Last weekend was a time of remembrance, wrapped around the twin feasts of All Saints and All Souls. At my church, we gathered in the darkness of Saturday night to name our dead, to lay them one more time into the hands of God, to remind ourselves that even our darkest losses are encompassed by God’s deep compassion and grace. Sitting quietly, chanting, many parishioners had tears streaming down their faces, waiting until their loved ones were named before they came forward and loving, reverently, kindled a candle of prayer, while we all sang, Within our darkest night, you kindle a fire that never dies away.
Sunday was jubilant, with the baptisms and drums and people singing, but it ended, for me, at our quiet 5:30 service, where something extraordinary happened. A woman came to worship whose husband had recently died, and she offered to sing for us. We gathered around the altar, passing the bread and the cup, and around us she wove the words of a contemporary song:
Lately, I’ve been winning battles left and right
But even winners can get wounded in the fight
People say that I’m amazing strong beyond my years
But they don’t see inside of me, I’m hiding all the tears
They don’t know that I go running home when I fall down
They don’t know who picks me up when no one is around
I drop my sword and cry for just a while
‘Cause deep inside this armor the warrior is a child.
Cause deep inside this armor the warrior is a child. The words spoke to me of how vulnerable many of us feel much of the time. We carry on our daily lives, more or less, putting one foot in front of another, meeting our obligations (mostly), savoring our time with those we love; it is hard to see and to remember that almost every person we meet is struggling with something, carrying some burden that is almost too heavy to be borne.
One of the great things about being a pastor is being able to see that. By the time you’ve been in a congregation for a year, you know many of the stories of the people you see on Sunday mornings. You can see the great strength and courage that quite ordinary men and women embrace each morning when they get out of bed and open their doors and go about their lives, in spite of it all. We see it in the pages of the paper after a great storm, but it is all around us, every day.
Remember those images this week, while you pray for the people of the Philippines. Remember the courage they are showing, even amid their fear and loss, and remember, too, that there are people in the house just down the street from you whose courage would move you as deeply, if only you had eyes to see it. And remember that in all our darkness, still, the light shines, and the darkness has not overcome it.
If I had one thing to say to each person each day, it might be this: Be gentle with one another. We are each in need of more kindness than you can image. And be reverent. You are surrounded by living icons of courage and grace. Take off your shoes. The stuff of your daily life is holy ground.