image: Evelyn Bertrand


On Ash Wednesday, I shared a short meditation on my relationship with death and promised to share, over the Lenten season, a few touch-points in that history.

This is the 5th installment.

I keep thinking about the way people who had been with Jesus for years didn’t recognize him after his resurrection.
Mary thought he was the gardener.
Peter and a few of the twelve spoke with him for several minutes before one of them finally realized who they were talking to.
And of course, most famously, those two nameless souls, walking along the road to Emmaus,
Who realized it was Jesus right before he disappeared.

“Didn’t our hearts burn within us…?” They asked in retrospect, hoping what had happened was real.

…and I realize I’m writing about Bible stories right now because I don’t want to write this piece.
Which, I know, means I need to.
That’s what artists and art-coaches say, right?
“Write what scares you.”

… and so my mind scurries off…

I keep remembering the funeral services I’ve attended featuring open caskets.
“That didn’t look like the person I knew.”
Something about the ongoing process of death (including the moments that make up a funeral service,…
because that person’s death now lives and grows in the hearts and minds of those in attendance)
renders the body of the beloved unrecognizable
save for a few, distinguishing traits.

for instance…

I remember Jenny didn’t look like Jenny.
She was 16.
One of my Young Life kids.
When her mom brought her to her first Young Life club, she told us Jenny might not make it through the end of her Junior year.
That made no sense to me.
And while I’d never have had the audacity to actually say “Teenagers don’t die,”
something like that lived in my mind.
Jenny didn’t make it through the end of her Junior year.
And when I walked to the end of the aisle, Jenny didn’t look like Jenny
because not even the resilience of teen youth can resist the transformation death brings with it.

Maybe that was what happened on the road to Emmaus.
Maybe they didn’t know how to recognize death.
Maybe they didn’t know how to look at New Life.
Maybe they couldn’t tell the difference.
Maybe they couldn’t tell where death ended and new life began.

But that’s not the story I don’t want to tell…
I hate that story… but Jenny’s story is easier for me to tell
than the story in which I lost my Church family.

I lost my Church Family.
and maybe that’s the whole story…

But I keep thinking about this book I’d written a few years ago
about belonging and community.
CMYK. Print-color process. Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black… and the way all these elements needed one-another and the way that, when working together, those elements combined to provide a full-color picture of Life. The book is/was (I can’t tell the difference right now) a series of letters I’d written to people I’d journeyed with as a pastor and friend.

… this is where I take really deep breath,… because…

I don’t talk to almost any of those people anymore
save for a few, occasional moments.

I lost my Church Family.
We called ourselves “Shelter.”

And here I am,
Holy Week…
and I don’t have any idea what resurrection looks like in my everyday life
And I don’t know if I’m just staring at death
and pretending it isn’t what I know it is.

Meanwhile, what I know for sure
is that the Body I am looking at
doesn’t look like the Body I knew.

I still believe the things I believed when I wrote that book; that life is Designed to be lived together,
and that living together is hard
and that it takes more work than anyone plans to put in,
And that real faith is what I do, regardless of what I think…

I just don’t know what that actually looks like.

And I suppose it’s ironic that one of the opening chapters to that book is a letter to a young man who, in the wake of losing his first child, told me he believed all the same things …

… that God is good
… that God is loving

but that he didn’t know what those things meant anymore.

And that’s something death does; not so much remove or destroy the things we believe…
Death forces us to reconsider what we actually mean by believing the things we believe.
Which is to say,.. death forces us to reconsider everything. Because,..

Everything dies.
People die.
Kids die.
Teenagers die, Justin.
Children die.
Innocents die.
Good people die.
Whole communities die,…
good communities among them.

Part of me thought it was brave to write all this… to “face death” this Lent, living in the shadow of this particular death. But this is the thing I was after all along. This is the story I didn’t want to tell.

I am not brave.
I don’t want to look death in the eye
because I can’t see myself when I do.
And I can’t really see myself right now;
Not the way I wrote about when I believed/knew I belonged.

Right now, I don’t recognize myself in my hometown.
And when I see the faces of the people I think of
As sisters
As brothers
I can’t tell the diffidence between life and death.
i don’t have the wisdom to discern the difference

All i have right now is this burning in my heart,…
and the hope that what happened was real.



Author, Songwriter, Advocate. Life works best from the ground up.

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