First Sunday in Lent (Retreat for Suicide Survivors)

The rhythm of the Christian calendar brings us each year to the first Sunday in the season of Lent, the Sunday on which we hear the story of Jesus’ temptation in the desert.  Before he can embark upon his ministry of healing and teaching, he is, according to the Gospel of Matthew, led into the desert and into a confrontation with the devil; into a 40-day period of hunger, silence, and temptation.

The “wilderness” in the Bible, the literal wilderness of Sinai, looks to those of us in North America more like a desert.  Rocky, barren, seeimingly devoid of life, stretching across a great landscape of emptiness broken only by peaks and valleys.  And 40 ~ in the Bible, the number 40 means a lot, or many.  Forty days for the flood from which only Noah and his family and the animals were saved.  Forty years that the Hebrew people wandered the Sinai wilderness after their escape from slavery in Egypt.  Forty days for Jesus’ purifying and preparatory time, hungry ~ and alone, but for the tempter.

The pattern of the church year invites us to revisit this desert time at the onset of Lent.  “Revist?,”  you may well ask, and add that your own desert time lasted, or continues to last, much longer than 40 days.  Perhaps you have only recently been tossed into the desert and left lying in a heap on the cold, rocky, ground.  Perhaps some time has passed and you have come to know the terrain well.  Perhaps you have encountered the angels who, finally, arrived to tend Jesus.  Perhaps you have walked out of the desert and into a new version of your life.

In any case, this season, and this Sunday, invite you to take a look around.  There is always something to observe in the desert.  If nothing else, the sun rises and the sun sets, placing  you in the midst of a much broader universe than you may be able to absorb.  But there are also flickers of movement in the desert.  The shadows separate into distinct patterns, merge into a haze, separate again, and fade.  Small mammals and reptiles make momentary forays into the light or into the darkness, seeking sustenance.  Birds occasionally soar overhead, briefly marking the stark landscape with their own pegasauran shadows.

arches

Look around.  Look around your own desert.  Look up, look down, look through.

Jesus, as far as we know, took nothing from the wilderness with him when he walked back out, into a world in which food and water and companionship were plentiful.  But he carried with him the experience of having been hungry and thirsty and utterly alone, an experience which marked him forever as a man for others.

Look around.  What will you carry with you; what do you carry with you, that marks you as a woman or man for others?

 

 

(Image: Arches National Park in Utah.)

 

 

 

 

Friday Five for Lent

friday-five-lent

The RevGals Friday Five is, not surprisingly, focused on Lent:

1.) Are you giving up, or taking on? Some combination thereof?

I’m taking on . . . accompanying a college student through an eight-week version of the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises and trying to do the daily prayer and reflection alongside her.  I also pulled out my journal from my own year-long experience of the Spiritual Exercises in 2005-06, because I wanted to see what I had to say then.  I am somewhat surprised, although it all rings true.

2.) Fasting? What does that look like for you?

Fasting has never been a meaningful practice for me.  I suppose the whys and wherefores of that might be worth considering.

3.) In what way is study helpful to you this season? Are you reading, studying, journaling…?

Since I find myself without a call, I have plenty of time for reading.  This week, I am finishing up Frederick Buechner’s Telling Secrets and David Lose’s Preaching at the Crossroads, and skimming Designing Your Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans.

4.) Purple. Do you find that your wardrobe is drawn to participate in the season?

Nope.  Now that I think of it, there is very littler purple in my wardrobe, although I have some great purple earrings.  And, as I look down, I see that I am wearing a fuzzy purple sweater, because I am staying inside today and it happened to be lying on a chair instead of in the laundry.  Maybe it’s an unconscious thing.

5.) How are you finding ways to take “time apart” in order to avoid getting worn thin?

I don’t have to worry much about wearing thin these days.  A year ago, I was brand new to my congregation, looking at an extra service and sermon every week, and in the process of getting really, really sick, which I ignored and thereby prolonged.  Today, I am declaring a snow day and working (or not) at whatever pace I choose on whatever projects appeal to me.

Christmas Hope

tree-2016

New family members . . .  a hoped-for daughter-in-law and her son, Muslims whose journey has taken them from Somalia to Italy to France to England to America.  The world with its news and conflicts and politics has landed in our living room, where the young people played a game on the floor last night, as loud and boisterous as any game ever played there before.  The challenges of religious interface have landed in our kitchen, where the dinnertime conversation covered holidays, and around the tree, where presents have been carefully wrapped so that all are included.

A new and soon-to-be former church . . .  I have been pastoring a Lutheran congregation this year as they have worked through the transition from former pastor of nearly 40 years to someone new and unexpected.  They are ready, I think, to say good-bye and hello, and to embrace ways of being church which will bring fresh delights as their gifts are ignited and expanded.  Tonight and tomorrow, probably my first and last Lutheran Christmas liturgies as I near the conclusion of a year of surprise and growth.

A new sense of where I fit in my family’s puzzled pieces . . .  my dad died six weeks ago,  and with him went most memories of my mother and youngest brother.  Not that he mentioned them much over the past 56 years, but he knew them better than I did, better than my brother who recalls them not at all.  The moment which has flashed into my mind most frequently over the past weeks?  I am six years old, and my dad is teaching me to ride my bike without its training wheels, out in front of our new house on Azalea Lane in Vero Beach.  I am terrified, and the bike veers in lopsided arcs across the street and onto the sidewalk — without crashing, for reasons which remain a mystery to me.  My dad seems confident that I will triumph in the end.

I have never had much of an idea of how to do anything that my life has demanded of me.  How to care for a daughter-in-law and grandson from other worlds, pastor a church, ride a bike.  But the light shines and the darkness has not overcome it.  The light shines, as I tell sometimes skeptical Christians, on all of us, and it seeps into places of worship, and it flashes from the metal of blue Schwinn bikes.

Merry Christmas.

 

 

Saying good-by to my dad ~ Part 2

Sudden death has been a constant in my family’s history.

From my own reference point ~ myself (!) ~ my mother was killed instantly in a car accident when I was seven, and my almost-year-old brother died a few hours later of injuries sustained in that accident.  My first step-mother died immediately after a fall from a window the summer after I graduated from high school.  A few years later, while I was in law school, one of my aunts died quickly of a heart attack or stroke.  When my third step-mother died about ten years ago from lung cancer, I was somewhat surprised by the time it had taken.  But then a couple of years later, my 24-year-old son died of suicide.  We were back on track for disaster and its consequences: sudden horror and heartache.

When my third step-mother died, I was also surprised by her age ~ she was in her early seventies.  By that point, several of my friends had recently lost parents, and I was adjusting to the idea that death was not always sudden and did not claim only the young.  Fewer than 10% of Americans die suddenly, and the average life expectancy in this country is 76 for men and 81 for women, but my experience had indicated otherwise.

My father’s death was, I suppose, more typical of the American experience.  He was a few weeks short of his 85th birthday and, while his actual demise was unexpectedly sudden, he was suffering his third bout of lung cancer and had been experiencing symptoms for several weeks (although the latter had been news to me).

A lot of statistics . . . but I am seeking a context for my father’s death.  My life has been overshadowed by the instantaneous disappearance of one person after another, and now,  yet another.  Although I had been informed by internet sources that he might well die from a sudden hemorrhage, I suppose that I imagined a lingering end.  I had already been mentally preparing for several drives across the state to spend time with him during what I suspected would be his final weeks.

But, no.  Vanished.  Again.

I wonder where they have all gone.

Saying good-bye to my dad ~ part 1

I don’t even remember it; so casual was the moment.  I’m sure there was a quick hug and a “see you later” before I walked down the path from my dad’s woodland house to my car.  I had spent the  first two days of a planned staycation week visiting with him and my former stepmother, B., his partner of the last eight years, following his previous week’s diagnosis of lung cancer.  Third time around.  The news over the week-end was confusing and I had expected, when I left my house at about 7:00 on Monday morning, to be going to the hospital, where he was scheduled for a biopsy.  But before I arrived a few hours later, he had been sent home.  With one of the tumors wrapped around a pulmonary artery, the doctors had concluded that no surgical procedures would be possible.

We spent the next day or so relaxing and talking. It seemed that the cancer had appeared recently and spread rapidly. He and B. were optimistic, anticipating a short round of chemo and radiation and, B. told me privately, perhaps a few more good years. “Perhaps it will disappear as quickly as it arrived.” I did not say anything about that not being the way in which cancer behaves.  My dad seemed to have completely forgotten the horrors of his last wife’s debilitating treatment for the same vicious disease, and his resolution at that time that he would never pursue a similar path.  I did try to present some of the realities of treatment and to question its advisability, although some serious testing loomed ahead and it was impossible to get too far in our discussions.

Before I left, I asked my dad to try to consider what he would want if he had five years left, or a year, or weeks.  “If the latter,” I said, “you may want to purchase a new winter sleeping bag and curl up on the deck to watch the birds.”

I meant to ask Dad and B. to be sure that his living will and health care power of attorney were next to the front door, but I got distracted and forgot.

I drove home Tuesday afternoon, wondering about my own answers to the questions I had asked him to ponder.  I read about the consequences of a tumor tangled around a pulmonary artery ~ quite possibly catastrophic.

On Wednesday there were visits to oncologists, and on Thursday, extensive testing.  And on Friday morning at about 9:15, I received a frantic call from B.  “Robin!  Your father is dying!”  It developed that the EMT guys were there, engaged in all the activities he had hoped to avoid, and she couldn’t find the paperwork and hoped I had it.  My cousin, a vet, was standing there with her and repeating, “Peter wouldn’t want this; Peter wouldn’t want this.”  The medical personnel were apologetic, saying that in the absence of his instructions to the contrary, they had to act.  We found the file in our house, and my husband went off to fax the papers to the hospital, while I started to pack.

No one called.  I talked to a nurse at the hospital, explaining that my dad was en route.  A few minutes later, I called again, and reached a neighbor, who was there with B. and my cousin.  After a couple of exchanges, I said, “Well, how is he?”

“Uh. . . he died,” she said.

Oh.

Later, as those who were there put the pieces together, they concluded that he had gone into the bathroom off the bedroom, begun to load the washing machine, and collapsed — probably gone before he hit the floor.

B. said that a few minutes earlier he had dressed and been sitting on the bed, and she had brought in an email harshly critical of the president-elect, to ask him whether it was too much to send to an acquaintance three days after the election.  He read it, gave her a big grin, and said, “Send it.”

A few days later, the test results came back ~ extensive metastases.

My dad had always articulated a desire to depart this life quickly and without fuss.  I would have been honored to care for him for a bit.  But quickly and without fuss it was to be.  Thanks be to God.  Sort of.

 

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