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There comes a moment, perhaps it is more of a season, when you
realize two concurrent truths: one, there is far less time in front of you than behind; the other, for whatever time remains you want to go deeper into joy and gratitude. I know that is not the conclusion everyone reaches - I have known souls to choose the way of cynicism rather than wisdom, or fear instead of hope - but it is clearly the current that runs through my inner life.

About 25 years ago after my sister Linda died, I woke up one morning and realized that I couldn't continue to live the life I had created. Not only did I need to learn how to do ministry differently, I also needed to rework everything in my personal life, too. In time that led to divorce and a long season of grieving. The blessing that came from this sadness - and the prayer and therapy I embraced as part of the journey of grief - is that suffering is not the end of the story. Good Friday, indeed, becomes Easter Sunday - mostly without any effort on our part. So when the dawn of resurrection broke through my darkness, I was led into a a new incarnation of ministry and love in Tucson.

There, too, I stumbled into another season of grief. Robert Bly notes that men who are approaching mid-life often do sad and stupid things when this era hits us. Small wonder the popular culture calls it a "mid-life crisis" because often everything good is thrown away in retreat from the bad in our lives. But this time is less of a crisis than a ripening - a stripping away of the false self so that the true one might breathe and grow healthy - if we give it time and careful attention. Like Jung taught those with ears to hear: men at about 50 can either embrace with humility the archetype of "the king" and move into wisdom, or, they can distract themselves with the trinkets and emotions of a crisis and wind up to be mean-spirited cynics or foolish old men. Not everyone who possesses chronological age is a trusted elder, right? 

So I give thanks to God that my counselor helped me, pushed me and challenged me to journey through my projections and fears so that I might celebrate the painful but sacred harvesting of my true self. St. Bob Dylan got it right when he sang: I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now. And as often happens, this led to deeper love and yet another phase of ministry for which I am grateful.

Last night as I lay waiting for sleep, two truths from my father were playing over and over in my head. The first is that I am now the age he was when he retired. He recently died at 83. Throughout the past 20 years he has told me - and apparently many others - that early retirement was the best thing he ever did in the second half of his life. It gave him time to go deeper into the history of America he so loved. It allowed him the freedom to travel with my mother while they were both reasonably healthy. And it provided him with the chance to serve his church more fully than when he was working 60+ hours each week. I sense that of the 20 years he had after early retirement, at least half of them were full and rich. My mother eventually died of cancer and that broke his heart and also terrified him. My sister Beth also died a sad and hard death during this time. And his health collapsed on him mostly because he refused to quit smoking and drinking and really taking care of himself. One thing his recent death has caused me to consider is this: If I have another 20+ years to live, what else might bring me life and joy during the time that remains?

The other truth I am pondering from my father's life and death has to do with giving attention to what is profoundly important to me right now. This is no longer the season for delayed gratification. Not that the Spirit is calling me towards selfishness and disregard, but it is dishonest for me to think that I have all the time in the world.  I don't - and there are people I want to shower with love and places I want to wander and explore with Dianne before I am unable. That is certainly part of what my upcoming sabbatical in Montreal is about: I want and need time to be quiet for prayer; I ache for time to strengthen my jazz skills on the upright bass; and I yearn to walk in wonder with my wife through a place that makes my heart sing. I hope that my children will visit me during this sabbatical "magical mystery tour." And I trust that on the other side of the summer of 2015 I will have some clarity about what God is inviting me towards for this next adventure.

In ways that I could not imagine, I already miss my father. We didn't speak a lot during his last few years because his hearing was shot. Phone conversations were sometimes torturous. And I didn't see him much either - mostly because I was committed to the ministry of renewal in my new church but also because there was a sadness in my father's house that pushed me away - and I had done enough of my own grieving without being burdened by his, too. How did Tom Waits put it: come down off that Cross we could use the wood? Still, it is clear there is a living wound in my heart now that he is gone and I want to honor and respect it.

This weekend is the close of the Celtic year and the transition to a new one. It is also All Saints and All Souls day in the Western Christian tradition. These holy days recognize the "thin places in the year" when the season of harvest gives way to the season of emptiness. The reality of life moving into death is palpable in this part of the world - and I am grateful for its stark beauty. So, I'm going to rake up the leaves in the late autumn sun and let it be for me a time of prayer and reflection. I find that since my father's death I often need to just sit and be still. Today I will gather up what has fallen in stillness, too. A prayer for this day gets it right:

In the fading of the summer sun,
the shortening of days, cooling breeze,
swallows' flight and moonlight rays
WE SEE THE CREATOR'S HAND

In the browning of leaves once green,
morning mists, autumn chill,
fruit that falls frost's first kiss
WE SEE THE CREATOR'S HAND

Creator God, forgive our moments of ingratitude,
the spiritual blindness that prevents us
from appreciating the wonder that is this world,
the endless cycle of nature,
of life and death and rebirth.
Forgive us for taking without giving
reaping without sowing.
Open our eyes to see
our lips to praise
our hands to share
and may our feet tread lightly on the road.


(http://www.faithandworship.com/Samhain_praying_though_the_Celtic_year.htm#ixzz3Hji5mi5t) 

Comments

Peter said…
Amen and amen, good brother.
RJ said…
Love to you brother man...

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