Tag Archive | grief

Song of Hagar: a Lenten Lament


Jean-Charles Cazin (1840-1901)

Some background notes for those who may be unfamiliar with the story found in Genesis 16:1-16 and Genesis 21:1-21:

  • Hagar was an Egyptian maid to Sarah, wife of Abraham, who had been promised a son through whom God would bless his descendants and the whole world.
  • When it seemed Sarah could not bear the child promised by God, Abraham took Hagar as his concubine, and she bore a son, whom she named Ishmael.
  • After Sarah finally did bear a son, whom she named Isaac, she insisted that Abraham dismiss Hagar and her son Ishmael, so there would be no competition for the prized inheritance.
  • Hagar then found herself abandoned with her son in the scorching deserts of the Middle East.


I wail a song of sorrow, of a grief that

stretches far beyond the stillness of these

haunted, bitter sands; my tears, the only

water in this endless barrenness—not

enough to keep me and my son alive.


I moan a song of fear, alone,

abandoned in this emptiness;

terrors harsh beneath a bruising sun that

wilts my dream of a tomorrow for my boy

whose eyes stare out his question,

“why, my mother, why?”


I howl a song of anger—did I not do

everything just right? or almost right,

at least? obey the master? bow to my

lady’s pride? cook the meals and

clean the tents? only to be cast

aside like offal from a sacrifice?

where are you, God? your promises

right now mere dust I soon will spread

across the body of my son.


I chant a mantra of my empty faith, of

questions many as the stars I see in desert

night; the gods of Egypt youth eclipsed by

God of Sarah—a God I can no longer trust;

once spoke with me—I thought—to promise

greatness for my son; his only greatness now his

anguished moans of thirst and fear of

death which ghostly hovers in his breath.


A voice? another desert song nearby? my ears

now playing tricks of angel promise shushing fear?

my eyes deceiving me? mirage of water

whisper-calling me to taste its sheer reality?

Dare I dip my soul again in faith?

Dare I taste the flowing Presence yet again?


I hum a quiet, timid hope, as water spills onto

my son to quench the thirst stretched

tight across his chest; as tiny drops of trust

distil in me to quell some of my

anger, fear—not all, but just enough to take one

desert step and then another one to help me

learn this desert way; to take my son into

tomorrow all unknown; believe that he, that

we, will never be alone.


Joseph of the Tomb

011 - Copy

Luke 23:50-53

50 Now there was a good and righteous man named Joseph, who, though a member of the council, 51 had not agreed to their plan and action. He came from the Jewish town of Arimathea, and he was waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God. 52 This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 53 Then he took it down, wrapped it in a linen cloth, and laid it in a rock-hewn tomb where no one had ever been laid.


He asked for the kingdom of God.

He received instead a lifeless, bloodied, soiled body;  

but a body, nonetheless, so, good man that he was,

he took that body and wrapped it in fresh linen;

sprinkled spices of disappointment across the

shroud, then laid the bitter remains of his dreams on a

shelf in the dank darkness of his new rock tomb. 

He had been tempted, yes he had, tempted to

simply walk away and leave that corpse on the cross

for others to dispose of, but, surely, he reasoned,

surely this man, disappointing as he turned out to be,

surely he deserved—simply as a human being—a final,

quiet dignity.  One more caress for the shrouded

remnants of his dream; one more sigh, and then he left to

close the tomb and seal away forever all his kingdom hopes.


But then…that curious rumor in the air that sent him back to

tidy up his now strange-emptied tomb; and there the lingering

scent of myrrh and aloes, mixed with something

new and strange, ethereal, it seemed, almost like

angel breath; and, too, that mystifying luster

glimmering ever just beyond his sight; those

linen wrappings, stained and stretched across the shelf…


Could it possibly be?  Could his cave have been the

womb in which the costly kingdom pearl had been

laid to rest and then had birthed new life beyond this life?  

And were his muted actions somehow part of all of that—

his futile disagreement with the Council? his binding of that

mangled body in his linen winding sheet?  He hoped, but

sureness hovered just beyond mind’s reach; so quietly he

folded all his questions into the empty creases of the

shroud, and quietly he left his silent tomb.


Yet heart emboldened by that hushed and holy emptiness,

mysterious Presence filling gaps and pauses nestled in the

restless aching of his soul, he asked for rising faith to

live—wrapped once again—

in kingdom hope,

in kingdom love,

in kingdom joy and peace.

In Remembrance of Her


(stained glass window from a chapel in France)

Matthew 26:6-13

Now while Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment, and she poured it on his head as he sat at the table. But when the disciples saw it, they were angry and said, “Why this waste? For this ointment could have been sold for a large sum, and the money given to the poor.” 10 But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? She has performed a good service for me. 11 For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. 12 By pouring this ointment on my body she has prepared me for burial. 13 Truly I tell you, wherever this good news[b] is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”


          Whatever prompted me to be so bold?!  In my dotage now, I quite startle myself as I think about what I did at Simon’s dinner party so long ago.

          Jesus had just recently made his triumphal march into Jerusalem.  Now we were all just waiting.  Waiting for that moment when he would clear the political decks, declare the Roman occupation over, and take the destiny of our nation into his own hands.  Simon had spread a festive table in anticipation of that coming moment of triumph, and I was so pleased to be one of the guests.  My eyes mirrored the shining hope that sparkled in the eyes of the disciples, and we were all just a little bit giddy.  All except for Jesus, that is.  Very quiet.  Very solemn.  I went over to tease him a bit, get him to smile and join the party!  But as I drew closer to him, I saw the profound sadness in his eyes, a sadness so cavernous it seemed to enfold every sorrow, and I do mean every sorrow(!) that earth had ever known.

          My heart cracked open a bit when I saw those eyes, and I simply could not help myself.  I didn’t know what that pain was all about, but I knew that words could never touch it.  So without giving it a second thought, I simply took the vial of expensive ointment I wore around my neck, and in one quick motion, I opened it and poured it all—yes, every drop of it!—over his head.  I remember hoping it would somehow seep into his very soul and ease a bit the pain I had seen in those eyes.

          Immediately the air in the room became heavy with the rich fragrance of the ointment.  Heavy, too, with a stunned silence—everyone shocked at such a bold act.  And then that dark hostility which I can never forget.  Coming especially from the corner where the disciples were standing.  “What a waste!  We could have sold that ointment and used the money to help the many poor who will doubtless come flocking to Jesus’ new kingdom!  A pox on her and her stupidity.”

          My cheeks burned a fiery red, and I wished the ground would open up and swallow me right then and there.  It didn’t, of course.  Tears ran down my face as I stumbled towards the door.  But through my sobs, I heard his gentle voice: “Why do you trouble the woman?  She has done a good service for me…By pouring this ointment on me, she has prepared me for burial.”  I froze.  His words were truly a gift, but a gift that sliced into my very soul.  Burial?  But he was far too young to be thinking of his death!

          I ponder it all now, years after the fact, and I am so grateful that I followed my heart that night.  Grateful I could offer him that tiny bit of consolation before the agonies of his final earthly days with us.  Grateful for his kind words that still echo in my soul when winter rains come and cold winds sweep across my aging dreams.

          All these memories will soon be buried with my bones.  Jesus said I would long be remembered wherever the good news of his life and death and resurrection might be proclaimed, and that’s a pleasant thought in these my final days.  It will indeed be nice to be remembered.  But I hope I won’t be remembered just in the telling of my story.  I’d really rather be remembered by people…

  • taking the time and care to look into another’s eyes to see, to really see, the aches and longings hiding there; by people

  • opening their hearts in gestures of love, no matter how foolish those gestures may appear; and by people

  • pouring vials of rich, costly heart-kindness into the lives of others, not to solve all their problems, but simply to brighten and cheer and remind those others that they are not alone.

          Time now for me to put away my pen and close my eyes for sleep.  I pray God soon to call me home, and I pray God’s peace to any who may chance some day to come upon what I have written.

Twenty Prayers after Newtown

December 15, 2012

As I prayed today for the families of those 20 children killed in Newtown, I found my prayers felt a little too vague, even as I prayed for peace and strength and courage for “all of them.”  So I decided to think about and try to imagine some possible last moments those children may have had with their families on the morning of December 14…last moments that will be forever etched in the hearts of minds of those left behind.  And so I prayed:

a prayer for the mother who lovingly packed her little boy’s lunch and kissed him good-bye as he hopped on the bus

a prayer for the father who walked his daughter to the bus stop and waved with a warm smile as she drove away

a prayer for the older sister who teased her younger brother and scoffed at his fears of not doing well on his vocabulary test

a prayer for the father who spoke gruffly to his son because he was day-dreaming instead of eating his breakfast

a prayer for the older brother who gave his little sis a high five as she grabbed her backpack and raced out the door

a prayer for the mother who reminded her son to be very, very careful crossing the street and not ever to talk to a stranger

a prayer for the grandmother who texted her grandson as she did every morning to say, “hope u have a really nice day”

a prayer for the mother who resented having to get up so early and couldn’t wait for her daughter to go out the door so she could go back to her warm covers

a prayer for the father who teasingly pulled his daughter’s braids and told her “how pretty you look today”

a prayer for the little brother who watched his big sister pack up her books and wondered when he would ever be lucky enough to go to school

a prayer for the mother and father who stood together at the window and beamed their pride and love as their daughter waved from the front yard

a prayer for the mother who was worried about her son’s cough—should she let him go to school or not…?

a prayer for the father who said to his son who didn’t much like his breakfast, “When are you going to grow up and stop whining about everything?”

a prayer for the mother who hugged her child and told her she couldn’t wait to see her after school

a prayer for the older brother who told his little sister that he thought she looked pretty silly in that bright orange hat

a prayer for the grandfather who couldn’t leave his chair but called out to his granddaughter a hearty “good-bye and don’t forget to be good”

a prayer for the mother and father who scowled at each other across their cups of coffee and failed to see their daughter’s un-ease with their angry silence

a prayer for the baby who giggled with glee as his big brother tickled his stomach on his way out the door

a prayer for the father who kidded with his son and told him not to tease the girls too much

a prayer for the father and mother who each gave their daughter a big bear hug and told her how much they loved her

And then I prayed for all of us, that we might have greater patience, greater love, and a greater awareness of the treasure of each moment we have with those we love.