for death must have its day

A couple of months ago, I packed up all of my belongings into boxes and suitcases, shoved the ones that would fit into my Subaru, and road tripped from Denver to Seattle to dive into a terrifying experience of silence and solitude and soul-wrenching vulnerability.

A few months before I set out, all I knew was that I was supposed to go SOMEWHERE in January to “walk backwards so I could move forward.” As I began to take baby steps that looked a lot like a leap of faith, everything fell into place (because SOVEREIGNTY), and I found myself, once again, leaning into the stirrings within me and setting off into the much anticipated, yet feared, unknown.

Going to Seattle for a three-week intensive – by myself and without any books or music or contact with anyone other than a therapist (whom I had not yet met) for a little over an hour a day – seemed to line up with the other daring and adventurous experiences that have so marked and transformed my life up to this point.

So I went to face my demons and reconcile with my child self and release the things that I had carried for far too many sunsets. I spent my days speaking aloud and giving voice to pent-up pain that spanned more than a decade of my life. My body pulsed beneath the weight of the trauma being lifted out of my being as I raged and wept and buried my face in the carpet of a strange home in the woods on an island far away from anything and everything that was familiar.

I learned, in the absolute agony of my separation from every familiar face and physical comfort, that the only way to peace is through the pain. And we cannot heal if we do not allow our wounds to bleed out completely and wash the toxic fragments from our fragile souls.

We live in a culture of pretenders. Americans, in particular, play the role of the self-sufficient, self-made, resilient and determined dreamers. Too often, demonstrating vulnerability is seen as weakness; in fact, this vulnerability is even seen as social, political, and occupational suicide. We fear pain and sorrow and unpleasant seasons because they render us broken and incapacitated to “pull ourselves up by our bootstraps.”

But I learned something there in that lonely cabin, where I only had the whispers of the wind and the silence of empty rooms and the warmth of my own salty tears. Somewhere, at the bottom of our sorrow, is a doorway to a peace that surpasses all understanding. Somehow, once our anger has exhausted its energy and grief has given way to quiet tears and sorrow has overcome our body with shaking sobs, there is a light in the deep and enduring abyss of our suffering.

Richard Rohr says this about denying our pain:

“By denying [our] pain, avoiding the necessary falling, many have kept themselves from their own spiritual depths – and therefore have been kept from their own spiritual heights.”

The paradox of this reality is not lost on me, even after having endured three eternal weeks of silence and solitude and enlightenment on an island I have no plans to return to. Somehow, when we are broken open and the pain is finally allowed to have its voice and free itself from our body, we are left with the capacity to carry wholeness and peace and love and hope unlike ever before.

But the only way to peace is through the pain. And while we live in a culture that rewards shortcuts that “get the job done,” there is no shortcut to healing. We must traverse the broken road of anguish and suffering and sadness and heartbreak and remorse and dying in order to get to the place of inner resurrection. 

Look at the seasons of the earth…death and dying are all around us. Trees and flowers must die and winter must have its way so that spring may come in all its glory. There is no hope of resurrection without first observing the agony of death and grieving all that has been lost. Something must be lost in order to be gained.

It is Holy Week. And tonight, we remember the death of Jesus and mourn the agony and sorrow of the one who claimed to be the Messiah breathing his last in front of his followers, family, and friends. It is devastating and heart-wrenching. It felt, to the disciples, like a defeat. Like all hope was lost. Like every hope they had before had suddenly been swallowed up in death.

But Sunday. We know it is coming. We know that it came. We live on the other side of the Resurrection story.

However, we live in this continual cycle of death and resurrection – in the physical realm and also within our spiritual selves.

So tonight, since we are reflecting on the death of the promised Messiah, I challenge you to also reflect on what places within have died or need to die off. It will ache to let go and let it die – be it a relationship, a dream, a way of life, and understanding of the world, etc. And the sorrow should shake you to your core. Tears should blind your vision and pain should well up within your heart. That is the only way to purge the pain from within and give death its due of mourning.

But one day, perhaps not too long from now, you will begin to feel the warmth of Resurrection building in the depths of your very being. For everything that dies gives way to new life.

And Sunday is coming.