Surrounded by hope: aether of love in hard times

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It’s been a rough start for 2018 for me. In common parlance, I’d just say I’m wearing out, but more aptly I’d describe myself as one of my favorite “Lord of the Rings” quotes from Bilbo: “I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.”

2017 presented many huge opportunities to lead and be a part, all of which crunched right up into Christmas and the six-month planned trip to London which was our family Christmas present. After almost a week of whirlwind touring and go-go-go, our plane landed at Dulles in D.C. on New Year’s Eve, and within minutes of de-boarding the plane, my brother called to tell me that my mother had just died, probably right as I was getting off the plane.

A few more hours, and then I was back at my house that had been a bed and breakfast for my brother’s family of six and their dog in my absence and which now was Funeral Central, bags thrown to the side for unpacking later. The 22-hour day finally ended with an unrestful sleep, that opened up to two days of funeral planning and family notification followed by the funeral itself that ended just as the snow began to fill the landscape, and the cold/flu began to fill my lungs.

Then the next several days of frozen wasteland were the setting by, which my mother’s things had to be gone through at the facility where she had been being taken care of, all the while I was trying to catch my breath.

Which brings me to this past week, when it was supposedly business as usual with meetings in the congregation, meetings with clergy in town and out of town, and even another funeral to attend. And in the background was the nagging responsibility that I am one of the leaders of a national conference being held in Orlando next week, the preparation for which was intended to take place instead of funeral planning, being sick, and grieving. Indeed, butter scraped over too much bread!

Now before I give up the negative slant of this article, let me make a full disclosure. Of the many hats that I wear, none of them have I been doing very well these past days. In fact, were you to look at me in my role as son, you might grade me very poor. As pastor, not too hot. As friend: What happened to that guy? And it’s kind of like that metaphor of the facets on a diamond. If you look at only one side, you might think that’s all there is. But people always have many different parts going on at the same time and pulling their time, energy, emotions, spirit and attention in often contradictory directions. The one facet doesn’t tell you what the person is about at any given time, but most likely, there are very few other than the person themselves who can even imagine all the facets at work simultaneously.

Got you down in the dumps enough now? Well, in the midst of all this stuff, I was feeling pressure. Some of it was imagined because most people were very gracious with their expectations of me realizing what I’ve just described above, that they couldn’t really get inside my head as to how all this was swirling my insides. But there were a couple who still selfishly only looked at the facet they needed me to be for them. So whether real or phantom, at some point I sat with myself and had a little conversation with me, myself and God. And out of such a negative soup of junk, I came up with one positive ray of light.

To understand this, I had to first accept that all those other people have those multiple facets too. And perhaps their various needs from me, seemingly selfish from my end, were more complex given the whole picture. And of the various relationships that I could get a handle on from familial relationships, to occupational call, to self-acknowledged responsibilities, none of those was fueled by negativity. In fact, all were generated by positive feelings and intentions.

All I kept thinking was, “There are so many moving parts! So many! They bump up against each other, contradict each other, and are so jumbled they are beyond my control!” Then God popped an image in my head. The word ended up being “aether” which was used by ancient philosophers, in a different way by Einstein, and even by the Marvel Universe, but in my image as the stuff in which all this movement takes place. And it occurred to me that no matter the way the moving parts looked from any one standpoint, they were all moving in the aether of love. Love was the driving force for all the contradictory stuff that was really at the heart of all those different facets in myself and those around me.

The assurance of that revelatory moment that God gave me was three-fold. First of all, it will all work out — maybe not clean and easy, but it will all work out. Second, any malice that I or someone else might suspect is probably just a misinterpretation of a multi-facetted situation — be mature and move on.

And lastly, though it seems overwhelming and overwhelmingly negative at the time, there is hope — no matter what it looks like, we are swimming in love, God’s, the love of spouse, children, parents, siblings, family, friends and the faithful all around us.

So when all looks hopeless, and you just don’t see how you can get it all done, take stock in what I’ve said here. And when the last thing on your list is to write your column for the paper, maybe just write what’s on your mind and your heart. Sometimes that’s the best you can do.

Pastor Zach Harris has been an ordained minister for 26 years and currently serves Ascension Lutheran Church in Wilson. His column, “Through a Lutheran Lens: A Pastor’s Perspective,” will appear regularly in the Wilson Times. Previous columns can be found at wilsontimes.com.