On a whim…

Chaotic, esoteric, marginally coherent, stuff about life.

Archive for the ‘death’ Category

Death’s Anniversary

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Twenty years ago, and earlier this evening, Beth Batson Wilkerson departed from this life. That which remained was buried and that which persists has moved on. Even now we who remember wonder to where and to when did she go? In the geography of time and space there is no chart on which we can mark her destination but there are places in the heart where shadows tease us with what reason cannot deduce; A place where departed loved ones linger.

cemeteryI have not been idle these twenty years. Much has changed and, for now, much remains the same. I have a son, now. Like all of us he is curious about his origins and we often talk of how our family was shaped. Beth’s death and our grief is a prominent moment in that story as well as my present happiness. For years I struggled with how to speak of my two great loves: my wife and my late wife. My son seems to grasp this easily. He asks, “Would she like me?” To which I reply, “She would love you!” He states, “I wish she could be here but then we wouldn’t have Mom, would we?” I ponder this as he continues, “But maybe we could just be a bigger family than we are now.” I think, maybe that’s what heaven is, the biggest of all families.

Thus, life as we know it has gone on. I have discharged some responsibilities and, as I have just related, I have taken on new ones. I am not alone and that is how Beth wished it. I live, somehow, both in grief and in joy; Living a paradox founded on an irony.

It is a difficult for me today. I am compelled to accept these truths: I could not have been who I was without one and I would not be who I am without the other. My dreams are never the same and always the same. I can not have what I want and I want to keep what I have. It is as if life is conducted in the vestibule of a great house. All of the loves, the dramas, the moments of grief and ecstasy are lived out in discrete moments of “then” while I am sustained by a sense of waiting for “eventually”.

I imagine heaven as a state of being where our grammar is changed. Every “was” and all our “somedays” are transfigured into “now”. Past and present tense have no context and, deprived of time, they fade as all things mortal must. It is there that we, all of us, gather in the presence of the Almighty. We gather before One whose otherness renders us silent; Our once bountiful sense of time distilled into an everlasting “now”.
Those who have gone before us do not wait for us, we are they who wait restlessly for them. Our Lord said of himself that he is the Alpha and the Omega. In him, we find our First and Last, our Beginning and End.

Written by David Wilkerson

27 November 2013 at 11:54 pm

Let All the Earth Keep Silence…

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Speak only if it improves the silence. From Chantelle Says

“Speak only if it improves the silence.” Courtesy of Chantelle Says

A friend perished tonight; I want to say ‘faded’. She faded from view. Or maybe I want to say, “she passed”, as they say in the part of Georgia where I came to know a bit more of God than I bargained for. No, just faded. Faded like the sun sinking below the horizon only to rise like the sun from another. Fading out, fading in. Setting and rising; borrowed images that, tonight, belong to others. They make me want to pray.

In her short book, “Help, Thanks, Wow”, Anne Lamott declares that prayer should be simple. I agree, but I want to add, it can still be beautiful. The question is, in whose eyes should such beauty be held? Is it possible to perceive beauty most properly when our hearts are tuned to a pitch heard only in darkest nights, or greatest joys, or deepest yearnings; a beauty encountered in the midst of mystery?  Is it probable that what often passes for beauty is noisy and as likely to carry prayers ‘aloft’ as a blossom might drift into the sky borne on the backs of gilded bricks? I need more than bricks tonight.

I want to pray. I want to let a stream of yearning flow from my heart to Another’s. Sometimes words of any kind get in the way of prayer. Of all the prayers I have uttered or heard the most profound was the extended silence that followed when Dr. Raymond H. Bailey halted, mid sermon. He had just declared that we should remain silent that God might speak;  the following silence provoked hope in some, joy in others, and (perhaps) surprise.  In silence we held our breath and our words. We listened and our hearts found the pitch; we simply and silently prayed. What could be more beautiful?

A friend perished tonight. Her family must surely struggle to find something lost in the shambles; in the midst of their grief I pray.

“But the LORD is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him.”
– Habakkuk 4:20 KJV

Written by David Wilkerson

1 May 2013 at 8:17 pm

To Die (to Write), to Sleep, to Sleep Perchance to Dream…

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There is some aspect of death in the act of writing that rises in the instant of losing oneself in narrative. We writers are permitted to dream. But what dreams indeed may come? I am told that for some, writing is like a narcotic. The dictum, “You are a writer if you are compelled to write,” has been hammered into me for decades. Real writers are addicted to their narratives?!

Not me. I have always wanted to write and write well. But, in a perverse self destructive effort to prove I am not addicted, ergo not a writer I seek refuge in the mundane. How I love the distraction of a clogged toilet and cherish the joy of a late night return to the house and finding doggy hors d’oeuvres scattered from den door to garbage can.

I used to write a weekly newsletter column. One that I pompously titled “In the First Place”. Every day would start with random scribbles with the idea that I would build momentum as the deadline approached. Starting with some superfluous worlds and adding more of the same I would finally have whole paragraphs of noise. These I gleefully discarded knowing that NO ONE wanted to read my blathering nonsense. Far better that I tighten screws on a door handle, dust a window sill, and repeatedly check whether the wadded paper in the bin had enough relatives to constitute a zoning violation so I could toss out the whole lot.

But who am I kidding? What else pulls me to a keyboard late at night or forces a pen and church bulletin into my hands during prayers? What other form of insanity compels me claw through an in-flight magazine searching for a clear margin on which to scribble random thoughts and waking dreams.

It is a sad thing to believe a writer is always a Jack Kerouac, drawn by the call of a great idea to sit for hours or days birthing an idea in a single gushing stream of consciousness.  There are times when I wish I could not sleep. Times when I wish my own compulsion to write was easier for me.

In my Walter Mitty life as a writer, I see myself awakened from a dream filled sleep. Flailing, groping for a lighted pen and note paper (real writers have cool tools) I record passages of sublime prose. The real me is awakened by the familiar urge of a full bladder. I stumble down the hall and I reach the toilet to find it is clogged… again. In my groggy state the only narrative is a rich and unrecorded internal discourse regarding how gross is the state of the toilet.

When it comes to writing there’s no easy way out for me. I am compelled to tell the stories in which I find, rather than lose, myself. To find myself in a narrative flow I have to plunge into a reality filled with loose door knobs, clogged toilets, and raucous hounds that feel ever so free to help themselves to the dainty treats in the garbage can. To be and to write in the world filled with be-ing, or not to be is the question indeed.

Written by David Wilkerson

16 August 2012 at 10:56 pm

A Friend Remembered

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Ann Fearon was my friend. She was friend to my family, to my late wife, and to our girls. To be on the receiving end of her friendship was not to be taken lightly. Her’s was the truest of friendships and she exercised her prerogatives to the fullest. Not too long ago I was reminded of my debt to her. I preached a sermon during the absence of our pastor and afterwards I was complemented for my diction. I was told that my diction (not my content?) was ‘remarkable’. It is to Ann’s fault or credit that I propel each syllable of a word from my mouth. She once told me, “It just won’t do. You can’t say ‘moun’n’. The word is ‘moun-tain’”. So I enunciated, I perfected my elocution and I attacked every syllable of each word with an earnest ferocity such that the alleged perfection ascribed to me belongs to Ann.

Ann was quick to advise me. At times I thought she was too quick to judgement but time has proved her right far more often than wrong. (Frankly, Ann could make me gasp.) I suppose this makes her sound judgmental. Perhaps to some she seemed so but not to me. Maybe that’s because she wrapped even the sharpest things in a laugh. For Ann, laughter was less than a weapon and more of a defense. The world was always a bit brighter when she was around and God knows that our family in general needed all the brightness we could get. And, yes, I know that laughter can carry a hidden weapon far and hard and speedily into the heart. But when it came to Ann it seemed to me that only the inflated ego had much to fear. She was, as they say, a character.

When I told Ann I was planning to remarry she was concerned that I should be sure to have more children. Only Ann would ever be so bold. But her counsel was sound when she, as a surrogate parent, indicated her approval of my choice. Lucy and I have not brought any children into the world but we have in our care a fine boy who, like so many others, became very attached to “Miss Ann”. So, Ann would inspect me, shoe shine (she always approved). Savannah Wildlife RefugeWere my cuffs completely buttoned? (She could not abide a partial job). Was I ‘peeking’ when leading public prayer from the pulpit? (She tattled to me of colleague whose practice was to fiddle with his notes during the benediction on TV.) And, most importantly, didn’t I surely know where the best crab could be caught and didn’t I have the decency to take her, Beth, and the girls there?

Do you know that until her health failed she kept me up to date on so many of my former parishioners. Thanks to Ann, I have prayed without fanfare knowing that God is far better at bearing them up than a noisy/nosey note from me could ever be. She sometime wondered that I did not make the rounds when visiting the region and I explained that I thought little of ministers who did not know how to ‘move on’. Ann seemed to accept that but she ensured that the former congregation was not forgotten to me. Thanks to Ann I have prayed when I heard of their afflictions, considered their grief as my own when they suffered loss. And, thanks to Ann, I celebrated when their news was a joy.

When we moved to Port Wentworth I knew little of the history of that place. It lacked the fine verandahs that line private gardens of old Savannah. It was blocked from any scenic views of the river by pulp mill, sugar refinery, and shipyard. The single most significant non-industrial structure in town was the conglomeration of buildings known collectively as ‘the projects’. What drew us there was not the beauty of the place but the call of God; what kept us there were people of character, people like Ann.

That’s what I most remember and cherish; I remember her character. She was not simply “a character” she had character; She defined character. These days I spend much of my time working with scouting. I talk with my boys about character and how a scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. By my count Ann Fearon had that kind of character. Could Ann be trusted? Was she loyal and helpful? Was she perfect? Ann was being perfected as are we all.

Someone once wrote that a pastor needs four kinds of friends. One type the writer described was “the disturber’. Deuteronomy 32:11 describes an eagle whose chore is to disturb her eaglets and compel them to take to the air. She disturbs the soft down that lines the nest and exposes the broken fragments of bones and thorns, and in the discomfort of her young she prepares them. “Like an eagle that stirs up its nest and hovers over its young, that spreads its wings to catch them and carries them on its pinions.” Ann was the friend who was unafraid to make things “a bit pointy”. She was determined to challenge me. When we left that place she warned me, and I think there was a tear in her eye, “Don’t leave the ministry, you will lose your faith.” I have not left the ministry though it has a shape far different than the one I imagined it might have these eighteen years later. But, no, I have not left the ministry Ann.

So for those who knew her and to those who may well wish they had I offer these words:
Into an un-ending future, to a time beyond time where the God of Eternity reigns is our Ann gone. To the Everlasting God whose kingdom knows no end, to the Savior whose blood was spilt for the least worthy among us, to the Spirit whose fiery breath purges our souls of contempt I give thanks. Ah Great God, in your house, at your table, in Your presence there sit an ever growing number of those whom we love. In your timeless mansion keep a setting at the table for us and keep in our hearts the reminders of their tenderness and your grace.
I think even now, if I listen, I hear the echoes of her laughter and the quiet giggle of another old friend. 

It is the certainty of their peace that helps us bear the longing that fills our hearts in their absence.
Amen

Note: The image of the Savannah Wildlife Refuge is from a Flickr photo stream: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dizzygirl/

Written by David Wilkerson

6 February 2012 at 8:23 pm

Posted in death, grace, hope

Winter Blah

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Let me be clear, I love snow. I love seeing flakes accumulate in ominous piles foreshadowing a frozen end of days. I like huge snow-ball sized globs of it falling on balsam and fir lending an air of Christmas to the early days of Lent. I love snow. What I do not love is the deepening chill of night when the air is wet and the wind bores a hole through to my gizzard; the premature sense that this chill is of the grave.

Written by David Wilkerson

8 February 2011 at 6:47 pm

Posted in cold, death, epiphany, hope

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