Martha writes

Dear Jesus

I thought I should write to you about what happened yesterday. I don’t think you understood. Perhaps it’s because you’re a man. You don’t see the emotional labour that falls on my shoulders – how I am the one who has to remember to do everything from sweeping the floors to baking the bread to chopping the wood, how I am the one who makes sure the visitors’ feet are washed and the fire doesn’t go out.

I couldn’t believe you praised my fat, lazy sister for sitting there doing nothing; how you criticised me when I was the one who was doing all the work. She’s always like this, Jesus. You wouldn’t believe the state of her house. She doesn’t care what she looks like, either. She hasn’t got a clue about what clothes go together, and I don’t know when she last did any exercise. Didn’t you notice her helping herself to more than her share of the platter? She didn’t let you near the figs. I was so embarrassed. I saw she was crying at your feet, too – she never could hold herself together. She’s not even trying to do her best. I’ve tried to help her by telling her the truth, but she won’t listen. I’ve even tried to convince her she’s not so bad, but she’s clearly oversensitive and unforgiving and refuses to be close to me. I don’t think she appreciates my insights.

I don’t understand why you rebuked me. I tried so hard to show you hospitality, and you can’t deny that I’m the one who is organised and competent and hard-working. That was not OK with me, Jesus. Totally unfair.

By the way, I’ve heard you’re hanging around with some people who are really not your type – especially those filthy, God-forsaken lepers. Maybe you should think harder about how you want to be seen.

Sincerely,
Martha.

Dear Martha

Thank you for your letter. Thank you for a delicious lunch and for your hospitality.

You are indeed a hard-working woman. Hard work is good when it’s done out of love, but I notice you doing it for another reason: to try to gain worth and to gain love. You think that if you try harder to be perfect, I will love you more, and you’re upset that I told you that’s not the case. I’m challenging the way you have thought for your whole life, and that’s difficult.

Martha, you are not perfect, and I can see in your anxious activity that you know that. You fret over your mistakes and regrets. You want to be seen as competent and respectable, but the game you are playing leads round and round in anxious circles and wears you out. You’re brittle and tense. You put all your energy into trying to earn something that can only be gained by resting and trusting and listening and believing.

Your words keep hurting Mary, so she’s keeping her distance. You point out faults in her to try to help her win at your game of striving to be perfect, but she’s not playing that game anymore, and she doesn’t need you to verbally snip her into shape. She has learned something you haven’t: that she is already loved, just as she is. She realises she is all those things you accuse her of, but she’s coming to trust that they don’t really matter because something else is more important.

I would like you to know that too, Martha. You are already perfectly loved. I don’t frown at failure, and I’m not impressed with achievement. My love isn’t fair, but it’s something better than fair – it is deep and free and constant. It’s here waiting for you, whenever you’re ready to lay down the measuring tapes and scales and charts and comparisons that are blinding you to it. You don’t yet know who you are when you’re not judging, not excelling, not living in fear of putting a foot wrong. My dear one, I’m much more comfortable with imperfection than you imagine.

My love longs to work in you, to soften your heart, to give you the space you need to feel and to grieve the things that you’ve stuffed into neat platitudes for fear they’ll leak out and betray your weakness. You can trust that good things will come of it. My love creates fruit that judgment never could.

By the way, speaking of fruit, I’ve never been very keen on figs.
Love, Jesus.

Esther is a solo mother of four. She lives in Wellington, NZ.

A common brokenness

… the sources of our suffering becomes the source of our hope…

Here’s what struck me from this passage from Henri Nouwen’s book Life of the Beloved: living with and leaning in to our dependencies becomes a way of connecting with our dependency on God. I have read similar ideas many times yet when I get in such an obsessive/dependent state as he describes (so good to know someone else does this), I can’t yet automatically go to this idea, rather I just experience shame and, depending on the strength of the usually unreciprocated attachment, acute embarrassment. I get attached to people in the way he describes and lose sight of myself…I fear I am too much and also not enough.

 

But I find I can trust Nouwen and the 12 step ideas he draws  on in the passage in this photography … openly confessing our dependencies whether material or emotional is part of spiritual growth, and leads us toward understanding our dependency on God. I have noticed that the dependencies I have leaned into and acknowledged have produced vulnerability, which produces spiritual growth.

So here’s to embarrassment, awkwardness, dependency and brokenness. Indeed, blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven — a kingdom of shared brokenness and openness, where no one is placed above the other, and where we each give comfort according to our capability and take comfort according to our need.
Kelly Dombroski blogs as www.throwntogetherness.wordpress.com.

Why diversity matters in Christianity

If you have been around Christian churches long enough, you will know there is often both subtle and not-so-subtle pressures to conform to a certain understanding of Christianity — whatever that might be in your tradition. There is no small amount of anxiety that one might not be a ‘proper’ Christian, believing the ‘right’ things and thus one of the elect, saved, in-group. I’m sure many of us have seen pretty awful situations where someone is excluded on the grounds of their failure to conform in some way.

In my experience, this anxiety around believing the ‘right’ things is much more prevalent in protestant traditions, particularly the non-liturgical ones. I also read that it is these non-liturgical traditions that are more likely to morph into cults. Which seems ironic, given the deep concern and anxiety around believing the ‘right’ thing.

Because of moving around a lot, I am lucky enough to have been exposed to a pretty wide range of Christian traditions and churches, including spending my formative years in the Catholic Church. I have been a member of several churches in the Baptist/congregational tradition, several in the pentecostal tradition, housechurches in the anarchist tradition and also some in the Presbyterian/elder led tradition. I have been in evangelical conservative and some quite liberal churches, and also some that defy categorisation using those tired old terms. What this means for me is that I have also been part of different ‘families’ of faith with diverse beliefs and practices with regards to expression of that faith.

As Jameson says with regards to the shift to postmodernity, multiplicity can provoke terror in some. But I think there is something about multiplicity or diversity that actually keeps people in the broad umbrella of the faith rather than having to reject the whole thing outright. Here are some reasons why I think this:

  1. There is less anxiety about whether one believes the ‘right’ thing, and more attention to participation in the act of faith and belief in God. One morning I woke up and realised that in the Catholic church, the main requirement for being a Christian was a) being baptised in the church and b) taking communion. I mean the point of church is just communion, communing together, sharing in the body and blood of Christ. You don’t have to agree with the pope or the church on anything really. I mean, that allows for incredible diversity of belief, including on such hot topics as same-sex marriage, universal salvation, abortion, women’s rights, ecumenicism and more.  What a relief this was to me, at the time. I don’t have to have a certain belief on those topics in order to be a ‘real’ Christian, at least in the Catholic tradition.
  2. Resistance is not futile. Not only is there diversity in this generation of Christians, but there is huge diversity throughout history, and a lot of alternative orthodoxies with regard to belief. For example, in a previous post I explored the Franciscan versus the Dominican views of atonement. I’ve also previously drawn on mystical traditions of contemplation, indigenous, feminist and environmentalist interpretations of Genesis, nineteenth century Pentecostalism, the Nestorian Christians of Mongolia in the thirteenth century, the Jesus movement of the 70s, the Quietist movement of the seventeenth century and more. When you look at the big picture of Christian history and tradition, there is always resistance to the mainstream, always alternatives. The men in robes or suits don’t have the final say one what to believe. Even the bible has diverse traditions of spirituality and scholarship within it, and strong undercurrent of resistance to the priestly classes.
  3. Cultural diversity allows for us to find the expression of faith that fits with our background and worldview. No matter how many times I hear the phrase the ‘Christian worldview’ I can’t help but add an ‘s’ on the end of that. Worldviews. If we really believe that God is creator, that the Christ atoned for all, and that the Holy Spirit acts in and through people in history, we can’t really believe that there is one Christian worldview that happens to be the one that ‘we’ currently hold and everyone else through history or in other cultural traditions is ‘wrong’. I have found the faith expressions of my brothers and sisters in the housechurch movement in China incredibly inspiring, even as the worldview on which their faith has been grafted is somewhat different from mine. But far be it from me to say they must conform to what may be my screwed up version.
  4. ‘Evangelism’ becomes a more authentic sharing of stories and experience. “Friend, I don’t have the answers,” might be our opener. And “Friend, I still don’t have the answers,” might be the closing remark. What might come in between is “here is what I have learned in my walk. How does that compare to what you know?”

As I grow and age and hopefully get more mature, I am much more comfortable with diversity not just in culture and church background, but in worldview and belief. I sometimes think back to my early twenties and think “Wasn’t it lovely when I knew everything for certain?”, but really, I wouldn’t trade this current position of not-knowingness for anything else. For it is in the not-knowingness that I find my faith is enlarged and made real.

Kelly Dombroski writes at www.throwntogetherness.wordpress.com , among other places.

Living Prayers

Our daily lives can be a form of lived-prayer, where prayer is not a pleading or shopping list of requests, but a kind of whole-hearted care and attention to the life-tasks God has put before us.

 We know this already — Augustine, Brother Laurence, Mme. Guyon, Richard Rohr, Thomas Moore, (even Levinas, I’m told) all remind us that our daily tasks can be a form of prayer if we undertake them with the  care and attention we might give to a session of focused meditation.  When I think of that, I think of being alone doing the gardening, or sewing something with perfect attention to detail. Or writing. It is probably quiet, and I am probably alone. Augustine, in his letter to Januarius for example, describes the kind of ‘effortless’ activity of praising God we might begin ‘in this life’ as we rest in Christ:

 

 This rest is not slothful inactvity, but a kind of indescribable tranquility coming from effortless action…. we don’t pass on to it through a period of quiet, which is then replaced by effort — that is, the beginning of the activity does not put an end to the quiet. No, there is no return to effort and anxiety; the qualities of quiet continue in the activity, so that there is no weariness in work and no restlessness in thought.

In reality however, there are many things demanding our attention, and it is rare that I have the space in my house to complete my work in quiet without effort or anxiety. I wrote about my weekend recently:

I went to bed late after finishing watching the Handmaid’s Tale with DH, was woken during the night by crying children, awoke too late for quiet time. Made lemon pancakes to order while balancing hot chocolate requests and assistance with toileting, dressing gowns, getting down plates etc. Talked to DH about the state of the university and the upcoming conference. Organised the family to clean and tidy as much of the house that was possible. (DH completely re-sorted all the stuff in the lounge, the kids made their room worse, I did the bathroom, washing, kitchen, master bedroom, vacuuming and generally just bossed people around and crossed things off a list).

I then spent some time with my youngest, then put on my exercise gear and walked to uni with my backpack to get my computer because I realised I can’t actually go to work on Monday since DH will have to work (and I have to care for my youngest) so I can go to Auckland on Tuesday for the conference starting Wednesday (which is my normal day for childcare responsibilities). Oh, at some point I talked to my dad while I was doing dishes about gender discrimination in the workplace and the conference he went to last week.

 While I walked I tried to auto-dictate my thoughts on work/worship and care/attention but it was too hard because it started to rain.  On the way home, I bought lunch for all from the supermarket and a few things we needed like dishwashing liquid. I got back home, organised lunch, hung out another load of washing, had a cup of tea then went to bed for a nap. At 4pm I was finally able to sit in bed doing some writing while the kids played on the computer.

Throughout all of it, I thought of my friends going through relationship troubles, the enneagram types of people I care about, Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si, the handbook I am editing. The things I didn’t get to: ironing, cleaning out the laundry which stinks, the cat food spilled everywhere, the gardening… work. I fought off panic that these things will never get done, and that my life will descend further and further into chaos.

So how do we make those prayers of quiet activity in this kind of rush and chaos? I don’t feel  centred, quietly attentive, balanced. I feel unbalanced and constantly wobbling on the edge of falling off. If I miss one weekend of this carework, the whole things caves in and it takes me months to get back to a state of normalcy. I feel guilty that I don’t give friends (let alone strangers in need) outside my family enough time and attention, but also feel panicked that if I don’t get my jobs done on Saturday then the following work week would be chaos with no uniforms, dirty work clothes, lost homework and toys all over the house, tears from the children as we rummaged through our stuff to find whatever was needed. So much of life is just managing the arrangement of material stuff. I don’t give the people in my life enough of my joy or playfulness because I am always worrying about not doing enough, not being organised enough, and falling into chaos.

Part of all this is the worry about not being enough as a carer and as a mother. As women, we are told in different ways our whole lives that these things are our responsibilities, that the children will grow up neglected and damaged if we don’t do our jobs properly and their faces aren’t clean and their school socks matching. That however much we give our children and families, it is never enough. That it is not OK to find enjoyment in work and success because we are probably failing our families. The men in our lives have often been brought up with different pressures: to perform in the workplace, to be a star, a success, to always be confident and Mr Fabulous, to produce and produce and to be a strong protector of the women and children in their lives and not to rely on them for friendship or care too much but also certainly not to rely on other men for care either. To not have so many feelings.  To not be hurt so often. Most of us know that both those identities are impossible, and that no one can really fulfil them. They are lies.

The truth, as Augustine identifies, is to find our identity in the refuge and rest of God, since ‘through him we can do all things’. Not all the things. Just all things that are given us in this moment. For me this is where the attention comes back in. We can do our work with care and attention, offering it up to God as a form of worship –  as Paul says in Romans 12 we can offer our very bodies (and their activities I presume) as our spiritual worship. So can I apply this to my busy Saturday, where quiet was not very often present?

I did actually try this. All day, as I tried to do all the tasks before me, my attention kept slipping to obsess about all the relationships and tasks in my life, and the panic and stress would arise that it will be never be enough. Like one does in  meditation,  I tried to acknowledge my feelings or the interruptions from others without judgement, then bring my attention back to the task at hand, and accept I can only do what I can do for the amount of time I have to do it.  I have to trust that that will be enough.  At work, I tried to do this too: panic arises regularly when the tasks and relationship demands overwhelm, and I have begun to deliberately take an audible deep breath then as I exhale, deliberately acknowledge, then put aside, all the things and focus on the one thing that has to be done right now.  With relationships, I tend to obsess over everyone else’s problems. But I can then offer those up to God (after laughing at myself) and turn my attention back to what I can do in the time and space I have, then let it go. Usually, listen with care and attention, try not to offer to help or fix everything, but to just be there in the moment. It doesn’t feel enough, but it has to be.

So, all of that is to say I guess I can apply Augustine’s idea that a form of prayerful activity can proceed from the space of quiet rest. It isn’t really effortless, yet, for me.  But I think the key idea is this: Do what you can when you can with care and attention. Then hand over the rest to God and continue to pay attention when something comes your way that is again yours to do in the moment. What else can we do? There is never enough time, and maybe that is how we grow to depend on the One who is beyond time, who invented time.

Kelly Dombroski also blogs at www.throwntogetherness.wordpress.com.

Time Drifts

photo sourced from Pixabay

Time is continually wispy
circumstances and God leave growth,
that prompt ideas
that shape me.

The past is familiar, old,
trailing its scents into today,
affecting thoughts
influencing me.

The process is God’s grace
gradually flowing, expanding
revisioning life
maturing me.

photo sourced from pixabay

Today is hasty, fast
being on time, a strong current
sweeping on
rushing me.

The interlude is God’s peace
enfolding my multi-tasking mind
pressing pause
quieting me.

Tomorrow is just a vapour
a thin image, without definition
what could be?
who will I be?

Christina Baird lives in Auckland, NZ and nurtures creative wisdom by providing coaching, professional supervision and by blogging  at bread and pomegranates

 

 

 

 

 

Giving fragrantly

In a world brimming over with hurt, I so often feel unsure where to direct my own precious and small resources to help, to heal.

Around me are so many people saying they know how to fix it, asking for my time, my money, my skills, my ear, my heart, offering a path – organisations, projects, causes.

How to choose? How much time I have spent weighing up how to do the most good, for the most people, in the most need.

To the extent that often when I have read this verse from John, I have resonated guiltily with Judas’ point of view about the extravagance of Mary’s giving:

The anointing of Jesus

John: 12 1-3 Six days before Passover, Jesus entered Bethany where Lazarus, so recently raised from the dead, was living. Lazarus and his sisters invited Jesus to dinner at their home. Martha served. Lazarus was one of those sitting at the table with them. Mary came in with a jar of very expensive aromatic oils, anointed and massaged Jesus’ feet, and then wiped them with her hair. The fragrance of the oils filled the house.

4-6 Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples, even then getting ready to betray him, said, “Why wasn’t this oil sold and the money given to the poor? It would have easily brought three hundred silver pieces.” He said this not because he cared two cents about the poor but because he was a thief. He was in charge of their common funds, but also embezzled them.

7-8 Jesus said, “Let her alone. She’s anticipating and honoring the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you. You don’t always have me.”

Mary literally pours out her love. Judas responds with all the utilitarian, managerialist logic that is so in vogue right now in all the best nonprofit circles: the end/means arguments, the maximisation of good, the quantification of success. Judas’ motivations were off, we learn, but it has taken me a long time to realise that his logic was too.

It is all right there in the contrast between this, and Mary’s stunning act of intimate love and service for Jesus, her friend and Lord, as he sat in her living room just days before he was to take his final journey towards Jerusalem, and the cross. I started a list of adjectives to describe that one beautiful act of anointing, but it became unwieldy, so I have tried to distil the main things that impressed me about it on this latest, newly-illuminated reread:

  1. There was a cost and sacrifice to her actions, but also a joy and freeness. It was wholehearted.
  2. It was humble. A woman of honour, she uses not only her most precious possessions, but also her hair, on his dusty, road-weary, human feet.
  3. It showed an amazing perceptiveness, a sensitivity to the situation (quite Jesus-like in itself)… and a context-specific responsiveness to what that person needed, in that moment. Jesus honours her for this in v7/8.
  4. I liked how Mary also showed an awareness of what she herself had to give; her own resource-full-ness. She gave out of something she happened to be overflowing with. I think that helped with the free-ness.I am reminding myself to look to the Most High for my abundance, and to show careful stewardship to ensure I have enough left in me at the end of my everyday ragged life, to respond freely. It also helps me to remember Old Testament stories (e.g. 2 Kings 4) where God miraculously multiplies oil for people who have but a little.
  5. Both the ends (goal) and the means (method) in Mary’s giving, was relational. The act seemed to be like a natural overflow of who she was in relation to Jesus. How I’d love my giving to be like this! Even though I cannot give to God-as-Jesus directly, I know the “least of these” (Matthew 25:40) stand flesh-and-blood in his place, and I can give for God, and to her, in relationship with them. Then I am not so much responding to “the poor”, as Judas said – a great, abstracted mass – but to “the person” God has placed in my path, in my living room… right in front of me in one way or another.

I still believe in wise and discerning giving. In a scope that goes global. In establishing strong and strategic foundations for giving. In the usefulness of digital and bureaucratic systems and technologies. But I have made some new resolutions to shape my giving more towards this example of wholeheartedhumble, perceptiveresponsive, resourceful and relational giving, even in and through the above.

My prayer, then: May we turn to God for our abundance (Psalm 23:5). May we find ourselves, in and through our Divine Beloved, pouring into the type of giving that spreads out through a room, a city, a hurting world, like a beautiful fragrance.

SUSAN WARDELL is a Social Anthropologist, Mother, Jesus-follower, Tree-hugger, Muffin Afficionado, and Writer. She lives in Dunedin, New Zealand.

Be gone, cruel voices

I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in this.

I’m thinking of when you have something important to do, to say, but become paralysed by your uncertainty about your ability — or your right — to do it, to even begin! What if what I have to say is not actually so important, if it is, in fact, foolishness?

This seems to be something writers experience a lot. Other jobs I have had — well, they let me continue on in a haze when I’m feeling uncertain. I’ve done banking through break-ups, pruned grapevines in the depth of winter and depression, scanned grocery item after grocery item and mouthed words of welcome even as I wondered, who am I, really? What value is there in my life? But with the job of writing –unless I am writing about the actual feelings of pain, uncertainty, doubt — I cannot just keep going through the difficult feelings. These things can grow so large as to become overwhelming cruel ‘voices’ that absorb all my attention, and writing is, at heart, a task of focused attention — even ‘foolish’ first drafts of writing.

This week I had guidance on this problem from two sources. One was a prolific writer of theology from the second century — Augustine of Hippo. Augustine writes to his childhood friend Nebridius with joy:

I’m delighted to have you thank me when I don’t hide anything that comes into my mind from you. I am delighted I can please you in this way. Whom can I more freely share my foolishness with than someone I can’t displease?

I immediately shared this quote with my good friend, also writing a book. I was thinking, to be honest, that my friend could think of me as a reader while writing, because I could not be displeased, I’m already ‘all in’ for this important project.  The cruel voices that taunt the writer as he or she writes are indeed formidable, and they tell us we have nothing to say and are not worthy to write and no one will read us anyway. But these voices fade in to nothing if there is even just one reader who wants to hear what we have to say, however ‘foolish’ it appears. Augustine found this person in Nebridius. I have experienced this with some of my dear colleagues and friends as I have finished difficult pieces. As friends and readers, we can say for each other ‘be gone cruel voices, we don’t need you here’.

Of course, these voices are not just present for writers. Many people experience cruel voices telling them they are worthless. What I was reminded of through  my friend this week is that we do not only have to rely on our friends and ‘readers’ to help us say ‘be gone!’ to those cruel voices.

I recieved the prose, you see, and it was utterly beautiful and compelling. I couldn’t help but comment — is this the same person? Choked up, my friend confessed the secret of this clarity of voice and purpose. The voices were quieted, this time — by the power of prayer. Prayer before writing might bring to mind The Reader, The Faithful Reader, more faithful than Nebridius or I. This was the second lesson for me.

The faithful audience and reader of all our lives is the One who gave life to all, gave up life on the cross, and breathes life in and through us. This One is delighted to hear what we have to say, to see our task through to completion, because this is The One who gave us that task in the first place — whether this task is writing, teaching, parenting, serving, ministering, caring, public speaking, or any other task in which we have to face fear and doubt.

I was reminded this week of what our lives might be like when the cruel voices fade into insignificance in the light of One whom we cannot displease with our efforts at speaking and living the truth given to us: Compelling, beautiful, clear in voice and purpose.

What do you have that is difficult to do at this time? What might the result of your task be if your only audience is God, a God of love and compassion who takes joy in your ‘foolishness’? This week, dear readers, think of your Dear Reader, your Audience of One, the One who looks on your ‘foolishness’ only with the greatest delight. Those cruel voices may indeed be gone, or at least, be not as overwhelming.

Kelly Dombroski writes at www.throwntogetherness.wordpress.com,  among other places.

At-one-ment

Living with a trained theologian, I’ve had my fair share of atonement theory discussions. It was astonishing at first to discover that Christian thinkers had so many theories about how the cross of Christ worked to ‘reconcile us to God’.

I grew up Catholic, you see, and my theory of atonement was an embodied sadness and deep mysterious appreciation for Christ based on hours and hours of contemplation of the large crucifix hanging behind the altar in our local church — as a child, I would look at that crucifix, the stained glass windows, and the paintings depicting the stations of the cross, the priest fussing around with candles and bowls and cups, without necessarily even listening to what was being said. I also had a crucifix at home on my bedroom wall, and would spend many hours examining that while I was supposed to be napping or had been sent to my room for whatever reason.

Why spend so many hours staring at a crucifix? Well, it is a fascinating image of horror and torture, one that children are unlikely to see in books or children’s movies — except for The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, that is. It drew me in. Why would God allow this? Who is this man on the cross? What does it have to do with me?

Visiting my grandparent’s church in Island Bay was a contrast. In the large, light 1970s style church of St Francis de Sales, there was no crucifix on the wall behind the altar. Instead, there was a tile mosiac the height of the church depicting Jesus as king on the cross. No blood, no pain, but a strong, healthy looking man with glittering rings of tile-light radiating out from the image. The cross is an image of victory, there.

Just approaching atonement through different different images of the crucifix we might develop a sense of mystery and even diversity of exactly how the Christ reconciles and connects us into the divine trinity. Many scholars have critiqued what is known as the ‘penal substitution theory’ — that God used Christ to ‘atone’ for our sins or to ‘turn away his wrath’ so that we could then come close to him despite being sinners. Richard Rohr notes in Hidden Things: Scripture as Spirituality that most Catholics wouldn’t even know that the Catholic Church since the 13th century has officially preferred this theory, while alllowing for the minority positions of the Franciscans, who rejected it in favour of an atonement theory that looked at the whole life of Christ as a message of ‘at-one-ment’ with God. Rohr quips that maybe in the end although the Domincans ‘won’ the theological debate, the God-of-mystery won out — because many Catholics come to just know at-one-ment through meditating on the image of the crucifx. Even for those of us who are not Catholic, we might still meditate on the image of the crucifix as a way of coming to experience and know the mystery of at-one-ment with God. The best way to understand, Rohr notes, is to stand-under. Those that approach God through art and contemplative prayer often develop a deep abiding sense that it is all going to be OK.

Time torn open

Scholars have traditionally focussed on continuity in their studies of religion… but recently some have argued that Christianity is in fact a religion of disruption. I have to agree: history ruptured by the birth of The Word in flesh, the tearing of temple curtain (between holiness and humanity), the conquering of death. And for individuals, lives turned inside out, re-made, on the invitation of a radical indwelling of the person of God, a second birth.

These are not so much about marking the climax of a linear narrative (either on the scale of world history, or of individual biography), but a subversion of time and being in deeper ways.

On earth time feels like a closed tunnel. Moving away from some things, and towards others, only ever in one place at a time. Except that sometimes, it doesn’t… Jacques Derrida coined the term ‘hauntology’ to describe the way the past presses into the present. Not only presences, but absences, haunt the landscapes of the living.

The ache of the fall, the cries of the saints, the lives given and given over, and God themself, born again and again, and dying, alway. At times I cry out, when God is gone: “why have you forsaken me?”

We are living in an epoch of the in-between – suspended between two ‘comings’ – a time marked by waiting, and in some ways, absence. Yet always I find God right there, closer than my skin, and each fibre of my body, tense with sorrow or anger, relaxes into that embrace.

The creating God, the living God, the suffering God, the dying God, the slain God, the resurrected God, all exist at once for us as Christians. If we allow them, they press into our daily lives, call to our own living souls, stand present with our own suffering and dying bodies. In our breath in, and out…. through time, through the pasts that claw at us, the futures that tornados around us.

I hear the mountains tremble. I hear the still small voice.

Though I am caught in the stream (that feels like separation, that feels like waiting) when I reach out I can feel the press of God into my now.

I. dwell. in. presence.

The power and love that tears time open. For us.

 

  • SUSAN WARDELL is a Social Anthropologist, Mother, Jesus-follower, Tree-hugger, Muffin Afficionado, and Writer. She lives in Dunedin, New Zealand

Contentment and Croup

Like a lot of us, I experience the Divine through the small moments in my life. Mostly these days, I learn about the nature of God through my interactions with my children. Sometimes I can see the God point of view, and there are times when I can see the side of the poor earth bound schlub just trying to get through the day.

I have three children: two boys ages 20 and 16, and a little girl who is almost 2. It is hectic here in this house on any given day, but lucky for me I get many opportunities to consider the universe as I am praying for wisdom, grace, patience or whatever else I am lacking in trying to parent three disparate souls. This mom gig is pretty tough some days.

We are on day four of a high fever, croup, and pink eye attack with the youngest. She has been a real trooper through this, but it rips my guts out to hold her hot little body against me as I wait impatiently for the next round of fever reducers to kick in. She moans as I push her limp hair out of her eyes again. She is stripped down to a diaper to allow her body to cool but all I want to do is snuggle her in a blanket and kiss her sweet head until she sleeps again.

Nighttime is the worst during an illness. The still, slow hours tick by as my husband and I take turns rocking her in the chair downstairs away from all the other sleeping bodies. There is a lot of time to think in the dark with a baby that is too miserable to sleep.

My favorite verse for times such as this is from the Apostle Paul as he writes from prison in Philippians 4:12-13. Even if you don’t subscribe to Christian teachings, there is such truth in his writings. I like Paul for a lot of reasons, but mostly because he takes equal turns being loving and gracious to being a wee bit cranky. I am just saying that I MIGHT identify with that. It’s a gift.

“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all this through God who gives me strength.”

The gift of contentedness is a present that keeps giving. Struggling through nights of illness will never be my favorite, but embracing the suck (as my previous youth pastor was fond of saying) brings a certain peace.  We all know what it’s like to have good days and bad days. We know that time flies when we are having fun and drags when we aren’t. But what we don’t know is how to be fully present in the moment during the hard stuff; and we really should practice. It is rarely the success that brings the lesson– it is always the difficulty that shows us the way. It doesn’t do me any good to wish away those moments, especially since some days they outnumber the good bits.

The bad stuff doesn’t last forever. In a day or two little Squeakers will be up and running around, rearranging the furniture and scattering toys like confetti across the living room floor. I will get busy with other things and forget to check her forehead for fever. I will put her to bed and not worry that she will be up in an hour to keep me company through dark night. But in the meantime, I will kiss her sweet head and wipe her nose for the hundredth time. I will snuggle her as best I can and try to breathe through the discomfort of several hours in the rocker. I will look at my older boys who hibernate in their rooms when sick and have long ago stopped looking to me to comfort them, and hold this little one a little tighter.

Contentment and croup. Sounds spiritual to me.

Michelle Buck is a mother of three, wife, banker and writer from Portland, Oregon. She enjoys writing about the beautiful struggle of the everydayness-of-it-all. Find her essays at www.asymmetricallove.com