Poets and preachers, theologians and therapists — care-givers of all kinds, — will tell us that mourning is a life-long project. It’s ongoing, meaning, we are all letting go of something all the time. Maybe that’s why Jesus got to grief so quickly in the Beatitudes. It’s number two on the list, “Blessed are those who mourn.” Everyone needed to hear that one because we’re always in the midst of a good-bye and grieving something. Still, there are seasons that come along when any life or any community can be overwhelmed by it. I think Baylor has been in such a season.
Over a three-month period we lost six students: Dustin Chamberlin, Leo Kim, Callie Tullos, Jake Gibbs, Will Patterson and Erika Saenz. They were fellow students, our friends and classmates, our roommates and coworkers, our brothers and sisters. In this same period, faculty, staff and students at Baylor have lost 16 loved ones in their immediate families.
The grief for many in our community is profound, and we expect that and know it’s right. Profound grief flows from profound love, so when we grieve we bear witness to how very much life matters, how very much a particular life mattered. We wouldn’t want it any other way. So we aren’t surprised at the pain and expect a deep mourning from those in our midst who have lost loved-ones.
But it may surprise us (and perhaps challenge our thinking) that grief has a way of flowing through a community from one heart to another. We’re made to be contagious. The soul has a sensitive faculty of perception, connecting us to one another and the world in ways of which we’re rarely conscious.
The Apostle Paul seemed conscious of that connection as he quoted the poetry of his day, saying, “In God we live and move and have our being.” There is some larger life in which we share. It’s like we’re all spokes of a wheel, and there is some center to which we all connect. So, what is a part of the whole is a part of each one, and each one is a part of the whole. The world’s stuff and my stuff aren’t really disconnected.
If that’s true, I suspect it’s especially true in a community like ours where “bearing one another’s burdens” is a calling. We’ve lost a lot lately. There’s been a lot to bear.
Has anyone felt a bit depressed lately? A bit anxious? Anyone been a bit fuzzy or unfocused? Has there been a more noticeable fatigue, a more intense angst? Maybe we’re grieving. Maybe grief is doing its work in those deep places within and all of us are sharing in it in some way. “Death is a work in us,” as Paul says, “But so is life.”
Life is contagious too. As we care for those whose losses are life changing, as we open up to each other and to truth, as we awaken faithfully to the next day and what it brings, as we pray and play, life will be at work in us.
Next week is Holy Week on the Christian calendar. It’s the week where death and life intersect in the life of Jesus. It’s the path he walked and invites us to walk too. It’s a path where suffering is real and faced and embraced, and where the reality of new life explodes in the midst of it all. So, even as we bear the burden of losing six beloved students, we also bear witness to a faith that says loss never has the last word in our story. Death is at work in us, but so is life. Thanks be to God.
Burt Burleson has served as Baylor University Chaplain since 2007.