The widsom of our wounds - another try

Lying quietly last night in the cool country air, I couldn't help but reflect on my recent written attempts to explore the blessing of God's joy amidst the sorrows of real life. They are moving in the right direction - and subsequent writings will advance the cause (I trust) - but still my words for this Sunday seem to miss the mark...

So I eventually found myself playing an old James Taylor song, "You Can Close Your Eyes." I have loved this little tune since I first heard it in April of 1971 on Taylor's third album: Mudslide Slim and the Blue Horizon. At first it was just a gentle love song to me; later a tender prayer. And still later, during the death of my five year old nephew, Mikey, and later my sister, Linda, this beautiful, sweet song took on deeper layers, too. It seems that as Linda held Mikey during his periodic illnesses, she would sing this song to him. When he died, she asked if I would sing it at his funeral.


Five years later, still grieving from the loss of her dear boy, Linda began to succumb to cancer. She had been crazy with sorrow for two or three years and refused to follow up on her irregular pap smears. And when she finally found a little solid ground, she had advance cancer of the cervix. For about 10 months she was hospitalized for experimental treatments - some of which seemed to be working - but then the cancer was too strong.

To add insult to injury, given the alcoholism in our family - and a tragic history of other abuse - no one was able to tell my sister that she was dying. I know that sounds bizarre, but it is sadly true: not her husband, not my parents, not the medical staff or social workers.

So when I drove from Cleveland to Washington, DC to visit her after Maundy Thursday worship one night, I was clueless as to her real condition. When I entered her private room and found what looked like a female skeleton vomiting and weeping, I was certain the name on the door was a mistake - but it wasn't. The next day I had to tell my sister that she was dying.

She was furious and afraid - she shrieked and vomited and wept like banshee. But after a few hours of chaos and rage, we started to make hospice arrangements and funeral plans. She asked if I would sing, "You Can Close Your Eyes" at her service, too. As the military plane touched down in North Carolina carrying Linda back to her family late in the afternoon of Easter Sunday, she sat up on the stretcher, reached out to embrace her treasured child and said, "Mikey, I'm coming home." And then she died.

I buried my sister in the same military chapel at Fort Bragg that I buried her son five years before - and I sang that same damn, sweet and sorrow-filled song. And last night, as I was singing it again, the thought ran through my mind: maybe this is part of what Paul was trying to convey to us in his words about God working all things for good with those who love God. There is beauty and sadness in this song both at the same time; there is healing and lament right there, too.

We believe that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. And we know that in everything God works for good with those who love the Lord and are called according to God’s purpose. Therefore, we are sure that neither death nor life, angels nor principalities, things present nor things to come, powers, height, depth or anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

I think what dear St. Paul is trying to tell us is that this is how God's healing and blessed joy works in our lives: it doesn't take away the sting of our pain, it doesn't distract us or push us into illusions - or medicate us - or perform magic like fairy tales. The pain remains, but it can also be surrounded and maybe filled with love - even shared with others - so that our pain isn't without meaning. We meet God in the sorrow and wound and together bring meaning to the anguish and even a measure of healing - which is very different from a cure, right?

+ I think of Elie Wiesel walking with President Obama through Buchenwald saying, "This is a type of returning to my father's grave... but oh, if these beautiful trees could talk."

+ It is both/and - there is wisdom and a measure of healing right alongside the anguish and emptiness - not one but not just the other, too.

Now, to get to this place requires having the eyes and the heart to see into the upside down, counter cultural ways of God and the unforced rhythms of grace... The old monastics and spiritual masters in our tradition call it "the Paschal Mystery" where we come to experience in our lives what Jesus experienced as he traveled from Good Friday to Easter. Did you get that? The journey from the cross to the resurrection becomes ours by the grace of God. It is the totally counter-cultural, upside down claim of the kingdom that God will do in our lives exactly what happened to Jesus from Good Friday to Easter: the worst and most offensive evils and wounds will be used to bring blessing and healing.

Not that the wounds will go away – not that they still won’t hurt – and not that they won’t have consequences; but rather that they will not be the end of the story. That God will use even the worst to advance the best in our lives and in the world. The old gospel preachers used to say: God can work a something out of a nothing – so hold on, baby, it may be Friday but Sunday’s a’ coming! Dr. King was a little more philosophical when he said essentially the same thing: “The arch of the moral universe tilts ever so slightly towards the good, the noble and the true.”

Now, this is a faith claim because you have to have the counter-cultural eyes of God’s kingdom – and a true commitment to using your imagination creatively – to both see and trust the reality of this upside down kingdom. Which is why, of course, Jesus spent so much time talking to his disciples about the heart and soul of God’s kingdom. How did the gospel for today put it? Are you listening to this? Really listening? God's kingdom is like a treasure hidden in a field for years and then accidentally found by a trespasser. The finder is ecstatic—what a find!—and proceeds to sell everything he owns to raise money and buy that field. (Matthew 13: 44)

This person is energized – charged-up – and on-fire for the treasure, right? Owning the property is not the issue: getting to the treasure is what this story is all about. One scholar wrote: "The treasure is so valuable that it is worth doing new, joyful, risky, and costly things to posses it .... He sells all that he has and buys that field. This is a risky act which could threaten his life, but it is worth losing even his life… because the kingdom requires setting aside all other priorities in wholehearted commitment.” (Stoffregen, www.crossmarks.com/brian/matt13x31.htm)

And perhaps this is how the blessed healing of joy begins to come to us: when we want the treasure - the healing and the joy - so deeply that we will give up conventional wisdom and all the rest and begin to trust and live like God's upside down kingdom is real. Isn't that what the Serenity Prayer teaches - kingdom living - in very ordinary language? God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.

This way of living and seeing and thinking doesn't make sense to most people: they want the blessings - we all do - but they aren't willing to follow God's upside down path. It is much like the story of the wise and learned rabbis of Eastern Europe who would gather from time to time to study and argue over Torah. As a rule, this learned consortium of scholars “boasted of their distinguished rabbinical genealogies – it was a given, you see, that gravitas came from deep roots.”

But Rabbi Yechiel of Ostrowce was an exception. He was the son of a simple baker and had inherited some of the forthright qualities of a man of the people. Once, when a number of rabbis had gathered at some festivity, each began to boast of his eminent rabbinical ancestors. When Rabbi Yechiel's turn came, he replied gravely, "In my family, I'm the first eminent ancestor."

His colleagues were shocked by this piece of impudence, but said nothing. Immediately after, the rabbis began to expound Torah. Each was asked to hold forth on a text culled from the sayings of one of his distinguished rabbinical ancestors. One after another the rabbis delivered their learned dissertations. At last it came time for Rabbi Yechiel to say something. He arose and said, "My masters, like my father, were bakers. They taught me that only fresh bread was appetizing and that I must avoid the stale. This can also apply to learning."
And with that Rabbi Yechiel sat down. (A Treasury of Jewish Folklore: Stories, Traditions, Legends, Humor, Wisdom and Folk Songs of the Jewish People, ed. Nathan Ausubel, p. 51)

God is calling us: into fresh insights, into the unforced rhythms of grace, into serenity and joy - and now to the table, too. At this upside down table we confess that children can be rabbis, strangers are to be welcomed as the beloved, sins are forgiven, joy can be shared and our wounds can help us become people of wisdom and compassion. So please, come for all things are now ready.

Comments

Nick Coke said…
Beautiful writing - heart-breaking but uplifting, too.
This blog really good with compare to the other blogs. Language are very interesting, meaningful, supportable to this article. Good capturing every point in this blog,Thanks

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