Tag Archives: resurrection

God-hope-letting go

Holding on and letting go

A woman I know became sick a few months ago—suddenly. I learned about her illness through social media. Her family asked for prayers and said she was “gravely ill,” but it was not until they used the word “hospice” that I realized how gravely ill she was. In a matter of a few weeks, she went from posting pictures of her husband, children and grandchildren on social media—to dying.

Life is so fragile.

When death is near, what is happening in the rest of the world seems distant and unimportant. The passing of a loved one becomes the most important thing and offers great clarity about what really matters.

I try to remember those moments—the times when I had great clarity about what truly matters in life.God-hope-letting goThese thoughts came back to me while reading the Gospel of Mark. I wonder if St. Mark had clarity as to what was really important, if he had a sense of urgency about spreading the story of Jesus’ life and message.

I thought of how God uses us to spread the Good News. Was Mark a writer? Or was he just compelled to write the story of Jesus? As I pondered Mark’s mission, I was reminded of some notes I received when my friend Jim was dying from brain cancer.

Several friends wrote to me during Jim’s illness reminding me that we were living the Paschal mystery—facing death and resurrection every day. It was true that we knew Jim would die soon and yet every day we found a way to laugh and every day we recited our litany of gratitude.

Jim was unable to read for most of the time he was sick, so I read his mail to him, and I also read any notes I received. One of the notes about the Paschal mystery sparked a conversation about the everyday deaths we faced.

Jim’s physical decline was an obvious death, but there were others that seemed as significant. We kept being faced with situations where we needed to let go so that we could truly live.

Holding on and letting go was part of our daily conversation.

At some point, I realized that it was not just at the time of one’s death, but that living the Paschal mystery was a continual invitation to see things in new ways, to look from different angles and to be open to change.God-hope-letting goAs I reflected, the words to Unsteady by X Ambassadors, popped into my mind.

Hold

Hold on

Hold on to me

‘Cause I’m a little unsteady

A little unsteady…If you love me, don’t let go.

Holding on can offer a sense of security and stability, but there’s always the question, What am I holding on to?

While our world may seem to be spiraling out of control, Christians are called to remain “steadfast in faith” (1 Peter 5:9), not caving in to popular culture or the “prowling Satan” but holding on to Jesus’ message of hope.

 

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God-Easter-hope

From death to life

Holy Week and the Easter Triduum (Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday) have long been my favorite time of the liturgical year.God-Easter-hopeI love hearing the Passion twice in one week and watching the pageantry of Palm Sunday and Holy Thursday. The rich symbolism of the Easter Vigil touches my heart and invites me to renewal in a unique way. The baptisms and confirmations of people choosing my faith as their own always strengthens my faith and makes me more hopeful.

Since 2002, Holy Week has the added significance of being the week my dad died. It was Monday of Holy Week (March 25 that year), and every Holy Week Monday is now a memorial day for me.

On the Saturday before Palm Sunday in 2002, the hospice nurse called and said, “Your dad is ready to die, but your mother won’t let go. You have to come home.”  I explained that I was coming home for Easter and already had my ticket for Thursday. “No, you have to come now,” she insisted. So I changed my ticket and came home the next day, Palm Sunday.

Contemplating Jesus’ Passion and death that year, while my dad was also dying, brought new, deeper meaning to the mystery of death and resurrection.

Once my mother let go of my dad, once she truly said good-bye to him, he died within an hour. The nurse was right; he was ready.God-Easter-hopeThen five years, ago, my friend Jim died on Tuesday of Holy Week (April 3 that year), adding another memorial to an already meaningful time.

On Palm Sunday 2012, almost nine months after his diagnosis of brain cancer, we knew Jim was close to death. He ate his last meal that Sunday afternoon, spent the next day in bed, and died early Tuesday morning.

Their deaths, occurring during this holiest time of the year, has deepened my understanding of the Paschal mystery—how death is part of life and how new life can come from death.

Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains but a single grain; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. (John 12:24)God-Easter-hopeI ask myself what fruit has been produced by their deaths—and the deaths of others I have loved.

One fruit is my deep awareness of how fortunate I am to have loved and been loved. I know myself as blessed, even in the absence of those I love.

St. John Chrysostom said, “Those whom we love and lose are no longer where they once were. They are now whenever we are.”

It is true that my dad, Jim and all the other people I have lost are no longer present in physical form, but I carry them in my heart, and they are with me in a different way. I think of them often, and their lives and deaths help me to live each day in awareness of the fragility of life and in gratitude for all that is.
God-Easter-hope

 

Sight

On my recent retreat, we prayed with Luke 24:13-35, the story of the two disciples walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus after Jesus was crucified. Jesus joins them on the walk, but they do not recognize him.

Early on in the retreat, one of the facilitators commented, “expectations can bind.” His words reminded me of my postings from last month about being bound and unbound. Was it expectations that bound me? Would I be unbound if I let go of my expectations?

As I pondered the Emmaus reading, it occurred to me that the disciples’ expectations may have bound them, but they also blinded them; they literally did not see that it was Jesus. Expectations can blind, I concluded.

The disciples knew Jesus had died and even though they had heard that he was risen, they had not yet reconciled with that reality. They had no expectations of meeting Jesus on the road and so they did not recognize him. Had they been expecting him, they might have recognized him.

How often is that true for me? How often do I set up expectations that limit my ability to see Jesus in others? How often do I miss the gifts being offered because I am not expecting them or because I am expecting something else?

Quite often, I fear.

When I met with my spiritual director a few weeks ago, I shared my ponderings about being bound and unbound. I talked about how I not only wanted to be unbound, but I want to leap into freedom. She suggested I focus my daily Examen on when I leap and when I fail to leap.

I began to note in my journal when I took risks and when I hesitated. Each time I hesitated, I tried to discern what held me back.

On retreat, leaping and not leaping were still on my mind, so the phrase expectations can bind resonated with me. I reviewed my journal, looking more closely at entries about not leaping, and I could see that my reluctance to leap was connected to a fear of being judged.

If I had been the person Jesus appeared to, I wonder if I would have recognized him and run to tell the other disciples that Jesus was alive. Even if I had recognized Jesus, I don’t think I would have shared it because I would have feared others’ disbelief. “Why would Jesus appear to you?” I can imagine them asking, their question dripping with disdain and disbelief.

My expectations of being judged do bind and blind me.

“Were not our hearts burning within us…?” (Luke 24:32) ask the disciples once they realize it had been Jesus walking with them. I pray for the grace to act when my heart is burning within me, to push against my fears and let go of expectations so that my eyes can be open to see Jesus walking beside me and all the gifts God is offering.

Following the rules

“I have seen the Lord” (Mary Magdalene, John 20:18)

While Mary Magdalene was able to run and shout the good news, I have been a much quieter witness to the resurrection. It is not a secret that I am serious about my faith and spiritual life; but until I started writing for this blog, I only shared little snippets of how God had touched my life and with only a very few people.

As I prayed about what fears have prevented me from shouting out God’s good works, I remembered an incident from when I was a child of about eight.

A girl from across the street had come over to play. My mother was nearby and overheard our conversation. After my friend left, my mother admonished me never to share as my friend had done. I didn’t remember my friend sharing anything significant, so I was confused. I tried to get a clarification, but my mother would only repeat her admonition that I was not to talk about our family as my friend had talked about hers.

Still confused, I decided that the only way to avoid the possibility of inadvertently revealing something my mother would think was significant was to never talk about anything personal.

Years later, when I became active in church as an adult, I attended parish activities that invited sharing, but I instinctively followed the “no-sharing” rule from my childhood. I became an observer in these groups, not trusting myself to be able to sort out what was ok to share and what was not. Rules instilled in me as a child seem to be the most difficult to confront and change.

By the time I was in my thirties and had enough of my own life experiences that I could share if I wanted, not-sharing had become a well-established pattern. Whenever I came close to disclosing something personal, I would be filled with anxiety—my heartrate would increase and my stomach would get queasy. Self-disclosing was not worth the angst I felt, and after a while I just stopped going to church programs that involved faith-sharing.

Through all of this, though, God continued acting in my life, lifting me up, forgiving me and changing me. In the midst of some pretty dark days and horrible experiences, God reminded me that I was not alone; Jesus had paved the way through suffering and was always with me on the journey.

I felt unworthy to be so blessed, so cared about, so loved. I was convinced that if I told people how God had touched me, they would be incredulous. The voices of skeptics in Jesus’ time echoed in my head. “Isn’t he the carpenter’s son?” became “Isn’t she the…?” and I imagined the different negative things people could use to complete the question. I was a nobody. Why would God choose me? Why had God chosen me?

I admire people who share the good news about God and I desire to be so courageous.