“For each age is a dream that is dying, or one that is coming to birth.”
Of all the seasons we are so fortunate to observe, autumn has always been and still is my favorite. As the waning days of summer close, autumn marks a change of pace as I acquiesce to the sometimes graceful and sometimes sudden passage of time. Brilliant displays of color paint the landscape and sky, disguising the encroaching darkness that will soon redefine my way and way of being. As in life…Especially the last several years that brought so much change to my perspective on life. Where there was more dying than living. A life that was (and is) both full and fleeting, beautiful and painful.
There is a quiet, if not hidden, beauty in the dying that takes place – in this season and in life. Author, Parker Palmer, eloquently describes the grace of this truth: “The hopeful notion that new life is hidden in dying is surely reinforced by the visual glories of autumn. (Indeed,) what artist would paint a deathbed scene with the vibrant and vital palette nature uses?”
We often associate the radiance of springtime with the beginning of life. We celebrate the emergence of tender shoots and sprigs of green from the cold, barren, snow-covered earth; beginning a cycle that winds slowly down to the rustle of dying leaves that have fallen back to earth. But something first had to die – come to an end – so that a newer life, fed and strengthened by whatever has been lost, could come alive in its place. It is in the radiant dying of autumn and the barren sleep of winter, that the seeds for the new life born in spring and lived in summer, are first imagined.
Resurrection can only come through death. Fr. Richard Rohr describes this passageway to new life: “Jesus willingly died—and Christ arose—yes, still Jesus, but now including and revealing everything else in its full purpose and glory.” It is in the dyings of life when our full humanity comes to life.
Life is born through death. We experience these dyings more often than we – at least on the surface – realize. Ideas, plans, and philosophies die back to engender new ones. When we graduate high school and college that season of life dies as we enter the next stage of life in adulthood. When relationships begin and end, when we marry, when we have children, when we leave a job or a neighborhood, when we begin a new endeavor or pursue a different direction, a part of us dies. Must die. Must end. You can choose to view the dyings and painful endings in life as passages to anger, blame, hatred, depression, and resentment, or you can choose to let them be passages to something new, something wider, something deeper. With each of these dyings, we are given the opportunity for new life; they allow us to let go and lead us to discover new directions, new purposes. With every ending, we are given a passageway to something more – seeds for new life
But new life has to be claimed and nurtured. Without water – the spring green grass withers and goes to weed, the budding trees fail to thrive. Without encouragement and tending – gardens won’t yield a crop. Without nurture, calves and fawns, ducklings and goslings die.
After a far too lengthy season of winter, I am reclaiming spring for my life. A new hip does wonders! Free of chronic pain that at times made me wish for death and clouded every aspect of my spirit – I am once again anticipating opportunities for growth and waking up each day with hope. But freedom from pain also means I must let go of my painful way of being. When pain was my constant companion anyway, I let the painful parts of life – deaths, breakups, failures, uncertainty – make a home in me where anger, blame, depression, and resentment flourished.
With renewed strength and hope – I’ve been clearing my inner landscape of the wintry darkness that claimed so much of me. It is hard work – humbling work. But as I breathe in the dewy fragrance of the spring morning and let the sun shine in, the more I realize that life is not diminished by darkness or death. It is made more organic, more wholehearted, more resilient and resplendent.
If you think about it, everything alive in the world and in us is made up of things that have passed before us, gone about the business of dying and living. That’s much more hopeful than the idea that life, the moment it appears, begins winding its way inescapably toward death.
The endless interplay of darkness and light, the dying and rising, the endings and beginnings, the autumns and springs of life remind me that everything is forever being made new. And new life is a wonderful season to embrace.
Oh God of Life and Creation, You give life and breath to all things. As Spring takes hold in our spirits, as the snow melts, bulbs bloom, trees blossom, and the rivers run high and fast – it’s as if we have come alive once again to sing praises to you. During this season of transition, we recognize that some things must pass away, step aside, move on, let go – to make way for new life. As the school year comes to an end, as chapters close in our lives, as we grow older each day, as we learn to let go – guide us through these times of transition with Your sustaining love and Spirit of peace. Amen
Grace and peace to you dear friends in Christ, from God our Father – and a special blessing of peace and abundant gratitude to all mothers on this day that we honor you.
Sometimes, I found them in my lunch box nestled between the same old same old PB&J or Turkey sandwich and the resplendent orange Cheetos – aside from those Cheesy wonders, they were the best thing in my lunch box – other times they were tucked under my pillow waiting for me at bedtime, still others arrived in care packages when I was far from home – love notes from Mom.
Notes that took her place when she could not be there to protect me from the world or when I was too grown up to be tucked in at night but still needed assurance that she was near and the night was not to be feared. No matter the circumstance, she always seemed to know in advance just what I would need to know in that moment – that she believed in me – that I would never be alone – that she was sorry – that she loved me more than words can say. I never tired of finding her heartfelt words intended to help me through whatever challenge I was facing…They gave me courage to face whatever the day had in store for me – when I was the new girl in school, when junior high bullies made life miserable, when adult life was messy, when my heart was broken, when I had more questions than answers, when I was afraid of failing, when I was confused or felt terribly alone. Later in life, when our spoken words held more heat than light, her written words would gently soften and heal my heart.
Though my mom and I had a difficult relationship in later years, my memories of her now are only ensconced in love. I’ve been missing her for over 7 years now and every once in a while, when I am searching through the room where I piled all my collected junk upon moving here – I’ll come across the stack of letters and even some of the lunch notes she gave me. At once, her love comes flooding over me – once again encouraging me – and reminding me that I am not alone and that I am so very loved. Even though she cannot be with me, somehow, I know she still is.
This morning, we find Jesus preparing his disciples for hard days ahead when he too, will no longer be with them. We have jumped back to the before times – before his crucifixion – before the disciples’ lives are turned upside down – before the world is changed forever. It is the Last Supper. Bread has been broken and wine poured, feet have been washed, the betrayer has left. I imagine the disciples sitting back pleasantly full from their meal and relaxed after their feet have been lovingly refreshed. There is an ambiance of warmth and intimacy. But now night has fallen and darkness enters in – as Jesus announces he is leaving the disciples. Not just leaving but going to the Father. The one for whom the disciples left everything, with whom they have risked their lives, and who has transformed their lives – now says he is going where they cannot yet go. Imagine sitting with someone you love and have devoted your life to as they speak such foreboding words – words you don’t want to hear let alone believe – that soon they will not be with you.
This was one of my greatest fears growing up and even into adulthood – often keeping me awake long into the night – that my parents would die, that I would be abandoned, that I would find myself alone in this world.
As does anyone who has ever loved and lost a parent, a spouse, a child, a friend, their sense of security, their hope – I imagine the disciples had questions like these running through their minds: What will I do now? Where do I go? What happens next? Who will love, nurture, and guide me? Who will stand by me? What will become of me? Who am I now?
Questions that speak to our greatest fears and challenges – abandonment and isolation, loneliness and vulnerability, loss of identity and purpose.
We fear becoming orphaned, forgotten, left behind. That fear points to the deeper reality that by ourselves we are not enough. That maybe this world is too much for us – that maybe we are not up to the life we’ve been handed. It is not, however, because we are deficient – though millions of dollars are made convincing us that we are. It is because we were never intended or created to be self-sufficient. Though millions of dollars are made implying that we can be transformed as such.
We were never intended to stand alone. We were created in love to love and be loved, to live in relationship sharing ourselves with one another; to dwell, abide, and remain within each other. There is a joy in companionship that is life giving. It gives us a sense of identity and meaning and belonging – a joy that Jesus shared with his disciples and followers up to this point.
But there are seasons of life when the transitions, changes, and tragedies take us off course and leave us without an identity or direction – when we feel we are destined to walk alone; when the community surrounding us seems distant or foreign; when we feel forgotten by a world that just goes on without us as we try to find our footing – try to find our way. When the life we have known is suddenly pulled out from under us, it can be hard to do anything but draw inward and seek security from within. But this just furthers our sense of abandonment, exclusion and isolation.
Jesus knows this. He has been there – wandering in the wilderness, chased out of towns he once called home, and soon he will be there again, forsaken by the disciples he loves in the Garden of Gethsemane. Knowing his words of departure will leave his followers distraught he speaks these powerful words into our lives: “I will not leave you orphaned. I am coming to you.”
Regardless of the circumstances of our lives, death, separation, the storms we endure, even sin – when we forsake our relationship with God, we have never been and will never be abandoned by God. Jesus promises that just as he was by their side as a living Advocate as the Way and the Truth, as a comforter, helper, counselor and encourager, the Father will give us another who will come along side us – The Spirit of Truth.
Jesus promised, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.”
Into a world which neither sees or knows this truth, into a world that would have us go on feeling abandoned, questioning ourselves, and conditioning God’s love for us and our love for others, into a world where loneliness has reached epidemic proportion, God sends us another Advocate. Just as Jesus did, the Spirit comes along side us to advocate for us in the face of all these challenges, reminding us of Jesus’ promise to be with us and for us in the face of all the things that conspire to make us doubt our worth in God’s eyes, let alone the world.
Six weeks on from Easter Sunday, how many times have you needed someone like that?
How many times have you wondered where God was? And, how can it be as the ways of this world take hold of us, that we are worthy of and capable of unconditional love and loving unconditionally as children of God? How can we possibly live and move and have our being as offspring of the Creator – for whom the good shepherd laid down his life?
It is a hard identity to hold onto, a hard identity to believe is really ours, especially when we are stressed or frightened, unsure about our future, or when have let others down, hurt another, and it feels like everything has been turned upside down. How can we ever love Jesus enough?
Six weeks on from the empty tomb I pose this question – what then do we believe? Is Jesus, for us, as The Way, the Truth, and the Life – a past memory, a sentimental story that makes us feel good, or a living experience that challenges, guides, and nurtures our life?
Though we often hear it as such, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” isn’t a conditional statement. This isn’t an if/then statement where Jesus says – only if you love me will I love you, nor is it – If you keep my commandment, I will love you. No, it is a promise! Jesus has loved us from the beginning. He came to give us life and to give us life more abundantly. (John 10:10) He is telling us that by loving him we are fulfilling the new and greatest commandment given just before this passage begins: “(T)hat you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” –(John 13:34-35)
When fulfilled, this new commandment transforms our lives, our identity and our direction – and reveals his promise to us.
Jesus promises that we will see and know Him and that because He lives, we also live. This promise isn’t just for some future heavenly life – but pertains to the quality and way of our life now. Because He lives means we live in a different away. Eugene Peterson’s The Message translation words it this way: “because I am alive you’re about to come alive. At that moment you will know absolutely that I’m in my Father, and you’re in me, and I’m in you.”
With this promise, with this LOVE, with this Spirit within us – we live and move and have our being in this world sure of our identity and calling as Children of God. We no longer ask whether we keep commandments – we just do. We no longer ask whose feet we should wash – we just wash them. We accompany and comfort, guide and encourage others not for any gain on our part but for the sheer joy of relationship. We no longer put boundaries on love – our love for others or God’s love for us. When we love as Jesus loved, the Spirit comes alongside us to help us love without limits! To help us love our neighbor as ourselves, to love our enemies, and to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.
As our lives are challenged, guided, and nurtured we see Jesus as a present reality and as our love grows and expands – transforming ourselves and the world in the process – we see his promise fulfilled – that we are not left orphaned. On the contrary – we are surrounded by love.
Just to be clear – there are no prerequisites on the love of Jesus. Keeping the commandment of Love does not make Jesus present to us. Even when we feel unable to love, even if we remain self-enclosed and isolated – Jesus remains faithful to us and his promise to never abandon us is still real – we simply have not claimed it for ourselves.
Keeping the commandments do not earn us Jesus’ love, they reveal our love for him, a love that originates from his abiding love and presence within us.
As my mother’s lunch box love notes over and over again encouraged me and reminded me that I was not alone and that I was loved – more than words could ever say, over and over, day after day, regardless of what is happening in our lives, the Spirit abides within us – reminding us of Jesus promise: those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them…”
We have not been abandoned so do not abandon yourselves or others to the dark places of this world. Love with all that you are and all that you have just as the Father and the Son love us more than words can ever say.
We have received the best love note we could ever hope for – God’s Son.