Editor's note:

Orig­i­nal­ly writ­ten in April 2017 short­ly after the death of his good friend, Tom Oden, this ten­der piece by Chris Hall gives us a glimpse into the process of healthy grieving.

—Renovaré Team

Grief shows up in sur­pris­ing ways and at unex­pect­ed moments. It can catch you off guard. Grief showed up yes­ter­day and knocked on the door of my con­scious­ness. I was prepar­ing to write a blog post on Tom’s jour­ney into ortho­doxy when it hit. Tom’s no longer there at home in Okla­homa, tap­ping away on his com­put­er. He’s not sit­ting out­side on the porch in the ear­ly evening, watch­ing the egrets cruise in for a soft land­ing in the trees across the lake. Tom has left us, if only for a time, and I keen­ly sense his absence. He is with me, yet not with me. How strange.

I sit at my desk and imag­ine dial­ing his phone num­ber. He qui­et­ly answers. Hel­lo, this is Tom Oden.” Hi, Tom, it’s Chris.” He hears my voice and his tone changes. Chris, how ya doing?” I’m doing fine, Tom. How are you?” Yes, that’s the ques­tion I often ask myself, almost dai­ly. How are you, Tom?” Yet I know that if I call, the phone will sim­ply ring. Who knows? Per­haps his num­ber has been dis­con­nect­ed. That’s the hard part. We’ve been dis­con­nect­ed and I long for the con­nec­tion to be restored. Restora­tion will come, I remind myself, but for the present mem­o­ries must suffice. 

It has been four months since Tom died and the ini­tial, sharp, bewil­der­ing sad­ness has passed. When I first received news of Tom’s death I felt dis­ori­ent­ed and con­fused; my heart hurt and my mind ached. The world had tipped on its side; every­thing was out of kil­ter. Thank­ful­ly, things have begun to set­tle, but the land­scape of my life has shift­ed. The lay of the land has changed. 

I’m learn­ing to nav­i­gate a new world, a Tom-less world. Yet, truth be told, he is not entire­ly absent. I have a pho­to of Tom sit­ting on my office shelf. There he stands, smil­ing at me. And, thank­ful­ly, his words in print are read­i­ly acces­si­ble. I’m re-read­ing a lot of his books, and a few for the first time. Tom’s Clas­sic Chris­tian­i­ty is a gem. Some lines make me smile: 

The beau­ti­ful species known as Chris­t­ian ortho­doxy deserves advo­cates who try to do what Rachel Car­son did for birds or what Archie Carr did to advo­cate the cause of endan­gered sea turtles.” 

If it is pos­si­ble for an author sin­cere­ly to ask a read­er to riv­et atten­tion upon the sources to which he points and rel­a­tive­ly less to his own inven­tions, I would indi­cate that as my true inten­tion. Pic­ture me as on my knees beg­ging you to do just this one thing.” 

Watch­ing them play the­ol­o­gy is like watch­ing Willie Mays play cen­ter­field or Duke Elling­ton play Sophis­ti­cat­ed Lady.’” 

As you go, bear in mind Kierkegaard’s axiom: every­thing about reli­gion is amus­ing, and espe­cial­ly Chris­tian­i­ty, where every­thing hinges on the incar­na­tion. So cool it, relax, breathe, and swim to the deep fathoms.” 

And do not get angry at me if I report what clas­sic Chris­tian­i­ty says. If I rep­re­sent it wrong­ly, yes, let’s hear it. If I assert my own bias­es, tell me. But in most cas­es the prob­lem is not with me but with clas­sic Chris­tian­i­ty, espe­cial­ly if I am telling the same truth held by the great tradition.” 

Because of piety’s pen­chant for tak­ing itself too seri­ous­ly, the­ol­o­gy does well to nur­ture a mod­est, unguard­ed sense of com­e­dy. Some droll sen­si­bil­i­ty is required to keep in due pro­por­tion the pompous pre­ten­sions of the study of divinity.” 

The most enjoy­able of all sub­jects has to be God, because God is the source of all joy.” 

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Originally published April 2017