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Monday, January 26, 2015

A Christian friend's poem to a Jewish Holocaust survivor

January 27th, is Holocaust memorial day in Germany. This poem is written in honor of a dear friend and Holocaust survivor.
A pathway in the Jewish cemetery in Berlin Weissensee
I wish

I wish
I could go back with you
 through corridors of time,
be near to you,
on that bless’d accursed day…

You boarded a train that led you down
a path marked out with life,
while for your loves,
bearing a star,
it was a cattle car.

Life would never be the same for you.
The veil of death its shadow cast
even on brightest days.
Your world collapsed
as did your trust in God and in men past.

Had I been your interpreter,
the language of the Queen,
would have bound our hearts
beyond our ages.
Even then, I think
we'd have been friends.

Life's twisted paths,
a mystery to you,
led you back to the land you fled.
Could you ever smile upon it again?
The land that wished you dead…

And then you saw him.
Tall and slim, hair waving in the wind.
Full of life, and passion,
to change the world
with what was given him.

You loved him, dear Hannah,
step after step,
arm in arm,
year after year,
a coat, and a pipe
and a brimmed cap.
Side by side,
in sickness and health
‘til death did you part.

You smiled over the gate,
loved young laughter and squeals.
You brought chocolate
but gave of yourself,
a libation of love 
though your joy this place did steal.

Now the ultimate offering required of you
is to face the darkness, the void,
the vacuum he left
as empty as a universe
of God himself devoid.
Wrenched out of your grasp,
He's gone. You’re bereft.

I wish
I could alter the course of time
halt the passing of years,
bring him back to you, Hannah,
make him reappear,
wipe away your tears.

Your people of old awaited a day
where life from dry bones,
not stacked in graves or flung in pits,
would rise up in the morn.

In time a star over cattle stall
pointed to life anew.
Born to be snuffed out
just as your loved ones knew.

I too wish
for a world where death no longer stings,
where love is never rent,
where darkness never wins.
Where evil is forced
to slump out of its lair
and is swallowed up by the light and the air.

But until then,
dear Hannah,
I wish for one more thing,
the honor of being called your friend
and joy beckoning you in.

My friend, Hannah (her name has been changed), now 87, along with her two sisters, is one of the 100 remaining train transport children who were saved from the Holocaust and taken to the UK. All the rest of her family died in concentration camps. She moved back to East Germany after the war and married a Jewish German diplomat who also survived the war.  Her husband died last year. 

Friday, January 23, 2015

The missing strand. Trying to understand grief ~Hole or whole?

A few nights ago, I could not fall asleep. My mind kept wandering back to a central theme: death. My husband lost his father a year ago. I have watched him grieve the loss of his dad and not known how to enter his grief very well. One common description of losing a loved one I had heard is that it feels as if the carpet is being pulled out from underneath one’s feet. The very fabric of our lives seems to be fraying. We seem to lose our standing, our relational footing is shaken, especially in the loss of a parent whose presence was so foundational to our life. We lose our balance and find ourselves in a free-fall of grief, disorientation and not knowing how to stabilize ourselves. Where does one find stability when one’s footing is lost? Sleep was still not coming. 
But then my mind, in a semi-awake state, started wandering down another path, a carpeted hallway. I saw my life as a long carpet on which I walked down. I saw a single thick strand of that carpet being pulled out from the rest of the weave, leaving a hole in the carpet that stretched the entire length of it. It didn’t matter how far down the carpet I walked, the hole was still there. It didn’t make me fall, but it did make me realize that my life was woven together with many important relationships, interconnected and forming a whole. When a precious loved one is ripped out of this fabric, the hole left behind cannot be filled. The ubiquity of the hole, reminded me of the uniqueness and irreplaceabe value of that person in my life. But in spite of the painful reminder the gap produced, I was supported by the rest of the rug. The love and support of others in my life kept me going to the end. That is where my thoughts ended that night and I finally fell asleep.
When I awoke the next day, the image of the carpet with the missing strand was still vivid in my mind. The idea of strands being woven together as a sign of strength and hope is also found in the Bible. Albeit, it is not a rug imagery, rather that of a cord or a rope. It is often used at weddings though the context doesn’t seem to be referring to marriage.

 Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him--a threefold cord is not quickly broken (Ecclesiastes 4:12).

We need each other. We are stronger together. We survive better together. Even if friendship or companionship is reduced to having only one other person, two are stronger than one. God, the great weaver of the world, puts individuals together in their mothers’ wombs, puts them into families, into marriages, into friendships. Even in the Old Testament and in this particular passage, it would seem as if God is inextricably weaving Himself into the fabric of our lives. Is this the mystery of the third strand?

I think the mystery of the third strand of the unbreakable cord is revealed in Jesus. Jesus, being in very nature God, wove himself into the fabric of his created order in order to redeem it. He was placed into a human family, human friendships and relationships. He was the link between his human family and his heavenly one. He felt the pain of both losing a loved one and being the lost loved one, dying alone with no one to call his friend. He willingly let himself be ripped out of this world. He left a gaping hole in the lives of his terrified disciples. How could he, the great fabric weaver, be ripped out of his own tapestry?  

Unlike our lost loved ones, who could never make this claim, he had promised to replace himself! He had told his friends that, though he would have to leave, he would send them his Spirit, the Comforter, the ultimate companion and friend. Since the resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit, he weaves himself back into the fabric of his creation, his new creation, and into his family. Through the Holy Spirit, each individual strand in this carpet is now living, because He lives in the heart of each child of God. The carpet is growing as the Spirit weaves stand after strand into the fabric of God’s ever-expanding family, the church. Jesus being torn out of the rug leaves his family not with a hole but whole. The great Comforter is able to fill in the gap left by Jesus’ earthly presence, bringing us comfort, peace and hope that this world is not all there is, that death does not have the final word and that all things are being made new. This is hope for the grieving heart.
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:18 NIV)