Holy or Silent Saturday may be the most important day in the church calendar to help us recognize what it means to live in the already-but-not-yet kingdom of Jesus. Jesus has already conquered death, but we haven’t - not yet. We still die. Our dreams, our loved ones, our relationships all face the threat of death. We know that death does not have the last word, but until Jesus comes and calls us from our graves, death tramples our hearts and homes with a vengeance. Today, this Silent Saturday, I invite you into one last Lenten fast. Would you set aside some time to sit with the mourners hiding in Jerusalem after putting Jesus’ body into the grave?
It helps me to enter their story by entering the stories of those who’ve written lament here all week. The Jewish custom of sitting shiva to mourn a family member’s death could be instructive for us today. Will you sit with me and help retrieve the lament that’s been omitted?
Today’s guest is a friend I’ve met in person only once, several years ago. We enjoyed a brief but meaningful introduction, and have stayed in contact ever since, connected by our mutual appreciation for art, theology, and spiritual formation. I also love Erin’s instinct to gather people around beauty.The artwork you see throughout this post shows the power of Erin’s substantive reckoning with grief. I’m grateful for her generosity in sharing it with us this Holy Week.
Would you read Erin’s story with me, and listen with an open heart for any words Christ might be speaking to you?
by Erin Ware
Even before my mom died in May 2015, I already felt as if I’d been shipwrecked and washed up on an unfamiliar shore. I had been through an immense amount of change—some very good, like marriage, but some that was disorienting and, honestly, devastating. In the months leading up to our wedding in April 2014, Nathan and I went through things that are too sensitive and private to share on the internet, but just take my word for it: it was heartbreaking and scary stuff. As if the statement “When it rains, it pours” needs to assert itself every time something goes wrong, we also found ourselves without a church, therefore without much of our community. At the same time, I was laid off from my job, and I had my car stolen. And on top of it all, my mom’s brain tumor came back, with all the accompanying and scary symptoms, and she had to have her second brain surgery. Nathan wasn’t even able to come and sit with me in the waiting room because of an intestinal parasite he had picked up from drinking bad water. Seriously?! It is no joke that I began to laugh when I received bad news—I had begun to look for it.
The signs came as early as January 2015. If I had been paying better attention, maybe I would have noticed them earlier. The doctors found another tumor in my mom’s brain, and this time the prognosis was… hopeless. I moved home to help care for her and almost every morning found a fresh assailant—a succession of symptoms arriving more quickly than we could muster ourselves to fight them. She lost use of her left arm, all feeling on her left side, use of her left leg, ability to see on her left side, cognitive clarity, speech… the list goes on.
I had hoped—we all did—that a miracle would occur, or maybe that’s called denial. I don’t know. I will tell you this—I am a person of hope, always have been. I’m buoyant, and not easily pulled into despair, but this was too much, and I was drowning.
The morning I came to terms with the reality of my mother’s impending death, I went for a walk. I walked like she did—fast, purposeful, worship music blaring in my headphones. I didn’t care if the neighbors thought that I looked strange, pounding the pavement, arms raised high in abandon, last-ditch prayers and broken pieces of song pouring out to heaven. I held nothing back, and yet I felt that my prayers were as likely to reach heaven as a handful of paper airplanes.
I was wallowing in self-pity, I admit, when God suddenly broke through and gave me a vision: a massive golden eagle swooping down, grasping my paper-airplane prayers in its talons, and with one powerful thrust of its wings, carrying them up to heaven. I stopped right there in the road and wept, and I walked back home feeling a bit lighter, feeling—at the very least—heard.
My mom died a few days later, on May 3rd, 2015, surrounded by family and in her own bed. It was eight o’clock on a Sunday morning, and we sang her out. We like to think that she left this life to make it to the “early service” in the next. It was a good death, and she was at peace.
This was just the beginning of my grief over her death, but somehow all the events leading up to it helped me to move through it. I don’t mean that it was easy (not at all), but that I was at least equipped.
I kid you not, there was a time, not long before all of this happened, that I thought that “the worst thing that could happen” would be my car breaking down, because I was very financially vulnerable. Then, almost like a joke, my car was stolen, and I couldn’t replace it. (Spoiler alert: I got through it.) The truth is, for most of my life, losing my mom would have been the worst thing that I could imagine—and then that happened too. I don’t want to think about what my “worst thing” would be now. All I know is, through it all, I have come to realize that there is life after death in more ways than one.
The other thing that I have learned, though it took me a while, is that when God seems far away, or maybe even completely absent, he is actually closer than ever. About a year after my mom died, I put away my “mourning clothes.” I knew that I would always miss her, but I gave myself permission to live the way she would want me to. I suppose I thought, rather naively, that I would begin to “feel” the way I had felt before all these things had changed me. I thought that I would find God where I used to find him. But I did not. Luckily, I was in school studying theology and art, and it was my job at the time to find God in this new landscape. That search became my final project for graduation—a paper and gallery show, entitled “The Presence of Absence.” It began as a series on mourning and ended with a theophany of praise.
In the last conversation I had with my mom, the last time that she was able to feebly acknowledge that she heard and understood what I was saying, I told her that I would remember the faithfulness of God. That was her life’s message and what she wanted everybody to know: God is faithful. So I promised her that, after she was gone, I would remember his faithfulness to me and to our family, even in this dark hour.
I have not only remembered it, I have lived to see it.
Erin is a mixed media painter and textile artist. Her interests lie in the intersection of art, faith, and daily practices, subjects about which writes about on yetuntold.com. She and her husband, Nathan, and their two-year-old boy, Felix, are happy to call Savannah, GA home after recently moving from Vancouver, B.C. She completed a Master of Arts in Theological Studies at Regent College, with a concentration in Christianity and the Arts in 2018. Her portfolio can be found at erinware.com.
(See all of the Retrieve Lament stories from this year here.)