Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Pre-Lenten Reverie on Grief
Lent begins next Wednesday, and my church is going to have a Lenten Meditation Book this year. The book is a compilation of writings and images contributed by church members. Most are original works, and some are not. Each person was assigned one or more days in Lent, and given the scripture readings for that day, and was asked to write or draw or quote something relevant to the readings. I was assigned two days. My friend Megan Belia got everyone signed up, gathered in the submissions, and forwarded them to me, and I scanned or typed and formatted everything and placed it into one file, the master for the book.
There were stragglers. The deadline was February 8, and as of the 18th, there were two days left unfilled, one of which was Good Friday. Megan and I decided we would each do something to fill these blanks, and I took Good Friday – but then Megan called back a while later and said that the person doing Good Friday absolutely promised she would get her stuff in today. So I didn’t need write anything.
Too late. When I looked at the Good Friday scriptures, and noted the date of Good Friday this year, April 10, a reverie on grief began to pour out. It won’t be in the Lenten Meditation book, but I submit it here, a Good Friday meditation, for your consideration as we begin the 40-day journey from winter to spring, from death to resurrection. Here goes:
April 10, Good Friday
Genesis 22:1-14; Psalm 22; I Peter 1:10-20; John 13:36-38
My father was born on April 10, 1912. “The day the Titanic sailed from Southampton,” I tell people. He died on March 13, 1975, less than a month shy of his 63rd birthday.
For about a year after his passing I was caught in deep grief. It seemed so unfair to me that he died so young. I would look at elderly people and think, “They got to live into their 70s and 80s – why not my dad?”
About three months after he died my mother moved. My parents had been renting my grandfather’s house, the house where my dad grew up, from my grandfather’s widow, and when my dad died the widow doubled my mother’s rent. My mother read this accurately as an eviction notice. There was never any love lost between my mother and my grandfather’s last wife, but that’s a story for another time.
I went down to California to pick up all the belongings I’d left there, plus whatever else my mother could stuff into my father’s old Ford Ranchero. My mother had a job, and one day when I was in the house alone, I was searching for something and for some reason I opened a drawer of my father’s dresser – and there were his socks, all neatly folded and clean, stacked in the drawer, waiting for him.
I went to pieces. I staggered into the living room and sat on the couch, where I wept, gut-deep sobbing. My father was dead. He’d never walk through the door again.
Ten minutes, twenty minutes, half an hour; I wept until I was exhausted and there were no more tears. As the tears finally abated, I felt drained. In that moment, though I did not realize it then, I began to accept the fact of my father’s death.
When I saw the date of Good Friday this year, April 10, it took me back to the days of my father’s passing, and how that felt, and I wondered how Jesus’ family and friends and followers felt on the day he died. Did they go through the motions of taking his body down from the cross and dressing it for burial and placing it in the tomb with the numb energy we have as we lay the dead to rest? I imagine those who loved Jesus were stunned by his death. They had no consolation. They didn’t know that Easter would come. They couldn’t believe he was dead.
And that’s the thing about this Jesus guy. It takes a while to believe that he died. It takes a while to believe that he rose again. It takes a while for the truth to break you to pieces, drain you, and leave you empty and exhausted. In that moment, in that darkness, Easter light begins to tinge the sky.
In that moment you begin the journey from unbelief to belief. Not now, but sometime later, you will see it. For now it is enough to walk through the grief one step at a time and see where the journey leads.