Walking the streets of Hong Kong, one cannot help notice the number of vendors, pushing their carts along the streets in and out of traffic. Repeatedly shouting, "Sale! Sale! Specials items for sale!" It is not easy to avoid the aggressive sales pitches...
As a storeowner tacked a sign above his door, ‘Puppies for Sale,’ a little boy appeared and asked. “How much are you going to sell those puppies for?”
The storeowner replied “$50 each.”
The little boy reached into his pocket and pulled out some change. “I have $2.37, can I have a look at them?”
The storeowner smiled and whistled. Out of a kennel came Lady, followed by her five balls of four-legged fur. One puppy limped and lagged considerably. “What’s wrong with that little dog?” the boy asked.
The storeowner explained that the puppy was born without a hip socket, and the vet told him that the puppy would limp for the rest of its life. The little boy’s face lit, “That’s the puppy I want to buy!”
The storeowner replied, “No, you don’t. If you really want him, I’ll give him to you.” The little boy did not hide his annoyance. “I don’t want you to give him to me. He’s worth every penny. I would like to give you $2.37 now, and 50 cents every month until he’s paid for.” Taken aback, the storeowner minced no words, “Young man, this puppy is never going to be able to run, jump or play like other puppies!”
The boy reached down and rolled up his pant leg, to reveal a badly twisted, crippled left leg supported by a bulky metal brace. He looked up at the storeowner, “Well, I don’t run so well myself, and the little puppy will need someone who understands.”
In Brendan, (Frederick Buechner’s novel about a sixteenth-century Irish saint), a servant recounts a conversation between Brendan and Gildas, a crippled and bitter old priest.
“I am as crippled as the dark world,” Gildas says.
“If it comes to that, which one of us isn’t my dear?” Brendan replies.
Gildas with but one leg. Brendan sure he’s misspent his whole life entirely. I who had left my wife to follow him and buried our only boy. The truth of what Brendan said stopped all our mouths. We was cripples all of us…
“To lend each other a hand when we’re falling,” Brendan said, “Perhaps that is the only work that matters in the end.”
It doesn’t help our spirit that we see so much brokenness in our world every day, does it? Because of that, it’s not surprising that the broken and crippled parts in our own lives are more apparent. Parts that sadden, discourage, infuriate, embarrass or even repulse us. We know they are there. Some are of our own making. Most are not. Even so, we do our best to wish or will or pray them away.
I will confess that my struggle is more with the bitter part of the equation. You know, that taste in your mouth or spirit about the way things are, instead of the way they should be. As if imperfection means scarcity and insufficiency. And my choices are too easily fueled by umbrage.
The problem is this: As long as I am bent on fixing, repairing and renovating in order to make myself more presentable or lovable or acceptable, I postpone my ability to receive any gifts (from you, or from God) in this present moment. One young volunteer, working at L’Arche, Jean Vanier’s homes for seriously handicapped adults, wrote of the residents, “They never ask what degree do you have, what university did you attend. They only ask, ‘Do you love me?’ In the end, isn’t that what matters?”
Yes. Brokenness is never, never the whole story.
Here’s the deal: We have the ability to receive, to be loved, to know our value, only from a place of vulnerability. Because in our nakedness, our “crippledness,” our brokenness and our vulnerability we have no power, no leverage, nothing to bargain with. Our identity is not dependent upon becoming somebody, impressing somebody, or removing all imperfection. We can be, literally, BE, at home in our own skin, damaged hip socket and all.
I was raised in a church that used the scripture, “Be ye perfect as God is perfect,” as a hammer meant to beat all the blemishes out of me. But wholeness is not perfection. Wholeness is embodying–living into–this moment, be it happy or sad, full or empty, running or limping.
Granted, there are flawed and weak parts that could change.
But we can’t change anything until we can love it.
We can’t love anything until we can know it.
We can’t know anything until we can embrace it.
And we touch wholeness at that place of vulnerability.
In this place, we are human. In this place, we are sons and daughters of God. In this place, we hear God speak our name. The very image of God is imbedded in this fragile nature, in its very breakability. It is in that vulnerability where we find and embrace exquisite beauty — compassion, tenderheartedness, mercy, forgiveness, gentleness, openness, kindness, empathy, listening, understanding and hospitality. And the capacity to say, “Even in our brokenness, we get to say how the story ends.”
When we embrace that flawed and exquisite beauty, there is a paradigm shift. And the narrative changes. Instead of aversion, it is an invitation. To live and love from that place of grace. To come alongside. To offer hope. To create places of safety. To live Kintsugi, the Japanese art of broken pieces. Broken pieces alchemized, as we are willing to touch and feel each of them with the “hands of our heart,” so we know them intimately and can accept them all into our transforming self.
If instead, I give my energy to protecting myself from all manner of breakability (and “crippledness”), I seal off my heart and soul with Teflon.
It is true; there will be no pain or brokenness.
And there will be no love.
Mark Twain was once asked, “Do you believe in child baptism?”
“Believe in it,” he responded. “Hell, I’ve seen it.”
Grace in broken places.
At one time I believed in it.
But now, I have seen it. Just not where I expected to find it. Grace is found where God is found, in the pressure points of life. And even in a very broken world, grace is found and spilled, one embrace at a time.
My week began in Orkney Springs Virginia (with an enthusiastic group at Shrine Mont), then to Charlottesville, on to Washington DC and now home. In Charlottesville, I wanted to bear witness in a place where someone lost their life, where white supremacists gathered armed with their message of hate.
In DC I spent some time in our National Cathedral, absorbed and stirred (as I reread this, I smile, as it sounds like the converse of a James Bond Martini).
Autumn is the garden’s way of embracing flawed and broken beauty, as life gives way to dormancy and loss. The garden leaf pageant here on Vashon is hypnotic, a theater of color. Flawed beauty indeed.
Quote for your week…
Hospitality is the fundamental virtue of the soil. It makes room. It shares. It neutralizes poisons. And so it heals. This is what the soil teaches: If you want to be remembered, give yourself away. William Bryant Logan
POEMS AND PRAYERS
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
Unseen, we have seen you this day
In the lights of the sky,
In the bright fall colors of the earth,
In waters flowing and still.
Untouchable, we have felt you this dayIn the w
armth of the sun
In the wildness of the wind,
In the touch of another,
In and beyond our sense,
In the taste and touch and sound
You have made Your mystery to be known.
At the ending of the day
In the darkness of the night,
In and beyond our senses,
Let us know your presence,
O Wild and Untamable One,
Let us know your everlasting presence.
(Thank you Rev. Martin Townsend)