The name for this blog comes from the Hebrew word merchab. Merchab is a masculine noun that appears most often in the Psalms of the Hebrew Scriptures. It means a broad or roomy place, an expansive place, a wide place. Read more...

January 3, 2009


It is the phone call every parent dreads. Our daughter stands by the highway in the snow, clutching her baby, crying on her cell phone, while her husband talks to the police. Their car hit a patch of black ice. It went into an uncontrollable spin, hit a snow bank and flipped onto the meridian, rolling side over side and landing mercifully on its wheels.

After the police, ambulance attendants, and tow truck operator have been consulted, it seems miraculously no one has been hurt. They are able to continue in their dented vehicle over the Coquihalla highway to catch the Tsawwassen ferry back to Victoria.

There is so much to be thankful for. It could have turned out so differently. They spun inches from disaster.

We seldom confront the dimensions of our vulnerability as acutely as when people we love are in harm’s way. But the awareness of the fragility of life lies just beneath the surface. When the protective covering of our normally routine lives is pulled back for a moment, we confront the dark depths of our inability to control the forces of life. We face the closeness of the forces of death.

It is tempting to long for a life more secure, less threatened, a life not balanced so precariously upon the edge of the precipice.

Years ago the delivery of a friend’s perfectly healthy baby went terribly wrong. The baby was choked by her umbilical cord moments before birth. She died in her father’s arms in the delivery room. Months later I asked the mother what she was left with from this experience. She replied without hesitation, “We all live our lives hanging by a thin thread and mostly we don’t see it.”

Every day innumerable unspeakably terrible things happen in peoples’ lives. There is no way to be alive and avoid pain. Suffering is part of the package of life. The only important question is “how will I choose to respond?”

I have been so gratified to see my daughter and her husband make the choices they have made in response to their car accident. There has never been a hint of blame, or accusation from either of them towards the other. No blame is possible in this case, but that would not have stopped lesser people from rushing to point a finger.

Instead of allowing the terror and raw vulnerability they experienced in this situation to drive them apart, they have clung more closely to one another and to their tiny daughter. They have allowed their hearts to open more deeply.

When we were able finally, all to be together, the room filled with warmth, gentleness, and compassion. This is the strength of love. It grows stronger when adversity is received and shared. Gratitude deepens in the glimpsed possibility of loss. Love holds on and the presence of that Love draws us back to a reality deeper and more real than all the terrible things that might ever happen in our lives.

Earlier in the morning of the accident, our older daughter visiting for the Christmas holidays had been reading aloud some Wendell Berry poems. She read “The Way of Pain,” in which Berry writes

For parents, the only way
is hard. We who give life
give pain. There is no help.
Yet we who give pain
give love; by pain we learn
the extremity of love.

Berry goes on to speak about the pain of Isaac and his father Abraham as they shared in the agonizing dance of sacrifice and the miracle of redemption.

Berry writes of Jesus’ pain and the pain of his mother. But, it is in the midst of that pain that Berry finds hope saying, “Unless we grieve like Mary/ at His grave, giving Him up/ as lost, no Easter morning comes.”

Berry ends by writing about his own son.

And then I slept, and dreamed
the life of my only son
was required of me, and I
must bring him to the edge
of pain, not knowing why.
I woke, and yet that pain
was true. It brought his life
to the full in me. I bore him
suffering, with love like the sun,
too bright, unsparing, whole.

In all this, the parental experience is the experience of being utterly powerless. It is so tempting to try to rush in and bring the pain to an end. It is so tempting to try to control the world around those we love and keep all suffering safely away (as if such power were ever available). But no. It is in the midst of that pain that “we learn/ the extremity of love.” It is by embracing the reality of pain that life is brought “to the full in me.”

I cannot have the depths of love and vulnerability I experience with those closest to me, unless I am willing to allow them to be at times in pain and to accept the pain of seeing them in pain and doing nothing to alleviate their suffering. It is not love, to build an impenetrable fortress around those we love in a futile attempt to keep them safe from any harm.

To love is to choose to stand together in the midst of the chaos of life and walk on holding the same hands, embracing the same shaking shoulders, allowing the tears, doing nothing to diminish the deep ache of our vulnerability.

I wish there were no icy highways. I wish cars would not roll. I wish there were not bombs and guns, wars, starvation, tornadoes, tsunamis, forest fires, windstorms, terminal illness, pollution, crime, drug addiction, marriage break down. I wish life was always safe. I wish those I love would never come to any harm. But, I know that, without the precariousness of life, the richness would be diminished. Without the deep risk of loss, there would be no challenge to trust.

God entrusted the beauty of Jesus to a broken world. The world did all it could to destroy that innocence and purity. But, the gospel tells us, that as long as hearts open and continue to choose love, the power of Christ is born again and again. We humans always have the capacity to meet and pass through all pain, all suffering, all brokenness. We do not need to flinch or turn away. We do not need to pretend it is not difficult. There is always the promise of resurrection. The human spirit held in God cannot be destroyed. The gift of love is given; nothing and no one can destroy this gift as long as we receive it and allow it to flow through us to embrace the other.

My heart grows when I think of a car spinning out of control on the highway and rolling over on its side. My heart grows when I hold my child, my son-in-law, my granddaughter with love and tenderness. Hearts will always grow if we let them. And when hearts grow love and life will always triumph.

1 comment:

Rob Holloway said...

Our hearts go out to the families for this experience will form part of their lives. In this case Jesus was allowed to grow more fully in the formation of their love for each other.
I wonder as we grow older that we are more careful in sitiuations only because now we know how vulnerable we are.