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Eternity Sunday

Orientation, Disorientation, Reorientation

Wendy2Reflection #1 - Psalm 90

Sometimes in life we get to the end of our rope. Life gets hard. We experience heartbreak and loss starting at a young age when a beloved stuffie gets lost, a pet dies, a friend moves away, or we face the death of a grandparent or other family member. These losses continue on through life. They are inevitable.

Yet, somehow, despite that inevitability, our culture tries to gloss over pain and grief. We avoid emotional pain if at all possible and are encouraged to quickly move from grief to happiness. “Look on the bright side,” people say. “Don’t dwell on it.” “Brighten up.” “Get over it.” “Move on.”

While people mean well, these words of encouragement aren’t helpful or healthy. Lament, grief, and sorrow are important emotions to experience and express. They are an outlet for very real pain that we too often bottle up and it then festers inside of us.

Any of us who have experienced grief at the loss of someone close to us know that grief is complex, and does not at all move in a linear or predictable path. Nor does it look the same from person to person.  Just this week on Facebook someone from SJMC posted this quote: “My grief journey has no one destination. I will not ‘get over it.’ The understanding that I don’t have to be done is liberating. I will mourn this death for the rest of my life.”

The writers of the Psalms certainly got that. Lament is part of life that needs to be recognized and expressed. Of the various types of psalms in the Bible, the genre that makes up the largest portion of the Book of Psalms is lament. The Psalms are full of honest emotion.

Today we acknowledge the pain in our lives. We silently name our losses and our grief. We know that the more deeply we love, the more painful will be the loss, but we chose to love anyways. Grief is not a sign of weakness; it is the price of love. Sue found the quote by Dietrich Bonhoeffer that you see up on the screen.

“Beautiful and rich memories make for a hard and heavy separation, however gratitude transforms the agony of remembering into quiet joy.  We remember the past and the beauty thereof not like a thorn but like a priceless gift within ourselves.

Can you re-imagine your grief to be a gift, and not a thorn?

I invite you to take a few moments to bring to mind a grief that you carry in your heart.

Whether it is fresh, or is one you hold in your heart from the past, where would you place your grief on a spectrum between a thorn or a priceless gift?

Reflection #2 - Matthew 11:28

As I was reflecting on Jesus’ place in our lament and grief this week, I came across this poem by Ann Weems which seemed to sum it up:

Jesus wept, and in his weeping

He joined himself forever to those who mourn.

He stands now throughout all time, this Jesus weeping,

With his arms about the weeping ones:

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

He stands with the mourners, for his name is God-with-us.

Jesus wept. – Ann Weems

Jesus offers to carry our sorrow with us, giving us a rest from the emotional burdens of life. Sometimes we forget that in his life on earth, Jesus experienced a full scope of emotion. Jesus knows what it is to experience pain and grief. Jesus wept.

Maybe you have heard the Swedish proverb: “A joy shared is a joy doubled; a sorrow shared is half a sorrow.”

That is the curious thing about grief – the more we hold it to ourselves, the heavier it is. The more we share it, the lighter. I am an introvert and like to recharge my batteries by time alone. Yet, I have learned that carrying sorrow alone is not as healing as allowing someone else in to carry it with me.

Brené Brown, in her most recent book, “Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone,” has a section where she talks about loneliness. And loneliness, I believe, is a symptom of grief. She writes, “Art has the power to render sorrow beautiful, to make loneliness a shared experience, and transform despair into hope... Music, like all art, gives pain and our most wrenching emotions voice, language, and form, so it can be recognized and shared.” Jan Richardson, an artist & poet whose poetry we will be using throughout Advent, echoes this when she writes: “When the world as we know it has ended, sing. Or paint. Or dance, or write, or build something... When our world shatters, what creative practice(s) will enable us to pay attention to the fragments and perceive how God might want to put them together in a new pattern?”

Part of what we do together here in worship is to engage in the arts in such a way as to allow this sort of sharing of joys and sorrows and creativity to happen: worship engages us in ways that we often aren’t engaged in during our week. We sing together; we listen to music and to scripture; we engage with visuals in the form of slides, banners, or displays; we participate in rituals - all forms of art that speak to our hearts and hopefully open us to the presence of God among us.

I believe these are all ways that Jesus helps to carry our burdens. There are ways this happens outside of worship as well. But today in worship, this is where we will offer our laments to God. In the act of lighting a candle in memory of someone we have lost, we are participating in an act that acknowledges both our grief as well as our awareness that we are not alone in our grief. Rituals like this have the power to transform our jagged edges, softening the corners of our grief, and connect us with others and with our God who holds and carries the weight of the world.

Nothing is lost on the breath of God, nothing is lost forever;

God’s breath is love, and that love will remain, holding the world forever...

Reflection #3 – Psalm 91

As Sue mentioned in her opening comments, there is often movement in the Psalms, as there is in life, from orientation, to disorientation, to reorientation.

Life is not always simple and happy. Events happen that turn our world upside-down and leave us completely disoriented – an illness, a job loss, a miscarriage, a death. But, thankfully, we don’t have to stay there in the depths of lament forever. Eventually we move on to reorientation, when we are surprised by grace and discover God’s presence even in the midst of our pain.

Yes, our grief stays with us as part of our journey. Whatever the cause of our disorientation, grief changes us forever. We revisit it at different times and in different ways. But there is hope that we will experience joy once again, and we can sing psalms of thanksgiving and hope.

Psalm 91 speaks of the kind of deep confidence and trust we can achieve when we come through trying times.

It is something of a paradox that through experiencing pain we can experience joy all the more fully. Carl Jung writes, “The paradox is one of our most valuable spiritual possessions... only the paradox comes anywhere near to comprehending the fullness of life.”

It is a paradox that our journey toward healing, wholeness and reorientation after our lives fall apart includes vulnerability. Vulnerability allows us to be tough and tender at the same time; sad and happy; afraid and courageous; fierce and kind. Brené Brown writes that we straddle the tension of facing pain while cultivating moments of joy. We need not feel guilty for feeling joy in the face of grief and injustice.

We are in no way immune to hardship in life. But Psalm 91 invites us to ask: “Will I chose to trust the Lord to deliver me from pain and fear, or will I be victimized by it?” Even if we are still living in disorientation, we can choose trust, gratitude, hope, love and joy – all of which create space for transformation and new life.

I will end my reflection with our next scripture reading. After I read it we will sing together, and then we will have a final time for some silent reflection, to simply sit with your thoughts and feelings, and with the assurance that God loves us and calls us by name.

“But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” – Isaiah 43:1