Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Forced Sabbath and Unexpected Treasures


Recently I was forced to sabbath.  Foot surgery required that I remain essentially immobile for two weeks – the first week with my foot above my heart 95% of the time, and the second week with some sitting allowed.

I prepared well for this - lining up subs, help and back up, welcoming meal offers and  carpool volunteers, emptying my calendar and filling my kindle, buying easy snacks and soliciting advice for shows on Netflix.  I was ready. Commence Operation Foot Surgery.

The first week after surgery I had a purpose: obey doctor's orders, stay in bed, heal.  I did that as hard as I could; totally productive non-productivity.
 
Day 2: 

I am KILLING this whole elevation, icing, sleep, pills, snacks and streaming old episodes of the Good Wife thing. Like a PRO. Competitive recovery. Pretty sure I could medal.

Gradually, the family got used to me being/not being there, and went on with an adapted form of life as usual. I was visited periodically, but not a participant in the daily life happening within earshot.  I was given a peek at the dynamics and rhythms that the three of them get into without me in the center, directing traffic.  It made me feel strangely satisfied and content.

Day 6:

Surprised by the unexpected joy of being an eavesdropper in my own house. Listening to the funny comments and "unimportant" conversations I ordinarily miss, the daily patterns of waking up and heading out, returning home and bubbling over, and the soothing domestic sounds of clinking dishes, running water, doors opening and closing, and people humming to themselves. Feeling full and grateful for the buzzing ordinary life around me. ‪#‎bedriddenblessings  ‪#‎daysix  ‪#‎notboredyet

After the first week, things got thornier. 
My humanity was a constant companion - the feel of sweaty sheets and achey joints, the difficulty of doing everything – bathing, dressing, getting to and from the restroom, the taunting sound of conversation and smell of food cooking downstairs without me, my own spinning mind and internal chatter.  
I was off the pain meds and able to sit up and work from home, and so hurdled headlong into all my other hidden expectations. Oh, you thought you'd be productive, then? You were secretly planning on writing? Reading a bunch of good books? Having something impressive to "show" for this time?  
I felt horribly guilty for my non-doing and acutely uncomfortable with how vulnerable it was to rely on others for everything.  Neighbors, friends and congregants stopped by with soup, flowers, conversation.  One person called down the street for a fancy meal the kids picked up and brought home, and another sent a gift basket filled with delicious and useful things.  Upon hearing that I had not had coffee for the first week, a neighbor began showing up every morning with a fresh-brewed thermos of coffee.  The kindness was overwhelming, amazing, uncomfortable.  I found myself vacillating between wanting to hunker down and hide, and being so appreciative of it all.  

Day 9:

I came outside today for the first time since April 26. It's so beautiful I cried. ‪#‎ninedaysdown‪#‎fivetogo.


Eventually I was up and about again. And I am now  easing back into everything with a ridiculous shoe and slow gait, trying to be patient with the healing process. And I've been anxious, tense and irritable.  
I was surprised today to realize I am grieving what I've missed. I missed the world's transition into full-fledged Spring, bursting into bloom and green, with the fairy garden being set up and the bikes being taken out. I missed running with my daughter in running club, and going with my son on his weeklong 5th grade wilderness field trip. 
I was here but not here.  I always want to be fully here. 

But today I made room for the grief and disappointment without scolding or censoring it. And I was surprised to discover that shortly after welcoming my sadness, there appeared right behind it, patiently waiting for me to embrace my sorrow long enough to reach through it, a stunning awareness.  

I didn't miss Spring - I had Spring differently this year. The heavy scent of the neighbor's formidable wall of lilacs floated through my bedroom windows and surrounded me day and night. The glimpse out the front window of the tiny buildings and paths winding around the oak tree that my girl thoughtfully arranged all by herself set the tiny magical neighborhood for the flowers we would plant together a few weeks later.

I didn’t miss out on running club, I did it from the sidelines - watching my daughter find a new passion.  Out from the shadow of big brother and the comforting presence of mom running alongside her she broke open the shell of mopey, partial interest of previous years.  Enchanted, I watched her come home day after day and coax Dad to go running with her so she could keep training.  And I cheered her at the finish line and promised her I would recruit a backup chaperone for her when she asked to sign up for a local 5K in a few weeks that I wont be able to run with her.

I didn’t miss my son’s big wilderness trip – I got to be his cheerleader.  I helped him wonder and dream and plan and pack; I sneaked a note into his bag, and dropped him off at the bus, waving goodbye to his anxious, hopeful face pressed against the window, breathing prayers of gratitude for all he will experience this week, and trusting him to find his way on this adventure. 

I didn’t miss life.  I got to experience life differently. My daughter bought me a coloring book and in the evenings before bed, she curled up next to me to color. My son made and delivered oatmeal to me every morning for two weeks, carrying it up on a pretty tray and laying it gently on my lap. My husband sat in a rocking chair across from my bed night after night, and we talked - about nothing and everything - like the delicious, rambling talks we used to have way back before we knew our lives would be part of each other’s forever.  

These utterly unexpected treasures will go with me. I will look back on them with the same fondness and nostalgia I have for the unexpected treasures of sleepless nights with infants, cranky plane rides with toddlers, and the incessant questions that filled the preschool days.

Life is always a gift. 
The life we have right now is filled with gift.  
In the midst of resting, stopping, and trusting others and being cared for, I received a great gift.  And disappointment, embarrassment, impatience, frustration, and thwarted expectations don’t stop, in any way, the gift from coming.


So, here’s to the forced Sabbaths too. 
The ones that make you rest longer than you’d like to, and say no to more than you’d choose to.  They too remind us who we are and whose we are, even when we don’t realize that’s what we’re in it for.  
And here’s to life’s relentless, unstoppable gift-giving.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Even so, and forevermore



They fled from the tomb terrified and bewildered and said nothing to anyone because they were afraid.
This is it, folks.
This is how Mark tells the story.
It’s so awkward and jarring that some time around the second century a few other endings were created for the book that smoothed it out - made it more clean and palatable, with the disciples and the women on board with it all, and Jesus appearing so it could be validated that he had indeed risen.
But it is nearly universally agreed that originally, this is just how Mark ended not just the passion narrative, but the whole book of Mark.  They fled from the tomb terrified and bewildered and said nothing to anyone because they were afraid.

Alleluia!

I actually love that Mark does this. And that it makes future Christians so uncomfortable.
We like to read the bible for how we’re supposed to be; we compare ourselves and think it is meant to tell us what we should believe or should do, but Mark doesn’t really let us do that, because in Mark all of Jesus’ followers are such terrible examples of faith as we like to think about it, that there isn’t much to aspire to.

Because this isn’t a story about us. Or about them. Or about a religion, or a belief system, or a way to live and behave.
This is the story of God. God with us. God who keeps on breaking through all our expectations and rules for how God should be.

First God comes in, to share this life with us. What?
And then God dies, by literally allowing those God created and loves, torture, betray and kill him. Who is writing this script? 
And then just when it’s all over, when these dear women are in grief, with all the comforting and familiar rituals that attend to it, and adjusting, as we do when death rearranges the future, when their hopes and aspirations have been reduced to literally what is right in front of them – how will we move the big rock? –suddenly the fabric of all that makes sense is ripped open before them.

And I love how it’s told. When they get there and the rock is already moved for them, they step gingerly into the tomb and see this young man, calmly sitting there, and the text says, “they are alarmed.”  And so he says with a steady, even-keel voice, “Do not be alarmed.” And then he walks them through it gently and carefully as possible:
You (pointing at them) are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.
He has been raised; he is not here.
Look, (pointing across from him) there is the place they laid him.
But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.’

And they back out of the tomb slowly, perhaps stumbling over each other and tripping at the entrance, where adrenaline kicks in and they drop their parcels, hike up their skirts and high tail it out of there. And then, they said nothing to anyone because this is the most terrifying thing to ever confront them.

And I don’t think those women fleeing are so different than we are, because we flee too, just in semantics and symbols - we sing of victory and triumph, and turn resurrection into another thing to make us feel secure or safe – like eternal insurance, a policy we start paying on now that will pay off in the end, and make the risen Jesus into an idea that helps us back to the security, safety and success that we really worship.

But Mark’s telling of the story doesn’t let us do that.  He makes us sit in the discomfort of their fear and confusion, and shows us that the gospel is anything but business as usual. And this is uncomfortable.
Because is no human logic in any of it.
Why should God come among us?
Why should God die with us, for us, by our hand?

It is only love. The logic of love.
God is determined that nothing, not ever, can separate us from God.
And when we say that Jesus came to save us from sin, we are not saying that we are bad and dirty people who need to be washed by a blood sacrifice to be saved.  We are saying that given the choice, we will most often choose ourselves over others.  Given the choice, we will most often choose comfort over generosity.  Given the choice - and we are given the choice - we will most often choose to protect and preserve or placate ourselves at the expense of anyone else. Safety. Security. Success. We will claw toward those things even if it eats our souls out, and we will step on others’ faces to keep our own above water.

This is what sin is.  Sin is whatever blocks us off from God and each other, whatever tells us we are not worthy of God’s love, or that we are but someone else is not. Sin is what breeds competition and fear, isolation, self-centeredness and destruction..

God made the whole world to be a reflection of God’s love and creativity – every part fitting together, all the wild and wonderful variety of creation and humanity lifting up and supporting one another so that all are fed, all are clothed, all are known and seen and valued, and every voice gets to speak and every person gets to feel what it means to be seen and known, and to see and know others, and to be lavishly generous and fearlessly open-hearted creatures made in the image of God.
But we are suspicious of such things, and we’re pretty sure that if we let our guard down we’ll get screwed, so we turn on each other, and insulate ourselves, and shut out God, and that is what sin is – it is that thing that says, I don’t need you, to God, and to each other. 

And I don’t know about you – but I need saving from that. 
And when I look at this world – this precious, breathtaking world, and I hear the languages and music and see the faces, so alike and so different, reflections of souls, and let myself begin to witness the astonishing ways love is lived all over this planet,
when I stop and recognize God’s creativity poured out and painted in vast canvas and intricate detail of color and noise and tastes and smells and more beauty and joy than any one of us could take in in a thousand lifetimes,
and appreciate that it’s all given freely, it’s all a giant welcome to us from God, a gift to enjoy together, that it’s all meant to be shared with all these fellow creatures made in God’s image, capable of incredible depths of love and pain and hope and vision –
and instead I see people fleeing across oceans from villages decimated by violence and brutality, and putting up laws and walls and barriers and blockades to protect the strong from the onslaught of the weak, and steeping ourselves in cruelty and corruption and callousness and killing and cutthroat competition, oh my God, save us please! Jesus, come and save us!

God does. Not by rescuing some out of it but by plunging right into it, right alongside us all. There is nothing - no suffering or pain, no sorrow or loss - that God does not take directly into God’s heart. And the biggest threat of all, the one all others are designed to either mimic or combat, is death. And so, Jesus goes there. He goes right to the furthest most terrifying place. 

And by our logic, it makes no sense.
But our logic is flawed.
Because we think it’s about climbing, and advancing, and avoiding death, and pain. But that’s not what it’s about. We’re made to sink in and slow down and open up and be with each other in whatever comes, because that is where love is. That is where hope is.  That is where truth is.  And life.  And Jesus.
Jesus is right there. In those places.

I love that the women fled in terror and bewilderment and didn’t say a word to a single soul because they were afraid. Of course that’s what they did. Who among us would do otherwise?
But reality doesn’t hinge on their reaction in this moment. They don’t hold the reigns, God does. They don’t have the power to change the story or take the truth off course.
Christ has risen!  And it’s nobody’s job to convince anyone of that. Because a risen Christ means a living God and God is out there, out here, meeting us in the flesh, summoning us to love, releasing us from sin and bondage, reorienting us to the real reality, the Kingdom of God that endures forever.

Watch for the risen Jesus! If he looks like fear and condemnation, that’s not him, keep looking. 

But where you see forgiveness and mercy, there he is. 
Where you see compassion and generosity, Jesus is there. 
Where you notice people coming alongside each other and bearing each other’s burdens – there is the body of Christ, God’s kingdom in the flesh.

I’ve started tagging things I see on Facebook with ‘The kingdom of God is like…” 
...Pope Francis washing immigrants’ feet, Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, and calling them sisters and brothers, children of God.

The kingdom of God is like… a woman on a subway sitting next to a stranger who is agitated, talking to himself, eyes darting around in fear, his body rocking, and because she’s a mom and recognizes that this man is someone’s son, she gently reaches out and takes his hand in her own, and he calms down and rests beside her. 

The kingdom of God is like… 300 union plumbers volunteering a whole weekend to install water filters in homes in Flint, MI, because they have this skill to give and this community is filled with people who need it. 

The kingdom of God is like… a cook and a janitor staying on when the rest of the staff leaves an assisted care home that has closed, but a few residents remain with nowhere to go, so these two men care for the patients around the clock for several days until the fire department and sheriff take over, and when asked why, one of them replies,  When I was a child I was abandoned, and I know what that is. I was I was not going to do that to them.” 

The kingdom of God is like… locals at the Mexican- US border using the border fence- meant to keep people separated and secure - as a giant volleyball net, connecting them like neighborhood children.

The kingdom of God is like… 40 farmers with tractors showing up one morning on the fields of a neighbor who is laid up with cancer, and while he and his family look on, harvesting all their crops, because we all belong to each other.

The kingdom of God is like… my own neighbor, on a day when life feels fragile and scary, telling me to come over and bring a bowl, then filling it with soup from a giant pot on her stove, and then the two of us standing there hugging, feeling the truth that we are not alone, and that life is for sharing.

Jesus embodies and brings the kingdom of God, and when he dies, and rises from the dead, the kingdom of God persists and spreads and invades the whole earth and it is unfolding right now all around us and between us. 

This thing God is doing is not going to stop. 
God is never going to leave or forsake us, and this life is utterly infused with, and irreversibly headed toward, love, where it began and where it will end.

This is not a hypothetical thing.
God is here. Right here. In this room. Meeting us in the space between us, in the love within us, in the longing that draws us toward hope.  
And God is out there. In the very middle of every sad and scary thing, with each lonely and frightened person, in every corner of this earth: Jesus has risen, and there is nowhere that God is not present.

And if you want to see God, if you want to touch God and hear God and feel God, then join God.  Don’t turn your back on someone else’s pain or questions.  Don’t close your eyes to the beauty around you; don’t get caught up in the lies that seek to own you about your own worth or someone else’s, or what makes for a good life. 

But here’s the truth about our sin and our need for saving: You will turn your back on someone else’ pain and questions, and you will close your eyes to the beauty, and you will get caught up in the lies.  You will deny him three times before the rooster crows.

So hear the good news of the gospel: while we are still sinful, that is, while we are still buying into the lie and closing ourselves off from others and from God, Jesus comes into it all for us, with us, and takes on every single thing that divides, distracts and destroy us.  God takes on death and bears it into the very heart of God. 
And then, when death seems like the biggest and most true thing of all, resurrection interrupts the deceptive narrative and says, nope, you’re wrong - life wins and love prevails.

You and I are going to forget this, and even flee from it from time to time in terror and confusion, but nevertheless, it is true.  And it’s not up to us to make it so.  It keeps on being true, and God keeps on being here, and love keeps on being the most real thing, and no amount of our fleeing or fearing can keep us from being part of the true story. 

Because this isn’t a story about us, or about them. Or about a religion, or a belief system, or a way to live and behave.  This is the story of God. God with us, Jesus, who join us, whom death could not hold back, who is out there in the world waiting for us to join him.

Go now, the calm man sitting in the tomb tells the alarmed women, tell the disciples (and especially Peter!, the one who thought he made himself unworthy by denying Jesus!), tell them all, that Jesus is alive and out ahead of you.  Go home and you will see him there.

The kingdom of God is among us, it is between us and around us and out in the world, and it is not our job to make that so, it is so. 
 So go bravely into your life, go unreservedly into the world, and watch for the risen Lord; go and you will see Jesus there.

Amen.