My dear friend (and Goddaughter) Sue lost her mother on Tuesday. She lived out her final years in a nursing home. Sue visited her almost daily for most of those years. She was a devoted and loving daughter, and she misses her mother greatly. Yesterday we had lunch together, and I found myself more comforted by Sue’s words than by my own meager efforts at comforting her. Sue is a woman of faith.
I thought about Sue and her mother as I read an article by Father Josiah Trenham, pastor of St. Andrew Orthodox Church in Riverside, California, in the December 2012 issue of The Word magazine. The article, “Getting Old in a Spiritual Way: Embracing God’s Will in Aging,” was Fr. Josiah’s second lecture in a series in which he examines this phrase which Orthodox Christians pray routinely, asking God for “a Christian ending to our lives.” There’s much good to be gleaned from the article (and the entire series) but in the light of Sue’s mother’s death, I was most struck by his words in the section on “Caring for the Sick and Dying”:
A significant part of aging is mourning well and sending off your loved ones ahead of you to the kingdom! Looking to the future with hope. Grieving in prayer with God. Nourishing friendship to the end. It is an eternal investment. Love is stronger than death…. It is an honor to co-labor with them in the last and great work of their life, and to fight alongside them in the final battle of the great war which their life has been, a battle that surely leads to final and everlasting victory in Christ.
Surely. Fr. Josiah writes with much certainty. Like Sue, he is a person of faith. I wish I had their certainty. People who express a strong faith seem to walk through life with lighter steps. They leave a softer footprint. I seem to always be stomping on the earth with my whining and fussing, like a spoiled, chubby child trying to get his way at the candy counter. Oh, sure, I have seasons of faith—times of contentment, maybe even joy. But it seems that the dark nights of the soul outnumber those times in my life. Searching for answers—or maybe just for a glimmer of hope—I ran across these words from Metropolitan Kallistos Ware:
Almost as traumatic as the death of a friend or partner can be, for many believers, the death of faith—the loss of our root certainties (or seeming certainties) about God and the meaning of existence. But this too is a life-death experience through which we pass if our faith is to become mature. True faith is a constant dialogue with doubt, for God is incomparably greater than all our preconceptions about Him; our mental concepts are idols that need to be shattered. So as to be fully alive, our faith needs continually to die. (The Inner Kingdom, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2000)
I want to believe that God is, as Metropolitan Kallistos says, “incomparably greater than all our preconceptions about Him.” I am contemplating his statement that “our mental concepts are idols that need to be shattered.” There is so much about my spiritual journey that I am questioning at this point in my life. But if I understand Metropolitan Kallistos correctly, it’s okay if my faith dies. It’s even a necessity, if I am going to be “fully alive.”
Returning to Anne Lamott’s book, Help, Thanks, Wow, I read her final chapter this morning. It’s called, “Amen.” I love what she says about us—the people who are praying and saying, “Amen” at the end of our prayers:
It is us, the damaged, hopeless people, lifting up our hope, hate, gratitude, fear, and shame, saying, Boy, do we hope we are right about this God stuff.
I love that she says we not only lift up our hope and gratitude to God, but also our hate, fear and shame. And I would add to that list, doubt. And anger. Today I lift up my doubt and anger to God, along with my hope and gratitude. And I will try to pray more. Not just because Great Lent begins next Monday (for Orthodox Christians) but also because, as Lamott says (of prayer):
It brings me back to my heart, from the treacherous swamp of my mind…. So it is, when we do the best we can, and we leave the results in God’s good hands. Amen
I think maybe prayer can help shatter those idols. I am going to try.