I'm grieving the beauty of faces across the room, the comfort of a touch or a hug, the joy of feasting together over a candlelit table, sharing our lives and our hearts, as our voices fall and rise with stories and songs, our bodies resonating with vibration, letting us know that we are not alone.
I'm grieving the tangible, the ordinary, the up close and personal — of presence.
For the past six years, I have been attempting (admittedly poorly at times) to grow in the practice of presence. What does it mean to slow down, to listen, to pay attention and to be present to those around me? What does it mean to be present to my family, my neighbors, my community, my place, and the very ordinary mundane of my life? This journey to be faithfully present has proven to be both difficult and transformative. I experience a richness in my life that is worth its weight in gold. And this I am grieving.
I miss our neighborhood dinners. Jeff's friendly pat on the back with his, "How's it going?" Matt's hearty laugh and appetite. Masoud's cooking that always comes from the heart. Courtney's wine pouring technique sure to aerate the finest $6 bottle of wine. Fred's treats for dogs and kids alike. Juanita's homemade beans. Carolyn's Trader Joes treats. The sound of Genesis and Malachi playing in the background. Becky and Kathy, my 6am walking buddies, tired like me after a long day. I miss the gift of being present and in person with my neighbors.
I miss our sacred gatherings. Cooking in the kitchen with Jenni and her adorable dog Oliver. Greeting the community with hugs and warm welcome. Scriptures. Prayers. Songs sung in beautiful harmonies. Bill's thoughtful, unhurried reflections. Diane's kind and empathetic presence. David D.'s profound rambling poetic. April's refreshing honesty and exuberant smile. Jocelyn's bravery. Carrie's eloquence. Sharing the heartrending grief of what it means to be human. Sharing the heart-bursting dreams of what it means to be the church as we join in the work of love here in our small patch of earth.
These themes of grief and hope persist. We are currently in a Lenten season that none of us would have chosen. Confined to our living spaces, our only connection to the world is through our screens. We grieve a way of life now suddenly vanquished. The world has shifted beneath our feet. And so yes, grief and hope, death and life are very present on our minds. As we approach Holy Week, the “Stations of the Cross”, Good Friday and Easter now resonate with fresh meaning.
What does it mean to journey with Jesus in the grief, the disorientation, the confusion, and the immense hope of Holy Week?
Embedded in the stories that unveil Holy Week, Jesus says these words that eerily parallel what our world is currently experiencing. He, too, was lamenting a time when they would not be together. For the world was indeed heaving and rumbling with the birth of new creation and would never be the same.
“Behold the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” [John 16:32-33]
Jesus was speaking of the days to come when he would be abandoned by his disciples, distanced and isolated, and he leans into the presence of the Father knowing he is not actually alone. In fact, even death couldn't separate him from Divine Love. And so he encourages his followers, who have "self-isolated" and scattered into their own homes in fear and uncertainty saying, "Don't be afraid." For he knew the grief that they would be feeling. Jesus, in all of his humanity, profoundly felt it too. For the suffering of the cross was before him.
And yet he also knew the joy set before him. "...Jesus...who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." [Hebrews 12:2]
This is what Jesus speaks of when he says, "Take heart, I have overcome the world." Love wins. Death is not the end of the story. This is the greatest reversal the world has ever known. Easter means that we have been liberated from the oppression of fear and death. The evil powers of this age that ravage our world with sickness, violence, racism and greed have been dealt a final blow. And so even now, in the midst of a global pandemic full of disruption, disorientation, grief and loss, we are invited into the birth pains of new creation [Romans 8:18-28].
We are invited to grieve and to hope, to groan and to wait, to dream and to create.
So will you accept the invitation to journey with Jesus perhaps more intimately than ever before? As we move through Holy Week, in the absence of the presence of our communities, let us lean into the Presence of the One who is closer than our very breath. And let us enter fully into both the grief and the hope of our stories.
These themes of death and life, confusion and disruption resonate very closely in these times. And yet there is a place in our souls of deep peace, freedom and contentment that is untouched by any circumstance or hardship — it is a place of Divine Presence. Love. Connection. Communion.
As many of our rhythms are now being stripped away, I encourage you to lean into new practices of Presence. Take some time for solitude, silence and reflection. What comfort awaits us as we become more attuned to the Divine Presence who is acquainted with sorrow and suffering like no other? What beauty awaits us as we experience union with a humble, self-sacrificing Love that is more powerful than empire, evil or death? As we join in the birth pains of Holy Week in concert with a world collectively heaving and sighing, let us experience the transformative power of death and life, grief and hope, loss and redemption. This is holy work indeed.
by Jessica Ketola