Friday, February 05, 2010

The Earthly and the Heavenly

Thank you again for your emails and notes concerning the recent, unexpected death of my father. I have approached this Blog several times with an intent to write, but have found a kind of emotional writer's block facing me. Thank you for indulging me in allowing me to write some personal feelings. I am certain many of you understand the process of grief and the adjustment that follows the loss of a loved one.

It is especially monumental when you bury both of your parents. My mother died in 1980. We laid my father to rest next to her in our family cemetery in Arkansas. It is a passing of an era and the beginning of a new one. My three siblings and I gathered around my father's body and shared tears and memories of the heritage of faith that he left us; the knowledge and commitment to God.

I have often been reminded by others of the fact that my father loved me. The motivation for these reminders is that some were privy to the fact that there was contention between my father and me concerning my spiritual journey. What these well-meaning people do not consider is the fact that, while my father did love me, he did not agree with me nor did he accept me and, at times, was demonstrative in expressing such. To him, I was the black sheep, the wayward son, the religiously confused drifter, the one who had disdained my heritage and my father's honor by not following in his footsteps to become a Southern Baptist pastor. Not only did he let his feelings be made known, but his enablers and supporters, which included relatives, joined in the chorus. Yes, he loved me, but he was disappointed with me, so much so that he put his feelings in writing via his autobiography. In this book, which he distributed to relatives, friends and former churches he pastored, he singled me out from my other siblings (who remain Baptist) by suggesting that every family has one child that is a challenge. He expressed his puzzlement over the fact that he could "reach" other young men and influence them to enter the Baptist ministry but he couldn't seem to reach me.

I spent many years being confronted by this rejection and disappointment and did not always respond in a Christ-like manner; my passions and pride coming to a pseudo-defense of my wounded psyche. Everyone wants to be accepted by their earthy father. Unfortunately, those who have had a less than healthy relationship with their earthly father, often transfer their emotions and experience to their Heavenly Father. If one has experienced the rejection of this earthly father, he may have a difficult time accepting the love of his Heavenly Father. I have had such a challenge.

Time, and the grace of God, help heal human souls from these relational wounds that are a result of The Fall. With time and the grace of God, one can rightly divide the earthly and heavenly relationships. I did. The last few years allowed me to establish an amiable relationship with my father. Ironically, it was a scripture from the book of Sirach, a book not contained in my father's protestant bible, that influenced me toward a right relationship.

"Son support the old age of thy father, and grieve him not in this life, and if his understanding fail, have patience with him and despise him not when thou art in thy strength for the relieving of the father shall not be forgotten."

Obedience to this principle allowed me to put in right order the earthly and heavenly. I was able to set aside my feelings of rejection and practice the simple human courtesies that showed him honor. I called him on birthdays and holidays and visited with him as often as possible. I took his grandchildren to see him when possible. I wrote letters to him. To my loss, and his, we did not discuss any topics having to do with the faith. When he last broached the topic of our religious differences, he expressed confidence that I had had an "experience" of salvation. I received his olive branch in the spirit in which he intended and refrained from engaging him in a topical discussion of the doctrine of salvation.

The night before the funeral, my siblings and I gathered in my father's bedroom and watched a video interview recorded a year prior to his death. In this video, he spoke a word to each individual child, including me. I watched with trepidation as my turn came. Would this be a negative commentary from beyond the grave? I was relieved and healed to hear that, although "Nathan and I have had some theological differences", he was pleased that we had had a good relationship over the last few years. He also noted my strongest attribute to be my strong commitment and tenacity to what I believe.

The other day, a month past the death of my father, I was unexpectedly struck by an intense feeling of failure and an irrational feeling that I was a disappointment to God. Immediately, I was able to set in right order these profoundly erroneous thoughts. My God does love me. He is not disappointed with me. He does believe in me. Now, I am comforted to know that for all the weakness in my relationship with my earthly father, he now has the mind of our Heavenly Father toward me.

I stood alone in my father's room as he lay unconscious and dying, gasping for breath, his brain and body ravaged by bacterial meningitis. With my Orthodox Prayer Book opened, I quietly prayed this Prayer At The Death of a Parent.

O Lord, You heard Joseph grieving over the death of his father, Jacob, as he wept and kissed him.

Your own Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, also knew the love of a mother, for as He suffered upon the cross, He beheld his Mother and the disciple whom He loved standing near her, and He said: Woman, behold your son. And to the disciple, He said: Behold your mother.

Good Master, look down from heaven and see the pain and grief which have laid hold of my heart and soul today.

Be merciful to me, Your servant, and receive the prayer which is offered to You by a child who has lost his (her) beloved father (mother).

Forgive whatever sins he (she) has willingly or unwillingly committed, whether of word, deed or thought.

Merciful Master, hear the grieving voice of one who has been taught by his (her) father (mother) to turn to You with true faith in times of need, and to raise my eyes and voice to You.
Show Your mercy, O Lord, and grant rest to my father (mother), making him (her) a partaker of Your eternal blessings and granting him (her) a place at Your right hand, for blessed and glorified are You unto all ages. Amen.
I was present when my father's heart stopped beating, when the monitors would record no more brain activity, when his soul separated from his still, warm body. I will see my father again and I will greet him, but only briefly, as I turn my affection to my Heavenly Father, as my earthly father taught me to do.  Until then, I will pray the Prayers for the Departed for the theosis of the soul of Billy Homer Lewis.

O God of spirits and of all flesh,
Who hast trampled down death and overthrown the Devil,
and given life to Thy world,
do Thou, the same Lord,
give rest to the souls of Thy departed servants in a place of brightness,
a place of refreshment,
a place of repose,
where all sickness, sighing,
and sorrow have fled away.
Pardon every transgression which they have committed,
whether by word or deed or thought.
For Thou art a good God and loves mankind;
because there is no man who lives yet does not sin,
for Thou only art without sin,
Thy righteousness is to all eternity,
and Thy word is truth.

For Thou are the Resurrection, the Life,
and the Repose of Thy servants who have fallen asleep, O Christ our God,
and unto Thee we ascribe glory, together with Thy Father,
who is from everlasting,
and Thine all-holy, good,
and life-creating Spirit,
now and ever unto ages of ages.


  1. Anonymous5:08 PM

    Beautiful thoughts and words.

    Thanks for sharing them with us.

    Joseph Bragg

  2. Thanks for this post, my brother. I, too have had a very painful relationship with my earthly father. The verse from Sirach is very encouraging.

    Blessings in the Holy Trinity, one God

    Columba Silouan

  3. Debbie Espen6:56 PM

    You truly honored your father, Nathan, despite the things he unwisely did to you (which weaker souls would have severed the relationship over.) And thank you for sharing the wisdom of the verse from Sirach.

  4. Anonymous8:06 PM

    this is as much a tribute to you as it is your father...


  5. May his memory be eternal!

    And thank you for sharing your thoughts and yourself, Nathan. I well understand writer's block and know where you're coming from.

    Yours in Christ,


  6. I'm sorry for the loss of your Dad. I enjoyed and moved in reading your thoughts about his passing. I'm happy you both reached a peace between you before his repose. May Christ God give him rest.

  7. Dear Nathan,
    Please accept my sympathy for your loss. I think one of the hardest things for a convert is to bury our loved ones outside the Church.
    The Akathist for the Departed is comforting for many and it was for me, when both my parents died within 2 months of each other.
    There was a period for me, too, of sorting things out and coming to terms.
    In Christ, Joanna H.

  8. Anonymous9:57 PM

    Dear Nathan,

    Please know that you are a useful, valuable, and loved person to God and to many. You have many God-given talents which allow you to complete God’s assignments and you share these freely with others.

    If your father never or infrequently told you that you had met the most important goal he had for your life, you should think about this: You met your father’s number one goal he had for your life because a Christian parent’s number one goal is that their children love and serve God. Please think about how you love and serve God. Think about how you desire to help others on the path toward Salvation. Think about how your father witnessed this and how he had to be pleased with you even if he couldn't/didn’t express it. Sadly, many of our parents infrequently told us that we had met their priority goal and that they were very pleased with us. We will learn from this and pray that we will express our satisfaction to our children.

    Praying for you, your father, and your family.

  9. Nathan,
    The longer I live, the greater comfort the eschaton is, when our Lord will make right--once for all--all things broken and incomplete and torn asunder in this fallen world. Our Lord's resurrection from the grave is the guarantee in his own resurrected flesh that his promise true. Behold, I make all things new!
    Christ is risen!
    He is risen indeed!
    The Rev. Allan Eckert, Pastor
    St. Paul Lutheran Church

  10. Pastor Eckert,
    I just saw a new survey saying that the older people get, the happier they get. Perhaps with the wisdom of age, we better grasp the fact that the things of this world are temporal and indeed death is swallowed up in victory! Your observations are shared. Thank you for your encouraging comment. Please come back often.


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