A prayer and benediction for Robin, child of God, and for us all…

CarpeDiemWe are saddened and rendered fearful by the loss of one with so much energy. We watch the news that tens of thousands — hundreds of thousands — have died and hardly register the loss. But, then, someone who has lived so publicly, so fearlessly, so vulnerably, and joyfully dies and the dimensions of human loss are crystalized, brought to bear on a single life, a single loss, an individual tragedy. In response, we rehearse his gifts. We scour his life for an explanation. The most fearful among us look for lurid details to distract themselves from their own mortality. And, in our fear, we are tempted to lay blame and find fault. We lay on the back of that individual life, the blame and explanation for all that haunts us, all that we long to hold at arm’s length and drive his memory into the past. Let us refuse to go into that dark and shallow place where one man’s glorious and imperfect struggle is forced to carry in irretrievable silence all that we long to deny haunts our own lives. Instead, let us draw close to God and to one another, persuaded that in all of our frailty and struggle, we are held — held across time and space, trials and tragedy, success and failure, victory and defeat, sickness and health, life and death.

Having been reminded of how fragile our existence really is, let us use the moments, the breath, the words, and affection available to us in drawing closer to one another and the God who loves us. And having watched him create and lose, triumph and fail, laugh and cry, live and die….let us seize the day. And may the God of love and Resurrection, the God of mercy and compassion, keep us all, evermore. Amen.

About Frederick Schmidt

The Reverend Dr. Frederick W. Schmidt, Jr. holds the Rueben P. Job Chair in Spiritual Formation at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, IL, and directs the Rueben Job Institute for Spiritual Formation. He is an Episcopal Priest, spiritual director, retreat facilitator, conference leader, writer, and consulting editor at Church Publishing in New York. He is the author of numerous published articles and reviews, as well as several books: A Still Small Voice: Women, Ordination and the Church (Syracuse University Press, 1998), The Changing Face of God (Morehouse, 2000), When Suffering Persists (Morehouse, 2001), in Italian translation: Sofferenza, All ricerca di una riposta (Torino: Claudiana, 2004), What God Wants for Your Life (Harper, 2005), Conversations with Scripture: Revelation (Morehouse, 2005), Conversations with Scripture: Luke (Morehouse, 2009), and The Dave Test (Abingdon, 2013). He and his wife, Natalie (who is also an academic and an Episcopal priest), live in Highland Park, Illinois, with their Gordon Setter, Hilda of Whitby. They have four children and four grandchildren: Henry, Addie, Heidi, and Sophie.

  • Frederick William Schmidt

    “Judge not, lest you be judged…” Those remain profoundly wise and compassionate words.

    Much to my surprise, I’ve found myself following the news about Robin Williams’ death. Typically, I sidestep the public reaction to the death of a celebrity, because I have always been troubled by the depth of our reaction to the loss of one of our own, while we watch news reports that chronicle the death of thousands…or fails to say anything at all about their loss or agony. I am still troubled by it.

    The empathy and sorrow that we express when someone like Princess Diana or Robin Williams seems disproportionate when compared with the suffering of people around us. And the disproportionate reaction should tell us something about ourselves: our capacity to identify with those who live at a distance, our inability to connect in meaningful ways with people from other countries and cultures, the parochial character of our worldview, and the limits we place on compassion. One of the reasons that I believe that it is so important to ground our obligation to care for one another and to welcome the stranger in our faith in God and in our conviction that we are all children of God, is that it is so perilously easy to care deeply only for those we know or think we know.

    On the other hand, the reaction that so many of us have had to Robin Williams’ death has crystallized the challenges we face and it has brought us face to face with hundreds of thousands of losses by proxy. A dear friend called it “a Princess Diana moment.” So, granted that we are here — with good reason, because Robin’s loss is a genuine loss — and because there is little to be gained by minimizing that loss — let’s listen to what we can learn, which brings me to the words of Jesus.

    There have been a lot of people who have pronounced themselves as authorities on the life of Robin Williams in the wake of his suicide. Some have characterized his act as cowardice. Some have asserted that “it’s a choice” and not a disease. Some have charged him with moral delinquency for leaving his children and loved ones behind.

    There is no doubt that suicide is among the most devastating acts possible. It forecloses on the future. It leaves loved ones to navigate what grief experts describe as “complicated grieving.” And it leaves behind countless questions to which — for the most part — there will never be adequate answers. Such choices, made in blinding pain and under excruciating constraints can never be fully “explained.” And even if one could plumb the depths of the one who takes his or her life, I suspect that there is no satisfying answer to be had. Most of us would counter, “but”…have you considered this? Might it be better to…?

    And now we learn tonight, that on top of all the constraining and troubling forces that may have driven Mr. Williams to the brink of despair, that yet another challenge he faced was the on-set of Parkinson’s. Yes, others have dealt with it. Michael J. Fox is one of the most public and heroic examples. I would like to think that I could confront it with resilience. I would hope and pray that those I love most in this world know that I would move heaven and earth to care for them.

    But I don’t know that. And, significantly, Mr. Fox does not excoriate Robin Williams for having been overwhelmed by the challenge.

    And therein lies the wisdom of Jesus’ injunction, which does not mean “anything goes” or “any choice is ok,” but which says — quite simply — don’t judge from an unknowing and creature-like perspective, the lives of those around you. There is a place, where the events of life, the particularity of the journey, our strengths and weaknesses, and our inner conversation with God converge. And the choices we make in that place are known and can only be known to God.

    That is why we are dependent upon God’s grace and love. That is why we are dependent upon the One, the only One, who knows our hearts and our lives better than we do.

    And so, as we rehearse our own fears and struggles — as we broaden our reach to embrace the lives of people who don’t share our country, our language, our color, or our experiences, let us practice love. Let us make the choices we must, but let us make them with humility — with the knowledge that we are dust and to dust we must return. And where tragedy strikes, let us pray for the grace, forgiveness, understanding, and sense of our own limits that allows us to say with conviction, “Judge not, lest you be judged.”

    http://www.usatoday.com/story/life/people/2014/08/14/robin-williams-was-battling-parkinsons-disease/14062707/

  • home42141

    What great words to share as you have as they are profoundly wise and appropriate. My statement or question I ask today is because I really want to know from the comments others may have. I am also extremely confident that God is the ultimate Judge and I am not Him – thanks be to God!

    No doubt, so many of the arguments for what happens to somebody who takes their life does not understand the complexities of depression. How quickly opinionated people give in full details of the final resting place of all those like Judas, who went out and hung themselves coupled with one of the 10 Commandments. Call me a heretic if you like but I wouldn’t be surprised when approaching the “pearly gates” that there to greet me will be Pharoah as well as Judas. Depending on your version of the Holy Scriptures, especially with Judas, he attempted to give the 30 pieces back and remorseful he was.

    But today, that’s not the issue for me and you and I will just have to deal with many unanswered questions concerning Robin Williams and others with the idea of suicide.

    My question is this based on the fact that Robin Williams in particular, and others regardless of the way they died, where will Robin Williams spend eternity based on an evangelical’s understanding. Did he do a great amount of humanitarian deeds? Without question, a resounding “YES”! Was he well-respected by fellow comedians, again, “YES”! Some saying he was one of the most ingenius people who can take the simple and make people laugh. Maybe Robin Williams made a profession sometime or maybe he didn’t, I never heard or read anything on it. Like many other celebrities “larger than life, he was” we look to them as role models, but really are they by the choices made how to live their life.

    Knowing this question is based on subjective criticism whoever attempts to answer it, still what constitutes having faith in Christ for the faith of Christ who purchased salvation for all through His sacrifice on the Cross, death, burial and resurrection. Did Robin Williams display it? Why do I ask this? Because in my lifetime I had one of the most devout and likable (what I saw every time and what others said of him) man that highly influenced my life. But in a depressed state, he took his own life and I never have been able to understand and probably never will.


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