The blues...

This morning in worship we talked about the blues: the psalms of lament - the hard truths and hard times of real life - the aching for comfort in a world of pain. Five different people spoke to me afterwards about their own blues: a new believer who has just been diagnosed with cancer, a young soul leaving an abusive relationship, a teacher still hurting after surgery, a realtor trying to find a way through the collapse of the housing market and a husband grieving the sudden death of his mother-in-law. And there was a lot more sorrow and blues just under the surface from the professional confronting post traumatic stress triggers to families quietly fearing for their children in the military in the Middle East.

I am so glad we are finding ways to get these long-suffering wounds out into the open at church. Not everybody gets - or likes - being open. But as Buechner has written about his experience at AA showing him what REAL church could be like - a group of openly broken souls seeking comfort and encouragement through honesty and humor - that is what resonates with me, too. I love his words about a woman who can't quite name the blessing she is aching for:

She doesn't know God forgives her. That's the only power you have - to tell her that. Not just that God forgives her the poor little adultery. But the faces she can't bear to look at now: the man's, her husband's, her own half the time. Tell her God forgives her for being lonely and bored, for not being full of joy with a houseful of children. That's what sin really is. You know - not being full of joy. Tell her that sin is forgiven because whether she knows it or not, that's what she wants more than anything else - what all of us want. What on earth do you think you were ordained for?

Sounds like Clapton playing,"Groaning the Blues" to me:

Or Mary Oliver's "Wild Geese."
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body,

love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting -
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

It is also the oddly beautiful - and paradoxically disturbing - "Piss Christ" of Andres Serrano which embraces Christ's incarnation boldly; by literally using one of the body's natural creation's to house an image of the Lord, Serrano celebrates a long line of Spanish artists who mix beauty and violence to evoke jarring new insights - especially something about how uncomfortable spiritual people still are with our bodies. As old Clarence Jordan used to say, "If Christ came back to the South during the day in all his dark skin, they would give up their commitment to the "word becoming flesh" faster than a New York minute." Embodied spirituality is deeply disturbing.
I think of the tragic work of Luis Bunuel as well as the political paintings of Goya in response to Napoleon's cruelty. They are not classically beautiful, but they point to the truth. "Art isn't at all like dogmatics. It isn't even very much like constructive theology. Visual art, like poetry, doesn't restate propositions or even directly parallel them. It projects a vision, one that we must see to understand, and whose truth lies outside of verbal explanation. Thus, good art is about truth..." Robin Jensen, The Substance of Things Seen: Art, Faith and the Christian Community.
And so Jesus said: Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me - watch how I do it - learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly.

God, let's hope so!


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