Funerals and Floods

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First was Betty Schrag. Her husband Dan died four years ago, and she had a long, waiting kind of death. She died in early April and was buried soon after. Next was Mervin Yoder. He too followed his spouse after a long, slow decline. Along with two funerals, April also brought us three inches of rain, a little over the average.

May brought flowers and the end of school, but also rapid decline in several other members of our congregation. Ironically, Mae was the next to go in a rather unexpected illness just as her daughter Betty was wrapping up the school year. At the time of her burial on May 12, we had already exceeded the average rainfall for the month by half an inch.

One week later, Harley Emma of our sister congregation passed away and was laid to rest in the ground along with 4 ½ more inches of rain. Last week it was Henry Schrock and another inch and a half. And this week? This week we lost Sam D., another venerable saint, and gained an inch of rain. But this week, we also lost Demetrius.

The six preceding deaths were deaths of men and women, builders in the church, whose lives were drawing to an end. Their ages ranged from 84 to 94, and their deaths were expected and mourned for days and weeks before it actually happened.

Monday, the call chain came around yet again. Demetrius Eugene was born via emergency c-section to Brian and Cynthia and died shortly after birth. Nobody knew anything was wrong until she started having early contractions. At the hospital, they discovered Demetrius had a rare genetic defect that would take his life as soon as he left the warmth of his mother’s womb.

This is a different kind of grief. When the elderly die, there is a beauty and rightness to their passing. Our elderly are carriers of our faith, and their death is a loss of what was. But our children carry what could be. Their death is a loss of hope.

We received over 16 inches of rain and seven deaths in these two months of spring. The Arkansas river is full to overflowing, and it has been for long enough that I’m beginning to forget what it used to look like. It’s running fast, carrying many things seen and unseen in its swollen rush, both washing away and depositing anew. We won’t really know the changes the flood is crafting until the land is finished draining and the altered riverbed is uncovered.

Our church is in flood stage. Time will tell the shape of this washing—this baptism of grief.

Mantra

Faith or Sleep?

“Now there’s faith and there’s sleep, we need to pick one please because faith is to be awake and to be awake is for us to think and for us to think is to be alive and I will try to with every rhyme to come across like I am dyin’ to let you know you need to try to think.” Car Radio TØP

These lyrics have tattooed themselves onto my brain and run like a hamster when apathy threatens to overwhelm or the universe feels too big. My calling is not to understand, to grasp or to fully articulate. I am called to have faith. But faith doesn’t mean closing my eyes to the bigness or falling into some kind of blissful unawareness. Faith is to be awake. Looking, seeing, sensing. To be awake is for us to think. Digging in a little deeper, pushing ourselves, searching the unsearchable. To be awake is to be alive. Breathing in, letting go, changing, growing.

The opposite of faith isn’t doubt. The opposite of faith is sleep. Apathy, disengagement, jadedness—these are the true enemies of our faith.

Start

Nothing starts without an ending. Even when the earth was created ex nihilo, nothing ceased and God’s solitude ended. Beginnings are only the tails of endings and endings the nose of beginnings. As this reality sinks deeper into my understanding, my grief and gladness deepen also. Grief because the relationships that are just in bud, the new season I’m in, the goodness that is just now spilling into my cup won’t last forever. All will change and morph and, eventually, end. But also gladness, because ending doesn’t mean annihilation of what was, and, most of all, because ending means there’s another thing beginning.

Father, teach us how to rest.

“True restfulness is a form of awareness, a way of being in life. It is living with a sense of ease, gratitude, appreciation, peace, and prayer. We are restful when ordinary life is enough.” -Ronald Rolheiser