April 3, 2015 @ 09:56 pm by Jacqui Lewis
Sometimes it feels like death is all there is.
On a Kenyan university campus, 147 students massacred and another 79 wounded. Christians separated from Muslims and picked off like skeet in a shoot. A militant group—Al Shabaab—proudly takes credit for the carnage.
Sometimes it feels like death is all there is. The dying hopes of Nigerian girls and their families that they will return home. The swath of death and destruction at the hands of Isil. Dead black and brown bodies, male, female, gay and transbodies, children’s bodies slain at the hands of those hired to protect and serve. The horrific retaliatory violence aimed at the police, aimed as though violence is an appropriate response, when indeed it is not.
Sometimes it feels like death is all there is: the slowly dying intent of the more well to do, who feel stuck in betwixt and between their ethics and values and those of their companies and co-workers. The dying promises of a democracy, in which government should and must care for the most vulnerable, whose promises are on life-support.
Sometimes it feels like civility and dialogue are dead, manners are dead, kindness and care for the marginalized are dead, simple acts of grace are dead.
Sometimes it feels like even life-giving, meaningful spiritual practices are dying and what arise in their stead are judgmental platitudes and rigid gatekeeping about who is in and who is out. Meaningful religion, life giving spirituality -- the welcoming, radically loving, justice seeking, community affirming effects of religion at its best -- can feel almost extinct.
Perhaps it even feels to some like God is dead.
So this holy-day rolls up on us a like gangster, ready to jack our faith, insist on our doubt, and say, "yes, yes the innocent one was murdered, he was crucified, they tortured him, they pierced his side and crowned him with thorns."
We say, "So what, old news; what does it mean? What can it possibly mean?? They are still killing the innocent," we say, wagging our heads. "They kill the prophets," we say, hoping our own prophet-ness will not stop our breathing. They hung him out to die and to dry and with him, right there with him, like the two thieves, we die, too.
Our faith can die. Our sense of right, our hope that might is destroyed by the kind and gentle acts of loving people, it feels crucified, dead and buried, like that creed we memorized when we were younger. It can feel as though all of us, have descended into hell.
Sometimes it feels like death is all there is. Dreams not only deferred, but dying, hanging loosely, only by a thread to vines that are suffering from root rot, and decay—overwatered with the tears of both the hopeful and the hopeless, wilting under the weight of expectation.
Mouths hang open, caught midway between a stifled cry, a lament and that nervous kind of laugh that escapes us when we know not what we do. "O my God why have you forsaken us?"
If this was the way, if he was the one, why did sorrow and love pour mingled down? If this was the way, if love was the way, if he was the truth and the life then why, why did the liars accuse and the people run? Why did they put him there, on the cross, to languish, to suffer? Why are the mothers of the captured daughters on the cross? Why are the survivors of the draught, the quake, the ones murdered by bombs guns, the ones burnt out by fire, the ones whose souls are murdered by bullying, why are they on the cross, hanging, dying only to be buried in the earth, in a cave, in the ground, in the system, in the muck and mire of human failure?
It felt like death then. They had walked with him, talked with him. Learned from him, laughed with him, supped with him, drank wine with him. Yet they fell asleep when he was praying, they ran when he needed them. The pain too much to bear, the fear too heavy to wear.
We want to run. From the pain, from the death. He can’t breathe hanging there, he can’t breathe and we can’t catch our breath. Not speak. Not to act. Not to run for our lives.
He can’t breathe. He can’t run. Like the Psalmist, he commends his spirit to the One he trusts. The Intimate one. The one he calls Father. He can’t breathe and he does not run, he pitches himself into the arms of God, surrounded by enemies and enmity. He lodges his soul, his life, his breath, into the hands of his God for safekeeping. He puts his life in the capable hands of the creator, liberator, redeemer, sustainer, into the One who knows him, loves him. And though he is in pain, breathless, almost lifeless, the one called Jesus rests in the hands of God.
This is what faith is. Not a magic formulae for a perfect life. Not a parachute out of danger and harm. Not a bubble of protection from fear and heartbreak. Not a talisman to be rubbed for good luck.
Faith is putting our lives, our souls, our breath in the hands of God.
Faith is intimate. It is trust. It is tender and sometimes eludes us.
If faith is putting your lives in God’s hands, then prayer is the transaction that allows us to do so. Prayer is the language that connect us. Like a child seeking the face of her mother, prayer enables us to seek the face of God.
Jesus knew how to pray and taught his disciples how to do so. Father. Mother .God. Holy be your name, for yours is the Reign.
And though he could hardly breathe, Jesus is paraphrasing a psalm. Be gracious to me O Lord for I am in distress. My eye wastes away from grief. My soul and body also. For my life is spent with sorrow and my bones waste away. I have passed out of mind like one who is dead. But I trust you O Lord. You are my God. My times are in your hand.
My times are in your hand.
Into your hands, I commend my spirit.
Into your hands I commend my breath.
In death, in so much death, and in life
Into your hands, O God, help us put our lives.
About This Blog
Preparing ethical leaders for a just society. Posts by Jacqui Lewis, Senior Minister.