Nevertheless, She Persisted (Retreat for Survivors of Third Sunday in Lent)

Samaritan Woman Roman Caracombs

The story of the Woman at the Well (name not recorded; how surprising) in the Gospel of John recounts an encounter between Jesus, an itinerant Jewish teacher, and a Samaritan woman, someone with whom, due to her gender, ethnicity, and religious beliefs, he is expected to avoid.  It’s the longest conversation he has with anyone in the Bible, a conversation in which he elicits from her an acknowledgement that she has been married five times and is now with number six, but swiftly moves on to a revelation of who he is, which in turn upends her entire life.

The Samaritan Woman and I have had a long relationship.  A decade or so ago, I spent several days meditating upon and praying with her story, and her movement from an encounter with Jesus at the well and out into the world to tell what she had heard was a pivotal factor in propelling me into seminary.

A few years later, my son gone, I often focused on her exhaustion and disappointment.  She has a history of negative characterizations due to those five husbands, but there is no indication in the story of anything untoward on her part.  (My father was widowed three times and divorced once, and I was once a family lawyer, so I am well acquainted with the disillusionment and heartache that follow the end of dashed hopes, whatever the reason.)

This year, I find that I am really, really liking the Samaritan Woman.  I mean, I always did, but this year, her persistence in leaving behind her water jar, the symbol of a life tangled in the expectations and promises of others and in the sadness and hardship which have come her way, and walking confidently into a new future ~ this year I am seeing not only the gift of water rushing from Jesus’ life into hers, but the gift of determination that she packs up and takes with her.

I don’t know where you are as you read this.  If you are in the early years, it may be all you can do to sit by your well, and that’s okay.  But if you can look ahead, even of only for a minute or two at a time, perhaps you can see a future.  Not the one you wanted or planned for, but the one that came your way due to the past being smashed to bits.

How might you respond, when you can?



Prayer in the Night (Second Sunday in Lent ~ Retreat for Survivors of Suicide)


Today in the Christian church we hear the familiar story of Nicodemus, the Jewish leader who slipped out to meet with Jesus late at night.  It’s the story which contains the famous verse, “For God so loved the world that God gave God’s only son, so that all who believe in him might not perish, but might have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

Suicide loss is unlike other loss.  Most of us, whether people of faith or not, have been at one time or another plagued by questions about the eternal destiny of our loved ones.  Or, perhaps worse, we have heard words of condemnation aimed at those we have lost.

I thought that I would write a prayer out of an encounter imagined to be like the one between Nicodemus and Jesus.  Perhaps you have your own idea of the same event, or of one that you yourself long to experience.

A Prayer

It is so dark.

Is there a God of darkness?  Are you the God of darkness?  Or is there no one?

The dark, wrapping itself around my coat, is somehow comforting.  The endless daily reminders of loss are not visible.  The people who chatter about so much that means so little are nowhere to be found

But in the dark I am so alone.  Inside and out, darkness.  My beloved died in the dark, and so then also died a part of everyone who were touched by that brief, shining life.

Where would I go, to find someone from whom to hear that we are gathered up in love?  Would I slip out of the house sometime after midnight, try to make myself invisible under the street lights, pull on a hat as I trudged down an alley, lean against an abandoned car in a darkened parking lot?

Whom would I hope to meet?  Would there be someone there, someone to say, “Tell me your story, and I will listen?”    Would there be a person, crouched down on the blacktop behind the abandoned car, drawing with a stick in the loose gravel, and saying,  “We are all on the same side, together, the living and the dead, because we all live, and the lost and the found, because we are all found.”  Would there?  Would there be such a person?

And what about that question of belief?  What does that mean, for whom, and when?  Would there be a person to uncurl himself from the position in which he crouches in the parking lot, to twirl a battered basketball on his fingertips, and to toss it into the crooked hoop with an easy arc?  And that person, recovering the ball, would say, “It means there is a love so wide that it cannot exclude anyone, that it draws and welcomes all to itself, that none might perish. A love so deep that it embraces all, melts all resistance, and revives into glory every broken person, this side and that side of death.”

In this vast sleepless night, , is there a light that the darkness does not overcome?


Image: Henry Ossawa Tanner, Study for Nicodemus Visiting Jesus




A Book of Lament ~ Retreat for Suicide Survivors (Second Wednesday in Lent)

arthur3 lament

The Bible contains an entire book devoted to the subject of Lamentations.  Many people are unaware of this little book; many are unaware that the Bible, one way or another, covers the entire range of human emotion.

The Book of Lamentations records a response on behalf of an exiled people ~ the battle lost, the city destroyed, the people led away to an unfamiliar destination.  It is thus a book of community,  pertaining to a specific episode in the history of that community.

The book is not entirely helpful for those who grieve.  The emphasis on loss as a consequence of sin, on God’s destruction of a city ~ no.  But it can be helpful to know that the Bible contains wails of lament, and to translate communal cries of anguish on behalf of a city into individual cries on behalf of a family.  There have always been others expressing solidarity with those who mourn.

Cry aloud to the Lord!
O wall of daughter Zion!
Let tears stream down like a torrent
day and night!
Give yourself no rest,
your eyes no respite!  (Lamentations 2:18)

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.


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.)





Ash Wednesday (Retreat for Suicide Survivors)


Many of us have an intimate familiarity with ashes. My surviving son and I collected his twin brother’s ashes from the funeral home about a week after the funeral.  When I described that day to a friend whose daughter had died in a sudden accident, she asked if we had looked inside.  “Immediately,” I responded.

Since that day, I have scattered those ashes all over the place, from the Pacific to the Atlantic, from a Canadian river to the tip of Florida, and across mountains and waters in between.  Perhaps you have done the same.  Or perhaps an urn, or the body which remains, rests in a place sacred to you.

No doubt those first days are emblazoned in your mind and heart, whether they took place recently or long ago.

And, unless you have blocked them out, the words you spoke, or prayed, or didn’t, may still echo, as today’s words from the prophet Isaiah do during Ash Wednesday services

Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and God will say, Here I am.(Isaiah 58:9)

I don’t know whether you felt God’s answer to your call for help, or whether you did not.  I don’t know whether you know a strong faith, or have never imagined any such thing, or have abandoned what you did once believe.  I tend to think these days that God’s presence materialized in the form of the friends and family who arrived on our doorstep almost immediately.  And since this is a day for pondering the dust to which we shall all return, I am thinking of the friends, already having become sad and yet also sometimes humorous experts, who sat around our kitchen table in those first dark days, sharinging their stories of bodies and ashes and decisions made and questioned and made again.

Perhaps the next few days would be a time to give thanks for those who share so generously out of their own heartache, so that we might not move alone into the depths of grief.   May we treasure them even as we wish that none of us know what we know now.


Lenten and Easter Retreat for Suicide Survivors


green-river-1  This 2017 Lenten and Easter seasons, I am offering a free online retreat via this blog for those who have lost loved ones to suicide.  This means that I will be posting on this topic on Wednesdays and Sundays, with something each time designed to serve as a springboard for prayer, meditation, or contemplation ~ however you choose to characterize a time of quiet for yourself or a small group.

Because Lent and Easter are seasons in the Christian Church, and because I am a Christian (Presbyterian) pastor and spiritual director, these posts will have a Christian flavor and tone.  However, I am ecumenical in outlook, and will endeavor to make this a hospitable space for anyone who stops by, whether of any faith or none.  All are welcome.


Retreats and Publications

The following lists some of the small group retreats and presentations I have offered.  I would be happy to work with you to offer a customized event for your group.

  • Ignatian Spirituality: An Ecumenical Introduction
  • Ignatian Spirituality for Bereaved Parents of Older Children
  • Resting in God: Approaches to Prayer
  • Discernment for the Local Church
  • Sabbath Practices

And here are some of my publications!  I’d be happy to speak on any of these topics, too!

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