Everything I Once Believed about Grief Is Wrong

For all who grieve, words of wisdom and grace here, as well as testimony to the power of memory.

Kairos Corner

I woke today to the thought that has greeted me every March 8th since 1990: “My sister would have been…”

Fifty-five. That’s how the sentence ends this year. My sister would have been fifty-five.

Twenty-four years removed from her death, I still live the truth of what Rick Lischer describes in his book Stations of the Heart: Parting with a Son:

“Grief is a series of caves–dark, multiple,and unfathomed. You do not explore them. You fall into them. Which means you are constantly righting yourself and daily, sometimes hourly, recovering from little plunges into unrequited longing and despair.”

It’s certainly not hourly, or even daily, but every now and then something triggers a memory that plunges me into a cavern of longing and despair. Sometimes the cavern isn’t deep and I quickly return to whatever I was doing. Sometimes the cavern seems bottomless.

I once believed that grief had…

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“It is more appropriate to speak of this God in categories of fidelity than of immutability, and when fidelity displaces immutability, our notion of God’s sovereignty is deeply changed.” – Walter Brueggemann

“Remember, you are dust.”
I do. 
This, of all my memories,
Is most keen.
The memory more faint
Is of a God who is dust,
Not from any hint of mortality,
But solely from loving the likes of me.

Remember us, ashen Christ.




Release and Embrace: A Brief Lenten List

Lent begins on Ash Wednesday this week, a time set apart to breathe, renew, reflect, to be still and know the deep grace that sustains all things. I share this brief list as an invitation to you to join with me in observing a holy Lent:

1. Release certitude. Embrace humility.

Paul says we live by faith, and not sight. And yet, we all prefer sight any day. We’d rather be certain, we’d rather exude confidence, we’d rather win our culture’s never-ending competitive race than admit we could be wrong. But the truth is, we could be wrong, about most things, and especially matters relating to God. That’s why it is faith, and not certitude (sight), that Paul commends. What might be transformed within us and in our relationships if during Lent we released the need to be right and embraced humility?

2. Release the virtual. Embrace the real.

I love my glowing screens. I love social media. My son is able to talk every day with his girlfriend in Toyko, in real time, and see her face, and she his. This is a remarkable technology. Social media has made it possible for me to connect in meaningful ways with friends the world over. But the other day I was driving through the neighborhood on a sunny, unseasonably warm afternoon and saw three children standing at the corner, all looking at their phones. The gift of the day, the gift of one another, the gift of play – all these gifts remained unopened for the sake of the glowing screen. I feel we are neglecting these greater, more immediate gifts for the often fleeting promises of technology. Could we, during Lent, embrace one hour a day or more when we shut off all the glowing screens, left all the virtual worlds we inhabit, and spent that time with the gifts right around us?

3. Release time. Embrace time.

I heard someone recently say that the most valuable commodity we have in today’s world is time. I think that’s why everyone – children and adults – love snow days so much (I’m writing this on a rare snow day here in Tennessee). It is the grace of all that time, time that has managed to escape the clutches of our overly-scheduled lives, time that has slipped through the ties that bind it so tightly to our fast moving days. The snow falls, covering the earth with a blanket of white, and with it, the comforting, healing presence of uncounted, unhurried, healing…time. During Lent, could we find a way to embrace snow days in the spring – blocks of unscheduled, agenda-free time? Lent is an invitation to release the anxious time by which we live so much of our lives and embrace God’s time – in prayer and meditation, in worship, in acts of care and compassion. Far from adding one more more thing to an already crowded calendar, Lent invites us to embrace a different calendar, one that intersects with our calendars and redeems them.

Lent is a time to release and embrace. What would you add to this brief list? My prayer for all who read these words is that the grace of this season and the God who meets us in both the release and the embrace will bring you renewal and hope.