There’s something wrong with the world today,
I don’t know what it is.
Something’s wrong with our eyes,
We’re seeing things in a different way
And God knows it ain’t his…
It sure ain’t no surprise.
There’s something wrong with the world today,
The light bulb’s getting dim.
There’s meltdown in the sky
If you can judge a wise man
By the color of his skin,
Then mister you’re a better man than I.
Tell me what you think about your sit-u-a-tion–
Complication – aggravation
Is getting to you.
If Chicken Little tells you that the sky is falling,
Even if it wasn’t, would you still come crawling
I bet you would my friend…
Again and again and again and again and again
Something’s right with the world today
And everybody knows it’s wrong-
But we can tell ’em no or we could let it go,
But I would rather be a hanging on.
It’s been awhile since I’ve written. I try to wait for an organic moment so I can tell you about it in real time. The messages usually involve some form of interaction with the divine…and sometimes they happen every day and sometimes not. Sometimes the message is for me, and sometimes it is for someone else and sometimes, it’s difficult to know the difference. Anyway, here goes:
I heard this song the other day and it really got me going. I don’t daily blast Aerosmith as high as the volume will go, but I did Saturday afternoon. For those of you who haven’t heard this song, you should probably give it a listen. It is this really apocalyptic rock sonnet about the state of the world and her inhabitants and the layers upon layers of vocals and instruments involved (there’s even a helicopter effect at the end) culminate into this really chaotic but stirring ending. Every time I hear it really moves me and gets my adrenaline up and my blood flowing.
Saturday I didn’t really need any help. I was already harried and a little on edge; I have been for the past couple of weeks. The world is in a dark place- like ‘end of days’ dark, some would say. I’m not one of those, but I do listen when my ‘emotional airwaves’ start sending SOS signals. Usually, when this happens I hole up and consider what it means for me and humanity. I had too much on my plate to extricate myself and so I walked the tightrope best I could.
My schedule this last week was packed like an overzealous sardine tin and so I soldiered on. There were morning meetings and afternoon meetings and the Christian Education schedule to consider. I fielded not one, but several calls and emails during the week asking for my participation in various activities. In addition, Alec needed help with his scholarship essays and a friend needed a cover letter for a resume.
There were several chapters to read in preparation to lead (a hopefully fruitful and frank) theology discussion on Monday morning in class. There were lessons to study and plan for the afternoon meeting that same Monday of the Daughters of the King- a group for women of which I am the current Veep. Not to mention, I was responsible for the nursery the first half of the morning at church on Sunday and the narrator of a stewardship skit during the 2nd half. And of course, I haven’t even mentioned my actual paying job at this juncture. (Which, for the record, did not suffer.)
Saturday night and Sunday (and Monday) found me ignoring most phone calls and text messages and emails (sorry if you were left hanging) and not watching any television, but rather choosing, shopping and carefully packing items for Sunday’s class on Dios de la Muertos (The Day of the Dead). I then had to create the ofrenda (the traditional altar) for said class and finally, Sunday afternoon found me reading the materials for the aforementioned commitments on Monday (and maybe an excellent article in Rolling Stone about Dave Grohl. Who can say? I have limits people.)
I have written about evil before. I firmly believe that the absence of God is where evil lives. Do I think it can take shape and walk around? I sure do. I’m not sure I’ve ever actually seen evil ‘in the flesh’ so to speak, although I’d wager a guess it looks a lot like Hitler, or Stalin, or… I digress. It’s definitely not the Neil Gaiman character from a beloved work of fiction, who is supposed to be a centuries-old, deep down, old-fashioned ass -whoopin’ demon and instead is humorous and lovable and flawed, just like the rest of us.
I felt evil come for me late Saturday night. ‘By the pricking of my thumb, something wicked this way comes…’ It crept in somehow and the air changed in the room and my heart seized and my skin felt uncomfortable and every hair on my body trembled. I can’t explain it other than to say, I knew when it had arrived.
Normally, I don’t let it in. In fact, the small handful of times I have felt it near, God banished it before it ever reached the threshold. I know it may sound crazy, but it’s true. Further truth, I never much worry about evil. My relationship with God is so intimate and my faith so personal and the strength of it so gigantic, I sort of walk around like I’m wearing St. Patrick’s breastplate most of the time. (That is, of course, a mistake.)
Still, there it was. In my experience, evil pays a visit when I am over-extended, when my empathy is straddled somewhere between trying to save the world and just giving in, when I feel not-so-hot about the choices I’ve made, but mostly, mostly it shows up when I forget about God. I hear you saying, “But how can you forget about God???” Well, you can’t- not really. Or I should say I can’t. But he’ll lay low if you let him.
There is danger sometimes in my being so close to the creator. He is always with me, and so sometimes I just forget to hear his voice when he is speaking to me, I forget to see him at work in others, to listen for him and most importantly, to feel him in my heart and at work in my mind. (I am crying as I type this because the thought that I have let the most important thing I’ve ever known go ONE DAY without my utmost love and adoration makes me want to fall on my knees and beg forgiveness. I guess I am that cliché.)
The thing is, I encouraged it to linger by questioning myself and what I know to be true. Evil is like a kid at a carnival, you can’t give it walking-around money or it will stay forever.
Look, I screw infinite amounts of things up. You can almost set your watch by it. There is what some would consider a lackadaisical bent to my existence. I would call it freedom, and further than that- faith. I accept things on faith and very often because of this, I jump without a parachute. Chance, mishaps, and machinations trudge along at a frighteningly slow pace we come to recognize as “life”. Shit happens. Some of it is so dark blackness is a welcome relief.
Usually, I try to burn brighter than the sun so when I am able to feel darkness coming in from the shadows, it is really scary. It starts slowly, like Plugra butter melting in a cast iron skillet. It begins to melt first and then sizzle and then finally foam and froth as things heat up.
I begin to think about the crazy crush I have on just the cutest fellow: smart, humorous, humble, handsome and intriguing; conversely, the most impossible, improbable and unavailable person. He Who Must Not Be Named. I think about the things I watch on television, the music I listen to, the books I read. I think about the news, locally and abroad. I think about death and the past and all the things in my life that have caused me fear- and pain. So. Much. Pain. Things that have made me wish for death. Things buried so deep my soul has almost forgotten them- almost.
I felt myself give over to it and the spiral commence and it was dizzying- almost like a drug. It began to rustle softly to me about the clothes I wear, the way I speak, my smile. In a low hum it brought forth my body issues- when I was too thin, when I was too heavy…the constant struggle to be appreciated for more than beauty and the ugly times I have used that very beauty to get what I desired. It whispered to me about where I am in life, people and things I’ve neglected, who I can trust and who I cannot. It spoke in hurtful language about who loves me- and in the simplest and perhaps deepest cut, who doesn’t. It told me that my compassion is my greatest weakness and that the lustful thoughts I had in the shower are a sin. It reminded me subtly of my failures and my faults and things for which I’m both ashamed and accountable for. It stopped just short of reminding me of the night I almost took my life- and then God showed up. (I’m pretty sure I just wrote a synopsis for a Del Shores play.)
And then God showed up. (Fade in.) He had of course, never been gone. In actuality, he had been waiting for me to show up. He heard all those things and waited for me to stick up for myself- to say boldly and unabashedly those things which I know to be true: that I am loved no matter what, that I am always forgiven no matter what, that no matter what I do or how often I do it, that even if I get every bit of wrong (which I don’t, for the record…), that I am still his child.
‘I have called you by name, you are mine.’
Somehow amidst my anguish I finally heard him shouting at me, asking me to remember I am marked as his own forever. Did you know you can shout without using words? God can do whatever the hell he wants. He turned those things I doubt about myself into the very list of the reasons he created me specifically and loves me exactly as I am. And then just to show off, he showed me.
He led me to the church where my youngest son Alec taught Adult Education and we worked together readying the classroom in the quiet Sunday morning in the parish hall of the church he has attended since he was five. Soon after, I was the caregiver in the nursery to a delightful four-year-old named Jacob. Jacob had the best smile and he was so full of life. He laughed at everything and used his imagination to the fullest extent. While I was there we traveled to outer space, the drive-in movie, and the grocery store, respectively. (We had popcorn at the movie and candy too and we viewed ‘Finding Nemo’.)
The stewardship skit later was aces, except when I mixed up two parts and had to go back and correct myself… But you know what? No one cared that I screwed it up. Not a one. Instead, when it happened I saw smiling faces and family looking back at me. We are the brothers and sisters. We are the disciples. As the Sioux say, ‘Mitakuye Oyasin’: we are all related. Indeed we are.
I had a lovely dinner with Alec Sunday night. I splurged on good steaks and we feasted like it was Christmas- because really, isn’t every day Christmas? Christ is born in us anew every day and every day we are blessed for that to be so.
Monday morning the theology class was welcoming and warm as always and I sat there engaged in conversation with deep thinkers over the course of three hours and I never once looked at my phone or wished to be anywhere but right there. I received a message from my dear friend Jane that same morning in which she said something so meaningful to me I quite literally burst into tears of joy and thanks.
The class I led in the afternoon was engaging as well and gave me a little window in which I spoke in easy tones about my faith and God. I will never tire of the opportunity to do this, although hopefully, I listen more than I speak.
My friend Nan looked at me after I had admitted something particularly ordinary about my relationship to God and said, “Ashley, I wish I had your faith, I am in awe of you. I just want to rub up against you so some of it transfers to me.” For a moment fear struck me. ‘It’s a sham,’ I wanted to scream. ‘Don’t believe it.’ Then God roared again, ’Listen to her, she is telling you the truth! Listen to yourself and trust your own truth. When did you get to be so shy?’
Last night I ran to the store for Epsom salts. (It seems I am always running to the store for Epsom salts.) I happened to look in the vehicle next to me and saw my old friend Catherine sitting in the passenger seat. She looked like she had aged a million days and tired and frail and perhaps a little afraid, or maybe just resigned. I watched and felt the smiles slowly spread across both our faces as our souls recognized one another and said hello.
She told me about her cancer- aggressive cancer with an aggressive treatment and the course of the disease and her feelings about it. This woman has always had the strength of ten elephants and a gumption I’ve long admired. It was tough to see her this way, I confess.
She is an atheist and I met her ironically in my first year of theology class and we immediately took to one another. It was always so curious to others- the Jesus freak and the atheist. (There’s a joke in there somewhere…) I always adored our frank conversations and the soothing way in which she spoke and the care she took in our dialogue with one another. She was in her third year then and did not return the next year. I had forgotten how much I miss her.
I searched her eyes for something but all I saw was the face of Christ looking back at me. I saw her lips move and yet, all I could hear was Jesus whispering the words, ’Take her hand, tell her you will always be right beside her.’ And so I did. I watched as the words found her and the gratitude I saw in her eyes and the peace I felt wash over me was unmistakably the Holy Spirit moving through us both. She squeezed my hand and pulled me close, “I will remember that,” was all she said. It was all she had needed to.
My heart was so full on the drive home I almost missed the sunset- almost. I thought about my life and suddenly, the portrait of the saint smoking a cigarette I have framed in my bedroom pops into my mind. Someday when I have my wings I am going to go sit next to her. She’s at the fun table. Catherine will be there too. So will God, right there at the head with his arms flung wide reminding us there is a place for us all at his table.
Yes, even me.