God is Close to the Brokenhearted: A Lenten Meditation
“Our God is close to the brokenhearted;and those who are crushed in spirit God saves.” Psalm 34:19
I am indeed brokenhearted and crushed in spirit by the suffering and death of my beloved partner in life and ministry for almost thirty years, Pastor Judy Beaumont,RCWP,Co-Pastor of our Good Shepherd Inclusive Catholic Community. I know she is experiencing a glorious Easter with Christ in the love and light of God. That brings comfort but still the feelings of hurt and let down and loss are so great. the Good Friday of suffering and death loom before us. We prayed for life until it was clear that death was preferred to living in great suffering. We had prayed for life. We eventually prayed for death as release-we got death.
I struggle with this brokenness and feeling of being crushed every day. I cry when I least expect to cry. I cry on waking and sleeping, taking a walk or trying to do the financial things she did for us, I can’t even cook eggs the way she liked them let alone a meal. Yesterday on TV there was a lot of talk about “March Madness” and making the brackets for the Basketball championships. I cried like a baby because Judy had said” I want to live ’til March Madness!” And, she didn’t even get to do that. Although she had just made it to her 80th Birthday in December, she was not even near being “old” until AML Leukemia hit her hard. She appeared many years younger than that as her vitality and energy were strong until quite a while after this initially hit. She fought hard for life. She continued to serve and love God’s most broken people until the end. And she loved her women’s basketball enough to set March Madness as a goal. Her suffering felt “unjust” and this tiny wish was not granted. And yet we both continued to believe in a God of love and justice. And we both had to face that suffering and death are not always just/fair or easy, but just inevitable. Faith or no faith, Pastor or layperson, grappling with suffering and great personal loss is a time when beliefs may be sorely challenged-and when hearts are broken and life feels crushed.
“Brokenhearted” and “crushed in spirit” are good ways to describe the mourning process for one’s beloved-partner, spouse, child, Aunt, Uncle, sister, brother,parent,friend, companion, human or animal-for one who is as dear as life and sorely missed. God is close to those of us who mourn deeply. And that is because God’s own heart has been broken. Our Lenten journey leads to the Cross. Easter will follow, but first there is the cross. God did not save Jesus from the cross, but raised him afterward. God allowed Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross-“allowed”- didn’t interfere-not because God couldn’t but because God didn’t. It seems to me that God has given us the resources to be life giving and then leaves it up to us. In our own lives we still pray for miracles, and sometimes they happen, but when they don’t God is still there-close. How God could allow the cross (the most horrific death of the day) and how God must have shared Mary’s tears and the disciple’s tears on that day. How God shared Jesus excruciating pain and suffering on that day. How God’s heart was broken in every rejection of Jesus that led up to his passion. We know that Jesus wept for Jerusalem, for God’s people, and I believe that God wept for Jerusalem, and for all of God’s beloved people everywhere who turn away or don’t “get it”, that is God’s great love, and I believe God wept when Jesus suffered and died. Even as Jill, Judy’s beloved sister, and I cried as Judy died, God was close, perhaps crying too- but taking her home where she would be free of suffering and pain. I always wondered why we called the cross Jesus’ passion until I understood that “pati” in Latin means suffering. Compassion-com-pati means “with suffering” or “co-suffering” in Latin. And sometimes we suffer for and with love so passion also has to do with love. We are asked to be people of compassion and we know that suffering and being with people who are suffering is a part of that love.
I have been sent so many loving messages of condolence that I can hardly say thank you to all who sent them. But I am thankful for the words of love and understanding. The heartfelt words of loved ones and friends,the wise words of Joan Chittister, O.S.B and Joyce Rupp (May You Find Comfort) and others are especially good. “May you believe in your ability to eventually heal from your loss,no matter how much loneliness or desolation you now experience” says Rupp. At least the depth of loneliness and desolation are universal and acknowledged. But it was in a “secular” and rather light novel that words finally got through to me. In Debbie Macomber’s “The Trouble with Angels” there is a character, Pastor Paul Morris, who experiences a crisis of faith as his heart is broken and life crushed at the suffering and loss of his beloved wife to cancer. While I have a hard time identifying with or enjoying the happily- ever- after matchmaking in Macomber’s novels I admit that “happy endings” are sometimes a relief and so I read the book. But I sort of flipped through it until Pastor Paul’s struggle hit home like a ton of bricks. His faith, despair and bitterness is spelled out in many ways. Ultimately, Pastor Paul had to assist an elderly couple, Bernard and Madge, where the wife was dying of a similar cancer to Paul’s wife. It was almost too hard for him. I will save some of the punchline in case you read it, but as Madge, a woman of strong faith, is very close to dying she tells Paul that in dying she will be welcomed even as she welcomed her adopted daughter into her home and family, and that she will be healed at last, and that Paul’s wife Barbara is healed-there is no cancer in heaven. Paul reflected that Barbara was indeed free and whole and alive and he was “bound,tied up in doubts,choking on skepticism,gagging on all the trite phrases good people of God had force-fed him.” For him faith and despair became so alike that he could no longer tell the difference. Yet the words “she is healed” brought an epiphany to him. And, in a way, to me as well.
I think also of the recent killing, random shooting by assault rifle, of seventeen high school students,teachers and staff, here in Parkland Florida by a young man with mental illness. I think of the pain of those young people and adults, and of their seventeen families ,friends and community. The coach who was killed died trying to save others as did at least one of the other students.I think of the young man who did it who wants the death penalty taken off the table. I think of the vengeful barbarism of a death penalty. I think of all those who hurt and need forgiveness and peace. I think of personal hurting and of societal hurting, I think of sin and God’s love. And I think of the movement for gun control and against gun violence that students throughout the nation are now taking leadership in birthing. Here I see life after death.
One also may be brokenhearted and crushed at the loss of a just cause. One can mourn for a lost “cause”- justice, peace,racial,class,gender equality, inclusion for all people including the angriest and the mentally ill,for the loss of that which is one’s very life and yet apparently lost. Surely, Ghandi, Martin Luther King Jr., Congresswoman Gabby Giffords who stood against gun violence after being shot and almost killed herself,and Jesus, yes, Jesus, felt that at times the cause for which they lived was truly lost. The lenten readings this week show the injustice of the treatment Jesus received at the hands of the religious and glimpses into how he dealt with this unjust response to his life and ministry. He did what he was compelled to do by Love-like sharing God’s love for the world;healing the man born blind on the Sabbath;healing the son of a non-Jew a ” royal official” who had faith; healing the crippled man on the Sabbath and breaking another Sabbath Law against work on the Sabbath by also instructing the man to “take up his mat and walk”;calling God his beloved Father and acknowledging that he does all by God’s power. Jesus fled to the Galilee to avoid the hatred he received in Judea but even there he was besieged by accusation and religiosity that missed the mark of Love and justice. He then went to Judea, ostensibly for the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles, but actually he walked toward his final rejection and crucifixion. How hard that walk, for him for his Abba God. He could not have made that walk at all, except he knew deeply: our God is close to the broken-hearted and the crushed in spirit.
So as we walk toward those things that are most difficult for us, let us join Jesus in knowing deep in our souls: God is close to the brokenhearted.
Blessings to all who mourn, and blessings to all who live Jesus and who live justice as Jesus did. Amen.
Rev. Dr.Judy Lee, RCWP
Pastor Good Shepherd Inclusive Catholic Community, Fort Myers, Florida