When Everything’s Lost, the Battle Is Won With All These Things That I’ve Done
We have slaughtered
In the garden
Digging graves instead of planting
Mercy for the crucified
A bitter justice
Begging eternity for love – A. Morissette
I have been asked a lot of questions since the election in November, both from the supposed ‘right and left’ about how I feel about the world and her people and the way things are going. I usually manage to deflect somehow and talk about the weather.
I’m kidding of course, at least about the weather. The thing is, I spend a great deal of time thinking about what is happening near and far. The conclusions I draw are very personal and I think there are enough valuable opinions out there in the ether without me adding mine.
Someone I disagree with regularly told me the other day that I am (we are) unable to “know” God or be in “relationship” with God. This really got under my skin. It actually crawled all over me, Believe me, I fully understand about God being unknowable. This much is true. God is creator of all that IS- so, that means everything. I mean, I get a little “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ just thinking about it.
Let me give you a small but meaningful example. I am not very good with living plants. Those who know me best are well aware of this. My friend Christopher is growing Valhalla in his yard and mine looks like the set of Frank Herbert’s ‘Dune’. I digress; let me get back to the example.
I have a couple of very lovely fake plants in my home because I am not very good at keeping the real ones alive. One is an arrangement of silk flowers I acquired while working for an interior designer. It is a bouquet of iris, bird of paradise, palm and snapdragons with peacock feathers. The other is an orchid. It is a lovely bright pink color with realistic leaves and roots. It sits in my bathroom and I admire it while I’m brushing my teeth, bathing, and other things you do in the loo.
I began looking at those flowers and thinking further than the fact of their manufacture. I began to think of the creation of the fabric used to create the petals, the leaves, and the roots. I started to open my mind and further think about the way these materials were all put together to make this beautiful plant.
Additionally, I became intrinsically interested in thinking about the people who had put these flowers together. A machine could perhaps sew the flowers and maybe cut out the leaves and attach the flowers to the stem (maybe). But there is humanness to the process I cannot ignore. Someone had to assemble these things into the plant I now look upon with favor.
I begin to imagine who this person might be. I think about their story, their life, and their place in the world. Is it a man or a woman? How old are they? Where do they live? Are they married? Single? Gay or straight? Do they have children?
Someone somewhere put this plant together with at least a modicum (probably more) of care and pride in their work and created something beautiful for me to enjoy.
This is a gift from God and a definitive part of his creation. This is the way my mind works. Every single thing on, in, around this earth has meaning and purpose and it was all put here- again, created for us to enjoy and reflect on. When you reflect on it this way, as I do, God becomes infinitely knowable. He is mystery too, because he is…well, everything.
I sent my friend Cathy a message asking her how it could be that I find myself in an intimate and what I hope is a mutually rewarding relationship with God when he is seemingly beyond human comprehension. For the record, I do not doubt my closeness to God. I carry a piece of him around inside me. I am simply asking the question.
She directs me to immanence and a light bulb goes off above my brain. We have discussed immanence in my theology class (quite a lot actually) and it resonates with me. Immanence basically says that while God is supernatural and divine, he is also present here in the material world; in fact, in my life every moment.
I spend my life in constant conversation with God. Some of the conversations are mundane and some border on the fantastical- all are imperative and meaningful. My life is a continual prayer.
I am no deist. To me, my God is one whose hands are down in the muck and mire pulling me to safety, sometimes saving me from myself. The one who fights for me and lets me win sometimes. My God is the one who will catch me if I fall and encourages the skinned-knees of exploration. He is the one who hears me when I cry…the one who would die for me.
Here’s where it gets really good. A few weeks ago I was having a talk with Papa (God) at a stoplight as I waited for the light to change. I had all my windows down and was blaring Annie Lennox’s ‘Waiting in Vain‘ while I sang the words loud enough for all the passersby to hear. I turned down the volume just as she sang, ‘In life I know there is lots of grief, but your love is my relief’. “Ok listen,” I said. “I never ask you for specific things, I never have. Today is the day. I need a definitive sign one way or the other. Please just let me know. Give me a sign.”
Let me interject here that I do not ask God for parlour tricks. I wasn’t asking him to part Lake LBJ or make day into night (or vice versa) or even make it rain (though it did…). I was just asking him for a sign. In keeping with ‘honesty is the best policy’, I should tell you that I twisted my fists and shouted a little and there was quiet crying (because, well…me…) and then I just matter-of-factly said, “I need this from you.”
About a week later I got my sign. It was like a neon billboard in a barren desert. There was no denying its intent. I felt awash with gratitude and joy and comfortable and uncomfortable all at once. I mean, I have had God definitively answer me many a time. I have heard his voice. But I feel like I have never asked for something so selfish- that’s not really the way it’s supposed to work- and he freely gave it to me anyway. I want you to think about that for a moment. How profound is that? Like mind-blowing. But I suspect that’s kind of the point.
So I began to think about the person who tells me I cannot be in relationship with God. I respect his opinion and his faith, actually. He adheres to a strict biblical faith and I appreciate that. The Episcopal faith can at times be a tricky one. We ask for the respect and performance of sacred traditions handed down from the Apostles themselves. Then we turn and say it is ok to question everything- including your faith. Frankly, it is precisely why I love it so much. We are visionaries.
That said; let me get back to the world and her problems. (I know… I tend to wander when you let me. I like rabbit holes.) I don’t really get involved in politics. I am a registered independent and I like who I like. I also have never really been comfortable on the front line of a sit-in or smashed in a throng of thousands in a rally or parade. Make no mistake, I LOVE THESE THINGS. Our freedom is never as assured as when we exercise it. I just choose to exercise mine a little differently.
Do I worry about the world? As my friend Jaybo used to say, “You bet.” So here’s what I do. I wake up every morning and (after I have grumbled the requisite five minutes) I say thank you for the creation of a new day. I brush my teeth, put on a little lipstick (and blush on a good morning), throw my hair in a top knot and dress. I feed the pets and I speak to the birds and the day. I greet the strays I feed out front and hop in the old beemer. I put something on the stereo tried and true and crank it up. Then I start talking to God.
I try to be the face and voice of Christ wherever I go and to whomever I meet. In truth, sometimes this falls on deaf ears and blind eyes and sometimes I am not the face of Christ but of someone I do not recognize and sometimes, someone I do not like very much. This is intrinsically part of being mortal and flawed and why it was so imperative Jesus be human too.
People talk a lot about sacraments, what meaning they hold and they refer to them as specific things: baptism, communion, burial, and marriage. I refer to life as a sacrament; the sacrament of the ordinary. It is the sacrament of the lady or gentleman who makes those fake flowers that make my home a happier place, the lonely guy under the streetlight wondering about his life, or the child who cries in the night because they are hungry. It is the giving of spiritual bread to the socialite who is starving for faith or the person dying of cancer that requests forgiveness for deeds left undone. It is the sacrament of holding an old man’s hand as he navigates the crosswalk, or holding on when it would be so much easier to just let go. It is the whispering of prayers for a troubled world or your troubled son in his ear as he sleeps.
God is there for all of this. We rest at his feet, he rests at ours. Somewhere in the world someone starts their day like me. Somewhere someone lives their ordinary sacraments- just like me. In fact, I’m willing to bet more than one; all around the world, no matter whom or what or how they believe- they believe. My boss and friend (friend first, I think) asked me how to stop the trajectory this country and this earth seems to be on. I answered him with truth and a little bravery, I hope. “By being kind, “I say simply. “If I love others as God loves me, if I am kind- if I am always kind…if that is all I do, well then, I believe they’ll do that too…and somehow, some way it will all be alright.”
I know it’s simple (and a little like jumping from a plane with no parachute) to believe, but I do. I also know God answers my prayers.
“Love without restraint makes one saint and the other faint; the sweetest face and the tenderest embrace bring the sun to every place in such grace.”
–Ana Claudia Antunes, The Tao of Physical and Spiritual