There is nothing that can replace the absence of someone dear to us, and one should not even attempt to do so. One must simply hold out and endure it. At first that sounds very hard, but at the same time it is also a great comfort. For to the extent the emptiness truly remains unfilled one remains connected to the other person through it. It is wrong to say that God fills the emptiness. God in no way fills it but much more leaves it precisely unfilled and thus helps us preserve — even in pain — the authentic relationship. Furthermore, the more beautiful and full the remembrances, the more difficult the separation. But gratitude transforms the torment of memory into silent joy. One bears what was lovely in the past not as a thorn but as a precious gift deep within, a hidden treasure of which one can always be certain. -Dietrich Bonhoeffer
In 1998, English rock and blues guitarist Eric Clapton recorded and released the song My Father’s Eyes. The lyrics reference both Clapton’s father, whom he never met, and his son Conor, who died in a tragic accident when he was 4 yrs old. It is a song of heartache and longing for what never was between him, his father and his son. I was fortunate to not only know and love my father; I also knew his eyes, and he knew mine. My father was the first person I think who really saw me; he taught me it was okay to cry, to question, to think deeply, to push until I understood, to find different ways of saying things in order to be a better teacher, and to live every minute to its fullest. He was many things to me and complicated family dynamics aside, he was at best my role model of what love looked and felt and sounded like walking around on earth.
My father always found a way to be a part of my life and Trinity was no exception. He wanted badly to come to Trinity once Kim and I were here (and even visited this summer before I had started to “check it out.”) It was a difficult maneuver and effort because of health challenges, but he made it to a Sunday service two months ago, met a few of you, and he absolutely loved what he saw and felt here.
Many of you now know this past Sunday morning my father died just as I was arriving at church. Kim called to say she had been with him and he let go just as gracefully as he lived his life, aware and ready, knowing of our love and without any pain. Each of you, directly, or by extension as a member of this beloved community gave me a gift that day I will always cherish. I was encouraged to go home, with the reassurance that you would all be fine- I did and you were; and for both I will be forever grateful. Thank you for being the love of Christ for me in this time of transition; it is hard for all of us to navigate the death of someone we love, even when not a complete surprise, and this community is modeling that in beautiful ways.
During this season of Lent we are working our way through Brene Brown’s new book: Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone and wrestling each week with what it means to stand alone and yet stay connected on our journeys. In one of her earlier books, she writes about giving and receiving and you all have reminded me of the importance of this posture these past few days. She writes:
Until we can receive with an open heart, we’re never really giving with an open heart. When we attach judgment to receiving help, we knowingly or unknowingly attach judgment to giving help. (Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection)
So thank you. For all the little and not-so-little ways you are giving yourselves to me and each other through friendship and leadership while I take a small step away to be with my family and attend to some of these final things in my father’s journey. Come home this Sunday, where we can feel that shared love between and among us, and where, once again, we are invited to receive the bread and wine that truly does connect and sustain us along the way.
May you never forget that you are loved.