Archive for April, 2020

Grieving and Rejoicing

On Good Friday, no one anticipated Easter.  The disciples, in shock and grief, hid away in fear.  Neither the disciples nor Jesus’s enemies expected resurrection.

And then the resurrection came.  Unbelievable.  How could this be?  Still in shock and grief, the disciples weren’t ready.  Even after Jesus appeared to the disciples, they kept hiding in fear.

In the weeks following Easter, Christians observe “Eastertide,” a time of living into the resurrection.  So far, in the biblical stories read in churches the last couple of Sundays, the disciples aren’t doing too well at manifesting resurrection reality.  In one story, we find them locked away in a room out of fear.  In another, they are walking along the road and don’t even recognize the resurrected Jesus when he starts walking and talking with them.

What keeps the disciples afraid?  What makes them blind?  Why do they keep slipping back into a mentality of fear and disbelief even after Jesus appeared to them?

Perhaps they felt blindsided. Already reeling from the crucifixion, still taking that in, they weren’t ready for the resurrection.  Dreams shattered, hopes dashed with the crucifixion, they felt betrayed.  They had believed Jesus was the Messiah, about to deliver them from the cruelty of the Roman occupation. And then they witnessed the crucifixion.

Now this.  Could they trust the resurrection?  Their hurting hearts and confused minds struggled to make sense of it all.  How could this be? Was Jesus a ghost?  Perhaps they inwardly questioned: “Are you kidding me?” “Are you toying with us, Jesus?” “I won’t be tricked again.”  “Fool me once, shame on you. . .”

Perhaps they tried to shut out the pain by retreating into reason.  They tried to make logical sense of all that had transpired.  And of course they couldn’t.  The events defied rational explanation.

In this season of Eastertide as I observe the disciples, I’ve been reflecting on death and resurrection at Shalem, the organization I serve as executive director.  We have been living with grief as we feel the impact of the cancellation of two pilgrimages and a major program, losing over 10% of our annual income. Furthermore, we feel the loss of being together in person as a staff, the loss of hugs and walks and good food together, the loss of staying at retreat centers in beautiful natural settings.

At the same time, we see resurrection and new life.  We both grieve and welcome new life at the same time.  When the leadership team for our Group Spiritual Direction program creatively re-envisioned the program, interest quadrupled.  Our Young Adult Life and Leadership program also grew when the new format was announced.  Over 60 have registered so far for our online clergy retreat. As other program leadership teams wrestle with loss while also listening for the new life that is emerging, they also experience grief and resurrection together. A wave of sadness washes over us when something reminds us of the in-person experience we won’t have this year.  Then a wave of joy comes when creative juices flow and we see the potential for new life and energy in our re-envisioned program.  Then the waves get all mixed up together, many emotions roiling around inside of us all at once.

Like the disciples, we are living in a time of experiencing death and resurrection together.  Like the disciples we feel grief and hope, sadness and joy, anger and healing, sometimes in waves, sometimes all at the same time.  Let us be gentle with ourselves and with one another as we go through the grieving process while also learning to live in resurrection.

 

 

 

Three Leadership Lessons from Good Friday

Photo Credit: Per Ola Wiberg via FreeStockPhotos.biz

Today is Good Friday, a day of hopes dashed, a day of deep grief. Jesus and the disciples went from Palm Sunday, with Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem and the crowds shouting “Hosanna!” to betrayal, arrest, denial, and crucifixion in five short days. The disciples had thought the crowds had at last recognized Jesus as king, only to find them turning against him a few days later. In shock and disbelief, they watched as the Romans crucified their beloved.

Everything had looked so good, only to be overturned in such short order. Jesus had taught the disciples to be leaders, to help him invite people to encounter God in fresh ways. They saw people healed. They saw hearts opened. They witnessed their ministry expanding. They thought they knew what being a leader following in Jesus’ footsteps meant. Now what? Brokenhearted, they responded in different ways. Peter had denied Jesus after the arrest. Others ran away. The disciples were not at their best. They hid, afraid. They didn’t know the resurrection was coming. They had no idea what the future held. For all they knew, they would be crucified like Jesus.

I find myself empathizing with the disciples on this Good Friday. The future looked bright for the organization I serve, the Shalem Institute, just two short months ago. With programs filling, a visionary strategic plan, and a prospering major fundraising initiative, the future held promise. A staff and board who loved Shalem and worked well together held it all together. I felt like the most fortunate person in the world, to be able to work at this place with these people at this time.

Then COVID-19 hit Italy. No pilgrimage to Assisi. Then no Iona pilgrimage. Then another major program down. Then our annual staff/board retreat homeless, as the retreat center hosting it closed. Then, our staff working from home. Suddenly, we had let down many eager pilgrimage and program participants and lost about 10% of our annual income, with more looming losses on the horizon. What now?

We found ourselves facing great loss. So much of what we do involves gathering in community, staying in beautiful, nurturing, prayerful retreat centers, sharing meals together. Staff share walks and lunch together in the middle of the work day. We celebrate birthdays and accomplishments together. We experience embodied love, laughter, and prayer. All of that had vanished in the blink of an eye.

Even as we began to re-envision our upcoming programs, we knew they wouldn’t be the same. A virtual staff/board retreat on Zoom can’t hold a candle, for example, to the in-person hugs and meals and walks at a retreat center nestled in a wooded area in Maryland in the first blush of spring. The losses were real.

What can we learn from Good Friday? First, we can acknowledge that we, like the disciples on Good Friday, will not always be our best selves as we feel shock and loss. This is a time for loving and tenderly forgiving one another. Second, like the disciples, we must grieve. Acknowledging the magnitude of the losses and allowing ourselves to feel grief is the first step. Third, as we ask, “What now?” there will be messiness. We don’t know what the future holds or how we will be called to step into it. We must live in the not-knowing for a time before the next steps become clear.

Loving and forgiving one another when we are not at our best, acknowledging the magnitude of the losses and allowing ourselves to grieve, and accepting the messiness and not-knowing of this time will all serve us well as we seek to muddle through to the unknown future. May we allow the lessons of Good Friday to lodge deep within our souls.