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Navigating life’s hills and valleys

Navigating life’s hills and valleys
Navigating life’s hills and valleys
Dr. Wayne Willis

“The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.” —Kahlil Gibran

Theologian Martin Marty describes two types of religious people: those with a summery orientation and those with a wintry orientation.

The death of Marty’s wife cast him into a deep personal crisis of wintry spirituality. He authored a book about his grief, “A Cry of Absence: Reflections for the Winter of the Heart.” One of my favorite theology professors, Burton Cooper, whose daughter Jennifer died at age 4 of a bacterial infection and years later his 12-year-old son Samuel died from an extreme asthma attack, wrote a book as he sought to make meaning out of his losses, “Why, God?”

On the other extreme, there are those for whom God is ever near and real. The whole of nature, for them, radiates the goodness of God. On a spiritual high, with gusto they sing with the little children, “I’ve got a joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart” and “If you’re happy and you know it, say Amen!” They may add a smiling emoji and several exclamation marks to their writings as they skip merrily through life’s glimmering, sun-kissed meadows.

Most of us, I suspect, have experienced both poles, spiritual mountaintops and spiritual valleys. Many psalms speak to lonely, searching, troubled hearts, mired in a bog, feeling God’s absence. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22). Many psalms are celebratory, even exuberant, like the very next one. “The Lord is my shepherd; I have everything I need” (Psalm 23).

There’s room for all of us, for those with great faith and those with little faith.

There’s room even for the Robert Frosts among us. Frost had engraved on his tombstone, “I had a lover’s quarrel with the world.”