“The LORD will vindicate me; your love, LORD, endures forever– do not abandon the works of your hands (Psalm 138:8).”
Goodbyes are difficult. Endings are often sad.
I am experiencing this firthand this weekend. After close to two months of coordinating a program for 18 young scholars from another country, I will be saying goodbye to them at the airport tomorrow morning. I will miss them.
As I told my boss when he congratulated me and asked me if it was worth the late night phone calls, I had a blast. Meeting and working with and for them was a real opprtunity to learn and grow and make new friends.
You could say I have grown to love them. I believe, with some of them, the feeling is mutual. It was a life changing experience for both me and them.
Yet, in this life, loves comes to an end. People move on with their lives. Marriages end in divorce. It’s quite sad, really.
One thing I will always remember about my students who are leaving tomorrow is their singing. Their music accompanied us wherever we went.
But the “dance” with these folks is over.
Leonard Cohen wrote some lyrics which talk about the end of love in this life. Here are the opening lines of his song:
“Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin
Dance me through the panic ’til I’m gathered safely in..”
Cohen discusses the macabre origin of his song, Dance Me to the End of Love:
” ‘Dance Me to the End Of Love’ … it’s curious how songs begin because the origin of the song, every song, has a kind of grain or seed that somebody hands you or the world hands you and that’s why the process is so mysterious about writing a song. But that came from just hearing or reading or knowing that in the death camps, beside the crematoria, in certain of the death camps, a string quartet was pressed into performance while this horror was going on, those were the people whose fate was this horror also. And they would be playing classical music while their fellow prisoners were being killed and burnt. So, that music, (referring to a lyric here) ‘Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin,’ meaning the beauty there of being the consummation of life, the end of this existence and of the passionate element in that consummation. But, it is the same language that we use for surrender to the beloved, so that the song — it’s not important that anybody knows the genesis of it, because if the language comes from that passionate resource, it will be able to embrace all passionate activity.”
Even the end of love is passionate. And gloomy.
Thirteen is a former doctor who used to work with Gregory House M.D., the main character of the medical drama “House”. She is so secretive about her past that she likes to be referred to by the number she was given as a candidate for the post.
In a recent episode, Dr. House checks her out of a prison. She has been away for a year, and House’s persistent question as they drive away is,”What did you do?”
House wants her back on his team. It’s obvious. She is a great doctor. But he has to know.
Along the way, as they interact, House digs the answer out of her. “I killed a man”, she tells him.
It takes some further digging on House’s part to learn the true story. Thirteen euthanized her brother.
Thirteen and her brother (who House didn’t even knew existed) both have a progressive, fatal disease. When the illness becomes unbearable, he tells her “it’s time” and she infuses fatal medicine into his veins.
Thirteen pleads down to misuse of drugs, since the law can not prove murder. Thus, she spends six months in jail, where House encounters her.
Thirteen is not only emotionally stricken by what she felt necessary to do out of love for her brother, she also is overcome with grief over the fact that one day she will be in the same shape and there will be no one to do the same for her.
She is also amazed at the lack of emotional response from House over her story. He just stares at her with a blank, unemotional look. Thirteen tells him, referring to the end of his recent love affair,”No wonder she dumped you.”
Yet, at the end of the episode, House and Thirteen have formed a strange, faulty bond. He tells her in the car, at night, as he drops her off,”I’ll kill you.When the time comes, I will do it.”
Thirteen looks at him, again with amazement, and says,”See you Monday.”
Love is so imperfect in this world. It causes flawed behavior such as that portrayed in House, and Satan even uses it to create appalling circumstances such as that of the forced performances of the Holocaust described above.
Yes, sometimes in this life, love does come to an end.
When I looked exhausted the other day after weeks of working with my students, someone commented about it. I asked them,”Have you ever given your heart and soul to something and it comes to an end?”. The person replied,”Yes, my family.”
Sadly, even family love can terminate in this life. Husbands, wives, sons, daughters, siblings-all may not only NOT love each other, but may end up even hating each other.
Thankfully, I have discovered that with one Person, love doesn’t end. I am referring to God.
Even at death, His love is there. Regard Cohen’s lyric:
“Lift me like an olive branch and be my homeward dove.” God does that for His beloved when it’s time.
One day I will see Him in all His glory:
“Let me see your beauty when the witnesses are gone
Let me feel you moving like they do in Babylon
Show me slowly what I only know the limits of
Dance me to the end of love
Dance me to the end of love.”
He will take me to the wedding feast of the Lamb:
“Dance me to the wedding now, dance me on and on
Dance me very tenderly and dance me very long
We’re both of us beneath our love, we’re both of us above
Dance me to the end of love
Dance me to the end of love.”
“The end of love” is an oxymoronic phrase when it comes to God. It’s silly, even. There is no end to HIS love.
Even before the end of love, as I head into my closing years I have hope of experiencing His love here and now, with my wife, and with my kids, and even theirs, because God is good:
“Dance me to the children who are asking to be born
Dance me through the curtains that our kisses have outworn
Raise a tent of shelter now, though every thread is torn
Dance me to the end of love
Dance me to the end of love”.
As my life heads toward it’s close, I surely can relate to Jeremiah’s lament:
“I am the man who has seen affliction
by the rod of the LORD’s wrath.
He has driven me away and made me walk
in darkness rather than light;
indeed, he has turned his hand against me
again and again, all day long.
He has made my skin and my flesh grow old
and has broken my bones.
He has besieged me and surrounded me
with bitterness and hardship.
He has made me dwell in darkness
like those long dead.
He has walled me in so I cannot escape;
he has weighed me down with chains.
Even when I call out or cry for help,
he shuts out my prayer.
He has barred my way with blocks of stone;
he has made my paths crooked.
Like a bear lying in wait,
like a lion in hiding,
he dragged me from the path and mangled me
and left me without help.
He drew his bow
and made me the target for his arrows.
He pierced my heart
with arrows from his quiver.
I became the laughingstock of all my people;
they mock me in song all day long.
He has filled me with bitter herbs
and given me gall to drink.
He has broken my teeth with gravel;
he has trampled me in the dust.
I have been deprived of peace;
I have forgotten what prosperity is.
So I say, ‘My splendor is gone
and all that I had hoped from the LORD.’
I remember my affliction and my wandering,
the bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me (Lamentations 3:1-20).”
This is where I find myself at this stage of my life, right smack in the third chapter of Lamentations. If this is true, though, then I have a bright future.
God has allowed all this into my life for His reasons.
Jeremiah understood this. He didn’t end his lament with a pity party. He thought of the dance to come, and this gave him an expectation of better things from God:
“Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, ‘The LORD is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.’
The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him,
to the one who seeks him;
it is good to wait quietly
for the salvation of the LORD (Lamentations 3:21-27).”
Love in this world is as flawed as life itself. Furthermore, this world’s love will come to an end.
On the other hand, God and His love won’t ever end. In the middle of my own lament, this gets me out of bed in the morning.
My dance partner God awaits.