“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Have faith in God; have faith also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be.” – John 14:1-3
This reading has followed me over the course of my life in the last seven or so years (or at least that is as long as I have been aware of it as it has surfaced). The first such instance was when my church music director in high school shared a David Haas album with me which included a musical setting of text from John’s gospel. I listened to that song almost non-stop during some of the more difficult stretches of my time in high school, doing my best to let the words sink into the depths of my being in those moments.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Have faith in God and faith in me. I will go forth to prepare a place for you, then I’ll come back to take you with me, that where I am, you may also be.”
I wasn’t as aware at the time that the Gospel reading is a (can’t think of a better term here) popular choice for funerals; my first interaction with it on the level of grief and sorrow was at the funeral service for former DePauw professor, Dr. Stanley Irwin. I was sitting in Gobin United Methodist Church in Greencastle when I heard the reading proclaimed and it was the first time I resisted the message.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Have faith in God; have faith also in me.”
‘How can my heart not be troubled right now? This man, this educator, this joy, was taken from us before we were ready…how am I supposed to have faith now?’
A thought something like that crossed my mind as hearing these words that, for so long, had been a comfort were now bringing tears to my eyes in grieving for losing Dr. Irwin.
Turns out it came up again, when my uncle Jim Mahoney passed away.
Now, this week, I cantored more funerals than I ever have before (four in three days), and, since losing Maria D’Albert, that reading kept coming up. Just hearing the opening line brought my grieving to the surface, tears welling up, doing my best to be recovered by the time I’d have to sing again.
That word, “troubled”, just kept sticking out to me. A quick definition check of troubled gives us this: adjective, beset by problems or conflict, showing distress or anxiety.
When we lose someone, our faith is tested, and I mean that in so much more than a religious way; to steal a phrase from my mentor Michael Bernoff, I don’t care what you believe in, God, light, sound, horses, pigs, whatever it is that’s important to you, I mean your personal belief, your own purview of the world around you, is fundamentally shifted after losing a loved one, belief in God or not. If it’s not, then you’re most likely a sociopath and I have no idea why you’re reading my blog right now.
Do not let your hearts be troubled; you do not have to feel conflicted or anxious in your loss. You most likely will feel conflicted or anxious (or both or many other things), yet the operative word in that command statement is “let”. You let your heart be troubled or conflicted or sad or angry or any multitude of emotions; how you respond to letting yourself feel that way is the incredible influence we have in our lives.
Even as I write this, I feel the tears welling up, I feel the lack of understanding of why we’ve lost who we’ve lost, I feel grief and sorrow and joy of love. Yet I also know that these feelings are not who I am, though they make me realize that I am capable of great emotional depths and capable of giving and receiving a tremendous amount of love in my life.
I’ll leave you with this quote that I’ve been reflecting on about loss; do not let your hearts be troubled, my friends.
“Live so as not to fear death. For those who live well in the world, death is not frightening but sweet and precious.” – St. Rose of Viterbo