Tag Archives: grief

On the Passing of My Father

On April 19th, just a day short of his eighty-fifth birthday, my Dad died of complications related to cancer. It was sudden, so sudden that I found myself calling 911 and then administering CPR on his cold and pale body until the paramedics arrived.

They resuscitated him, but he never regained consciousness. We made the decision not to use extraordinary means to extend his life and let him pass.

Almost exactly two years before the day of his death, I wrote A Psalm for My Dad in response to his being hospitalized for a serious illness. My Mom told me that after he recovered, he printed out what I’d written and kept it with him. I found it on the end table next to his favorite chair after he died.

I have nothing profound to report, no theological cleverness nor doctrinal commentary to make. I’m just writing here to process my thoughts and feelings. The family interned his ashes last Saturday, but I don’t think I really said good-bye until just now. Actually, I’ve been writing a number of short fiction stories and added a few Facebook commentaries which, taken together, sum up my good-bye to Dad.

Click the link to the “psalm” to read more.

Good-bye, Dad. I miss you.

dad
© James Pyles
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Excerpt: A Time To Follow Your Heart

Chanukah MenorahA different kind of Chanukah story presented at Powered by Robots.

Sarah stood across the street from her Bubbe’s and Zayde’s house. The evening of December 24th, the first night of Chanukah this year, was cool, even in the Los Angeles suburb of Brentwood, but she had dressed for the occasion. She made sure the coat she was wearing wouldn’t attract attention in case anyone saw her.

Sarah wished she could get closer. She wished she could just knock on the door and go inside, but she wasn’t supposed to be there and she wasn’t supposed to change anything.

Wait! There they were. She could see them through the window in the front of their house. Bubbe and Zayde. Her big brother Aaron, all of seven years old, was excitedly jumping up and down next to them. Sarah couldn’t hear anything of course, but she could see everyone’s facial expressions and imagined Zayde firmly but kindly helping Aaron to calm down.

Tradition says that the Chanukah menorah must be placed either in a central area of the home or by a window. The latter is to proudly announce that a miracle had occurred and this was the commemoration of that miracle. Sarah was watching her family tonight thanks to a miracle she had created herself.

This tale is more flash fiction than a science fiction short story so you can read all of A Time to Follow Your Heart in just a few minutes. Let me know what you think.

Birds and Ladders: A Continued Story of Repentance

The idea of prayer is to inwardly have a private dialogue with the Creator. Speak to Him just as you might speak with a friend who is paying attention and listening.

All around you may be noise, traffic, planes, telephones. Inwardly, too, may be a preoccupation with hassles, business dealings, quarrels, competition, desires.

But prayer brings you suddenly to… quiet. The inward silence creates a barrier to the flow of noise, and it is as if there is silence and calm all around. Tranquility is yours!

(see Rabbi S. Wolbe – “Shal’hevesya,” p.34)

Daily Lift #180: Pray One-on-One
Aish.com

Rabbi Mordechai Rottman relates in his article Four Steps to Change that making teshuvah or repentance, requires for basic steps:

  1. Regret
  2. Leaving negativity behind
  3. Verbalization or confession
  4. Resolution for the future

About Verbalization, he says:

Why is it important to say it?

There is a power to saying things as opposed to just thinking about them. Verbalizing a thought brings the idea to a new level of reality, awareness and understanding.

The verbalization that is done after committing a transgression makes one more fully aware of what was done. It therefore heightens the regret and strengthens the resolution not to commit the act again.

This verbalization is not to be done before anyone other than God. Not even your rabbi needs to know about what you have done. It’s just between you and your Creator.

Granted, you don’t come to this stage of repentance until you’re fully immersed in the first two, but coupling R. Rottman’s commentary with R. Wolpe’s, we see that in talking to God, we don’t have to stand on ceremony, as it were. We can speak from the heart, one-on-one, confessing only to Him our feelings of regret and remorse, expressing our sorrow and guilt, and pleading with Him to be our strength in the face of our trials; our rock in overcoming our challenges.

In one of his commentaries on Torah Portion Vayaitzai, Rabbi Zelig Pliskin stated:

The Chofetz Chayim cited the idea expressed by many commentators that the ladder Yaakov saw in his dream symbolizes the situation of every person in this world. There are two actions a person performs on the ladder. Either he goes up from the bottom to the top, or else he goes down from the top to the bottom. Each day in a person’s life he faces new challenges. If he has the willpower and self-discipline to overcome those challenges, he goes up in his spiritual level. If, however, a person fails to exercise the necessary self-control, he lowers himself. This is our daily task, to climb higher every day. (Toras Habayis, ch.10)

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Climb higher on the spiritual ladder each day by growing from life’s challenges,” p.72
Based on Genesis 28:12
Growth Through Torah

However, this sentiment causes me to re-evaluate a teaching of the Master:

For whoever has, to him more shall be given, and he will have an abundance…

Matthew 13:12 (NASB)

weightliftingI know Yeshua (Jesus) was talking about blessings, but when a person finds the self-control, with God’s help, to overcome challenges, although we expect some sort of relief from strife, what most likely happens is another, stronger challenge appears. It’s like being an athlete who has exceeded a personal goal. Having done so, it’s not a matter of resting on his or her laurels, but finding the next goal, the next challenge, and tackling it. But on a moral and spiritual level, overcoming a personal challenge is often exhausting, and after a tough battle, all you want to do is rest.

Then the devil left Him; and behold, angels came and began to minister to Him.

Matthew 4:11

Even after he successfully overcame his trials, Yeshua got to rest. When facing a spiritual challenge, we have two fears. The first is that we will fail (again). The second is that we will succeed only to immediately face a much more serious challenge.

Why not stay where we are? It may not be the best situation, but at least it’s a known quantity.

Two reasons. The first is that by continuing in a state of sin or disobedience to God, you are not only damaging your relationship with Him, but likely with others around you including friends and loved ones. In fact, it might be the realization of their pain that spurs you into action and seeking repentance in the first place.

The second reason, as Rabbi Pliskin relates, is that being on the ladder is like being in a boat on the river. If you stop rowing, you don’t stay in one spot, you go backward. It’s only through constant effort that you make progress. Although a real ladder doesn’t work this way, spiritually, that’s what happens.

In spite of R. Pliskin’s metaphor, few of us start climbing the ladder and successfully master a rung a day. Conversely, few of us start at the top and steadily, unerringly make our way to the bottom. For most people, we struggle up two and down one, or up one rung, then down two, often for quite some time as we seek to master some part of ourself. As much as we’d like it to be otherwise, progress, spiritual or in any other way, is rarely linear like climbing a flight of stairs.

A person whose main focus is self-improvement and a striving for perfection will always check over his behavior to see what needs correction. Keep asking yourself, “Have I made mistakes?” When you do find a mistake, feel positive for the opportunity to correct the mistake for the future.

-R. Pliskin
“Keep checking your behavior to find ways to improve,” pp.73-4

Oh, if only it were that easy. The Rav makes it seem like we may or may not find that we’ve made mistakes, and yet what I know of human nature in general and my nature in specific tells me that we make mistakes every day, big and small. Of course, the more often we check our moral compass and the path we are traveling, the greater the likelihood that our course corrections will be frequent but small. That assumes, of course, that we generally are on the right course and don’t find ourselves in uncharted and undesirable territory.

It’s much more difficult when you have fallen far, to start climbing the ladder again. The distance from the bottom to the top seems so long, so insurmountable, and overcoming inertia to begin working from the basement of your soul up to that first rung is an almost unimaginable effort.

A word of caution. While self-criticism is a prerequisite for character improvement, one must be careful to have a healthy balance. Excessive self-condemnation will be extremely detrimental to one’s well-being. You need to master an attitude of joy for doing good and then self-criticism will add to that joy. Every fault that is found and worked on will give you the pleasure of knowing that you are improving.

ibid, p.74

I blame myselfStep two on Rabbi Rottman’s list of the four steps of teshuvah is “leaving negativity behind.” He is speaking of changing your environment and the various influences in your life to minimize or eliminate those that contribute to your being tempted to return to sin. However, from my point of view, one of those influences is yourself and what you are saying about your circumstances.

If you look at the ladder from the bottom and say that it’s impossible for you to climb even in a small way, then you are right. It is impossible. Then there you sit in the dust and continue sinking to some sub-level of iniquity.

As much as we’d all like God to “zap” our lives so that we find spiritual and moral growth easy and effortless, such is not the case. Grace may be free but repentance is really hard work. Leaving negativity behind is largely a matter of the stories you tell yourself about yourself. If you tell yourself you are helpless and hopeless, then you’re right. If you tell yourself you are capable and with God’s help, you can begin to climb the ladder and improve, you are also right.

The ladder is either a barrier that holds you down or an opportunity to lift yourself up. You don’t have to achieve spiritual miracles and jump from the bottom to the top in a day, a week, or even a year. Truth be told, the ladder is as long as your life and the challenges never end. But the one you face today that seems so huge and so terrifying, might seem like a small kitten a year from now if you are diligent in your work.

If you look at some temptation facing you and resist it this morning, by tonight you can look back and say that you have accomplished something. Yes, the temptation may be there tomorrow, but that’s another rung on the ladder.

Similarly, Rabbi Yisroel Salanter used to say that a person is like a bird. A bird has the ability to fly very high. But it must continually move its wings. If a bird stops flapping its wings, it will fall. Every person is similar. (cited in Tnuas Hamussar, vol.1, p.300)

When you see birds flying, let that serve as a reminder to you to make the necessary movements to raise yourself spiritually.

-ibid, p.72

Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall. No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.

1 Corinthians 10:12-13

Five days a week, I wake up at 4 a.m. and make it to my local gym by five. It’s gotten easier to overcome sleepiness and to battle the drive in the dark to the gym to do this, and then to face the free weights, the workout machines, and the cardio exercise, fitting it all into an hour, but in the beginning it was very difficult.

Some days my workout is better than others. Some days, I skip a scheduled day, as I did last Friday, but pick it up the following day to make up for my lack of consistent effort.

It is the same when we face our challenges. We accept them upon ourselves for many reasons. We want to be a better person than the one we are today. We have many flaws which hurt our relationship with God and with our families and friends and we want to repair the damage. We are continually hurting ourselves, and need to become stronger and to heal.

soarChange can be terrifying but it can also be exciting. It’s like moving to a place you’ve never lived before. You have no connections or support, but you also have a brand new environment to explore and learn from.

The effort you make and the story you tell yourself about it will make the difference between falling and soaring. But you don’t have to make the effort alone. Talk to God. Ask for his help. With our eyes on our Master, we can learn to climb high and fly with eagles.

What I Learned in Church Today: God Suffers Our Pain With Us

Today in church (as I write this), Pastor preached on Acts 27:1-12 and Paul’s rather “stormy” trip toward his final destination (in more ways than one) Rome. What I found most useful in today’s sermon were the notes at the conclusion. Normally, this part of the sermon doesn’t “float my boat” since these notes are usually an attempt to take ancient events, spiritualize them, and anachronistically apply them to everyday life in 21st century America.

But this time, I decided to see if these notes could be applied to my life. There are three of them.

Do you believe that God is sovereign over all the storms in your life?

As opposed to what? No, really. As an abstract concept believing what I believe about God, my immediate answer has to be “yes,” but it’s more complicated than that. It’s one thing to say that “God is in control” and that “we win in the end,” and another thing entirely to receive a diagnosis of cancer (no, I don’t have cancer) or that your child was in a serious car accident and is in ICU (don’t worry, my kids are all fine).

Then, no matter how much you “think” God is sovereign over every single detail of your existence, suddenly the pit of your stomach drops out and at least momentarily, panic sets in with the vengeance of a really angry Grizzly Bear. Sure, given enough time, you can regain your emotional equilibrium and refocus on God, but for those first few seconds or minutes (or longer), unless you are a terrifically spiritual person and always totally in tune with God, you’re going to lose it.

Here’s the first thing I wrote down in my notes when Pastor asked the question:

Yes, but that doesn’t mean I still won’t drown.

Here’s the second thing I wrote down.

We don’t have an absolute view into God’s plans for us as individuals.

God can be absolutely sovereign over the storms in our lives and we can still lose a leg in a car crash. We can still end up with a child in intensive care. We can still die a long, lingering, painful death.

God’s sovereignty contains no guarantee at all that our lives won’t be painful and end tragically. When we think of God being “in control,” we really mean that God would never let anything bad happen to us. But just look at Paul’s life. God let everything bad happen to Paul.

But the key is, no matter what happened, Paul still served God faithfully, with an almost supernatural focus (I’m being slightly tongue-in-cheek here) on Yeshua (Jesus) as the author of his faith and the “perfecter” of his existence, both in this world and the one beyond.

Which brings us to Pastor’s second question:

What are you doing to learn to trust God in the storms of life?

I remember a scene from the film Finding Nemo (2003). Dory (voiced by Ellen DeGeneres) and Marlin (voiced by Albert Brooks) are inside of a whale, basically hitching a ride to Sydney, Australia. The water inside the whale starts to drain. As usual, Marlin senses disaster while Dory is willing to trust. Marlin is hanging onto some part of the whale’s insides to keep from falling back into the throat. Dory translates the message from the whale.

It’s time to let go.

praying at the kotelI think that’s what trusting God is about, but it’s best to learn to trust him before your life turns to dog poop. While you still have the time, pray with an especially focused Kavanah for an encounter with God. Strive to draw nearer to Him and plead that He reveals Himself to you before you need Him. I promise that if you don’t do this now, you will be doing it once you need God’s help more than anything you’ve ever needed in your life.

Last question:

Do you realize that God is able to use the storms in your life to give guidance to others?

As first, I didn’t read the to give guidance to others part and just saw the question as asking if I realized God could use the storms in my life. Then I realized what was really going on.

Had they trusted in God and followed Moshe, the entire nation would have gone into Eretz Israel led by him. The Holy Temple would have been built, never to be destroyed; the people would have sat, every man under his grape vine and under his fig tree, never to be exiled; and the still longed for, final redemption under God’s chosen anointed would have come. But they didn’t trust and they didn’t obey. So the exodus from Egypt remained eternal, but the entry into the Land was to be transitory.

-Rabbi Meir Zlotowitz
Megillas Eichach (Lamentations), pg 34

If all of the twelve spies Moses sent into Canaan (Numbers 13, 14) had given a positive report instead of just two, obeyed Moses, and obeyed God, the history of Israel would have been written quite differently.

But they didn’t and history unfolded as it did.

The same is true of Israel in the days of Jesus:

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. Behold, your house is being left to you desolate! For I say to you, from now on you will not see Me until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’”

Matthew 23:17-39 (NASB)

If Israel had repented in the days of Herod’s Temple, Yeshua would have initiated the Messianic Kingdom immediately, the Romans would have been defeated, the Temple would have been preserved, there would have been no exile, and King Messiah’s reign of peace, mercy, and justice over all of the world would have started and be with us to this very day.

But they didn’t, and untold suffering has resulted.

In the 1982 film Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn, Admiral James T. Kirk (William Shatner) gave this sage piece of advice to Lt. Saavik (Kirstie Alley):

How you face death is at least as important as how you face life.

Regardless of how God provides and what God allows and how God disciplines, your circumstances are less important than how you respond to them. Consider how Israel is responding, not to just all of the rockets Hamas keeps throwing at her, but how the rest of the world is mistreating Israel, believing she is disproportionately responding to these terrorist acts simply by defending herself.

The whole world is watching Israel and waiting for her to blink. So it is true when anyone who professes faith in Christ, especially when we are under duress.

Fortunately, Pastor said that he’s hardly perfect in this area and that there have been plenty of occasions when he’s been stressed and yet taken it out on his family rather than having greater trust in God. There’s a sort of myth, both inside the Church and outside of it, that says when a Christian is having a particularly tough time of it, he or she should be completely calm if their faith in Jesus is solid. Only a failure of faith results in a Christian who cries or yells or begs.

Like I said, it’s a myth.

Father, if you’re willing, take this cup from me…

Luke 22:42 (NASB)

This is Jesus at Gethsemane pleading with God the Father to take away the cup of his crucifixion, his agony, his desperate suffering from him.

This is Jesus saying this. This is Jesus not wanting to suffer. This is Jesus acting just like the rest of us. But the second half of the sentence tells the tale.

…yet not my will but Yours be done.

But he still begged. Flesh and blood, human right down to his DNA Jesus still begged that the cup be taken from him.

There’s no shame in anguish as long as there’s also trust.

Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.”

2 Corinthians 12:7-9 (NASB)

If Jesus wasn’t immune, certainly Paul wasn’t either. How many of his Psalms did David dedicate to his own pain and suffering, withering before a Holy God with his flesh melting and his bones turning to dust?

Save me, O God,
For the waters have threatened my life.
I have sunk in deep mire, and there is no foothold;
I have come into deep waters, and a flood overflows me.
I am weary with my crying; my throat is parched;
My eyes fail while I wait for my God.
Those who hate me without a cause are more than the hairs of my head;
Those who would destroy me are powerful, being wrongfully my enemies;
What I did not steal, I then have to restore.

Psalm 69:1-4 (NASB)

We struggle all our lives between our faith and our humanity, between Divine glory and human weakness. The spirit is willing but flesh…oh the flesh is very weak. Even the best of us, when put to the test, are like a snow cone in a blast furnace.

anguishTo know that God is sovereign and to trust in Him in adversity doesn’t mean you have to be superhuman and it doesn’t mean you don’t get scared. It means when 99% of you is in full panic mode, some tiny voice in the back of your consciousness is still crying out to God, not in terror but in faith, that even if you should drown or be incinerated in the next half-second, if you are not supposed to live (in this life) with God, then you will certainly die in His Presence and live with Him in the resurrection.

Living with God in suffering is like being a terminally ill child. You know you are going to die and you know your Mom and Dad love you very much. But you also know they can’t save your life. You’re still scared and you still don’t want to be away from them, but you know as long as they love you, you’re not alone.

God’s sovereignty in our lives when we suffer doesn’t (necessarily) mean God will stop the suffering. It means He will never abandon us as we are suffering and in some sense, He suffers, too.

The night when hope was enveloped in darkness was about to begin, so God came to Jacob ‘in the visions of the night’ to show him that Jews might be exiled from their land, but they could never be exiled from their God.

-R. Zlotowitz, pp 46-7

When they were exiled to Babylon, the Divine Presence was with them.

-Megillah 29a

And so He is with us.

Grieving with Israel

The blog at Artscroll.com published the following yesterday under the title “The Nation Grieves”:

Your brethren and the entire House of Israel shall bewail the conflagration.

Leviticus 10:6

We join Klal Yisrael in mourning the loss of the three Kedoshim. May Hashem comfort their parents and families among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem who share their grief. Their ordeal united all Jews in prayer and concern. May that Kiddush Hashem provide them at least a small measure of comfort.

This is the Jewish response to the terrible tragedy of the murders of Jewish yeshiva students Gil-Ad Shaer, Naftali Fraenkel, and Eyal Yifrah by Arab terrorists, but it doesn’t go far enough.

This isn’t a Jewish tragedy or an Israeli tragedy, it’s the world’s tragedy and we should all mourn. To not acknowledge the outrageous injustice done in their killings and to fail to grieve over them as if they were our own sons would be to tacitly acknowledge and support the human monsters who committed such a heinous act.

I want to be angry. I want to seek revenge. I want to do something. But all I can summon to myself right now is a terrible weight that nearly paralyzes me. I can’t even imagine what the parents and other family members are going through, though as a father and grandfather, I know the feeling of terror at imagining my sons, my daughter, or my grandson being dead.

As a Gentile and a Christian, I don’t want to intrude on Israel’s collective grief but as I see it, the rest of the world has two choices: We either stand with Israel against all forms of terrorism, injustice, anti-Semitism, and Jew hatred or we stand with the murderers and criminals who seek to exterminate the Jewish people and wipe the nation of Israel from the face of the earth, may it never be.

And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse.

Genesis 12:3 (NASB)

This is the God of Creation speaking to the Patriarch Abraham about him, his descendants through Isaac and Jacob, the (future) tribes of Israel, and ultimately all of the Jewish people and their nation.

It’s popular in the liberal news and social media to speak of “being on the right side of history” and conversely, wanting to avoid “being on the wrong side.” But what about being on the right (or wrong) side of God?

My heart and prayers are with all the mourners as the funeral approaches. May the God of their Fathers comfort the parents and may the God of Israel bring justice and finally peace.

Remembering Newtown: We Live to Love

9-11 Flag“When Jacob finished his instructions to his sons, he drew his feet into the bed and, breathing his last, he was gathered to his people.”

Genesis 49:33

“How utterly different was the cruel fate of those who perished in the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and the hijacked planes on September 11. To its everlasting credit, The New York Times in its daily ‘Portraits of Grief’ has been compiling the fragments of eulogy for each individual whose life was so suddenly obliterated. Grief is compounded by the lack of preparation and by the absence of all remains. As I read these personal vignettes of largely young people bursting with zest, in pursuit of dreams and borne aloft by so many relationships, I must constantly remind myself that they are no longer. Nothing is left to mitigate the anguish of their loved ones but memories that need to last a lifetime.”

-Ismar Schorsch
“Portraits of Grief,” pg 180 (December 29, 2001)
Commentary on Torah Portion Vayechi
Canon Without Closure: Torah Commentaries

As I write this, it is the anniversary of the shootings at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. As I write this, I recall reading earlier this morning that another school shooting has just taken place at a High School in Colorado, with the eighteen-year old shooter having killed himself and his fifteen-year old victim struggling for life in the hospital.

I have prayed for the victims in Newtown and I have grieved with their parents since I am both a parent and grandparent. The very idea of losing a child to a sudden and needless death is horrifying beyond imagination.

Schorsch’s commentary on the death of Jacob paints a portrait of a man who died with difficulty even as he lived. But he was also a man who had the time to prepare for death, to bless his children and grandchildren, and to be surrounded by a comforting family as he breathed his last and was “gathered to his people.”

In Judaism, there is a halakhic requirement to sit shiva or to mourn in solitude and withdrawal from the world for seven days following the death of a loved one. And on the anniversary of the loved one’s death, it is customary to observe yahrzeit by reciting the Kaddish, lighting a candle, and remembering the person who has died.

But these are not my loved ones nor am I Jewish, so what am I to do?

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

John Donne

Donne’s famous poem, which I learned forty years ago, reminds me that anyone’s death diminishes me because I am involved in humanity, because of my humanity and my mortality.

APTOPIX Connecticut School ShootingAccording to Schorsch’s commentary (pp 170-172), second century Jewish sage, Rabbi Meir’s midrash on the Creation account in Genesis was so controversial that it saw limited circulation during his lifetime. His interpretation of Genesis 1:31 where it is declared “And God saw all that he had made, and found it very good,” Rabbi Meir relates the Hebrew word “me’od” which is translated as “very” to “mot,” which is the Hebrew word for “death”.

In Christian doctrine, we believe that God introduced death into the world as a response to the fall of Adam and Eve. According to Rabbi Meir’s midrash…

…God did not inject death into the world later, as a punishment for human sin. Rather, death was part of life, for without its inescapable presence, humankind would never value or use life fully. The beauty of life flowed from its impermanence.

-Schorsch, pg 171

I’m sure this is little comfort to those who are mourning their children in this supposed season of joy. In abstract, we can philosophize that it is our mortality that defines our existence, and the shadow of death cast across our journey of life reminds us that every moment is precious.

But in reality, most people rarely consider their death until something shakes them out of apathy, such as a doctor’s dire report or the murder of a child.

There is a tremendous temptation to either sink into depressive despair or to cry out in anger and pursue the path of vengeance. We want and even need to do something, to respond in some way, either by withdrawal or violent projection, because of the senseless outrage of these deaths.

In the end, neither reaction does much good. The former honors no one and the latter is manipulated by the politicians and the media pundits to achieve their own agendas.

The only thing that makes sense to me, particularly in a universe where I acknowledge a loving, involved, and creative God, is to take the only option that remains…to love those who are left to me here and now, not just because I know they can be taken away at any moment, but because life has to be more than mere existence, pursuit of money, pleasure, and the consumable products in the latest ad campaign on television. If life isn’t the expression of love, especially to those who depend upon us for their every need (even as we all depend on God for our every need), then why were we given life in the first place?

As I write this, I mourn the loss of the young innocents, not just in Connecticut and Colorado, but everywhere, and for every person, because like God, I must be involved in humanity. It is said that when Jacob and the seventy went down into Egypt, God went with them. How He must have grieved knowing just how far down Israel’s children would descend in the following years and decades. It is said that when millions of Jews and other “undesirables” entered the Nazi camps, God entered with them and was imprisoned with them. How He must have grieved as He witnessed each individual death of the six million of His chosen little ones.

The only thing we have to keep us going in the face of death and disaster is our faith in God, that there is something more to life than what we can detect with our five senses, and that there is a greater meaning to it all. When a child dies, even great faith is shaken, for how could a loving God allow such a heinous act to occur?

But where we have faith, God has certainty of perception and knowledge. God knows. He knows the placement of each individual soul in this life and beyond. We live in a universe that is broken and under slow repair. In that universe, death occurs, injustice occurs, tragedy occurs. Tears and grief occur.

landonBut there is also hope.

I took a few days off of work last week to spend time with my grandson. We played with legos, I made him pancakes, we had “sword fights” in my snowy backyard, we went to the playground and slid down slides covered with melting ice. I dropped him off at pre-school and had the wonderful privilege of picking him up again as he ran toward me grinning and gleefully yelling, “Grandpa!”

I can’t say anything that will comfort the grieving and the dying except that if you still have someone precious in your life who needs you and who loves you, then they are the difference, the hope, and the faith that makes life more than just living day-to-day. This is what God does to open our eyes. This is what God does to open our hearts, to turn stone into beating flesh. This is why we are alive. We live to love.