Tuesday, June 29, 2010


When I read many of the posts written by other mothers who have lost children, I am often blown away: by their energy, their generosity, their ability to "get out there" and be with family and friends and colleagues. Usually these readings and reactions occur when I am sitting in bed, either wrapped in a quilt or (more likely, these days) sprawled in front of a fan, and contemplating tasks which have suddenly become overwhelming, like making a sandwich for lunch or putting in a load of laundry.

Then one of those amazing women writes a note or leaves a comment to the effect that "life is very hard today," and I am reminded that they, too, have their moments ~ or days, or weeks. Or life.

A couple of months ago I raised the "I can't imagine" issue with my two pastors. (You all know how much I hate that phrase. ) "You know," responded one of them, "I can imagine; I don't have that much trouble imagining something happening to one of my children, because it's a genuine nightmare of mine. What I can't imagine is this: how are you doing this, sitting fully dressed and having a conversation in a coffee shop? How are you going onward day by day, doing ordinary things?"

I've been thinking about that question, and I realize that I am split in two, most of the time. There's the public me, the me that looks and walks and talks pretty normally, the me that can go to school and meetings and events and about whom people probably say, "She's doing well." That me is getting stronger and more capable each day, and will probably be able to do some good things in ministry.

Then there's the private me, the me that feels as if I am walking across a vast terrain of broken glass all the time, any piece of which may suddenly pierce the calloused bottom of my foot and cause a silent yelp of pain and an unseen limp. Sometimes those jagged pieces protrude into my feet and life five or six times a day; sometimes, pretty much every minute, all day long.

I am so grateful to have made and now recovered this fairly private blog space, where I can say all of that. I do feel that I have sisters and brothers who walk with me, most especially sisters who have lost children and sisters in ministry, among whom I can say, when I need to, that regardless of what you see on the surface, at the moment I'm crunching broken glass under my bare feet.

I think that maybe the suffering God whom I've been wondering about, the Silent One, is in the space between the two of me, making a tenuous whole possible. I'm not sure, but maybe.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Does God Suffer?

One of my great privileges over the past year has been to study with a brilliant new member of the seminary faculty. He appeared for the last quarter of my second year to teach a class on Christology. I'd already taken the course, but a friend mentioned one night that I might want to visit the new guy's class which I ended up doing almost every week following. He was teaching not only the subject at hand, but also how to evaluate various theological approaches. Finally! ~ I felt that I was getting that for which I had gone to seminary: the opportunity to begin to learn to think like a theologian.

I did an independent study with this professor the next (this past winter) quarter on the subjects of sin, grace, and freedom. I'm sure that I was a consistent disappointment to him, in that my complete lack of background in philosophy meant that the readings were virtually incomprehensible to me, but I did struggle through them. And then I audited his course on Stanley Hauerwas and took his course on Miroslav Volf. In the end, I was able to graduate with the sense that I had learned a tiny bit about Reformation and contemporary theology and a tiny bit about how to approach my own future study, and had found a friend with whom I could continue the conversation.

I had a question for him last week, and in response he sent me a paper he'd written in grad school. The overall question has to do with God's emotional life, but I thought we'd start with the question within the question: Does God suffer? It's been a topic of significant debate during the past century, and is for obvious reasons of great interest to me.

What do you think? Does God suffer? Does it matter to you whether or not God does? Are you comforted or reassured one way or the other? Does the question bother you? Go for it ~

Monday, June 14, 2010


Well. It seems that people are out there. Who knew?

I started wondering a few days ago whether I should re-open and rename this blog: Desert Year and A Summer Later. I suppose that's too much of a hassle; besides, at the moment, I like how the title looks. I think that we can just accept that the first year or so of grief does not much resemble a calendar year.

I have a whole jumble of things to explore over the next whatever time. Maybe some of them, here or there, will be meaningful to someone else. I know that a number of the names I see in the comments to the last post represent people reeling from unfathomable losses. Let's see . . .

Still dealing with the, ummmmm (how can I put this charitably?) . . . oblivious I mean unformed among us:

Those reading my new, non-anonymous blog, know that I took a class on theologian Miroslav Volf this past spring. One evening before our weekly meeting, I emailed my professor, described the specific ways in which the reading assignment for the next day had tormented me, and asked him to please leave me alone if I had nothing to say in class. He responded with a compassionate email of his own. As it happened, the class the next afternoon moved along without incident until about the last twenty minutes. At that point, one of the young men began to talk about the issues to which I had referred in my email the previous night, and proceeded to pontificate about God opening a window whenever God closes a door, and about our obligation to help those who are suffering to focus on the window rather than the door. It was quite a lengthy soliloquy, going on for several minutes. Obviously this young man has not experienced God's slamming, bolting, and gluing a door shut with no window distributor in sight. The professor stole a look a me, but I was absolutely silent ~ mostly because the only response I could think of was to knock the guy out cold. Since our primary class topic was reconciliation, I thought that I should restrain myself.

I am working on this matter of how to teach people to respond appropriately to the pain of others without being too pathetic myself. It's a challenge.

Yet another transition:

This business of having finished my M.Div. is tough. Lots of questions. I have been wondering a lot whether I went back to school too soon. I still think that it will be years before I understand what it might have meant to be in seminary during this period. I continued to pile up the As, but I certainly could not appreciate what I was learning as I might have had I been in another frame of mind. Does that mean I appreciated it differently, and will use it differently, in ways that are meaningful? Or should I just have stayed in bed? That's where I am right now, and it seems like a good place to be.

And now what? Given the Presbyterian call system, no one is pushing me into the next thing. As far as I can tell, despite all of the time, energy, effort, and money that have been invested in my theological education, I could simply drop off the radar screen without anyone uttering a sound. We have committees that are supposed to keep track of us, but the initiative is entirely with those of us moving from one hoop to another. It's a bizarre process and a surreal situation.

The challenge of a child's death by suicide:

I have read and been the recipient of an awful lot of advice to the effect that God is always present, God strengthens you through suffering, God can transform even the worst into . . . something, blah blah blah. I could believe all of that about most things, at least if I were the only person concerned. Although I have at least two good friends who have had cancer whose response, and I believe I am being accurate and precise here, would be, "Bullshit." And even if I am correct, the cost is too high. As I said in one of my classes one day in which the discussion centered on what we gain through suffering, I probably became a far stronger and more independent and resilient person because of the early death of my mother than I would have otherwise. But ~ and leaving my mother's own well-being out of the equation entirely ~ I would be glad to have been able to trade the aforesaid strength and independence and resiliency for the chance to grow up with a mother.

All of the above, however, fades into complete irrelevance when one is faced with the death of a child by suicide. Where was God, or God's strengthening or transforming power? I am actually coming, v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y, to some thoughts about that, but they are not obvious or easily digested. We'll see.

Finding meaning anyway (finding God in all things):

Finally ~ sigh ~ perhaps this will be the main topic of the summer. It's a hallmark of Ignatian spirituality, this finding of God in all things. But, as that 80-year-old Jesuit friend of mine says, "First you have to find God in some things." Working on it.

It's that matter of trading, again. (Would it surprise you to know that I once made a good friend cry during a game of Monopoly, when I ruthlessly traded my way up to all hotels on the Boardwalk and Park Place side?) The truth is, I can see God in many things these days. And I would trade almost every single one of them, including relationships which are precious to me, for my son's life. The whole board, all the properties, all the cash, all the houses and hotels ~ you could have every last one of them.

It is very hard to get used to seeing God in things you would willingly trade away and trying to figure out if God is in other things that you cannot see or grasp.


I wonder how this is done ~ this survival thing. It seems that, 21 months into it, I have no idea at all.

Sunday, June 13, 2010


I am going to re-open this blog for the summer.

Anyone still out there?