Peace and Safety (or rest) are words that wouldn’t normally come to mind when I consider many of my church experiences. From the unspeakable, to microphones being ripped out of pulpits, hymnals thrown, arson, offerings being taken OUT of the plate, let’s just say I’ve observed more than my share of why people would be justified to run AWAY from church rather than find refuge in it.
But today, I found myself seeking refuge at a mid-week service I’d never been to. I wasn’t sure what to expect and knew many were out of town, but I needed a “pause.” A place I didn’t have to be afraid. A place that could handle my tears. When I arrived and was the only female, I thought perhaps I had intruded upon a men’s meeting. Maybe I did, but they were certainly welcoming and never let on.
Father Jerry, and it’s weird for me to say “Father” anything, but if you met him, and know much about me, you would likely understand why it’s really not that hard for me to say, shared a message this Sunday on peace and rest. Shalom (שָׁלוֹם) in Hebrew and eirḗnē (ειρήνη) in Greek. Many of his words resonated with my core so much so that I felt my insides saying “Ohhh! Yes! That’s good stuff! Gold!” and only hoped I hadn’t actually said it out loud. I’m paraphrasing, at best, what compassionately drew me in.
He spoke of Jesus coming into the upper room and how when he appeared to the disciples, He said first, “Peace be with you.” He didn’t want them to fear Him. Yes, those same men who had turned their backs on him, denied him, run away… He wanted them to be at rest. He wants us, with our (my) self-centered desires, anger, fear,… to be at rest. He wants us to know he’s got our back. Sometimes a really good relationship with someone can bring about incredible peace in our lives but one thing he mentioned was that sometimes peace has to be present first for the relationship, or healing to occur. (Paraphrased from what I gleaned). To personalize this further for me, I wrote:
“When peace and safety are present, it is much easier to hear.”
This is such the antithesis of my own personal church history. One where I almost sat back and waited for that other shoe to drop, or the hammer to hit, or for grace, which hasn’t been less than painful, to finally reach the back row. But these last several weeks, I have felt a peace that hasn’t been present in my life, in a long time, under his guidance and with the people I’ve met, or reunited with, so far.
He continued his message reminding us that God doesn’t come and take away the storms of life or the blow after blow tragedies, but that He is with us in the midst of it, and that His presence in our lives can bring forth peace that passes all understanding. The evidence of His presence in our lives is peace.
Sunday afternoon I road my motorcycle about a hundred miles looking for, and experiencing, my own level of peace with God in nature. I could breathe. When I arrived back home, relaxed and rejuvenated, my son greeted and told me something bad had happened. He didn’t know what, but knew by his nana’s comments on the phone with my aunt that it was bad.
Weeping with those who weep, aching with those who ache… has been the theme of this week. My heart hurts and cannot comprehend such devastating loss.
Sunday afternoon, we got a call that an unthinkable tragedy had taken our sweet, energetic, precious baby Logan from this earth.
I took this picture of Uncle John, who passed in January this year, and Logan, Thanksgiving 2014, about 7 months after my Uncle Brooks passed, the first of a series of blows to our family. The first time I got to talk to Logan was in his Mama’s belly at Brooks’s funeral. There was death, and there was new life on the way!
I loved my Uncle Brooks and he definitely loved me. He threw a softball at me, across a packed funeral home, when my granny died just to break me out of my trance-like paralysis, overwhelmed with sadness. He would often call me after I moved to Nashville to talk music business and on more than one occasion when referring to guys I had dated asked in his low-country rascal voice, “Do you want him scared or missing?” You would have to know him. He was a character like no one I have ever known. He loved big and gave resources, time and immense joy to everyone who knew him.
I imagine when Brooks got to Heaven, and most of my family would agree, that though our hearts continued to ache on earth, a party broke loose like no other as he danced with Granny, Aunt Alice and Aunt Reba & others who had gone before him. Brooks and I had many conversations about his soul and eternity through the years, mostly me parroting the fear based, “turn or burn” or “fire insurance” Christianity I’d learned to walk in. He told me often that I didn’t have to worry about him dying because God needed one of every kind and he, “ain’t never made another one like him,” and it’s still true.
But Sunday night, April 3, 2016, I believe Heaven was quite a different place. I imagine the angels paused and all of Heaven with great, quiet reverence, took notice and wept when Logan arrived. Expecting any number of our elders to find their way long before one from this generation, I imagine they glanced at each other with confusion and then upon realizing the meaning of his presence, like they had done so often to us through the years, welcomed him, with open arms.
I imagine the curtains were pulled back and all our loved ones were given a glimpse down to earth of what his parents and grandparents, aunts and siblings and all other family were going through.
I am convinced the only possible way anyone can survive this crushing type of tragedy is a miracle. And, though I’m sure many preachers will tell me I’ve got it all wrong, I like to imagine those loved ones sending down every ounce of light and love and support within them, along with God’s own grace and peace, to help get them through one minute at a time.
As I reflect on my weekend through the readings from With, by Skye Jethani, I see a lot of “with” moments. I didn’t go to St B’s so God would bless me or to avoid legalistic judgment. I went because I have a lot of questions and am searching. I want to learn what the flow of being “with” is like. I went because my son enjoys it and wanted to go back. I went because I feel safety and peace there and it’s easier to breathe. What I got was, I believe to be, a level of direct preparation for what we would face later in the evening. Almost as if, I don’t know, God sort of “had my back” and perhaps wanted to make sure I felt him during the storm we were about to walk through. There was no alcohol, sex, food, porn, or any others on the list of things that can medicate us from painful feelings. There was peace. The pain certainly didn’t lessen, I didn’t get clarity of explanations on suffering and there is still no short cut to grief, but what I did find was more breathing room.
When I read or hear feeble attempts at explaining away tragedy, which is often a natural response with a desire to ease pain and take away difficult emotions, I’m reminded of a quote one of my graduate professors, now friend, Rev. Dr Joy Samuels told me about that said,
“The Holocaust confronts us with unanswerable questions. But let us agree to one principle: no statement, theological or otherwise, should be made that would not be credible in the presence of the burning children.”
(From the essay “Judaism, Christianity, and Partnership After the Twentieth Century,” by Irving Greenberg, Christianity in Jewish Terms, Tivka Frymer-Kensky, editor.)
I have no answers. The thought of anyone attempting to explain this other than, “It hurts like hell,” and as one incredible therapist I know said, “it’s inappropriate, out of order when a child goes first,” is appalling to me. I have no answers, but I overflow with love for my family and will show up as best I can. I have no answers, but I have friends surrounding me with encouragement who are able to hear my anger toward God and continue loving me. I have no answers, and I don’t imagine I would be able to say this if I were in anyone else’s shoes, but I have been able to find moments of rest in the middle of the turmoil.
This amazing, full of personality “little man” who’s life had just begun, was taken way too soon. I imagine Uncle John is once again holding him in Heaven tonight. My heart is shattered by this loss. I’m aching deeply for Jamie & Shyenne and my Aunt Brenda and Uncle Howard and Micki. For Brandon and Luna and Chazz. For all those closest to them who are feeling the sting with every inhale. May that peace that passes all understanding, that shows up in the circumstances that are beyond comprehension, permeate through every ounce of their being.