Then Job answered: 2“Today also my complaint is bitter; his hand is heavy despite my groaning. 3Oh, that I knew where I might find him, that I might come even to his dwelling! 4I would lay my case before him, and fill my mouth with arguments. 5I would learn what he would answer me, and understand what he would say to me. 6Would he contend with me in the greatness of his power? No; but he would give heed to me. 7There an upright person could reason with him, and I should be acquitted forever by my judge.
8“If I go forward, he is not there; or backward, I cannot perceive him; 9on the left he hides, and I cannot behold him; I turn to the right, but I cannot see him. 16God has made my heart faint; the Almighty has terrified me; 17If only I could vanish in darkness, and thick darkness would cover my face! (Job 23:1-9, 16-17).
Over the last three and one-half months I have become increasingly aware of just how much grief and loss this parish has suffered and how difficult those three and one-half months have been. In that short time we have had five deaths of our friends, family, and parishioners. Lewis, Warren, Henry Charles, Clay, and Brandon. That is a lot of death and sorrow, a lot of pain and tears. Many of us are left with unresolved feelings and a multitude of questions:
- What do I do next?
- Where do I go now?
- How do I – or even, will I ever – live, love, laugh again?
I am also aware that the names I just listed are the more visible and public losses and sorrows. I suspect many, maybe most of you, could name your own deaths, losses, pains, and sadness. Some of them are recent experiences and some you have carried for years. Some of them other people know about and some are known to you alone. They may not be as public or visible as the ones I just named but they are just as real.
Like Job our complaint is bitter and the hand of God is heavy on us. I am always amazed by and grateful for how the lectionary fits the reality of life. They may not be words that I want to hear but almost always they are words that I need to hear. And today we hear Job wrestling with the question, “Where is God?” The haunting words of Psalm 22, today’s appointed psalm, only intensify that question.
My God, my God why have you forsaken me?And are so far from my cry and from the words of my distress? (Psalm 22:1).
Like Job, we are tempted to go looking for God – to lay our case before him, fill our mouths with arguments, learn what he would answer us, and understand what we would say to us (Job 23:4-5). Yet no matter where Job goes he does not find God. Listen to what Job says:
If I go forward, he is not there; or backward, I cannot perceive him; on the left he hides, and I cannot behold him; I turn to the right, but I cannot see him (Job 23:8-9).
To run away searching is in some way to run away from God who is always already there in the pain and sorrow of life. Job begins to realize he must abandon his searching. He must abandon his searching for answers, abandon searching for ways to fix it and make everything better, and even abandon his searching for God. Ultimately he cries out: “If only I could vanish in darkness, and thick darkness would cover my face” (Job 23:17).
His cry is the cry of abandonment. It is not the cry of one who has been abandoned; but the cry of one who abandons and surrenders himself to God. Job does what the man in today’s gospel (Mark 10:17-31) is unable to do – he offers all that he is and all that he has to God, to Christ. That is our work.
We who have known the losses and sorrows of life – whether they are of the last three and one-half months, three and one-half years, or three and one-half decades – have much to offer: tears, sadness, fears, loss, anger, questions, loneliness, emptiness, the deep longing that things would be different. These offerings are our prayers of surrender and abandonment, the path into that holy and sacred darkness, the luminous darkness that is God himself.
My belief and hope is that in this moment of surrender we are freed and enabled to hear anew the deeper, quieter, and often forgotten part of Psalm 22:
Yet you are he who took me out of the womb and kept me safe upon my mother’s breast. I have been entrusted to you ever since I was born; you were my God when I was still in my mother’s womb. (Psalm 22:10-11).
So we must abandon ourselves to the darkness of that sacred womb from which new life, new creation, new love, new possibilities are born. I cannot tell you how that happens or what that might mean or look like for me or you individually or for us as a parish. I just do not know. Last week, a day or so before Brandon’s funeral, someone asked me, “So what’s the answer?” I said, “I have no answers.” “But you’re the priest,” he said, “you’re supposed to have the answers.” “I have no answers,” I said again.
Today I still do not have the answers. But I believe with all my heart, and I am absolutely convinced, that “for God all things are possible” (Mark 10:27).
I stand with you, without answers, but in sure and certain hope.
your sister, Jennifer
Jennifer, I am grateful for your continued presence. Sometimes to stand, watch, and wait – to vigil – is all we can do. Peace, Mike
I know today was hard for you, and I prayed constantly for you during the service, and will continue to, each and every day. I know the sadness and sense of loss is so deep for all of you now. Please know I care deeply for all of you and want to give back only a small portion of what I have recieved from you. As always, even in sadness,loss,and struggles you continue to teach us through example. I feel so blessed to be a part of your story at St. Phillip’s.
Janice, thank you for your gentle presence and continued prayers. Mike
Mike, thanks for the insights into Job, always one of the Bible’s most intractable parts for me. You and your family have been much in my prayers over the last week and will remain so.
Joe, thank you for your prayers and presence. Mike
Thank you, dear Mike, for how you continue to walk the walk amidst the pain and sorrow that you are experiencing and speak the words of faith and wisdom that come with the walk. My prayers continue for you and Cyndy.
Thank you, Jan, for your prayers. Mike
Mike, I am always learning from you…i see God in your strenght at this time…praying for Cyndy & you daily…love
Thank you! It is a blessing to me what you write. Please pray for us in Venezuela.
My mom died (04/08/2009) my dad died (09/17/2004) as well as my father in law before we got married. One of my first cousins died in a plane crash (1993). Out of four sisters, two have left Venezuela. I only pray, work hard for my children. We live in a dictatorial regime. Please pray for us in Venezuela. Thank you…
I pray everyday for the peace of the world and will remember you and your family.