The morning has crept in from the hills, the sun somewhere behind a bank of low clouds.
The day itself reflects the melancholy that has wandered into me.
I suppose it will become known abroad that Mark is taking it too hard, and perhaps it is my inclination to being overly indulgent with my feelings, but I am oppressed by this new development – this going away of my children.
Who conjured this notion – that it is necessary, for everyone’s best interest, for children to make haste to separate themselves from their parents? I certainly value a good education, and I am pleased that my boys are off to college, but I hardly see the sense of forcing them into an unkind world.
And what about my heart? The very spaciousness of the house now seems intolerable to me – I hear, in the echoes of my footfall on the stairs, an austerity, an absence that wears away my steady resolve.
This, they tell me, is the “empty nest.”
I am assured by my elders that I will get used to it – that, indeed, I will come to enjoy it.
From these same august personages – those who have tread this way before me – I have heard tell of strange miracles that occur after the kids are gone.
There is the heady prospect – the hitherto unknown possibility – that I may clean the kitchen in the morning, and return to a clean kitchen in the afternoon!
In the aisles of Food City, I will no longer feel obliged to fill my cart with the Fig Newtons and Tortilla Chips – all the processed junk that I buy to appease the boys…
but end up eating myself…
My afternoon nap will no longer be encroached upon by the amplified noodling of the aspiring Jimi Hendrix who inhabits the upstairs corner room.
“Can you please just turn it down a little?”
Yes. I suppose I won’t miss the
soggy towels abandoned on the bathroom floor…
the empty milk bottles returned to the fridge
the uncouth belches at the dinner table
the unflushed toilets
the unwashed clothes everywhere…
That might be nice…
But at the moment, it feels cold comfort.
Speaking of being out of sorts… How about today’s gospel reading?
I think that Jesus was in a bad mood that day, don’t you?
It was probably because he knew it was time…
Time for him to turn toward Jerusalem.
Jesus knew the significance of this turn of events, and I imagine it was weighing on him. He knew that he was walking into the lion’s den, as it were, but all of his disciples were just – lah-di-dah – going along “business as usual.”
Yers, I can sympathize with Jesus.
It must have been an awful burden to be alone with the fore-knowledge of the frightening turn of events that would soon befall him in Jerusalem…
almost like a commander on a battlefield, Jesus gathered his disciples, to let them know what was about to happen.
But the likeness to the hardened field general stops here, because Jesus did not set forth a victorious strategy. Quite the opposite: The text says that Jesus…
began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.
I can just hear the disciples – each of them – saying to themselves…
Well, if that’s what will happen when we go to Jerusalem… lets not go to Jerusalem!
Why are we knowingly doing this? What good will it do?
This must have been a dark moment for the disciples. Jesus gathered them together, but instead of offering them a parable or setting about healing some of the sick, Jesus informs them that they are intentionally turning toward a place where he will be betrayed, tortured and killed.
What evil tidings to receive out of the blue, in the middle of the day.
We – you and I – have the advantage of retrospect. We may know and love our mutual friend Jesus, but we have heard this story many times.
This was the first time the disciples got wind of what would be Christ’s tragic end.
So I can sympathize with the disciples too…
And I certainly understand where Peter is coming from! It’s only natural that he should exclaim:
God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.’
And whenever we get to this point in the story, I find myself secretly wanting Jesus to be understanding – to reach out to Peter and reassure him.
But that is not what happens. We will simply have to contend with the Gospel story as it is written! In a short tempered outburst, Jesus lashes out at Peter saying:
‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’
When we moved into this house, back in the fall of 05, Amos, nearly two years old, was up and about, toddling through the empty rooms in search of adventure. Isabel, who was eleven years old, was positively helpful – I have fond memories of her helping us strip the ugly wallpaper from the dining room.
Silas, our youngest, was only six months old.
I remember the impression I had of this sweet empty farmhouse, when all the bank paperwork was done, and we walked into it for the first time – a home for our family! Built in 1875, it was spacious and quiet, perhaps a little shy, hiding from the road behind a dogwood tree. When we plonked Silas down in the wide space that would later become our dining room, he commenced to screech and wail, as any 6 month old is bound to do. I promptly changed his diaper, cleaned him up and calmed him down, but not before I became aware of the poetic juxtaposition between the silent age of the sweet farmhouse, and the invasion of loud infant vitality that had come in on our coat-tails.
I thought to myself – we better make peace with this place, so that it will put up with all the insanity we are going to bring.
We had a new friend – a man who lived nearby, who was acquainted with Native American rituals, and we asked him to come and “Bless” our house. He was pleased that we asked him – and before long he came by with a bundle of sage. We wandered through the empty rooms, smudging them with sage smoke, and when it was all done we took hands in the quiet empty house, and asked for its blessing.
We hope you won’t mind if we bring up our children here, within your walls. There will be plenty of noise, and plenty of life. We will love you, and we hope you will give us your love and patience in return.
I wonder if Christ’s angry outburst may have had something to do with the general awkwardness of the encounter.
Perhaps he was aware that his disciples felt scared and let down, but he didn’t know how to exactly get them used to the idea without just telling them straight – and this straight talk had kind of back-fired.
Our rituals are better at acknowledging the beginnings of things, than they are finding comfort in the endings of things.
None of the disciples – none of us either – could see the entire story, from beginning to end – and (in Christ’s case) beyond the end.
Beginnings give us hope.
Endings cause us pain.
And yet both – both beginnings and endings, both birth and death, hope and pain, optimism and grief – all of these things are inevitable parts of our lives.
If something is an inevitable part of our human life – if a thing helps form, preserve, or end the human soul – such a thing is of crucial interest to God.
We cannot think only of beginnings, without an awareness of its subsequent end.
And this, perhaps, is behind Christ’s impatient outburst.
To pretend that there are only beginnings, without ends, is such a very human thing to do!
To accept both beginnings and ends – with their attendant joys and pangs of grief – to know and live into both…
This is the divine thing to which Jesus refers.
This evening, after the departure of my children, my stocking feet offer a new prayer to this quiet farmhouse.
Be gentle with me now, as I come to terms with the end of this part of my life.
The end of diapers
The end of piggy-back rides
The end of “Goodnight moon” and “Where the wild things are”
The end of birthday parties
drop offs, pickups,
more drop offs,
more pick ups.
You have loved us through all this, Old house.
You have loved us through all this O God.
Help me through this heartache.
Endings, like beginnings, wander into our souls, filling them with the unutterable beauty of the evening light.
Will you bless me?
I will not let you go, until you bless me.