Tag Archive | death

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

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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

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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.”

“Just As I Am”–a story of the hymn

Just as I am, without one plea

but that thy blood was shed for me,

and that thou bidd’st me come to thee,

O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

     I spent my teen-age years in a church where an invitation to “accept Jesus as your personal Saviour” was extended at the end of each service.  Those desiring to do so were asked to walk down the aisle to the front of the sanctuary.  Often we sang “Just As I Am” as the preacher persistently urged folks to make this big decision.  And often, as we sang verse after verse after verse of this hymn, I would nervously twitch in my seat.  Yes, I knew myself to be a child of God, but the preacher would always remind us that maybe we weren’t being all that we should be, that maybe we needed to re-commit our lives to Jesus.  Should I go forward (again!) or shouldn’t I?  Was it time to re-commit myself to Jesus and determine to live a more godly life?  Or was I (more or less) okay? 

     For years into my adult life I was simply unable to sing “Just As I Am.”  Any beauty of the hymn had been buried for me in a shroud of memories of those long sessions of unhealthy introspection during the seemingly endless singing of the hymn in my teen years.  I was relieved to be worshiping in churches that didn’t offer end-of-service invitations.  Relieved that this hymn was seldom, if ever, sung.

***

Just as I am, though tossed about

with many a conflict, many a doubt,

fightings and fears within, without,

O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

     Years later, well into my mid-life years and after I had been trained and then ordained as a pastor, I was preparing one day for a Sunday service when we would be celebrating the sacrament of Holy Communion in our church.  Knowing that some in the congregation were struggling with difficult issues in their lives, some with guilt, and some with questions about their faith, I wanted to find a hymn that would re-assure us all that God always receives us at God’s holy table, asking only that we come with open, penitent hearts.  Leafing through the hymnbook, suddenly I saw it—“Just As I Am”—an invitation so clear, so simple.  The shroud faded away, and I now saw in this hymn a beautiful invitation to come to God’s Table just as we are, with our sinfulness, with our doubts, with our fears.  To come and receive in the bread and in the wine the unbounded, immeasurable love of God.

     Who had written this hymn, I wondered?  And what were the circumstances in which it had been written?  I did some research and learned that the author, Charlotte Elliot, had become an invalid at 30 years of age and remained an invalid until her death at age 82 in 1871.  In the early years of her illness, she became depressed, and struggling with doubts, fears, anger, and many questions, she felt very distant from God.  In time, a spiritual advisor helped her by suggesting she come to God “just as she was”—bringing herself to God, not trying to be a pious, uncomplaining saint who quietly accepted her unhappy lot, but rather as a person filled with anger, fear, and doubt.  To bring herself to God “just as she was.”  Charlotte followed his advice, and she soon found herself embraced in a strong sense of God’s acceptance and love.  She later wrote this hymn about her experience.

     After this “discovery,” I often used this hymn to lead my congregation into the holy, joyous solemnity of a communion service.  Now, in my retirement, as I sit in the pews rather than presiding from the pulpit, I am often delighted to sing this hymn with the choir and the congregation during the service of the holy supper, as I receive the elements and hear those life-giving words, “the body of Christ given for you,” and “the blood of Christ shed for you.”

***

Just as I am, thou wilt receive,

wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;

because thy promise I believe,

O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

 

Just as I am; thy love unknown

has broken every barrier down;

now to be thine, yea, thine alone,

O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

     We sang this hymn during Holy Communion this past Sunday.  The words echoed in my soul as I returned to my pew, and I found myself thinking, “I do believe that this may well be one of the hymns I would like to have sung at my funeral some day.”  For at the moment of my death, I thought, I will be no closer to sainthood than I am now, but I can be assured that, even then, “just as I am, thou wilt receive, wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve .”  At the moment of my death, I also realized, the very last barrier between me and the God who died for me will at last be broken down by that unknown, unbounded love of God.  I will be free, free at last, to savor the heavenly feast in God’s nearer presence, with loved ones, with friends, with all the saints who have gone before.  And who knows, I wondered, who knows—perhaps as we kneel before the Lamb, we just might sing together: 

Just as I am, without one plea,

but that thy blood was shed for me,

and that thou bidd’st me come to thee,

O Lamb of God, I come, I come.