Entering Lent Grieving

Today is Ash Wednesday. It is a day of holy contemplation and reflection. Traditionally, Ash Wednesday is a time when we begin the season of Lent by remembering our mortality and need of God to redeem us. One of the most important practices of this day is the imposition of ashes as a representation of our mortality and sinfulness.

In Scripture, the practice of wearing ashes connects to the expression of grief. When someone is mourning, whether it is Job or the mourners outside of Lazarus’ tomb, they would often place ashes on their head to represent their grief and sorrow.

As we begin this particular season of Lent, I recognize there are several places of grief that I am experiencing.

I am feeling the grief of the aftermath of General Conference. In the days since General Conference has ended, I will be honest and admit that I’ve not wanted to think too much about what took place other than what I need to share with you all. To be present in St. Louis was humbling and an honor, but it was also hard to watch. As I shared with our Town Hall meeting Sunday, I felt as though I was watching my church come apart along nearly the same divisional lines we see in the political arena. This breaks my heart. So, I am grieving where we are as a United Methodist Church, global, today.

I am also grieving this pastoral transition. While in my heart I know that my family and I are making the right decision for Noah and as much as we are excited about being in Huntington and closer to family, these realities also come with it a lot of grief. With every ministry ending there comes with it sorrow for relationships that will come to an end. So, please know that while my heart is looking ahead to the season to come, it is mournful for a season that is coming to a close.

I grieve where we are in our conversations with one another. Our conversations often represent the divides we experience today. We are living in one of the most divisive times that I can remember. Sociologists will try to come up with reasons for this – social media, political divide, etc. – but I don’t believe we spend enough time sorrowful for how we treat one another. If you are a progressive, there is a tendency to assume the worst among those who are conservative. The same goes with conservatives in how they view progressives. We dismiss those, with our words, the very people we disagree with. It often comes as a result of our inability to find common ground with one another, and this grieves me.

There is much more that grieves my soul, today, but these are just a few. My soul is heavy as we enter this holy season of Lent. As such, I recognize that within my own self is a need for God to heal these places of brokenness, to allow me to see my own contributions into these areas of grief, and to let God lead me into a path of deeper discipleship.

That is my prayer for my own life, today, and I hope it is also your prayer. Lent provides us an opportunity to recognize these places of grief that we have because the world doesn’t match up to the desires of God. For that matter, these places of grief come about because we know we don’t always live into the purposes God has for our lives.

We cannot carry on and act as though these places do not exist. That is a heavy temptation that hovers over us. To ignore common realities, these places of grief, and to move on as if nothing is wrong is something that we all face, because we live in a world that would rather move on that deal with the deeper realities of life. In doing so, we prevent the work of God’s holy love to heal us, renew us, and reshape us for deeper living with the Lord and one another.

The deeper walk calls us to experience the work of God’s love in the midst of the grief and to remember God is always present. We cannot ignore grief, but we can see them as an opportunity for us to grow deeper in our relationship with the Lord.

As we embark on this season of Lent, yes, I am mindful that there are several places of grief in my life. Yet, I remain hopeful, because God is present to heal, renew, and reshape these places of grief into opportunities for new life to shine through.

That is the promise of the Resurrection, after all, that Lent guides us towards.

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Being Joy in the Midst of Tragedy

Tomorrow, churches across America will be faced with an all-too-real tension.

How can we live in joy in the midst of tragedy?

The third week of Advent is traditionally the week in which the church focuses on the theme of joy. It is our response to the fact that Christ, the Son of God, came into the world at Christmas. As followers of Christ, we are called to live with joy because of what Christ has done in this world and in our own lives. Truly, it is a way of living that is both an inward and outward response. It is inward in that joy removes the bitterness that can be produced by living in the world. It is an outward response, because our joy in Christ calls us to share that joy with others in how we interact with them.

Recognizing joy right now can be difficult. As we watch the reports of the senseless and unthinkable tragedy in Newtown, Conn., we are struck by the tension of joy and grief. The two do not go together. What are we to do? Can we recognize joy in the middle of deep tragedy and pain? Is there a place for joy in our hurt?

I think we can and I think there is. We can recognize the joy of Christ by being people of joy, even in the midst of tragedy. What do I mean by this? Being joy is a way of life that helps us to focus in times of grief and senselessness. It is a living response, yes, to our faith in Christ, but it is a deeply personal way of responding to what took place yesterday. This can take on several different forms.

We can be joy by praying for those impacted by yesterday’s tragedy. Prayer is our way of giving God our hurt and pain. It is also our way of being with those who hurt in a spiritual way. By prayer, we recognize our joy that God will hear our prayer and will be with those who are hurting today. I posted several prayers, yesterday, from The Book of Worship and The Book of Common Prayer that can help us pray in this times.

We can be joy by reminding ourselves that Christ is present in our grief.In the midst of our pain, we can rejoice that we are not alone. Christ was there in our tears and continues to be with us in our pain. The presence of Christ in our lives is always with us and that is certainly something to rejoice in. Christ was in Newtown. He was there with the teacher who shielded her students. Christ was with the police officers who made quick work in getting to the school to prevent any additional loss of life. Christ was there with the pastors, grief counselors, and friends who went to the community and offered themselves to the families and community. Christ was there in our anger and frustration as we watched the news reports. That is something to be joyful about in our grief.

We can be joy by limiting our rhetoric. Moments after the shooting was first reported social media users were logging on to blame someone for what took place. Too many used the shooting’s aftermath to advocate either pro-gun or gun control agendas. This is not the time. Now is the time to mourn and comfort those who are hurting. It is not the time to say why more guns are needed or how we need to limit the access to guns. In times of grief, political rhetoric can be too emotionally charged to allow for a rational discussion of the issues. We can wait to have the discussion on guns in our country, but it is a discussion that we need to have. For now, let us be people of joy who are not attempting to use this time to advocate positions, but instead are advocating community and togetherness.

Finally, we can be joy by simply caring for each other. This is needed right now. We all need each other when we are grieving. We can be people of joy who allow others to express their hurts and pain to us. We can be people of joy who tell others that it is going to be OK … in time. We can be people of joy by our presence.

There are opportunities for joy all around us. My hope is that we can be people of joy even in these difficult moments.

May God be with us all.