“I’ve lost my way.” One man confesses to his friend. “And it’s not good, because I don’t know how much more I can take.”
“I understand,” his friend says.
“I don’t know what is next, but I think I’m close to the bottom.”
“Well,” his friend tells him. “I can tell you this with all my heart. I have been to the bottom. And I’m glad to report, that the bottom is solid.”
This week I had conversations with friends in the Sabbath Moment community whose worlds have been rocked. Derailed. So, in good form I put on my Pastor hat, and hope to find the right words. But too often, my Pastor hat disconnects me from my own brokenness. You see if I’m honest, I am where they are. And I need to speak from that place, to be honest about and embrace that brokenness. What James Hollis calls an appointment with our own soul.
We are invited to make our wounds into sacred wounds. If we cannot, we invariably become cynical, negative, or bitter. This much is true; if we do not transform our pain, we will most assuredly transmit it—usually to those closest to us: our family, our neighbors, our co-workers, and, invariably, the most vulnerable, our children. (Thank you Richard Rohr.)
Toward the end of Leonard Bernstein’s musical work entitled Mass, there is a scene in which the priest is richly dressed in magnificent vestments. He is lifted up by the crowd. He is carrying a splendid glass chalice in his hands. Suddenly the human pyramid collapses and the priest comes tumbling down.
The priest’s vestments are ripped off and the glass chalice falls to the ground, shattering into tiny pieces.
As the priest walks slowly through the debris of his former glory, barefoot and wearing only a T-shirt and jeans, he hears children’s voices singing off stage, Laude. Laude. Laude. Praise! Praise! Praise!
His eyes, transformed by God’s grace, suddenly notice the broken chalice. He looks at it for a long, long time. And then, haltingly he says, “I never realized that broken glass could shine so brightly.”
Things do not always go the way we plan. Not that we don’t try. Somehow, well made plans make us feel better. More presentable. Even acceptable.
Then life happens. And life turns left.
Things–plans, dreams, relationships–can, and do, break.
Sometimes even shatter.
And hearts can be broken.
Not long ago, I spent some time with a group of people weighed down by broken things. They invited me to sit, to listen, and if I had any, to offer some insight.
On went my Pastor’s hat. I had the right things to say. And I wanted to put the chalice back together.
But here’s the deal: since when are tidiness and the presence of the sacred one in the same?
In the end, I realized that I could only invite anyone to the epiphany of the priest in Bernstein’s Mass. That if we have eyes to see, there are no unsacred moments. And that God is alive and well in all things.
Even in the broken glass.
Or, in the words of Van Morrison, “Whenever God shines His light.”
In one of her visions of Jesus, Julian of Norwich (1342–1416) realizes that Jesus is a “handsome mixture.” His face speaks of a knowledge of life’s delight and a knowledge of life’s pain. It is not a face that is naïve to the world’s sufferings or to the personal experience of sorrow. Nor is it a face that is so overwhelmed by sorrow that it loses its openness and wonder. It is a soul that has experienced the heights and the depths of human life. A handsome mixture is the capacity to look life straight in the eye, to see its pain and its beauty. To glimpse a way forward.
Yes please. A handsome mixture. Well acquainted with sorrow, growing in intimacy with disappearance, yet ever-determined to put the song back in the world. This is hard. Very hard. And the growing pains are acute. And oh, the terrible things I see. Things that try to crush and silence my song. (Thank you SM friend, Phoebe Dishman.)
I take heart, knowing that we can be ever broken, and ever restored. A handsome mixture, clear-eyed and sturdy to serve. It heals our heart. Etty Hillesum (1914–1943, a young Jewish woman who died at Auschwitz) shared this intimate glimpse in one of her journals, “I know that this too is part of life, and somewhere there is something inside me that will never desert me again.” We learn to trust the inherent goodness of reality.
This week SM friend Cathy gave me a new word. Sisu. Derived from sisus (from Finland), meaning “interior” and “guts;” in other words, tenacity of purpose, grit, bravery and resilience. At the core of sisu is the idea that in each of us there is more strength than meets the eye. Whatever one calls it, I believe we each possess this deep down in our souls and when we reach in for it, that is pure grace.
I’ve been to the bottom, and am happy to report the bottom is solid.
Our knee jerk is to go cerebral. If only it all made sense. So, teach us, please. Give us the script.
It’s just that when we bring God into the collusion, saying that God sends us the burden because [God] knows that we are strong enough to handle it, we have it all wrong. Fate, not God, sends us the problem. When we try to deal with it, we find out that we are not strong. We discover that we are weak; we get tired, we get angry, overwhelmed… But when we reach the limits of our own strength and courage, something unexpected happens. We find reinforcement coming from a source outside of ourselves. And in the knowledge, that we are not alone, that God is on our side, we manage to go on… (When Bad Things Happen to Good People, Rabbi Harold Kushner) And you discover people around you, and God beside you, and strength within you to help you survive.
I came upon a doctor who appeared in quite poor health. I said, “There’s nothing that I can do for you that you can’t do for yourself.”
He said, “Oh yes you can. Just hold my hand. I think that that would help.”
So, I sat with him a while, then asked him how he felt.
He said, “I think I’m cured.” (Thank you Conor Oberst.)
Thank God, I have friends. They carry the weight and the freight. They hold my hand. And I trust them. That’s a big deal. Because I learned early in my life, not to trust. This isn’t a cathartic therapy session. But it’s important to fess up from time to time. To know what our trigger points are… It’s all a part of that handsome mixture.
I’m in Oakland with the good people at Piedmont Community Church. If you want to watch my sermon from this morning, you can visit their link. Tonight, a gathering to talk about creating sacred spaces. And then, as is my custom here in Piedmont, sharing exceptional wine with my good friend Rev. Bill McNabb.
Quotes for your week…
This isn’t where I expected to be. My version of myself, my life didn’t have this. Ram Dass (after his stroke)
Hold your heart in all tenderness. Something healing this way comes. Jen Lemen
POEMS AND PRAYERS
Oh the comfort, the inexplicable comfort of feeling safe with a person
–having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words,
but pouring them all out, just as they are, chaff and grain together;
certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them,
keep what is worth keeping and then with the breath of kindness blow the rest away.
Dina Craik (1859)
Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you every where
like a shadow or a friend.
Naomi Shihab Nye
Be generous in prosperity,
and thankful in adversity.
Be fair in thy judgment,
and guarded in thy speech.
Be a lamp unto those who walk in darkness,
and a home to the stranger.
Be eyes to the blind,
and a guiding light unto the feet of the erring.
Be a breath of life to the body of humankind,
a dew to the soil of the human heart,
and a fruit upon the tree of humility.