Lent, Week Three: Healed and Broken

I went to see Logan this evening; I love the comic book films, love the characters and worlds and adventures and connections.  And for the longest time I loved the action part of action films—I loved a good fight scene where the hero (rarely a heroine) takes down all the bad guys with fists of fury and a kick-ass rock song.

But this—this film was all anger, sorrow, and pain.  I can’t do this level of gore and rage anymore, can’t absorb the sheer amount of ache that we as a culture have reached.  We are in so much pain, Reader; the sickened edges of our never-healed wounds of racism fester in our bellies, the blood we spill on our streets and everyone else’s leaves us weak and stumbling, our throats are raw from throwing up the vapid and unhealthy bullshit we have tried to convince ourselves is any kind of nourishment.  Our illness colors our news, our music, our pastimes and yes, our movies.

healing-touch-sold_We need healing.

It’s funny; I started writing this while half-listening to a Christian radio station and three songs in a row now have dealt with the concept of healing.  Part of that is the Spirit reading over my shoulder, but more of it is that Christianity has a lot to say about healing and the need for it.  After all, one of the many terms for God is “Healer.”

But from what?  Of what?  Oh no, Christiana, don’t be one of those Christians who equate spiritual sin with emotional and bodily malaise, as though some people deserve to be punished with illness.  No, Reader—my best friend has a disease that is frying his brain a little bit more every day, stripping it of its effectiveness.  My good friend’s wife is fighting a cancer that sits sullenly in her femur, spine, and chest.  I myself am gradually going deaf because my body cannot recognize the way it’s supposed to work in order to hear.  I can’t believe in a god who would cause such prolonged torment to satisfy reparation of sin.  That’s sadism, and I don’t roll with a sadistic God.

There’s something to be said, though, for the gulf between Christianity’s language of healing and the reality of just how broken we are in so many ways.  Do we keep breaking ourselves, outpacing God as we find new ways to inflict pain?  Do we never allow ourselves to fully heal, running pell-mell into the next ill-thought thing before our bodies and souls have had time to re-knit?  Perhaps.  I am most certainly guilty of both of these, especially when it comes to myself.  How I haven’t more seriously injured myself on a number of levels, I don’t know.  But I am certainly not whole.  I am broken.

In the film—which I can’t say that I recommend, although it is incredibly well acted, because it is so incredibly violent; there’s a great breakdown of it through the lens of its relationship to religion here—an underlying theme is that you’re never so broken you can’t be at least on the way to healing.  Everybody gets a chance at redemption, at reclaiming the best part of themselves; some take it, some don’t.  Healing comes from being willing to walk back to what you could have been.

I was recently reading an article for class about John Wesley’s ideas of healing and that he had no problem whatsoever with both medicine and prayer as effective tools of healing.  He also never blamed sick people for getting sick.  We live in mortal bodies that are constantly falling apart.  We should definitely take better care of them (preaching to myself) but we can’t stop our own mortality.  We are not Wolverine, able to heal almost instantly, and yelling at sick people about what they should be able to do is both foolish and cruel.  I appreciate that the vast majority of Biblical references to healing have no truck with blaming the broken.  Do they have to do things, like get up or reach out for a hem?  Yes.  Healing requires work on our part.  But do they get shamed into being well?  Nope.  We are all of us broken, so what good would shame do?  How silly is it for one mortal to tell another mortal that their mortality is shameful?

I realize that I’m switching back and forth between a lot of different kinds of healing and brokenness, but that’s a little deliberate (and a little due to my mind being in about fourteen different places right now).  I think it’s all of piece not in that your soul makes you have cancer but that sickness isn’t just a physical thing.  When I am sick—and I’ve been fortunate in never being long-term, all-the-time sick—I definitely notice an impact on my spiritual and emotional self.  And when I’m aware of my broken spirituality, it takes a toll on my physical commitments.

You may choose, good Reader, to push back on any and all of my assertions.  Perhaps, for you, the spirit has nothing to do with the body, or perhaps you’re really uncomfortable with my equating sick and broken because those mean different things to you.  Please, challenge me.  But recognize that in this wilderness of Lent, we are not whole, and we are not healthy.  Even Jesus needed angels at the end to put Him back together from the stress of the environment and the temptations.

I simply want us to consider, as I have been doing in light of the film, where our brokenness is.  Where do we need healing?  What can we do about that, in both the “non-miraculous” medical and the “miraculous” prayer sense?  (Yes, I put those in quotes because I think it’s a false dichotomy.)  And where are we healed that we can celebrate?  Where, in this desert of forty Lenten days, do we already see the bright edges of Easter?

 

 

Jesus and his disciples came to Bethsaida. Some people brought a blind man to Jesus and begged him to touch and heal him.  Taking the blind man’s hand, Jesus led him out of the village. After spitting on his eyes and laying his hands on the man, he asked him, “Do you see anything?”  The man looked up and said, “I see people. They look like trees, only they are walking around.”  Then Jesus placed his hands on the man’s eyes again. He looked with his eyes wide open, his sight was restored, and he could see everything clearly.  (Mark 8:22-25, CEB)

Christianity in the New Reality

Oh, Reader, I could use a whole lot of Jesus right now.

It’s been a hell of a week for Americans—for the world at large, really, since America has had nearly 100 years to wrap its long fingers around the limbs of every other country.  I have been disappointed by my country quite a few times, but this is perhaps the first time I’ve been frightened by and for it.  The reckless foolishness, the open childishness, and the marginalizing endangerment of the new administration—in only one week!—are exhausting.  My spirit hurts, my heart hurts, my body aches from marching around Washington, D.C. to remind the world and myself that I matter because I am a woman, not in spite of it.

And I won’t lie, being in seminary is not making it easier.  I think I’ve mentioned before that I attend a pretty liberal divinity school—far more liberal than I am, in some areas.  The anger and the pain of the students here feed mine such that we all starve from them, our very souls gnawing at empty insides because we see only that which is cruel, that which is unmerciful.

I do not know how to recharge from that.

dscn2067Because I do not believe that I, as a Christian or as a faith leader, can walk away from this.  A family member called me out earlier this week in accusation that I wasn’t preaching love, kindness, and forgiveness because I went to the D.C. march and am unapologetic about my reasoning.  But what is love that does not pull the loved one away from evil?  How kind is it to avoid confrontation such that others are harmed because of my unwillingness to speak?  At the end of days, how do I ask God to forgive me if He has to say, “I was hungry and you didn’t give me food to eat. I was thirsty and you didn’t give me anything to drink. I was a stranger and you didn’t welcome me. I was naked and you didn’t give me clothes to wear. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me“?

I’ve no intention of turning this blog into an activist space in terms of recruiting you to do anything, Reader; I have other spaces for that, and I hope you do as well.  Nor do I particularly want this to become a conversational space about which politician we dislike this week, not least because I am tired of having those conversations without the benefit of looking people in the eye and saying their real names.  For me, this blog needs to remain a place in which I catalog and describe the God-shaped space in my life and how that shifts and shines.  Heaven knows I need to be more aware than ever before of God’s constant Presence.

But I challenge you and I challenge myself to bring faith into all of our conversations in this new era.  Who is starving, physically and spiritually?  Are we contributing to their inability to be filled?  Are we ourselves, we God-made vessels of the imago Dei, trying to survive on not enough?  Who is parched, and how can we offer both water and Living Water that does not drown and does not cause further thirst?  Who is strange to us, and how do we welcome them?  How do we welcome the parts of ourselves that we cannot yet face because we have bifurcated our own souls, our families, our friends who are too “other”?  Who has been stripped naked, who stands in the harsh light of this day without rights, without safety, without hope, without love, without kindness?  Who is sick, who is trapped in prisons of their own making or of ours?  Have we gone to them and called them by name as children of God?

In the least of these is God.  In the greatest of these is God.  In the average of these is God.  In us is God, for in Him we live and move and have our being.  How shall we act as though this is true?  How shall we move forward as those who have claimed and been claimed by Jesus the Christ?

From wells of worship that never run dry, though we may feel as though there is only dusty earth at the bottom.  May God stand with you in the days ahead, Reader.  May we both recognize Him as He does so.

Help me understand your orders. Then I will think about your miracles.  I am sad and tired. Make me strong again as you have promised.  Don’t let me be dishonest; have mercy on me by helping me obey your teachings.  (Psalm 119:27-29, NCV)

A Come to Jesus Moment

I’ve been quite purposefully staying away from this blog for a minute, Reader, while I calmed down about the recent American elections.  I realized it wouldn’t do anyone any good for me to get on here and swear a blue streak, although I must admit that’s what I wanted to do.  I’m mad at conservatives who decided supposed economic security was worth selling the safety of various groups; I’m mad at liberals who can’t seem to hear their own narrow-mindedness while yelling at others for theirs; I’m super, super mad at the fools who didn’t vote at all.  And on top of that I’m utterly heartbroken and ashamed that my country is so broken that a misogynistic asshat is going to be the president.

Right, so as you can see I didn’t get all of my angry out.  And I don’t actually plan to; I think I need angry right now, not in the sense of the “rah burn shit down” kind of rage but in the “power music to change the world” kind of focus.  Righteous anger—that’s right, righteous, with all the forceful overtones that carries—is something that we need to redefine and reclaim.  I agree with the idea that this is the best thing to happen for the Church because it is so easy to align ourselves with the ideals of this world and that ain’t it.  The Kingdom of God is brought with a sword, not in the Crusader sense of hacking people apart but in the sense of refusing to stand by and allow injustice simply so we don’t have to inconvenience ourselves.

We Christians are called to take up our cross and follow Jesus.  By Jesus.  And that verse has been used so often and we have gotten so used to the cross that we think of it—that I think of it—as oh, man, I have to be nice to people at Thanksgiving.

No.  Christianity is not about nice.  Crosses are not about nice.  When Jesus was crucified, it was the most shameful and exposed form of death the Roman Empire could find for those it deemed counter-cultural and dangerous.  It was a slow death in which people’s own body weight killed them as they bled out, naked in front of whoever decided to come watch.  It was a statement that robbed the dying of anything even resembling dignity and made sure they had plenty of time to mull over the fact that the Empire had won.

Let me be clear—I am not advocating that people overthrow the Trump government any more than Jesus suggested His people overthrow Rome.  (His refusal to do so, in point of fact, was part of what endangered Him.)  Nor am I saying that people should just shoulder whatever comes as their own cross, their own burden.  I’m saying that we are called for just such a time as this every bit as much as Esther to risk ourselves for the safety and well-being of others.  If literally all that you can do is wear a safety pin and be prepared for whatever comes with that, that is your cross; bear it.  But do not build the cross of wearing the pin and then walk away when people call you on it, refusing to carry the burden of its realities.

Beyond that, get involved.  Research the things your friends say, whether you agree with them or not; do not blindly agree because something fuels your anger or hurt or fear.  Keep an eye on what is going on in your state legislature, your town councils, the federal congress.  Call offices, take surveys, send emails.  Make your voice heard by the people who can effect change on the topics that most concern you.  I don’t mean that you should make of yourself a 24-hour governmental watchdog (exhausted people are unhelpful to themselves and their movements, so know your own limits), but I do mean that your reaction—and mine—to the new administration must run deeper than Facebook comments and blog posts.

Remind yourself that there is an outside world.  Yes, there is much to be said about the election fallout, but Flint, Michigan still doesn’t have drinkable water.  East Tennessee is currently on fire.  Syria is still being torn to shreds by war, part of which is the fault of us, of America.  Brazil is still grappling with economic insecurity as its government shifts unsteadily.  Great Britain is still figuring out how to deal with the fallout of Brexit.  Boco Haram is still wreaking havoc in Nigeria.  America is not the only nation with problems, nor is the election America’s only problem.  Remember that we, as Christ’s hands and feet, are needed in more than just Washington, D.C.

And start praying right now, Reader, as to what is important to you about what America is.  A lot of promises were made on the campaign trail that shake down the dignity of the very citizens the American government is supposed to protect.  So fight for what you believe, speak out for that which is important to you, but know yourself:  are we willing to stand for those who cannot?  Are we willing to speak for the voiceless?  Are we willing to bear the crosses of seeking justice and extending mercy?  I have to pray my own prayers of reflection.  Am I willing to carry the cross of feeding the hungry, loving the leper, eating with tax collectors, healing the sick?  Am I willing to challenge legislation and to speak against communication that endangers or dismisses those who are female, who are LGBT, who are of color, who are refugees, who are immigrants, who are poor, who are survivors of sexual assault, who are human?  I don’t have to agree or support; I have to protect.  My safety cannot be more important than another’s.

You alone can’t fix the world, so please don’t try to engage every injustice and burn yourself out totally.  But do see the places around you where Christ beckons, come, pick up your cross.

May His yoke be easy.

Because this won’t be.

 

 

Thus says the Lord:

“For three transgressions of Israel,
    and for four, I will not revoke the punishment;
because they sell the righteous for silver,
    and the needy for a pair of shoes—
they that trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth,
    and turn aside the way of the afflicted[.]”  (Amos 2:6-7b, RSV)

Step Back, Breathe, Reengage

Oh, Reader, what a day.

It will be a feat of heroic proportions if I can make it to the end of this work day in one piece because I’ve been ready to go home and curl up in a blanket fort since I got here.  (This is unfortunate.)  Part of that is that I simply don’t like my job and so want to go home every day (not necessarily to a blanket fort), a dislike made so much harder to bear with every new sortie into pieces of the Church because I see what gives me life but I can’t have it (yet).  That was thrown into sharp relief this week because of Annual Conference (which I posted on last week and about which I will post further next week) and the moments of being mad as hell at the Church and loving it still.  To come back to a job where I do not fit, where I watch myself becoming someone I don’t like out of frustration and disenfranchisement, is a quiet form of torture.

But it is also that this week follows Orlando, this week holds the ninth-longest Senate filibuster, this week has been my heart breaking over my country once again saying that we are more afraid of our government than our weaponry, more determined to protect our right to have guns than our right to continue breathing with lungs not torn asunder by hot lead blasting through our bodies.  I have been unable (not that I’ve tried very hard) to keep myself from continually getting into this conversation—not out of a desire to antagonize but out of sheer befuddlement that this is still happening.  Again and again I have been asking how this works, why even the smallest steps of gun control are shunned outright, and to their credit my more conservative friends have responded.  We still don’t understand each other, but it has mostly been civilized.

Even when my newfound “liberalism” makes them question my faith.

Reader, I came to Christ in college and fell into a beautifully loving country Christian church with all the insularity you might expect.  God, guns, and the American way are very important in that church; gay folk are sinners to be loved, divorce isn’t spoken of, women don’t become pastors, and abortion is an abomination against God.  Even then I disagreed on some things but I was loved there, and I will spend the rest of my life pushing against the stereotype that people who think these things are horrible human beings without hearts.  They were my family, they were my support network, they quite literally fed me and gave me a home after I finished college and realized I had no idea what I was doing next.  I worked part time there, I built the foundation of my faith there, and they wept with me when I left.

Since I’ve moved away we have all changed, and though that love is still there we are far more prone to seeing the places where we disagree than the places we are family.  So for some to question my advocacy of gun control and my stance against violence and my blatant feminism in the frame of lovingly correcting me in faith and steering me back to Jesus…God, Reader, it breaks my heart in half.  I see still their compassion and understand that they believe wholly in this gentle remonstrance, but I cannot stand by and accept these tenets anymore.  I will not wash my hands of this gunpowder and blood, especially not when a life of professional, pulpit-based ministry beckons me forward.  But this…this is my family who look at me in concern and sorrow.  These are the people who taught me what love looked like in the first place, and every rift between us hurts that much more precisely because I cannot mend it and (to the extent that it would mean walking back my beliefs) will not try.

Add to this, then, betrayal by my very body.  Perhaps one of the cruelest things the Church has done in terms of doctrine is to tie women’s menstruation to Eve’s sin, ’cause damn, this shit sucks.  (If you’re uncomfortable with talking about this because you think it’s gross, skip to the next paragraph.  Then go apologize to all the women in your life whose bodies and voices you’re denying by refusing to acknowledge this as a biological reality.)  Beyond that fact that it can feel like someone is attempting to pull out your spine through your abdomen while twisting the surrounding muscles in an unpadded vise, going on your period really can and does screw with your mental state.  I realize it’s a social stereotype to show the wigged-out woman eating a pint of ice cream and crying at nothing in particular, but seriously, your chemical balance is getting thrown off and you can’t stop it.  So it’s been a legit intense week and today my brain is magnifying everything a thousandfold because its busy trying to overhaul its entire hormonal state.  Once I figured out that was a factor it made the day slightly easier because I can tell myself to step back, breathe, and reevaluate the way I was reacting to people, but before I got there I thought I was losing my damn mind today.
The spiritual implication of all that?  We are not only spiritual.  I would love to be, trust me, but we are living in mortal, political, social, emotional, and physical plains as well as the spiritual one, and that is a hot mess sometimes.  And somedays—many days—we carry the grief of the world on top of our own and we shudderstep underneath that weight.

Good think God keeps telling us to give it to Him.  In so many ways, Lord, we pray for healing.

 

 

“Teach me and I, for my part, will be silent;
explain to me how I have been mistaken.
 How painful are honest words!
But what does your reproof prove?
 Do you intend to criticize mere words,
and treat the words of a despairing man as wind?”  (Job 6:24-26, NET)

When Man Is an Island

Happy day before Halloween, Reader!  My apologies for dropping off of the radar last week without telling you; that day did not at all turn out as I planned, which meant I didn’t make it to writing to you.  It’s been like that more days than not, recently.

Which is why my little introverted self is SO DAMN EXCITED about tomorrow, because I have nothing planned.  By this, I mean I have planned nothing; nothing is the plan.  I have turned down other things so that I can have a day of nothing.  I need to recharge but badly.  And it’s been interesting to see other people’s reactions to that.

So tomorrow is a holiday; I’m sitting at my desk in a dress and evening gloves, so you bet I’m aware of it.  But it’s not really my kind of holiday; it’s a holiday for kids to go ask for candy as though we’re not afraid of each other for this one night, it’s a holiday for parents to joke about who had the worst experience finding the right costume; it’s a holiday for college students to get super drunk in questionable clothing with each other and watch “Rocky Horror Picture Show.”  It’s not really a holiday for people like me—which is not to say that I don’t like the holiday or that I couldn’t gather together some friends and go to a corn maze or have a movie marathon or something, because I realize that’s totally an option.  It’s to say that that takes a bit more maneuvering now than it did when I wasn’t a Professional Adult with a bunch of Friends With Kids.

And the thing of it is, I’m not complaining at all about that because it means I get to stay home and just chill tomorrow.  It’s so cool that society has taken lots of steps in the last decade or so to not only recognize but celebrate the gifts and differences introverts have to offer, but it still seems super weird to people that some of us need to just be in our own headspace.  I was talking to a friend the other day (who has several kids) and she asked what my Halloween plans were.  I said I was going to be home alone and she got so incredibly sad, as though it were a terrible thing that no one loved me enough to get together with me on the holiday.  It took quite a while to convince her that this was my choice and that I was not only okay with it but looking forward to it—and I’m still not sure she completely believed me.

It’s funny (in the “interesting” way, not the comical one) that this should be on my mind today because Interpreter and I recently had a…disagreement about things like this.  (I don’t know that we actually got into a fight, but I was pretty mad at him.)  Especially as I get deeper into the process of getting into professional ministry (I’ve started my seminary applications!  I’m totally terrified of this!), he keeps reminding me to establish and hold boundaries now so I don’t run into not having them when I need them.  This is a good reminder and a good thing for him to do as a friend, but sometimes I feel people don’t give me credit for the boundaries I do have.  So the “funny” part comes from this push-and-pull of people telling me to turn things down more often but then being concerned when I have a day of nothing that I jealously guard.

I’m making this bigger than it actually is; most people have merely been a little skeptical but totally cool with my delight in having this one day off tomorrow.  I’m just very aware of the both/and of this, the human tendency to say “I know you’re busy, but…”  And I’m also aware of how much I need this day; I’ve been extroverting pretty intensely for a while now, and while I really appreciate the connections that have been made and the opportunities enjoyed, I’m drained.  One of the ways I can always tell when I need to recharge is where my ability to write is; NaNoWriMo starts Sunday, and I honestly couldn’t manage a poem right now.

It’s a pretty well-preached concept of Jesus needing to go away to pray and recharge and how the people would follow Him even there, such that He was sometimes forced to get into a boat or something just to have some downtime.  Fortunately (for many, many, many reasons), I’m not Jesus and I don’t have quite that much difficulty separating myself from others, but I get that.  I get that it is okay and even necessary to take a deep breath in a space where you don’t have to be anything to or for anyone, where the only pain or joy or secrets you have to carry are your own, where you can be fully who you are in front of God Who knows you anyway.

Even, Heaven forbid, on a holiday.  Bring on the Ghostbusters marathon.  We’ll rebuild the bridge to other people on Sunday.

In the morning, while it was still very dark, Jesus got up and went to a deserted place and prayed there.  (Mark 1:35, ISV)

People of the Books: The John G. Lake Sermons on Dominion over Demons, Disease, and Death ed. by Gordon Lindsay

I found this odd duck in a neighborhood garage sale last summer and, surprising even myself, decided I definitely needed a book of sermons for a quarter.  The purchase was partly to start expanding my understanding of sermons; I know medieval sermons and 21st century sermons, but not much in between.

This was originally printed in 1949, so it’s definitely in between.  John G. Lake (of whom I’d never heard anything before picking this up) was a preacher in the U.S. in the 1920s and 30s.  He apparently left quite an impression, considering he has his own ongoing ministry organization, mostly due to his healing ministries.  The editor of this volume himself says he was “dying from ptomaine poisoning” and was cured by reading typed sermons of Dr. Lake (“Dr.” being an honorary rather than degree-bound term).

And that’s the theme of this book—all are sermons of Lake’s describing how it works that we can, via sermon and prayer, heal people like God did, like the apostles did, in miraculous ways.  And Reader, I have no idea what to do with that.

Having come through a country church and known some country church people, I’m not unfamiliar with the concept of faith healing.  I know a woman who believes God made one of her legs grow so that she wouldn’t be off-kilter anymore, and another who had God heal her crippling arthritis.  And yes, I know well the story of the man Jesus told to get up and walk, right alongside the promise that we who follow will do even greater things.

But Reader, I doubt.  Part of it is having grown up with the charlatans that John Oliver so rightly tore apart on his show; part of it is being related to a doctor and a bunch of science types who understand the incredible complexity of the human body.  It doesn’t make sense to me that these kinds of healings are claimed miracles—even the illness of the editor is basically just food poisoning that can mostly be taken care of by being sure to flush your system out with lots of fluids, so who’s to say that’s not what happened rather than some magical sermons?

And that’s the thing that stops me cold—somewhere in the basic layouts of my subconscious, I apparently think of miracles as magic, even though I know that I believe in the concept of miracles and I 100% believe God is at work in our lives every day.  So why not here?  Why can I not attribute this kind of thing to His doing?  Lake himself goes to great pains to tie together belief in God and belief in healing ministries:

Healing is simply the salvation of Jesus Christ, having its divine action in a man’s flesh, the same as it had its divine action in a man’s soul, or in the spirit of man.  (17)

God hates sin and God equally hates sickness, for sickness is incipient death.  (23)

We used to have a little Englishman in our evangelistic party who would say to the people when they were praying, “Now let us stop praying for five minutes and BELIEVE GOD, and see what will happen.”  (28)

About the hardest thing to get hold of is a good old-fashioned Christian who believes God.  (40)

So where is my belief?  Where is my understanding that God can do whatever He wants to do?  Part of it is stopped back in that place of logic when Lake discusses his flat-out ban on medicinal cures as a sign of a lack of faith:

Drugs have always been the unbeliever’s way of healing.  God always was and is the real Christian’s remedy.  (43)

I would argue there are many things that require drugs, but then is that lack of faith?  And what of how to be healed—is it a matter of asking hard enough?  That can’t be, because there are so many who pray so earnestly and have nothing.

Healing is not always obtained by saying prayers.  It is obtained by obeying God.  (46)

“When a man’s spirit and a man’s body are filled with the blessed presence of God, it oozes out of the pores of your flesh and kills the germs.”  (108)

Men have assumed that it is necessary to persuade God to heal them.  This we deny with all emphasis.  God has manifested through Christ, His desire to bless mankind.  (132)

That is the secret of Christ’s salvation; that is the secret of Christ’s healing.  It is not trying to get healed.  It is trusting Him for it, and believing Him when He says He will do it, and the mind relaxes and the soul comes to rest.  (36)

That’s a little contradictory, then, because Lake’s stance is that it’s not about pushing God to do what we want but it is also about being what God wants.  I’m confused, because we can’t earn grace or healing; how then to explain the way some are not healed?  Lake doesn’t really give a final answer on that, and that may be because this is a collection of sermons rather than a full write-up of his understandings.

There are many things Lake says that I totally agree with and appreciate, like the idea that sickness as God’s will is a ridiculous concept:

They came to a man’s bedside and said, “Your sickness is the Will of God.”  Well, it is the work of the devil, and in the ultimate sense every death that ever took place was the work of the devil.  (68)

And that the Church has to broaden whom She lays all of her hats on:

The Modern Church must come to a realization of other ministries in the Church besides preaching.  In the Modern Church the preachers is the soul and center and circumference of his church.  The Primitive Church was a structure of faith composed of men and women, each qualifying in his or her particular ministry.  (127)

But Lake lived in such a different time, a different world.  I was prepared to read this and get rid of it, but I find I may be going over and over it for some time to come as I think about how I balance the rationality of being human and the absolute freedom of God.

 

Rating:  3/5 stars, since it inspired so much thought  

The Art of Losing the Dead

I left work early yesterday because I got sick.  I went out to lunch and something disagreed with me—out out out, said my body, vehemently pushing against this unknown intruder.  Sleep, sleep, it said then, muscles frayed from the stress of fighting itself.  But I had rehearsal for a show this weekend, so I slept a few hours and then went and moved sets around.

I came to work this morning and everyone asked how I was, whether I was better, how good it was that I was alive.  We joked about my being dead for a few hours, but I got better.  And then a colleague came into my office and said that a mutual friend was quite dead.  She was not getting better.

But what was that to me?  I had to present at a department meeting.  I had to figure out out how to balance a payroll deficit.  I had to work.

It’s such an odd thing, how the death of another can only wait so long.  Like my body that refused to be held in check until that magical five o’clock end time, it was while sitting at my desk that my soul said out out out, vehemently pushing at this concept of grief for a woman who was, as they always are, far too young.  She was not yet 30, set to be married later this year, a former classmate of mine who was adventuring states away.

I don’t know how to deal with death.  I never have, really, and I doubt that anybody actually does.  Part of my trouble with it is all the language that surrounds it:  “I’m sorry for your loss,” “S/he was such a great person,” “If you need anything…”  I understand completely that these sorts of platitudes often come from a genuine desire to help the people at the center of the grief, but they simply don’t make sense to me.  I’m sorry that this happened now, yes, but I know that everyone dies, and I don’t know how to be sorry that that will happen.  As to someone’s loss, I feel like that’s so flat—the person isn’t lost, literally or metaphorically.  The body was not misplaced, nor has the person been; s/he shines the brighter in the memories of those left behind, such that s/he is never lost, will never be lost, because we will cling the tighter to the possibilities that could have been.  And of course the dead person was a great person, but s/he was also petty, and selfish, and bitter, and unkind, because s/he was human and had days when absolutely nothing worked and people were jerks.  I don’t want to talk about the idea that s/he was nice because that means nothing, it means only that I don’t want to blemish your memory or mine, and that’s not real.  I want to talk about an instance when she was nice, and then I want to talk about one in which she made me want to pull out my hair because then she is real, she is alive, she is still here.

She is not lost.

“If you need anything” is one of my least favorite things for anyone to say in any context, and I hate when it’s the only thing I have to say because I don’t know what else to say (which, I suspect, is often the case for people).  Of course the person needs something.  S/he needs his/her loved one back.  S/he needs not to feel this aching space inside when that person’s laugh no longer resounds in the house.  S/he needs to have people stop saying that the person was lovely when the last thing that happened was a fight that the dead person started because s/he was angry, or needs to have people stop hugging him/her because the only arms s/he wants belong to somebody whose arms will never move again, or needs to say to God this isn’t fair and it’s absolutely no better when people say it’s all right, s/he’s in heaven, a better place.

Here is a better place.  The grieving person needs the chance to make it better, to go around again, to say good-bye.

I don’t say any of this, Reader, to suggest that all people who say these sorts of things are silly or heartless—far from it—and I don’t say it to say that no one should ever say these things.  I only say this to say that I don’t like to say them.  I don’t like to hear them.  And I don’t know how to tell my friend whose fiancée is now dead that I react to her death with him, grieve with him from several states away, and wish I remembered more about her.  I don’t know how to say that I don’t want to say anything because there is nothing to say; I want to listen, to hear his stories of her and watch the way he smiles just so because she was his light.  I want to celebrate how weird she was, and how it took me forever to remember her name, and that I wish I had gone to her moving-away party.

And I want to say that she is not lost.  Wherever her fierce soul may be, who she was to us will only be lost in the sense that anything is lost in the knick knack shelf of our minds, the memories worn from the oils of our hands as we thumb through them again and again, the dust that starts to gather years down the line as we continue to live settling comfortably amongst the other stories that share the shelf, making us someone who will die, and whose life will be told, and who will not be lost.

 

When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him.  When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads.  Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.  (Job 2:11-13, NIV)