Tag Archive | death

Being Jairus’ Daughter: What Was It Like?

The Raising of Jairus’ Daughterpl

William Blake (1757-1827)

***

A note:  I wrote this piece before the tragic shooting in Las Vegas several nights ago.  So while it’s not a response to that horrible event, the question I believe must have been in the mind of Jairus’ daughter as she lived through her life is a question we all share.  And it’s a question that becomes more urgent after a tragedy like that in Las Vegas.  The question is simply “what is the meaning of life?”  What is the meaning of life for those who were killed or wounded in Las Vegas?  What is the meaning of my life?  Of your life?  So I offer this piece in quiet memory of those who were killed and trust that it will offer hope to their loved ones and to all of us who grieve with them.  

***

Now when Jesus returned, the crowd welcomed him, for they were all waiting for him. Just then there came a man named Jairus, a leader of the synagogue. He fell at Jesus’ feet and begged him to come to his house, for he had an only daughter, about twelve years old, who was dying…While he was still speaking, someone came from the leader’s house to say, ‘Your daughter is dead; do not trouble the teacher any longer.’ When Jesus heard this, he replied, ‘Do not fear. Only believe, and she will be saved.’ When he came to the house, he did not allow anyone to enter with him, except Peter, John, and James, and the child’s father and mother. They were all weeping and wailing for her; but he said, ‘Do not weep; for she is not dead but sleeping.’ And they laughed at him, knowing that she was dead.  But he took her by the hand and called out, ‘Child, get up!’ Her spirit returned, and she got up at once. Then he directed them to give her something to eat.  Her parents were astounded; but he ordered them to tell no one what had happened. (Luke 8:40-56, selected verses)

***

          I’ve often wondered.  Whatever happened to this unnamed girl whom Jesus raised from death when she was but 12 years old?  We never hear of her again in any of the gospels or in the story of the early church, so I suspect her life was probably quite ordinary.  But ordinary as it may have been, I suspect that it may not have been either a very easy or a very comfortable life. 

          I imagine that many of the people of her village were eager to name her as their village saint, and I suspect that with such elevation came many high expectations of how she should live her life and of what she might be able to do for them.  Some perhaps even now and then gingerly tried to touch the hem of her robe in hopes that something of the power that had brought her back to life would rub off on them. 

          And then I’m sure there were others who did not see her as a saint at all.  They saw her only as a reminder that the Miracle Worker hadn’t chosen to save their loved ones, and they were angry and jealous of her.  Was she so much better than their sons and daughters who had been left to die?  Why had she alone been brought back from the dead?  They wanted to have nothing to do with her.   

          Not easy!  But through all of this, I hope she had her moments of joy.  I suspect she did, but I’m also quite certain that, like all of us, she also experienced difficult times of personal illness and loss.  And I can’t help but wonder if during some of these times she may have wished that Jesus had just let her be.  What, after all, was the meaning of her life?  Why had she been brought back to life when others had not been?  What did it all mean? 

          “I simply don’t know,” I imagine her thinking often to herself.  “I don’t know why I was given a second chance at life when I was 12 years old.  I don’t know if God expects something extraordinary from me.   I know many fellow villagers expect something extraordinary from me.  Think I ought to be perfect, think I ought to be able to perform miracles for them, save their children, whatever.  And my father, God rest his soul, I know he certainly expected my life to be extraordinary.  I don’t know the specifics of his hopes, but I often saw the gleam in his eye when he would look so tenderly at me in my teens and early twenties and whisper those words the Master had spoken to me as I lay deathly cold and still, ‘Child, get up!’

          “Lots of expectations.  But do I expect an extraordinary life for myself?  Sometimes I have hoped I would accomplish something very special in my life, but I haven’t, and much of the time I simply go about my daily tasks.  What I do know is that those words, ‘Child, get up’ left a permanent scar on my soul.   A positive scar.  A profoundly deep sense that my life, tiny and ordinary as it is, is a life treasured and valued.  That my life matters to God and to the Master who spoke those words to my lifeless self.  I’ve heard that some are saying that Master was actually God wrapped in our human flesh.  I don’t understand about all of that, but I do know that God was with him.  That in that moment, God scarred my soul with a searing love.”

          Theologian Emil Brunner in The Christian Doctrine of God writes of God regarding each of us “from all eternity, with the gaze of everlasting love.”  An eternal gaze, he says, that gives to each of us a sense of “eternal meaning,” a sense of “eternal dignity.” 

          Maybe something like that is what Jairus’ daughter felt.  That gaze of everlasting love focused on her.  That gaze of divine love infusing her days with a sense of extraordinary meaning and dignity, ordinary as they might have been.    

          I wish we knew more of her story.  But perhaps we know enough, just enough, to help us ponder our own lives, our own stories.  Just enough to help us realize anew that our tiny lives, too, are steeped in that loving gaze of the God who has looked upon us from all eternity.  Just enough to hear the voice of that God calling to us in every moment of our lives, “Child, get up.”

 

 

 

The Falling

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Some savor taste of light as they drift

slowly through the evening of their lives;

others whoosh in a frenzied dance

of joy, of madness, or, perhaps of fear,

attuned, it seems, to secret, wild rhythms

in the gusty autumn winds.

*

I wonder, are these leaves content

with their brief shining? weary of the weakness

creeping through their shriveled veins and ready

to let go? or reluctant? sad to leave behind

the chatter of their wind-blown friends,

the playful hide-and-seeking sun,

the stillness of the stars? 

*

I love to watch these golden, scarlet fallings,

each so alone, so, so alone; each carries

emptiness, a fullness too; each seems to hum

a lovely, ancient, tumble of a poem, hymn

to brightly colored life, to dignity of death,

a muted melancholy joy.

Requiem for Two Oak Trees

001 - Copy

stumps of two oak trees beside our yard

 

Earth to earth and dust to dust; I bless them for

their carpeting of summer skies; bless them for their solemn

sighing through our lives; bless them for their quiet

presence, gentle strength.

*

Ancient of years, rings circling round

and round, whispered tales of winter’s

ice, of lonely hearts that sometimes leaned

against their strength; rock-hard solid,

tough and sure, even as terror, wars and hi-tech

revolutions rocked our world, churning

and spinning our lives this way and that;

the oaks ever unmoved.  Unmoved until

a growing weakness in the agѐd marrow

of their bones; until the trumpeting of stormy

winds threatened a fall like that of Jericho;

so branch, alas, by leafy branch, saws

whirring in the summer heat, they now

are shriveled to mere stumps.

Farewell, dear friends.

*

Life will move on, I know, new circles rise,

as acorns burrow deep to rough it out beneath

the stars, the sleet, the wind; life renewing,

life insistent, life relentlessly determined

always to begin again; but you forever gone;

your stumps a portrait of the mystery of life.

 

Requiem for a Small Black Bird

black-feather2

I lay you to rest, little one, your

body rigid, stilled, and so alone,

at the base of an old maple tree;

cover you with fallen twigs and leaves;

simple nest to shelter your returning to the

elements of earth and air.

kyrie eleison

*

I have no words to speak; simply

mark the spot with mottled rock;

breezes hum above, a wordless litany to

close your too-short life.

kyrie eleison

*

I knew you only in your death;

dark mystery laid out at dusk on our cold

deck, tiny feet clutching the air,

feathers shrouded black around your

fragile bones, wren-like beak sealed

tight against the whistle of the wind.

Such dignity in your demise, your

moon-white breast so still;

such fearsome beauty shining

bold, shining proud against the

emptiness of death…

kyrie eleison

*

…a shining that has brushed

across the calloused ridges of my

soul, awakened me (how easily I

fall asleep!) to cherish every

fleeting wonder of this life, every

marvel wrapped in wingèd joy,

before it, too, is laid to rest beneath an

old maple tree, leaving me to

ponder mysteries of hope that

lie so close, and yet so far beyond the

final shelters that we weave with all our

fallen twigs and leaves.

Farewell, little one.

kyrie eleison

Easter: An Unfinished Story

Noemi

A Requiem for Noemi

It wasn’t exactly what I wanted to read at breakfast on Easter morning, but there it was on the front page of the New York Times–the story of 12 year old Noemi, a slight Ecuadorian child who had committed suicide earlier this year in Mexico.

He is risen! He is risen indeed! The cries would soon ring through our church.

I read through the fragments of her life, her solemn eyes pulling me deeper and deeper into her story. Weary eyes, doubtless from endless days huddled in a dusty pick-up truck bound for Freedom Land and reunion with her parents. Her parents, the story explained, had left Ecuador for a better life in the Bronx, NY, when she was about three years old. Since then Noemi had continued to live in Ecuador with her grandparents. She had not wanted to leave Ecuador. It was all she knew, and poor as they were, her grandparents had nurtured her lovingly. But when her parents called to proudly tell her they had arranged for her to join them in America, she packed up her suitcase and soon found herself in the back of that gritty pick-up truck, bumping over roads that stretched endlessly to a future frighteningly unknown, with questions, fears, and doubts as her closest companions.

He is risen! He is risen indeed!

After about a month of the dust and heat of country after country, the truck was stopped in Mexico, the driver arrested, Noemi sent to a shelter for children, a place called the House of Hope.  It seems, however, that there was no hope for Noemi. Her heart was sealed in a dark tomb of fear, despair, and loneliness, and the stone that covered the entrance was simply far too heavy for her to move.  So one day she walked her lonely 12-year old self into an empty House of Hope bathroom and quietly hung herself from a shower curtain rod.

He is risen. He is risen indeed!

I share Noemi’s story, not in any way to dampen our Easter joy. Easter is indeed God’s good news! Let the Hosannas ring! Let the Alleluias resound! I share Noemi’s story simply to remind myself and all of us that there are still more stones in the world that need to be rolled away. To remind us that Easter is an unfinished story.

Man of the Night

nic-8

Burial of Jesus—Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea

(from the Church of St. Michael,Vienna, Austria)

The myrrh and aloes heavy, but we

manage, Joseph and I—not easy trying to

dispose this body under murkiness of night;

but then, I’m quite familiar with the dark,

more so than with the day; more at home with life’s

hard questions than with easy answers wrapped in

fringed and flowing robes of certainties, tapped out in

clear-cut formulas recited by us Pharisees. I do

admit, I have enjoyed the nods and bows, the special

seats in synagogues reserved for our flamboyant

piety; but shadows have haunted each dutiful

step, and hunger has gnawed at my core; the only

truth I’ve known for sure is that there

surely must be more.

*

Winding sheet now neatly wrapped around this

forlorn soul, our spices sprinkled freely all

around his nakedness, our sighs the only

dirge for him, echoed by some woman

tears from just outside our cave. We nod in

hushed farewell, to each other, to the corpse, to

all we’d hoped for from this man; we walk into the

mist; lone lily blooms along the path, the only

star in all the blackness of this night.

*

A night so like that other night when I had

slipped into his room to pick his brain, find some

answers for my restlessness; the night I left with

questions more than had been tucked into my robe when I

arrived; born from above? what was this

strangeness? what this Spirit wind that blew so

unpredictably? what this lifting up? and what this

love of God for all the unclean masses of the world?

*

Since then, I’ve watched and wondered, wished and hoped,

awash in all my doubts. Then, earlier today that cross, that

lifting up, that soldier cry “This man the Son of God!”

I kneel in heavy fog; wind whispers soft across my

brow; words tumble through the air;

“Lord, I believe; help thou my unbelief.”

 

Scripture references: John 3:1-21, John 19:38-42

Ashy Hope

ashes

“Remember that you are dust…” my

bones, my muscles—dust? my

sinews, veins—all dust?

“…and to dust you will return”; words that

sting and push me to a charnel space  

dark with endings, loss, and ash; words

intoned incessantly as friends and

strangers kneel to feel the print of

cross upon our brows; feel with

sinners near and far the weight of who we

truly are—fragile, errant souls with

muddied lives, distorted dreams, and now the

black of ashes marking this, our too, too brief

mortality.

*

A cheerless mark, this dismal smudge that

signifies my dust; why, then, this

sprig of joy that’s rooting in these

ashes and insists on pushing up?  And

why this quiet hope persistent at the

edges of this gray?  Perhaps it is the

deep that calls to Deep, this real in me,

unmasked, that hears the Real

beyond, the Real who stirs my ashes,

calls my name, and tells me I am

loved in all my ashiness, that I will be made

clean and whole because of one who

scooped up all our dust and from his open

tomb sculpts from our cinders timeless works of

love beyond the ashes of this too, too brief

mortality.  

“Accomplish in us, O God, the work of your salvation.”