Friday, February 24, 2012

February 24, 2012

Waiting for Spring, Lent & Loss


Jerry and Denise were our neighbors during my final year of seminary. Dixie and I lived in a faded pink house near the end of Wartburg Place, on a ridge in the southeast corner of Dubuque, Iowa. The house was badly in need of everything, but it had a nice view and the rent was cheap.

Jerry and Denise lived upstairs with their daughter, Toby, who was much quieter than our two children, which was one reason we had little in common with them. To us, they seemed, well, above us, looking down.

We were all cordial, making the best our situation and the common entrance we shared, but we seldom talked and never socialized. But life happens, losses occur and souls connect in unexpected ways.

Jerry called last week wanting to talk. Life had, indeed, happened. The second anniversary of Denise’s death was upon him.

Death, or at least loss, comes in many forms, and it had come to him. He’d lost the marriage that had sustained him, the future he’d imagined and he was enduring professional loss, too. His way of working and doing ministry didn’t feel real or authentic anymore, if ever it had. He wondered

if he had sold out and lost his soul—his truest heart—somewhere in the course of 30 years of waging ministry.

His voice had changed, too, or maybe what changed was the way I hear. He’d also seem so sure of himself. Now he was searching for what comes next, not knowing. He’d taken a part-time call to a congregation on the west coast as he waits and watches … for spring.

Spring comes when green shoots break through cold winter’s crust of loss, and you begin to feel alive again. You may not get back everything you’ve lost and or want—and the scars from your wounds always remain. But a path of promise opens up and invites you to risk living and loving in a new way, a way you may have never considered.

Life comes out of death, like crocuses pushing through the snow.

Christian tradition calls this the paschal mystery. This is what Lent is about. We walk through Christ’s passage through death to resurrected life. Along the way we see many losses. He loses favor and welcome, friends and family, the feeling of God’s nearness and ultimately he loses his life in an act of callous brutality.

But in utter love and incomprehensibility, God brings new life out of the wounds that kill body and soul. This movement through loss to life is not something that happens just for Jesus in the Resurrection. It is the central dynamic of life in Christ. It is our life … and certainly Jerry’s.

Out of death comes life, out of loss comes newness, but there is that hard time of waiting and watching for spring. Faith is this watching and waiting for God to work this miracle one more time.

Sometimes loss cuts so deeply or weighs so heavily that our wounds seem beyond any healing God can offer. But the paschal mystery invites us to trust that all our losses and all our sorrows will be gathered up and transformed into something more immensely beautiful--and alive--than we can imagine.

One deep spiritual practice for Lent is to practice the paschal mystery by:

Naming our deaths--What deaths and losses have you experienced in the last year--the loss of youth, health, relationships, security, wholeness, job, dreams, loved ones, or perhaps the loss of the kind of faith and ideas about God you once held?

Refuse to cling--Release to God what has been lost. Give thanks for how it blessed you. What are you holding onto that you need to let go? What makes it hard to release it?

Grieve what has been lost--Allow yourself the sadness, remorse, guilt, anger and all the feelings that are part of grief. Offer them all to God in prayer.

Claim your births--What signs of new birth or new beginnings appear as you experienced deaths and losses and began to let go? Claim the spirit of the new life, the new reality that is appearing.

Pray--Regularly pray for God to bring new life out of loss: “Loving God, in your mercy carry me forward when I lack the strength and courage to go on. When I am in pain, when I feel lost, when I am losing hold of myself and all I treasure, help me trust that all the deaths I die will bear me deeper into your life.”

Pr David L. Miller