Thursday, April 24, 2008

False and True

“Nothing human’s not a broth of false and true.”
“All’s lost. All’s found.”
—Godric, Frederick Buechner

The world of the gospel is often one of contradictions—lose your life in order to save it; the greatest is the servant of all; blessed are the ones who mourn. To grow a faith that is complex enough to sustain impossible questions, I often find myself lingering in the place of these contradictions. Rejecting the black-and-white answers of extremes, but standing in that place where I hold both things in my hand and consider how they can both be true at once, I find a kind of energy in the creative tension that these opposites produce.

In the midst of sorrow, there is also joy. In the midst of despair, there is also hope. In the midst of brokenness, there is also reconciliation. All these things can be true in equal measure and often at the very same time. There are moments I am brought to my knees with the weight of loss, and in the very next moment I find myself laughing at the lighthearted teasing of a friend. Moments I am filled with the unassailable mystery of the silence of God, and then again I am so convinced of his care for me that I am reduced to tears of praise and the only words I can choke out are “thank you, thank you…” Moments I am filled with grief at what seems an unredeemable break, yet at the same time I am grateful for the person I no longer see.

To live in the midst of these contradictions is the essence of what it is to be human. Frederick Buechner’s old saint Godric sums it up in these words: “Nothing human’s not a broth of false and true.” We live in the place where sin and sickness are mixed up in equal measure with holiness and grace. And in the midst of realizing everything we’ve lost, we discover with the joyous surprise of grace, all that we have at once and forever found.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Healing ... Or Not

“It felt like biting stones to learn that sometimes there’s no healing.”
—“Grace After Pressure,” Jaqueline McLeod Rogers

“Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then is there no healing for the wound of my people?”
—Jeremiah 8:22

It’s one thing to agree, in theory, that you believe in the reconciliation of opposites, that two seemingly contrary things can be true at the same time. But it’s another to really live out that belief in the gritty everyday-ness of your life. For me, I can state two seeming opposites that I hold with almost equal weight:
  1. I believe prayer can heal.
  2. I believe that sometimes there is no healing.
Maybe these aren’t as opposite as they may seem. Point 1 simply states a possibility for healing, not an inevitable and absolutely certain result. There is at least the possibility that healing prayer is not answered, and that finality is the place of point 2. You pray, and you are not healed. And you live with it.

My life was irrevocably changed through a time of healing and that happened almost entirely through prayer—both my own prayers and those of brothers and sisters offered on my behalf. It is no small exaggeration to say that those prayers and that period of time changed me, healed me, and renewed my faith in God as loving and good.

And yet. There is part of me that assumed the end of that time of healing would be the end of a certain kind of pain. That God, in his mercy, would simply lift that burden off me once and for all and I would know at last what it was like to be free, to be whole. But there are some wounds that don’t heal. And the recognition of that, alongside an ongoing belief in the certainty of a loving God, is like biting stones.

God loves me. Prayer heals … but not always. And I wonder: why not me? A process of change in my life (one that again is much easier to agree with in the abstract than to live out) has included a new appreciation of the suffering of Christ, and a willingness to live in and through my own suffering. To know there are things that will never fully be healed, to feel the pain of it again some days as sharp as though it just happened, and yet to go on believing is to put myself in a place where I may finally be open enough to see what faith really means, what life as a follower of Jesus may require: the willingness on the one hand to pray, believing that anything is possible, and on the other hand to be humble enough to eat stones if that “anything” never comes. And proclaim with voice firm (or wavering, but proclaiming it nonetheless): “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him” (Job 13:15).

Thursday, April 10, 2008

In Praise of the Back Burner

“Be properly scared and go on doing what you have to do.”
—Flannery O’ Connor

I have no idea if my cat Zelda is scared, but I can think of lots of reasons she might be. She lives in the house with 4 other pets, including a large black dog who tries desperately to be her friend and a large pushy cat who does not want to be her friend and eats all the food before she can get to it. Besides all that, Zelda has lived in 4 different houses and moved with us 3 times, including a 4-day cross-country trek to Canada. By nature, she is not a super-friendly cat and we have to warn our guests not to get too close lest they be scratched. So I’m guessing all this stress has taken its toll.

But one thing she does know, and that’s how to take Flannery O’Connor’s advice and “be scared” but go on doing what she has to do. And one of the things she has to do is find heat wherever she can to warm her skinny little body. Sometimes that’s found in my lap, but often it’s found on the stove after we’ve cooked something in the oven. And when she finds that warmth, she stretches out, blinks her eyes with contentment, and soaks up whatever heat is left until it’s gone.

Like her, I also try keep going, to let myself be scared, but then put things on the “back burner” in order to go on doing what I have to do. The advantage of putting things on the back burner (even temporarily) is it gets you near the stove. And when you’re near the stove, you’re more likely to soak up a little excess heat. Which sometimes is precisely what it takes to let yourself be scared and precisely what you need to go on doing what you have to do.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Choosing the Hard Thing

My son begged to get a “grow-your-own sea creatures” kit from his school book order. The tiny creatures are called triops, and they are some kind of tiny shrimp that date to prehistoric times. The thing is, they live only about 2 weeks. So my first reaction was NO WAY. Not only do we already have 5 pets in the house, but adding another batch that were likely to live only 2 weeks was to my mind not at all worth the fuss. Why would we want to go through that?

Well, my son’s enthusiasm and love for science won out and he convinced me to let him spend his money on this kit. “You know they only live 2 weeks, right?” I asked, checking that he understood what he was getting into. “Yes,” he said simply. “But Mom,” he said with shining eyes, “when else do you get the chance to see an actual, living prehistoric creature?!” The tiny creatures hatched and to my horror, my son began to name them. His attachment was deep and instant and I could see already how this would end … badly. Soon, the largest one had eaten all his siblings. He darted quickly around the tank, so he was named “Missile.” Jon checked on him every day, talked to him, fed him, and even made drawings and wrote observations on his behaviors like a true scientist.

Then, true to all advertised info, the little guy died after 2 1/2 weeks. Jon was sad. Very sad. But he talked about how much he learned, how beautiful Missile was, and how much he would love to do it again.

As a mom, I wanted to spare him the pain of death; I wanted to keep things stable and happy, which for me seemed a greater good. But as a child, he taught me how much I miss, how much it’s totally worth it to do the hard thing even if our hearts twist and our hands shake as we do it, because prehistoric creatures are so cool and even though you cry when they die it’s worth it because you got to SEE them!

Thank God for so much beauty and for the heart of child ready to risk pain in order to see it.