Hope and heartache on this side of the grave

I understand that my death could come any day. My own life experiences have etched this understanding into the channels of my heart. I carry a consciousness of my mortality into all my ordinary actions. Knowing that the potential of death looms nearby influences what I think about, dream about and do with my days. I understand that there will be a day when all my temporal projects will come to a halt, when my endeavors will be replaced with the matters of eternity. I know that after I breathe my last breath, my body will go into a body bag until my remains can be prepared for burial. (I wrote about body bags last week.)

Yet, I am alive. You are too. We are here on this side of the grave, dealing with the heartache and grief and invited to respond to each invitation coming from the Spirit to work for good, as Scripture says, to be instruments of mercy and peace.

Even though I know I could die, I keep living as if I have decades of life remaining. This could be the now-and-not-yet mystery of heaven, of building God’s reign. It is a movement, a dance, a journey from once-was to is-now. It’s like the bursting of seeds, the eruption of color out of a once-drab ground.

At some point after the pandemic began and we entered into the Easter season, we moved over to an in-between time. Some call it a portal. Others say it’s an opportunity, a chance to redesign the structures and systems that are breaking down. Whatever it is and however you label it, we are in a time of change and transformation.

As Christians, our discipleship is an experience of paradoxes. We are used to being in thresholds. We are on a journey forward, we are people of The Way. Our service and advocacy of social justice bring us to the margins, to the cross, to the places of heartache, injustice and suffering. As we imitate Jesus and share his love, we encounter the wounds of Christ and then find ourselves fighting against the temptations to discouragement and despair. We feel the pain, the suffering and the sorrow. Yet we don’t give in; at least we try not to. Because the virtues that form and transform us — love, faith and hope — compel us to persevere, struggle and remain devoted.

Backyard miracles 2. Photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
Backyard Miracles 2. Photo by Julia Walsh FSPA

Christ remains with us, and we remain part of Christ’s body.

We are part of his body and the resurrected Jesus is alive and present to us. The power of this mystery is awesome. Yes, we are sojourners, clinging to hope, on our way to knowing the fullness of the reign of God. According to our liturgical calendar, we’re in the Easter season. It’s time to party. Now is time for triumphant joy, newness and Alleluias. It’s a season of renewal and remembering. Now is a time to celebrate and feast.

(Except it’s not. Today is not a day for feasting. In fact, Pope Francis has made today a day of fasting; May 14, 2020, is a day to fast and pray that the horrors of the pandemic will come to an end.)

Yes, we are sojourners, clinging to hope and celebrating on our way to knowing the fullness of the reign of God. Or we would be celebrating, more easily, if the world were not groping for consolation, comfort and relief. Hello again, paradox and power of the cross.

In this in-between time, I am feeling the tension of having total awareness of my mortality and a fierce desire to work in a Spirit of hope. I’m responding to invitations to transform and co-create with God. For example, devoted readers of Messy Jesus Business may have noticed that I have been gradually redesigning this website and recently started a podcast. There’s now affiliated Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages too.

Creating new things that I aim to keep going demands a fierce hope from me — a hope that trusts in the graces of growth, progress and transformation along with an abundance of time, health and energy. A hope that trusts in God’s timing and mysterious ways, and tends to the possibilities found in each small “yes” to love.

Here’s what I’ve come to, as I teeter in this crawl space of moving from where I was to where I might be going. Sure, we are in a bumpy time and we carry heartache and hope as we move onward. And as we remain faithful, we allow God to truly make all things new, to awaken us to beauty and newness that is alive and active, in the midst of pain and loss. With Christ, it is possible to feel grief and gratitude together.

It’s all about being open to beauty and goodness next to darkness and death. It’s the new spring flowers emerging from the muck and the mud. It’s the sunlight cracking through clouds. It’s the kind gesture of a stranger, a message of encouragement, even when we feel like resigning and ending our efforts. It’s acknowledging what’s tough and troubling and then turning to Jesus with our tears and fears. It’s knowing — from Christ’s love — the strength to keep on and turning that love outward with another gesture of mercy and kindness.

Although I carry a consciousness of my mortality into my ordinary acts, I am also a person of hope. Living with hope in an in-between time allows every act to turn into a gesture of prayer. Thanks be to God.

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