Looking Through the Window, In Search Of

Looking Through the WindowThere is no solace or comforting “embrace” for me, no answers either as I look outside to the forest where the bucolic view from my home office window belies the heaviness that weighs on my soul.

Why, God?

I await the answer. Nothing.

I am alone yet in a community of many.

Autumn is giving way to winter. Once colorful landscapes turn bleak and barren. The large sentinel pines that “guard” the replenished woodpile by the forest’s edge will soon be covered in white. There’s a guilelessness to newly fallen snow that my soul desires—a wonderful childlike yearning of innocent magical foolishness—whoosh and the bleakness disappears, the darkness gives way to light.

Another mass shooting has occurred, and though picture postcard Vermont seems far removed from Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs, in truth, that perceived “farness” is a denial of convenience.

These events so real to the bereaved and traumatized, are off in the distance to me—horrific and unimaginable though they are, they impact my soul when my own losses to death are tapped into—now I feel the pain and loss, relive my own bereaving moments.

The one of my mother, for example, though she did not die a violent death at the hands of a gunman. A particularly poignant memory of her involves her constant making of notes. They appeared in the margins of her Bible, on bill receipts, scraps of paper, index cards, both clean and lightly used paper cocktail napkins—on any available pad or shred of paper within reach—and then she filed them according to a system only she understood.  On the morning of August 2, 1990, three days after the death of my father, she placed a note, one she’d written but forgotten to send the previous January, on the placemat next to the cup of coffee I’d soon be sipping. I’d driven from Los Angeles to Sun City, Arizona to be with her, family, and friends as we made arrangements for my father’s memorial service and burial. This morning she and I were the first to awaken.

After our morning hug, I poured coffee and sat across from her at the small breakfast table where she and my father had hoped to share many more meals.

Her perfect penmanship seemed out of place on the yellowing index card in front of me.

“Roger,” she’d written, “thank you so much for the One Year Bible you gave us this Christmas. These words of the Psalmist have been a daily source of strength for me.”

Then I went on to read the quote to which she was referring:

If I keep my eyes on God, I won’t trip over my own feet [or anyone else’s].

Look at me and help me!

I’m all alone and in big trouble.

The troubles of my heart have multiplied; free me from my anguish.

Look upon my affliction and my distress, my life of hard labor, then lift this ton of [sadness].

Keep watch over me and keep me out of trouble.

Use all your skill to put me together,

I wait to see your finished product.

We sat in silence. I fiddled with the index card, flipping it over and over, blank side to her small, perfectly spaced words, and over again. I questioned if she ever wrestled with the way life unfolds as it does or if she had complete trust in God, without question. With Doris, and my father for that matter, there was no room for discussion because as the Psalm suggests, God would take care of everything, whether on a spiritual plane or in daily life.

“You’re welcome,” I said.

As an inquisitive youngster and a curious young man with many questions, I could not have conversations or entertain a variety of ideas with the two most important people in my life, because they would be met with, “It’s in God’s hands.” Which may or may not be true, but I always felt stone-walled and diminished by the answer, and as a result alone with my concerns.

It still puzzles me that here were two intelligent people, one a graduate of Columbia University, the other a former student at Juilliard, with whom simple conversations about God and life events could not be had.

And, 27 years later, that small index card is again in my hands. I turn it over and over as I did then. My mother whose blind faith in a present God annoyed me, but it sustained her. When she died four years ago I’m certain that her last thoughts, if she was having them, would have been of heaven.

It is morning, and as I gaze out into the forest I welcome the light frost that covers the ground. Last night’s heaviness, though present, is less suffocating. The questions remain in search of comforting answers but, Shakespeare was right—sleep is the balm of hurt minds.

My father and mother’s deaths were expected. They lived full lives. Unlike the loved ones who grieve the deaths of friends and family that is the result of random acts of violence, I had time to prepare. That said, near and faraway places where people grieve loss—Newton, New York City, Charleston, Sutherlund Springs, Las Vegas, Paris, Berlin and Utoya, Norway, among others—are fellow members of the same community of human beings that I consider “home.” Their questions, loss and grief are mine too.

John Donne, in Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, knew something about the community of man when he wrote: “No man is an island; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main…any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

I shake my head and smile as I think of the wonderful question-free beliefs of my parents. If I ever had any doubt of this, I need only call my brother, who would say, “But it’s the truth as they saw it, Roger.” Still, sometimes I wish their reluctant disciple son had the same level of faith as they did.

My morning-after view from the window remains the same, and then against the green background of the tall pines a few flakes of snow appear.

 

 

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15 Comments

  1. Dona

    What a relief for me, Roger, that you have questioned the notion “God will take care of everything” – that there is some magic out there that if we just pray and believe hard enough will make all the pain and evil go away. I am not alone in my doubt!

    I have always experienced God as living inside myself – not out there somewhere. I suppose the notion came to me, further back than I can remember, from Sunday school where I learned that God is everywhere and all knowing.

    As I see it, it is up to personkind, all of us, with the help of that strength and wisdom within us to step by step work on this problem. This discussion is part of that work. I have faith that things can be better.

    Reply
    1. yourrel4 (Post author)

      Dona,
      No, you are not alone in your doubt, in fact you are in fine company. Shakespeare in The Tempest tells us (gently): We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep. WC Fields, an avowed atheist, supposedly read a Bible on his death bed just “to cover all the bases.” We human beings are quite amazing. We can doubt, have hope, and faith “that things can be better.” There is certainly something “divine” in each of us, something mysterious, and try as we do, still beyond our full understanding. One step at a time, living fully into one’s faith and doubt in equal measure is the surest way that I know to hear God–who or whatever God is. I’m glad that you experience “God as living inside” yourself, and “not out there somewhere.”
      Thank you for this comment, Dona, and I hope it encourages further discussion.
      Roger

      Reply
  2. Anne Buck

    Beautifully written, Roger. I just returned from a 3-day Walk to Emmaus, Uniplugged from the cares of this world, and saturated with scriptures and solid, refreshing teaching. I am more aware now of God‘s unconditional love, in spite of his invisibility and my own shortcomings . I’m glad your parents knew God, and that you are continually seeking and pursuing him.

    Reply
    1. yourrel4 (Post author)

      Anne,
      Unplugged in Emmaus, saturated with scriptures and teachings sounds wonderful–and then the awareness, perhaps renewed awareness, of God’s unconditional love in spite of the “Where are you God?” question and the ever present awareness of shortcomings. Your words remind me of something Frederick Buechner wrote. We can never really know Jesus, or God for that matter, we, like Peter deny him even as we love him when we experience his presence in us, our worship, our commitments to and love for others, our service and attempts to live as he taught. That is the best we can do, and do so with faith. My guess is Peter was surprised when the denials of his beloved came so easily, and then like the rest of us chagrined, embarrassed and brought to his knees by his shortcoming. Thank you, Anne, for reading, taking in these words, and commenting.
      Roger

      Reply
  3. Colette

    Your writing takes us along on your journey as you share your experiences and feelings with us. The heaviness weighing upon your soul at the opening is so beautifully balanced with the lightness of the few snowflakes falling gently at the closing.
    And in the middle you weave your words with touching memories and moments with your Mom, prompted by the horrific news of the madness of mass murders which assaults us all too often. Each one of us must find our own comfort and solace amidst the yin and yang of all life. Thank you for sharing this piece and helping me to process my own loves and losses weighing heavily upon my heart . Indeed none of us is an Island, each of us a part of the holy whole of all that is..
    Seek and write on, mon ami.

    Reply
    1. yourrel4 (Post author)

      Colette,
      Thank you, Colette, for adding your thoughts to this “discussion.” And as you encourage me, so too do I encourage you to continue the arduous and worthwhile journey “to process my own loves and losses weighing heavily upon my heart.” Snowflakes arrive–it is the waiting that “ties us in knots.”
      Roger

      Reply
  4. Thomas Nola

    Hey Roger,
    The hunting seasons represent my return and absolute acceptance and wonder of the natural world around me.It’s creation is beyond my science knowledge, yet clearly gives me the clarity in knowing that God exists. However, that existence is well beyond our scientific understanding. My embracing and accepting this simplifies my belief. As humans we have the propensity to explain and define everything and in so doing we really “miss the boat”. Your mom was identical to my parents in their acceptance of God unchallenged by the thinking critical of his existence. That to me is a true believer.Perhaps they were much better off.

    Reply
    1. yourrel4 (Post author)

      Tom,
      Maybe they were better off, but I don’t think so, and I disagree. The “true” believer may be anyone who in any setting stands naked before the world clothed only in the faith of her or his beliefs. You do that while shivering in the forest, waiting for the sights and sounds of a deer, aiming then shooting, and if your strike is correct–you’ve killed and brought “home” your intended target, but not without respect for the fallen one, the gift of creation, and the wonderment of the setting in which this life cycle takes place. That to me is part of God’s creation. We may think and wrestle in our souls, but breathing deep and slow in the early morning hours, anticipating the gift and knowing what that signifies is the act of a respectful true believer.
      Thank you, Tom the Intrepid,
      Roger

      Reply
  5. Bud

    As I read this I pictured in my mind the same things you did – the trees, the frost the cold. It reminds me of my childhood which was so wonderful and true. It was still like this until I moved into a community atmosphere. Growing up in a religious home was very special. We all worshiped together, rarely missing a Sunday, church function, choir rehearsal, etc. It was wonderful.I feel that if we, as a nation, would live the same way today as we did then, maybe we would have less of the horrific attacks against each other as we nave almost on a weekly basis.

    Reply
    1. yourrel4 (Post author)

      Bud,
      Thanks for this comment. There is something missing today, perhaps a moral vacuum has occurred. A sense of community, an example of which you mention, is missing in our society today. We appear to hold ourselves and others less accountable until and unless we speak out, and then too often in self-righteous language. This disconnect, and isolation from each other (lack of community) may encourage acts of violence, abuse, and treachery. We all have moments, I certainly have, when accountability gets pushed aside and self-interest rules over the greater good. Not everyone finds solace in places of worship, but we all do seek community of one sort or another. We’ll find our way!
      Roger

      Reply
      1. Dona

        Yes! We’ll find our way!

        Reply
        1. yourrel4 (Post author)

          Dona,
          The Red Sea was full of turbulent water, and then the “seas” parted, and those who needed, wanted and yearned for what was on the other side found dry land and a new hope. And so will we!
          Roger

          Reply
  6. Dona

    Love it! Thanks!

    Reply
  7. Ned Towle

    Roger, very much appreciate your reflections on the violence we have experienced, death and faith. Your comments provoked some thoughts:

    Well, somehow, God did not insure my physical, mental or relational health – God did give me resources and, through self-manifestations such as nature or Jesus, God has given me guidance and hope.

    A Unitarian pastor once said that he did not believe in God partly because there was so much suffering, human and animal, in the world. I seem to be able to hold onto the reality of God at the same time as accepting the cruelty of man and natural disasters. For me, God is the loving, creating, sustaining and redeeming presence/force/spirit in my world – and this spirit is present in the “real” me, the “real” you and the reality that surrounds me in my life.

    But often, I am too distracted and moving too fast to be aware of the great Spirit!

    Reply
    1. yourrel4 (Post author)

      Ned,
      “For me, God is the loving, creating, sustaining and redeeming presence/force/spirit in my world–and this spirit is present in the “real” me, the “real” you and the reality that surrounds me in my life.”

      So well stated, Ned, thank you. The pastor’s struggle is mine as well although I draw a different conclusion–God is. This intellectual “end place” is fluid with doubt and questions, a flawed faith and belief, but always is where I end up, a place and a journey for which I am grateful.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.
      Roger

      Reply

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