Dreaming of Church

photo credit: Country church landscape via photopin (license)
photo credit: Country church landscape via photopin (license)

Being raised in the church, buying into the messages of earning favor with God, earning favor with people, proving…it gets confusing sometimes when all that stuff doesn’t work any longer. When sitting there, on Sunday mornings feels akin to being poked by pins, stomach churning, hands wringing, lips clenched. Air absent. A pressing on my chest, preventing breath, preventing assurance, preventing grace.

Sitting in the pew, singing the songs, weighed down, stuck, why? The room ions charged with daggers pelting my eyes, tears lapping at the gates not awaiting proper dismissal. Who can’t be here? Who feels unsafe in this building? Who has been sliced open so deeply for assumed choices, that are not choices? Who has been told they are sin?

I gave up church, I had to, like a reverse Lent. We had to separate for me to discover who I was and my calling, apart. Terrifying with kids, fear constantly pressing. The old messages, the need to control every Sunday, like an old mix tape. Eric, should we go to church today? No.

Should. The toxicity of that word, weaseling and slithering its way through my most vulnerable and sensitive places. I wonder if there is actually evil dwelling in the “shoulds”. Power held, driven by the blind obligation. Every time I “should”, I have to pay close attention to my internal environment. To be motivated by a should is to perpetuate an unhealthy system…to operate out of guilt and fear rather than desire, health, grace.

I know the church is changing. People are seeking, asking questions, quietly and gradually shifting. Conversations happening, the grace-filled kind, the ones that plant seeds, dwelling in kindness and patience and yearning. Healing and hope, the beautiful, abundant, life-giving words of Jesus jumping off the page, shining a light of relief into the darkness, the damage. Differences are celebrated, not tolerated, not ignored, or worse – condemned. What do you love to do? Sure, there’s a place for you here. Yes, we do see your race, your sexuality, your gender. No, it’s not a problem…it’s all welcome, beautiful. We need you here.

I love the Church. I love who she was created to be. I love the work she does. I love that fact that she keeps re-creating herself, independent of our expectations and opinions. I love her work in healing, in reaching, in being bent and shaped. I love the way she loves. I need a church that deeply cares for one another, providing relief and grace. There are plenty that mar the name, punching, leaving a trail of wounded, self-righteous, blind. This is not the church I am discussing.  My church, the church I dream of, must rest in and exist within these beautiful, words of Jesus, words of Love:

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:17)

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28)

For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. (Matthew 7:8)

This is Jesus. Who knows our hearts, our pain, our wrestle and struggle. He is nearer to us in our suffering than we imagine, protecting, holding, shielding his children. We are to be this to another, the Church needs to be this…the Church has to be this. Church must be our example of how to love. Without true, holy, abiding love, what’s the point? Why do we go? Because we should?

Is it my job to change a church? I don’t think so…not right now. I’ve tried and I wind up toxic. I lose my peace, my hope. We are all called to different things and I deeply respect friends and family who’ve chosen the inside track.  They have my support and admiration. Me? Well, I shoot too often from the hip. I get angry (not in a good way), I am capable of damage and the last thing I want to do is confuse a tender, seeking soul.

I will choose a place that celebrates all of me, all of another, all of my children, all of my husband, all of my friends. I will choose a place that doesn’t seek to change a person but welcomes us as we are, loving the differences, loving the stories. I want a church that wrestles with knowing what is our work and what is God’s, recognizing the essentiality of this differentiation of responsibility.

I refuse to “should” on myself. Instead I choose to live in grace, believing my being loved is not contingent upon where I am on a Sunday morning. If it happens to be at church? Wonderful. I hope and pray this can be the reality.

The Colors of Grief

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I love how the light falls from this particular angle, the sun shining directly on me through the trees, the shadows cast long, illuminating the developing forest floor as winter takes a back seat and spring rapidly pushes forward. The seasons each are a few weeks longer and shorter in the Colorado High Country. Mother Nature wakes up a little later around here, stretching her long arms as she yawns and new life begins. Abundance overwhelming as creatures skitter, birds construct homes, young deer wander not terribly keen to the need for fear. The fire from yesterday’s eve is blackened char, memories of silly jokes and Sponge Bob’s Campfire Song Song.

Sitting in my favorite chair, coffee, pen and notebook in hand, I am invited to rest in the goodness, the gifts. I am invited to set down my agenda, my need, my proving, to just be, to enjoy, to soak. So much is going on all around, and in. So much to figure out, so much to manage, so much to attempt to control. The kids, this final week of school, finishing strong. Now over, the summer uncovering itself before us.

My heart and head move through situations, hopeless situations that seem to offer no positive outcomes. I think of the child, now rendered motherless, just one year shy of the age I was when I found myself in the same space. Scared, confused, unbelieving. Uncertainty now in the driver’s seat, nothing sure or determined easily. The loss of innocence. I recall these last thirty years I have walked this road, recognizing the incredible and remarkable care I was given, the people, the love…offered, available. This child. Thirty years. Broken hearts. How do we manage just one more moment, let alone a day? This precious girl. Mind, heart, body plunged into uninvited suffering.

Yet, the world keeps miraculously spinning on its axis, the sun shines after long days of rain and joint-stunting cold. The seasons happen, the leaves come, the trees continue their arching up and out. Flowers bloom, tiny seeds become food, birds make homes, eggs are laid, babies hatched. Life goes on its merry way without much care for the suffering, sorrow, grief that may envelope us in the most inopportune of moments. Cruelty at it’s finest, Life doesn’t halt, doesn’t even really stop to take a breath; marches onward to the rhythm of laughter, parties, graduations, birthdays, new life, seasons, promotions. All of it still happens.

While in Barcelona I visited the Picasso Museum. Guided by an English speaking headset, I  meandered leisurely through each hall. While observing his early works – sketches, instructional exercises, contest winning scenes – I took notice of a particular portrait he painted of his friend Carlos Casagemas. The haunting use of color and contrast had me mesmerized. The countenance young, yet worn…almost like he knew too much. The broad shoulders wore a large coat, with thin, elongated face and unfocused gaze.  The recording explained that Carlos was Pablo’s close friend for just two years. I took note of their abbreviated relationship, the image staying with me as I continued.

I came to the collection of works from his Blue Period (1901-1904). A tangible display of dejection and death, all painted in blues. I wondered and confirmed this was Picasso’s response to the suicidal death of his friend, Carlos. He allowed the grief to color him, to determine him, to define him. Everything he did was in relation to Carlos’s death. The subjects of his paintings were sick, broken, dead, hungry, filthy. Maybe this is all that felt real, no longer was there room for fake, trite, patronizing. Nor was there probably room for laughter, merriment, or cheer.

Doesn’t suffering do this work? When we suffer it burns away the excess, the superfluous. No longer do we have the energy or desire to pretend.  When the earth shakes, when we are pummeled by unexpected waves of pain, tumbling us headlong deeper, wondering if oxygen and light will once again be ours. Nothing else works, just blue, just sad, just questions. Our sorrow, our trembling deserves a name, it deserves to be counted and defined, to be contended with, experienced. There is no proper way to manage this. There is no time frame or rule book. There are no definitions, for this would be a great disservice. We don’t get to predict the end, there are not clearly defined borders for grief. One day, one moment there is respite, a glimmer.

Following the Blue Period, the Rose Period (1904-1906) is the picture of Picasso’s hope. Works infused with joy and refreshing color. The hues, however, still seem muted, tenuous, maybe disbelieving. Sometimes hope doesn’t seem real, or deserved…too good to be true. Hope dwells in tandem with suffering. Sometimes she just hangs out, on the edge of periphery, almost undetectable. She dwells in limitless forms – the unfolding of a new season, sunlight, rain, conversation, medication, mercy…

As I am given the gift of witnessing the unfolding of this new spring, again, I know we all get to experience new birth after desolate and desperate winters. Redemption. God’s time is our healer, grace is the driver, and self-compassion is the key. There is great power in the recognition of our work, the suffering.

I wonder if Picasso, in the remainder of his days painted any more blue. I bet he did, but maybe there were other colors too.

Spring Pondering

photo credit: Bored via photopin (license)
photo credit: Bored via photopin (license)
It seems as though spring has popped up out of nowhere. Chicks bustling about, running, chasing, eating, sleeping. A broody hen (again?!), dwelled upon her nonexistent life. The final push towards the end of the school year. Children antsy, staying up later than is good for anyone. Concerts, barbecues, summer plans conversations, field trips, last minute desperate attempts to raise grades. A far cry from the sparse, desolate, oddly comforting days of winter. Snow blanketing the ground, too cold for any normal person to venture out, excuses ready to not go, to not pursue, to rest, to watch yet another episode.

Green everywhere, leaves flickering in the wind. Animals feeding off the lush grass, the ready worms just at the surface from long days of rain. Sun shining around full clouds. A true beauty. The privilege of going outside without stifling layers. The freedom from biting cold and gnawing wind.

The new challenges. Weeds everywhere, me never getting ahead of their relentless reaching upward and around, binding. Insect numbers growing, flies needling through open doors, awaiting their opportunity to filter inside, to ruin rest and make people crazy with dishtowels flying. Moth seeking light. Sunburn first, a reminder of the need for sunscreen reapplication. Runs with sweat dripping in eyes, rather than trembling to the shower with frost attached to all loose hairs.

Changes abound. Seasons are relentlessly welcome, yet prices must be paid. All change comes hard, even when it’s anticipated, desired. All change requires pushing and pulling, negotiation and doubt. All change, beautiful as it is, has an underbelly, a curse, second guessing, a brief longing, to return to “normal”.

I often approach the  summer break with trepidation, an unease of having the children home, managing disagreement, missing my lonely days with them in school. I feel a failure, many times, failing to organize a full schedule: playdates (whoops..”hang out time”), camps, work opportunities, music lessons. I wonder about the 10 weeks of brain fry that happens when far too many hours waste away on devices. The mother guilt can nearly eat me alive as my body longs to rest from the schedule, the run around, the deadlines. I tend to feel better when I succumb to what I know I need to do…pack up bikes, hiking boots, swimsuits…and do something. But the hurdle it feels like to overcome some days can be more than I want to manage.

I enjoy their company, learning about them, knowing our days are so swiftly numbered. Two teenagers, ready to fly the coop, where future summers should be about significant others, jobs, college and angst.

I guess, like most things (or all things), it comes down to kindness, it comes down to compassion. Some days may invite excursions and grand adventures. Other days may invite lounging in the air conditioning.

I pray, I hope we strike the balance this break. Where life can be lived slow and lazy, with structure and opportunity. With room for laughter and growth, friends and occupation. I pray, I hope I give myself vast amounts of kindness and compassion, space to be separate, room to grow personally, not all dedicated to the young people in my life. For a little out-of-balance is not the worst thing that ever was. 

A little bit of rest is not awful and a whole lot of busy is just fine.