by Heidi S. De Jonge
This past Wednesday morning, I took an early morning bike ride. A paradoxical ride. Autumn had arrived, but the temperature at 5am danced around 20°C. When I reached the tops of hills, I could see black skies, but for most of my ride, a thick, wet fog clung close—lit up by my bright front light. Dense white within pitch black.
The Spirit of God keeps drawing me back to paradox.
• Listening to a hastily gathered, magnificent choir singing Sylvia Dunstan’s Christus Paradox at my first husband’s funeral. “You, Lord, are both Lamb and Shepherd. You, Lord, are both Prince and Slave… You, the everlasting instant; you, whom we both scorn and crave.”
• Finding the breath in my grief to sing this song myself.
• Reading and cherishing books with painfully beautiful titles: Sheldon Van Auken’s A Severe Mercy, Christian Wiman’s My Bright Abyss, Gerald Sittser’s A Grace Disguised, Kahlil Gibran’s A Tear and A Smile.
• Living through a week of ministry that carried intensifications of both joy and despair in my calling.
• Following the stories of several families whose children have had cancer and died. Finding in their reflections both searing pain and fierce faith.
• Learning about the Ignatian concept of “dark consolation”—when we enter into the sufferings of Jesus (cf. the work of Father John English, SJ).
• Psalm 13.
• Black and white bike rides.
Most of the time, I can’t handle the paradox. I collapse the edges to form a bland middle-ground. I make sure one side wins. I put things in order: first the dying, then the rising; first the pain, then the joy; first the darkness, then the light.
But every once in a while, I remember what my first spiritual director, Sister Virginia Stasium, said to me when my daughter was very sick. “Heidi. The grace is in the struggle.”
The grace is in the struggle. I have found this to be true. When I do not collapse, order, or find a causal relationship between the tensions, but remain with them in the presence of God, tucked inside is sola gratia.
As a pastor who has walked with people through dark times, I have learned to be careful not to say these words too quickly. Saying “the grace is in the struggle” at the wrong time can sound like, “The grace is the struggle” or “The struggle is for the purpose of you finding grace.” While there may be truths in these two sentences, they are not as deep as the truth that I have found in the words, “The grace is in the struggle.”
And I suppose this is the key. I have found grace in the struggle. No one else could find it for me. And I cannot find it for anyone else. They must find the grace. You must find the grace. Or, I suppose, you, in the struggle, must be found by Grace.
I will give you the treasures of darkness
and riches hidden in secret places,
so that you may know that it is I, the Lord,
the God of Israel, who calls you by your name.
Isaiah 45:3, NRSV
Heidi S. De Jonge the pastor of Westside Fellowship Christian Reformed Church in Kingston, Ontario. She has been in ministry for 12 years. Her husband, Tim, is a CRC chaplain, serving in long term care, and together they parent three grade school daughters. Heidi enjoys cake decorating, cycling, and digital scrapbooking.
image: Soft dark (consolation) by Beth Fletcher