I haven’t updated “What I’m reading” in way too long, but I’m now reading two books which I’d like to pass along.
The first is A Grace Disguised, how the soul grows through loss, by Jerry Sittser. As many of you know, I have gone through a lot of loss in my own life. Consequently I am cautious about recommending books about loss. I am only half way through Jerry’s book, but I can highly recommend what I’ve read so far. He lost his wife, his mother, and his four-year-old daughter within minutes of a head on car crash caused by a drunk driver. Some excerpts:
“All people suffer loss. Being alive means suffering loss.”
“I question whether experiences of severe loss can be quantified and compared. Loss is loss, whatever the circumstances. All losses are bad, only bad in different ways. No two losses are ever the same. Each loss stands on its own and inflicts a unique kind of pain. What makes each loss so catastrophic is its devastating, cumulative, and irreversible nature.”
“Sudden and tragic loss leads to terrible darkness. It is as inescapable as nightmares during a high fever. The darkness comes, no matter how hard we try to hold it off. However threatening, we must face it, and we must face it alone.
“Darkness descended on me shortly after the accident . . . .”
“Loss forces us to see the dominant role our environment plays in determining our happiness. Loss strips us of the props we rely on for our well-being. It knocks us off our feet and puts us on our backs. In the experience of loss, we come to the end of ourselves.
“But coming to the end of ourselves, we can also come to the beginning of a vital relationship with God. Our failures can lead us to grace and to a profound spiritual awakening. This process occurs frequently with those who suffer loss. . . .”
I’ll talk about the second book tomorrow.
My youngest cousin on my mother’s side passed away yesterday from a brain aneurysm. She was only 50 years old. This is the song that comes to mind, a poem without words: A Lark Ascending by Ralph Vaughan Williams.
Sr. Sarah, who is grieving the loss of her mother and whose father’s anniversary is coming soon, said something this morning that I think is worth repeating here. It went something like this: “I am experiencing sorrow tinged with hope, but I look forward to the future when it will turn into hope tinged with sorrow.” Think about that.
For those who may be mourning a loss:
“He did at first conceal himself from her. He stood as a common person, and she looked upon him accordingly. She turned herself back from talking with angels and sees Jesus himself standing, and yet she knew not that it was Jesus. ‘The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart’ (Ps 34.18), nearer than they are aware. Those that seek Christ, though they do not see Him, may yet be sure that he is not far from them.” (Matthew Henry)
It is said of God that no one can behold his face and live. I always thought this meant that no one could see his splendor and live. A friend said perhaps it meant that no one could see his sorrow and live. or perhaps his sorrow is splendor.
And great mystery: to redeem our brokenness and lovelessness the God who suffers with us did not strike some mighty blow of power but sent his beloved son to suffer like us, through his suffering to redeem us from suffering and evil.
Instead of explaining our suffering, God shares it.
I received many kind words yesterday on the anniversary of my brother Tim’s death. I thought I would share those from two dear friends in the hope that they many console any of you who have lost a loved one.
I remember my mother talking about the death of her brother, Tom, in World War II on the battlefields of France. It had been 40 years, and still she wept. The great losses in life, those people God makes in his own image and likeness and gives to us in love, I think are right to always mourn.
If time has done anything, it deepens our grief. The longer we live, the more fully we become aware of who they were to us and the more intimately we experience what their love meant for us. (Henri Nouwen)
Of course, we do not mourn as those who do not know Christ and place our hope in Him . . . but we also know that Jesus wept. And we take great comfort in that.
My brother, Tim, loved to take photos. In fact, we used to joke about it. He would show up at a family event and always announce that he had some pictures to show us. The reason we joked about it was because they were predominantly of dead dear and caught fish. (You’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.)
But at the same time, he also had an eye for beauty. He loved the outdoors. Here are a couple of pictures he sent me taken at the place on the lake where he lived.
I love you, Tim. Always will.
It’s worth quoting again. One of the quotes from the talk I gave last night at Witnesses to Hope, that is. It’s from Michael Card’s book, The Hidden Face of God:
“Those who are lost in this wilderness of grief, most especially at the loss of a child, have come to know that there is no comfort for what they are experiencing, no morning at the end of this long dark night. Theirs is an honest hopelessness that sees with a disturbing clarity through their tears that there is no hope. It simply does not exist . . . anywhere. Neither is there the seed of the hope that it ever will exist.
“At this darkest stage—in order for comfort to exist—it must be created out of the nothingness that smothers the sufferer. Comfort ex nihilio, which is to say, a comfort that can only come from the God who alone can create something out of nothing.”
So if you feel hopeless and that you have nothing, that’s actually a very good place for God . . . who loves to create something out of nothing.
Thank you to all of those of you who were at my talk last night. Thank you for being such a warm and safe environment, for “sitting with me.”
On Tim’s first anniversary, I was still on crutches (from a broken ankle), but all the sisters in my house drove me up to Tim’s grave. They even brought a folding lawn chair for me to be able to just sit at his grave. I read aloud from Psalm 139:
Where can I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there you hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, “Let only darkness cover me,
and the light around me be night,”
even the darkness is not dark to thee,
the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with thee.