Monday, April 23, 2007

Beside the Still Waters, She Will Lead...

The Lord is my shepherd,
I have all I need.

I have often appreciated the sorrowful, meditative, somber aspects of the Christian faith. The memories that sustain my faith are short glimpses: incomplete thoughts that constantly float through my head. The first time I saw the altar stripped at the end of a Maundy Thursday service before Good Friday. The haunting wails of Psalms filling a synagogue during Passover. The imposition of ashes on my forehead during college, reminding me that I was from dust, and to dust I will return. And hearing Bobby McFerrin’s 23rd Psalm fill the room as I watched photos of my mother on a projector in a small chapel in south Texas.

Memories of my mom are sometimes just as fleeting, but no less powerful. The way she would touch the back of my arm when she talked to me. Her still, small voice in prayer over me when I was sick. Her absolute love of any kind of music I gave to her. And what she said in my ear at my graduation from college, struggling for words as the disease was taking full hold of her mind, “I’m so proud of you, Jason.”

In the 36 hours before the funeral, I couldn’t eat. I recognized that I was hungry, and I certainly felt weak, but I just couldn’t consume anything. I wonder if it was my body’s way of mourning.

On Thursday and Friday of last week, the Texas sun soaked my body in a warmth that had been missing from Chicago as of late. On the day of the funeral, the sun began to be dwarfed by rain clouds, and it has been overcast every day since. The life-giving sun was nowhere in sight. I wonder if it was the earth’s way of mourning the sorrow that currently consumes us.

Eventually, however, the sun will be visible once again, and I finally nourished my body with some food. But my mother is still gone, and will be forever.

She leads me in a path of good things,
And fills my heart with songs.

I wonder how long mourning is “supposed” to last. Certainly our culture does not necessarily validate or recognize this as a way of dealing with suffering. It did not end with the funeral on Saturday, just like it didn’t end with the moment when my mother first stopped realizing who I was one year ago.

It will continue until it stops, with both joy and sorrow consuming me where they may. Maybe I’m more drawn to the sorrowful moments because they point me to the beauty inherent in life.

I look to Good Friday, because I know that, through the darkness of death, Christ rises.

And I know that even though Mom is dead, she is alive. As Pastor Lori reminded us at her funeral, she can now breathe better, move better, eat better, and remember better than ever. She need not be comforted any more.

I guess it’s just us left to be comforted.

…that was always my mom’s job.     

She will be missed.

Even though I walk
Through a dark and dreary land,
There is nothing that can shake me.
She has said she won’t forsake me:
I’m in her hand.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

In Memoriam

Dear Ones,

PREFACE - I understand two things:

[1] Some of you might not be aware of this reality - My mother had been slowly dying for the past few years, and I am never sure of who knows and who doesn't. It's always an awkward topic for dinner conversations. ;) But whether or not you knew before, it is important to me that you know now, because I care about you and appreciate you as dear friends and people in my life.

[2] I don't know if I have the energy to contact each of you lovely people personally. I wish I could. Regardless, we may not have spoken for two weeks or two years, but know that I hold you in my heart.

My mom's long journey has ended. At about 1:00 am this morning, her life finally stood completed. My thanks goes to each and every one of you as you have supported me and my family and prayed for us these past years as we have watched my mom (and dad) suffer through this surreal and horrific disease diagnosed as Alzheimer's. You have received my tears, you have witnessed my doubts, you have been with me, in every way imaginable. My cup truly overflows.

This is a gift, in many wondrous and strange ways - the time had long passed since she either recognized us, or we her. In this Easter week, as we celebrate the mystery of death and the knowledge that God is present in this world, our comfort is in Christ alone. We also take comfort and rejoice in the fact that my mom is no longer suffering, her body is now whole, and she is in the all-encompassing presence of our Lord -- I cannot even fathom what that must be like. Her memory restored, her silent gaze replaced by that confident smirk - Mom returning to who she always was.

Maryann leaves behind her loving husband of 37 years, 4 children, and 9 grandchildren. The funeral will be held on Saturday, April 21, 2007 at Eden Home Chapel in New Braunfels, Texas. For those of you that live in the area and would like to attend the service, I will be sending out additional information later in the week.

To each of you, friends of my heart; for those of you I have known for such a beautifully long time, and for you that I have had the pleasure of meeting fairly recently in my life,
God's peace, in every place, in every time, in every situation,


Maryann Chesnut
September 5, 1947 - April 14, 2007

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

A Hesitant Easter

In the wake of Easter Sunday, this week has been imbued with constant reminders of our baptism, grandiose banners hanging from the ceiling, and passionate shouts from everywhere, proclaiming that “Christ is risen!” Christ is risen, indeed. Alleluia.

My friend Elisabeth mentioned today that sometimes she finds it hard to say, “Alleluia.” Even as Easter comes and we celebrate Christ’s resurrection and victory over death, there are some who cannot so easily utter “Alleluia!” We are compelled to do so after the 40 days of Lent, but there is something to say about the hesitation to scream it out come Easter morning. There are some situations that make it difficult to get past Good Friday.

My mother went on oxygen last Sunday night (as Easter sunrise had declined into darkness), breathing irregularly and not responding. She herself has declined beyond what most would consider, on a fundamental level, life. Hovering around 65 pounds, rarely eating, drinking, or reacting to outside stimuli, she is literally a ghost.

I can imagine the shock of Mary when she found the tomb empty, and the shock when she recognized the gardener as Jesus. I’m not sure which shock was greater. But I do know that what this first (literal) apostle experienced next – that there is nowhere where God is not – has formed the bedrock of Christian faith.

And, sometimes, when what you see is death, it’s hard to proclaim the risen Christ. But that’s precisely what we believe – that there is no place that is God-forsaken. Jesus’ unbelievable resurrection conquers the all-too-real death so many see and experience. Let us remember them in the midst of our Easter celebration.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Good Friday Walk for Justice

Walking through downtown Chicago’s financial district on Good Friday, I was struck by two things – the mind-numbing, bone-chilling cold wind that blew unceasingly during the three-hour walk, and the striking similarities so easily drawn between Jesus’ march to Golgotha and our Good Friday Walk for Justice. We walked for numerous marginalized people – both near to us in Chicago, and far away across the world – and, in doing so, took the brutal journey of a lone criminal to a cross two thousand years ago and made it powerfully relevant to us, here and now.

Besides my brief forays into the Catholic world, sneaking away from my Protestant upbringing to attend Mass with my grandpa whenever he came to visit our family, I know very little about the Catholic faith. However, since my recent whirlwind spiritual journey, beginning with my study abroad experience in Africa four years ago, to my confirmation as a Lutheran Christian in 2004, and finally to actively studying to become a servant-leader in the Lutheran church, I am interacting more and more with our sister denomination. The Stations of the Cross are part of that continuing education.

My stereotypical view of pious monks shuffling from one station to another was quickly challenged on this Good Friday, however, as I joined a huge conglomeration of people who somberly gathered on a workday at noon in the midst of the bustling financial center of Chicago. We sang in the shadow of the Chicago Board of Trade, affirming that we heard “the calls of our brothers and sisters” who work under unjust labor conditions. We cried out in response to the myth of redemptive violence that permeates our culture in the Federal Plaza, as police calmly stood by. We walked the counter-cultural walk of mourning injustice and corporate greed in a land of magnificent consumerism.

It was helpful for me to immerse myself in the meaning of Good Friday, since the very act of doing a walk on Good Friday is somewhat controversial. To connect the suffering and death of Jesus with the suffering and death of people on the margins of society doesn’t play too well in the “land of opportunity.” The “health and wealth” gospels spouted in mega-churches across the country spell this philosophy out loud and clear: If you only have enough faith in God, you will achieve all the prosperity and happiness you could ever want.

Unfortunately for many people, however, all the faith in the world won’t stop the harsh economic foot from crushing them. The working-poor often live paycheck-to-paycheck, and the unemployed (and underemployed) – not to mention those without homes – are straining to simply get by. Walking with “the least of these” in Chicago as we remembered Jesus’ excruciating walk to the “Place of the Skull,” we explicitly connected the exploitation of God in Jesus the Christ to the exploitation of God’s own children. Thus, to live into Good Friday (and all the sorrow it entails) means to consciously deny Easter – for the moment. In a positively sick country addicted to satisfying our own expensive way of life – often at the expense of developing nations – remembering Jesus’ death at the hands of unjust systems is controversial, indeed.

I do not mean to say that Easter isn’t the culmination of our hope in the risen Christ – this it is and so much more. We will rejoice on Sunday that Christ has conquered death and given us life through his own journey. But this journey is more than its celebratory ending on Easter – it is the silence of Good Friday, with the rich getting richer and the poor poorer, and the darkness of Easter Saturday, with the hopelessness of so many struggling to live a life of dignity. Their cry is Jesus’ cry.