Grief is an unwelcome visitor. She often comes without invitation and settles in heavily, as if she plans on remaining forever. Grief has, once more, come to roost in my life, in my body. It’s a struggle to hold her at a distance just so I can breathe. As I morn the loss of the last of the generation of women who raised me, I am overwhelmed with a sense of responsibility. It isn’t that these women were outstanding or even particularly good role models. They were the ones who mothered me to the best of their abilities. They were the ones I called or thought of when I had something to celebrate or grieve, some big change in my life, or needed the ingredients to a family recipe. Now there is no woman ahead of me in my family. I’m the eldest woman. It’s weird and, as I said, a bit overwhelming.
In the midst of grief for the woman who was my “second mother,” I feel a deep need to do better. I feel compelled to be sure I make better choices. I’ve seen what alcohol, cigarettes, and other addictions can do to a body and relationships. I’ve been the addict and I’ve been the one harmed by being in relationship with an addict. So, too, with the women who went before me. What I want now is to live fully. I want to honor these women who did their best, by taking what I have learned from them and making better choices.
On the brink of the Promised Land, Moses speaks hard truth to God’s people. On the edge of a new thing, God tells that people that the ways of life and death are in front of them. They can choose to follow the commandments of God and have life. Or they can bow down to other gods and lose their lives. God clearly wants them to choose life so that they may be blessed, even in the midst of suffering. Yet, God knows the hearts of people. God knows that it is highly unlikely that the people will choose life generation after generation. There is something within human hearts, human culture, human action that strays from God’s ways, especially when life is pretty good. Somehow, God still holds out hope that one day humanity will choose life from one generation to the next.
God is still hoping that we will choose life in this generation and the next. That’s why these ancient words from Deuteronomy have so much power. If choosing life and passing it on to future generations were easy, the scriptures wouldn’t have mentioned it. What we say matters. What we do matters. How we treat our neighbors matters. How we treat ourselves matters. How we treat our planet matters. We have a responsibility to choose, and to choose life over the gods of our own making. We have a responsibility to choose life first, before the little gods lure us away with flimsy gratifications that will not facilitate life.
This choosing life stuff is hard work. All around us are the false promises of glitz and glamour of the socially acceptable altars built to worship fashionable gods. What might happen if we all start making the challenging choice that supports life, not just for us but for all of humanity? We won’t accept the voices in our government that tell us guns lead to peace, fossil fuels lead to wealth, pricing medications beyond the reach of the economically struggling brings healing, and on down the line. If we commit to choosing life the ridiculousness of keeping kids in cages at a border and incarcerating those who struggle with addictions and mental illness won’t remain hidden. If we commit ourselves fully to following God’s ways – you know the ways that mandate caring for the vulnerable among us and loving our neighbors as ourselves – the generations coming after us might inherit something more substantial than the remnants of the “American Dream.”
Grief is the great equalizer. Grief sharpens our awareness of the fragile beauty of life and links us, at least for a while, with all those who mourn. From this place of deep sadness I experience a call or a yearning to move forward, to honor those who have gone before me with the choices I make. Today, I am recommitting myself to making intentional choices to follow God’s commandments to love fully and freely and work to dismantle injustice in all its insidious forms. My desire is to choose life. What is yours?
RCL – Year C – Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 8, 2019
Jeremiah 18:1-11 with Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18 or
Deuteronomy 30:15-20 with Psalm 1