Thursday, June 9, 2011

exile (naming the loss)

My brain has felt like it's actually working these days, so I picked a book off of our shelf that we've had at least two years or longer.  It's by Walter Brueggemann, one of my favorite Old Testament scholars, called "Cadences of Home:  Preaching among Exiles".

walter b.

Exile.  I've had conversations with people who are actually living in exile, refugees who have fled from their native countries to seek safety and new life in a foreign city.  They have painful, even terrifying stories of chaos, instability, loss and often fleeing violence with their children on their backs.  Most people living as refugees that I've met have taken on this status because of war - whether in Iraq, Sudan, Afghanistan, or Somalia.  I really cannot imagine how painful their experience of displacement has been.

In the Old Testament, exile generally refers to the Jewish people whose sacred temple was destroyed and city seized in 587 BC, and they were taken to live in captivity in Babylon.  I had a professor who would often say of the exiles, "The dead ones were the lucky ones" as people would have been assaulted on many levels and death marched to their new home, occupied by their worst enemies.

Most of us, especially if you're reading this post, will never experience anything close to what a Jew at that time, nor my Iraqi friends have experienced.  But exile can also be used as a metaphor for those of us who have ever lost a "structured, reliable world" - it's not necessarily a geographic displacement, but it can be social, moral or cultural. Brueggemann says exile is an experience of the absence of God and moral incongruity - we experience things are not right in the world, not fair nor just.

Now that I know almost all of us can relate to.

It's when the devastating wave of chaos rushes in, leaving us in shock and disillusionment.  It's the heart-breaking loss of a parent, a friend, or a child, the end of an important relationship, sudden unemployment or an act of violence against us that leaves us scarred and insecure.  Finding ourselves face to face with poverty for the first time can do this.  It could even be an idea that challenges the foundations upon which we think our faith is hinged.

And we are left feeling extremely disoriented and usually, at the deepest level, alone.  I've walked through a fair share of grief in the past six years and even in marriage, the core of that pain is faced in solitude.

So Brueggemann is writing about this idea, although the aspect of exile he is addressing (that of the church in America) is different than what I want to focus on.  That's okay - he'll never know.

When we find ourselves in that place of exile, how do we live?  How do we move forward?  Those are some of the questions that I've been asking myself lately, and especially while reading this book.  And I love what Brueggemann recommends as the first task - " represent the catastrophe, to state what is happening by way of loss in vivid images so that the loss can be named by its right name and so that it can be publicly faced in the depth of its negativity." (p. 16)

We must name our losses.  For real.  The Old Testament book of Lamentations is the Jewish example of this in their exile experience.  Read it sometime.  It's pretty serious - full of distressing imagery and it ends with declarations that the people have been forsaken by the God who had covenanted Himself to them.  Extremely honest, extremely raw.  And we've decided it's inspired by God enough to be in the Bible.

A fairly recent experience for me of losing my 'reliable world' was nearly two years ago when we lost our first baby early in pregnancy.  Monday actually marks the day (June 13th) so I'm hoping to write more soon about our baby we barely knew but deeply loved, and our journey of loss.  But miscarriage (click to see an amazing piece of miscarriage art I stumbled upon) is a hard one in which to find enough appropriate spaces to share with people.  And most grief is like that, I reckon.

But a practice that I found extremely helpful in the months following our loss, and even occasionally these days, was "psalm" writing.  I sit down with a pen and my special journal reserved for such writing - and I write.  Just whatever is on my heart, whatever I would never say to anyone, whatever I'm feeling.  And I just write until I'm done.  And I don't edit it.  It's way less pressure than writing a 'poem' and the purpose is not for others to read them, so it's safe (although I do share them occasionally).  That's one way that I name my losses, and all the wretched feelings and thoughts that come with them.  

No euphemisms, no shallow responses or constantly smiling with tears behind our eyes.  Our first step towards healing and reconciliation is bold, unapologetic lament. 

I really, really, really, believe that the heart of God welcomes those sounds from our mouths - the bad words and wrong thoughts and groans.  She has room for it all and wants to bring authentic comfort - but we must be willing to expose our wounds.

Have you had an experience that's left you in exile?  Have you found life-giving ways to name your losses?  I would love to hear.

1 comment:

  1. My ways of naming, have varied greatly based on the time and place, but generally I have a journal specifically for writing without filters, which I'm intimidated by. Writing songs where I make up the lyrics as I go and never sing it the same way twice works too. Talking to close friends is a huge one as well. But man, there is no easy way. It's just a matter or survival that forces me through it. Ha.