Grief is a thin place. A place so thin, it’s hard to tell where earth ends and heaven begins.
Grief is a place so thin that it’s where the living and the dead feel one another’s love.
I’m the Rev. Lisa Hamilton, and I grieve. First, I’ll read a scripture appointed for today. Then I’ll struggle with those words through the lens of grief. I’m glad you’ve joined me. Today’s scripture is Isaiah chapter one, verses two through four and verses 16 through 20:
Hear, O heavens, and listen, O earth;
for the Lord has spoken:
I reared children and brought them up,
but they have rebelled against me.
The ox knows its owner,
and the donkey its master’s crib;
but Israel does not know,
my people do not understand.
Ah, sinful nation,
people laden with iniquity,
offspring who do evil,
children who deal corruptly,
who have forsaken the Lord,
who have despised the Holy One of Israel,
who are utterly estranged!
Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
remove the evil of your doings
from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
learn to do good;
rescue the oppressed,
defend the orphan,
plead for the widow.
Come now, let us argue it out,
says the Lord:
though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be like snow;
though they are red like crimson,
they shall become like wool.
If you are willing and obedient,
you shall eat the good of the land;
but if you refuse and rebel,
you shall be devoured by the sword;
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
Good Lord, O Lord! Good Lord! Nowadays, this is what we call a Prosperity Gospel! You know, the idea that if we’re good, we’ll get what we want. The good are rewarded, the bad are punished. Never mind that we’re all people who do things that are both good and bad, both wise and foolish. You hear it all the time in statements like, “Anyone can be a success in this country if they just stay in school and stay off drugs.” Statements like this forget that not everybody avoids freak accidents and unpredictable diseases, that not everybody has a functional IQ, that not everybody has the full belly, the clean water, the love, the luck, the encouragers of curiosity to do so.
So when I find this attitude in the Bible, in churches, in people, I get angry. Because no amount of prosperity gospel, or any other gospel for that matter, stops funerals from coming. And this attitude that everything is in our control sets us up for death as our failure. And death is either your failure, God…or it’s a transition that calls your kindness into question.
When my son, Ted, was not yet declared legally dead, but lay in a hospital with no signs of life, the babysitter who had seen us through his dad’s death 25 years earlier visited. As I dozed one night, she kept vigil. I would open my eyes and see her hovering with love, holding his hand, praying in whispers, begging you, begging Ted, begging his dad, to please, please, please let this 27-year-old beautiful, compassionate, creative, boy of your creation….to just live. To be a miracle. To bring his mix of wise and foolish, of stupid and smart, of good luck and no luck at all, to pour into love for his grandchildren.
We had prayed the same when Ted’s dad, Scott, battled cancer for as he turned 32. We lived with a cancer diagnosis for eight months and four days, about the length of time we knew we were pregnant with Teddy. But Scott’s cancer diagnosis ended in death instead of in life. And yet when Mary burst out, “I don’t understand why you can’t get a miracle!” I looked across the tubes and machines and blinking lights and flat lines at her and said, in all sincerity, “Oh Mary, there’s no greater miracle than eternal life.”
I meant it then, but now I want to barf. Ted had no descendents. Scott had none. And I have none. And Again and again, I have learned how thin the veil is, but again and again, I learn how the veil on this side, any way, is woven with a warp of pain and a weft of tears.
The veil is very thin.