Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Ignatian Prayer Adventure - Reflection 1

The scripture reading suggested for this past Sunday, Day 1 of Loyola Press's Ignatian Prayer Adventure, was from the beginning of Isaiah 43, one verse of which reads as follows:

When you pass through waters, I will be with you;
through rivers, you shall not be swept away.
When you walk through fire, you shall not be burned,
nor will flames consume you.

All day, I thought about that verse.  While participating in our adult Sunday school class, while leading worship and preaching, while hanging  out with The Lovely Daughter in the early afternoon, while greeting leaders and guests and engaging in my service of installation  as pastor and celebrating communion and enjoying the reception afterward, while making the long drive home in the dark with my daughter,  even while relaxing with the Downton Abbey finale ~ I thought about that verse.

The waters and fire through which we walk are our terrible loss of Josh.  It is not so hard for me, not anymore, to see how God has been with us.  When I look at the photograph I posted yesterday, I can tell you with great specificity about things which almost every person pictured therein did for us in the first worst days of our lives.  That was how God walked with us.

But among the many plagues of suicide is the relentless question:  Where was God when someone you loved, someone for whom you would have walked straight into any fire or through any deluge of water, was ending his or her life?  Where was God when a beloved child was being swept away and consumed by whatever horror of anguished confusion brought him to such a crucible? 

I suppose that the question is similar for any parent who has lost a child in any way.

And so the question becomes: can you trust in the words of Isaiah when all the evidence available to you is to the contrary?  Can you believe in those words entirely in the dark?  Can you have confidence that God walks even with those who have vanished from our sight?  

People are, of course, swept away by floodwaters and consumed by flame, just as they are swept away by mental illness and consumed by cancer. 

Is it possible to believe in these words by grasping that they are, as mere words, inadequate to the task at hand?   I should think that the second line, for instance, would inflict great pain on a mother whose child was washed away by a tsunami.  But perhaps it is intended to convey something far more wonderful than the literal image:  that although a child be subject to the usual vagaries and catastrophes of earthly life, she will never be swept out of God's purview. 

Because death does not separate us from the love of Christ.

And why should it?  It does not separate us from the love of one another.  If that is so for us, then how much more so  must it be where God is concerned?

There was nothing reassuring or comforting about verses such as these three years ago.  But now, perhaps, perhaps they offer just the smallest glimmer of insight.


  1. Oh Robin. And that is why we write. And grieve. And moan. And talk. Because it is in these expressions of our all-too-human pain and understanding that we somehow survive these things.

    I so deeply feel that glimmer you write about. At times I wish it was the consuming belief with which I lived my life. But at least deep, deep down somewhere I feel it.

  2. I'm glad there's a glimmer for you. I linked to this post for ideas about Lent on my blog, since I don't seem to have ideas for myself, though now I am pondering changing a habit.