In the midst of life we are in death…
In the midst of life we are in death, we say in the funeral liturgy.
I miss Rachel Held Evans. A lot. The first book I read when our family went on sabbatical in the spring of 2013 was A Year of Biblical Womanhood. I immediately fell in love with her writing style and humor. She clearly loved the Bible and had a deep love of God. She wrestled with deep theological questions in a way that invited me to wonder with her and deepen my own faith. When she fell ill and was hospitalized during Lent in 2019, I was shocked. She wasn’t even 40, she had two small children. Surely, she would recover, I told myself. Surely, the doctors would find a way to restore her physical health. Easter came and went, and somehow Rachel didn’t get better. She didn’t, like the 12 year-old girl Jesus heals, suddenly arise from her hospital bed and eat some food. And then, early in May, just as I was leaving Indianapolis to drive home, I got the news that she had died. It was unfathomable to me. I sat in my car and wept. Then I put on the Duruflé Requiem and began to drive. When the Requiem ended, I listened to one of Rachel’s audiobooks, read aloud by her, and cried some more.
In the midst of life we are in death.
Over the last few weeks as the COVID-19 virus reached pandemic proportions, I’ve found myself thinking more and more of Rachel. The situation we’re in is as unfathomable to me as Rachel’s death. But I’m sure that’s not the only reason I’ve been thinking of her. One of the challenges of grief is the way its web spins out and connects to all the other grief you’ve ever experienced, gathering it in and, in essence, multiplying the feelings. When Purdue first announced the move to on-line classes, my thoughts turned immediately to the seniors—would they be able to experience all the usual rituals and ceremonies that mark their achievements? When I picked my child up from the elementary school on that last day, I saw another child standing looking lost and forlorn on the corner by our house. When I asked her if she was okay, she said, “Yes. I’m just so sad that school is closing.” The grief our country, our world, is experiencing is not insignificant. This is a time of deep loss. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve been heartened by the way people are coming together, connecting in spite of the distance. And yet, this grief must be attended to. In the midst of life we are in death.
In the midst of life we are in death. Perhaps this is always true, and it is especially true now. We are all in this now. Perhaps more than ever before, we are all living in the midst of death. Living in the valley of the shadow of death.
As Rachel Held Evans wrote in what would be her final blog post on Ash Wednesday 2019,
It strikes me today that the liturgy of Ash Wednesday teaches something that nearly everyone can agree on. Whether you are part of a church or not, whether you believe today or you doubt, whether you are a Christian or an atheist or an agnostic or a so-called “none” (whose faith experiences far transcend the limits of that label) you know this truth deep in your bones: “Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return.”
Death is a part of life.
My prayer for you this season is that you make time to celebrate that reality, and to grieve that reality, and that you will know you are not alone.
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”
— Hilary Cooke