Living among things that are passing away
We live in trying times. And even as I say that, I feel like it has become such an overused cliche and it’s hard not to just roll my eyes. Yes, we are living in trying times, and also we are very tired of it. We are tired of getting news about sickness and death and corruption and turmoil and outrage, we are tired of fires and floods, we are tired of feeling exhausted mentally and physically and tired of trying to put a good face on it all, we are tired - oh so tired - of the coronavirus, and we are tired of getting news about yet another loss.
Our senior warden wrote to me this week and said, “Did you not speak reverently to God about not having more problems?” Which made me laugh out loud. I may have run low on speaking with reverence even to God. I know well the prayer: God give me patience and give it to me now!
But I also know well the prayer we prayed today to begin our service, our collect for the day. We are anxious because we are, as humans, placed among things that are passing away, and so we ask God to help us hold fast to those things that shall endure.
Now, granted, sometimes we are glad that something is over, we rejoice when a dark cloud yields a silver lining. One person may be glad even while another feels bereft because of change. It is through change and loss that we develop resilience, individually and communally, and grow.
But I remember what were called “growing pains” in my legs as a child, and that hurt. It woke me up at night. It made me cry. The process of becoming resilient, learning to accept and even embrace change, growing, can hurt.
People have been telling me lately, this community has had so much loss. For some the losses started years ago and have continued. Dear friends are gone. The church used to be full. We used to have fun fellowship events that brought in great crowds and do lots of outreach downtown and beyond. The youth program was so big we had to divide it into two groups. We used to be more vibrant. The budget has shrunk so much.
For others the losses are more recent. A lot of people left when this happened, or that happened, or when this person made a change or that person retired and no one stepped up to take their place. And this priest left and now that priest left, and some people are upset and hurt while others are relieved. Our first responses are almost always emotional even as they are different for different people. For some, it’s grief and trauma. For others it’s being freed from a burden.
And maybe you wish I wouldn’t talk about it. Let’s not have unpleasantness, please. I know the feeling. But we cannot heal from the trauma of loss if we do not name it. We must make room for grief before we can see a new path. We are among things that are passing away, and things that pass away just do not come back. We can look back with fondness and say, wasn’t that wonderful? Didn’t we enjoy it? Didn’t we have fun? Wasn’t that meaningful? Don’t I love this picture from that time? Don’t I cherish this thing that I’ve kept all these years to remember? Nothing can take away from the joy in what was.
But also, as we pray for God to soothe our anxieties as we are placed among things that are passing away, we also remember that we are a people of hope. We are an Easter people who know that after death comes resurrection and new life. We know that God makes things new, that we as a people can be made new through being God’s people striving to do God’s will in a world that is full of trauma and also unspeakable beauty and sheer wondrousness.
When we are anxious and even scared, we may be quick to try to hide our pain, suppress our feelings, react by saying we just have to move on and by the way could you hurry up and get us a new permanent rector so we can stop being in this in-between place?
But we do live in an in-between place. Remember that for everything there is a season, and in this season I encourage you to just feel your feelings right now. This community is in good hands with your staff and vestry and volunteer leaders. This community is in God’s hands. It can withstand your grief. We will not linger here for ever, for so long that we cannot grow, but we also cannot grow and learn what it is to thrive if we are dragging a bunch of baggage behind us. Feel the feelings and let the pain into the light. We won’t be overwhelmed by our feelings if we just go ahead and let them out.
Soon you will be hearing about next steps in our continuing journey through the wilderness called “the interim period.” While there’s been a lot going on, more in the background, up until now, your part in this process is coming soon. So this is a good time to keep praying this prayer: Grant us Lord, not to be anxious about the things that are passing away so that we can hold fast to those things that shall endure. Grant us the eyes to see the new creation you want to make us into, to look for new life. Help us remember that we are a resurrection people, full of hope even in the midst of loss and sadness. In Jesus’ name, Amen.