During Lent, we often think of suffering and loss. Many of us adhere to the practice of sacrificing by giving up something cherished or loved for the 40 days that lead to the celebration of the resurrection of Christ. In my practice, I have found that this “sacrifice” of giving up something does not really cause me to consider suffering, loss, or pain. Perhaps, I’m just not doing it right.

A few years ago, I changed my practice of giving up something for Lent and began choosing weekly Lenten texts on which to ponder and meditate. These texts are meant to conger images of real, tangible suffering.

My Holy Week Lenten text is by folk song writer Eliza Gilkyson. Gilkyson beautifully captures the pain, suffering, and sacrifice of the December 2004 Indonesian tsunami. Some 500 people killed, another 150 still missing.

Mother mary, full of grace, awaken
All our homes are gone, our loved ones taken
Taken by the sea
Mother mary, calm our fears, have mercy
Drowning in a sea of tears, have mercy
Hear our mournful plea
Our world has been shaken
We wander our homelands forsaken

In the dark night of the soul
Bring some comfort to us all
Oh mother mary come and carry us in your embrace
That our sorrows may be faced

Mary, fill the glass to overflowing
Illuminate the path where we are going
Have mercy on us all
In funeral fires burning
Each flame to your mystery returning

In the dark night of the soul
Your shattered dreamers, make them whole
Oh mother mary find us where we've fallen out of grace
Lead us to a higher place

In the dark night of the soul
Our broken hearts you can make whole
Oh mother mary come and carry us in your embrace
Let us see your gentle face, mary

This text, lamenting the destruction that water can bring, would come to mean so much more only 8 short months later. On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina came barreling ashore, its eye centered on Waveland, Mississippi. As a Mississippi native, living in Alabama at the time, I had family directly impacted by the storm’s devastation. The center of Katrina’s eye came straight up Aiken Road in Waveland. My aunt BR and her partner, Beverly, lived (and still live there today) on Aiken Road. They lost everything. There was so much destruction and devastation, when they did return to see the damage, they were had to use Army Corps of Engineers GPS to locate the lot on which their house once stood. Nothing was recognizable.

I cannot image that level of loss, pain, and suffering. In September of 2005, Gilkyson re-released her folk song; this time for those affected by Katrina’s wrath. Her text makes suffering real. We hear the angst, the pleading of those who have lost everything. It is my hope and prayer that that is a level of suffering I can never truly understand.

During Lent, may we contemplate true suffering. May we empathize with acute pain. May we find solace in a God who “find[s] us when we’ve fallen out of grace.” May we find comfort as that same God “carr[ies] us in [God’s] embrace.

Webb Parker, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Music Education and Voice University of Maine Artistic Director,
Bangor Area Children’s Choir Music Director,
Director of Music St. John’s Episcopal Church