Exiles and Mercy

Only a few times in my life have I been the way that I was today. Vulnerable, weak, laid bare, leaking tears.

When I testified in court, when I married, the day I was confirmed.

Not the day I birthed my children, my mother’s prophesy rang true that day, I was so desperate to be my own person again I would, as she said, have given birth in the middle of Robbins Road at 5pm on a Friday during the Coast Guard Festival. On those days I was fierce and determined, headed into battle with myself and what I could stand and the pain that I could handle, and all the forces of a nature that bring about new life. I didn’t know I would never again belong to myself.

Today.

Today I wanted to be fierce, today I wanted to be ready for battle. And instead I was sniveling and wiping my nose, instead my hands shook, instead I was silent.

I don’t know how to write honestly about this, because I am not sure what to say, what I should say. I know that those “should says” are a death knell, and I know that you maybe don’t know what I’m talking about. Bear with me and see my hands un-clench, see if my weak fists open and drop some small bit of water into your waiting palm, and use it how you will.

It’s hard, in a family, and in a community, to have dissent. It’s hard to have hard feelings and ill will, it is hard to feel that there is a constant battle happening in whispers. It’s hard to hear that there is an US and a THEM, when you are an us and feel like THEM made themselves into their own faction, chose their path.

Like the Israelites being carried away into Babylon and exile and suddenly they can come back, and here are the people who were left to tend the fields and the crops and the animals, these farmers and service type people; these people who are in the trenches and showing up all the time, and these exiles come back and try to say that their faith somehow counts for more, that their way is somehow the only way.

And we look up, those of us who are left behind, bereft of a temple and a king too, dirt under our fingernails and needing a shower, and we are amazed at their audacity, and wondering where they’ve been, how they’ve given themselves permission to walk away from a situation that became tenuous and difficult; how they’ve made it ok to live outside the Promised Land.

It’s hard to hear a body that should be united speak forcefully to one another, to hear pain and anger.

It’s harder still to hear things that are personal attacks.

It’s hard to believe that those voices may be the ones who turn a tide, who change a community, who prevent so much good.

We talked last weekend in class about how Episcopalians interpret the Bible. How we are talking about what is most life giving, what welcomes people in, how we try to hold the line, the slippery and hard to see filament of fishers of men, and we try to affirm and never turn away.

It didn’t feel like that today. Today it felt angry, like a sharp pair of scissors cutting the line, digging ruthlessly in the soft mouth of the fish, un-catching the hook from pink flesh, tossing the fish back into the cold water.

Anyone who knows me knows that I deplore strong emotion, I am a fan of decorum in all things, of Keep Calm and Carry On. And so when I, my own person, when I cannot live that out, when I leak tears and require tissues, it makes me feel angry and it makes me vulnerable.

I told some friends in the parking lot today, sniffling and wiping tears, you’re stuck with me, and sometimes I’m like this, but now you really know me because you’ve seen me cry. And I was promptly wrapped in a warm hug, and another friend came over and said, it pains me so much to see you hurting.

And I am hurting. I am.

I am hurting for what I’d hoped would be and what I am rapidly realizing is not the case, cannot be the case.

I am hurting for the people who have put themselves purposely outside of their community and who dare to re-enter only to sow discord and ill will.

I am hurting because I am realizing that this thing I thought needed a village for really falls to me, to more work, to more study, to more self knowledge than I’d really like to have, than I ever deemed necessary before. That this has to be my own, that it cannot rest on anything else, not even for a moment.

I am hurting because even my bishop cannot foresee what will happen, and is wise in his not promises to me, and is kind in his exhortations.

My throat aches with tears not shed, as if I had an endless store, as if my sorrow could fill a vessel so large it cannot be imagined.

And yet, and yet.

There is this old, old story, you’ve probably heard, this redemption story. And I haven’t made my mind up yet about the why of it, on the mechanics of how a man came to be nailed to a cross, and if that was really for me. It’s one of those things I thought I knew, one of things that has had to come out of the drawer, to be looked at in every possible light.

There are so many versions of this story, so much character development, which is all fine and good as long it’s not my own character that is changing.

I wanted to get up and stand on a chair today and I wanted to say: Listen to me. It is so easy to walk away. It is so easy to close that door and not come back, to mutter and to plot, it is so easy to make yourself into a victim. I’ve been there and I’ve done that.

What is hard is to be truly reconciled. What is hard is to work for that reconciliation. It isn’t just about the world, it isn’t just about our society, it is about us too, about our community. How can we seek reconciliation and justice in the world when we cannot live in inside of our walls? How can we seek to offer grace to the world if we cannot offer it to each other?

I feel like today was an Airing of the Grievances. I feel like all that was really accomplished is that everyone is left hurting, old wounds torn open. And I know it wasn’t meant to be that way.

I am considering the logistics of bottling these tears and adding them to the distilled solution of my baptismal covenant (these blue words are called a hyper link and you can click on them to understand what I am talking about). I am considering yanking that needle from my vein and sitting up on that table, grabbing that bottle and uncorking it, and just bawling for all I am worth, hoping to catch some of those tears, hoping their salt burns and at the same  time time opens me further.

It is hard to live flayed.

It is hard to be present when you really don’t want to be.

It is hard to obey.

I have promised that I will obey.

Today we sang, draw nigh and take the body of the Lord, and drink the holy blood for you out poured.

And it reminded me of this lovely song I was introduced to last year during Lent, where Orlando Gibbons writes, Cease not wet tears, His mercy to entreat, to cry for vengeance! Sin doth never cease. (Go ahead and listen to it, its the exact same tune as draw nigh and take the body). 

And so we sang it today and so I cried, because it’s all I do lately.

In between crying and blowing out my hair yesterday, and shaking through a meeting… I can smell my dad’s cologne on me. Every time I move I smell my father. My lipstick is the kind that won’t come off, not ever, and I just went into the girl’s room, these children I would have birthed on a busy thru-way in rush hour traffic just to mistakenly think I could have myself back, and my big girl said, hey mommy? I think you’re beautiful.

Odd bits of grace. Offered and received. I would offer odd grace to you.

This distillation of my call, of my self, as a mother and wife and friend, this distillation of my tears, it is entreating mercy. Mercy for myself and for those who are on the outside, either because I have unknowingly put them there or because they have chosen it themselves. Mercy for those that I love.

I too, have been other, and I have been outside and I have been angry.

There is a better way.

It is so hard. It is a giving up of yourself, but I like to believe that even now, even after today, if you knocked on my door right now, if you parked out back and commented on my too long grass and walked through my garage that is crowded with an SUV and bikes, if you knocked on my door; I like to think I would open it for you. I like to think that I would invite you in, and I have chili on the stove and I have garlic bread in the oven (again!). I can make coffee or you can have a beer, and maybe we can come to a place where the work of a risen Savior becomes more important than something that happened five years ago.

I do not personally want this, but I am called to it. Called to you.

I would see us all come to the table, to the altar.

I would see us work side by side.

Because there is work to do, and every hand is needed. And I am sorry. And your place is with us, your place is on your knees at the rail of the altar, at the table with your community. Your place, and mine too, is to set aside what came before and to reconcile.

And I love you still, even if you are going to leave. I will never stop, and there are not words to express my gratitude.

 

In your deep floods drown all my faults and fears, nor let His eye see sin but through my tears. 

 

 

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