01 January 2013

There Are Circles and Then There Are Circles

"God's heart is the first to break."

This is a constant refrain in my life and in my work. It is my response to those who say, "It's God's will" when it clearly isn't. "God needed another angel in heaven when your child died." "God called him home." 

I picture God sitting in the mud and rain, howling with grief at the death of another beloved child, no matter the age. 

Unlike so many other bits and pieces stuck in my memory, I remember where I heard this line, and I remember the story that it was part of. It was a TV show, short-lived, now nameless, but a man told a priest about the death of his wife, a journalist who died in a bombing in the Middle East. He raged about the absence of God.

The priest didn't have any words for him in the moment, but days later came back to him and said, "When your wife died, God's heart was the first to break."

This Christmas I read Michael Gerson's column from the Washington Post, an eloquent reflection on the tension of joy and sorrow this year. With the events at Newtown not even two weeks past, he spoke of another parent who'd lost a child. William Sloane Coffin was pastor at Riverside Church in New York. In 1983, his son Alex was killed in a car accident. In a sermon he preached ten days later, Coffin said, "My own consolation lies in knowing that it was not the will of God that Alex die; that when the waves closed over the sinking car, God's heart was the first of all our hearts to break." Read Coffin's sermon here.

William Sloane Coffin, Jr. 1924-2006

Coffin was a major figure in the peace movement in the States.  I have no doubt that he did what he did because he knew something of God's own broken heart. 

I find it fitting somehow that, after all these years, I would finally discover the source of the quote that has stitched its way into my ministry. I have some things to read and learn in this new year.


1 comment:

Sherry Peyton said...

That is the most awesome statement. I shall treasure it. As to the usual crap that people say, it is so truly awful that I shudder to think of anyone using such words in the face of the unspeakable sorrow they are addressing. God doesn't will anyone to die. What an awful thought. Thanks Shannon for a lovely reflection.