From the Goldfields
The Revd Dr Elizabeth J Smith AM, Mission Priest, Parish of The Goldfields
The sand plains of the Goldfields are flat, and largely featureless. No trees grow here that are bigger than stunted cypress, low-growing hakea or modest banksia. The scrubby, shoulder-high wattles can block your view of the horizon, which circles evenly around you with neither hills nor hollows to remark upon.
Under your feet are strange small plants, fuzzy grey or dull green, prickly or straggly, anonymous when not in flower. There are no rocks to scale or trees to climb for a vantage point to plan a path ahead. And when the sun is obscured by heavy clouds that filter out the light, no shadows are cast to help you distinguish east from west, south from north. You can easily be lost here, disoriented, directionless, beset by thorns, bereft of clues about which way to turn to find your way back to a navigable path.
Grief is like this. Grief is a landscape drained of hope and colour and comfort. It can slow us down to a standstill, with no landmarks and no apparent way out, or even through.
The person we travelled with, the person we learnt from, the person we blessed with our love and friendship, and who blessed us with theirs – they are gone. They were landmarks on our horizon and companions on our way. If we got lost, at least we were not alone. But in grief, our footsteps slow, our progress falters, and we cannot trust ourselves to choose the right direction.
Consider those women going in the early morning to care for the dead body of the one they loved and who had loved them: the one who had reoriented their whole world and given them a taste of the age to come, a glimpse of a destination worth travelling towards. Through a blood-red Friday and a sombre Saturday, blanketed by Sabbath immobility, they have wept and waited. Now, in the grey hours before Sunday dawn, they are still lost in grief. Each step they take towards the tomb only brings them closer to the darkness of death.
Yet when the sun comes up on Easter day, their friend is discovered to be risen. Suddenly there is light in the east again, and shadows to the west. With resurrection banishing the gloom from an empty grave, the horizon is once again full of memorable landmarks. Those women have their sense of direction restored. Everywhere the spiritual landscape reveals its features again: the promises he made, the scripture we remember, the messages we must deliver, the paths we may choose, and the work we will rejoice to do. No longer lost in grief, there are choices to be made and energy with which to make them.
Our human grieving for the people we love and lose does not run on a three-day schedule. But even in the thorniest and most disorienting of our sorrows, we are never truly bereft of direction, or of hope. Christ is alive, and meets us on the way.