Last Monday, as I drove to the hospital to turn in my pager and badge now that my very last on-call evening and holiday shifts were complete, I received a phone call from a parishioner. Her husband, diagnosed with Alzheimer’s 10 years ago, was dying. In the parking lot of a brewery, waiting to go in for our December Nashville Girls’ Pint Out meeting, I ran over things with the senior warden, trying to figure out if there was anything I could do. Then leaving, a friend shared the exciting news of an impending engagement. The parishioner’s husband died late that night.
Tuesday was our Fresh Start meeting of clergy in new calls and a site of fruitful and helpful conversation and fellowship. Wednesday was a flurry of funeral planning and church work before our budget review at the vestry meeting. The good news: highest pledges that the church has seen in years. Thursday was breakfast with my Divinity School girlfriends and a diocesan clergywomen lunch.
And then Friday. I was thankful that the funeral had kept me from writing my Sunday sermon because it would’ve had to be torn up and thrown away to account for the tragic deaths of 26 people, 20 of them schoolchildren. I cried, not only for those children, but for all the children and their families I carry with me from my time as a chaplain resident. I cried for the patients my husband is taking care in the trauma ICU this month and our sad, broken world. It felt wrong to get dressed up to head out to two holiday parties, but it was also good to be around laughter and joy.
Saturday, I officiated my very first funeral and was deeply humbled by the experience and deeply thankful for the Book of Common Prayer. To celebrate resurrection in the face of death, to have more hope than the world thinks is reasonable, is a challenge, particularly in Advent, particularly staring at the large bulk of the casket covered with the shiny white pall. And then that hope was made manifest in Italian food and wine with wonderful former classmates of mine - talk of dreams and red lipstick and grieving and celebration.
That night I dreamed of good and evil, action for life coupled with action for death, all entwined together. I dreamed of wholeness and completion, my ministry standing in the middle of celebration and mourning, holding the two in tension, like we do in the burial liturgy. Life is complicated. Life is both/and. Life is gray and magenta and green, not just black and white. We are saints and sinners, gloriously and utterly human.
The liturgy on the second Sunday of Advent was a mess. Nothing really happened like I wanted it to. The lighting of the Advent wreath was bumpy and awkward, and the acolyte waited too long to start processing at the end of the service. Afterward, someone came up and said, “Thank you for such a beautiful service.” I nearly laughed until I saw that she was serious. Thanks be to God for beauty in the breakdown, for light in the darkness, for hope in the midst of grief.