Lent, Week Two: Light and Dark

Right, so I know I said we were going to work with the elements of the wilderness but the Blogging Spirit says pairs.  So we’re going pairs.

It snowed this morning here in the Wicket Gate; this is remarkable because this is the American South and it doesn’t really snow all that often here.  It was warm even before global warming.

4ab51967138a6856445430523bbfce5dThis is also remarkable because I absolutely love snow.  I love it.  I love the way it slows everything down, I love the slight weight of it as it falls, I love the silence it engenders, I love the chill of it and the sting the air bites into your cheeks, I love the way snow outlines everything and makes every single twig and parapet a white exclamation point against dark tree bark and grey shingles.  I love the snow.  And it has affected me more than I realized that it doesn’t really snow here—I apparently count on winter as a breathing respite far more than I knew and I think the lack of it has contributed a lot to how overwhelmed and de-centered I’ve felt.  So the snow today was a precious gift and I literally skipped through it across one of the major roads singing My Favorite Things to myself because it was beautiful and there were so few cars it was laughable and running errands in that kind of silence was so, so wonderful.

Light in the darkness.

After getting ink (a necessary though expensive reality, especially now that printers have been programmed not to recognize the cheaper off-brand cartridges) I took myself out to brunch for a sandwich at one of the local fast-food places.  The life of the student is a glamorous flirtation with the poverty line, something I point out not to get into an appeal for money or onto my soapbox on the stupidity that we as a society feel students somehow “deserve” to be poor but to underscore that breakfast out isn’t something I do every day.  As I was sitting down at the restaurant, a man came up to me and asked if I had a dollar to spare so he could get breakfast.  It’s unusual, even here in the city, for someone to come into a place to ask like that; there’s kind of an unspoken agreement that begging as a transaction remains outside, but like I said, it was snowing.  Hunger can prompt some incredible things that we would never have thought ourselves capable of, and hunger with cold demands to be fixed.  Mindful of having recently preached a sermon on Jesus’ differentiation between the hunger of the body and of the spirit, I said come on, I’ll buy you a value meal breakfast, I can do that much.  I intended to have him eat with me since I think that giving money without even the attempt to build connection isn’t helpful to anybody.

We went up to the counter and I gestured him ahead, determined not to speak for him, trying desperately to figure out how this would work since I’m bad at small talk and I really just wanted to watch the snow.  He ordered some eight or nine things, still not an exorbitant cost because it’s a cheap place but way over what I was prepared to spend, especially after having spent so much on the ink.  I didn’t know what to do; I had not expected him to take liberty of my offer, which is perhaps woefully naive.  A manager passing by stopped and said no, he was just in here with someone else; apparently this man had been working the system all morning, waiting for new customers to cycle in and then getting them to buy him more things.  She asked if I still wanted to continue with the transaction and I said no, I couldn’t afford what he was asking, cancel it out.  He asked me when he was going to get his food and I said I can’t give you what you want, I can do this and nothing more.  He looked at me disbelievingly and left.

Darkness in the light.

I tell you this not to say that all beggars are crooks (they certainly aren’t) nor that I’m a saint for having tried (goodness, no).  I wish I could tell you how to respond to those who ask for alms, I really do; I feel like, especially as a pastor, I’m supposed to have some kind of answer for how to react, when to give money and when not, what to say.  I don’t know any of that.  I’m awful and uncomfortable and conflicted as all get-out when it comes to these kinds of interactions.  I tell you this because it is so incredible to me to have it juxtaposed against the beautiful snow, the crisp clarity of the flakes nearly lost in the murky confusion of how to look another human being in the eye and say I cannot give you what you want.

Darkness, and light.

When Jesus looks Satan in the eye and says I will not give you what you want after He is starving in the wilderness, after His face has become chapped not from the cold but from the sun that burns and the wind that scratches sand across the skin, does He hesitate?  Does He wish there was a manual of how to interact with this, how to look at the darkness and still be the light?  Or is He the manual, sure-footed and strong even in His exhaustion, knowing that the light will always win out?  Here in the wilderness I wonder, aware that God is in the snow and the stranger and wishing I understood what She wants of me in either situation.

 

In him there was life. That life was light for the people of the world.  The Light shines in the darkness. And the darkness has not overpowered the Light.  (John 1:4-5, ICB)

The Unanswered Ugliness

Happy new year, Reader!  I hope your holidays were life-giving (and if they weren’t, that your post-holidays have brought some life back to you).  Also, happy Epiphany; may we all find in this season whatever it is that that elusive star is hovering over for us.

I drove to visit friends and family on Christmas.  I usually drive on Christmas Day, reserving Christmas Eve for participating in the services at my home church before striking out to do the rounds of people on the holiday proper.  So I was driving, an audiobook in my CD player and the gifts (poorly) wrapped for my family knocking about on the passenger seat beside me.  I was nearing the end of the several-hour trip, anxious to get out of the car and eat something, to stretch and zone out for a while.  I came down the off-ramp of the interstate and there at the intersection was a woman holding a cardboard sign reading, “Please help.”

Here in the Land of Pilgrims there are a couple of folks who stake out the off-ramps as places to stand with their signs proclaiming homelessness, “God bless.”  I see them in the summer, standing in the sun like chipped statues of perseverance and despair.  But this past Christmas was outrageously warm for the season, warm enough that there on Christmas Day itself was this woman in a scarf and coat with her sign.

poverty-4I confess, Reader, that my first reaction was anger, not at her being there but at her sign—“Please help.”  Help how?  Help what?  If you’re going to ask me to help you, you should at least give me the courtesy of outlining what you need.  I find that I usually react with this wave of impatience at the Twitter-esque signs of the forsaken, their limited characters never telling me anything about what help looks like.  Do you want money?  A coat?  A roof for the night?  Prayer?  What do I have that you want?  What do I have that you need?

My second reaction was one of chagrin; I was driving in my own car to a house filled with food and people and heat and presents for me, even as I had a chair full of presents for others and my own backpack full of clothes and books for the visit in the backseat.  I hated that I had enough and this woman did not, and I hated it even more because it wasn’t transferable.  My clothes have been themselves gifts and hand-me-downs; the gifts for my family were mostly handmade because I’m terrible at buying gifts and I’m also not overwhelmingly wealthy myself.  I hated that I was—and am now, in retelling this—justifying my having as a shield against my assumption that she was lacking.

Because it was an assumption; again, I had no idea what help she needed.  I did not know, will never know what drove her to stand at this intersection with her cardboard sign on a warm Christmas Day.  I never know what to do about this, Reader, about these living signposts of the forgotten in our culture.  They are most often (at least here, at the edges of the city rather than downtown) at these crossroads, these places where I am on my way to something and couldn’t stop even if I had the nerve to do so, where my fellow impatient travelers are coming down the interstate behind me with their own homes to get to and their own places to be.  There is no time to stop and ask what help looks like, what is actually needed; there is no space to ask what these people’s names are and whether I truly have something they could use.

It makes me think of an episode of NCIS, a procedural drama I’ve watched since it first aired when I was in high school.  Abby Sciuto, the resident forensic scientist with a flair for Goth attire and an innocent heart of gold, reveals that she regularly visits with and helps out the homeless who camp out under an overpass in Washington, D.C.  The rest of her team applaud her reaching out and show that they do not engage this part of town, that they don’t even see it.  I am very much like them…and I wish I knew how to be like her.

Christianity makes this even more difficult, I think, because this Jesus dude was aware of His own intersection signposts.  He went to the poor, to the forgotten, to the broken and He asked their names, healed their wounds, ate at their houses.  He challenged those of us who follow after Him to do the same, and that’s hard because we are also told that the poor will always be with us and it is quite true that usually I have somewhere else to be.  I cannot stop and create a relationship with every woman holding a sign, every man standing next to a tattered old backpack.  There are other relationships that are equally as important that need attention and love and help.

But doing nothing feels so wrong.  And just giving money feels so wrong.  I’m not overly fond of simply giving things to people without spending some time with them, of handing them something and walking away, content in my own generosity.  But how to balance these, Reader?  How to be help without being patronizing, without draining myself and my other commitments?

How do I serve the poor without having to justify the life that I live that they do not?

I realize this is a bit much to be starting 2016 with, Reader, but I have the feeling it’s going to be that kind of year.  I got a phone call earlier this week telling me I’ve been accepted to seminary and that is huge and frightening and amazing and humbling and real.  So I’m going to be asking myself to see the hard questions, if not answer them.  If you have any answers, Reader, I would love to hear.

 

 

And he came to Nazareth, where he was brought up; and he entered, according to his custom, into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up to read.  And [the] book of the prophet Esaias was given to him; and having unrolled the book he found the place where it was written, “[The] Spirit of [the] Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach glad tidings to [the] poor; he has sent me to preach to captives deliverance, and to [the] blind sight, to send forth [the] crushed delivered, to preach [the] acceptable year of [the] Lord.”  (Luke 4:16-19, DBY)

The Least of These

I had a dream last night about the Syrian refugees.

I was at my undergrad college; I think I was employed there in some capacity.  The College had partnered with some nearby resettlement agency and was taking in refugees, but nobody had managed to get a number of how many people were coming.  Somehow it became my job and I went to what is in real life a rec center but was in the dream a newly renovated dorm to meet the agency representative to clarify.  As I got there, a big yellow school bus full of people drove up and these refugees came streaming out to this dorm.  The bus driver was the agency rep, I guess; he looked a lot like Carl the janitor from The Breakfast Club.  I followed him around as he was directing these people into the dorm around the students already there, asking how many, how many.  We need to be able to plan, I said; this is a small school, it was never designed to hold a lot of people; we have to be able to keep them safe and if we exceed capacity we won’t be able to do that, we’ll have to herd them all into a gym to sleep en masse, just tell me how many, how many.

He looked at me and just said, “More.”

Then I moved on to another dream and kept going in my snug little bed as the wind howled and the rain blew here in the Land of Pilgrims.  But I remembered this when I woke up this morning, remembered the panic I felt in the dream that we had no room, that we would not be able to provide for these people, that we were drowning together, these refugees and my college.

It gets more and more interesting to me as I get older that, in America at least, we have Thanksgiving and Christmas a month apart.  They are two sides of a coin, these holidays; the one is the celebration of peoples being present for each other and having plenty, a holiday of hope and excess blurred around the historical edges by tryptophan and the Macy’s parade.  The other is perseverance through not having enough—enough room, enough money, enough love, enough acceptance.  It is the light that shines in the darkness, the birth that impossibly happened when everyone was worried about something else.  It is hope, too, of the already-not-yet variety rather than the fulfilled one.

Yet both are squarely centered on reaching out to the stranger; both hold the lessons of making room in our hearts and lives because Jesus told us to, because our souls tell us to, because whatever tells us to recognize that that human who needs even the smallest part of what we have is a human, is us, is worth this.  We end our calendar year by, theoretically at least, opening wide our understanding of who we are in relation to each other.

This is my 200th post, Reader.  That number astounds me, surprises me, invites me to think about what I’m doing with this blog as the spiritual implications become less subtle in my personal and professional lives.  But I will not use this to preach at you.  This blog was started to help me track the untrackable God Who was utterly changing my life; it was meant as an invitation for you to come with me, to support me or correct me, to share the ways God was changing your life—or the ways you didn’t feel God, if there even was one, was paying attention to your life at all.  It was never meant to be a cyberspace platform for me to tell you what to believe.

So in this refugee crisis, I have seen so many memes and comments and videos flashing across social media of “keep them out” and “how heartless are you”.  Fear warps our recognition of our fellow humans, the reality of how dangerous the world is consuming us utterly.  Self-righteousness warps our recognition of our fellow humans, our passion to save one group turning us against another with accusations of stupidity, of coldness, of being the Innkeeper.  In the dream I had last night, I didn’t plan to make a subconscious political statement to myself.  Yet I understood the Innkeeper’s bond to the people he already housed; I understood the Native Americans’ worry of accepting these new foreigners who may be dangerous.

Do I think we should open ourselves to accepting Syrian refugees?  Yes.  I think we cannot be a country who speaks of accepting the wretched refuse without actually doing so; I think we cannot pretend to be a superpower or world leader if our front door says we shine a “world-wide welcome” but our fearful hearts shutter the light.  But do I think that we should shame the people who see the violence in far-off countries and shake at the thought of that happening here?  No.  We do ourselves no service to pretend to take the historical high road and hide behind ready-made Instagram insults about the “wrong side of history.”  I am a historian; the only “wrong side” history has is that of the losers, because the winners write the history books.  It has nothing to do with morality or justice, not really, and I say that as a Christian who believes God is actively involved in human affairs.

We sit now, Reader, in the pocket between the two holidays.  Some of us sit pleasantly stuffed, celebrating another day off of work, school, obligation.  Some of us will be putting up our trees today, looking ahead to the Bing Crosby songs and the snowflakes surely coming.  But each of us will be thinking of someone, connecting in however slight a way to another.  Each of us will love today.  May we be open to the ways that love can be unbounded, unexpected, and truly unconditional.

 

“And the King will answer them, ‘I assure you: Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me.'”  (Matthew 25:31-46, HCSB)

On My Own Four Wheels

The wind today in the Land of Pilgrims is ferocious, Reader.  The remnants of a storm that woke me with insisting fingernails of rain tapping my window at 5 this morning sweep through the valleys between buildings on this campus, whirling up the tower past my office window.  It whistles through the top notch I can never close because I can’t quite reach it.

It is a day in which I’m very glad I’ll be getting in my car and driving home for a little while before a concert.

This has not been the week I planned, not at all.  For the first time in a while I had several evenings in a row without meetings or obligations, evenings I planned to spend blissfully curled up with my laptop while I cursed my characters in this first week of NaNoWriMo.  I did end up getting to do some of that, but I also got to spend several days carless and worrying about repairs.

I live in a small city, Reader, where there is public transportation but it’s not the most efficient or user-friendly.  It is not an automatic assumption here like it is in New York or Chicago or London.  This is still very much car country, and as a single person who lives alone and has a pretty crazy schedule I rely very heavily on my car.  No bus gets to all the places I go, so when I don’t have a car, I lose a lot of freedom.

By freedom, I mean independence.

How American a statement!  I remember my father’s father adamantly insisting he could drive in his later years even though he was going blind and deaf and had a heart that never decided on a regular rhythm.  He knew that losing his license would make him, culturally speaking, baggage; an old leftover ferried around by his family, a burden, an afterthought.  He was an incredibly independent and stubborn man and he fought that loss until the doctors themselves said no more, we cannot allow you on the roads.  It was a point of some soreness for the rest of his life—which was a little less than a decade.

No one plans for their car to fall apart.  Mine is old (but don’t tell her) and has certainly been ill-used.  This summer alone we travelled together some 9,000 miles in about 4 1/2 months; she has been put through her paces, as have I, and it’s showing in some of the repairs I have to do.  But when they crowd together, demanding to be heard in clanking rumbles of discontent; when the repairman say we will have to do this, and this, and this, and this…Reader, I get so frustrated.

Part of it is that I am frustrated I can’t fix this myself.  I pride myself on being able to do little fix-its and delight in around-the-house type jobs.  I like knowing how things are put together; when I was a kid, I would exasperate my mother by pulling apart her pens to see if they all had the same pieces and then putting them back together with mixed success, depending on whether or not I’d lost the spring in the deconstruction process.  She started using a lot more pencils until I was old enough to be able to handle the concept of keeping all the parts.

But I don’t understand cars, and specifically I don’t understand my car.  I haven’t had the chance to pull up in a driveway and pop the hood to just explore the engine; I haven’t taken the time to crawl underneath with a book or a friend and memorize the chassis layout.  It irks me, Reader, that I fit the stereotype of the clueless female who walks into a mechanic’s shop and has no idea why there’s an upper and lower engine mount.

It’s also frustrating because, for the several days that I didn’t have my car, I had to rely on other people.  The horror!  The outrage!  The humility of it!  Oh, Reader, how amazing it is to see all the places in my life that I still stay, “No, I’ve got this, I’m okay” even when asking for help is the most logical thing to do.  One of my coworkers lives literally across the street from me; she was more than okay with ferrying me around for a few days, especially since the only places I went were work, home, and the shop.  I’ve no doubt that it would have been a bit different if I had had several meetings I needed to attend, but even that could have worked.  After all, have I not done the same for her in the many times she’s had car trouble?  I didn’t think anything of it because I understood that this was something she needed and I was in a position to help her out; no worries.

Yet when the positions are flipped, ALL THE WORRIES.

Oh, how much I want to know everything and be able to do it all by myself, to walk around on my own two feet and drive on my own four wheels and need nothing and no one.

Until the wry voice of God whispers, Even Me?  I was not created to know everything; I was not made to do all things by myself.  Even Jesus wasn’t master of all trades; He was a carpenter’s Son Who wasn’t as good at fishing as Peter or at accounting as Matthew.  And that was fine, because He was good at His thing—He was very good at His thing, thankfully.  But His thing wasn’t every thing, and if freaking Jesus didn’t do everything, what makes me think I can or should?

No, little one, it is grace to be in relationship with others.  (Even though it’s really great to have my car back.)

 

But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion.  He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him.  (Luke 10:33-34, ESV)

Advent, Week Four: O, Holy Night

Merry Christmas Eve, Reader!  It’s actually been a bit busy here at work today, which is a marked change from last year.  I like it, though; it’s fun to pretend to be Bob Cratchit for a while, especially since I have no Scrooge here in the office with me.

It doesn’t feel real that it’s Christmas Eve; it’s raining here in the Land of Pilgrims, raining rather than snowing.  I am, as is increasingly the case for this holiday, not at all ready.  My gifts aren’t done, I’m not completely sure about the readings I’m doing for the services at church tonight, I owe Watchful a pair of poems that are still crunched up in my head and won’t allow me to untangle them yet, my personal life is kind of a mess at the moment, I don’t know what to do for a friend whose sister just died yesterday.  I’m not ready for Christmas.

But it never seems to listen; the remembrance of that Child’s birth comes ’round every year whether I will or no, and every year it quiets me as it whispers “just be here.”  Chirstmas, for me, is not tomorow—sure, the gift-giving and the holiday meal and the family time is fine and good and festive, but Christmas for me is tonight.  Christmas is awkwardly being part of someone else’s family for dinner because they welcome me; it is realizing that my reading and my singing don’t have to be perfect because God will use whatever I can give; it is the moment at the end of the service when we lift our candles to the heavens and sing together; it is walking out after the last service and standing in the chill after the heat of so many people and realizing it’s really Christmas because it’s after midnight.

It is holy.

That’s not to say that tomorrow isn’t, but it is to say that when we sing of a holy night, I’m thinking of this one.  So I sit here at my computer and listen to this song over and over in so many different versions and then—oh, Reader, then I see the lyrics.

Whoa.

Moving past the “sin and error pining” bit for a second, although that’s a pretty weighty theological statement of its own, I get stuck on the fourth line:  “‘Til He appeared and the soul felt its worth.”

Perhaps it is just me that gets caught in the places of feeling less than, especially in this season that demands you have more Stuff/Family/Love/Peace/Joy/Hope/Money/Whatever, but I doubt it.  I love this season, I do; Advent is my favorite part of the year, and Christmas is far and away my favorite holiday.  But especially this year, I have been carrying a lot of, well, shit, to put it bluntly, and bending under the weight of it.  It has resulted in a lot of not feeling like I’m worth much, which I know Magister and Watchful and Hopeful and even Interpreter himself, if he read this, would tell me is bollocks.  But only you know yourself, and sometimes what you know makes you shudder.

Except it’s not only you who knows you.  God knows you—knows me, knows everything that I am and will be and have been—and still He came to break chains and teach love and be, simply be in all the crazy difficulty that is living as a human.  In Him I have worth, regardless of what I am so sure that I know.

We don’t much do kneeling in our modern age; we’re old, our joints ache, it’s embarrassing, what if the carpet messes up our trousers.  But I have known, Reader, the moments where the space between Heaven and Earth is so thin that you simply can’t remain standing.  You actually do fall to your knees (which hurts, I won’t lie) under the breath-taking “thrill of hope.”  Some of the moments of holiness I’ve experienced have left me gasping for the thicker air on the level where I usually dwell, the very cords of my muscles thrumming to a song I could not hear with my ears even were they whole.  It’s an exhausting thing, being in the presence of holiness.  I don’t recommend doing it often—but I do recommend letting it happen at least once.

“He knows our need; to our weakness is no stranger,” the song continues.  This is a baby we welcome tonight and tomorrow—babies know nothing, not even how to see.  Their worlds are nothing but weakness; they don’t yet know that there is anything else.  But this Baby?  This Child?  It is God in flesh, not trapped but intensified, vivifying His own creation by engaging it fully.  Through having lived that life He not only knows our need, He knows it, understands it, has felt it.  The concept of a physically connected God is kind of mind-blowing, really.  So when we gather tonight and sing of and to this Child, we kneel—maybe not physically, but in our hearts, because this is a holy night.  This is a holy event.  This is a holy memory.

How divine.

Merry Christmas, Reader.  I’ll see you in the new year.

 

[Joseph] went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.  While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son.  (Luke 2:5-6a, NIV)

Pastoral Vulcans

Oh Reader, it has snowed here in the Land of Pilgrims.  As ever, I seem to be the only one excited about this, but no matter—I and my delight are content to keep each other company as the hesitant flakes grow and shrink and hurry confusedly to the unyielding ground.

So last week I waxed nostalgic on career choices.  It wasn’t quite as random as it may have seemed; I’ve recently accepted a new volunteer position at church that has somewhat forced my hand regarding where I’m heading vocationally—or will, at least, once it kicks in.  And it floors me that I am at this place.  As you saw, I never intended to be here, eyeballing this career, stumbling down the path of this Call.  The whole of this blog has been my bafflement at finding myself becoming…whatever I am still and yet becoming, for it is certainly in no way solidified.

One of the many reasons I am amused by this ministerial turn is that, in my mind, pastors need to be at least somewhat personable.  A lot of what they do is pretty emotional; theology may be something we categorize in the mind, but faith takes the soul of you.  I, however, am a Vulcan.

This is not to say that I hail from another planet or even that I have pointy ears—it is to admit my love for logic.  I like patterns.  I like things with predictable actions that allow me to anticipate outcomes and required responses.  I like the thought-out decisions of plans with steps and lists and reference dates and checkpoints.

These are not how humans work.

In point of fact, these are so entirely not how humans work that I’ve actually had concerned friends ask me if I’m on the autism spectrum because of my lack of ability to connect to the sheer insanity of emotional illogic at times.  (No, I’m not.  At least, I’ve never been diagnosed as such; I think I just sort of suck at empathy, which is an entirely different thing.)  And the thought of spending not just a career but a vocation following a God Who practically wallows in illogical, emotional humanity just…I don’t know, confuses the hell out of me.

I left the desire to be a veterinarian because I didn’t want to deal with the crazy of people.  I left the desire to teach because I didn’t want to deal with the crazy of people (well, and a bunch of other reasons, but that was in the mix).  So I’m tumbling down a hill toward ministry that so greatly encompasses the crazy of people…why?

God, I wish I knew.

That’s not totally accurate.  I do know.  I know that the crazy gets balanced by the heartbreaking grace of being able to be present with someone when the worst of them throws them off balance and they just need a breathing life raft for a while.  It gets balanced by the reception of humor and love beyond measurement that comes in the most beautiful explanations and the blunt statements that “it’s a blessing, idiot.”  It gets balanced by the moments when a kid finds a place in the really big and mystifying universe for the half hour that you bother to silently work alongside her.  These are less illogical than complicated, like the snowflakes I love so much—those are highly logical and mathematical, but you have to take the time to find the patterns, and you have to look very closely.  The people side of ministry has trucks full of illogic, but it also has these intricate and closely-woven patterns of one repeating thing.

God.

It sounds so schmaltzy to put it like that, really, like a Christian bookstore poster of swirly letters assuring you God is in everything.  But a huge chunk of what keeps drawing me to ministry (beside the worship, and the writing, and the ability to professionally wrestle with God, and the love I have for the Church in all her dysfunction, and the wonder of being able to burn candles every Sunday) is these moments of people being God’s creations.  The piece of the Spirit that flashes out from each of them is like breathing pure oxygen—it hurts, actually, to encounter it because it’s so entirely more than what I’m used to, in a way.  But seeing that in them and being part of an encounter that allows the other person to discover that moment of the breathtaking more-than-usual presence of God is not only one of the coolest things ever, it also allows me to find that presence for myself.  I, too, carry the handprint of God, and I don’t see that until a friend chucks a wadded-up plastic bag at my head to tell me to stop apologizing for growing into who God made me to be.

In the recent reboot of the Star Trek films, Spock’s dad has a line that “emotions run deep within [the Vulcan] race, in many ways even more deeply than humans.”  I wonder, then, if God is dragging me into this not because I’m totally unfit for it and it amuses Him to watch me be confused but because He sees the bottom of the very, very deep valley of my ability to do this work for and with other people.  Yes, they’re illogical and often stupid and very annoying, but people are God’s deliberate creations.  And in that is this vocation, in walking with them and looking for the pattern and feeling, however that ends up looking.

Perhaps, if I keep going this direction, I really should learn that mind meld—for vocational success, of course.

 

Then Moses said to the Lord, “O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither before nor since You have spoken to Your servant. But I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue.”  The Lord said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Or who made the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? Have not I, the Lord?”  (Exodus 4:10-11, MEV)

All Hallows’ Eve

I must admit that Halloween is not in the upper levels of my favorite holidays, not least because I’m a coward.  I have no patience for being scared, and no tolerance for things that are scary.  I don’t even do well with the trailers for horror films—the films themselves?  Forget it.  I have a mind that holds onto images FOREVER which is a terrible, terrible thing for a day built around images designed to creep you out.  I still remember a scary email from 12 or 13 years ago that freaked me out in the middle of the day.  No threshold for that sort of thing.  So Halloween?  Hell.

Most Halloweens I relish being able to stay inside and watch Ghostbusters (the limit of scariness for me, really) and It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, waiting for the world to return to some semblance of sanity on All Saints’ Day.

I do like jack-0-lanterns, though.

(Unless they’re meant to be scary.)

So sitting here at my desk on this blustery, witching-cold Halloween (or Hallowe’en, to recognize the contraction of “even[ing]”) and listening to the soundtrack for Nightmare Before Christmas and Bach’s Toccata & Fugue in D Minor and getting feminist-ly upset about how utterly sexist and stupid adult costumes are these days, I’m trying to think back to the point of the holiday.  It was a day meant to appease the dead, who may or may not have had unfinished business with the living.  Scary things are scary because they are unknown, right?  And what is more unknown than Death?  It would be pretty awesome if he were actually as snarky as Terry Pratchett’s version, but somehow I doubt it.  And people of faith get kind of stuck, because we’re not supposed to be afraid of death—I mean, God’s got it covered, right?

Right?

Not to be overly morbid on a Friday afternoon, but it’s still super overwhelming to me to consider how much we skirt the line here in the 21st century between this world and the next.  We don’t have nearly the comfort with the idea that people did when Halloween was still All Hallows’ Eve—or better still, Samhain—no matter how much we talk about how much more “civilized” or “evolved” we are than those weird Dark Age medievals.  In modern Western culture, we don’t do death with any real engagement—and so it gets pretty scary.

The idea of the unsatisfied dead is a hard one, especially for modern Christians, again because we have everybody classified.  There is no waiting room of the afterlife—there’s Heaven, there’s Hell, and if you’re an old-school Catholic there’s Purgatory, which was one of the original terrible sequels.  People don’t wander the earth seeking comfort or vengeance or forgiveness because God the Judge gets that all ironed out.

And yet.

How often do we reach for a person who is no longer there?  How often do we wonder if they miss us as much as we miss them?  How often do we hope that someone who was miserable in life found happiness in death?  A person dying doesn’t mean s/he ceases to be a person, especially to those of us who knew that person well.  The idea that they linger—and that that might not be a good thing—is powerful.

This is not to say that I do or do not believe in ghosts, because honestly I’m not sure how I feel about that, but it is to say that we as a culture (and we as a people of faith) kind of suck at handling the death thing.  We honor the fallen but not our connection to them; we honor the idea of grief but not the seemingly infinite nature of it; we remember our dead but generalize The Dead into TV shows and sexy costumes.  We take what frightens us and mock it, these days, which is really great in theory and kind of sucks in practice as “what frightens us” dwindles from the Great Big Ideas into things like rabid bears and zombies.

Not that I’m trying to rain on the Halloween parade (although I would like you to note, Reader, that’s it’s snowing in earnest now here in the Land of Pilgrims, which is the first snow of the year and makes me unreasonably and perhaps unhealthily happy), because I understand that it’s a night of daring and adventure for many and can spawn hilarious jokes and other curiosities.  It’s just that it’s interesting to me as someone about to ignore a world of frightening things for an evening and then go to church on Sunday and hear about those who have died in the last year.  There does indeed need to be room for both the remembrance and the uncertainty, because things change and things go bump in the night and it’s not always clear where God actually is in all of that.

That’s really rambling, for which I’m sorry.  I can only plead the fact that I’m distracted by snow, and that I started the morning with an hour-and-a-half long meeting of frustrating-ness.  But I find myself implicated by my own refusal to face the Great Big Ideas that frighten me, the relationships left unfinished for one reason or another, the ghouls and skeletons in my own closet.  And that’s tough, because Halloween is meant to be a day of fun and candy and things that aren’t real—not moments of realization that are very real indeed.

 

Lord Jehovah, my light and my salvation, of whom shall I be afraid? Lord Jehovah is the strength of my life; by whom am I shaken?  (Psalm 27:1, ABPE)