In the days after my grandmother died, my aunts introduced me to Iris DeMent's song “Let the Mystery Be." As is true for many people, from the early years of Christian faith, the loss of one dear to me sparked wonderings about what happens after death. I have fuzzy, 15-year-old memories of one of my aunts thinking aloud about the possibility of reincarnation, and older family members assuring us all that my grandmother was sitting at the feet of Jesus.
A member of the congregation I serve died this week. It was fitting. The shadows of death linger about us this week. Like Peter, warming his hands by the blazing fire, trying to hide and catch glimpses of what Jesus suffered, I stood at the edge of the Holy Week shadows, watching for this central drama of mortality to unfold.
Years of experience don’t ease the journey toward a family waiting in an ICU. We pastors feel terribly inadequate, and at the same time incredibly grateful that the vocation allows us into the most intimate situations.
To understand what I am going to tell you, you need to know that my parents were scientists and that my mother’s mind had a decidedly unpoetic bent. Nonetheless, they read me poems from the time I was very young because they paid attention to what gladdened my spirit.
A recent episode of PBS’s American Experience explored how the massive number of deaths in the Civil War sent the nation into shock. The catastrophe—750,000 dead—was equivalent to the U.S. suffering 7 million deaths today. Besides evoking this ghastly experience, Ric Burns’s film Death and the Civil War (reviewed here in the New York Times), which is based on Drew Gilpin’s book The Republic of Suffering, offers a fascinating perspective on current political debates over the size and scope of the federal government.