Lent, Week Two: Eucharist

DANG IT I PACKED A TURKEY SANDWICH FOR LUNCH AGAIN.

Deep breaths.  Deep breaths through the fact that I’m utterly failing everything I set up for myself in observance of Lent (how Lentian, perhaps).  Deep breaths through having had a week of incredibly stressful travel and being unable to find my footing on returning to this life I’ve made that increasingly seems almost foreign.  Deep breaths through yet another meeting, yet another task, yet another extroverted moment when all my introvert heart wants is to curl up and read for a day.  Deep breaths through a lunch eaten at my desk as an afterthought, the thousandth of such lunches and breakfasts where I eat because the clock tells me to.

One of the two sacraments that survived the transition from the Catholic Church to the Protestant ones is that of communion, the Eucharist.  I recently heard a professor say that the Protestants have made it unrecognizable from what it was originally as a sacrament, but I’ve no desire to get into that here.  I’ve also no desire to get into what the meal is.  I want to get into the fact that this is the one people know—the bread and the cup, the Last Supper, that moment when Jesus says some crazy stuff about dinner.

This is the one that, honestly, is hardest for me.  There are many reasons why, but you don’t need to know them, Reader.  What you do need to know is this crazy story about a man and a woman and some soup with bread.

Here’s the thing:  I don’t like soup.  I’ve never liked soup.  The older I get, however, and the longer I live in places that get cold for part of the year, the more I realize that whether I like soup or not is somewhat irrelevant.  I’m going to have to eat soup sometimes, especially because well-meaning people serve it to me and there’s simply no point in continually reiterating that I don’t like soup because they will tell me that this is because I haven’t had their soup and proceed to serve me their soup and I will have to be polite about it.  So I’ve developed a sort of cultural resignation toward soup, an attitude where I won’t necessarily choose it but I no longer refuse to eat it.  This past week I had a rather intense couple of days of driving and stayed with a very kind couple whom I had never met before and who had graciously made dinner.

Which was, of course, soup.

Sigh.

It was fine soup and I was very much aware of the gesture of the thing, but the best part of the dinner was that there was this bread, a honey-sunflower-seed wheat bread that was fresh from the oven and warm and crackly and wonderful.  It was soft to a perfect degree of softness and crusty but not painfully so and just damned delicious.  I ate rather a lot of that bread, smeared with real butter because this was the country and that’s how it’s done.

I say all of this not to go all Instagram on you (don’t worry, there are no photos of this bread) but to showcase this incredibly ordinary moment of communion.  That was not the sacrament, to be sure, but it shared the origins of the sacrament.  Jesus’ conversation with His disciples, His friends, was at a dinner table; it was taking the things of the meal and reshaping them.  He didn’t go out to Kroger and buy bread and wine specially to make a point like show and tell.  He used what was already in front of Him, pieces left from a ritual already drenched in sacredness both by its religious connections and the very necessity of eating to maintain this frustratingly blessed thing called a body.

Communion is done in a thousand ways these days; some go for intinction, some are fed by the priest, some have the pre-packaged wafer and grape juice, some will only serve crackers, some separate the wine from the bread and devour fistfuls of the latter in the delight of breaking fast.  It has had some super bizarre moments of importance in the past.  But hopefully the concept always remains—in this act we remember that Christ sat down and ate with those who loved Him (and those who didn’t) and said this will be a new world.  This will be a new way, a way that takes what you understand and turns it upside down but I will be there with you always, I will be in and through this act of remembrance because I am bringing you into Me and into relationship with all the parts of Myself.

Eating is a powerful bonding experience.  I don’t know why, but I designed an entire service-based house on the idea when I was in college and I believe still that the best way to join people together is over food and drink.  Whole relationships have been shaped by coffee for me, others forged over sandwiches and Gatorade or shared Kit-Kat bars that break apart to bring together.  For God to put a meal at the heart of this faith is gutsy and genius and utterly, utterly human; we have to eat.  This is an earthy thing wrapped in such divine understandings that it points us in receiving it to deeper aspects of this faith life—somewhat like accepting soup because the bread is so delicious and so freely offered.

 

 

Then Jesus took some bread, gave thanks, broke it, and gave it to the apostles, saying, “This is my body, which I am giving for you. Do this to remember me.”  In the same way, after supper, Jesus took the cup and said, “This cup is the new agreement that God makes with his people. This new agreement begins with my blood which is poured out for you.”  (Luke 22:19-20, NCV)
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The Who (and the Why)

It is the last week of Epiphany, Reader, the last week before we turn our steps to the wilderness wandering, holding tightly to the warmth of a stable that seems unreal in the midst of the chilled winds of Lent.

At least, that’s how it feels for me.  Lent pulls all of my self out, and this year has the added bonus of being the time in which I need to choose a school and set the course for at least the next year if not three of my life.  No pressure, of course.

In contemplating this recently, I’ve been aware of a space between God and I, a dearth of conversation as I get deeper and deeper into Church work.  It is a paradoxical thing, but the more involved I get in the Church, the easier it is for me to ignore the God Who wants me there in the first place.  I first encountered this when I worked the slides during worship at my last church; I realized that I never actually paid attention to the worship itself because I was working, and that work needed attention.

Which it did, but not at the cost of my connecting to the community and offering myself and my praise to God.  The same is true now; I do firmly believe God is calling me ever deeper into His Church, but never at the cost of my connection to Him.  I am a perfectionist, a detail-oriented administrator who will readily get so buried in the “what” and the “how” that I completely miss the “who” and the “why.”

I was at a worship conference this past weekend which is, in some ways, the height of Church work in that it’s thousands of people coming together to swap ideas of how to understand and do worship and the connectivity of the Church.  It’s a fabulous resource, but I was tired and disconnected—even more so by mixing the conference with an overnight for my middle schoolers (I would advise against ever trying that, Reader, especially if you’re an introvert.  I’m still tired from the people overload that was).  I was getting very useful and handy information, but I wasn’t so much paying attention to why I needed it.  I was absorbed by the “how.”

Then I went to vespers, worrying along the way because the vespers for which I had signed up was a play entitled “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?”  There is nothing quite like the theatre for me; I worked in theatre for nearly ten years, some professionally, and still have my fingertips trailing the edge of it.  I love the theatre, love its ability to make the ordinary extraordinary and the extraordinary possible, love the energy and passion of it.  I have the greatest respect for actors (I was much better at being a techie) and their ability to pull from themselves the depths and heights of humanity without losing their own centrality.  So I went to this vespers because I knew that even as the story would be a suckerpunch for me, I had to know how it would be staged, had to know the “how.”

What I got instead was the “Who” and, far more than I could ever have imagined, the “why.”

I have seen a great many Passion plays in my life.  I have been to many Easter vigils, I have spent the majority of my scholastic career discussing the theatrical representations of the Crucifixion in medieval England, I have read the Passion narrative in all four Gospels many times over.  I have always had my heart ripped out by it, coming to Easter with an emotional limp bearing the scars of Good Friday even still, never quite made whole in this glorious Resurrection.  Yet this play hit me square in the soul with its incredible use of the word “but.”

An odd choice, to be sure, this adversarial conjunction, upon which to hang a spiritual dose of cold water.  Yet there it is; I had never connected the death and the life so viscerally before.  If you have 25 minutes to spare, Reader, I highly recommend you see what I’m talking about; the play I saw was performed again, later, at a church in a different state.  It begins here at 8:50 and continues here, ending at 15:50.  If you haven’t 25 minutes, than take five alone and watch the second video starting at about two minutes in.  The “but” that so attracted my notice is at about the seven-minute mark.

Perhaps it is a spoiler to tell you what happens, but the play was indeed the Passion narrative continuing into the Resurrection and the walk to Emmaus and the Assumption of Christ.  The “but” announces the mystery of an empty tomb, the wonder of a risen Jesus; “but,” the actress says, her face shining in joy that the story does not end there.

This is the “why,” Reader:  the story does not end there.  It pauses there, but for me so often that pause becomes a resting place, a halfway house that stretches into fullness because I do not get up and keep going, because Sunday is so far away from here on Friday evening.  That play reminded me, told me for the first time, redrew for me the outrageous nature of Christianity:  we follow a God Who beat Death.

What a thing that is!  What a miracle!  What a marvel!  What mind-bending joy to dwell in that space with all of these other conference-goers as all of us shared in the laughter of these disciples that our Friend Who was dead is now alive, that we have hope, unyielding and incredible hope because the One we follow is utterly unstoppable—that His love is utterly unstoppable, even by our very best efforts at ending all that He was.

And this God, this Jesus, this resurrected brother is calling my name.  He knows it, knows me, and wants me to serve with Him, for Him, to be Her child and care for His children and yes, I do what I do for the Church because I am in love (in a complicated way) with the Church and with Her people, but I do what I do because I am in love with the God Who called me.

It is so hilariously appropriate that this should be the takeaway for me just before Lent, that this time of darkness should be so firmly bookended by Light.  Good Friday will come, but.

So will Easter.

Thanks be to God.

 

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared.  And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.  (Luke 24:1-3, ESV)

Lent, Week Seven: Holy Saturday

My apologies, Reader, for the lateness of the post this week.  Beyond the normal difficulties of the busy-ness of the week, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday both threw me some pretty intense curve balls that quite knocked out my scheduled plans.

I’ve made no secret of the difficulty I have with this part of the year.  Interpreter mentioned in his sermon this past Sunday that many of us would prefer to skip straight from Palm Sunday to Easter and leave behind the unpleasant middle and I laughed, knowing that I would love to do that and knowing that I never could.  I have to come to this space, this “unpleasant middle” that rips my heart out every year, to remember.  I have to take the time to know that there are these days, too; this Thursday of commandments we so easily slide through when all friends were still given the chance to love; this Friday on which nothing was good, on which the earth itself closed her clouded eyes against the pain of such ungodly anger; this Saturday of waiting.

It’s a weird holiday in that it’s not really a holy day at all.  It’s the in-between space shoved into the end of Holy Week because the Bible says “three days” and we can’t really fudge that.  It’s the day to plan ahead, to prepare for tomorrow’s trumpeted celebrations; it’s not even a full day to itself, as the Catholic Church and many Protestant churches do evening vigils to get a head start on Easter.  We’re not much of a culture for waiting, we Westerners with our fast food and instant Internet and phones to connect to everything and everyone right now.  We don’t know—I don’t know—what to do with a day of, well, being dead.

There’s a delightful article by Barbara Brown Taylor I highly suggest to you about this (don’t worry, it’s short).  This business of waiting for Jesus not to be dead anymore is boring, really; even the “He descended into Hell” bit is happening offstage (although there are some great medieval plays about the Harrowing with phenomenal sets).  What are we to do with this day?

Live it, I suppose.  I helped set up the sanctuary for Easter today, partly because I flatly refuse to set up Easter before or on Good Friday and partly because it takes a while and Saturday morning was my biggest block of free time this week.  I got my hair cut.  I went to breakfast with friends and had a grand time.  I’ve been checking emails.  I’m planning on folding laundry before tonight’s service.  Very exciting, this waiting.

And I think that’s kind of the point.  Jesus is not currently dead—we commemorate His death, we don’t relive it.  And we are not the dead ones, either; our lives continue to roll through all of their mundane necessities and their wonderful gifts.

On my printer at work I have a little slip of paper taped that reads, “What has Easter redeemed for you?”  I put it there last year and I look at it often and wonder.  I don’t have an answer this year.  I will not be perfect on Easter Sunday, or Easter Monday.  I will not like my job any better or be any more “fixed” in my personal problems.  I will not be in a new and stable relationship, I will not have all of my projects done, I will not even have cleaned my house.  What will Easter redeem?  Why am I waiting on this holy Saturday?

Because I am remembering.  Remembering won’t take the whole day, but it will be something I can do while folding the laundry and setting up the altar.  I am remembering that Death took its place in the drama of this week, that Easter is remarkable precisely because Jesus’ death wasn’t some accidental burial quickly remedied.  He was really most sincerely dead—and then He wasn’t.

I don’t know what tomorrow will look like.  I don’t know what Easter will redeem.  I don’t even know if tonight’s service will go well.  I only know that today, I wait in the excitement of expectation and the comfort of the quotidian, the pain of yesterday and the hope of tomorrow.  I stand in the shadowed place because I know it well, and today Jesus stands there with me and says rest, child.  We have much to do yet.

Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow.  (Matthew 6:34a, MSG)

Lent, Week Five: Sprechen Sie Gebet?

Of all the languages I’ve dabbled in (and trust me, there are many; I’m terrible at actually becoming fluent in languages, so I’ve become excellent at the introductory basics of lots), I’ve actually never formally studied German.  However, it was the one to come to mind when I was thinking about this post—the title, if you also don’t speak German, asks, “Do you speak prayer?”

I work in a department of languages at a university, which means that I can hear some four different languages outside my office door at any given time; in partnership with another department, the professors I work with teach nine and speak about thirteen among themselves.  It’s pretty cool, actually, to be daily reminded that the world is a lot bigger than my community.  And it’s also really cool to be reminded that God not only knows all of those languages but hundreds of others.  He hears prayer in every possible language—even the made-up ones.  Try praying to God in Klingon; I’m willing to bet He’d hear that.

As I mentioned, I’m not fluent in anything other than English.  I have, at various times, taken Spanish, Latin, French, Old English, Middle English, and ancient Greek.  I know a handful of things in Romanian and Japanese and American Sign Language and Elvish (Sindarin, in case you’re as nerdy as I am), and what I forget sometimes is that I can use any and every part of all of those things to try to talk to God.  I remember standing on the edge of a hill in college and shouting Latin at the night sky when I was angry enough at God that English simply didn’t do it justice.  (Latin and Spanish are the languages in which I have spent the most time, so they’re my go-tos for prayer.)  But I have also prayed in Gaelic when there was no softness soft enough for the gratitude I felt in English, and I’ve never taken an ounce of Gaelic in my life.

I saw a production once of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” done by a troupe out of India.  It was beautiful, but one of the coolest things was that the directors had decided that each actor should learn his or her lines in whatever language or dialect was most comfortable.  This meant that a goodly chunk of the play was in Hindi, but also English bits with Kashmiri and Punjabi and Tamil and Sindhi and a whole host of others I couldn’t even try to understand.  I had to know the play, because I sure wasn’t going to figure out what was going on by the lines.  It was disorienting at first, and it took a while to learn to let the occasional English pieces act as signposts rather than life rafts.  But I got there, and then I realized I did know the play, and I didn’t actually need to know what was being literally said to figure out what was going on.  And if I got lost, I got lost, and I waited for the next signpost while I listened to how gorgeous it was to hear all of these people speaking their native tongues.

One thing I know well is the Lord’s Prayer.  I used to have it memorized in both English and Latin; about half of the Latin is gone these days.  But I’m thinking it would be good to sit with it in languages I know and languages I don’t and listen to the thousand tongues of God; for languages I can’t read, I can hear others.  And in that, I can listen (in a sense) to the prayers of others, knowing that God hears no matter what language feels most comfortable—and when no language feels comfortable at all.

What a marvelous thought, that God is that big.  And when we need them, Deus verba providebit—hopefully.  Vaya con Dios, Lector.

 

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.  (Psalm 19:14, ESV)

Lent, Week Six: Love

At my college, the end of the winter semester was in about mid-April, so if Easter was late (as it was that year), it came pretty close to the end-of-term deadlines and papers and such.  Also, I was going abroad that May to England, so all of the getting-prepared-to-travel-for-a-month things were added to my usual scholastic freak-0ut.  I was a mess, and as Lent wound toward Easter and school, travel, and faith worries collided with ever-increasing regularity, my friends decided there needed to be a bit of an intervention.

Two of them checked that I didn’t have anywhere I absolutely needed to be one evening and showed up in my room saying they were kidnapping me.  And they did, sort of; they blindfolded me and guided me to a car, turning up music so I couldn’t hear anything we were passing.  I was super disoriented and, as a control freak, more than a little nervous, but they were insistent that I just let them handle things.  After about 15 minutes of driving around to disorient me further, the car stopped and they helped me climb ungracefully out.  We had come to a wonderful Chinese restaurant in the town next to our college; they bought me dinner and refused to talk about anything related to school or God.  Later we went for milkshakes and did the Electric Slide in the parking lot and walked along the river, and then we each went back to our rooms and our lives and our deadlines.

That is what love looks like—well, at least one of its faces.  Those two had their own deadlines and worries and stresses; one was a theatre gal and was just finishing a show, the other was fighting her own battles with whether or not she wanted to take her theology major toward ordination some day.  But they understood that I could not handle the patterns I was creating for myself and stepped in to say, “Let me pull you out that you might better see what you can and can’t do.”

Another example:  about a week and a half before Easter, I went to see a show on campus called Fish Eyes by a comedy duo called Ted and Lee.  In every way this was a direct violation of my Lenten promise; it was a Christian show about Jesus and the disciples, which was about as about-God as I could have wanted.  But by that time, I was beginning to figure out my original God-less goal wasn’t quite what I had thought it would be on Ash Wednesday, so what the hell.  I went.

And I laughed—loudly, because after 20 or so years in choir I have a diaphragm to make myself heard in Egypt.  It’s something I’ve never really been able to tone down—and that can be fine, and Lee even told me after the peformance that the two of them considered loud laughers saints.  I totally enjoyed myself because it was a good, funny show, but the main thing that I got out of it was that this Jesus that Ted and Lee were talking about, this Christianity that they were able to laugh at and have fun with; well, that was a different kettle of fish.  This Jesus was funny and mystical and, well, human—and God-like at the same time.

I’d come across this idea before, about thinking of Jesus not as the unreachable spiritual king of this huge religion but as a guy who lived and led some people and gave some talks and was pretty genuinely awesome in the original sense of “awe-inspiring” awesome.  And I’d thought about the disciples several times before—even talked about it with some of my friends at Bible Tuesday—as just regular guys that were caught up in some pretty irregular and extraordinary events.  So here I was sitting in an auditorium as a self-proclaimed agnostic, “hardened” by almost forty days in a God-less world…and I was falling in love with the man that these comedians were talking about.

I don’t mean to say at all that right then I said yes, Lord, come on back in!  My pride was still in gear, and I had a week and a half left of Lent.  But I do mean to say that this guy, this Jesus?  I don’t think He was what I set out to give up.  He attracted people like me; sarcastic, cynical, and sharp-witted Peter, doubting Thomas, prideful James and John, Andrew who was always a few mental steps behind…they found something in this guy, this Jesus. He had a “glow”, Ted and Lee (as Andy and Pete) said, a certain “glow” about Him.  Maybe He was the One.

Maybe He was, I found myself thinking.

After the performance I walked home with one of my podmates, the one with the theology major. Somehow we got to talking about vocation and she was telling me about how it frustrated her that everyone seemed to think that she was going to be in the ministry.  She wasn’t sure she wanted that, she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do at all, and she had gotten tired of everyone else knowing for her.

“Is there just something I’m not seeing here?” she asked me.

“No,” I said. “I don’t know that you should be a minister. I mean, I could see you as a minister, but I don’t know that that’s what you have to do.”  I told her that maybe people always told her she should be a minister because that’s the side of her that they saw. The side that I saw was the side that wanted people to understand, that delighted in people learning something that she herself was passionate about, that found joy in finding others who loved what she loved; more professor than minister. “It’s all about the people you hang out with and what they see of you,” I told her. “Come hang around us agnostics, we see you differently.”  She chuckled and thanked me and as I was heading back to my room, it struck me that really, everything is ministry if you spin it right because it’s about loving the other person, and what I had just done for her was a type of ministry.

I hate when God gets inventive.

 

To be continued…

The Spirituality of Blood and Bone

I return, patient Reader.  My apologies for the absence; last week I was at a conference in Hoth the upper Midwest, which was pretty neat.  I got to see a really, really cool session on dramatic presentations of Scripture and how we can play with the Word as a theatrical thing.  I gathered my courage to talk to the director after the session about practicalities of doing this, and then we got to talking about my theatrical background and a little of where I am now and he told me, “You’re perfectly placed to do this!”

Cue small heart explosions, because who doesn’t like affirmation?

But the week before that I was recovering from surgery.  Yes, another one.  I would have thought I would need to be older for my body to start falling apart, but apparently not.  This time I knew it was coming, though; I’ve had ear trouble since I was a kid, on top of genetic issues around hearing and eardrum formation.  So I had a tympanoplasty and mastoidectomy.

I know, Reader.  Aren’t you so jealous of my exciting life?

So I tell you this not because having surgery is a spiritual revelation—being out cold via anesthesia, it wasn’t much of any kind of revelation—nor because I want to educate you on the leaps and bounds of auricular surgery.  (Although, scientifically speaking, the whole thing is just dang cool; it is so impressive what doctors can do these days.  I mean, it would be much cooler if were happening to someone else, of course; this is an even less fun process than the appendectomy because my head was essentially filleted, but still.)  It is to tell you, in part, what a ridiculously spiritual experience the healing is.

I don’t mean that it’s been a hazy, mystical process of growth and understanding, the kind of spiritual that comes with auras and bitonal music.  I mean the gritty kind of spirituality that brings the God out of people while you’re wanting to rip off your own head.

That’s spiritual, right?

Let me admit this right out:  I’m a pansy when it comes to head injuries.  I want my head to work the way it’s supposed to, and it’s very frustrating to me when I can’t power through head wounds the way I can through other hurts.  So the aftermath of this surgery is driving me nuts; for one thing, I can’t hear out of that ear, which means I listen to the inside of my own head instead.  Trust me, you don’t want to know what you sound like when you talk, sing, eat, breathe.  You want to know what other people sound like.  You want to know what someone just said to you without having to shut down every other sound in the room.  And you definitely would like your head not to hurt and/or itch all the time.  (There is no sensation quite like an itch inside your head.)  I’m over this healing process, really—and I have at least two more weeks to go, likely three.

The spiritual part of responding to this is not so much a “why me, God” as a “You can’t be serious; this too?”  It’s the heartbreak of having to quit all of my musical activities because I physically can’t do them right now.  It’s the moments when I totally make up understanding what someone said to me because I don’t want to have to ask them again, and I don’t want to draw even more attention to the fact that I’m not operating on all cylinders.  It’s having to sit through the well-meaning platitudes of “this isn’t permanent,” “you’ll be good as new,” “I hope it doesn’t hurt too much” with a smile on my face and a recognition that they do mean well.  I have received such an outpouring of love and concern—but it is (hopefully) temporary, and so people move on.

I say this because I am absolutely guilty of it myself.  I completely forget about the woman who asked for prayers for a knee injury a month ago.  I gloss right over the man who seems to be healing just fine from an operation for skin cancer.  And that’s not wholly bad—we can’t keep everyone and all their ailments in our minds all the time.

That’s God’s job.

It has been so magnificently weird to see beyond the pat sayings I don’t know how to answer (please, someone tell me what to say to “Let us know if you need anything,” because the only things I can ever come up with are things they can’t give) to the One Who actually knows whether it hurts.  I have had people pray over me, people bring me spaghetti because I hate soup, people let me prattle about instruments because I get so sick of talking about my ear’s progress, people shift seating so I can hear, people listen to me complain yet again because I hate this and how limiting it is.  I have seen agape, selfless love, and I have learned not only to receive it (sort of) but also to appreciate the difficulties of people for whom pain like this is permanent.

I can’t say this is fun, or that I recommend it.  It sucks.  But in the frustration of muscles mending ever-so-slowly, the pain of skin stretched taut in incisions, the nerves that stop working out of pure shock for a time, there is the soft Voice of the God Who made the muscles, the skin, the nerves.  There’s the God Who wore them, and Who understands what it feels like to have them torn, to wait while they knit themselves back together.  There’s the God Who also has scars and a body that will never be “good as new” but will have a thousand stories told on this strange and improbable mess of blood and bone and heart and soul.  In this I wait, and heal, and rail, and learn.

 

So they sat down with him upon the ground seven days and seven nights, and none spake a word unto him: for they saw that his grief was very great.  (Job 2:13, KJV)

VBS Is Not At All A Vacation

I did promise you a breakdown of VBS, Reader, and I keep my promises.  I hedge it, though, because I really  haven’t processed it myself—after having worked about 75 hours last week between my actual job and VBS, I turned around and am working about 60 this week  because I am an idiot.

OConnor Writing ReasonWhat this means, though, is that I haven’t taken myself off to a Thinking Place—and also that I haven’t written anything, notes or otherwise, on the experience.  This feels terribly odd, because so many of my thought processes require writing to become coherent.

VBS stands for Vacation Bible School, and it’s an excuse for churches to indoctrinate kids for one week in the summer via ridiculously catchy kid songs and short Bible verses masked in various activities and repeated ad infinitum.  This may sound horrible, and it is a  jaded description, but that’s totally what it is—and that’s awesome.  In all of that, VBS is a place for kids to go where they are entertained and loved for a solid week, where they get to learn on their level and be the center of attention rather than the service’s afterthought.  VBS, as a kid, is crazy fun.  It’s a vacation to the world of all the adventures in the Bible, the place where you can totally meet Peter and Elijah on the same day, where you get to make stuff that will hide in your attic until your mum makes you clean up all “your things” when you get a house at 30.

VBS as an adult is so very, very not a vacation.

Here’s the thing; I’m not good with kids.  I’m just not.  But, because God, Interpreter, and Mr. Great-Heart have a running plot to make my life much harder than I want it to be, I’m discovering that I can at least function with teenagers.  They make sense to me, perhaps because I’m still close enough to having been a teenager that it’s not fuzzy and golden yet, or perhaps because the desire to be taken seriously at that age was so fierce it is now burned into my understanding of things, never to fade.  Probably both.  But I’ve been doing a lot of stuff with teens in the last year or so—I was a camp counselor last summer, I was a mentor for a middle schooler, I’m going to be on a team of such in the coming year—and people say I’m not bad at it.  More importantly, the teens say I’m not bad at it.

My mother, ever hopeful that I will become Gaia like she is and love the little children, wanted to see this grudging acceptance on my part when I wasn’t dead Monday night as a sign that God is wanting me to be a youth minister, because hey, crazier things have happened.  I don’t think that’s it, though, not least because after Monday came Tuesday.

I broke on Tuesday.

Reader, I can’t really explain to you why I broke on Tuesday.  Part of it is that I don’t want to tell you some of the things I’m fighting with this month, but most of it is that I honestly don’t know.  It was the proverbial straw on my rough desert back, I suppose, but I just broke down.  I went home and freaked out, knowing I couldn’t do this, knowing I was failing my 7-12 graders, knowing I was standing in the way of their knowing God, putting my own millstones on as a necklace of doubt and darkness.  I wept between work and the next round of VBS on Wednesday because I had nothing left to give, nothing left to teach, nothing left with which to show these kids that this was worth it and God is love because I had no love or energy at all.

The journey of faith and of following the Call, I’ve found, is far less like picking up the telephone than like mending an improperly healed bone.  You have to break it and bind it anew, and then re-break it if it goes wrong again, and re-break it until it heals to the shape in which it was meant to work the best.  Each time, the bone gets stronger, the use more certain, because it is becoming its properly functioning self, but it hurts like hell, and it’s difficult, and very, very draining.

Granted, it’s an imperfect illustration, because breaking a bone too many times results in unpleasant things like osteoporosis and arthritis and such, but the point is that the process—for me—is painful.  I broke last Tuesday, and it was not pleasant, and it was not fun.  I came to the end of myself—and, like so many before me, realized Who was waiting there to be more than I can be.  I mended on Wednesday, slowly but surely, teaching in my comfort zone on medieval theatre which I could talk about for days, and the kids who never spoke read lines with their peers, and we forgot the time and were almost late to the closing service, and it was a good day.  At the end of the week, one of the most irascible teens told me I had done well, and I heard from various parents that even their boys gave the half head jerk of approval when asked how the week had gone.

With these strings, I mend, and the bone grows again with cells slowly stretching to new places, with understanding that tomorrow will be different from today, that the strength is there underneath the pain.  God is remaking me, and it is a hard, hard process.  VBS took everything I had and demanded more—and God gave it for me, friends gave it for me, my kids gave it for me when they danced with me on the last day as we abandoned propriety in the sheer foolishness of exhaustion.  In this I am healed, slowly, slowly.

Surely.

Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.  But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.  (2 Cor. 12:8-10, ESV)