Grief is a mysterious thing. You never know when it is going to creep up on you or whether you’ll laugh or cry when it does. A few years ago, my brother’s best-friend Stephen died. He was tall and dark and funny. I thought, I saw him the other day, standing by a broken down car. I came round a corner and I saw Stephen. I started to smile. Then I realised it couldn’t be Stephen, because he was dead. I burst into tears, while I gripped the steering wheel, and let grief come.
I do not pretend to understand death. I cannot tell why it takes some early and leaves others on earth in pain and distress. I do not know what to say at funerals or to grieving parents, children, siblings and friends. How do you answer the question: “How are you?” at the funeral of someone you love. I do not know. I know I am pretty bad at it. Nobody wants to be there - yet we want, no, we need the feeling of shared grief, the feeling that we are doing something to help carry the pain and emptiness.
There is the weight of eternity in the presence of grief, the gravity that life is short and fleeting, and within grasp of the living. Perhaps that is why I spend so much of my life struggling to divert the gaze of death. I nestle my apprehension of death in the word “safety” - it has a fashionable ring - fear does not reverberate off it loudly. So I wear my seatbelt in the car, and swim where there are lifeguards and shark nets. I do not walk alone at night or give lifts to strangers. I scratch carcinogenic charcoal off blackened toast and wear SPF 40. I protect my life and diminish the living of it.
The crazy thing is I know that death comes to each of us. I cannot avoid it, outrun it, or outlive it with goodness. Not one living, breathing person knows how to pull a Houdini and escape death. The Christian faith teaches that once a man did know how to defeat death. In fact it records how this man, Jesus, not only conquered death and returned to life but also offered life after death to anyone: the Lamborghini drivers and those who walk everywhere; the supermarket owner and the person who steals an apple for lunch. Jesus offered an invitation of endless life to anyone who believes he is capable of saving them from death.
I believe Jesus can make me live after death. I think he can do this because Jesus was a man who did not hedge his bets. He did not try to avoid death in all the ways I do. He did not play it safe or eat only organic foods. He did not follow the rules, he realised regulations do not always prolong life, in fact he went against religious advice to save his soul. He did not throw around words like eternity and heaven; he offered them to broken people, he spoke with compassion to people without hope. People like me.
Jesus also spoke about a massive party he would have one day when I get to heaven. I do not really like parties. I do not like the music that prevents conversation; or the dancing that makes me look like I am the daughter of an automated object. In fact, in many ways a massive party does not sound very good to me. Except that I think Jesus likes me, so I imagine he will throw a dinner to welcome me home. A dinner, where I will not have to dance, but where there will be good food, laughter and great conversation.
One day this Jesus, the Jesus that likes me, will come for me, and gently ask me to dine with him in heaven. And I will go because each of us must die. I will go because so many will be waiting for me to join them. I will go because Jesus wants me to be with him; and I want to be with him. I cannot escape death nor do I want to. I know that death will come to me regardless of my circumstances. My body is mortal: one day I will breathe my last gulp of air just as I inhaled the first.
Sometimes I do not accept death with such grace. I find myself angry about death quite a lot. I wonder why the young die, why the healthy die, why the ill hang on so long and why evil men thrive. I am angry with the pain that I see in the residue of death. I experience anger when I fail to remember that God is still in control even though my world is spinning, teetering…collapsing. I feel anger when I think my God is spiteful, when I think he is out to get me, when I forget the spiteful God is also Jesus who likes me. I feel angry when I forget that death is really just an invitation to a much better life: a life where there is no need for tears or tombstones or ambulance sirens.
But before I get to heaven I have to learn how to say good-bye to the people I thought would be laughing at my grandkids first stumbling steps. In the mean time I have to learn what to do when I drive around a corner and grief finds me. I haven’t always known what to do when grief sneaks up on me; now I cry, and sometimes, I get angry. I share stories about those I have loved who are now heavenly men and women. I laugh at the good times we shared. And I look at the stars: the stars God strung just to astonish us, the stars he named to reveal his bigness, his majesty and his sovereignty.
I look at the stars because they remind me who God is. They tell me that he is not spiteful but awe-inspiring. I remember that he is both the man who wept for his friend and the God who breathes light out his mouth. The stars expose how big God is and how tiny I am. I consider the stars and remember that they only burn so brightly because they are dying. As each star burns out and shoots across the sky, I am reminded that in each death I grieve, there is beauty and mystery, if I only choose to see it.
Friday, August 27, 2010
Friday, August 6, 2010
GUEST POST BY TREVOR HARBOTTLE
I have been listening to a song by John Ellis called ‘A Luta Continua’. Last night I wondered aloud what that meant. Xylon my housemate and presenter on a Gospel television show in South Africa, having interviewed John Ellis a couple of weeks ago, authoritatively told me it means ‘the struggle continues’. I liked that. I knew the lyrics resonated with me (He sings about needing to struggle to see TRUE liberation in South Africa, to see TRUE liberation from a religious system, and to see TRUE liberation in people’s lives). So I looked into the origins of the saying and discovered that the full saying is:
"A luta continua, vitória é certa" meaning, "The struggle continues, victory is certain"
I also discovered that it was first popularised by FRELIMO during the Mozambican war of independence and later in South Africa when Miriam Makeba sang ‘a luta continua’ and so it became part of the annals of South Africa’s struggle culture.
So how does this all relate to Jesus or God or the bible. I’m not totally sure. But I know that we are in a constant struggle everyday. Some-day’s it is a struggle to breathe; others a struggle to have joy; others a struggle to see any purpose, sometimes as I have experienced the last two months-a struggle to walk straight with a gammy leg. I love the fact that Jesus promised us all ABUNDANT LIFE but I sometimes wonder where that is, don’t you? I don’t see that in the poor woman begging on the street corner and I don’t see that in the misery that lines the eyelids of some my students and I don’t see it in my own life when I’m physically and emotionally drained at the end of the day.
The struggle continues, victory is certain. For those of us who believe in and relate to Jesus we have an assurance of victory (sometimes in our heads, sometimes in our hearts, sometimes in our doubts). But that victory is easily missed because the struggle is not over. We have to struggle to find that life and hope and joy and love. We have to struggle to display that life and hope and joy and love. But it is worth struggling for because the life and hope and joy and love is found in the struggle. The victory is found when we desire and attempt and fail and persevere and continue to struggle to live the abundant life that is ours. The victory is there when we wrestle with Jesus, with how he operates in our lives and with how we operate in His. The victory is there when we lay down our lives to benefit those around us. The victory is there when we see the sunset and marvel in the pollution induced colours. The victory is there in the smell of freshly baked croissants. The victory is there... It is there... It is there...
And I think that is the essence what I am trying to say is: Victory is certain, Don’t give up, the struggle continues! Be brave, be courageous, for you will overcome. You are more than conquers!
See John 10:10, Romans 8, Joshua 1:9, Romans 8:37 for some more encouragement. Or read the psalms. Or better yet, put aside the stress inducing task you are currently busy with and escape to a park and take 5 minutes to watch the birds and the trees and the people and the dogs. And then remind yourself:
"A luta continua, vitória é certa"
"The struggle continues, victory is certain"