A week ago on Sunday afternoon, as the shadows lengthened and the sun went down, my husband and I drove over to a spot downtown along the Mississippi River. We got out and walked over the Stone Arch Bridge, stopping to watch a bridal party taking pictures, children peering over the railing, young people riding bikes. When we got to the other side of the bridge, there was a group of children standing with a man and a woman who were dressed like clowns. They were teaching the children how to blow gi-normous bubbles.
We stood and watched, delighted, for a few moments. But before we turned to walk back across the bridge, I walked down some wooden steps to get a better view of the river and the bridge above. It was not quite sunset, and the view was beautiful.
I thought back to earlier that afternoon. After worship that morning I had stopped in at the Intensive Care Unit of one of our local hospitals. I sat for a little while with a family as they waited for good news about their daughter and sister. They were not getting very much good news, and they grasped every sliver they could find, and held on tight. We prayed our silent prayers and hoped against hope. It was a grave place, full of love and pain.
I thought back a little further to the news I had gotten on Friday, news that a good friend of mine from seminary days had died. She was just 47, with two young children and a heart-broken husband. I grieved the loss, and also the fact that I had not kept in contact with her over the years since seminary, even though we had been faithful friends through those years of study. When I saw her picture on caring bridge, I saw first the familiar, beautiful smile that lit up every room she entered. How could she be dead? I still couldn't believe it.
"Here is the world," Frederick Buechner once said. "Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don't be afraid."
As I walked over the bridge, as I watched the children playing, as I felt the setting sun on the river, it was easy to believe that God was in this place.
But God is in the Intensive Care Unit, too, though often impossible to see. I don't say it because I can feel the warmth on the back of my neck, or because I got the news I wanted to hear. I just hold on to it. God is in the Intensive Care Unit, holding on to all of us.
One of the things they said of my friend from seminary, the one with the beautiful smile, the one who died too young, was that she was never afraid.
Beautiful and terrible. Don't be afraid.