Saturday, January 23, 2010


I was in Spain from last Saturday until Thursday – in Catalunya, actually: Barcelona, Banyoles, and Platja d’Aro. We had an all-Europe Young Life conference, and I got to be the final speaker on Thursday morning. I talked about my struggle to hear the voice of God that says “I love you.” We were celebrating communion to end our time together, so I combined communion and hearing God’s voice by borrowing a bit from Henri Nouwen’s book “Life of the Beloved.” In that book Nouwen talks about the spiritual life as one where we gradually grow in our ability to hear the voice that tells us we are loved, and then says the life of the beloved is marked by the same movement as when Jesus takes bread at the Last Supper; that like the bread we also are taken (or chosen), blessed, broken, and given.

I want to tell you the story I used for “broken,” and some more thoughts I’ve been having about it.

A couple of weeks ago when we drove from Grand Rapids to Chicago O’Hare for our flight back here, I found a great radio station on the rental car’s XM radio. It was a station that played folk rock songs from the 1970s. I spent that decade going through junior high, high school and college, so the popular music of the 70s connects with some pretty deep places inside of me. I heard songs that I love that have more or less disappeared from other radio stations – songs by Harry Chapin, Elton John, James Taylor, Carole King, Jim Croce, Linda Ronstadt, and many others. I was having a great time listening to these songs until they played the single most heartbreaking song from the 1970s – Gordon Lightfoot’s “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” That song always gets to me – the story of 29 men dying in a Lake Superior shipwreck is sad enough, but Gordon Lightfoot’s voice and the haunting melody of the song do me in. He has a line where the cook comes in and says, “Fellas, it’s too rough to feed you” and then the cook comes back and says, “Fellas, it’s been good to know you.” He sings about how the ship would have been safe if it had put only 15 more miles behind her, and that all that remains are the wives and the sons and the daughters. But the most devastating line to me is simply this, “Does anyone know where the love of God goes?”

I rode along I-94 in Indiana crying for about ten miles after that. My family has learned that’s just the way I am, and they gave me a Kleenex and time and space to be in my own little world of grief.

There is no satisfying answer to his question about God’s love in the midst of human suffering. If there were an answer, we’d all know it by now.

Does anyone know where the love of God goes when something terrible happens? This makes me think of Haiti right now, and my reaction to the tragedy there. I don’t know if you are like me, but I find it terribly difficult to want to read or watch the coverage of the disaster in Haiti. I’ve been asking myself this question lately: “Why is it easier for me to feel the weight of the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald than the disaster in Haiti?” It’s like I can get my mind around the loss of 29 men much easier than I can get my mind around devastation that affects millions. I’ve been thinking of a line I read in Amsterdam at the Anne Frank museum – that one Anne Frank is easier for people to understand than the totality of the Holocaust. It is easier for us to hear and understand the horror of Anne Frank’s story than to try to imagine the suffering of six million people.

I’ve also been thinking this – while millions suffer in Haiti the rest of us go on about our lives unchanged. I spent a few days last week in a hotel room with an incredible view through some palm trees of the Mediterranean. I ate paella and had good Spanish wine and tapas and life was good. It was very, very comfortable. The world has been incredible rearranged for one country while life goes on for the rest of us. Isn’t that also a reality that is undeniable but somehow patently unfair?

A quarter century ago, after the ceremony on the day that Gretchen and I got married we got into a car to ride to the reception. We pulled out away from the church and as we rode down the street I saw a guy I went to seminary with named Hank mowing his lawn. There was this surreal juxtaposition there – my life had just changed forever while life went on unchanged for Hank. He can’t tell you what he was doing in the late afternoon on August 23rd, 1985, but I can. Hank would have to take my word that he was mowing the lawn.

I’m just trying to put this together and don’t know if I need to any more than this. While one of us sits by the ocean under a palm tree, another’s life turns in a direction that they never imagined, and I wonder if there is any connection between the two. That’s what I’ve been musing about on this Saturday morning.


  1. Funeral processions always make me think similar thoughts, actually. On the few occasions I've been in one of the cars with the little flag, and my whole world seems to be lying in pieces around me, I can't understand that there are other cars on the road filled with people doing normal things, or that for the funeral director this is just another day at work. But when I'm stuck behind a procession in traffic, I can get a little frustrated that it'll take me 10 extra minutes to get to Target.
    I agree that the images I see of Haiti are surreal when gazing out at the Mediterranean from a beach, or just the ordinary snow-filled view out my window right now.
    I read once that 24-hr worldwide news is psychologically damaging... that human beings were never meant to try to understand the suffering going on in the whole of the world, but only to experience the ups and downs of their own local community. Generally I'm a fan of the "global community" idea, but times like this make me think there may just be a grain of truth there.

  2. Jeff, I have been stretched lately as I have spent time with my friend Neil who as you know lost his wife Margie. To have been with him several times before and after Margie’s passing has been lessons to me in suffering, grace, loss, glory and love. It frustrates me that Margie degenerated in such slow agony and that she and Neil were not able to spend at least some time together enjoying a little retirement…no answers. Margie is with Jesus, Neil moves between deep sadness and eager pursuit of his new normal. I am in awe of God on one hand and left a little perplexed on the other. One thing that is ringing in my ear is a statement made, the day before Margie’s funeral, by a radio commentator speaking on a subject that I cannot remember: he stated “…to live is to suffer, however not all suffering is equal.” He attributed that statement toDostoyevsky, although through my meager research I was unable to verify that. Although I suffer and have suffered some deep bouts - I am relieved some to be able to consider that I do not have to suffer the greatest (or maybe someday I will - like those in Porto Prince) or suffer the least. Jerry D