Last week America posted a short reflection by James K. A. Smith about how Christians handle loss. What begins with a nod to Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead takes a personal turn that I found difficult and brilliant. Smith writes:
A number of years ago one, of my dearest friends was in a serious accident that changed everything for him. An active, athletic man, he was laid up in a hospital bed coming to grips with the fact that he was going to lose a way of life. I didn’t know what to do. I knew, of course, to be present. But I wasn’t sure what to say or how to pray, if I am honest. What is the script for such a situation?
On my way to the hospital, I stopped by the grocery store and bought some crackers and juice. In the hospital room, I pulled the juice and crackers out of the crinkled paper bag, and my friend and I fell into a script we both knew by heart: “On the night he was betrayed, Jesus took bread, and giving thanks, he broke it.” Awkwardness gave way to tears as we repeated to one another, “The body of Christ, given for you.” “The blood of Christ, shed for you.”
I am grateful to Smith for sharing about such a moment. It is an example of formation revealed in communal expression. What makes it especially interesting is that it take a Christian reality and doesn’t play it out in the context of the church or of marriage, which tends to be the two places where Christians find meaning in practices. Instead, it happens in friendship. I would love to hear more about how this friendship got to this point of Christian connection.
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January flew by. And yet the first of the month, my last day in Tennessee for Christmas, feels like another world. This was the first week of the semester where things felt almost normal. The first week back was Spirit Week. The second week back involved camp and a big faculty meeting. The third week of the quarter was packed with meetings both planned and not. Things calmed down enough this week that I was able to use a couple of planning periods to . . . plan! I continue to reflect some of this week’s chapel and what moving forward looks like. The last week had a fair share of basketball games to attend, though now the Sharks are in a nice break for the first chunk of the month. A couple of TV shows came to an end this week: Arrow (season eight was the only one I’ve watched the whole way through) and The Good Place (which I’ve been with since the moment Eleanor Shellstrop opened her eyes in the afterlife). We also got a great episode of Doctor Who, which was a nice treat.
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Smith’s reflection on loss begins with a nod to Gilead but ends with a nod to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. I can’t image two more different stories . . . and yet. Both stories are wonderfully immersive, though The Road rings you out in the end. Both bring a palpable sense of time and loss with them. For all the pain it brings, the feeling of loss is essential to what it means to be human, I believe. It doesn’t mean that we go around asking for it, but it does mean we learn better ways of acknowledging it and faithfully enduring it until the end.
(image from ibelieve.com)