Back on the Chain Gang

In the readings for the Third Sunday of Easter, the promise of life beyond this one is explained and offered. It is the very nature of loss in life which draws us to the hope and promise of the world to come. There is an ache that yearns for more; life is good and so we want more of it, especially that which we once had and knew or those who once loved us and cared for us, who are now gone. I have been blessed to have both of my parents even until today; on this Mother’s Day I can call my Mother and speak to her, but it does not take many years in this world to have known the pain of loss, of a friend, of a lover, of a spouse, of a child, of a parent or grandparent, of hopes for the future.

There are moments and times in our life that shine, however, like beacons of what can be and we often attempt to return to these moments and to recapture the joy that they encompassed. When I think of my Mother, I think of a moment as a little boy in Vancouver, eating a hotdog and drinking hot chocolate after coming in from trick-or-treating on Halloween, watching her in the kitchen and thinking that this was perfect, all was well in the world. I was cared for and loved. As you move on in the world, beyond the daily protection of a loving Mother or Father, you come to realize that these moments come and go, like invitations to a joy without end.

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Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders sings of this in the early 80's masterpiece, "Back on the Chain Gang," where she recalls her lost love:

I found a picture of you, oh

What hijacked my world that night

To a place in the past

We’ve been cast out of

Now we’re back in the fight

These lines evoke a time of liminality, a place where the day to day tribulations of life are held at bay, while love flourishes. In retrospect, it is "a place in the past we’ve been cast out of," both a time and a place. It is difficult not to see images of the Garden of Eden, a place, a time we have been cast out of; we can only experience it in glimpses, in moments before we are cast out: "those were the happiest days of my life...like a break in the battle was your part in the wretched life of a lonely heart, now we’re back on the chain gang." Indeed, listening to the Pretenders casts my mind back to my own high school days, filled with the exuberance of life and the joy of friends, now scattered, since that is when I first heard these songs. Watching the videos on YouTube, actually, reminded me that the Pretenders themselves lost two members to drug use prior to recording "Back on the Chain Gang."

This sense of joy come and gone, or coming and going, was brought home powerfully by a recent viewing of Ponette, a French film in which a four year old girl, Ponette, struggles to come to terms, to understand the death of her Mother in a car accident. The acting of the four year old Victoire Thivisol is transcendent, and I use the word carefully, as she, her cousins and other young friends, her father, her aunt, her teachers try to make sense of her loss and grief. Initially, it seems as if the children are simply full of confusion, their explanations of death, religion and dating are limited by age and experience, but ultimately you see the adults, too, this side of the Garden, even with "better"(and in some cases truer) explanations are struggling to make sense of life and their own pain. The loss of her Mother is for Ponette a moment of being cast out of the Garden, a place to which she cannot truly return here on earth. This is her loss and her grief, with only her memories to sustain her.

We accumulate these losses and griefs as we continue on in life, but we also accumulate moments of joy, victory and comfort, and hope for life everlasting, as the Psalm for this Sunday expresses:

I keep the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices; my body also rests secure. For you do not give me up to Sheol, or let your faithful one see the Pit. You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:8-11).

Amen and back to the chain gang; as you are working, breaking rocks in the hot sun, there will be moments of joy that break through and over the hills, a vista in the future of a place you have been cast out of, a place we hope to return forever.

John W. Martens

Follow me on Twitter @johnwmartens

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