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.

Holy Saturday

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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. And so we wait.

Good Friday: When You Love Someone with Depression, III

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Before I open my eyes this morning I hear the rain lapping at the roof. The sky is gray and filled with endless weeping. Holy week has been a series of storms and I am tired. Good Friday—day of suffering and day of hope, day of darkness and light, day of grief and day of joy. Day of the cross.

Last night, for Maundy Thursday service, I shared a brief homily about the mandatum novum—the new command Jesus gave his disciples the night of the Last Supper: You also should love one another. All the while I was aware of my own gaping lack thereof.

I lost my temper early in the week. On Palm Sunday, I stood in our living room and let anger course through me and out of me and fall like a dagger into his heart. When you love someone who has depression everything becomes about them. Every decision is seen through the gray cloud of how they will be affected; problem-solving narrows down to two choices—black or white, and there is little discussion not met with predictions of certain disaster. Depression makes the world very small and possibility impossible. This would appear to be a selfish thing if the one suffering was choosing this way, but they are not aware of the blinders they wear. To gently suggest alternative ways of thinking, ways of seeing—this can become a heavy burden after a time.

I buckled under the weight. And in the doing so added those heavy stones of regret and shame. Love felt far away.

For Jesus, love was not only a feeling. It meant action. It meant putting hand to the plow of love and planting its seeds. Jesus loved by caring for the unloved—by eating with outcasts and sinners, by healing the untouchables and challenging legalism. He stretched the boundaries of what we know of love.

Love one another.

He called it a new command, but it wasn’t new, was it? He had already told them that the greatest commandment was to love—both God and neighbor. But this word, this word translated as “new” in the scripture? It means, “new as respect to form or substance; fresh, uncommon, unprecedented…”

Was Jesus telling us to find new ways to show love? Creative ways, ways that make people sit up and notice? Was he saying, “don’t stop with the usual, I’m calling for more than candy and flowers here. Any little way you can show love … do it.” Choose love when your heart feels least like doing so. Choose love. Get to know your heart intimately and let love be the antidote to every bit of ugly that beats through it. Return hate with love, let love extinguish anger, fight oppression with love, when your heart recoils in disgust, reach out in love.

To love someone with depression means to choose love.

How? It sounds so easy, and some days it is, but other days? That choice is a millstone around my neck. In my devotional this morning I read an essay by Watchman Nee who said, “The secret of deliverance from sin is not to do something but to rest on what God has done.” Because I believe the Easter story, I can do this. When I rest in the work of the cross, I am free. It is because of this freedom that I can then act out of love. But surrender comes first. I realize that my actions are an extension of the grace given by God. I am free to ask forgiveness, I am free to reach across the great expanse depression creates and choose love.

practice:

~I need reminded regularly of the bigger picture of God’s love. Read the Good Friday story. Jesus showed love, even from the cross. (“Father, forgive them … ”) Say a prayer of thanks for the redemption he bought.

~What is one way you can choose love today? Think of a new way to show love to the person with depression in your life—a way that cannot be overlooked, one that demands special thought and effort on your part.

~Are you praying scripture?

~Begin to notice when your loved one’s thinking is black and white. Gently suggest alternative ways of seeing things that might open his or her eyes.

**This Friday series contains reflections on loving someone who has Depression. If you are in this place, or know someone who is, I hope you’ll join me in this journey. These words cannot replace medical or psychological treatment, but I hope they will be a source of encouragement.

Part One: When You Love Someone Who Has Depression
Part Two: When You Love Someone Who Has Depression, II

Ash Wednesday: The Most Honest of Days

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Snow drifts down like white ash and covers a world bent with sorrow this morning. Today, we step into the season of Lent; Ash Wednesday is the day we acknowledge our humanity—that I was made from dust and to dust I will return. It is a time of repentance, a time to acknowledge our frailty—both in sin and mortality—and turn. The ashes crossed on our foreheads serve to remind of the broken debris of this life and that to live for Christ, we must die with him.

Our little valley has been buried under snow these past days, a gift from winter storm Octavia. School has been closed all week and special services at church have been cancelled. We are sheltering in. That means no Ash Wednesday service tonight, no imposition of ashes, no prayer of repentance to whisper together this evening.

A while back my pastor asked me if I would like to help plan and participate in our Ash Wednesday service. Together, we laid out the bulletin. Last week, we smoked up the church parlor as we burned last year’s Palm Sunday palms into ashes. I’ve been reading Sara Miles’s book City of God: Faith in the Streets to open my heart to the beauty of the tradition of the ashes. It’s the story of her experiences carrying ashes out of the church and into the streets, sharing this sacred ritual with her neighbors and the broken people in the diverse neighborhood where she lives. I haven’t finished the book yet, but her candor and her tender heart for God’s people convicts me.

This morning, I finish up chapter nine, which has Miles and a group of volunteers—laypersons and ordained clergy alike—gathering to prepare for their outdoor “Ashes to Go” service. One volunteer is Vera, who Miles learns had an older sister who killed herself on Ash Wednesday a few years ago.

“That year,” said Vera, “there was a really early Easter. It was such an offense. I couldn’t bear it: how could Lent be just like the blink of an eye, when Lent is the world we live in?”

Lent is the world we live in.

“Ash Wednesday is like a homecoming for me,” Vera continued. “It’s the most honest of days. It’s a mystery, a sitting-with. A sitting with the dark. It is bearing witness to the dark.”

Today, on this most honest of days, I weep for the brokenness of our world. We live in the world of the ashes, a world where innocents are murdered in the name of religion, a world where brother lifts hand against brother and snuffs out the most sacred of all gifts, life. I have not watched the video. I cannot bear to look at the stills of those orange-clad figures kneeling by the sea. The images have burned a hole in my memory, imprinting all the pain and sorrow and injustice that this world offers.

Yes, Lent is the world we live in. In the early days Lent was a time of preparation for babtism. And isn’t this a baptism of sorts? This full immersion in the broken, the sorrow, the anguish that is this hurting world? There is no escaping the injustice and the ugliness that claims us.

We are lost without Easter. We are lost without the grace of God.

Miles says, “And the only way out of it, on Ash Wednesday as on any day, is repentance. Not feeling bad, but changing. Not pouring ashes on your head in a fit of self-loathing, but allowing Jesus to gently spit into a handkerchief and scrub off your face.”

Change. Transformation. This is what belonging to Jesus means. That our hearts of stone will be made into soft clay. The Book of Common Prayer begins the Ash Wednesday liturgy with a prayer, and it seems a fitting way to end here. For no words of mine could ever capture the great weight we carry as citizens of heaven.

Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have
made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and
make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily
lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness,
may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission
and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives
and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever
and ever. Amen.