Saturday, April 27, 2013

The words we say when God is dead.

"He whose soul remains ever turned toward God though the nail pierces
it finds himself nailed to the very center of the universe.  It is the
true center; it is not in the middle; it is beyond space and time; it
is God.  In a dimension that does not belong to space, that is not
time, that is indeed quite a different dimension, this nail has
pierced cleanly through all creation, through the thickness of the
screen separating the soul from God" -- Simone Weil, Waiting for God
Grief
Grief (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I wonder about the ways that we share the experience of grief, and the ways that we never will.  Grief is always, on some level, a solitary thing.  No one else has your map, even when the territory is shared.  No one else is behind your eyes or in the recesses of your heart, connecting memories to fears and feeling the emotions of this present moment, passing now.

Even in shared trauma or loss, no one else has experienced exactly what you've experienced.  You were injured in the same accident, abused at the same age, devastated by the same earthquake - still your experience of grief is unique.  I think that's why the country of grief is often a lonely place.

I shared a trauma with seventeen people physically impacted and hundreds more directly affected by the subsequent chaos and loss.  A horrific car accident in Nigeria, December 2005, killed eight of my friends while nine of us survived.  Some of those dear people are still physically recovering even today; some may wear trauma on their bodies until the earth itself is made new.

As consciousness returned and stories unraveled, as months past and emails flew one thing was clear - it was the same van hitting a truck driven irresponsibly that impacted us all, but each of us felt and processed the event differently. And not only us, but moms and dads, siblings and friends of those in the van, leaders in our organization and people who caught wind of the tragedy from far away, whose hearts were broken as well.  We all had loss to grieve.  We all had ache in our hearts, some of us in our bodies.  And we all had a different story to tell, our own description of the events and the state of our minds in the aftermath.  Especially if you ask why it happened.

The "why" of any traumatic event is a complex and emotional topic.  Some people think our accident was wrapped up in spiritual warfare, others an avenue of redemption in that country or some part of God's greater plan.  Others think it's just life in West Africa, a terrible accident, a work of potholes, poor decisions, gravity and chaos.   Most of us directly involved would probably sense that even our own processing of that very bloody Sunday has changed, has evolved, as healing comes slowly.  Grief is like that, healing in layers and years.  Traumatic events have no easy answers to the "why" question.  There are lots of reasons why bad things happen, and none of them are good reasons, none are enough to eradicate pain.

I'm wondering if that can be said for our understanding of Jesus' work on the cross.  My husband recently posted an article on our Facebook page that brought a different-than-usual perspective to ideas of sin, shame and what Good Friday means for us.  I didn't find it that controversial, just an angle (written for a very wide audience) that brought some new light, new ways of thinking.  The post on our wall received about 75 comments from a good handful of people, a friendly dialogue (with actual friends of ours) about the meaning of the cross: what happened, why it happened and how we are now meant to live.  Everyone had a different perspective and held to it passionately.  My husband stayed up late reading and replying.  (I think that boy needs a blog.  Some of his comment lengths were a bit out of control.)

Historically there are different perspectives on Christian atonement, how humanity is reconciled with God through the life, death and ressurrection of Jesus.   A quick google search will give you at least seven views on this and there are more emerging.  There are plenty of verses to quote and theologians to employ and maybe some aspects are so important that it's worth debating over.  I won't dismiss the hard work of theology and it's role in shaping the way we think and hopefully live.  

But I wonder if part of our experience of the cross is an experience of grief.  I remember being with a group of friends, working in an Indian hospital, overwhelmed by the pain and suffering we saw daily.  We stayed together one morning and read through the gospel of Luke, which is Luke's account of Jesus life and teachings.  I wrote about it here.  Those were powerful hours as we were immersed more deeply in the story than ever before.  When Jesus was being executed I cried, maybe for the first time in my life, I cried hard tears for his death.  I felt the brutality, the injustice, the godforsakenness of that dark Friday.  I felt the loss on behalf of a world in great need.

As starchy as atonement theories can get, we are a people who need to grieve.  What do we say when God is dead in the world, if only for a short while?  We live now in that "Holy Saturday", between death's daily assaults and the world's final resurrection.  Creation groans with labour pains and we do too.  We wait for God to come and rescue us as He makes home here, laying a foundation of justice and mercy and truth over our corruption and exploitation.  We truly live with an inexhaustible hope, but when we are quiet to creation's chorus and honest with our deepest heart, the reality of today is full of grief.

And everything I know of grief says we experience things differently, we interpret events differently, and ultimately as we grow and change our understandings change too.  The cross of Jesus means different things to me now at 31 than it did when I was 18 (and knew everything).  And I anticipate even more change coming as I read the Story in new cultures, hear the songs in different languages, see oppression and resurrection on all corners of the earth.  Educated white men do not have the last word on the cross.

Ask a woman who lost her toddler to diarrhea, a father whose son was killed by gun violence, a soldier whose seen the devastation of war.  Ask a nun who cares for the dying in India, a child whose been trafficked by their parents into sex slavery, a boy whose lost his mom to undiagnosed cancer in a slum.  Ask your teenage neighbour, the shop owner down the street, the lady sitting two pews over in church.  Most of us come to realize that the world is not a safe and happy place.  The nails have pierced cleanly through us as well. 

In our experiences of grief we can be grafted into Jesus' own experience–the utter abandonment he felt on the cross, the separation from everything right and just and true, fully given over to a violent, raging world.  As we read the Bible and books, converse about theories and perspectives, let us open our hearts wide and trace our fingers along our own scars.  If we engage the world's pain (and our own) and somehow stay, as Simone Weil writes, "ever turned towards God though the nail pierces", though we don't understand why, we speak Truth more powerfully than doctrines or theories ever will.

Let's tell our reconciliation stories with courage as we stay in the painful wait of Holy Saturday, alongside a world pregnant and longing for all things new.
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Sunday, April 21, 2013

my teachers these days: a book, two blogs and some kids.

the kids.  get it?


I'm currently in SE Asia and while there are some challenges to being here with two toddlers, there is also a lot that is, as my son would say, "pretty fantastic".  Like being able to take them to the zoos for a total of $3.  My son thinks elephant-riding is normal.  My daughter roars like the tigers she has seen pacing in cages (yes, sad).  My kids really love animals–they get it from their dad.  It's pretty special to be able to visit some pretty cool animals for 1/30th of the cost it would be at home.  Did I mention we also have access to some of the best food in the world for a few dollars a night?  Oh, and kind, smiling and crazy-child excusing people everywhere?   Yes, that too.

I thought I'd share a few things that are stirring my heart this days: giving me new ways to process, new concepts through which to articulate and some new reasons to just stop, settle down a bit and be aware and grateful. 

Thanks to D. L. Mayfield's recommendation, my husband bought me copy of Katherine Boo's "Beyond the Beautiful Forevers" for my birthday.  And I gobbled it all up.  I got lost in the Mumbai slum community she writes about every spare moment I had.  (I'm currently house-sharing with a family who also has two small children, so spare moments are few.)  Boo digs far beneath the colourful sarees and extreme poverty, looking at the slum's living and dying in the larger context of global economic struggle, with all the corruption, fear and self-preservation that it brings.  If you dare read this story you will meet complex (real) people who labour and love, fight and reconcile, despair and celebrate and ultimately survive as well as their environment will allow.  Boo calls her work "narrative non-fiction" as she spent years with this community, interviewing, documenting, watching, asking and writing–and while the people she wrote about knew her story wouldn't be pretty, they still let her in.  That is why what she writes is true, and we need much more truth communicated in media than we are used to.

I stumbled upon a blogger called "Jess in Process" -  she's a writer and mother who recently lost her 4 year old, Henry, to brain cancer.  She is vulnerably and publicly processing through her grief and ache and inexhaustible loss by writing on her blog: about the world and senseless suffering and how God can somehow, without pre-ordaining anything evil, still bring meaning and purpose through it.  I appreciate the work of Ivy league educated theologians and how they shape the way we see God and the world, but sometimes I more appreciate the "back-door theology" of mothers who suffer great loss, walk with God through it, and let us in on those conversations.

Another blog that I've been following closely for the past year is a real-life friend of mine, Michaela Evanow.  Michaela and her husband live in Vancouver, Canada, and she's one of those people who sees the world as if its all lit up. We traveled for a year in community together when we were both younger and single-er, drinking chai on back streets and designing tailor-made punjabis, laughing and crying lots.  She's passionate and fiery, a lover of tastes and textures and colours and sounds, her writing brings you in close whether she is sharing a new recipe or writing about her baby girl, Florence Marigold.  When Florence was 3 1/2 months old Michaela noticed she wasn't meeting some milestones and a fairly routine check-up resulted in Florence being given the diagnosis of SMA, Type 1.  Florence turned one in March and is thriving.  I was able to spend a few hours with her and Michaela this December.  Florence is one of those soul-searching children, with eyes that will change you if you look at them for too long; she is a little girl who knows a lot.

Michaela has been on a journey that I don't know anyone else on.  And she writes about it.  She is living in the dynamic, painful tension of trusting that it's God's will to heal Florence and asking for and expecting that healing to come daily while also loving Florence exactly how she is, noticing and celebrating the small victories although her experiences are nothing like those of moms around her.  And while Florence is completely dependent on Michaela, lacking the strength to do very much at all for herself, as I've read Michaela's words this year I can see that Florence is saving her.  Florence's condition has opened Michaela's heart up wide, to depths I can't imagine, and Michaela writes with brutal honesty: about her dreams, what she feels God speaking, her darkest fears, and the sunlight and shadows that make up her every day.  Florence is saving Michaela because Michaela is "loving past the pain and in the weakest places".  And that's what makes us all more fully who we are meant to be.

This is a week full of suffering, as most of the world's weeks have always been since she was born.  Bombs rip through our bodies and sense of safety, devastating so many families in so many parts of the world.  Mothers weep for children with blood on their bodies and blood on their hands.  The world is a dreadful place most of the time, and somehow it's still glorious and worth risking to love.  I write from a privileged place with my basic needs met and also my deeper needs of community, love, acceptance and space to create and give of myself.  My children are alive and close to me, my husband is faithful and caring, always non-violent in word and action.  These are things that I cannot take for granted, not when mothers weep in Baghdad, in Boston and Somalia, in Texas and South Africa, in Burma, Afghanistan and every other country on this raging planet.  It's a few months later, but I stand by what I wrote after the December mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.  My hope is not in more guns (and not even in less guns), not in border control or religious uniformity.  My hope is in a Mother's love that will save the world.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

how we brought in the new year (a wet photo montage)

Happy New Year.

We celebrated with the people of our neighbourhood these past few days, splashing water on everyone we could.  We took our kids out in their swim togs and goggles to throw buckets of water at trucks full of water-armed families traveling slowly enough to douse us as well, at teenagers walking by with squirt guns, at foreigners on motorbikes. 

It's so much fun, this Songkran festival.  It's a holiday where nobody is rushing late to buy presents that people don't even really want or need.  It's a holiday where you throw water.  At everyone.  And it feels really nice because it's hot outside.

As we splashed and sprayed I was reminded of the dual nature of water; in some moments its a destructive wave, a tsunami that devastated this nation, a source of chaos and devastation.  Sadly, even during this festival there are hundreds of water (and alcohol) related deaths across the country.  But water is also a source of joy: children play in it, we are cooled and refreshed, we drink it down and our thirst is quenched.  It's in water that we are baptized, not just our bodies but our eyes as well. 

One day the water of chaotic waves will be channeled into a River of Life.  The structures that propel corruption and exploitation forward in our world will be transformed into structures of justice, right-ness and truth.  One day the water that churns and tumbles and destroys will itself be baptized, be made new.  That water will bring healing to everyone.

It will be the happiest New Year of all.

this poor guy got stuck in traffic right in front of us and doused about 12 times by the boys



someone had a bit too much fun

so many people driving around like this




River's favorite target.


one of my best college friends happens to live here, and her sister (who is also my sister-in-law) came to visit!



he tried to reject my attempt, but i got him.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

SE Asia, white noise and toddlers: an experiment in home.

I haven't written here for a few weeks.  My last post was a psalm of lament about my neighbourhood and now I'm so far from there, nestled in SE Asia for two months.  And doesn't a new place always make the old place feel so much more like home, even when that place is hard sometimes and you've only lived there for two years?  I remember an old Sara Groves song about how we're always painting pictures of Egypt; what we know always feels easier than this new thing, than unfamiliar streets and words and faces.

It feels wide open here, even though we are in city.  There's nothing like traveling with my kids on benches in the backs of covered trucks to remind me that life is vulnerable.  We try to be wise, but we aren't in control.  The variables are plenty, the risks are as well.  God called us to come, but He doesn't control drivers, doesn't control our decisions about which hole-in-the-wall cafe we should eat from, or my body as I push one child through traffic with another on my back.  The smells invite and repel as we wander and my children take this sensory overload in stride.  "Tap toon tap" the boys says with his sweet little speech impediment, "thank you very much for the ride."  I traveled so much as a single person, could sleep anywhere and eat anything, browning my skin under so many suns.  Why is it so different with children, so much scarier?  Are toddlers meant to change time zones and diets and germs?  And at the same time it's such a gift, their rapidly growing brains exposed to new sounds and tones and notes and facial structures and colours, daily beauty and kindness in new friends and strangers - it has to be so good for them, I know it will go deep and stay.  Aren't our worldviews shaped by the time we are five?

I've had some really good days in the past two weeks and some hard ones.  Sometimes I leave our white noise on well after everyone is awake, just to dull the noise.  The heat is intense, over 100 degrees daily and humid, we walk around when everyone else is indoors because crazy children cooped up will make you go play soccer when the sun is blazing because the alternative is worse.  The kids don't complain about the heat, that must be grown-up talk.  Baby girl sweats like her mama.  They both are subsisting mostly on pineapple and breast milk it seems, although the boy will surprise you by the way he'll eat rice and spice.  Sometimes.  The girl crinkles up her nose at most things but she's not wasting away.  I've felt quite stretched in my capacity to choose right, to love, to mother these ones here.  I have failed and apologized and received the forgiveness of my little priests who haven't unlearned unconditional love yet. I need to renew my back door theology of the daily grind, the very unexciting washing and drying and scavenging for food in places I don't yet know. 

The boy spent the first few days asking to see his dad (who is working long days here) and asking to go home.  Chris and I call North America 'home', the boy calls 'Australia' home and the girl is young enough to still think I'm her home.  She's rolling in her sleep just next to me, arms looking for my body there.  I told the lady at the cafe today, whose name means 'mountains', that I'm from America, my husband is from Canada but we met and live in Australia, our babies were born there.  Home is complicated when 'leaving and cleaving' required passports and visas and international flights.  Friends asked us, before we left Australia, how we keep our family culture through massive transition.  We have no idea.


On a hard day where we were inside way too long I took a walk with the kids around 4, a long walk where we'd pick up dinner and be back home by 5:30 to hopefully greet their father who would probably be later than that.  There's a Jesuit retreat centre close to us and I've wandered there a few times, amazed at how the bamboo trees cut the traffic noise and you could almost call it quiet, at least if we weren't there it might be.  A nun stopped to talk to the kids and my son asked her what she was doing.  "I'm walking and praying.  God is all around.  God is even in these trees."  He thought that was a funny thing to say.  We saw a white iguana with a blue face scamper up to find him.

My son has stopped asking to go home.  Maybe us sleeping in a row is enough for him, the familiar white noise that lulls us in Australia and when we visited North America over Christmas rumbling here too.  When we close our eyes and share pillows, we could be anywhere.  Even home.