grief and glimpses of glory

To be alone with me
You went up on a tree
~Sufjan Stevens, To Be Alone With You

When my brother died I looked for him everywhere. I knew without a doubt that his faith had become sight and now he’d seen the King. I know where he is.

Left here on the faltering gray earth though I’d found my sight frequently dimmed. So I would look for him. When the sky was particularly beautiful, I would stare hard at the edges of the lit-from-within clouds thinking I might see a sliver of his healed and whole face. When I drove down the road, I would look to the passenger seat and think for a moment of his nearness. Maybe I could see the outline of him there. When I was out and about, I would often find the shapes of young, shaved-head men. I’d catch sight of one walking away, see the back of his head, and imagine it was him.

It’s silly I know and yet it is comforting. In this lifetime of ours there is much emphasis on sight, on vision. So much of what we believe is correlated to what we see.

Round the clock news channels offer us a continuous view of all that is happening across the gray globe, be it good or evil. If I listen only to these voices though I would absolutely be focused on the latter.

This week, Doris, the wife of a dear Godly friend went to be with our good and gracious king. She’d languished long, aching to go home. Gary had lamented alongside his bride. He wanted her restoration and rescue although separation was an obstacle of heart and mind.

She looked angelic every time I saw her. The brilliant white hair and glorious pale skin and a touch of pink. Despite pain and sadness she still had an impish grin. Faithful 68 years of marriage gave them both a glow of the bridegroom.

I think now the loss is cavernous. When life has grown up around you, intertwined, united with roots so deep, the loss can only tear and undo and hurt. Like the upending of a great and weathered tree, roots are exposed. The dirt flies, the groans are loud and long. The hollow must ache and pull like nothing else. Suffocating.

The eyes tell us she is gone. We see her there, but not.

I think that was a big struggle for letting go of my brother. I did not get to see him again. The brutality of death would not allow it. My mother and I so longed to just see a glimpse of his skin again. Just to graze his freckled arm with a fingertip. To see and know he’d gone on. Maybe that’s why I looked for him everywhere. To my puny mind, I’d not seen his end. I had only had lunch with him at Moe’s, listening to him tell funny stories and watch him laugh with my son and daughter. I had only hugged him that last time, grabbing him, feeling his absolute solid physical presence.

My need to see him however was superseded by his vision now, vision I long to have.

It is vision I pray for Gary.

My brother’s faith became sight; he has seen the King.

Doris sees Him now as well.

I read this week of a dear family friends whose two youngest daughters suffer a rare and fatal brain disease. They work hard every day to to care for, enjoy, treasure their girls despite knowing the ache of separation is all too close, too real. Yet their faith holds fast.

They also cling to greater vision. The immediate and unrelenting now forces them to focus on things they cannot now see. The ache and desperation provides greater perspective. Their perspective grows every day as does their vision. It is a vision of glory, of God’s goodness in the darkest moments. It is trusting in what they cannot yet see.

I long for this vision. To step back and get a good glimpse. I think of 2 Kings 6 and the prophet Elisha as he prays for his servant to have vision. Early in the morning the servant finds that he and the prophet are surrounded by the horses and chariots of a greatly troubled Syrian king. He was greatly troubled because somehow this prophet knew what he was going to do before he was going to do it. It was irritating.

The king sought to seize the prophet.

“What do we do?” was the cry of the servant and the calm and measured response came from the man of faith, of sight. “Do not be afraid.” Elisha prayed for the servant to see—and did he.

“so the LORD opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.”

In the moment of fear and desperation, the servant only sees the enemy and imminent destruction. He needed vision and Elisha knew it.

It is the vision we all long for whether we know it or not. We are called to trust. On occasion we are offered a glimpse of eternal proportions.

The only one we are called to fear is God. And He is the one who gives us the sight, for there is nothing He does not see. (Hebrews 4:13, Psalms 33:13)

So I pray now for the hollow and lonely places of those who are hurting and alone after 68 years of communion and oneness. I pray for those who daily deal in the reality of things we only dare whisper to one another. The faith and vision of the King is enough for us all. The tree He went up on has reach even deeper than the roots of the oldest around.

Restored vision is achieved here. This is where we behold full-on the glory and majesty of all we hope for.

When we gain perspective, when faith becomes sight, when vision is restored it is because we understand that the story is not about me. I am not the central character upon whom all hope is laid. Our struggles, our suffering, our grief does not end here with us.

All the world would deceive, would turn us over, like the reflection in the concave mirror of the spoon. Everything is upside down on this side of eternity, us alone, at the center. None can withstand the pressure of being the center of the story. To be the center means being suffocated, eventually killed.

Thankfully that One is not us. That One was killed. That One did upend the tree when He burst forth from that dark, deep, buried place.

We are pressed down, held under, we face the broken, sinful, wretched curse of death. Yet it is in the darkest places that our eyes strain to see a glimpse of light. And here in the dark, it is somehow easier to spot the light. As we draw nearer to it we begin to gain greater vision, to see the story clearly. Here we find freedom to breathe freely as our faith becomes sight.

“So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.”
2 Corinthians 5:6-9

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