A few weeks ago in one of my discernment groups we talked about how in serving somehow we are atoning. And how that isn’t supposed to be the point. But I’ve thought more about this over the weeks since, and I’ve decided that it most assuredly is a way to atone.
We learned in our confirmation classes this concept of becoming more holy, of not finding a stopping point or a place where all of one’s work is accomplished. We talked about purgatory and about CS Lewis’s version of busses that come through every now and again with space for more, space for those who want to move closer into the campground that I think of as purgatory, as a place where we become better and more ready to stand in the throne room of God.
I picture this place a campground because I’m pretty sure that either the best or the worst is brought of people when they are removed from most creature comforts. When there isn’t coffee readily available, when you wake up with dew in the tent from some leak that was unknown the night before. When you have kids relying on you for entertainment and all you really want to do is find a plug for the coffee maker…
This is a place of concentric circles. The outer circles are the most rudimentary of camp sites, places where you have to dig a latrine (which I have never done and hope never to do), places there isn’t a handy electric post, a conduit to the easy and the taken for granted. There aren’t showers, if you want to get clean you have to wade into the river and just do your best. The river is symbolic of your baptism, like it didn’t take the first time, or the twentieth, and you keep rushing into it, hoping to come out cleansed.
The closer in sites have access to a store that sells bug spray and ice at astronomical prices. It has electricity and it has showers that are cold, the kind where you have to feed it quarters and try to wash in front of all the gawkers and their little kids who stare at you as if they’ve never seen anyone wash their armpits before.
I think the closer in we get the closer the singing is, sometimes just a note on the breeze that feeds the fire at your campsite, that makes it jump and spark in the darkness. The closest circle consists of sites that are right on the banks of a river, and in the middle of the river a barge comes through every now and then, it ferries people over to the island; and that is the throne room of God. In the midst of a forest on a wild river, where seraphim bathe in the icy waters and cherubim lounge on large rocks in the sun, all lending their voices to one song of freedom and praise.
So I do believe there’s a path, there aren’t shortcuts, no paths through the woods that somehow make the journey quicker, less arduous. No as the crow flies. Everyone has to make the journey, we just all start at different points. And the path that we choose now, choosing to work now to burn ourselves in a holy and righteous fire, well, it’s helping me into a campsite that has electric and bathrooms.
Casey says I look like Hunter S Thompson, sitting here typing on a laptop in the sun, dreaded cigarette wedged into the corner of my mouth. And I am writing, though not in particularly that way. This is purging, this is all that I’ve processed, all that I’ve been thinking on and of. No prose, no story line or plotting out of characters. I’ve different projects that require these things, this sort of writing though is the ultimate release.
I wish I could say that all I do is for the greater glory of God. I wish I could say that is what I aspire to, but if I am to be honest, and that is what I long to be, all I really want is to make you proud, all of you. My husband and my father, by brother and my children; my sister and my mother. I know that the main line that runs through this call, this longing, is a longing to do good and to do it from a platform that can make the most things happen.
That robe, which my brother will loathe, that cassock with lace cutouts, it will clothe the wrist that connects to the hand that points the way forward, that proclaims the needs of the world to the church; and that inspires you to action.
I feel sad for the comments that have been made, and for the people, many of whom reside in my own family, for whom the Supreme Court’s decision is just another stopping place on the road to the end of days. Who feel attacked and betrayed, who wonder how people that aren’t like them have managed to take over their country. I don’t want to gloat, I don’t want to buy a rainbow T shirt or turn my profile picture into a rainbow, because I don’t want to rub it in.
Grace extends to the victors and to those who feel their country has been hijacked, but it’s to the victors that the administration of that grace falls.
In a few Sundays I will sing, remember this one? Just as I am without one plea, but that they blood was shed for me. And that thou bids me come to thee, oh lamb of God, I come. I come. And I don’t think that singing in this place in my life, in a beautiful and historic sanctuary, with my other mother and my revered friend and teacher playing the piano, in the wake of a victory for those who think like me, I don’t think that takes away from the message.
I want to make you proud. I want to change the world. This is hard and exhausting work, it is thankless work, and it is work that is done in the trenches of humanity. I’m not working with the up and comers, with the wealthy, I am working with the people who just honestly need to have one meal taken off the menu of things to shop for. Who need to take cans of things that they don’t need to buy, and I’ve been that close, and I understand the precipice; the slippery slope where your fingers grap and dig for purchase. I’ve been lucky and have always found that one branch on the hill side with which I could drag myself back up the muddy hill. But lots of people don’t.
I’m keeping the campground in the back of my mind. I’m striving for the glory of a site that, while not on the river, has a hookup and shared shower. I’m in for the greater glory. I know someday I’ll see you all there. I know I’ll ride my bike through the campground, pulling off into the ferns to let the bus bringing people closer pass. The bus has luggage strapped to the roof, and children of all colors hanging out the windows and waving. It has green pleather seats and bad shocks. I’ll see the smoke of your campfire, and stop for a cup of percolator coffee, and to see you as you hang your wet laundry on a clothes line strung between two trees at your campsite.
And I’ll see you, because that is what it comes down to, seeing you in just the place you are now. In your varying states of fear and rage over the Supreme Court decision, in your grief for historic churches burned to the ground. I’ll see your struggle to feed your kids and I’ll give them extra dessert and smaller helpings of something I know they’ll hate, I’ll remind you take the cheese and cracker packs from the food cart because they are good school snacks. It is so much about seeing you. And I want you to know that I see you.
I’ll sing the gospel, no easy feat. And I’ll set the table with the sacrament that will nourish you and feed you. And I will send you out to do your work.
And I will make you proud.
There ain’t no grave that can hold my body down….meet me Jesus meet me, meet me in the middle of the air, and if these wings don’t fail me I will meet you anywhere. Ain’t no grave that can hold my body down….Mama you know that I’ll be there when I check in my load….