That’s Heaven to Me…

“There is sorrow. There is always sorrow.”  That is the firm teaching that one of my oldest and wisest mentors once told me, as I prepared to finish my seminary education and transition from ‘laity’ to ‘ordained clergy’. He was not trying to be harsh, or demeaning, or even scare me away; he was being honest – brutally honest – in order that I might somehow be prepared. I wasn’t. I was not until I endured it, until it became the pattern of my life.

My transitions, the accompanying sorrow, have never really stopped from the moment when Archbishop Gundry laid his hands upon my head and breathed over me the power of God. In some respects it has even gotten a little more intense with the passage of time. I often say that being a priest is always saying goodbye. At times, it has called me to stay put in a place where I disdained greatly, or to leave a place that I loved immensely, or to bid farewell to someone I loved deeply. You see, I have learned that God’s time is almost never our time.

These past few months I have endured the greatest challenges in my priesthood by way of transitions. The loss of good friends. The death of my father. The illness of my mother. The burying of Father Joe. The transition of Archbishop Cass. The welcoming of Bishop Gregory as Presiding Bishop, and back home to Bishop Ken as part of our ministry team. The letting go of my home, and even the loss of my aquarium that I had cared for now for some six years; some of those fish were a mere quarter inch or less and now, as they left my door for the last time, were upwards of almost 10”! Silly, huh?  Well, for some, but for me… it is yet another image, and perhaps metaphor, of letting go and allowing sorrow to mold me into a better human being. A stronger priest. A more compassionate pastor.

I suppose there is nothing inherently tragic in losing a fish tank or even about an elderly parent dying, but for me they are reminders of significant loss. Yes, my dad lived well and long, and burying parents is a principal duty of children in every culture and of every age.  And, I know that the selling of a home, even when you give it all away, is not of any noteworthiness I suppose to most people. But we feel these losses, even though they are natural and normal. We miss our dads, our former homes, neighbors, friends, classmates, school chums, and our pets. We grieve our childhood home, friends who have hurt us, people in authority who have let us down. And sometimes we weep over bigger, truly tragic events — a typhoon’s destruction, children murdered in their school, terrorists and plagues, and a society that seems off its rails.

But all of this is part of life. Real life in all its dimensional glory and sorrow. I am reminded of how the Gospel of Matthew doesn’t hesitate to include it even at Christmastime. In a very matter-of-fact way, the Apostle says that King Herod slaughtered all the boys two years and younger in Bethlehem and its vicinity. Indeed, in his zeal to show that every event of Jesus’ nativity was a fulfillment of scripture, Matthew writes that even the screams of their disconsolate mothers were foretold. “Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah,” he writes. “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”  That could be the parents of Newtown, or the 234 kidnapped girls of Nigeria; it could be family of Robin Williams, or any of the hostages beheaded by ISOL. It could be the families of the victims of the train crash in Philadelphia, or the airliners missing in Malaysia, or the Ebola victims and Emanuel Nine. And, yes, perhaps no where near as dramatically, that could be you — or me — as we, too, have had many occasions to lament, to weep, to hold our heads in our hands.

Our holy and sacred scripture confirms that the world is often full of pain and sorrow and misunderstandings, misgivings. The innocent suffer, the needy go hungry, the good die, and the wicked often seem to flourish, and there are no ready or healthy explanations to satisfy us. But I still hang on to this hope: In the end, the Son of God, the One whom we follow, He who we worship and adore, the Broken Lamb, that One…HE will make all things right and all matters good. I hold onto those famous words from the Book of Revelation: “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain.”

You, me, all who ever were, those yet to be, and those who simply are…together, face-to-face with God. That makes all of those losses worth it. It brings renewed joy to my letting go, and hope to my sorrow. It sounds like heaven to me.