Here's what I wrote for our March newsletter:
March 11 will be the fifth anniversary of the death of my dear friend Nancy Taylor.
Nancy suffered terribly following a stem cell transplant for non-Hodgkins lymphoma in 1994. I still miss her generous, sweet spirit and graceful ability to always see the best in everyone she met. Nancy used to talk about how, no matter the actual ‘length of our days,’ each life can be seen as a masterpiece. Somehow that thought has stayed with me over the years, and I treasure it all the more now.
Thinking about her death and how she suffered for 10 years following that transplant always leads me to Psalm 103. This psalm helps me confront the reality of death while holding in my heart the power of hope.
Although the focus of this psalm is obviously on God, the sheer beauty of the poetry in verses 14-16 take us into a stunning confrontation with the fact of death. Not only are we ‘fleeting like grass and as vulnerable as flowers,’ we are also destined to be forgotten. Utterly forgotten. Even if we’re fortunate enough to have children and grandchildren, the time will come when no one alive on the earth will remember us. What a sobering thought. The psalm’s image of our days being ‘like grass that the wind naturally annihilates’ is so evocative that it takes us abruptly, but without a whimper, to a stark face-to-face with death. Psalm 103 seizes the illusion of living forever and brings it up short by linking us to all creation.
What is created, says the psalmist, is meant to die. Life and death are inextricably linked; each is carried within the other.
It is through this powerful look at death that the psalmist lays before us a compelling sense of God. Although all this talk of our death might cause us some anguish, God’s hesed—steadfast love—transforms these deep human realities. God’s hesed is the stronger reality, assuring us that we are part of a spiritual reality of life and love that continues on forever. It’s in this sense, I believe, that Nancy was so right: each life, no matter its length of days, is indeed a masterpiece of creation. What a comforting thought.
During the Lenten season, as we live the precious life we’ve been given, may we all know this stronger reality, the steadfast love of God.
Here is Psalm 103, a masterpiece of poetry:
Bless God, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless God’s holy name. Bless God, O my soul, and do not forget all God’s benefits—who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the Pit, who crowns you with steadfast love [“hesed”] and mercy, who satisfies you with good as long as you live so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
God works vindication and justice for all who are oppressed. God made known God’s ways to Moses, God’s acts to the people of Israel. God is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love [hesed]. God will not always accuse, and will not be angry forever.
God does not deal with us according to our sin, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is God’s steadfast love [hesed] toward those who revere God; as far as the east is from the west, so far God removes our transgressions from us.
As parents have compassion for their children, so God has compassion for those who revere God. For God knows how we were made, and remembers that we are dust.
As for mortals, their days are like grass, they flourish like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more. But the steadfast love [hesed] of God is from everlasting to everlasting on those who revere God, and God’s righteousness to children’s children, to those who keep the covenant and remember to do God’s commandments.
God has established a throne in the heavens, and God’s dominion rules over all. Bless God, O you angels, you mighty ones who do God’s bidding, obedient to God’s spoken word. Bless God, all you hosts, you ministers who do God’s will. Bless God, all God’s works, in all places of God’s dominion. Bless God, O my soul.