Tag Archives: grief

A WITNESS: THE HAITI EARTHQUAKE, A SONG, DEATH, AND RESURRECTION Book Review by WTS Professor Norma Cook Everist

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Renee Splichal Larson, A Witness: The Haiti Earthquake, A Song, Death, and Resurrection (Eugene. OR: Resource Publications, 2016), 264 pp.

This book could have been titled so many different ways: A Love Story; Tragedy in Haiti; Loss and Grief. But I think A Witness is just right. Renee Splichal Larson is a participant witness to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti that killed her husband, Ben, and left her a widow at age 27. A Witness is a very personal and also a very global book. In telling her painful yet hopeful story, Renee invites us to enter, from wherever we are; to see, to feel, to question, and to understand more deeply the power, grace, and love of God. This is a communal story. It is about accompaniment and relationship, about Ben, Renee, and Jon, all Wartburg Seminary seniors, who went to Haiti to be with the people there, and who became part of the shaking of the earth with them.

This book is about a few minutes in history and about the years that surround them. It is not a short book, but you won’t want to put it down. The book is intimate, deep, and profound, but not heavy.  We laugh as well as cry. We see people who go to amazing lengths to care for each other. Care across boundaries!

As the book begins, we meet these three young people and enjoy setting out on life’s journey with each of them. Ben and Jon are cousins who are closer than brothers. We hear Renee’s own story about her early years. I have witnessed in Renee an incredible woman. You will discover this, too, as you come to know her and see how she views life and the people whom she comes to cherish. We see Christ in people, because Renee is a witness to Christ in their lives and to Christ at work in the midst of tragedy, care, connection, and the renewal of resurrection.

The story’s focus is on one very gifted young man who died too soon. But the story is also about two people, and three, and about the families of Renee, Ben, and Jon. This is a book about family. Yet we also meet strangers, and we learn from them, and learn what it means to be served by them as much as serving among them. We see, really see, the people of Haiti: Bellinda, Livenson, Kez, Louis, Mytch, and more. Soon we are a witness to hundreds and yes, thousands. This story is about the global church. It is about faith and what it means to be church together in life and death, and in new life.

We see the Haitian people, who have suffered so much and continue to care for the outsider. We hear their faith and song in the midst of despair. We see their resilience, but dare not romanticize the complex issues. In our own ignorance and arrogance, we who live in affluent countries benefit from countries that remain poor and dependent. These are the causes and ramifications of poverty. The call of A Witness is to community and justice.

Poetry from fellow witnesses (friends and classmates) comforts us as well as the author as we walk and weep with each step from earthquake to resting place. This is a book for all who have suffered trauma, sudden tragedy, or the sadness of long suffering.

Renee is a theologian—of the best sort—who lives life fully, and is forever asking questions. (So the title could also have been A Theology.) Her reflections are existential and challenging, and she invites her readers to reflect theologically with her. She also knows that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is true, and that new life in Christ is real. But this new life comes only after lamentation and loneliness and deep grief.

Together with Renee, we become witnesses to the importance of pastoral care and of a worshipping and caring community. Friends carry a body out of Haiti, and all are carried by the body of Christ. This is a theology of grace, of the cross and resurrection, of Christ with people in their dying as much as with the living. This power of God, God’s own commitment to us, empowers us for commitments to all of God’s global family.

There are more ministry opportunities for this now-ordained pastor and for us all. Renee goes where God leads, including to the people of Heart River, North Dakota. I believe this work is and will be a blessing to all who read it, to all for whom she is a witness to Christ and to his cross and resurrection.

Renee

RENEE SPLICHAL LARSON

is a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Born and raised in North Dakota, Renee is a graduate of Concordia College, Moorhead, Minnesota, and Wartburg Theological Seminary, Dubuque, Iowa. She is married to Jonathan Splichal Larson, who is also a pastor in the ELCA, and their son is named Gabriel. Renee and Jon are both survivors of the 2010 Haiti earthquake. A Witness is Renee’s first book.

THRESHOLD OF LIVING By Tami Groth, final year MA Diaconal Ministry

Standing in front of the strips of paper I read the directions again: write the names of the saints in your life. The names of the saints that have died and gone before us on the white paper. Use the strips of colored paper to write the names of the saints in your life that are still with us. I began writing.

I wanted it to be something I did quickly before the next thing on my growing “to-do” list that day. I could not. Here in the space between Chapel and the refectory, and on my hurried way to the library, this request moved me outside of the carefully accounted for and scheduled moments of my day. I lost track of the slips. Name after name. Moment after moment.

I put down the marker, and held time still with my breath as I remembered standing in deafening silence surrounded by life and yet alone with death — unable to move out of the between and back into time.

I am standing in front of her fresh grave. We buried her exactly a week after I birthed her still body. In all respects it was a glorious sunny mild November day. I was told later that an eagle flew overhead right as the silence fell. The silence that deepened my numbness.

The moments I had not been able to imagine had come to pass  — the awful processional out into the world Emily wouldn’t know. First she was carried by her father in that tiny casket step-by-step down the church aisle, then the drive to the cemetery. We survived watching that tiny pink casket go into the ground next to her great-grandparents. We listened numbly to prayers.

In the first second of quiet we put single roses on top of that casket before it was1117_close buried in earth. Emily’s older sister, Megan, gave me the gift of being her 4-year-old self when nobody could convince her to give up the rose she was holding. In that moment I wanted to take her and gather her in my arms and twirl her around and around until we were both dizzy. I wanted to be in her moment of joy in the beauty of the rose.

Instead I continued to stare at her sister’s fresh grave–the still green grass, the black dirt, and pink. An eternity of quiet; holding my breath on the threshold of living into a reality of “forever changed.”

Just mere hours ago I had been encouraging the stream of people entering the church to look at her: “she’s so beautiful.” My heart ached to hold onto that beauty like a 4-year-old with her hands on a rose stem.

“I can’t do this anymore” I said not realizing my thoughts had broken the silence.

“Then don’t,” my mom said as she took my arm and gently guided me across that threshold.

I wiped my wet eyes and gulped in deep breaths of fresh air as I made my way from one Wartburg building to the next attempting to return to place and time — 13 years of living later — on my way to the library and the life of to-do lists. A glance at my watch claimed the moments connected in minutes.

The next week in chapel names were read, candles were lit, Gospel was spoken, and those slips of paper — white and colored — hung together in sunlit windows and air stirred them as if with the dance of eternal life.

ALL SAINTS DAY REMEMBERED by Josh Johnson, final year M.Div.

Homily given at Wartburg Seminary Chapel November 3, 2014

Today is All Saints Day, a day in which we remember and honor the saints of our lives. Saints are far and near, and both living and dead. As part of preparing for today’s message, I reflected upon experiences of this day since coming to Wartburg.

My first All Saints day here at the castle was the type of day that I had grown accustomed to. We celebrated those who had gone before us with familiar hymns, the reading of the names of the recently deceased, and the lighting of candles. It was a celebration of all those who had touched us throughout the years.

The following year was quite the opposite. As some of you know, my second year here on campus was marked by the death of our son Josiah. Shannon and I found out 2 weeks prior to school starting that his heart had stopped beating. Josiah was stillborn at 37 weeks.

All Saints took on a much different meaning for me. I remember yearning to hear his name read with the other saints.

This wasn’t the planned path; baby’s names are to be read at baptisms and other celebrations, but this was it for me.

Death gave us this one the last milestone.

This past All Saints service was also marked with a death in my life. Last summer my grandfather died at 80 years of age. He lived a long, fruitful life and was very special to me.

All Saints Day was a day of fond memories as I remembered my special relationship with him.

This is how I imagined All Saints Day to go, a sad, yet joyous commemoration.

Today’s gospel lesson comes from Jesus’ familiar teaching from the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes. I don’t know about you, but there’s something about these blessings that doesn’t settle with me.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, the mourning, the meek, the hungry, and so on. How are the people who experience these blessed?

There’s no way Jesus is telling us that some of the most challenging and miserable situations in life are blessings. It has to be a problem in translation.

So let’s try out some alternative meanings for this Greek word:

How about, favored are the poor in spirit… no that’s not it.

Oh, fortunate are those who mourn… that’s not any better, fortunate is the last word that comes to mind when I think about the death of a loved one.

Ok, how about this one: privileged are the meek, or happy are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness… no, those don’t work either

So, if blessed is the right word here, what is Jesus trying to tell his disciples?

The next question that begs to be asked from the text, is about the “wills” in the second half of the statement. They will be comforted; they will inherit the earth; they will be filled; and so on. So, when will this take place? When will those who mourn be comforted?

Death is an unavoidable reality of our world. Death sneaks in and takes away a loved one out of nowhere; death also comes for those for whom we expect it to come.

Nevertheless, death separates us from those we love. It stings. It hurts. It’s unfair. You know this. I know this.

When Josiah died and every hope and dream was dashed away in an instant, I was beyond crushed. I had nothing.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Sisters and brothers, I am here today to tell you that Jesus’ words are true. No, it’s not because Shannon and I were the “lucky” recipients ofa new angel baby watching over us in heaven.” Moreover, it’s definitely not because we were young enough to try to have more children. I love Noah beyond measure, but he is not God’s comforting answer.

God’s comfort came to us by other means.

God’s comfort came to us through two friends that showed up at a moment’s notice when we found out this dreadful news.

God’s comfort came to us through a supportive community that was present in our time of need.

God’s comfort came through the ones who finally treated us as a human beings rather than as a pity case.

God’s comfort continues to come through supportive friends who continues to be there.

In our time of desperation, we were blessed by the loving presence of those that God sent to comfort us. In our deep grief, in our most vulnerable state, we were blessed because all we had was God, and God was there.

The hurt and pain did not go away, and its memory still resides. Nevertheless, it is not to be borne alone.

We bear it in one another and we bear it in the one who experienced great agony on the cross.

This is the promise of our text today. No matter how crappy life feels, and no matter how far life beats you down.

God promises stand the test of time.

Christ is there when you are stripped of everything else.

The Spirit surrounds you with a witness of saints.

God is with you. Amen