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Sunday, September 5, 2010

Rock of Ages

I woke up with the refrain from Rock of Ages running through my head:
Rock of Ages
Cleft for me

Let me hide myself in Thee...
Indeed, that's what I want. Or if I'm being honest, sometimes I just want to hide. Period.

I have deeply grieved before. I lost a mentor, who was like a treasured parent to me, to ALS in 1996. I lost a dear student five years ago. I walked with a friend who tragically also lost a battle with a brain tumor in 2006, and the father of some beloved students died in a plane crash last year. I somehow thought I knew how to do this grieving thing already.

Instead, I am moving slowly, as if running through deep mud. Earlier in the week I noted that after the week of stunning loss there comes a month of minimal interaction with others. I love what I get to do for a living; but at this point, it's all I can do. I come home each day completely spent, and I really don't think it's from working too hard.

At this point, I am finding it most helpful to not think I know at all what I'm doing. I seek the counsel of others:
How can we learn to live this way? Many of us are tempted to think that if we suffer, the only important thing is to be relieved of our pain. We want to flee it at all costs. But, when we learn to move through suffering rather than avoid it, then we greet it differently. We become willing to let it teach us. We even begin to see how God can use it for some larger end. Suffering becomes something other than a nuisance or curse to be evaded at all costs; but a way to deeper fulfillment. Ultimately, mourning means facing what wounds us in the presence of the One who can heal. (Nouwen)

We'll feel better in time, and in less time if we are able to express our sadness. If we do not open a wound to the air, it is harder for the wound to heal. If we do not surface our grief, it cannot move away from us, leaving us ready for new life. We need to be gentle with ourselves as we would be with a wounded child. (Martha Whitmore Hickman)

Return to your rest, O my soul, for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you. (Psalm 116:7)

If I love God, suffering does not ultimately matter. Christ in me is what matters. Pain does not cease to be pain, but I can "rejoice in my suffering" (Romans 5:3) because the power of God in my life is greater than suffering's vice grip can ever be. (Joni Eareckson Tada)

The one true freedom in life is to come to terms with death, and as early as possible, for death is an event that embraces all our lives. And the only way to have a good death is to lead a good life... The more we do God's will, the less unfinished business we leave behind when we die." (William Sloane Coffin)
(Thanks to Russell Smelley for these quotes)

These help me to see that it is more than ok to go slow, to be quiet and less active. As the Whitman quote says, we need to be gentle with ourselves. I find grief to be alternately a fascinating, baffling and frustrating experience. It manifests itself in the strangest ways. In the midst of an enjoyable moment with others, suddenly a wave of sadness will wash over me, and I'll silently cry while others continue to laugh around me. I have physical symptoms that catch me off guard -- certain things go on in my body that are apparently resulting from stress that I do not know I'm feeling. And I am having an active dream life, picturing scenarios that are clearly connected to my loss and anxiety.

As I type this, I am listening to a song by Shane and Shane titled "Beauty for Ashes." It is simple and quite appropriate:
Beauty for ashes
A garment of praise for my heaviness
Beauty for ashes
Take this heart of stone and make it Yours, Yours

I delight myself in the Richest of Fare
Trading all that I've had for all that is better
A garment of praise for my heaviness
You are the greatest taste
You're the richest of fare (taken from Psalm 63, Isaiah 61)
More than ever, I am recognizing that I must live in the immediate moment. Not because I want to revert some youthful "carpe diem" adventurousness, but because the present is all I can handle. Again, Chittister educates me:
God is in the Here and Now. It is we who are not. It is we who are trapped in the past, angry at what formed us, or fixated on a future that is free from pain or totally under our control. But God is in our present, waiting for us there.
The Rock of Ages is indeed cleft for me. It is good to hide there.

Psalm 61:
1 Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer.

2 From the ends of the earth I call to you,
I call as my heart grows faint;
lead me to the rock that is higher than I.

3 For you have been my refuge,
a strong tower against the foe.

4 I long to dwell in your tent forever and take refuge in the shelter of your wings.

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