Just now I was reading a post on social media. It’s one of those groups that mostly pertains to your town, one where people ask how the roads are, who’s hiring, who has affordable rentals, and sometimes rants. A woman had shared something about a little girl in our fair city experiencing bullying because her brother died. Yes, you read that right, there isn’t a typo: because her brother died other kids make fun of her.
And for me, for US, this really just another blow. Really just another punch in a long strand of heartbreak, a silk ribbon twisted over and over again, one that started out white and is now stained with blood and gunpowder, with the dirt of our very human hands.
This weekend was my first ever diocesan convention. This is when an entire diocese of Episcopalians come together and network and vote and make changes and vote and eat and dance. This is serious work and it is also the work I was made for. This was me being in a room of people who are just like me. This was me hearing people speak my language and being overcome with emotion to realize that I am really held. I am really loved. I am not alone.
We talked about heartbreak this weekend. We listened to it as a man came and spoke to us in the curious way sobbing people have of getting a message across. At the end of his message he let his arms fall to his sides and bowed his head, and he wept. Bishop Wright said possibly the most pastoral thing I have ever heard, he said: can someone care for this man? And people jumped up and people did.
We talked about what heartbreak and loss mean. They mean change, they mean asking again questions we never really asked, questions we were told the answers to, answers we just believed all along.
Dissemination is hard. Coming apart is terrible. Watching pieces of you come away, like literal chunks of your face, watching that happen and then those pieces getting washed down a baptismal drain is incredibly difficult. But we learned again what we already know deep down this weekend. We learned that we must and we learned that we can and I’m here to tell you that nothing necessary is lost.
We learned that God comes in fire, that fire is the precursor of all the times God moved. We remembered that God never called priests, the Levites never were called to be Moses. They never were called to be Jesus. And Jesus and Moses weren’t priests. We thought again about how the first order of ministry are the Lay. We imagined again what it would look like to the let the people who are on fire for God, and justice and mercy to drive the bus. We talked about getting OUT OF THE WAY.
Bishop Wright let us go, he said that he believed that we could solve our problems and that he certainly did not have all the answers. He opened the floor.
A woman approached the microphone and asked how we get through what she termed as the “soul sucking silence of Saturdays”. I immediately thought of Holy Saturday, I immediately thought of sitting Shiva with the grieving. I immediately thought of the light in my church, the way the stained glass glows, the carpet and the pews with their aisle torch holders that will catch and hold your clothing. I thought of the sounds of gunfire echoing in that space. I thought of screams. I thought of how to get out and I thought of losing 11 people. I am pretty sure that isn’t what she was talking about though. I am pretty sure that she chose to be vulnerable in front of more than a hundred of her peers, that she was speaking from personal experience.
And another woman followed. She spoke eloquently, poetically, about working third shift, about watching morning gild the skies. She said the way we get through those Saturdays is to yearn. To yearn and to wait and to find a way to fill what seems like a deafening silence as the whole world descends into madness and black folk are killed in supermarket parking lots and Jews in their own church, as little kids are mean to another for a deep, deep loss. I think she meant that she understands what it is to wait for that word, to yearn for a light to flicker somewhere, for a path to be illuminated again in the dark woods we’re in.
And she was right. And I understand too.
And Bishop Wright was, well, right. We cared for each other. We answered our own questions. We had hard conversations and we voted thrice for one thing and we approached the mic and said who were ARE. And where we COME FROM. And as we did those things we were held. Our vulnerabilities were not exploited. Our needs were not debased and our griefs were not mocked.
This is what people should be. This is what happens when we choose to grow our hearts.
The man who cried shouted out from his chair, We have to carve this thing out!
And the bishop replied that we can’t carve it out. We can’t carve anything out because the thing is us.
And so I feel like kids are growing their hearts. Like they’re born without them, not realizing how bad it can be, not understanding how quickly that paycheck is spent, how far and dusty the road from El Salvador is to America, not seeing that their parents were people before they were parents. They see a little girl who has a dead brother and they mock her because they don’t know what else to do, how else to address the deafening awfulness of the thought of losing a sibling.
And I don’t blame them. Because my heart is growing too.
My heart grew this weekend meeting people who understand the singularity of a call to ordained ministry. My heart grew as I spoke the language of canon and liturgy with people who understand me. It grew as light poured in the stained glass window of a church as a gospel called us to STAND UP.
And we (excuse me) fucking stood up. And we clapped. And we were moved by a gospel choir of not even 20 who sounded like 50 and who exhorted us, begged us, to worship.
I think growing a heart IS learning to stand up.
It IS learning how bad it can be even if that hasn’t been our experience. It is hearing a man sob into a microphone in a room full of people that he had a conversation with his son about how to act with the police and that his son will have a conversation with his kids too. It is weeping with him as he begs us to grow out hearts RIGHT NOW and to change a deep seated racism that feels as old as time. It is caring for him, sitting him down, getting him a drink of water.
Imagine if we all grew our hearts again. If we started to look for the fractured pieces of ourselves that have come off or been pulled off, the pieces hidden in books on shelves and junk drawers and old purses. Imagine what we could do if we all obeyed those simple words, will someone care for this person? What if we just stood up and said, I will?
We could greet a weary band of travelers at the border with water and food and diapers and places to stay. We could demand that a fair wage be paid. We could feed the hungry and fill the empty. We can do all of these things if only we will let our hearts expand because we have enough. If only we would rub the sharp sleep of inertia and exhaustion and politics out of our eyes and do something. If we could realize that the almost cliche is true, we are just walking each other home.
The enormity of our grief is crushing. Even now I’m hearing the president on a TV in another room saying, “we won’t have that in our country”. “People are going to be camping out on your lawns!” Even now families are grieving lives lost to gun violence last week, and a band of travelers has stopped for night. They are putting down toddlers on sidewalks and in tents and standing in line for food and they are believing that what America has is the answer.
There is so much more to say. There is sitting across from a man I thought I was very angry with and seeing his very kind eyes rest on and see me. There is meeting women clergy who affirmed and accepted me on sight. There is passionate debating with Barrett and singing Queen with a bishop.
Listen to me.
Do the thing that is hard. Do the thing that goes against what you’re brain is telling you is right. Love people with your whole heart and you will worship God in kind.
And you are not alone.
Your lament does not fall on deaf ears.
And there is a place for you in our merry band if you want it. We’re kicking up dust on that red road, we’re singing as we walk and making camp for the night: sharing what we have, putting the kids down close to our campfires for the warmth. There are hands to hold and souls that understand and people to care for you when you lose your shit. I promise you these things are true and that they can change the the world.
And I love you still. And I’ll walk with you.