I AM the mournful wail at midnight.Poem fragment, from writing exercise.
I AM the knife, the bottleneck on the strings.
I AM the dark night, and I am the walker.
I AM the cold ground, and I am the one sleeping.
I AM the wail.
I AM the flat five.
I AM the blue note.
In that day you will say:Isaiah 12
“I will praise you, Lord.
Although you were angry with me,
your anger has turned away
and you have comforted me.
2 Surely God is my salvation;
I will trust and not be afraid.
The Lord, the Lord himself, is my strength and my defense;
he has become my salvation.”
3 With joy you will draw water
from the wells of salvation.
4 In that day you will say:
“Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name;
make known among the nations what he has done,
and proclaim that his name is exalted.
5 Sing to the Lord, for he has done glorious things;
let this be known to all the world.
6 Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion,
for great is the Holy One of Israel among you.”
13 “Keep silent and let me speak;Job Chapter 13
then let come to me what may.
14 Why do I put myself in jeopardy
and take my life in my hands?
15 Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him;
I will surely[a] defend my ways to his face.
16 Indeed, this will turn out for my deliverance,
for no godless person would dare come before him!
17 Listen carefully to what I say;
let my words ring in your ears.
18 Now that I have prepared my case,
I know I will be vindicated.
19 Can anyone bring charges against me?
If so, I will be silent and die.
We must be consumed either by the anger of the storm god or by the love of the living God. There is no way around life and its sufferings. Our only choice is whether we will be consumed by the fire of our own heedless fears and passions or allow God to refine us in his fire and to shape us into a fitting instrument for his revelation.Thomas Cahill, The Gifts of the Jews
I was talking with a friend yesterday, and we were talking about the humbling experience of repeatedly forgetting the basics of how to live life. Regardless of whether you learn them in kindergarten or whenever, life in a way just isn’t all that complicated. I’ve repeated this to hundreds, if not thousands, of people over the years, and yet over and over again, I find myself either forgetting the simple truths or (more commonly) simply failing to live them out.
My friend and I were talking about what it’s like to stumble over and over again, and while we both recognized that it’s not like “starting over” on your education in life, it can be frustrating when you discover that you’re making the same mistake—either in thinking or behavior—that you made at 19, then again at 29, then again 39, and so on and so on.
Kind of like I did this weekend.
After a weekend of loss—my uncle David, my father’s youngest brother—passed away on Friday, I was struggling. Specifically I was struggling to give in to the grief, sorrow, and regret that was stirring around my soul (which is worth another blog post—and counseling sessions as well).
The storm of emotions kept building up throughout Saturday, and even overnight, as I tossed and turned and waited for a sleep that never really came.
I awoke on Sunday even more “sideways” than I was on Saturday (and now combined with a bit of sleep deprivation).
Eventually I broke down, and received the blessings of both tears as well as the prayers, support, and healing embrace of my faith community, and it was deeply effective in calming the turbulence inside my spirit.
But I still had a lot to learn.
Later on Sunday evening, I was still reflecting over the weekend, and it occurred to me that, alongside my general hesitancy to just “feel my feelings” was a perception I had saddled onto myself: I realized that I was not allowing myself to weep or grieve because somehow I had told myself that “As the point leader in this community I HAVE to ‘be strong’, which means I should NOT tell people about my sadness, and CERTAINLY not reveal my fragility.”
What’s more, I also realized in this moment that right alongside this statement about leadership was a (false) belief in what it meant to be “mature”: Namely, that a “mature (male?) leader handles loss and grief with a stoic, granite strength.”.
Don’t ask me where it all comes from; there’s really not enough time to process all the sources of that toxic brew.
Regardless of where it comes from, the bottom line is that at the depth of my being, in the TRUEST (holiest?) part of my being I AM NOT A STOIC.
I AM NOT GRANITE.
You know what?
I cry at Disney movies.
Tears well up in my eyes when I hear “Moonlight Mile”, the closing track on the Rolling Stones’ album STICKY FINGERS.
I derive significant joy from a beautiful morning. When the temperature is slightly brisk, and the sunrise is beautiful, and there is life and possibility and promise, my soul sings and smile is quick to come.
I was in the middle of a six mile run when I started balling to a song by Journey. BY JOURNEY!
I ache and break whenever I have to tell someone that they have failed me, or “missed the mark” in their job and/or ministry.
My heart hurts that I can’t see my daughter every day while she’s away at school, yet when she’s home I struggle to know what to say to her or how to have a deep, soul-revealing conversation with her.
If I’m honest, my heart is so open that it is on the verge of bursting and spilling over at virtually any part of any day.
However, it’s also so open that it is very easy—VERY EASY—to hurt me.
To put this in terms of the LORD OF THE RINGS movies (yes, I cry during them as well), though I definitely aspire to be (and in all honesty I have a little bit of in my personality) ARAGORN, the truth of the matter is I’m much more like Peregrin “Pippin” Took, or even Samwise, vulnerable figures who aren’t really cut out for the world they find themselves living in, much less for conflict and mission they must navigate.
Open, tender-hearted people.
The scene between Pippin and Gandalf—standing on a balcony in Minas Tirith before the great battle there—is more true of me and my relationship to God than you could ever know (though honestly I don’t even usually end up feeling as reassured as Pippin does).
I tell people—PARTICULARLY MEN—about being vulnerable, about being emotionally vulnerable, about living AND LEADING with heart and soul.
And yet I forgot it. Probably not for the first time.
How much do you rely on your spiritual life to “make” God love you?
How much do you rely on your worship, or your prayers, to earn God’s favor?
To put it another way, what happens when you can’t sing? Or when your prayer is just a silent desperation?
Sometimes, life is just too much, and it’s just too difficult to sing the songs, or to engage in your typical practices.
When that happens, listen to the voices that show up in your head; watch what tapes start to play: it’s entirely possible that what you will hear in that moment is some version of, “God is not pleased with you right now because you are not worshiping/praying/serving/etc.”
(This is a paraphrased, polite version of what they might sound like.)
But worship and prayer and other spiritual activities are never, EVER meant to “get God to love you”; He JUST LOVES YOU.
The thing that your spiritual efforts and disciplines are supposed to do is to open up space in your heart and soul in which God can dwell, to widen the conduit through which grace and Spirit can flow.
So when you don’t—or can’t—sing, don’t fall into the trap of self-condemnation. The voices that tell you that “God only likes you” if you somehow “perform” spiritually are not true, and a lie.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit”, indeed.
Neil Young said it well:
“But only love can break your heart;
Try to be sure right from the start.
Yes, only love can break your heart,
But if your world should fall apart…”
In your vocation—if you do it and live it right—your heart will be broken, sometimes over and over again.
Even though it’s not physical, as it was with Paul when Jesus told him in the Book of Acts, “I’ll show you how much you must suffer for my name,” it is painful nonetheless.
When you live life with an open heart, when you do your work open-handed and innocent, you will experience pain.
The cuts will come. Betrayals, sometime innocuous and sometimes devastating, are a simple part of living with other humans.
So be prepared to weep and moan.
But remember: “if your world should fall apart” (and it will), there is a deeper love that exists.
That of a Father who’s embrace never hesitates.
That of a faithful Brother who gave up everything for love, for you.
That of a Sister and Spirit, who is with you always as guide, comforter, counselor.
So love on, brother. Do your best. To be broken—to mourn and grieve—is to be human, but you can always drink from the deeper waters of eternity, and dwell INSIDE the protective, WOMB-LIKE love of the Great Mystery, the “Father-in-the-Heavens” whose love is DECIDEDLY and REFRESHINGLY UNLIKE human love.
(And a lot, lot better.)