In Hope for 2018

My Advent, Reader, was not much for waiting.  It was, in its own way, much closer the story than the sanitized ecclesiastical season we’ve since created (about which Interpreter had a marvelous sermon on Christmas Eve)—I did not cheerfully put up decorations and hold still, breathing in the presence of the Spirit.  I finished a semester, learned new ways to be frustrated with church, drove some 1,200 miles or so in a week and a half, and gathered the people who know my name to remind me who I’m supposed to be.

I’ve forgotten, you see.

Seminary—no, I can’t blame this entirely on seminary.  Well, divinity school; they are different, actually, though the difference is often more in pride than practice.  There are politics here, as everywhere else.  But here in divinity school I find that my soul is closed.  There are many reasons for this, some of which I’ve related to you and many I have not.  You may have noticed, Reader, in my erratic posting and my rather bleak entries that I’m not quite having the spiritual awakening I was perhaps hoping for.  And that’s the crux of it.  No matter whose or what’s fault it is, I was hoping for seminary—divinity school—to tell me how to live out this call, to teach me what it means for me to be a minister in God’s world.  It has not.

This breaks my heart, to be honest.  I am disappointed, which is a terrible thing to be.  But in being disappointed I’ve allowed myself to also become disillusioned and distant.  I will not survive the next year and a half as these.  I will not survive the next week as these, really, and so in this space where I didn’t finish my Advent series and I didn’t properly wish you a merry Christmas and I’ve not kept to the schedule I promised, I make my new year’s resolution:  to stop waiting for someone else to teach me my call.

I hoped for so much in seminary and here’s the thing:  hope is a stupid, idealistic concept.  Hopes can be broken, shattered, and lost.  Hope is an intangible idiocy that looks at what is and asks but what if; hope is something so often placed in other things and so rarely placed in oneself.  I hoped—but now I find myself having a dance party to The Greatest Showman soundtrack (go ahead, listen to it; I don’t care if you think it’s trite, it’s stirring and inspiring and outrageously full of the best kind of foolish hope) while I pack up my apartment to move yet again, the third time in a year and a half.  This doesn’t count the times I’ve moved for the summer, for Christmas, for whatever where I was just living in someone else’s space; this doesn’t count the fact that 3/4 of my things are tucked away in boxes back in the Land of Pilgrims, waiting for me to return and be a proper adult that doesn’t move so much.  I hoped for so much, and it hasn’t come true, so now I need to sit down with God and figure out where my hopes should go.

advent-wreathAs I pack I’m finally cleaning the books and cards and pencil cases I’ve not touched from this summer’s violation, finding the pack of Newport cigarettes hidden behind the Toni Morrison books and the used Band-Aids stuck to the Garfield cartoon collections.  I’m reading all of these titles I haven’t even really been able to look at as they silently showcased yet more dashed hopes, and I’m realizing that I had so much to work with way before I ever entered divinity school.  God did not call me to school; God called me to ministry.  Don’t get me wrong, Reader, I don’t advocate for anyone who feels God’s tugging to set up shop and be a preacher on the spot.  I understand and support the levels of training and accountability that ordination tracks require.  I will finish this degree, and I will jump through the hoops, and I will learn from people and places that I never would have encountered otherwise.  But I don’t need divinity school to tell me that God is calling me by name, that God is reminding me who and Whose I am, that the wonder I had before I started this at the incredible majesty and absurdity of faith is still there, under the ash that is currently my hopes.

So I’m going to go drag out that wonder and do this for me.  I’m going to hope in great music and small victories and the people across the world who know my name and remind me who I am when I forget.  I’m going to hope in this new apartment even though I am so scared that my hopes for it will be struck down, too.  I’m going to stop waiting for divinity school to teach me anything and start learning it on my own, remembering the part of me that loves to discover and ponder and puzzle.  I’m going to spend time in places that are life-giving and not in places that aren’t, which means I’m going to be pretty scarce at school and pretty constantly at church.  I’m going to admit that I’m afraid of everything I just said I will do, and then do it anyway.

What that means for us, Reader, is that I’m going to take leave of you for a while as I go look for how to do all this.  I know that this sounds like a bad break-up letter and I’m sorry about that.  I’m not leaving this space forever, but I’m taking from now until Easter to look at what my life is and what both God and I hope it should be and measure how far apart those are.  And then, dear Reader, I’ll come back and tell you what might bring them closer.

Christ is born, Reader, and that is amazing.  But on this fourth day of Christmas that just means that we who knelt in that stable must now get up and walk to the empty tomb that changed everything all over again.  Have a phenomenal 2018; fill it with hope, dangerous and outrageous and wild, and let no one stop you from acting in that hope.  I’ll see you in Eastertide.

 

 

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.  (1 Corinthians 15:58, NIV)

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Advent, Week Two: Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence

I know, I know, I missed week one.  I’m sorry about that, but glad to inform you that I have finished classes and one of my four finals for this semester.  By Wednesday I will be done done done with this term and that will mark the halfway point of this degree and sweet Jesus but this can’t finish quickly enough.  I’m sorry for both of us, Reader, that this blogging journey into seminary has been so frustrating and sorrowful when the journey leading into that call was so frustrating and hopeful.  We shall see what next semester brings.

On to the song, which you may be rather confused by because this is definitely not a song that makes the list of Christmas CDs or Spotify playlists.  Technically Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence is not a Christmas hymn—in the United Methodist hymnal, it’s in the “Eucharist” section (and its connection to that has apparently stirred no small amount of controversy; here’s a really good overview of why tying the Incarnation and the Eucharist together can get tricky, if you’re into that sort of thing).  But it is, in its way, a Christmas song, filled with shock and wonder at the Incarnation.  “King of kings, Yet born of Mary, / As of old on earth He stood, / Lord of lords, In human vesture” begins the second verse.  The whole thing is just flummoxed by the God of everything coming to be in human form and is fairly demanding that we and all of creation stand in the dumbfounded awe that deserves.

It’s a patchwork quilt of a piece:  the lyrics are first found in the Divine Liturgy of St. James from the fourth century, so these words (originally Greek) are about 1,700 years old.  The tune is much newer—only about 400 years old, and the combination didn’t happen until about a hundred years ago.  Positively a toddler in hymn years!  But it has that sort of solemn majesty to it (especially when done with a choir and organ) that comes with a lot of Advent hymns, the weight of it settling on your solar plexus as you realize God was born.

I mean, when I sit down with that fact my mind kind of gets blown, and I’ve been a Christian for at least ten years now.  But at the heart of who we are in this faith is a God Who climbed into human skin, Who saw with human eyes and heard with human ears, Who grew grey hair and had callouses and headaches.  We have a God Who touched things, who felt the roughness of unhewn wood and the chill of cellar-kept wine on His tongue.  We have a God Who stretched newly-formed fingers into the broad palm of His mother and chuckled at being alive and discovering things like toes.

Reader, the Incarnation is SO INCREDIBLY WEIRD.

pia15416-1440x900Because there’s all that and inside that somehow is GOD.  God, Who spoke the Earth into being; Who took a handful of mud and a spare rib and created people.  That God decided sure, Let’s go through the mess of humanizing Myself by putting Myself together one cell at a time in Mary’s womb and then tumbling into the world in a mass of blood and fluid and hay that stuck to everything, screaming to the world that I have come but I can’t talk yet.  That God decided to learn how to walk.  That God wanted to know what hunger felt like, and didn’t go hungry for a day like a vacation but lived as a vagabond and fasted for weeks; wanted to know what pain felt like and didn’t hit His hand with a hammer but allowed Himself to be scourged and beaten.

Because that God wanted to hang out with us so badly that He broke death in half by living.

I don’t…I don’t even know what to do with that information except exactly what this hymn asks:  keep silence.  No freaking wonder “the host of Heaven spreads its vanguard” and “the six winged seraph, / Cherubim with sleepless eye, / Veil their faces to the presence”.  Who can stand in the presence of such love and sacrifice?  Who can say anything other than “alleluia” when faced with such devotion?

Come, fellow mortal.  Journey deeper into Advent with me, following the Baptist who calls out to us that One greater than he is coming—and boy howdy was he right.

 

But the Lord is in his holy temple.  Let all the earth be silent before him. (Habakkuk 2:20, CEB)

The Church with the Boarded-Up Doors

I feel like I apologize to you every time I post now, Reader, for my erratic schedule and the lull between postings; I can tell you that I’ll post this and then be back for my usual Advent Christmas carols shtick.  This semester is taking the mickey out of me in ways I really did not see coming at all; I will be so very glad when it’s over.  To be honest, I’ll be very glad when this degree is over, which is super unfortunate.  But the upshot of being here in the Wicket Gate is that I work at a pretty amazing church.

It’s an old church, as in over a century old (which is old for Americans; I know that’s laughable for Europeans, but cut us some slack, we’re young).  Being old means that there’s a lot of repair that has to happen.  Right now our main front doors are gone because water had warped the bottoms of these thick wooden masterpieces, so there’s a beautiful Good Shepherd stained glass window hanging out over a bunch of plywood.  It looks pretty awful, and it confuses the crickets out of visitors, but I was thinking the other day about what it must look like from the street.

boarded-up-entrance-to-church-after-removal-of-doors-767x600Oh, what a shame, some driver may be thinking, another beautiful old church closed down and falling apart.  Because those boarded-up doors make it seem like we’ve thrown in the towel, for sure.  The thing of it is that they are the exact opposite—those plywood planks are the showcase of our growth, our fiscal health, our connectivity (paid for by a grant from our denomination), our stewardship of the building, our desire to make sure we are able to welcome people to this house of God.  Our boarded-up doors are symbols of our being alive, not dead, and I wonder what that looks like when speaking of the larger Church.

I have very little patience left for folks who bemoan the death of the Christian Church and even less for the people (like a classmate of mine, recently) who say that the Church should die because it’s outdated.  Nope.  The Church is not dying, not by a long shot.  Christianity is a truly global religion represented on every continent, with over two billion believers.  It is the largest organized religion on the planet.

Now I know, Christianity doesn’t necessarily equal the Church.  But the Church is its most cohesive vehicle.  The Christian Church is the community that goes out and fights for justice, that works for peace, that stands with people suffering from natural and human disasters.  The Church is the community that gathers to stay strong in faith, to challenge ourselves to live godly lives, to reach deeper into the mind-bending compassion of God to be able to see each other—and ourselves—in love.

It is also the community that is wrapped up in colonialism, racism, sexism, homophobia, a million different kinds of discrimination, power grabs, ageism, judgment, and oppression.  We, the Church, do not have clean hands.  But that does not mean God is done with us.  My church, my century+ church, definitely has things it needs to deal with about how we interact with each other and our community, and I pray mightily that we acknowledge those things and open ourselves to God’s ability to change us and speak through us to the hurt and the aching need for hope here in the Wicket Gate.  Yet I also pray mightily that we may continue the growth that we are doing, both the quantifiable and the completely unquantifiable.  We are a constant work in progress, thank God, as is the larger Church.

Certain parts of it must change.  That is undeniable, and unsurprising, because no living thing is ever permanently stagnant.  It would die.  So when folks talk about how the Church is dying because it’s changing, I wonder at their definition of death.  Do we have fewer people in American pews than there used to be?  Sure.  But Christians are gathering in Africa, in southeast Asia, in South America, and they can’t keep up with the amount of churches needed to house the communities.  A shift is not a death.  Do we have a different cultural relationship with Christianity than we used to in the West?  Sure.  But Christianity is becoming something that is owned with purpose and determination rather than to impress your boss or make sure the neighbors don’t think you’re a terrible person.  A shift is not a death.  Do the new generations have a wariness about Christianity that often manifests in us leaving the faith?  Sure.  But many are hungering after authentic grace and we millennials, for one, are becoming some of the strongest change agents in the Church.  A shift is not a death.

So look deeper when you see a church with plywood where the doors ought to be.  It may well be that that church has closed—but perhaps that’s to form a co-op with another church down the street, or to move into the city to be closer to the people who need this news of unconditional love, or to switch to a more accessible and less leaky building to keep on worshipping.  Or maybe it completely folded, and that’s okay too because the face of Christianity is changing and that church may have lived its purpose in that spot.  Or maybe it didn’t, maybe it wasn’t done yet, and that boarded-up church represents a workplace where God is calling someone to bring the message of hope back into that neighborhood.  Is it you?

Or, maybe, it’s just getting its doors replaced so it can come out looking beautiful once more, ready to fling those doors open come Easter and let the hymns roll out over the stone steps into the neighborhood proclaiming that Christ is risen, Christ is risen indeed.  Keep looking.  There is life here, and life abundant.

 

We know that Christ has been raised from the dead and he will never die again. Death no longer has power over him.  He died to sin once and for all with his death, but he lives for God with his life.  In the same way, you also should consider yourselves dead to sin but alive for God in Christ Jesus.  (Romans 6:9-10, CEB)

 

Jesus and Jackhammers

I live in a city that is constantly under construction.  Hundreds of people move here every week; it’s an “it” city, a place to be, and so apartment buildings are blossoming like concrete daisies in every vacant lot and half-empty field.  There is more steel than sky now, and the sun is always crossed by a construction crane.

14974946At my school, too, there is construction.  The divinity building is adding a section to the front for, well, some reason.  They haven’t really communicated it to us students, but it does mean that on a regular basis class is punctuated by drills, chains, alarms, and jackhammers.  Last week we were having a communion service in our small chapel and there was a jackhammer going through most of it and I just couldn’t countenance that.

It’s not so much that I think Jesus can’t be present when there’s construction going on—far from it.  Nor do I think the ritual of communion is impeded by noise, or that such noise is either holy or unholy.  But it was just the perfect illustration, to me, of how much distraction there is in that building and in my life.  I’m in divinity school, and I do not pay attention to God.

Not a ringing endorsement for a pastor, really.

Some of this is the school itself and my many disagreements with how it approaches theological education.  But some of it is the noise in my own head, in my heart, in the places where I still haven’t sat down and understood that I saw a lot of death this summer and I’m super distant from my best friend and I have lost a lot of things there were very important to me and I am not dealing with any of that.  My pastor told me the other day that she’s trying to teach me to think theologically and Reader, that’s what I used to be able to do here.  That’s kind of why I started this blog, to sit with you and examine the ways that God shows up in my life, to encourage you to look for the ways God shows up in yours.   Don’t get me wrong—God is still showing up in my life, to be sure.

I just don’t mark it, and I don’t much care.

The jackhammers are too loud, you see.  I can’t hear the still, small voice right now.  I can’t even hear the thundering pillar of fire, to be honest.  I can only hear the jackhammers, and alarms, and the concerns of Doing the Next Thing and there is no ministry in that, to myself or anyone else.  To leave would seem the obvious solution, to go somewhere for a few days at least where I could hear my God think, where I could hear my heart beat, where I could hear my soul breathe again.  But to leave would be to miss class, to abandon my duties at my church, to lose money while I’m not working, to leave people in the lurch, to set myself back.

It’s about the gains outweighing the losses, right?  And they don’t, yet.  I don’t know what it will take for them to do so.  But I know that I miss my weekly chats with you, Reader.  I know that I miss the grounding of this theological thinking.  And I know that I pretty desperately miss the Jesus Who calls my name, a sound drowned by the damn jackhammers.

Where do you find your silent spaces in the midst of the noise?  How do you open your ears to God?  Teach me, Reader.  I have forgotten the way.

 

And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind:  and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake:  And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.  (1 Kings 19:11-12, KJV)

Seventy Times Seven

I truly did not mean for my absence to be a full three weeks, Reader; I’m trying to stay to the every-other-week model, but oh, the shit that has derailed me of late.

I’m back in the Wicket Gate, having yet again said good-bye to the Land of Pilgrims and marveled that my heart did not fall out of my chest.  And classes have started up again.  But the main thing that’s consuming my days is the fallout of having had a subletter this summer who not only was careless herself but left the door open—literally—to any and all who decided to wander in, which in my  neighborhood means rather a lot of drug addicts, prostitutes, and thieves.  So the last two weeks have been cleaning (as in I’ve-gone-through-three-rolls-of-Clorox-bleach-wipes and I-had-to-buy-gloves-for-this deep cleaning) and trying to figure out what can be fixed.  It’s been convincing myself that I can live with the burn marks now on my nightstand even after I dumped the drawers full of cigarette butts.  It’s been washing the walls and ceilings over and over again trying to get the smell of smoke to at least be palatable and not give me such a headache.

pain-blue-man-bent-overAnd it’s been grieving at the daily discoveries of what is lost.  There’re the concrete panics, like the fact that someone unearthed my social security card and now I have to deal with the possibilities of identity theft, but there are also the suckerpunches of what I can’t replace.  I can get a new pillow and new spoons and new towels, but I can’t get a new rosary blessed by the Pope from Italy from my parents’ visit to the Vatican.  I can’t get a new high school class ring.  I can’t get new notes from last year’s sermons at my church.  It’s not every camel and the death of all my children, but it is a deep and abiding loss.

I have been fortunate—immensely fortunate, more than I can express—to have a community here in my fellow students spring into action.  People have given me time, have given me a mattress, have given me access to their washers so I can launder the clothes that remain.  People have given me so much and that has been amazing.  But it doesn’t replace that which is lost, and it doesn’t cover the pain of it.

Some folks have, in a sincere and likely well-intentioned desire to help, asked if I’m angry.  No—I am furious.  I am horrified, I am enraged, I am wrathful.  I want to punch things until I can’t feel my hands, I want to scream, I want to harm her for the harm done to me.  The sorrow and hatred and pain and sheer outrage are coiled just beneath the surface of everything I do right now, and it is taking everything I have to avoid touching that surface lest the bubble break, lest I be overwhelmed by the immense power of those emotions and lose myself in them.

Because what would it gain me?  She is gone I know not where.  I don’t have the money to chase her through the legal system, though I have filed a police report and am certainly not shy about telling authorities anything I know of her information.  And I don’t have the time—I work two jobs and am taking five classes as well as holding two offices in student associations on top of the slow and painful reclamation of this space.  Vengeance just doesn’t fit on my schedule.

And vengeance it would be.  I know enough of this woman to know she has even less than I do in finance, support, sanity.  What good is blood from a stone?  And I’ve been wrestling most in the last week or so with the promise that “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.

One of the many hard things about Christianity is that it demands that its adherents forgive.  This does not mean excuse.  The police report remains.  The crime of this remains.  It is not okay that this happened to me and I cannot believe that God would ever expect me to say it’s not a problem.  The grief of this is very, very real.  The shock of it is real.  The pain of it is real, and no loving God would ask me to pretend that any of that is dismissible as though my reactions don’t matter.  Jesus says flat out, “If your brother or sister in God’s family does something wrong, go and tell them what they did wrong” (Mt 18:15).  Forgiveness, if it is to have any value at all, cannot come at the expense of my emotional validity.

But it must come.

Over and over again, Jesus says to His followers that we must return to the relationships that hurt not because we are called to be doormats but because we cannot hold others’ sins close to us in anger and hate.  They will poison us, as surely as our own sins do—and we have our own sins.  have my own sins, to be sure, and I cannot ask God to forgive them if I am utterly unwilling to forgive another’s.  I cannot ask for the mercy I refuse to grant.

I am human—very, very human, and I am angry, and I am hurt, and I will take a very long time to get to anything approaching forgiveness for this betrayal.  But I must recognize that I have to walk that direction precisely because it goes against everything in me, precisely because I am so pissed that God would be cruel enough to ask me to do anything other than put spikes around my broken heart and never trust again.  Four hundred and ninety times I am called to forgive these people who are awful and deserve punishment.

May I eventually have the strength for the very first time.

 

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, when someone won’t stop doing wrong to me, how many times must I forgive them? Seven times?”   Jesus answered, “I tell you, you must forgive them more than seven times. You must continue to forgive them even if they do wrong to you seventy-seven times.”  (Matthew 18:21-22, ERV)

Resurrected, Not Restored

My last official day of classes for my first year of seminary is Monday.

Thank God.

It’s been a rough year—an even rougher second semester—and I’m ready to switch into the next thing.  (Of course, the next thing is itself an exhausting concept:  I’m going to be basically a hospital chaplain over the summer, so I don’t know how much you’ll be hearing from me since I have to do 24-hour shifts every other weekend.)  I will be heading home more scarred than I came here to The Wicket Gate, metaphorically and literally.  I have grown older and in some ways sadder.

But I have also grown (hopefully) wiser.  I have met some amazing people and had some crazy adventures.  I have stepped into a new part of who I am.  You know how this goes, Reader; you know how change always comes at a price—or, as a great blogger (BeautyBeyondBones) put it:
BeautyBeyondBones change begets change

We are now in the season of Easter—yep, it’s not just one day.  Easter is 50 days long in the liturgical calendar because, well, it kind of took a while to catch on.  Jesus had to keep coming back and telling people yep, the rumors are true, I am no longer dead because let’s face it, Thomas wasn’t the only one who thought such a thing was unbelievable.  We have all of these stories about Jesus appearing to various people and them being surprised each time; I’m actually preaching on the road to Emmaus next week (prayers for such are welcome) because the Resurrection didn’t just settle into being an accepted reality on that first Easter Sunday.

The thing about these appearances of Jesus, though, is that He didn’t come back perfect and shiny and new.  He comes back with scars—“look at My hands,” He tells Thomas.  “Put your finger in my side.”  The Resurrection didn’t—and doesn’t—make the Crucifixion un-happen.

Which kind of blows my mind as a person of faith, actually.  We as Christians have built ourselves around the Good News (and boy howdy is it good news) that Christ is risen, that Death is defeated, that hallelujah the tomb is empty.  Every Sunday is a little Easter.  But our God is not a God of completely erasing that which is broken and painful and ugly; our God is not a God of sweeping things under the rug.  Jesus could well have come back in a body as smooth as the day He was born, hands no longer bearing the small cuts and splinter marks of life as a carpenter, eyes no longer crinkling with the first signs of age.  He could have come back with a perfect body.

But instead He came back with the marks of having lived, and died.  He came back with the white lines of scar tissue on His palms, with the thick and shining flesh across the holes in His wrists, with the gouged-out hole in His side.  He came back with a body that bore witness on every inch of the brown skin of brokenness, of pain, of horrifying violence, of sorrow and abandonment and misery.

He came back with a body that looked an awful lot like our world feels, honestly.

The difference, however, is that His scars were scars, not open wounds.  No blood poured into Thomas’ hands; no bones showed through the criss-crossed cuts on Jesus’ back.  One of the many miraculous and hopeful things about the Resurrection is not that Jesus fought death to be restored to pre-Crucifixion health but that Jesus won over death to ensure the reality of healing.  We who are Easter people follow a God Who knows exactly what it’s like to be broken into pieces and get put back together with the brokenness as part of who we are.

It’s not about it making us stronger—I’ll confess, I actually loathe the motto “that which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” because I think it’s untrue and harmful.  (There are some things that happen that don’t kill you but you wish they had; there are some things that don’t kill you but maim you; there are some things that don’t kill you but weaken you from the sheer amount of emotional or physical blood loss they cause.)  Christ didn’t die so He could come back stronger, and I don’t think God is calling us to die to ourselves so we can be spiritually stronger like we’re in a weird Christian Gatorade ad.  The Resurrection, I think, is about showing us that we can be healed from even the worst of things—made not stronger, but whole.

kintsugi-225255b325255dThere’s an illustration that I’m pretty sure every pastor has to use at least once in his/her career about this broken/whole thing, namely kintsugi or the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with gold-brushed lacquer.  It’s a beautiful metaphor, it really is, and it has everything to do with this resurrection that isn’t truly restoration.  What was broken is not remade such that it looks like no harm was done.  It is healed such that the harm is no longer the defining aspect, such that a broken Body can bring an entire world hope.

Happy Easter, Reader, for every one of the fifty days, and every one of the revelations, and every one of the moments Jesus tells us again, yep, still true; I am alive.  Peace; do not be afraid.

 

For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve.  After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep.  After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles.  Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time.  (1 Corinthians 15:3-8, NKJV)

Lent, Week Five: Rested and Weary

I pretty much can’t even handle how late this entry is, Reader, but I also can’t handle that I keep feeling like I have to apologize for that, like I have to make sure that this too is on schedule and perfect.  It isn’t.  Most of my life isn’t right now.  Part of that is the nature of doing grad school and serving a church at the same time; part of that is that things happen that are unexpected—cars break, parents visit, jobs are lost, friends fall ill, housing situations change.  Life is a constantly unexpected shift and I have an unfortunate habit of filling it to the brim such that the unexpected things don’t have any room to happen without consequence.

I have the feeling I’m not the only one who does this.  Culturally speaking, we Americans are fantastic at stuffing our lives with all of the things we need to do, all of the work we need to accomplish, all of the relationships we feel we need to maintain.  We stretch ourselves to be and do everything; I just sat through a presentation last night from a guy who has founded an entire organization built to to support and re-train ministers so we don’t burn out from all that we try/are asked to do.  It’s a problem.  We become weary.

6a00d8341c9e5b53ef00e54fa30c708834-640wiHere’s the thing about weariness:  it’s not being tired.  I am currently tired because I haven’t had a decent night’s sleep in a while.  I know why that is—my sleep schedule sucks at the moment.  Also anxiety is a thing and wakes you up more effectively than any alarm clock.  But that’s a matter of physical exhaustion, of the material systems not being given what they need to rejuvenate.  Much as I dislike it, we are physical beings with bodies that require certain things.  (Which, in a semi-related note, is interestingly explored in this New Yorker article on autoimmune diseases, a thing I’m always trying to learn more about since my best friend has one.)  Being tired is pretty much centered around bodily care.

Being weary is less easily fixed.  Weariness is a mental thing, an emotional thing, a spiritual thing; weariness is being worn smooth by people and expectations and your own internal drive, the edges of who you are rubbed off.  Weariness is when the brain and the heart and the soul check out because no nap can help what they need.  Weariness climbs into your bones and squeezes.

We’re in the tail end of Lent, drawing ever nearer to Jerusalem and the Holy Week of the Passion and Resurrection.  Forty days is wearisome, really; the wilderness is wide, its vast emptiness stretching toward the unforgiving horizon.  So how are we to replenish in that space, in this space?  How are we to give ourselves both physical and emotional/spiritual/mental rest when life doesn’t stop?  That’s the real trick; I may indeed be weary, but I have this paper—I have this service—I have this shift at work—I have this letter—I have this reading—I have this commitment—I have this promise I made.  I’ll rest after…or after…or after…

I can’t be the only one who swallowed the line that I’ll rest when I’m dead.

Jesus calls those who are weary to Him, promising rest.  He doesn’t say how, which is actually rather brilliant.  Let’s be honest, if I were given even the slightest hint of a formula then I would do it myself.  I’m like that.  Jesus doesn’t give a formula.  He gives a promise.  Come to me, and I will give you rest.  The end.  But Jesuuuuuuuus, it isn’t working.  I have come to You.  I am still weary.  The equation is wrong.  To which I hear only the repetition:  I will give you rest.

I love semantically focusing on Scripture so as to notice the words used and how they affect the sense.  To be sure, do that kind of devotion carefully because the Bible isn’t word-for-word written by God’s own hand and the words themselves are not sacred.  You’re also working with any one of a million different translations from various manuscripts that are all historically removed from Jesus Himself, so there are ideological choices going on in each chosen nuance.  But I don’t think the human overlay at all destroys the God underneath Who lives and loves and speaks in an often frustrated tone:  I will give you rest.  I have plenty of gifts people have given me, many of which I don’t do anything with, some of which I’ve re-gifted.  When God gives me rest, as when God gives me anything at all, I am perfectly free to refuse it or to misplace it or to put it on top of the never-shrinking stack of Things I’ll Deal With Later.

God’s rest, like God’s grace and God’s forgiveness and God’s love, is a gift given freely.  I am in no way obligated to do anything at all with it, even when I have come right up to Jesus and asked for it.  This is not to say that if I am constantly weary it’s always my fault and that I’m not allowed to push back on God’s promise—it’s not and I am.  I believe wholeheartedly that I not only can but must hold God accountable to the premises of God’s Self in relationship with me, not because I know God’s Self better than God does but because this is a two-way thing as all relationships are.  God doesn’t get to hang out in Heaven tossing platitudes down; nor, I think, does God want to.

But it is to say that I can’t ask for rest and then add another job.  I can’t come to Jesus and speak of my weariness while taking on another school office or saying yes to an outing with fellow students when I know beyond doubt that my introvert meter is completely tapped.

The hardest part for me is that I’ve said I will do X and I do not go back on my word.  But I am weary and heavy-laden.  Perhaps I have to allow Jesus’ promise to be stronger than my own.

 

 

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.  (Matthew 11:28-29, KJV)