Monday, March 31, 2008

I Did Not Try

striated rock

The night before I went to Mount Hermon, a dear friend of ours passed away quite unexpectedly— a massive stroke, in a young man. The day I returned, I had news from another friend, whose sister just lost her newborn son. My trip, so life giving in many ways, was bookended by death.

Yesterday, a wonderful speaker, Jason Gaboury, came to our church. He talked about what it is like when we have a bad day, a bad year, or even a bad decade. I realize that when it comes to the issue of death, I, along with my community, have had a bad decade, striated with seemingly senseless deaths (all death of course is senseless in its way, but we more readily accept the passing of a person who has had a "fullness of years").

Gaboury, looking at the book of Daniel, asked us to consider whether we could see God in the midst of dark times of captivity. Indeed, he urged us to listen for God's footfall in the shadows. Somehow this came together for me in the words of Krista Tippett, regarding the execution of Dietrich Bonhoeffer "just weeks before the collapse of the Reich."

She says, "His death seemed to me a puzzle, a piece of religious irony. Wasn't this a failure of God, a rebuttal of the very idea of God? Yet some irrational aura of triumph— defying my sense of time as flat and contained — surrounded Bonhoeffer's legacy. I could not fathom this... and I did not try." (p.42)

In her words, I realize that I am two-dimensional when it comes to trying to understand these matters. My sense of time is flat and contained. I cannot fathom the whys and hows, the shape of death and the mystery of eternal life that transcends it. And, in her words, I find the comforting thought that it is okay to put my head down and weep. To say, along with Tippet, "I did not [even] try."

Striated Rock photo, by L.L. Barkat.


LL's Tired of Dying

Christine's Gabriel Gifford Scheller

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Blogger Dianne said...

i like that - a lot. i think there's something to be said when we reach that point of acknowledgment and acceptance. i am sorry to read of your losses though, never easy to bear.

12:18 PM  
Blogger Mark Goodyear said...

It's interesting. We normally think of resignation and ignorance as failings. But this post makes them sound heroically humble.

I remember that rock, by the way. Great picture.

2:23 PM  
Anonymous heather said...

We've been looking at Job in my Sunday school class. His friends tried to fit things into neat boxes, gave Job simplistic answers to complex problems.
I know that Jesus conquered death.
I know that we will join His resurrection.
But I don't understand a lot of the things going on around me today. And I will never stop hating death.

2:47 PM  
Blogger Christianne said...

i'm so sorry, laura. and that's pretty much all i can say.

3:10 PM  
Blogger Nikki said...

I empathize rather deeply. My life has brought loss after loss lately. I, too, am puzzled... and there are moments when it is all too much.

Daniel's choir is singing Benjamin Britten's War Requiem, and I went to watch the rehearsal on Saturday, which I did through tears. The piece itself is overwhelming, both in the poetry it interweaves with the traditional Latin text, and in the soaring, pounding music that conjures echoes of war. But one of the most heartbreaking details is that the poet, Wilfred Owen, himself died one week before the end of WWI. News of his death reached his home just as the bells announced the arrival of the peace his brutally bloody poetry had ached for.

Life is full of these puzzles. I'm glad we do not need to have the answers to things that are beyond us. It is enough for us to trust that He who holds the answers also holds us. I find this aspect of life keeps me from thinking I'm in control, and in a very real sense my salvation depends on that knowledge.

5:32 PM  
Blogger NaNcY said...

i love the way you have put into words so well the way it can be to not understand the why of something that can be very hurtful.
i also find comfort in what you said.

also...i like your rock photo.

the lily photo on my page is a layer combination of two photos that i took on a trip to hawaii. there was a lily pool where we were staying. i processed it quite a bit on photoshop. i am slowly learning how to use photoshop and enjoy photography. right now i post for fun on photoblog at

thanks for you nice comment.

btw i ordered your new book yesterday...and looking forward to it!

5:50 PM  
Blogger L.L. Barkat said...

Dianne... Welcome to Seedlings. And thank you for your encouragement. Life is full of both joys and sorrows, though the joys are so easy to bear!

Mark... I hadn't thought of it quite like that. Grief has a way of making us humble, too. And isn't that just a marvelous rock, worn to loveliness by the sea?

Heather... Oh, the book of Job. A good one to help us remember that life is not easily explained! Thank you for your honest expression about death; it helps to ease.

Christianne... your love and care is enough. Don't worry about having words.

Nikki... thank you for the image of being held. When I feel unstrung, it is a comforting thing to remember. I'm sorry that you too have had recent sorrows. So good that we are here together to share.

Nancy... I think that putting things into words is one of my ways of coping. Thanks for the explanation of your lily; it really is stunning! And I hope you enjoy Stone Crossings; do feel free to stop by the book club blog and share your thoughts with other readers (and me... I will love to hear from you!)

7:14 PM  
Anonymous a.anjeanette said...

Your words are like the "Selah" at the end of the verse. You have broken into my routine morning and caused me to pause and ponder over bigger, realer things.

11:17 AM  
Blogger Charity Singleton said...

LL -- A friend of mine recently speculated on God's infinity by saying he is simultaneously at our birth and death. The interim, which we value as life, is a mere flicker or maybe an eternity. I had a hard time grasping what she was saying, didn't really understand exactly, and decided I wouldn't try either. Oh, how thankful that the pain of death will one day be erased.

5:16 PM  
Blogger Kim said...

Birth and life and death.

Our entire Christian paradigm is a puzzle:


"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, Neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD.

7:25 PM  
Blogger Lynet said...

"I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground . . ."

I can't help thinking of Millay's poem here. If I can see beauty in Christian poetry by seeing just a little more metaphor than usual, perhaps you can see how this reflects you in sorrow and acceptance and refusal to be entirely beaten. I grieve with you, LL, though death has yet to hurt me to the quick. Someday it will, I know -- and I will not approve nor be resigned.

2:56 AM  
Blogger Craver Vii said...

(This is not any kind of advice, but just my thoughts/reaction to the subject.)

There are many things that I make an effort to understand, but other things that I simply accept. Death is one of the few things that I simply accept. It is to me, on a similar level as when friend or family leave and we do not know whether we will see them again this side of heaven. After so many times of detachment, whether a friend moves out of state, or moves on to a different state of being, it happens, and I cannot change it. I no longer try to understand or approve, I simply accept it. My own grieving over these losses is never planned or forced, rarely profound, and thankfully... infrequent.

12:37 PM  
Blogger Every Square Inch said...


I'm sorry for your loss.

When my wife had cancer years ago (she's now well), it made me think long and hard about death...not abstractly as a philosophical topic but very personally. And, two thoughts came to mind -

1. This is not the way it was meant to be. Sickness, calamity, is out of place the perfect world God created for us

2. This is how serious sin is. It brought death into this world.

But, thanks to Jesus Christ, there is a day where all this will be like a bad dream

7:39 PM  
Blogger Sam said...

When I turned 35, my father told me at my papa's funeral I was entering a time in my life when many people I loved would start dying.
A few years later, my father died with me holding his hand. I tell people that I literally saw an angel in the room and they accuse me of, at best, hallucination due to grief.
At the time I filled with happiness for him. Watching his long, slow death from colon cancer convinced me death is a release in one sense.
However, a few years later as I walked through a neonatal intensive care unit toward the room where my infant daughter lay fighting for life, death seemed a lot more cruel, unfair and harder to accept - as you pointed out not having yet a "fullness" of life.
My daughter lives. There are others' whose parents probably still mourn.
It seems trite to wish them "God's Peace."

10:08 PM  
Blogger Halfmom, AKA, Susan said...

Back safely from Richmond over the weekend, just hard into heavy duty teaching for the next 10 days so haven't had time to blog much - but, it doesn't seem like they need me with the blog anyway - I can put up anything and they'll start long conversations!

Now - a serious question - is it possible to get signed copies of your book?

10:54 PM  
Blogger nannykim said...

What you said made me think of a quote we had in Sunday's sermon. The quote was from a German theologian who lived in World War II (Unfortunately I cannot spell the guys name—his initials are H.T.). He had been kicked out of his position at the university by the Nazis, his church had been destroyed, his house had been burned and the city he lived in had been destroyed. One day he made a statement in the pulpit—this is the quote {it may not be verbatim—I was writing quickly} –“One day, perhaps, when we are standing looking back from God’s throne on the last day, we will say with amazement and surprise: “If I had ever dreamed when I stood at the graves of my loved ones and thought everything was so bleak, if I had ever dreamed when I saw the specter of war creeping upon us, if I had ever dreamed when I faced the meaningless fate of an endless imprisonment or a malignant disease, if I had ever dreamed that God was still carrying out His design and plan even through all these woes that in the midst of my cares and troubles and despair that God’s harvest was ripening and that everything was pressing on towards His kingly day, if I had known that, I would have been more calm and confident in life. I would have been more cheerful and more filled with peace. (then our pastor said we are only able to persevere through the darkness when we know the resurrection of Easter) I thought this was a good point—and the theologians point reminded me of your 2 dimensional quote. Good thoughts.

11:54 PM  
Anonymous Real Live Preacher said...

I thought your words here are particularly gentle and insightful. Graceful. Thank you for that. I featured this essay at the High Calling Blog site today.

12:18 AM  
Blogger :..Rebekah..: said...

I found your blog through Andrea's blog, and I really enjoyed this post. In so many things that are hard and difficult in life, it is good to remember what you mentioned about our limited grasp of time, the hows and the whys that we so frequently ask of life. At this point in my life though, I find myself asking "how" and "why" Lord have you given me all that you have and blessed me so much? I surely don't deserve it. I surely cannot fathom it. In joy and sorrow, our understanding is limited, so we don't try....we dance and we weep, we laugh and we cry, we put our head down and we lift it up. He will sustain us and comfort us through it all. Thank you for a stirring and thoughtful post.

8:58 AM  
OpenID olsonwriter said...

I can't say it gets easier with each new passing of family or friends, but I am thankful knowing I will see them again - To be absent from the body is to be present with Christ.

P.S. Thank you for your insight and advice for blogging. I will do my best not to dwell too long on a posting, but learn my "rhythm of theme and voice." Also, I will get your c.d. from the blogging class you taught at Mt. Hermon. =)

6:05 PM  

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