When Oliver was young I taught a preparation class for Baptism at my parish. I find the Baptism of a child to be a chance for parents, godparents, and other family members to renew their own Baptismal vows and start their life in Christ anew. It is an exciting time that we rightly celebrate as a Christian community. That God allows us to hit the reset button as often as needed is at the heart of grace. Whenever we enter the season of Lent, we again are presented with the opportunity of preparing ourselves for a new life as experienced in the resurrection of Jesus.
It is easy at Lent to focus on what we give up in preparation for Easter. As a Catholic, I’ll be asked to fast a couple of days, abstain from meat on Fridays, and chose something of my own that I want to give up (my first-grade catechism class voted that I give up cookies). We are also encouraged to do something positive, perhaps in our personal faith and/or in our community. But, really, this is not so difficult. They are closer to symbolic acts signifying that we are choosing to suffer in some way.
For people in grief, symbolic acts are not necessary. We feel the dryness of the desert and the thirst that cannot be quenched in the loss of the one we love. At times, we feel lost in the wilderness.
Like my wife and me, Jennifer Hubbard has lost a six-year-old child, although in a dramatically different way. While we watched our son suffer for nearly three years and were with him when he died, Hubbard said goodbye to her little girl, Catherine, one morning at Sandy Hook Elementary School where the child was shot and killed along with 19 of her classmates and six adults. Hubbard understands the desert of grief.
In an article with the National Catholic Register in 2012, Hubbard talks in Lenten language. “In retrospect, faith is this transformative process where we grow closer to God. For me, that moment of truth was when we hit rock bottom as a family, as a mother, as people having lost a person that we loved so very, very dearly. In that rock-bottomness, that quiet reflective time is where your faith begins to grow — if you allow it. Over the past five years, I found that transformation comes not at dark moments, but in that quiet and stillness.”
Over the past five years, I found that transformation comes not at dark moments, but in that quiet and stillness.”Jennifer Hubbard
It is important to note that it was not in the tragedy that her faith was changed, but in the “quiet and stillness.” In the same way, when Oliver died, our transformation was not in that moment, but in the time that followed. After a death the grieving will often (hopefully) find themselves surrounded and uplifted by others. But after some time, as is to be expected, that focused support fades away and we are left alone. In “quiet and stillness.” In those moments we are transformed, but there is no roadmap for how we’ll be transformed. I find God more clearly in these quiet and still times when the whisper of God can be heard. We can follow that whisper out of the desert into the glory of the Easter promise. Or, in these quiet and still moments, we can stop listening and choose to continue wandering the desert.
In Philippians 3:10-11, Paul (and Timothy) writes “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.” Paul knows that faith in Christ calls not just for glory but the suffering that allows us to prepare for that glory. Those in grief know suffering and know that God has also suffered for our sake. Our God does not avoid suffering, but embraces it with us. As Christ suffered, we suffer. And, then, as Paul says, “somehow,” because it truly defies reason, we all attain “the resurrection from the dead.”
So, let us view our grief as part of the 40 days in the desert, preparing us for the promise of Easter. We must also recognize that these days in the desert offer us the chance to be transformed, but, like Jesus, that is a choice we make in the midst of stillness and quiet.