March 5, 2018—Episode 20—The Deer

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 Psalm 42, verses one through seven:

As the deer longs for the water-brooks,
so longs my soul for you, O God.

My soul is athirst for God, athirst for the living God;
when shall I come to appear before the presence of God?

My tears have been my food day and night,
while all day long they say to me,
"Where now is your God?"

I pour out my soul when I think on these things:
how I went with the multitude and led them into the house of God,

With the voice of praise and thanksgiving,
among those who keep holy-day.

Why are you so full of heaviness, O my soul?
and why are you so disquieted within me?

Put your trust in God;
for I will yet give thanks to him,
who is the help of my countenance, and my God.

When our son, Ted, was at one of the lowest points in his struggle to grow into himself without relying on drugs or alcohol, he asked me if his dad or I had favorite Bible verses.

I told him about psalm 91 that came to be important to his dad, Scott, and I, after Scott’s cancer diagnosis, and I also told him about my relationship with psalm 42.

One wintery day when Scott was sick, I sat in a church and thumbed through the Book of Common Prayer. When I read psalm 42, and its image of a deer longing for water, I stopped. I was thirsty for God, the god of certainty. I was thirsty for certainty that God wouldn’t let Scott die, that Teddy, 18 months at his dad’s diagnosis, wouldn’t have to grow up without a father.

I didn’t feel the wave of certainty I longed for. I was so numb and the church was so cold that I kept my red, down coat on.

And I remembered another winter day, a warmer winter day. The day Scott and I drove to a state park where we’d enjoyed picnics earlier in that year, the year we met. We walked for a while, then stopped. He placed a ring on my finger that had belonged to a great-great Aunt. And we became engaged.

All the while, under some pine trees, stood two deer, quietly watching us. Their gaze was so gentle in those shadows. When I found psalm 42, I found the memory of being quietly, gently, observed. I didn’t find certainty, but I found a memory that helped me feel a little less alone.

I hope that telling Ted the story of the deer in the life his dad and I shared, and in the ancient psalm somehow helped him feel alone. I hope the walks we took in that same park, always accompanied by the story of his dad and I becoming engaged, did the same.

Sometimes I answer my longing for Scott and Ted by taking my mind to that long-ago glade that warm December day.  I recall the gentle gaze of those deer, and I know...

Grief is a thin place.