awakening and surrendering

Each morning we awaken to the invitation to a new day in the world of time.

It is Epiphany as I write this, in the air high above the earth flying home to Chicago. The sunset was brilliant red. Now darkness thickens and deepens the blue.  Today I said goodbye to my mom for what is likely to be the last time here on earth.  While one never knows, it is clear she is slipping, and slipping quickly.  This morning my brother arrived to share in sitting vigil with Mom and her beloved husband.  My sister will come Sunday.  Assuming Mom is still with us in this time and space. 

We didn’t see it coming.  Well, we did in the sense that she’s been going by inches to dementia over the past five years.  But when I was with them in August, she was still enjoying dinner out, looking through photo books and appreciating the beautiful view from their fifth floor condo.  That all shifted about six weeks ago but it wasn’t until I was on vacation with Jim and the kids this past week that I realized it was time.  We arrived at the quaint beach cottage rental early Monday.  That day she was back in the hospital for the fourth time in about as many weeks.  Too weak to walk, showing no interest in eating and unable to participate in her own recovery.  A failure to thrive is what they call it.  So we called in hospice and brought Mom home.

I was blessed to be able to stay with them beyond our allotted time of vacation.  Part of my time was being ‘useful’: helping to orient caregivers and medications, bringing various hospice folks up to speed with her history and current situation, sharing updates with the rest of the family.  But the vast majority of my time was simply being present: holding Mom’s hand, smiling and exchanging ‘I love you’ with her when she did awaken, singing softly while she slept, sharing meals with her husband, absorbing the reality that the woman who gave birth to me—who loved me perfectly even in her imperfection—was soon going to be beyond my holding.  In between deep sleeps, her beautiful smile lit up her face, the room and my heart. Sitting vigil is precious and holy.In Epiphany we celebrate the awakening that allows us to see the light and love of Christ in our midst, even in the deepening dark.  While I’ve been sitting vigil, a friend shared a beautiful book by John O’Donohue entitled Beauty: the Invisible Embrace.  In the first few pages, I came across what I needed to hear:

We live between the act of awakening and the act of surrender.  Each morning we awaken to the invitation to a new day in the world of time; each night we surrender to the dark to be taken to play in the world of dreams where time is no more.  At birth we were awakened and emerged to become visible in the world. At death we will surrender again to the dark to become invisible.  Awakening and surrender: they frame each day and each life; between them the journey where anything can happen, the beauty and the frailty.

This life, this arc between awakening and surrender is precious—exceedingly precious. We can so easily get distracted by the living of life, the ordinary gritty-ness of it all and miss the tenderness, the joy, the beauty hidden in the frailty.  Over and over the Holy One calls us to experience epiphany, to wake up to what is real and true, more real and true than the shiny brightness of the latest fad.  And if we struggle somewhat with awakening, how much more do we struggle with surrender? It is almost a bad word in our culture.  And yet to love and be loved is only possible when we surrender, when we let go of our voracious need to control and allow ourselves instead experience the wonder of intimacy—with God, with ourselves, with one another.

On top of losing Jim’s mom, just before Christmas, Mom’s approaching death can feel like yet one more loss. However, the more I can trust the gifts of awakening and surrender, I can truly see it instead as yet one more love. Love carries us before we are visible, throughout our beautiful and frail life in this time, and carries us into the greater fullness beyond our vision.  Further, we are surrounded by the great cloud of witnesses, all who have gone before and who are yet to come, upholding and blessing us with every breath we take.

May this in-between time of our lives be blessed.  May we have the courage to embrace the invitation of both awaking and surrendering.  May we experience epiphany each day, and finally, may we be the epiphany we seek in the world.

Hope to see you Sunday!

Elizabeth Jameson