Three days

Cathy and Mommy's headstones 2014

March 24 was this past Tuesday, and it marked the second anniversary of Cathy’s brutal, inhuman exit from this world. Sally and Susan had asked us Omaha siblings to put some flowers at her cemetery marker that day. Mike, Jana and I, along with Barb, did just that. It was cold and rainy, but we put a beautiful small bouquet in the vase by Mommy’s stone (soon it will be between the two matching stones). Mike brought some of Cathy’s own stones which were precious to her, and some sage, which we burned. I reminded him that in the church when incense is burned, it is a fragrant representation of our prayers rising to God in heaven.

We each prayed in our own way that day. And we took pictures and shared them with Sally and Susan and George. As I have said, we once were seven even if now we are only six.

The picture above is from last year when we began this new, poignant tradition. Year one, and now year two; next year will mark three years.

But standing there in the chilly misty air, I was again struck by the dates on the stones: Cathy’s death was on March 24 and Mommy’s was on March 27.

Three days.

It took me back to 1966, when I was seven years old and we had said good-bye to Mommy at the mortuary as they closed her casket. I can still see Daddy kissing her good-bye one more time.

I don’t remember the funeral at all. But I remember, a spring day after the funeral. Mommy’s rosebush was blooming so it must have been many weeks later, May or June, and not the chilly spring days of late March or early April. The bush by the front door was covered in those tiny pink roses and I picked some. I broke some small limbs off the yews that were planted across the front of the house, and I made a little floral altar where I could pray. I can remember this all so clearly, just like it happened this past Tuesday, but it was 49 years ago.

Genuflecting in front of my little homemade altar, I prayed:

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Dear God. You brought your son Jesus back to life after three days. Would you please just bring Mommy back like that?

Here we are now in 2015 coming into Holy Week. Palm Sunday is three days from now. Maundy Thursday is three days from then. And then Easter, three days later.

Three days.

In the hymnal,  it goes like this:

  • All Glory, Laud and Honor
  • O Sacred Head, Now Wounded
  • Christ the Lord Is Risen Today!

And as I look at the twin headstones and see the three days there (47 years apart) separating the end dates of two women whom I have loved and who loved me, I have to pause here in that middle place. I have to get through Maundy Thursday and O Sacred Head, Now Wounded. I can’t leap from the joy of life to the joy of resurrection without walking through the suffering and death of the cross.

Yes, I have to go through. But…I can’t stop there. The deaths of Mommy and Cathy have colored and shaped my life, just as the death of Jesus has. I have mourned, I do mourn and I will mourn.

But oh, that third day – Resurrection Sunday – is where my victory is. And it is where Mommy’s is and Cathy’s is as well. And so I will celebrate their lives and I will find joy there.

Christ the Lord is risen today! The third day.

Amen.

Torn

I am a liberal in a conservative state. I am a pacifist who abhors violence. I think the death penalty is wrong. And I believe that my faith informs those places where I stand. I was raised a Roman Catholic but am a member of a reformed church in a quarreling denomination. To use Brian McLaren’s words, I have a “generous orthodoxy.”

And today I am torn.

I have said it before and I will say it again, I believe every human – every human – is made in the image of God. There is a reflection of the divine in each of us. I also believe we each have the capacity to hurt one another. Horribly. We covet what is not ours and take it. We wield power at the expense of those with less. We waste. We ruin. We kill. It happens all over the world and it happens because people who were created in that precious and beautiful image of God also have free will, and we exercise it. And God does not violate it.

I am torn because in the midst of what is happening in the world today and has happened in my own family in the past year, my belief that we are all capable of good is being challenged, that there are people who deserve to die.

Cathy smiling down at her nephew, Jared who was just four years old.My baby sister Cathy was raped and murdered in Riverside, California, on March 24, 2013. That was Palm Sunday when we were all singing “Hallelujahs” and waving our palm branches to begin Holy Week. Cathy was 48 years old. It was a horrible, horrible crime committed by a man with a long record of mental illness and criminal acts. My remaining sisters and I are heading out for what may be the only hearing he receives; there has been none to date. We will be invited to give victim impact statements and I have been weighing what words of forgiveness I can offer this man to be a good example to others of Christ’s example to me. But my mind wants to overrule my heart and my conscience and just let him know my hate and my hurt and that of my family and that as he killed Cathy, he should also be killed. Executed.

I am torn.

The news of what is happening in Syria and Iraq and Lebanon, the relentless murdering quest of ISIS to establish their obscene caliphate over the dead bodies of those they deem infidel and apostate has completely messed with my desire for peace through diplomacy. Last night I just wanted to bomb them back to the hell they came from. I want to beg forgiveness from people I know in Iraq who are now suffering even worse consequences from our 2003 invasion. Why they would ever let me in their homes, I don’t know, but they have. I sit here in Omaha on a sunny day in the peace of an air-conditioned building and thousands of them are trapped on a mountain in 130 degree heat watching their children die of thirst and exposure. And I am grateful that we have dropped bombs on the jihadis who have trapped them there.

I am torn.

And it made me think of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a great reformed theologian of the last century who died in a German concentration camp shortly before it was liberated by Allied forces in 1945. His books are read still today: Life Together and Discipleship remind us of how to walk this journey as Christians. And what was his crime? He was part of a conspiracy to assassinate Adolph Hitler and he was captured, imprisoned and executed for it. He was torn, too.

“We have been silent witnesses of evil deeds. We have become cunning and learned the arts of obfuscation and equivocal speech. Experience has rendered us suspicious of human beings, and often we have failed to speak to them a true and open word. Unbearable conflicts have worn us down or even made us cynical. Are we still of any use? We will not need geniuses, cynics, people who have contempt for others, or cunning tacticians, but simple, uncomplicated, and honest human beings. Will our inner strength to resist what has been forced on us have remained strong enough, and our honesty with ourselves blunt enough, to find our way back to simplicity and honesty?” (Letters and Papers from Prison)

So, I am torn.

But it seems I am in good company. Today I do confess my sins of hatred and hypocrisy. And I know that God hears and he forgives. And today, that will have to be good enough.