Witness: Why It’s Okay To Go Wild

 

On the way home from work I stop at the florist to pick up a bouquet. I cradle the damp tissue paper in my arms gently, like the precious thing it is, and hold it in my lap all the way home. The table needs some color, my heart needs to hold a piece of spring. Lately, I only want to be outside—to breathe in all that sighs and groans. I want to wake with the sun and sleep under the stars, dew and scent of lilac on my skin. Somewhere, deep in the woods, the doe beds down on a moss-covered thicket; the wood thrush sings her flutelike song. Do such things require a witness?

We made it through another “first” on Sunday. There was an empty chair at our table and love scootched in to fill the gap. Easter is all about the resurrection and I looked around at the people I love and was astonished at how life rises out of ashes. Wild. That’s how this makes me feel. Like I want to thrash out and rip and bite at the neatness of it all, to yell and scream and let the world know it’s not okay. It’s not okay to keep going as if everything is the same. I feel angry. Angry at the doctors who failed us in so many ways; angry at myself for missing too many moments; angry at this broken, fallen world because of the sting of death. I know this is not the way of grace but grief must have its own way.

It has not yet been a year since Ted passed away and I feel like I’m still waking up to his absence.

After Easter dinner was over and the family had all gone home and the dishes were still in the sink—after all that, we sat out on the deck and let birdsong soothe away the noise of an empty house. There were just the three of us, Teddy couldn’t come home this year—the first time ever in his twenty years he didn’t open his eyes on Easter morning under our roof. Jeffrey sat with his mom and dad and shared an Easter memory, a memory of sitting with his Papa in the living room while everyone else picked at dessert and sipped coffee in the dining room. “Papa was my refuge,” he said. And he smiled a little when he said it and it made my heart cry a little.

On Easter we remember, one day things will be different. This isn’t how it is supposed to be. The stone in our own hearts will be rolled away and grief will turn to joy. And all that wild inside me will bloom and go to seed and blow with the wind and color our world with love. One day.

I found a vase for the flowers. It’s a simple clear glass—leftover from some Valentine’s roses or Mother’s Day arrangement or some other celebration. And why not? Isn’t this a celebration too? Jesus doesn’t want us to wait for one day. He left the throne and entered our world—entered all this brokenness, all this mess. He is wild with love for us, wild unto death, wild unto defeating death. Wild. For me. For you.

He stands right beside us, he holds us in his arms and he whispers, You go wild, girl. You’re not too much for me.

This is the beauty of an Easter people: how we can feel joy and sorrow at the same time. How we hold onto a promise and feel a hope inside of us. How the wild in this world can be a thing of beauty—a stand that says, I know it isn’t supposed to be this way.

I think of all these things as I trim the stems of daisies and asters—white petals trailing in my wake. I dip the stems in the watered vase and shift around yellows and blues a little bit. Every little moment requires a witness. I cradle the memories in my mind gently, like the precious things they are.

Holy Saturday: Shadows

Last night we watched The Passion of the Christ and I cried and cried. It was a good thing to do on Good Friday—a hard thing, but good. All day I carried the passion inside of me. Our church does not hold a Good Friday vigil, but the readings from our Maundy Thursday service were still fresh in my mind. We observed a Tenebrae service, as is the tradition during the latter parts of Holy Week. Tenebrae is Latin for shadows, and during the readings and singing of the Psalms, the light is gradually extinguished in the sanctuary. We leave the church in silence and darkness, contemplating. Shadows.

Lent has a way of casting my shadow-self in clear relief. I am aware of all the ways I have failed in my promises to our Lord, all the ways my fickle heart betrays. In Jungian psychology, to truly know yourself, you must not only become acquainted with the shadow-self, you must accept it as a part of the whole of you. Understanding your shadow-self will help you understand and love the shadows in others.

So there is this: admitting my failures allows me to more completely love. As I ponder Christ’s last days, last moments, last breath … I am aware of the many falsehoods in my life that lead me to live in the shadow realm. There is nothing more true than a love that leads to sacrifice, and yet, so many days I resist giving up my own will.

I cannot stop thinking of his body behind the stone. And yet I know the stone will be rolled away.

The whole of life feels like the waiting. Sealed in this tomb, locked in darkness. Light is the stuff of legends, flits across the mind the way a bird lights on a tree limb. Scripture tells us, “For all creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.” (Romans 8:19) I feel the sharp intake of breath, the stiffening of awaited release.

Resurrection Day is the already-here-but-yet-to-come day; the day we search our hearts for every bit of light that is hope. The work of the cross is done but still working within us.

If the God who revealed life to us, and whose only desire is to bring us to life, loved us so much that he wanted to experience with us the total absurdity of death, then—yes, then there must be hope; then there must be something more than death; then there must be a promise that is not fulfilled inour short existence in this world; then leaving behind the ones you love, the flowers and the trees, the mountains and the oceans, the beauty of art and music, and all the exuberant gifts of life cannot be just the destruction and cruel end of all things; then indeed we have to wait for the third day.”~ Henri Nouwen

There must be hope. Even among the shadows. Especially there. And so we wait.

West Virginia Morning: Riches

“We are told to consider the birds,” my friend says to me this morning, after I’ve confessed guilt feelings for staring out the window at the spring doings of my bird community for a prolonged time. “I don’t necessarily think it’s a waste of time.”

Sometimes God’s messengers wear skin and they bear such tidings as to douse a parched soul.

I’ve been reading John Burroughs’ Wake Robin (this version is free on Kindle). It’s a collection of his essays about birds and it has me captured. His delight for our little wingeds is so evident in his writing. What I’ve been doing is reading his description of a bird’s song and personality, then going to my birding app and listening to his descriptions take sound. It makes for slow reading but it unfetters my heart so. I can get caught up in learning about the ornithological world. Thus, guilt. But sweetness too.

There has been a bluebird pair checking out my box for a couple weeks now. Last week I saw the male dive at a red-bellied woodpecker who was clinging to the side of the box. I think that sharp-beaked intruder may have scared Mr. and Mrs. Blue away from nesting there, for when I peeked in the door this morning there was no evidence of nest-building. But I still hold out hope. Every time I pass the bay window in the kitchen I must pause to study the box and its surrounding habitat. One must be patient to catch a glimpse of nest building. Bluebirds are shy and furtive birds. I’ve stopped filling the feeders near that area so the neighborhood does not appear too noisy. I so want them to build their home inside that little shelter. Bluebirds haven’t nested in that box for over ten years. Not since the first two seasons I put it out. The house sparrows have always been more aggressive, no matter how many of their nests I pitched out.

Everywhere I look the birds are frolicking, caught up in the magic of spring. A robin couple has built their nest in one of our maple trees out back. I watched them carry dried grass and leaves to and fro for days, it seemed. But they seem all settled in now. I caught them in the act just yesterday as I walked Bonnie around the house. We came upon them unawares and they startled apart, taking flight like two nervous teenagers.

I am behind on my spring chores. Just this morning I trimmed back my crepe myrtles, meticulously making my way through each woody branch. I was dismayed to see new growth already and worried my tardiness will stunt the bush’s beauty. But nature is so forgiving. My lilac bush is filling out with heavy blossoms. And last season I neglected to prune it after its glory faded. Still, this season: beauty. The back yard is filled with its heady scent. This world dressed in spring holds so many fascinations.

Yesterday, I read this:

If your daily life seems poor, do not blame it; blame yourself, tell yourself that you are not poet enough to call forth its riches; for to the creator there is no poverty and no poor indifferent place.” ~Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

Yes. So many discoveries waiting to be seen. This thought fills me to overflow. I may not be poet enough to call forth the riches in my life, but my eyes will notice. My heart will be glad. There is no poverty here.

A Psalm for Palm Sunday

We’ve been sleeping with the windows open at night. When morning begins to spread her skirt of light, it’s the song of the robins that coaxes open my eyes. Last week I planted my garden greens and yesterday I noticed their sleepy faces poking up from the soil bed. Tomorrow the weatherman calls for snow.

I think the robin song is the most hopeful of all songs.

Since I returned from Refine the Retreat, I have had my own retreat, of sorts. I’ve been quiet—curled into family and the moments as lived. Presence has been nourishing me, the slow-going through the days. I’m slowly getting back up to speed with life.

Yesterday I gave a short homily for a Lenten luncheon series at the church of one of my mentors. I thought I’d share a slightly edited version of that message here. As we prepare to enter Holy Week, may you be blessed, dear one.

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I spent my 48th birthday with a group of about 45 women at Refine the Retreat. We were at a retreat center called Our Lady of the Pines—a beautiful, former girls school turned nunnery turned sanctuary—where our hearts were primed to hear God’s voice. Each morning I led the women in lectio divina. We walked a prayer labyrinth on the property and prayed under birdsong mingled with the voices of tall, limber pines singing in the wind. When the time came to give my message, I was changed. I felt close to these women—safe—and God kept nudging me to give a different message than the one I’d prepared. I felt the urging to share more deeply and allow myself to be vulnerable.

So I did. In the context of scripture, I shared the story of a difficult experience my family had just been through. Something that had caused great pain that still touches us in many ways. And as I was speaking the words out loud, I was taken by surprise. I felt a sob well up in my throat and there was nothing I could do to suppress it. I had never spoken about this story publicly and my emotions took me off guard. But when that sob escaped, something beautiful happened. Every eye turned unblinkingly upon me. The tears had captured their attention. This is something they all understood so well: sorrow; grief; the deep soul disappointment that life hands us sometimes. I looked out over the faces of the women I was speaking to and I saw only love.

After a time of worship, as we clustered in small groups sipping coffee and nibbling sweets, woman after woman approached me. In hushed tones, they shared similar stories of darkness. Times of despair and pain. With few exceptions, these women told me how they kept their pain a secret, held it tightly to their hearts, locked behind cut-flower words and plastered on smiles only gum-deep.

My heart broke as I listened and the realization sunk into me: We do not feel safe to share our pain, our brokenness—our humanity—in our churches.

Eugene Peterson says the Psalms are where we go to learn our language as it develops into maturity, as it answers God. The Psalms are fraught with humanity, giving breath to a plenary human experience. The Psalm on the lectionary for this Palm Sunday is chapter 31:6-19.  It’s a typical lament; a cry for help and complaint that moves through petition and toward a statement of trust and praise. In fact, a large portion of the Psalms could be categorized as lament. The estimates are from one third to one quarter of the Psalms falling in this category. And that word—Psalm—the Hebrew word for Psalm means “praises.” Does it seem odd to you that a book of praises would hold so many laments? Or do we need to change our definition of praise?

 And why is this Psalm a companion to Palm Sunday? It certainly lends very little triumph to the triumphal entry. But what it does do is boldly hold that tension that often so colors the human experience. A lament does the unthinkable—it holds anguish and hope side-by-side; revealing the depth of the nature of human life. The Lenten season is a time when the humanity of Jesus calls out to our own humanity.

When I read the story of the Triumphal entry, I cannot help wondering what was going through Jesus’ mind as he wrapped his legs around the soft underbelly of that donkey, the noise of the crowd ringing in his ears.  He knew what he was going to. He’d already tried to explain to his disciples on two different occasions that he was going to his death. No heavenly army swooping in, no Roman defeat, no redemption of all the years of oppression his people had faced. What was he thinking?

Jesus was fully human. It was Pilot who said it: “Behold the man!”

But do I? Behold the man? Too often I want to impose upon Jesus some kind of superpowers, but Jesus was a man. Fully God, yes, but fully human as well. How could one made of flesh and bone, one whose blood ran as hot and cold as ours, how could he withstand such horrors? How could he plead with God to take away this cup and still end by saying, “Yet not what I will, but what you will”? Jesus felt the full range of human emotions. Yet he was as close to the Father as any human could be. Anguish and hope held side-by-side.

Writer Dan Allender reminds us that “the poetry of the psalms were the hymns of the people of God. It was their song book,” he says. “it was what they sang in the temple at their worship services. The psalms are often thought to be the private poetry of people who struggled with God … [but] God intends for lament to be part of worship; and he intends for it to be done in community.”

How many times must our Lord have sung the Psalms, given his voice to lament?

Lament cuts through insincerity, unveils pretense, and leads to trust and wonder. Because true worship involves bringing every aspect of our lives before God—not ignoring the hard stuff of life, but worshipping in the midst of our struggles.

Jesus prayed a portion of Psalm 31 from the cross: Into your hands I commit my spirit … Such a beautiful statement of trust. But don’t you wonder, if he had sung this Psalm before … don’t you imagine that the rest of the Psalm was on his mind as well? And the hard stuff comes after that sweet statement of trust.

Be merciful to me, O LORD, for I am in distress; my eyes grow weak with sorrow, my soul and my body with grief …

 Jesus knew the power of lament. He knew the power of sharing sorrow publically.

At the first Refine the Retreat, one of the ladies who is an artist told us about the Japanese art of Kintsugi (or kintsukuroi). It’s a 500-year-old method for repairing broken pottery. You see, she said, in those ancient times, most families only had one good bowl or platter.  If it was broken, repair was necessary. Over time, artisans began repairing the cracks with a special lacquer mixed with gold, so that a bowl highly valued by the family may have many gold-veined lines through it. The golden seams became a sign of value, instead of disrepair. The cracks a vehicle to appreciate beauty in brokenness.

We are a flawed people living in a fallen world. But we have been healed with something far more precious than gold lacquer. We are washed in the blood of Jesus. But we remain in this in-between time—redeemed but waiting. Broken, but beloved. This is our reality: in this life, we will have troubles. If Jesus did not shy away from lament, why should we?

Our times are in your hands, O LORD. Let your face shine on your servants, save us in your unfailing love. Amen.

West Virginia Morning: Hope Emissary

Fridays are the emissaries of hope. And I had so much hope for this day.

We pick Ted up tomorrow for his spring break and so my plan for this day was to tidy the house, give him a cozy welcome, do the mom thing. I washed his bedclothes, tucked in the grace of fresh sheets. I picked up his space and vacuumed away the dust of his absence. I was doing okay, ticking items off the list, until I went outside to empty the vacuum canister. We have a bagless and when the canister is full, I like to walk to the edge of the yard to empty the dirt of our lives into the meadow. It makes me happy to think of a bluebird nest knit together from the lint of our carpet fibers, a sparrow chick nestled into strands of my hair. Bits of our life and skin and dust passed on in love. Ashes to ashes.

When I have things to do, it’s dangerous for me to go outside. From my place by the fence where I stood tapping the vacuum canister against the post, trying to loosen stubborn bits of fuzz and life debris, I had a clear view of the walnut tree that was taken down by the windstorm day-before-yesterday. That old beauty splintered right down the middle and dropped his right fork into my neighbor’s yard.

I couldn’t help myself. I set the canister down on my raised bed and moved closer.

A small cupboard, cracked open—a secret hiding place for squirrel or woodpecker or other forest spirit was given me. Scent of dried wood wafting, long inner striations exposed, rough bark cracked and frayed—his years laid bare. Yet, he still rustled briskly up above. How many times have we given that tree up for dead when it surprised yet again with fruit in season? In the wounding, I could see the long struggle for the years. The inner parts were dry and brittle in places, smoothed to a shiny sheen in others. Still, the remainder of the row of trees stood on, oblivious to their brother’s demise. Could they be? I know it’s impossible. I know how trees speak to one another, how they share much more than the sunshine that falls over their leaf-hats.

I ran my hand along the splintered skin. I felt the sadness all tree-lovers feel when such a shelter is struck down. I whispered thanks to the tree for all it has given and wondered aloud to God at the brilliance of such a thing as a tree. I remembered Belden Lane’s petition to include trees in the Communio Sanctorum, the communion of the faithful, and I understand. As I took my leave, the sky let loose with the frailest of snowflakes—love confetti for our brother tree.

I grabbed the vacuum canister and headed back to work.