrow if I am every again to fully embrace life. The hole in my heart may never go away, But time, I believe will smooth the rough edges. The hole, however, remains. (All That Bright Light, page 128)
The title is taken from the words spoken by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis when she responded to the outpouring of love and condolences upon the assassination of her husband, President John F. Kennedy. “All his bright light has gone from the world. All of you who have written to me know how much we all loved him and that he returned that love in full measure.”
When someone is murdered, the spark of their love and life is no more. At least, not on this planet. As Miller writes,
“Your bright light may be gone from this world but I know that it will shine through into the next.”
For those who have experienced this kind of traumatic loss, you will find a companion in the grief and anger that the author knows so well. For those who wonder at the ways that injustice, especially when accompanied by crimes of rape and physical assault, you will hear the passionate plea for accountability. For those of us who are parents, there is the practical reminder to go home and hug our children and those we love.
I recommend this book. Though Alice finds peace through her Christian faith, she does not insist that you follow her path. She offers perspective through her own pain and grieving. She admits where she is struggling and invites you to carry your own losses with realism and honesty.
All That Bright Light underscores the simple reminder that we need one another. We also need to stand up for those who have been rendered voiceless by other’s criminal acts. And most of all, we need to give one another space, time, and comfort to grieve and grow through these difficult losses.
The lessons from this book reminded me of this quote from Mother Teresa:
“Spread love everywhere you go: First of all in your own house…let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God’s kindness; kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile.”
So may it be.
All That Bright Light: A Story of Love, Murder and Healing, by Alice G. Miller. Self-published. November, 2013. Available on Amazon.
When I was little, my grandmother would offer me a quarter if I would sit still for 5 minutes. Yes, she knew her money was safe. But this morning, in the quiet and the dappled sunshine, I would have earned four shiny quarters. When I was ready to go back inside and finish up my chores before work, I took some pictures.
Today I hauled over 175 bricks from a place by the garden fence to the middle of the back yard. They were pavers that we saved from when we fixed the front walk. I had them stacked out of the way but still easy to access (when I finally DID want to use them). They were covered with vines, had ant nests in between them, as well as slugs (ew!) I tossed the slugs towards the bird feeders and the blue jays and wrens had a delicious snack. As I uncovered the ants, I left the nests exposed and waited for them to move their eggs and pupae cases to safe places.
It took about three hours to unearth, clean and move those bricks. (Yes, I could have used the garden cart, but we had some attack wasps who effectively kept me from getting into the shed.) Fortunately, it was a lovely day, low humidity and a nice breeze.
Trip after trip, I carried a stack of 5 or 6 pavers, which is about all I can manage. I started in the center and using a stick from the yard as my gauge, began to spiral outwards, spacing them on the grass. (Reedy Girl had helped me paint lines in the grass about a month ago so I used those lines as a rough guide.)
Once the layout was finished, we rehung one of the wind chimes in a tree near the labyrinth. Eventually there will be some kind of seat in the center. We’re using an old picnic bench for now.
It’s walkable but not complete. I have to set in every single brick so that when the lawn is mowed, it doesn’t knick a blade. That’s gonna take a while!
So why all this work so that I can walk in a circle? I find labyrinths to be a quieting, focusing activity. It requires slowing down as I place my foot gently in the grass, and gently shift my weight and place the next foot. The speed doesn’t matter. The journey is to a quiet place in my soul, a journey inward.
Aristotle said, “the soul thinks in images.” For me, visualizing the process of hearing, understanding and responding to God is a spiraling process. It isn’t immediate. It isn’t always clear. But it is often solvitur ambulando.
As kind of an end-of-vacation post, here’s some pictures that I’ve found via my camera viewfinder. They help to express visually the restoring work of God when I’m truly on vacation — and not just traveling! The places I’ve stopped to rest and reflect vary from the porch swing overlooking the salt marsh, to a screened in porch on the seaside, to a short rest on the sand as the waves lap at my toes. The moments are a flick of my camera shutter… and like the day-to-day events we walk through, they can be missed unless you truly look for them.
Perhaps, for me, that has been the lesson for this week. To stop and see glimpses of God, wherever I go. They are always there. I just have to open my eyes.
from Psalm 36
Common English Bible
5 …your loyal love, Lord, extends to the skies;
your faithfulness reaches the clouds.
6 Your righteousness is like the strongest mountains;
your justice is like the deepest sea.
Lord, you save both humans and animals.
7 Your faithful love is priceless, God!
Humanity finds refuge in the shadow of your wings.