Facing the anniversary of a tragedy

A Christian Science perspective: Superstorm Sandy remembered in an effort to be love-affirming instead of loss-affirming.

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This week marks the first anniversary of superstorm Sandy – the largest Atlantic storm on record and one that affected residents in seven countries and across 24 US states.

While I live hundreds of miles from Sandy’s path, the storm hit close to home in a different way, through the sinking of the tall ship HMS Bounty, and the loss of her captain and a female crew member. In my 20s I had worked as a deckhand on a similar vessel, and the Bounty’s captain had been one of my co-workers for several months. While many in the sailing community and around the world rejoiced in the safe and heroic rescue of the majority of the Bounty crew, there was also an overwhelming surge of sadness at the loss of life and the loss of a beloved vessel.

Recently, as I’ve watched this date approach on my calendar, I’ve wondered how spiritual thinkers can best support anniversaries such as this one – when a devastating storm, the passing of a loved one, a mass shooting, or specific terror attack resurfaces in our minds and hearts. Certainly there can be a natural desire to honor the memory of loved ones, but it might also be worthwhile to ask whether the spirit of that commemoration is loss-affirming or love-affirming.

As a student of Christian Science, I regularly turn to the Bible for instruction and support. The life of Christ Jesus provides powerful examples of love-affirming action in the face of loss. Jesus’ examples of walking over the waves and stilling a storm give us permission to get on top of waves of sadness and silence stormy blasts of regret. His compassionate presence at a funeral (see Luke, Chap. 7) halted the procession of grief and reversed the evidence from death and sorrow to life and rejoicing.

At the passing of his friend Lazarus, the Master Christian moved beyond his response at one point of weeping and groaning (see John 11:33, 35) to command that the stone be rolled away from the tomb so that Lazarus could be loosed from his burial shroud.

In her primary work, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” the discoverer of Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy, writes, “Jesus said (John viii. 51), ‘If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death.’ That statement is not confined to spiritual life, but includes all the phenomena of existence. Jesus demonstrated this, healing the dying and raising the dead” (pp. 429-430). Jesus must have had a fathomless sense of the presence, power, and continuity of divine Love in order to triumph repeatedly over destruction and death (including his own). His healing record stands for us to follow today.

A year ago this week I was not at my best. While I tried to be prayerful and supportive of everyone who was feeling the effects of superstorm Sandy, I was more in “weeping and groaning” mode as I struggled with the grief and loss surrounding the Bounty and her captain. I cried through most of the Wednesday night testimony meeting at our local Christian Science church. Toward the end of the service, however, I received a very clear healing message in thought: “I am the God of the miners.”

This was a precise reference to another situation I had prayed about two years earlier when 33 Chilean miners were trapped in a mine. On the surface, it seemed like a strange juxtaposition – a reminder of the joyous and successful return of the miners to safety versus the very recent loss of life and ship with the Bounty. But I recognized the message as a powerful assurance that God’s love was and is on the scene, despite all outward appearances. To this day, when reminded of the Bounty, I reaffirm that the God of the miners comforts and companions the captain, crew, family, and all within the tall ship community.

It may take ongoing practice to consistently affirm the love of God in the midst of trials and in the wake of memories. Thankfully, Christ Jesus charts a course that fixes thought on the omnipotence and omnipresence of divine Love. In this way we can learn, know, and rejoice with the Apostle Paul’s assurance to the Corinthians, “Death is swallowed up in victory” (I Corinthians 15:54).

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