Each year the holiday / holy day that wears best for me is Holy Saturday.
The day in-between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, Holy Saturday. The day after the believers witnessed Jesus' death. The day after they had lived through the loss of hope and vision. The day after life as they'd believed it to be had died. Death was witnessed in front of their eyes. The One who had come and turned water into wine, despair into hope, brokenness into healing, this One had died the day before.
I wonder what it must have been like. What was it like to have watched the daylight of that Friday leave and to have the nighttime come. To watch this endless night finally come. I wonder if anyone slept at all. Pacing. Weeping. Sobbing. And then after the hours in the dark, when the light of the morning was finally dawning ~ what did they think? I wonder what they imagined their lives would be like on this next day, on this Holy Saturday.
I have not experienced that devastation. But I have witnessed the death of what I thought to be true, what I thought my life would be like. I have experienced that long, dark night.
There is a faithfulness about living in and through Holy Saturday. Easter had not yet come to the followers of Jesus. There was no rolling away of the stone yet for them. There was just the echo of his stories and memories of times on the hillside or by the lake. There is a core-strength that lives into what is not yet seen, but held tightly. There is a strength that truly passes our understanding. There is a strength....
For me again this year there are shadows and uncertainties with Holy Saturday. “Joy and suffering” accompany the days of Holy Week, but not this day. This in-between day holds the emptiness, the ache, the fear of unspeakable grief and loss. It is the faith that allows/enables/brings us to put one foot in front of the other and enter into the day ~ this is the “faith of our fathers and our mothers.”
Today is not a day to endure only. Today is not a day to rush through only. Today is not a day to shut-down and be numb only. Today is our day of walking with a presence that for all intents and purposes has gone, has left us.
Today is our day to step out in a faith that we claim and that claims us. More than any other day, this day teaches us to hold on and to see in the dark.
When I was younger and stood beside my grandmothers (one singing in Illinois or later Florida and the other singing in Connecticut) I would be surprised ~ each time ~ when they would cry while singing the hymns in church. Each time, I would be surprised. Dorky (my dad's mother in CT) always sang an octave lower (which I am now doing) and she would sing out loudly, with tears streaming down her face. Bobbee (my mom’s mom) would start to sniffle somewhere by the first chorus and be searching for a Kleenex and dabbing her eyes for the remainder of the hymn. Each time. Double or triple at Christmas.
And I find myself doing the same.
This morning I lasted until the final hymn, “What wondrous love is this.” I don’t have Dorky’s gift; I lose my voice. John Brogan was next to me this morning, sharing the hymnal. He snuck a glance when my voice dropped off, gave me a kind, knowing smile and kept on singing.
The last line of that hymn this morning was “When from death I’m free, I will sing.” And I think those words hold a lot of what brought my tears this morning. I think some of my crying is about grief: all the deaths, great and small that hold me; the loss of both parents in these past years; my struggles with the church; and the disappointments of things going on these days. All these things are about the tears and more, I suspect. The tears are also about remembered strength: from the communion of saints, from the folks who believe in me, from love of Linda and family and friends.
I give thanks for my grandmothers’ tears, for being able to cry in church, and for John Brogan’s voice that continued on for me.
Broad-picture- wise White Horse Questions were started for me long ago at Illinois State. Across the street from Ham-Whit (our dorm) there was a favorite drinking establishment called The White Horse Inn. We gathered there and at some time during the visit each would grab a white napkin and write a thoughtful or funny question (one per napkin). Then we'd pass the napkins around in our circle--each member would add their answer or idea to the question on that napkin. These were our `Life Questions.'
But personally the joy WH is what happened next after those `life questions’ were passed. They were and are – for me – the wonder of the embodied community.
Most every morning before I roll myself out of bed I think about something I’d like to know more about, or something I wonder what others think about, or something that’s just funny. And soon afterwards I open up Facebook and under my status I write the day’s White Horse Question. And then just wait and see.
More often than not, I am grateful for what happens next. Never in the almost four years that I’ve been doing this has there been the same folks participating each day. With different question, there are different folks chiming in with her/his opinion or response. Sometimes (the best of times) folks begin to get to know one another because of their responses. And that’s the most fun for me. Because I’ve been knowing these folks in different times of my life (kindergarten or Girl Scout camp; KD’s or seminary, family ~ given and chosen) it’s great to see them introduced to one another. And it’s often surprising, because I never would have thought of bringing them together ~ yet here they are. Talking. Listening. Wondering. When folks are introduced and encouraging one another ~ well, it makes my heart sing.
Today’s question is in honor of the Irish ~ an invitation to writing a St. Pat’s Day limerick. Give it a try ~ and welcome to community.
Webster’s dictionary says that it is a journey to a sacred place and that’s the definition that I’m sticking with. It’s that journey of a thousand steps that takes you one step at a time to a place that renews you, that brings you life.
I’m on such a pilgrimage this weekend. My Aunt Cynthia has turned 80 (trust me, it is the new 50) and we have come from the north and the south to the west coast to make toasts and share hugs.
Pilgrimage is about intention. There is the decision to make the trip. Then there is the negotiation about schedules and joining together of all the moving pieces will need to fit into place. There is the notion of the travel and the “how” piece of transportation. There is the journey (by planes, trains and automobiles these days, rather than by foot).
[There was here a grief place for me for this particular pilgrimage. It wasn’t possible for Linda and the boys to make the trip. In my coming, I was leaving them behind –it turns out both the boys were sick, so it wouldn’t have been much a holiday for them. But for this pilgrimage, there is always a looking back ~ celebrating the time here and missing the ones who couldn’t be here with us.]
This pilgrimage for me is to be with my sisters, my aunt and uncle and my dear, precious cousins. How I love them all. Because grace truly abounds, we are celebrating Aunt Cynthia in a humongous beach house just south of Santa Barbara. Winter is giving way to warmer air and the sun is shining. The waves (oh how this central Illinois gal loves the ocean) are amazing. The tides change, the waves move us. When I sit on the deck in the sun and stop to take it all in…the “ahhh” comes and you just know.
Balance. Story. Re-tellings of stories that hold your entire life. Music. Harmony. Laughter. Tears. Pictures. GREAT food. An occasional margarita. Plaid as far as the eye can see J.
The truth is this time of pilgrimage is a precious gift. And this time has been a journey to a sacred place. I have had the gift of journeying to Jerusalem and to Fenway, back to Mattoon and out to Tybee. And this time, this pilgrimage has been such a refreshing, recharging, re-membering time for me.
The next time someone suggests a pilgrimage to you ~ please, please, please say “yes.”
My people come from central Illinois where you can see 3 or 4 or 5 miles out when you’re watching the sunset. And all you see is corn or beans and tree lines out where you’re watching. Late winter was one of my favorite times to watch the sun set back home. There the fields were plowed under and the dark, rich ground dirt showing row after row after row of what was not yet. And the horizon was from north to south colors of blue going down to grey and gently fading into night.
I live now in the forest of Atlanta, in the town of Decatur, in the village of Oakhurst. Here my people are from all over the country and beyond. Some have grown up here, never leaving. Others have come here to go to school (like me) or for a job or a relationship and have decided to stay. Setting down roots are different in the city. The roots are not so much of place, but of people. And as time passes we all change and many of the roots take hold and grow deeper and deeper.
Time is different here than there. Rush hours rob me of the sunsets that used to help me know what time of day and time of year it was. Instead each night as I’m making my way home, I’ll drive miles out of my way (3 or 4 or 5 miles) to not have to wait at an impossible stoplight. Waiting in a line of cars fences me in ~ in ways that fences never could. It’s where I’m from, I guess. Instead of tree lines, there are story lines that hold me in place and bring me my bearings.
These winter-coming-into-spring-nights make me miss those Illinois sunsets. Those colors filling the sky. Watching my breath in that cold air. I will always carry that place inside me, never losing sight of the rows and tree lines. What was, what is and what will be ~ places, people, story.
Working in Family Experience at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, Lesley is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. A Candler School of Theology graduate, Lesley has just published her second book, Grief and the Psalms: Companioning the Moon for 29 Days (available on this website). She and her partner, Linda Ellis are raising their two sons, Brogan and Sam in Decatur, GA.