I’ve been reading a book for school. Ha. That is sort of an understatement. I have a book that encompasses something like 3,000 years of history, and I also have a book about being a pilgrim, those are the two that are most important. I love how the church history book comes from this person who was so disillusioned with the church when the book was written, I love how he’s come back, according to an English family member anyway. Diarmaid MacCulloch is funny and he is irreverent in just the right places, he is interesting.
And then there is the pilgrim book. Our presiding deacon at school, the one who encourages us to be nothing less than “kick ass”, who is letting us handle the precious communion items as we learn, clumsily at times, how to set and clear the table – for you, dear people of God – she tells us that when something pokes or pricks us we should look to understand why. She tells us we should feel the pang and then figure out why it exists, I think that she thinks that this is when the spirit moves. In these small pokes, the strange goosebumps, the slow fizz of irritation, the tears that come from nowhere, and she encourages us to look deeper into what is being said.
We’ve been working with Midrash, which is where you take a reading and you imagine what else. Our book describes it as the words being black, and then filling in the space between the words, the things that weren’t recorded, the people whose voices were not heard. It is a way of making sacred texts come alive, which they are supposed to do, right? I don’t think anymore that the bible is a dusty collection that I don’t understand or have interest in, and Midrash is a part of that, helping me to really live inside the stories.
Adam and Eve and their exit from the garden, did they struggle in a hurried way to gather up the few things they had collected? A pretty leaf he had given her, some fruit or roughly made dishes? Did they cry? Did they stand outside the gates and see the flaming swords that guarded the tree?
Abraham and Sarah. Period. Seriously.
Because they were truly called to be pilgrims, truly called to lay down an entire way of life and to bid farewell to, well, everyone. Added to that the strange words that God told them to. What was that like? How did the message come? Was it a telegram, a song, a breeze or birdsong? Did they hear it at the same time? How did they tell each other if not? What was that last night like, inside their tent, deciding what to bring, dreading the morning light?
I know about last nights, I know about last dinners as we all gather, knowing that tomorrow brings the long flight home, the interminable distance between us. That tomorrow brings separation and tears. And yet I have not had the privilege of standing at a bedside or on the pier and waving off a steamer, knowing that this was really the very last time. I have not yet known that exquisite and liminal space between what is and what is to come, I have not watched someone leave this life, cross the threshold into whatever it is that comes next. I hope to.
The other day I heard a story about hospice on NPR and was struck as the woman spoke about the people who are in hospice, the people standing on the threshold, in the open door. She said that they are mostly not afraid, she said they are curious, that they are ready. She said that we are afraid because we are young, because death is so final, because we are holding on, fists clenched upon the skirts of this life, along for the ride.
I wonder what it is that we hold so tightly. I wonder what would happen if we let it go, the things we are supposed to keep, inheritances and bequests, the things that we believe about ourselves and about other people. I wonder what it would look like if we took all of the things we think and put them in leather suitcases, if we piled that baggage with all of the tangible things that we carry and cart around. I wonder how that would pile up next to the moving truck in the driveway.
I wonder how we could carry it all.
I remember leaving our home up north, how the truck filled so quickly, the car too; how my in-laws had our children in their vehicle to free up more space. I remember the things that were left, the things we didn’t have room for, the things I had to let go of with no warning, in that moment; I could give you an itemized list, a rendering. I remember watching the garage door close that last time on those things, knowing I was surrendering them, that they couldn’t be mine anymore. It was almost a tax, and I remember sobbing as my cat cried in a carrier next to me, as I drove that huge truck out of our neighborhood for the last time. I remember thinking, please, please let this be all. Please let me keep the rest.
And of course I could not.
Of course I would have to leave more luggage, more suitcases in more halls, more photos, more art, more people and relationships, more of what I thought was MYSELF.
What I am learning though is that who I am is not tied to these things. Sure, the bench in my living room lived in the living room of my grandmother before me, the blankets on my children’s beds were made by my mother, soaked with tears steeped in English tea as she sat on a couch in a house thousands of miles away and longed for my little girls. But if I had to leave tomorrow I am understanding that it would be ok. I am understanding that I am more than the things that belong to me, paltry and simple though they are.
I am understanding that what is inside of me is a bright and sharp shard of glass. It reflects the light back in a thousand small rainbows, it is cracked and broken.
I am learning that what I want doesn’t matter, that my will must be surrendered. I can see, sacrilegious though it may be, a cross on a hill in the darkening evening, and nailed to it are all of the things that I thought that I needed, all of the things that I thought that I was. There are bed frames and dressers, there are wedding dresses and baby clothes, there are blankets and stuffed animals, and they are piled at the base of that cross, because I am leaving them there. Photos flutter in the breeze, tacked to the wood, ribbons fly outward like pennants, there are clothes and there are books piled precariously.
Someday I will have a vade mecum, a go with me. It will be a place that is my own, a place where the things that nurture my soul, that egg me on toward bright and burning stained glass glory light live. I think it is ok to long for my own house, a place with wood floors and ghosts and quirky plumbing, a place I can fill with cats and laughter and people. Someday I will stop uncollecting, some strange sign will come and I will know that I can collect again, but different sorts of things, abundant things, life giving things.
I think the vade mecum, the go with me, will become important to us all. I think the church as we know it is falling away, our buildings crumbling and our memberships dwindling.
I think the church, the people who are the hands and feet of Christ, I think we will have to readjust, and I think it will be painful, because when something new is born pain is just part of the process.
And I think that I am standing at the base of the hill, the one with the rough cross on it. I am watching the things that I thought were mine, the things that I thought defined me flutter in the dusk. I can hear the frogs in the woods and the crickets warming up for their evening concerto. I can see your campfires and your tents, and I know that we are but Israelites. We are camped on the plain outside the promised land, and our cooking fires are hot and people, my people, are laughing back the dark.
My sister with her raised, defiant chin and gentle hands, my brother with the swishing skirt of his cassock. My mother and her crochet needles, my father too.
I think that I can walk away, that I can unclench my fists, that I can rest very secure in the calling that I have to do your dishes and set your table, to stand in the door of our historic church and sing out to you that the building isn’t what matters. I think I can let this thing unfold in the way that it is supposed to, that I can finally get out of the way.
I want you to know that I am getting out of the way.
I want you to know that I am trusting the Spirit to move, that I am hoping that what I am doing is right as I drive yet another nail into the cross that bears the things I thought I was, maybe the cross, the piece of wood, that bears the things that you thought I should be.
I want you to know that I am doing what is right, and that you don’t need to be afraid for me. I want you to trust me. I want you to love me but I understand that that is another colorful streamer that doesn’t really matter.
I am uncollecting.
I am starting the truck, the one that charges mileage and isn’t such a great deal after all, and I am driving away from the things that I thought I needed, all of things that I thought I was. The leather on the suitcases glistens in the light that shone through all the trees in that yard, it dapples the leather and I am crying.
I am letting go. I will try to show you how.
I will try to show you that the freedom that exists in this is so much more than the things that are tied to us, with little lead weights. So much more than being chained to who we were told we should be and what we thought we should do.
I am going to complete my pledge. I am going to try to give 5% next year. I am going to trust that, however much I need my money, you need it more. I am going to believe that my oil and my grain will sustain my family, in providence.
I want you to see that there is more than what you know, that the words on the page don’t tell the story in its entirety. I want you to imagine the space between those words.
I will try to show you how this surrender hurts so much, but is the only thing that there is as we move closer into the bright light of who we can be, of who we are called to be, who we promised we would be.
It isn’t easy. It shouldn’t be, because nothing worthwhile is.
I love you still.
And vows are vows.
And I meant what I said.
And I will mean it again. Even if I have to wait.
Baby I’ve been here before, I’ve seen this room and I’ve walked this floor. I used to live alone before I knew you. And I’ve seen your flag on the marble arch, but love is not a victory march, its a cold and and its a broken hallelujah.
(seriously get past the first minute, she has a lovely voice.. the baffled king, composing hallelujah).