Grief and Hope

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Looking through old journals recently, I came across this image of women at the empty tomb, a replica of the poster that hung on the wall at the foot of my bed all through my childhood. 

I pasted it in my journal several years ago at the advice of my spiritual director, who suggested that I spend time contemplating it. I had confessed that when I was ten years old, I woke one night, and the poster seemed alive. I thought that if I let them, the women would move. I was terrified and refused to let it happen—or that was how I interpreted the vision-which-I didn’t-call-a-vision. I assumed that a failure of nerve on my part prevented me from having an authentic religious experience.

Looking at that image now, however, I wonder if perhaps what I experienced wasn’t spiritual failure on the part of a ten-year-old girl, but God’s call to future action. Steve Charleston, a Native American elder and bishop in our church, says that, for most of us, true understanding of such an experience “develops over time, in the gray areas of our lives, not in the flash of a single insight.”

This helps me remember that the disciples themselves kept failing to recognize their risen Lord after the resurrection. And surely if they couldn’t fully grasp the truth and the meaning of Jesus’s passion and resurrection until after Pentecost (with the help of the Holy Spirit), no wonder we’re sometimes slow to identify or understand a vision that has been given to us.

It took me nearly sixty years to realize that perhaps my childhood experience of the women at the empty tomb was an invitation to join them, not only in their initial grief but also in hearing the angel’s assurance of resurrection. Perhaps it was that combination of grief and hope that ultimately compelled me into pediatric hospice and prison work among incarcerated mothers. It’s not a path I ever imagined choosing, and yet as I look again at this image of the women in their grief confronted by an angel bearing the joyful news of resurrection, it all falls into place.

Steve Charleston believes that there are “more people out there who have had spiritual visions than who have not.” It makes me wonder: in what other ways has God spoken to me that I have yet to understand?  (At my age, I don’t have another sixty years to figure it out … .)

— Mary Lee Wile

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