Yesterday, I spent the day with my sisters. We try to arrange a “sister day” once per month, though we’re not always successful in this regard. My mom enjoyed lifelong relationships with her sisters, so I suppose this propensity to remain close comes naturally to us. I vividly recall sitting on the fringes of their conversations as a child. My mom and her sisters felt free to share their greatest joys and their deepest concerns with one another. I eventually came to appreciate that there was something sacred about these moments of sharing. This realization compelled me to stop repeating things which had earned me the title of “Little Big Ears.” I learned to treasure the things my mom and my aunts shared. Sometimes, I secretly rejoiced over their news. Sometimes, I cried myself to sleep for them as I prayed fervently that God would take their troubles away.
When my sisters and I are together, we take our sharing to heart as well. Yesterday, my recently widowed sister explained life in the wake of her husband’s passing. Though she and her husband knew that his days were numbered and though he often teased about his imminent demise, this loss has been difficult on many levels. When I got around to my prayers last night, I found myself focused upon this sister and then the rest of my family. Once again, I celebrated the joys and prayed fervently that God would address the troubles of the important people in my life. Once again, I came to appreciate the sacred nature of our relationships with those we’ve been given to love. No wonder loss is so difficult for us.
Unfortunately, loss is a reality of this life. Loss occurs in relationships cut short by a misunderstanding or a move. Loss comes in the passing of our loved ones, no matter how expected their departures may be. The loss of the comfort of a long marriage, even when the choice to divorce is mutual, leaves one seemingly without orientation. The loss of a familiar workplace or neighborhood brings heartache, even when the choice to retire or to move on is our own. When we find ourselves at odds with an institution which once felt as comfortable as home, we find ourselves at a loss as well, adrift at sea without an anchor. Feelings of abandonment and loneliness, hopelessness and solitude consume us in the midst of our losses, and it seems no one and nothing can fill the emptiness within us. Jesus addresses these feelings of loneliness when he promises, “I will not leave you orphans…”
In today’s passage from John’s gospel (John 14:15-21), the evangelist seems to gather what he feels are the most important of Jesus’ teachings and to place them where we cannot miss them. During the Easter Season, we attend closely to these writings because they get to the heart of what matters. As John tells it, Jesus spends his last precious hours with the disciples sharing what is most important to him -the promise of his continued presence among them. Afterward, the disciples abandon Jesus during his passion and leave him to endure a forsaken criminal’s death on the cross. Still, Jesus returns to assure his friends that they are not left orphans. Later, when God’s Spirit fills them up and underscores Jesus’ message, Peter, John and the rest finally understand the reality of God’s enduring presence in their lives. They risk life and limb to spread this good news because they can’t help themselves. Jesus had spent three years among them responding to every soul in need, sharing God’s love, God’s presence and God’s promise of life after this life. Now that they understand, how can the disciples do otherwise?
I’m most grateful that when we face loss in our lives, we don’t face our sorrow alone. We find ourselves embraced in those sacred moments of sharing. Sometimes, they come in human form… through the voice of a knowing friend; in the song of a mother who will love her child forever; in an artist’s rendition of our weakest selves embraced by those wonderful arms; in the kindness of a colleague who takes over simply because she is needed; in the parents and grandparents, spouses and significant others, sisters, brothers and friends who teach us to hold onto one another in the best and worst of times. Sometimes, these sacred moments come in the reassurance we find in the depths of our own hearts.
God’s Holy Spirit convinced the disciples –and hopefully has convinced us– that we survive loss in our lives because we aren’t alone. Even when we lose the person most dear to us, God transforms the orphans within us into the beloved children we are meant to be.
©2011 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved