Tuesday, November 30, 2010

On the Rebel Jesus

This song continues to be a gift to me. I hope it is to you. Blessings this season.


Monday, November 29, 2010

On What Could Be

(Forgive me for posting a sermon text. I try to post something longer each week, in addition to a couple of smaller pieces. But charge conference is tonight and I am tied up in meetings all week. Here is a sermon for the first Sunday in Advent, preached yesterday. I heard the DS say today, at a district meeting, that we ought to be more positive about our economic circumstances. Having slogged through this particular sermon yesterday, the point is well taken.)

Text: Isaiah 2:1-5
Title: What Could Be

I was here two years ago and it is a real pleasure to be back, especially on this first Sunday of Advent. Advent is sort of a strange season—we are waiting for something that has already come, expecting a child that was born two thousand years ago. Advent is a distinctively different kind of season—it is a church season, which means that like a lot of other things in the church, it doesn’t make a lot of sense, but we do it anyway.

But I love the Advent season. There is something about waiting for Christmas that reminds me of waiting for the birth of a child, that sense of anticipation, those preparations, and Advent helps make Christmas mean more to me than ripping open presents and eating half a honey banked ham and passing out on the couch. You need that sense of expectation, I think, to make the day worth it, and in some ways we need it now more than ever. I don’t have to tell you. These are uneasy days, and the days have been uneasy for some time. When I preached here last, things had just turned south, and we were in it, but I think we all figured that this time, like most periods of down times, this time it would quickly pass. We would batten down the hatches and weather the storm, and then we’d go on like we always had.

But this time has been different, of course. It is hard to have hope when all around you seems to be falling away, and you wonder whether your next step is going to fall on solid ground or on a trap door where you find yourself in a hole with a tiger. These are uneasy days.

So, I don’t know about you, but I have been especially looking forward to Advent this year, because even if things are tough, at least I get the small piece of chocolate every day when I open the little door in my Advent calendar. When times are tough, you hold on to any little piece of happiness, any little piece of hope you can get your hands on, but lately I almost feel as if I don’t want to have hope. Now, I know that is a strange thing to say, but I almost really do feel like I don’t want to have hope, because I worry that I will just end up disappointed. Every time I feel like the world is getting ready to come out of this nonsense, we dive back in, and there’s always something to keep you disappointed, if that is what you are looking for. There’s always a new piece of economic news to disappoint you, or more awful sales figures at work, or another exhausted, hopeless look at the end of the day from your spouse. There just does not seem to be much to hope for—we are in so deep that you almost want to give up. And the worst part—the worst part—is that we seem to have lost control of the situation. So much of this is out of our control—I will venture to guess that there are no Wall Street bankers or members of Congress in the room—so much is out of our control that you wonder if we will ever feel like we’re walking on solid ground.

So let the record show that times are rough, but before you give up on me let me tell you that the kind of period we find ourselves in today is quite similar to the situation that the Israelites found themselves in, in this chapter of the Book of Isaiah. Their fate seemed to shift with the wind. One day, Egypt dominated them, and the next it was Assyria, or Babylon, or someplace else, but it didn’t really matter who it was. It felt like nobody was in charge, and because things changed so quickly, there really wasn’t anybody in charge, at least for long. It felt like nobody was in charge, least of all God, and when you start to feel like even God is not in charge, it is easy to lose sight of God’s vision for the world, because there are always, it seems, more pressing concerns, more immediate problems.

I say that you start to lose sight of God’s vision for the world, because in a lot of ways, that’s what hope is: hanging on to God’s vision for the world, trusting that God is still God. That’s what hope is, I think: believing that God is still God.

The Israelites had lost sight of God, and started to trust only in themselves, and this happens more than you might think. A nation loses its way, and of course you start to blame God, because if God is in charge and things are bad, then the natural extension is that God made things bad. Or you lose a job or a loved one, and if God is in charge, and you lost something, it must have been God who took it from you, and who wants to trust a God who does something like that? Oh, nobody really believes that, you might think, but how many times have you heard someone at a funeral say, “I guess God must have wanted another angel?”

These kinds of formulations work just fine, if you assume that God really does control everything, really does everything independent of human actions—if we are just pawns in some divine game of chess between God and the devil. It sounds ridiculous, but until something truly awful happens, it is of course much easier to think this way: to think that you are successful because God wanted you to be successful, blessed financially because God wanted you to be blessed, that all you are and all you have are who you are and what you have because God wanted it to be that way. And while I do not deny that God works in our lives, it is only a short skip and a jump from this kind of understanding of God to creating God in our own image instead of the other way around. It is just a short hop to a belief system where everything we do is justified just because it happened, and God would not have let it happen if God did not want it to happen that way.

Do you hear what I am saying? We self-justify and then stamp God’s name on it, like a knock-off pair of sunglasses or a purse with a designer label sewn into it, because self-justifying and attributing our actions to God’s will is easier than asking hard questions about what God’s true vision is for the world, and how we as God’s people fit into that vision.

I know these are hard questions. They are so hard we don’t even really ask them, in the church or otherwise. Oh, you hear all the time about God’s vision for your life. You can’t turn on the television without seeing some TV preacher with beautiful teeth telling you about God’s vision for your life. If you listen to those preachers, God’s vision for your life is for you to have gobs of money and nice cars and seventeen homes.

Even if you reject this sort of thinking that says that if you are faithful, you will be wealthy, you probably have asked yourself about what God’s vision is for your life. I think it is a perfectly reasonable question. Finding God’s vision for your life is important, I think, but it is not terribly hard to do, because it is easy to see your own role in finding God’s vision for your life. If you are like me, you have no problem thinking about yourself. I am something of an expert at thinking about myself. I pretty much do it all the time.

Asking questions about God’s vision for your life is perfectly reasonable I think, which makes it all the more surprising to learn that the prophet Isaiah could not care less about God’s vision for your life. Israel was full of people who asked about God’s vision for their lives, but what they did not do was ask about God’s vision for the world. Isaiah is talking about God’s vision for the world, and your place in it.

God’s vision for the world is really something quite different from God’s vision for your life, because thinking about God’s vision for the world require going outside of yourself: thinking about what God’s vision is—not just for you, not just for this time, but for the entire world, for the entirety of time. God’s vision for the world is bigger than any lifetime, bigger than any one person or one nation. But just because God’s vision is bigger than any one person does not mean that we as God’s people have no role in God’s vision. The world is not a cosmic chess game in which the pieces have no control over their own movements. God does not demand that we move three spaces forward and two over, and then it is the devil’s turn. That is now how this all works. The world is an active, moving place in which God is at work, yes, but the primary way that God works is through God’s people, so God’s vision for the world is less about things happening to us than it is about us making things happen.

And in the midst of all of this the prophet Isaiah gives us a pretty clear picture of God’s vision for the world: and oh, what a vision it is. Instruments of war bent into instruments of food production. Peace among all nations. Food for everyone. The study of war falls away and gives way to the worship of God. These words have so inspired the world that they are engraved on the United Nations building, and displayed outside the World Court, and celebrated on countless other monuments to peace, all over the world. With such beautiful language, and so many people claiming to take it seriously, you’d think we’d be closer to a world full of peace. I guess the reason is that these words, like so many others in the Bible, are chalked up to impossible idealism and ignored as beautiful but outdated relics of an earlier time.

It is idealistic, for sure. But it is also God’s vision. If you decide that life is too hard for God’s vision, too hard to work towards this ultimate goal of beating swords into plowshares and bending spears into pruning hooks, I suppose that is fine, but don’t try to fool yourself by pretending that you are putting your trust in God, or that you are seeking God’s vision. God’s vision is that there is war no more, and maybe that’s a politically incorrect thing to say, but it is in the Bible, so I feel pretty comfortable saying it. You can’t properly have hope, you can’t properly put your trust fully in God our Creator, without working to bring about that vision.

Look, I know we are not there yet. I may be an idealist but I am no fool. We are not there yet. I do not believe will get there before Christmas. But even though the work is hard, and heartbreaking, and just because I may not see the ultimate results of my hard work, God calls us to the work anyway. Just as we wait in Advent for that which has been and is not yet, we wait and work towards God’s original intention for the world—that which was in mind when God said, “Let there be light:” that all may live in peace with one another, that there is enough for everyone, and that we may study war no more.

So I invite you to ask yourself two questions this Advent. First, what is God’s vision for the world? This is the easy question, because the answers are in the book, and it is an open book test, after all. What is God’s vision for the world? It is here, in Isaiah, and it is all throughout the rest of the book, too, so you should not have too hard a time answering. Here’s a hint: it may just involve all the peoples of the world shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks, and that national shall not lift up sword against nation, and neither shall they learn no more. This may just be God’s vision for the world. Isaiah seemed to think so.

The second question is much more difficult, but it is just as important: what am I doing to bring about God’s vision for the world? Not so much what is God’s vision for my life, but what am I doing to bring about God’s vision for the world?
Figure out how to answer those two questions, and I suspect that life will feel less out of control, because you will find yourself working towards God’s plan. It is hard, because God’s vision requires something of all of us, but I believe that if you take God seriously, you will find yourself among a great communion of saints, many who have gone before and many who are with us now, who are assisting God in bringing about a world without hunger and without war. I do not know what your part in this effort looks like. That is between you and God. But I suspect that God has a role for you, no matter who you are, no matter how old, how skilled, how skeptical that this vision will work.

This is difficult work, but God promises that it is indeed possible. And I know no better symbol of God’s promise that this vision is possible than a child, born in a barn, who would grow up to show us a new way. May we take him seriously this season, may we follow his example: now, and always.

Monday, November 22, 2010

On the Trinity

We Christians neglect our Trinitarian heritage. While I am not certain as to why we do not dwell more on the three-fold nature of God, I suspect that one reason for our (small-u) unitarianism is that trying to make sense of the Trinity will give you a mild case of vertigo.

It is much easier to think of God as one-in-one. I also have a theory that people don’t like thinking about God as three-in-one because it makes us feel too much like polytheists.

I happen to like this notion of Trinity, though—and that is a good thing, considering that I have pledged to uphold this doctrine. I like the idea that God is fundamentally relational—that just as God relates to God’s self, God relates to us. There are relationships within the trinity: Creator and Christ, Christ and Sprit, Creator and Spirit. On days when I feel isolated, I take comfort in this relational understanding of God.

There is another reason, though, that I find the Trinity to be a particularly powerful notion. Let me back up a bit and explain.

I think a lot about cohesiveness. I firmly believe, for instance, that one’s beliefs should stand up in all aspects of one’s life. That is not to say that I don’t believe in shades of gray. I do, but I also believe in integrity: that notion that you do what is right, even if the consequences are nasty.

You just cannot go through life split in so many directions. Divide your loyalties, and you’ll split right in two: just ask Ananias and Sapphira. And much of modern psychology is built upon the principles of wholeness and cohesion. You can’t live a proper life when your beliefs are stacked up against one another. It is just not healthy.

So I think a lot about cohesiveness, especially as it relates to the Christian life, and that is why I am thinking about the Trinity today, about three persons of God who represent vital parts of what it means to live in Christ. I think of the Trinity both in its historic formulation of Father-Son-Spirit, and in its theological formulation of Creator-Redeemer-Sustainer.

First, the Creator. Without the creator, there is nothing, as there is no One to create. Creation, of course, was not a one-time event. We are constantly created and recreated in the image of God. Were God not constantly creating and recreating, there is no need for redemption or sustaining; there would be nothing to redeem or sustain.

Second, the Redeemer. Without the redeemer, God the Creator and God the Sustainer would be creating and sustaining such a horrid bunch of self-loathing and self-destructive people that I wonder if the whole exercise would even be worth it. This is not to say that there is no goodness within humanity; Wesley taught that sin “is a malignant disease, not an obliteration of the image of God.” The fact of sin, and the fact of broken relationship, means that there must be a force, greater than ourselves, which takes that which was created and saves it, restores it to community and frees it from the bondage of selfish obsession. Without the Redeemer, we are but a wandering pack of self-reliant nomads, unable to settle down because we are unable to see our place in the great matrix of human life. In the connection that exists between humans, and between humans and the Divine, God the Redeemer shows us a better way.

Third, the Sustainer. Without the sustainer, God the Creator and God the Redeemer would create and redeem humanity, but that moment of redemption would be the last moment humanity would properly reflect the Imago Dei. As M. Scott Peck began The Road Less Traveled, “Life is difficult,” and a difficult life without a sustaining God is a hopeless place. Without hope, the Imago Dei breaks down, because God is One who continually calls us to greater things. God’s promise to be with us, even to the end of the age, means that God’s presence in the human life does not end with redemption. God sustains us, calls us to greater love and care, and lives with us. This last point cannot be oversold: God lives with us, actually.

These kinds of thought experiments are helpful only to a certain degree, of course. God is all three of these things, so to imagine God as only one or two of these things is difficult, if not impossible. But thinking theologically helps me see a fuller picture of God, and to work towards unity in my own beliefs and understandings. I cannot help, for instance, see a link between the way I’ve described the Trinity and the United Methodist understanding of Grace as coming before us, justifying us, and sanctifying us.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Deeper Still

In the tears you gave to me
I found a river to an ocean
A concrete sky and a stone cold sea
That came to where the emptiness cracked open

And all my fears came crashing through
And met the fire of my sorrow
But I found my strength in forgiving you
I never even dreamed how far my heart could go

To give my life beyond each death
From this deeper well of trust
To know that when there's nothing left
You will always have what you gave to love

In this life, the love you give becomes the only lasting treasure
And what you lose will be what you win
A well that echoes down too deep to measure

A silver coin rings down that well
You could never spend too much, a diamond echoes deeper still
And you'll always have what you gave to love,
You will always have what you gave to love

David Wilcox, "Deeper Still"

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Merton on Grace

What is "grace?" It is God's own life, shared with us. God's life is Love. Deus caritas est. By grace we are able to share in the infinitely selfless love of [God] Who is such pure actuality that [God] needs nothing and therefore cannot conceivably exploit anything for selfish ends. Indeed, outside of [God] there is nothing, and whatever exists exists by [God's] free gift of its being, so that one of the notions that is absolutely contradictory to the perfection of God is selfishness. It is metaphysically impossible for God to be selfish, because the existence of everything that is depends on [God's] gift, depends upon [God's] unselfishness.
When a ray of light strikes a crystal, it gives a new quality to the crystal And when God's infinitely disinterested love plays upon a human soul, the same kind of thing takes place. And that is the life called sanctifying grace.
The soul of [human], left to its own natural level, is a potentially lucid crystal left in darkness. It is perfect in its own nature, but it lacks something that it can only receive from outside and above itself. But when the light shines in it, it becomes in a manner transformed into light and seems to lose its nature in the splendor of a higher nature, the nature of the light that is in it.
So the natural goodness of [human], [the human] capacity for love which must always be in some sense selfish if it remains in the natural order, becomes transfigured and transformed when the Love of God shines in it.

Thomas Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain

Monday, November 15, 2010

On what the UMC does right

There has been a good deal of talk lately at the denominational level of the United Methodist Church about what is wrong with the UMC. We've been issued the Call to Action report, which among other things, comes from a place of "crisis," a word that is used in the report some fifteen times. Crisis, crisis, crisis. We have to move now, or the whole blasted thing might just fall in on itself.

You get the picture. Everybody wants to get a word in about what is wrong with the United Methodist Church. There has been a report, and before you know it, it's a voting year in Annual Conference, and then General Conference. Before you know it, the election cycle in the UMC is just as long as in American politics, which is to say it never ends. And the rhetoric is negative, just awfully negative, and it's no wonder we all think we're in dire straits. We've been using the word "crisis" so much that we are starting to believe it!

I do not deny that there are issues the UMC needs to deal with. As a young clergyperson, I certainly am sympathetic to the church's need to reach young people, both to grow the committed laity and to grow the clergy. Having worked for a jurisdictional agency for three years before my current appointment, I am also familiar with concerns surrounding church structure. There is some fine tuning to be done.

But God forbid we talk about what is right with the church. I'm not one to pretend that life is all rainbows and cupcakes, but I think there is probably a legitimate case to be made for looking at what the church is doing right, and using that as a starting place, rather than looking at what the church is doing wrong, and beginning there.

Actually, in some ways, that was the stated modus operandi of the Call to Action report, inasmuch as the group was seeking to measure "vitality" of churches. But even as the group is looking at markers of vitality, the reports reads as if the vitality markers are just something against which to measure the rest of the church.

And in all the conversation about church reform, and about General Conference, and about "reaching the lost" and "being relevant" and whatever else the buzzword is this week, we focus on what we are doing wrong--or, perhaps to be more specific, what we are not doing well enough.

I'm all for these conversations, because you can't really be properly self-reflective without thinking about what you could be doing better. But as put together a comprehensive plan for survival, I can't help but think that this look under the hood of the UMC is not so much a look at the UMC as it is a coveting of what other denominations and faith traditions are doing well.

We have been in this place before. The last part of the 20th century saw the UMC co-opting other traditions' church-growth models, and we are now coming to see that while those models may have worked for us for a time, they have not left us in such a great place as a denomination. Even nondenominational churches are beginning to see that having beat the church growth drum for so long, they are worse for the wear.

These models often have pulled at the connection, exposing places where the thread is ripped and holes have formed. I have heard the words "creeping congregationalism" used to describe the path we are on, specifically as we look to the Call to Action report. I would not take it that far, but I think the basic sentiment is fair. As churches go off on their own, and neglect the connection, the connection gets weaker.

Perhaps weakening the connection is fine with some folks. Too much bureaucracy, too much heavy-handedness, too much control over the life of the local church: I've heard all these arguments, just within the last week. But, I mean, my God, we're United Methodist. Let's be United Methodist. This is not to say that the Spirit is not moving in other denominations, in other traditions, and it is not to say that great things aren't being done outside the UMC.

If there is one thing I've learned about ministry--really, it's been drilled into my head by those concerned with clergy self-care--it is that God does not expect us to be all things to all people. So why are we trying to do that with the denomination? The UMC obviously wants to reach as many folks as it can, as, you know, I'm pretty on board with the whole business of making disciples for the transformation of the world. The message is good. But why are we looking at all these things we COULD be instead of looking at what we ARE?

This is why I am thinking about the connection today. The church to which I am appointed, Johns Creek UMC in metro Atlanta, held an event yesterday with Stop Hunger Now, an anti-hunger organization. 50,000 meals got packaged, and ten other churches in the Atlanta-Roswell District participated. Ten! All we had to do was make an announcement at the district set-up meeting, put an ad in the district newsletter, and talk to ministers who are already my friends. And we had ten churches come participate, sending money and volunteers--we almost had too much of both!

Connectionalism, of course, is such a low priority in other organizations and denominations that it is not an actual word; my spell check does not recognize it, and I can't find it in the dictionary. But when we tend to the connection--because it does need tending--it is life giving. Eleven churches in total yesterday packaged meals for 50,000 kids.

The hard news is that we need each other. The good news is that we already have each other, if we will tend to those relationships. A marriage does not work, after all, unless both parties put in work to keep the relationship strong. A connection of churches (which we are!) does not work unless we put an effort into working together. In that working together, I am pretty sure that we will find that those connections are what is--quite literally--holding us together as a denomination.

I think that is a fine place to start.

Or, you know, we can serve the same warmed-over report, year after year, and talk about what a crisis we are in.

Look, I get it. The church has got to change--and it is hard to change the church, because the church is a fundamentally conservative institution. We are conserving tradition and practice. But if we are always in crisis, what is the point of existing at all? So many things get served to me during the day under the banner of "this is a crisis and must be dealt with immediately" that I am starting to believe that unless life and limb is under immediate attack, calling something a crisis does it more harm than good.

But there are good things happening in the UMC. Great things, even. And it tends to be that the best things that are happening in the United Methodist Church happen when churches work together, celebrate that connection as more than just lip service, and understand that we are all in this boat together.

Of course, plenty of more experienced folks have weighed in, and the Bishops seem to like the report. We will see what comes of it. Maybe I'm just naive.

But, you know, out of the mouth of babes . . .

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

On the spirit of mind

I seek the renewal of the spirit of my mind.

There is a spirit of mind without which it is impossible to discern truth. It is this set of mind that makes possible the experience of truth and distinguishes it from the experience of error. It is this spirit that recognizes or senses the false, the dishonest, the bogus thing. It is this attitude that determines the use to which facts are put.

The spirit of mind works in our behavior, in what we do, in what we say, whether our acts are strictly moral in character, or whether they have to do with the manner in which we deal with each other or the traffic of the market place or aught else. This spirit of mind is the factor upon which the integrity of performance rests.

Constantly, I must seek the renewal of the spirit of my mind, lest I become insensitive, dulled, unresponsive to the creative movement of the spirit of God with which life is instinct. True, the spirit of my mind is a gift from God but it must be ever held before Him for testing, for squaring.

Here in the quietness I seek the renewal of the spirit of my mind that I may be a living, vital instrument in His hands, this day!

I seek the renewal of the spirit of my mind.

Howard Thurman, Meditations of the Heart

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

On art

We had the chance, last weekend, to see the Atlanta production of Ovo, one of the more recent Cirque du Soleil shows. I think we saw one of the first productions of the show in Atlanta, but you wouldn't know it from the performances and professionalism of the cast. I was so impressed with the incredible physical abilities of the cast that it actually, at first, almost made the show hard to watch. You worry about whether someone is going to fall, because what that person is doing looks so physically impossible that you just KNOW they are showing off for the crowd and they are going to fall.

And then they don't, and you move on to the next anxiety-ridden performance.

Only, there is something so beautiful about a Cirque performance that it was not long before I got over those anxieties and soon found myself so wrapped up in the show that I was not even really focusing on one performer. There is so much happening on stage--so much color, so much movement--that it can be hard to focus. But it was not long before I could feel my view broaden, quite literally, and I started to take in the entire show, from my seat in the fifth or sixth row.

And it was art. The show was art. It was not a collection of feats of strength, or a colorful group of people, or some kind of freak show. It was art, in the sense that art is that which bypasses your brain entirely and knocks on the door to your heart. This is not to say that art cannot be cerebral--it certainly can--but even cerebral art knocks on the door to your heart, only to climb the brain stem back into your head, like a trapeze artist climbing a rope ladder.

It was art. And I do not know if I actually felt as if I was above myself, but that is how I remember it, because that is what art does. It pulls me out of myself, which is good, because it can be stifling in here.

I joke, but what it definitely did make me think is that I need more art in my life. If I am going to try to move beyond drowning in a sea of details, then I need art to throw me a life raft. After all, we are speaking to that which is at the human core, and to that which is at the heart of God, and to that which is both at the human core and at the heart of God.

There are no finite words that can adequately describe either the human core or the heart of God, because at the very center of being there is that which is beyond words, what Schleiermacher described as "absolute dependence," an ineffable understanding that we are in unity with God and the world. Schleiermacher was talking about religious experience, which is as much art as it is anything else, if you ask me.

It can be hard to feel that absolute dependence when I'm filling out expense reports and coordinating volunteers and making phone calls. But these are merely brush strokes in the great canvas, the place where the core of human existence intersects with the heart of God.

* * *

There is a painting I love. It is called "Les raboteurs de parquet," or "The Floor Scrapers."

It was painted by Gustave Caillebotte, who is best known for a different painting, if he is known as a painter at all. Mostly, he was a collector and patron of the arts. The Floor Scrapers is not a particularly well-known painting, though it does hang in the Musee d'Orsay in Paris.

And yet, something about that painting speaks to my heart. I don't know what it is--it is certainly a strange painting to have speak to my heart, but it does. I will always remember coming up upon the painting at the Orsay, and how I felt just starting at it, the movement depicted, the ordinariness of it against the shine of the sun on the varnished floor. When we went to Paris for a week after we graduated from seminary, I made a beeline straight for this painting and just stared, allowed my heart to remember what it felt like to find it for the first time.

I have a poster of The Floor Scrapers that I look at from time to time, and--though it is not the same thing as seeing the original--the poster reminds me of what it feels like to stand in front of a canvas so large you have to wonder how it fit through the door, and to just stare, until the details fall away and the brushstrokes meld and I suddenly find myself standing at the edge of the infinite silence.

That's what art is, I think. And ministry, without art, is dead.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

On grief.

If prayer is the attempt to understand God, then grieving is the deepest form of prayer, rising from the body and soul and mind, asking God and really and truly wanting to know, no matter what the answer: Whoa re you? Why did you create a world with pain? Why is life this way? What are you? Because you are not what I thought you were.
Grieving, at its deepest level, is to acknowledge that creation can be cruel and that people suffer. To look at this truth, to allow yourself to feel it, you are forced to consider the nature of this world and this existence. You ask how this can be and who set this up and why this happens. To grieve is to ask God the hardest questions. To grieve is to ask who God really is. It’s to change your perspective on all other human beings and their relationships to one another and to you and your place in this world. To grieve is to start over, to be re-created.

Kerry Egan in Fumbling: A Pilgrimage Tale of Love, Grief, and Spiritual Renewal on the Camino de Santiago.