Sometimes it feels like death is all there is.
On a Kenyan university campus, 147 students are massacred and another 79 wounded. Christians separated from Muslims and picked off like skeet in a shoot. A militant group -- Al-Shabaab -- takes credit for the carnage.
Sometimes it feels like death is all there is. The dying hopes of Nigerian girls and their families that they will return home. The swath of death and destruction at the hands of ISIL. An avoidable gas explosion rocks a Manhattan community, and two of her sons die. Dead black and brown bodies; male, female, gay and trans bodies; children's bodies slain at the hands of those hired to protect and serve. The horrific retaliatory violence aimed at the police, aimed as though violence is an appropriate response, when indeed it is not.
Sometimes it feels like death is all there is: the slowly dying intent of the more well-to-do, who feel stuck in between their personal ethics and values and those of their companies and co-workers. The dying promises of a democracy, in which government should and must care for the most vulnerable, whose promises are on life support.
Sometimes it feels like civility and dialogue are dead; manners are dead; kindness and care for the marginalized are dead; simple acts of grace are dead.
Sometimes it feels like even life-giving, meaningful spiritual practices are dying, and arising in their stead are judgmental platitudes and rigid gatekeeping about who is in and who is out. The welcoming, radically-loving, justice-seeking, community-affirming effects of religion at its best can feel like they are on life support.
Perhaps it even feels to some that God is dead.
So holy days roll up on us like gangsters, ready to jack our faith and encourage our doubt. They kill the innocent one, crucify him. If he can be callously murdered in an unseemly alliance between religion and empire, what hope do we have?
We hear the story, and we wag our heads. They still kill the innocent, we say. They kill the prophets, we say, hoping our own prophet-ness will not end our lives. Our hopes are parched like he is. They hang him out to die, and right there with him -- like the two thieves -- our hope dies.
Our faith can die. Our sense of right, our belief that might is destroyed by the kind and gentle acts of loving people -- it feels crucified, dead and buried, like that creed we memorized when we were younger. It can feel as though all of us have descended into hell.
Sometimes it feels like death is all there is. Dreams not only deferred, but dying, hanging loosely, only by a thread to vines that are suffering from root rot and decay -- over watered with the tears of both the hopeful and the hopeless, wilting under the weight of expectation.
Mouths hang open, caught midway between a stifled cry, a lament and that nervous kind of laugh that escapes us when we know not what we do. "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46)
If this is the one, if he is the way, why does sorrow and love flow down, mingled, from a wooden cross? If this is the way, if love is the way, if he is the truth and the life, then why, why did the liars accuse and the people run?
Why do they put him there, on the cross, to languish, to suffer? Why are the mothers of the captured daughters on the cross? The fathers of the murdered boys on the cross? The souls killed by bullying on the cross? Dying, only to be buried in the earth, in the system, in the muck and mire of human failure?
We are not better than they, the ones who walked with him, talked with him, learned from him, laughed with him, supped with him, and drank wine with him. They run and we want to run. From the pain, from the death. He can't breathe hanging there. He can't breathe and we can't catch our breath. Not to speak. Not to stand up. Not to run for our lives.
He could run but does not. Like the Psalmist, he commends his spirit to the One he trusts. The Intimate one. The one he calls Father. He does not run; he pitches himself into the arms of God. He lodges his soul, his life, his breath, into the hands of his God for safekeeping. He puts his life and his faith in the capable hands of the One who knows him, loves him, and who will not forsake him.
This is what faith is. Not a magic formula for a perfect life. Not a parachute out of danger and harm. Not a bubble of protection from fear and heartbreak. Not a talisman to be rubbed for good luck.
Faith is putting our lives, our souls, our breath in the hands of God.
Faith is intimate. It is trust. It is tender and vulnerable. It sometimes eludes us. But when it is present, oh how it sustains us.
If faith is putting our lives in God's hands, then prayer is the transaction that allows us to do so. Prayer is the language that connects us. Like a child seeking the face of her mother, prayer enables us to seek the face of God.
Jesus knew how to pray and taught his disciples how to do so. Father. Mother. God. Holy be your name, for yours is the Reign.
And though he could hardly breathe, Jesus prays a psalm. "Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress. My eye wastes away from grief. My soul and body also. For my life is spent with sorrow, and my bones waste away. I have passed out of mind like one who is dead. But I trust you, O Lord. You are my God. My times are in your hand."
My times are in your hand.
Into your hands, I commend my spirit.
Into your hands, I commend my breath.
In death, in so much death, and in life
Into your hands, O God, help us put our lives.
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