I’ve heard You called by these names.
When I read them aloud
in a sea of voices in Sunday worship
I feign comfort and assurance
at the power these names imply.
I read stories of You
speaking through whirlwinds
appearing in fire
and affirm my desire to follow.
Then I listen to the radio
and hear that this Earth
the very ground we live and move upon
has cracked wide open
The land that gives life and vegetation
now rushes down the mountain
burying all in its path.
and I wonder if I really mean those words I recite on Sunday
the ones I whisper now:
I trust that You are there
in the places where the Earth cracks and slides
in the villages and cities in chaos
in the homes and halls of pain.
I trust that new life emerge from these cracks
and ascend to heights I cannot conceive.
In those moments when my trust quakes
I see a glimmer to remind me.
Something as simple as a child’s sidewalk art
“love is stronger than fear.”
One of the opportunities of recovery is time. Time to breathe. Time to be still. Time to ponder.
Time to look around the house and simply drink in reality. Generally, I don’t love swallowing reality by the glass. Intellectually, I know a good swig of reality is the best cure for stink in’ thinkin’. For fairy tale illusions. For suffering. It’s an antidote for so many ailments I seem to be susceptible to. But the pace of normal life makes a dose of reality much harder to prepare and swallow than say cramming my calendar with to-dos or crashing on the sofa with a computer. (Nothing better than looking present but virtually being in multiple places at the same time.) This spring I have said yes to reality and enjoyed sipping from its brimming cup.
One sip I have savored has been noticing how full our home and life is. Although the clutter can drive me crazy, I find myself amazed at the fullness represented in the hodgepodge of backpacks, art supplies, notebooks, knick knacks. This has nothing on the village of shoes and socks that live by the doors and often seek their mates. Yes, our house is full. So full we are about to burst at the seams. So full I know I am no longer just a me but truly part of a we.
During my busy days of the recent past, I often found myself irritated by the hodgepodge encroaching around me. Where is the neat and tidy space I used to call home? While in recovery, I realized that home–the neat and tidy one from four years ago–doesn’t exist anymore. The emptiness that I entered when I bought this house trusting is no longer empty. The life that I longed for when I sat at the settlement table is now our life. Miraculously over the last four years I have grown into our life. At a first glance it looks nothing like I planned. At a second glance, I know this is better than I could ever plan.
In these days of recovery, I see this Easter I sip from a cup of reality that invites an inner emptiness. Like the trust of moving into this house, I trust somehow this space will be filled, too. I wonder, what new life is waiting to be born?
I’ve been debating writing this piece and putting it out there. For all my talk about being honest and real, I still wrestle with when and how. Is this too much? Is this too personal? Is this too intimate? I started actively sitting with these questions this January when I began having chronic pain in my lower pelvis and back. I am no stranger to pain in that area. I am no stranger to painful, lengthy, and challenging menstrual issues. What I am a stranger to is stopping and listening to my body. Slowing down and going to the doctor. And then continuing to ask questions and speak up until I am heard.
What I am also new to is sharing this part of my life. Those who know me most closely have known the pain, embarrassment, and struggle I have lived with since starting to menstruate at 11. Most people don’t know. Because like a good girl, I haven’t said anything. I’ve swallowed more than my share of ibuprofen, plastered a smile on my face, and kept on keeping on.
This winter I stopped that.
This spring I stop the silence.
The reality is in less than two weeks I will be having a hysterectomy to treat fibroids and a myriad of other menstrual issues. Even as I type, I find myself wondering where the “whisper font” is. This is not something we talk about in polite company. We can mention knee replacement, heart surgery, and gallbladder removal. But hysterectomy…shhh.
Mention this and there are a million images projected onto the emotional screen in your life. Maybe it’s the secrecy. Or the assumption that women aren’t women without a womb. But the assumption is devastation.
And in my case, that’s true in part. It is devastating…a loss. Truly closing a door to the life that I always thought I would have…the one where I birth a baby of my own.
But on the other hand, it allows another door to open. The one where my body can finally heal from pain that has tormented it for years. The one that proclaims to the world that womanhood is so much more than a part of anatomy. And motherhood is larger than birth. For me the loss of a womb feels a little bit like the fear and joy of the empty tomb. A place where Mystery just waits to be resurrected.
Last night I had dinner with a dear friend and colleague in ministry. Even though we love to catch up on the details of family and life, our conversation can’t help but include a least five minutes about the church. Last night’s five minutes (and then some) touched on the challenge that not only her parish faces and that I see when I supply preach, but the challenge that seems epidemic in Mainline churches–the struggle to survive. The reality is many congregations face dwindling digits of dollars as well as donors. Add to this the balance sheet that reveals that many regulars donate a weekly amount that is equivalent to a week’s worth of Starbucks coffees. It doesn’t take an accountant to figure out that sooner or later there will be nothing to rob from either Peter or Paul. Both of them will run out of resources.
This challenge is so widespread that books and blogs explore the ins and outs of how to solve this problem. Churches need to do more to attract new people. Churches need to educate people about stewardship. People need to give more. People need to embrace change. Pastors need to preach the Gospel. The list goes on. While I believe that all of the above are true, I think it avoids talking about and sitting with a piece of reality:
People die. Things die. Organizations die.
If you profess Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, the blessing to the above statements is that death is not the end. Something comes after death. Resurrection. New life. But here’s the thing that I think most people, including myself, struggle with…the resurrection can only happen after the death. To put it in biblical terms, Jesus couldn’t be resurrected until AFTER he was crucified. In order for him to be raised from the dead, he needed to die.
Perhaps the Good News is that none of us, not even churches, need to fear death. Something comes after. Perhaps the challenge of this Good News is that death comes first. And death isn’t easy or fun. Death means change. Change means loss. Loss means grief. Perhaps what we’re most struggling with in the church isn’t to survive as much as it is to avoid the agony and pain of grief. Grief. What does it mean for the place people turn in their grief to be the very place living in grief?
According to Walter Brueggemann, one of the three prophetic tasks of the church is to “grieve in a society that practices denial.” I can’t help but wonder, what would happen if we spent this Lenten season intentionally giving ourselves and our communities the safe space to do this? Rather than starting a new program, beginning an outreach, or initiating a new stewardship campaign, we paused. Rather than giving up chocolate or candy or Coke, we gave up denial. Rather than walking through Holy Week as if it were someone else’s story, we named and grieved the places where it is our story.
What if we practiced our faith this Lent living the belief that death is not the end?
I see the gift of autumn
in the glory of crimson and gold,
and the abundance of the harvest.
Still the bitter-sweet taste of sage
Flavors all I swallow.
This harvest season
the ones that have nurtured my growth,
Are now fallow.
The bounty of their final season
They are to remain barren.
I believe in the miracle
Of the womb
And the empty tomb
But for today
My eyes see only empty horizon.
One of the best and hardest units to teach in Eighth Grade Communication Arts was on the Holocaust. The complexity of our history and humanity astonished, sickened, and captivated the fourteen year-olds. For the first time in their school career, we would read a text without a fairy-tale ending. Even after a month of working on research papers and reading articles, the end of Anne Frank always stung. Something about the story. Something about the reality that she was their age. Something about the unfolding of a young woman and the love story tasted sweet.
We would get to the end. And in every class, at least one student would ask, But what happens to Anne and Peter? Never mind the context. Never mind the research. Something about the reality of this happening to someone just like them made the sweet-and-sour taste of tragedy confused their palettes. Inevitably, I would repeat multiple times that day, “Anne and Peter both died in concentration camps. This story…this class… is how they live on.”
There was something about Anne’s life and story that transformed the number six million into a small enough dose of tragedy that the eighth graders could taste it. Could digest it. Could begin to fathom the unfathomable. Could share in and pass along someone else’s sacred story.
Today I seek ways to fathom the unfathomable of the Philippines. NPR reported projections of 10,000 people dead and nine million displaced.
My non-linear, non-mathematic brain tries to compute this figure of devastation half-a-world away. I can’t seem to make sense of it. But I know that in the midst of it, there is an Anne and a Peter. I know they struggled and continue to struggle. And I know that I will listen for their stories.
We speak of resurrection
as a kind of memory.
The scraps of the past that linger
in our lives.
The photos of those who went before us
Perhaps in 2D only,
we resurrect a piece of them through the glossy shine.
Some mountain top moment
frozen in time.
Sometimes resurrection is more visceral than even a photo.
Standing among the zinnias today,
I saw my grandmother.
I snip the last of the mint
resist making iced tea.
Oh that life got so busy
And I didn’t take the time to really watch her make it.
Surely she’ll appear
to leave me a Pyrex measuring glass of fresh iced tea.
A little mint.
A little lemon.
A little sweet.
It was always just right.
Standing on the edge of the coast
I watch my new family
frolic in the waves
squeal with delight.
It’s a photograph in my mind
like the photograph of my Grandmother
laughing at the water’s edge.
She never got to meet my new family
But when I stand knee-deep in the sea
zinnias or ocean
she is there.