[You can watch a video recording of this Call to Worship at the end of this text. To see the entire service, click here.]
Teaching One: “Do Not Let Your Hearts Be Troubled vs. Jesus Wept”—Call to Worship and Mel Goertz’s Haiku
I talked about the end of my mother’s life a few months ago. I’ve been thinking about her again because she died thirty-two years ago this week, two days before her 66th birthday.
The afternoon she died she instructed my father on her secret recipe for homegrown tomato juice and she talked about her eagerness to see her father who had died many years before. She seemed completely at peace with both this realm and the next. She exuded faith and loving care to her sons and husband who were fighting through tears to mirror her positivity.
Yet not many weeks before she had called me in violent, desperate grief saying over and over, “I don’t want to die,” and she had felt cut off from God and unable to pray.
I felt the same mix after she died. I felt her presence, I felt absolutely sure that whatever good thing lies on the other side of death, whatever light shines in that darkness, she was immersed in it, and yet I was devastated to lose her. It took a whole year for me to stop picking up the phone to call her.
Dylan Thomas wrote,
“Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
But he also wrote “Wise men at their end know dark is right.” He said, “My poetry is, or should be, useful to me for one reason: it is the record of my individual struggle from darkness toward some measure of light.”
The Gospel of John begins with the assertion that the light shines in the darkness. Picture the yin and yang symbol of Taoism. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness shines in its own shadowy way in the light.
Dylan Thomas found light in the struggle with darkness. My mother found light by finally facing and embracing her death. I asked the Rev. Deadra Ashton to share some of her insight on grief as the chaplain at the Aging Resource Center at Dartmouth-Hitchcock. You can see a video of her reading the Gerard Manley Hopkins poem “Spring and Fall” in this service and find a link to her reflection on it where she writes,
“Grief is actually an essential element of a life fully lived and love freely given. If loss is a fact of life (and trust me, it is) so is grief. Yes, grief is painful, heart-breaking, even incapacitating at times. Grief brings us face to face with that which is most precious to us…. If we yield to it, grief will lead us to the depths of our souls and reveal a source of strength we might not otherwise discover: the spark of divine Light that dwells within. It’s that Light that brings us back to ourselves, now paradoxically stronger and more tender, with a deepened capacity for empathy and compassion.”
If Deadra is right (and trust me, she is) then when Jesus says “I am the way and the truth and the life” he is saying that the sacred way of life leads through loss and death and grief. When he says “I am the resurrection and the life,” he is saying that in order to follow him we have to grieve, we have to lose life to gain life. Grief is the key that opens the door.
Once upon a time, humans wanted to believe that the earth was the center of the universe, that the sun and planets and all the stars revolved around the earth. Our egos still want to believe that they are the center of the universe, that the most important thing is that they fulfill their ambitions and desires.
Think of all we gained by having the humility to accept that the earth is a tiny speck way off in a backwater of a galaxy of a hundred billion suns that is only one of a hundred billion galaxies. We gained understanding that may someday enable humanity to spread across the universe, or at least to preserve our life on earth for another billion years.
A similar thing happens when our ego loses its illusion of being the center of everything, when we let our self fall into its rightful place. We gain the life that truly is life, the eternal flow of life that Jesus opened to us.
The problem is that we love our ego and its delusions of grandeur, so despite the spiritual wisdom of Jesus and other spiritual traditions, it grieves us to let our false-self illusions go.
Grief can feel awful, but it can lead us to the greatest meaning, the light that shines in the darkness that the darkness cannot overcome. We need the wisdom to welcome grief as a part of love and let it do its painful work within us. It can bring us closer to those we have lost and help us carry on their work to create a better world. Grief can help us see more clearly how to love and serve what we have not yet lost.
Grief can guide us to the source of all love, and that Spirit will teach us how to step into the roles of the leaders of our church or community whom we have lost who seem irreplaceable in our most intense time of grief.
It can help to know that the path of grief can lead to greater meaning and love and peace, but in the thick of it the only thing that may really help is the loving support of those who are walking through the darkness with us.
So let us continue to be the beloved community for one another that we need now more than ever.
The haiku Mel Goertz offered this week seems to me to speak to today’s themes, which she did not know in advance. See if you can feel it, too. Here it is:
After each sip the lemon lily
sways on her stem.
Let us worship together continuing on with this service.