I was heartbroken yesterday afternoon when I heard the news that one of my former students, Leigh Dunn (nee Johnston) had passed away. Leigh, and indeed her husband Geoff, had lived with me in Derryvolgie Hall, where I lived as Chaplain. Leigh was just 37 years old.
I had connected on Facebook with Leigh a few years ago. She had married Geoff and was living in Ballybogey, raising a young family. Every time we drove through Ballybogey I thought of her.
Last weekend I heard from another ex student that she was very ill and then yesterday that she had left us. My heart goes out to Geoff and her children, Zac, Jessica, Harry and Alice. Jesus called the Holy Spirit a comforter and I pray that they will know the truth of that down through the days, months and indeed the years that are to come.
I used to hope that most of my students would remember their time in Derryvolgie, forever. I used to use that Eagles line, “You can check out anytime you like but you can never leave,” at the end of year barbecue!
What I didn’t realise was that I would never be able to leave my love for my students behind. On Facebook I get to follow, smile and pray as I watch them get new jobs, travel, marry or have babies… and as in Leigh’s case struggle with illness and tragedy. In the end they could check out but my heart and soul continues to love so many of them.
Leigh was a nurse and therefore, during her studies, was often away on placements but I remember conversations with her and indeed often the very place in the halls where they took place. I remember Leigh’s smile, head of curly hair and a gentle but effervescent joy. She had a lightness of spirit. It was refreshing to be in her presence. It was seventeen years ago for goodness sake but still vivid in my memory.
As I grieve Leigh's untimely loss, I am drawn back to a poem I had written for another beloved of my Derryvolgie community who passed away ten years ago; Lindsay (Anderson) Emerson. I read this at Lindsay’s funeral. It was trying to express a strength of faith with all the confusion, heartache and spiritual culture shock that the death of a loved brings, particularly at such a young age.
The last lines of the poem were influenced by a television interview with novelist Lionel Shriver at the time of the Virginia Tech shootings in 2007. Shriver spoke about a “sovereignty of evil”. It made some sense to me. We try to explain these dark tragedies when they are a mystery and beyond the rational abilities of our finite minds. Shriver was saying that evil is transcendent and beyond our control. For me, as a Christian, God is ultimately the Sovereign one and as a result also beyond the most acute genius of humanity’s best explanations… or control!
Just a day or two before I heard about Leigh’s illness I heard a quotation on Criminal Minds, the television series. “The devil has miracles too” - John Calvin. I thought that that theologised, from a Christian thinker, Shriver’s comment. On this side of eternity we are at the mercy of that which is wrong and tragic and heartbreaking. It is in those most horrible of places that the miracle of God’s mercy in Jesus incarnation, death and resurrection meets us.
We are indeed often caught between the two...
CAUGHT BETWEEN THE MYSTERY
We come with faith
But the theology doesn't rhyme
We come with hope
But we are all out of time
We come with reason to believe
But reason isn’t what it was
We come with words that fail us
But Jesus never does
Faces stained with the love we treasured
Our heart broken into a million pieces
It’s the hardest thing you can ever do
Give your love into the arms of Jesus
And I know today that Leigh is singing
But it doesn't make this anymore right
To be caught between the mystery of darkness
And the mystery of God’s good light.