Stephen King writes about thin spaces, this phenomenon I’ve heard of in spirituality classes many times since I first read Bag of Bones, nearly 20 years ago. He writes about not turning when we hear what sounds like a footfall in the dark hall behind us, how we immerse ourselves in TV and magazines to keep out or steer clear of the truly unsettling.
I can think of thin spaces; the boat ride up the channel in Scotland, past the Isle of Eigg and the Isle Rhum, the way the light reflected off the water, how the rolling hills and cliffs met the light and seemed to suck it in. I wondered then how deep, and how cold, that water was as my fingers played over the survival suit I’d been robed in.
Today we talked about forgiveness. It sounds like forgiveness of others, but the real message was forgiveness of self, how we can’t love anyone if we can’t love ourselves, how that love of self has to be grounded in forgiveness; in the words my daddy likes to tell me when I’m struggling – that it’s nailed to the cross and it doesn’t hold me anymore. We don’t think about forgiving ourselves very often, I don’t think, our forgiveness is always other focused.
Jared made clear today, asked us to remember and call up those times that we were the terrible friend, the times that we messed up – to remember the people who forgave us as though it was almost nothing. He called us to pass this light, this forgiveness and joy onto those we would encounter, the people who mess up and inconvenience us, or worse.
I wondered then, as the light hit that particular way that it does this time of year, illuminating the Lazarus window, shining down on those beloved people across the chancel – what things I hold that I haven’t forgiven myself for? I’ve a feeling there are things I think I’ve put to bed, moved away and on from that will come back to me, wounded places that are still festering that I must make right somehow.
I wondered what things you hold, how those things are tender spots in your armor, places where the steel weave fails? I wondered if I had the strength, really, to bear those things with you.
I am so tired tonight. From a long week wading knee deep in the misery of folks who have lost everything in Texas on the supposed 1,000 year flood plain, from the relief of a smaller than expected hit from Irma as far as my own work is concerned. I am tired from hearing people cry, practicing my pastoral listening skills as I absorb and absorb like a sponge beginning to drip dirty water onto the counter. I am tired of the choked back sob in the “yes Ma’m, no ma’m” of these folks who have lost it all and still find it in themselves to talk that way to me when I bear the worst news.
There is more, almost a hundred more to settle and take care of, and that seems like so much want and need; when I can only play a very small part. I tell myself it matters, I tell myself, in the midst of my own frustration and exhaustion, that I am the hands and feet of Christ and so today I can listen to another story. Today I can listen to more tears.
And yet my own cup overflows with dirty flood water, with water tinged with funerals and grief and unspeakable pain.
I must drink it down.
It had never occurred to me that the words of our burial anthems, even at the grave we make our song, required me to sing. I didn’t realize until I sat in the packed church of my childhood that we were singing over a grave. I never thought that I would be called to faithful belief and song in the midst of such grief and pain. I didn’t know that I could open my mouth and the notes would come out, that I was capable of it.
Sometimes I long to be a child. I long to have every need met, to go to school with my lunch box and my friends, to soak up the last of the sun as autumn comes to the playground, changing the shadows on the long slanted poles that hold up the swings. I long to be protected from life, how bad it can get, how hard it really can be.
Sometimes I have survivors guilt, I looked around at all of this and wonder how it can be, how I was worthy or deserving. I don’t know what the answers are, I can hardly figure out what day of the week it is right now – how do I deserve the warm breath of my children in the next room? The gentle snores of my husband on the couch across from me? The insistent itching of a dog who is at least as old as Methuselah as fall allergies set in?
I tell myself that today there is work for my hands as I click on the kettle in the sacristy and talk with a friend about a South Pacific duet for an event in a few weeks. Today there are endless rounds of dishes to be washed, laundry to be folded and sorted. Today there was a Psalm to be learned, tricky markings and all. Today there was a couple who live on the shores of the lake, and we talked about the water and how it can change in an instant after I said to them, the body of Christ, the bread of heaven, after we shared a cup.
I tell myself what I am called to and why, show myself concrete ways I can help. And at the same time I wonder if I am strong enough to bear the holding of the great ribbon that joins the church and the world – how I can bring you the immense need and brokenness that exists in the world even here and how I can weigh that against your own need and expectations. I see myself, standing in the middle our our nave, proclaiming the gospel to you, with all of the sorrow pinned onto my robes like notes stuck in the nooks and crannies of the wailing wall.
If you could…
Can you mention…
We are hungry/homeless/broke/held down/sick…
And so tonight I am sick to death of being an adult. Sick to death of bearing the tender weight of things lost and needed and searched for.
I suppose that is my cue to go to bed, to sleep on it, to see my own mother’s miracle work again and again as the new day brings fortitude and a better mindset.
I love you still, standing here holding hands inside the sacred and the thin.
And I am so sorry.
And I hope I am enough, that I can be that strong.
(You’ll want to listen to this. She needs a minute to get going. Trust me.)
Sara Teasdale, Only in Sleep