When I think about these last few weeks my head spins. It all started when two of my aunts died a few days apart. At the same time Jim Ginn’s Aunt Ruthe, who lived in Seattle and always came to our musical events, entered hospice, and has since died. And then Jim G’s mother had a stroke. She remains in the hospital making a good recovery, and Jim is moving her into an assisted living community next week. Oh, and did I mention Marilyn Pulliam? She was a great friend and mentor to both of us. When I bought these new glasses I thought of her – she told me my old ones were boring and ugly. But she died before I could see if she approved of this new pair.
And amidst it all life continues to happen. Jim G has been in Missouri for three weeks now, first to visit but then helping to care for, and now move, his mother. I’ve been keeping the home fires burning in our two houses – the one in Seattle and the one we are building in Methow Valley.
This past week I was in Methow Valley. I went skiing a little, but most of my time was spent taping and mudding wallboard and trimming out windows. I didn’t mind the work – it helped me deal with a crushing sense of loneliness I’ve been experiencing. I’m not used to living by myself any more, and some days it’s hard.
Thursday evening I was really feeling that loneliness when our little dog Otto demanded to go outside. I bundled us both up and grabbed a headlamp - it’s really dark in our Methow neighborhood. We stepped outside, and I glanced up at a moonless sky. The stars nearly took my breath away. Orion was brilliant, and all around it countless stars gleamed. As my eyes adjusted I saw more and more, finally picking out the glimmering band that is the Milky Way – our own galaxy – which is only visible from the darkest 10% of our well-lit planet. I was in awe.
It strikes me that this defines what it is to be human. We go from day to day, sometimes happy, sometimes sad. Sometimes dealing with way to much loss. And sometimes, especially when we take time to look up, we are awestruck by grandeur, beauty, love, grace.
Lent is upon us. It starts this Wednesday, Ash Wednesday, and continues through to Easter on April 1. And during this time we are all invited to Acknowledge our Humanity. For some this can be a problematic time of the church year. We might spend a lot of energy thinking about what we believe, or don’t believe, about the Lenten scriptures and especially Holy Week. And in doing so we miss a key ingredient – their humanity.
This year I challenge us all to take a slightly different approach. Let’s not debate what we believe. Let’s read these stories in all their humanity, and see what we can learn. I’ve started early, since I’m working on the Good Friday service. You don’t have to believe in magic to find meaning in that very human story - friendship, loneliness, betrayal, fear, agony, empathy, abandonment, death, and dare we add resurrection?
Late Thursday night in Methow Valley I was sleeping fitfully when I was startled wide awake by yips and howls. Coyotes serenaded the neighborhood. It was amazing, and a bit creepy. I told Otto that under no circumstances was I going to take him outside until dawn. He cooperated.
Humanity. One second we are enthralled, the next we fear for our lives. And eventually we lose those lives. And yet, what a world we live in. What wonder. Awe. Grace. What will you experience during Lent?