The major stories in our news of late have been the loss experienced in bushfires in NSW and Queensland. Great loss has been experienced and intense suffering for many as the bushfires burn in windy conditions that spread the flames and exacerbate the impact of fires. Of even greater impact was Cyclone Dorian that ravaged and devastated the Bahamas, in particular. The path of destruction is immense, and images convey almost complete devastation of parts of Grand Bahama and the Abaco Islands – it is truly incomprehensible. Over 70,000 are left homeless and the over 2,500 people are listed as missing. Most of us cannot conceive of such complete loss of home, possessions, community and infrastructure. Walking through Darwin a couple of months ago, I tried to imagine walking those streets following Christmas 1974, when Cyclone Tracey flattened the city. There are some structures left standing from that event to help us visualise something of the complete devastation – a city flattened.
Loss. Loss is part of our lives at very many points. Sometimes loss is experienced intensely – we have no choice – and it leaves us breathless, lost, confused, and often powerless. The consuming grief that we feel in the wake of deep loss is a dark path that we try to avoid at all costs – and sometimes do. It is, however, a necessary path if we are to finally embrace our pain, grow through it and become more deeply who are created and born to be. Pain and suffering are something that we all try to avoid, of course we do! When it comes to us – and it will! – we can walk through that dark valley with its shadow of death and find that we are not alone in our vulnerability. Or, we can run in every other direction, finding distraction and avoidance in every addictive, distractive path available. We may avoid the pain, but we embark on a path whereby this softer pain festers within and through us, burning into our being and breaking out in subconscious and harmful ways that prevent us becoming and being our true selves. This latter path also denies the yearning that lies at the heart of each of us, a yearning to fully become who we can be – it is the existential yearning that all people feel, although not all recognise or yield to it.
Life becomes a series of journeys into and through loss and growth – or as Jesus put it, dying and rising, death and resurrection. It is only through dying, letting go (especially of our egocentric fears and desire for control, power and privilege), that we discover the path into deeper life where humility and compassion grow and flow, where love and grace are central, and mercy and justice characterise our way with others and the world. The path through loss, in all its varied forms, is a path through grief and letting go – of people, possessions, dreams, fears, career, home, ego… It is a testing path and one that takes courage. It is a journey and becomes the journey of our lives – a two-fold journey that leads ‘away from home’ and back into the place we rejected, our ‘true home’. We begin the journey through adolescence when our egos burst into life and take us out into the world to experience everything we can. We are driven by ambition, possibility, lust for experience and encounter and the challenge to become what we can be. We are seduced by fame, fortune, power, privilege and everything that the world around and our materialistic society throws at us. We push against boundaries and make all manner of mistakes through the impulses that drive us. All the time we are building and forming the vessel that is our life, our being. These experiences give expression to who we are or might be and we experiment with ‘being’. This journey ultimately goes nowhere. It leads us out into the world and is necessary – we cannot avoid it, but if it is the only journey we make, we feel the alienation, loneliness and lostness of life. We will always be seeking something more, something to ameliorate the existential yearning within, but never really find it. That, sadly, reflects many people in our society who have never been helped to engage in struggle, pain and crisis and learn the deep lessons there. Suffering becomes the crucible of our becoming. It is the place through which we are formed and grow, build resilience and character and discover that which is ultimately meaningful and significant. When we are reduced to the fundamental ‘nakedness’ of our being, of life, through loss or suffering, we have a glimpse of that which is truly important. Our eyes are opened as we traverse life in its darkest moments and confront the fear that has controlled us: the fear of losing a person, a thing, a reputation, a perfect persona, power, position and the potential insecurity and confusion that pervades our life.
The second path or journey opens up before us in the wake of becoming dis-illusioned, naked before life, vulnerable in our crisis and suffering. We begin to recognise, if we yield to the experience, our powerlessness to save ourselves or to be ‘a self-made person.’ We tread the journey into wisdom and deep life when we realise that we need salvation beyond ourselves – this is love, integration, wholeness and relational life that finds itself embraced by the sacred and holy. We are led into places where we begin to move and live in the moment, appreciating what is, ‘now’. We open to the experience of being and the awareness that the Divine is reflected in all things and that we belong to the universe that finds life, being and sustenance in the heart of the Divine – that Paul calls the Christ in whom all things exist. Not everyone walks this path!
This week’s reading from Jesus’ life comes from Luke 15:1-10 (11-32). It is a series of stories that address loss. The movement is through loss of things. When we realise our loss, we begin the search and in finding there is celebration, whether significant coins or sheep, that are lost, searched after, and found. The additional story (Luke 15:11-32) is the well-known story of the ‘Prodigal Son’. It is a story that holds the mythic truth of the 2-fold journey of life that we have described above. Jesus tells of a son who asks for, and receives, his inheritance. Effectively denying his father’s existence, he runs off to experience life beyond the provincial town and back-water farm that has been his life. Life is lived to the fullest expression whilst there is money in his pocket – wine, women, song, and friends aplenty. When it runs out, he finds he is alone and lost. He realises that he yearns for home and returns. The miracle is that the father was always awaiting the son’s return – he always was and is a son. Home is where he belongs. These stories speak into God’s yearning for the lost to be found, to find ourselves in the journey of wisdom and love. It is a recognition that God is present to us wherever we are and whatever we are doing but our own sense of ego and personal choice often makes God redundant to our life and experience – we reject any sense of our need for God, for the sacred, the Divine and the spiritual path that leads into deeper being and belonging in God. Regardless of what we think about God, it doesn’t change the deeper reality that God is always with us, for us and holding us in grace! ‘Home’ is in the heart of God who is perfect love and grace!