At the end of Tolkien’s Return of the King, Frodo is plagued by recurring fits of pain due to a wound he received from a Morgul blade back at the beginning of his quest to destroy the One Ring. The pain is like an evil visitor, one which Frodo can conceal well from everyone, with the exception of his dear friend and servant Samwise.
I have come to know that anniversaries of the death of loved ones are like that. That old wound is an evil visitor that assaults us sometimes unawares. Sometimes on schedule. Sometimes with a renewed vigor that undoes us. And many times this evil visitor is only noticed by the Samwises in our lives.
So today, on the 10th anniversary of our son Noah’s stillbirth, I feel the wretched pinch of that Morgul blade and remember my fellow grievers. As a friend, pastor, and fellow griever once told me, “We (who have lost a loved one) are members all of a fraternity we would never have wished access to but now have access to the hearts of those who suffer like we do.”
So today, no ordinary day, I reach out to those who have been blindsided by grief, whether fresh or well-weathered, and wish that your Samwise might be close at hand. Most importantly, you also must remember that there is One from whom you can’t go where He can’t follow. For if Christ took our nature into the grave only to rise again in resurrection glory, then he is the head of our fraternity of sufferers. For no one else is firstborn from the dead. The sting and shadow of death still clings to everything and everyone but Him. So my dear fellow sufferers, in the midst of your pain, cling to Him. And if you have no strength to cling to Him, ask Him to cling to you. That’s ok. That’s enough.
Tonight, I began reading Rosaria Butterfield’s new book on hospitality, “The Gospel Comes with a House Key”,
and I couldn’t get past the first chapter. But that’s just what her writing does.
It’s like the old story of the person driving through a thick fog, and as they approach a bridge over a steep-banked river someone steps out of the fog and fires a flare gun right at them. Furious, they get out of their vehicle and begin to confront the audacious guy with the flare gun only to find out that the bridge was out ahead. The flare gun guy was trying to stop their car and save them from plunging to a cold, watery demise.
So I get to these lines and it’s like Rosaria just ricocheted a flare off the roof of my car.
Who else knows that the sin that will undo me is my own, not my neighbor’s, no matter how big my neighbor’s sin may appear?… Here’s the thing about soothing yourself with self-delusion: no one buys it but you. (p. 19)
I stop, put my head on the steering wheel, and have to catch my breath. And while I’m catching my breath and working up the courage to go on to chapter 2, I am going to stop and thank my Heavenly Father for friends like Rosaria. A good friend always has their flare gun ready.
Here’s the next installment of this series over at the church’s website.
Where else can one find the perfect harmony of St. Patrick’s day, obscure theological heresies, and a gratifying reference to Voltron?
This is a good passage to remind us of God’s upside-down kingdom on this day when the President who is inaugurated has an “…obsession with outward appearance, sexiness, superficiality, wealth, [and] his own status and accomplishments.” Our newly minted President, by virtue of his office, will deserve our prayers, our obedience as far as conscience and God’s Word will allow, but not our imitation.
“You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – the Gospel according to Mark, chapter 10
Kyrie, eleison. Lord, have mercy.
On this Thanksgiving day, there is someone for whom my thanks could not possibly be fully stated: Mother Church. She can be faithless to her Husband at times and temperamental towards her children, but it is into her arms that I was born. I know not the exact moment of salvation, but it is her nourishment and her children who have fed me, disciplined me, held me accountable, encouraged me, tested me, and lifted up my guilt-ridden countenance and gently reminded me of what her Husband secured on my behalf. She is sometimes blind to her faults yet always on the verge of reformation. She often seems so fragile and in danger of perishing, yet she has held forth for centuries against violent persecutions from without and hideous heresies and damnable schisms within. In one breath she can chase away the stranger and the alien with idolatrous nationalism while in the very next breath offer a home and a family to an orphan and an outcast. She is both confusing and endearing, maddening and lovely. It is an honor to serve her, and I’m grateful for the Word she serves me, the prayers she offers, and the saints to whom she joins me.
That man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labors of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins — all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.
— Bertrand Russell, Why I Am Not a Christian
Ahhhh… You smell that? That’s the stink of a materialistic view of the universe taken to its most reasonable conclusions. Sometimes its helpful to get a good snoot-full as a refresher, a reminder of the stench of the cultural folderol where humanity is the measure of all things.