4.10.20

I combed my hair today. I got dressed in jeans and put on socks and shoes.

Yesterday I did not. I couldn’t. I managed to get out of bed, and I cried a lot.

When I am depressed there is a real temptation to disconnect from my body. My body feels like a weight I am dragging around. I chose to ignore the signals of hunger and thirst, and then because I am still embodied I feel sick.

I wrote in a journal more than a decade ago that I thought the hardest part of the greatest commandment was “the love your neighbor as yourself.Self love seemed so impossibly hard to come by, but as I have aged I can grasp more its need.

There is a sacred simplicity in the act of combing hair. When I was a hairdresser I suspected that the reason that near strangers would share intimate details with me was that in a world of loneliness, I was one person that they let in—mere fractions of an inch from their face.

So I combed my hair today, not because the heaviness of yesterday is gone, but to love my body, to acknowledge that is from my body that I can love others. I don’t mentally feel warm emotions yet, but I could comb my hair again tomorrow.

4.5.20

I have been thinking of my paternal Grandma as of late. I have been wishing that I could call her and ask about all of the ups and downs that her life held.

Being born January 1, 1929 she had lived the reality of the Great Depression. I remember some bits of her stories, and her buttered noodles and toast—a Lenten substitute for fish when none could be procured.

She watch as a nation entered another Great War, her own Love wasn’t drafted, but I am sure she knew others that had been called. She missed the parade to commemorate the end of the war because her curls weren’t dried.

She married young and her parents disapproved of her marrying a Protestant boy. I can’t remember how many anniversaries they celebrated exactly, somewhere near 70 it seems. They lost a baby, raised two other girls and two boys.

She lost to the ever advancing enemy of Parkinson’s, but in her final weeks she rallied for that birthday she loved—Born the first girl of 1929, she had a picture in the paper with her mother.

I had returned to Michigan to say my goodbyes. I looked into her hazel eyes and search for what I would carry of her.

Grandma. I will make your buttered noodles and toast for my kids. I will tell them that we are not the first people to be in a time with no certain outcome. I will tell them that when we feel we have little we still have more than enough to be generous with. I will tell them that while we celebrate the history overcoming we can still be sad in the time of unknowing.

After all that is the week we are in—the palms are already drying on the street and people have returned to their homes. By the end of Holy Week people will be dead and hope may be lost. We don’t always know when on our cosmic calendar when the easter will come, so we better curl our hair in case.

4.3.20

Well I had all the best intentions, I wrote another draft on the 1st, but in some twist of fate the draft did not save–April Fool joke on myself, perhaps? Maybe its best it was a half baked thought, that was leading down to no true end and a lot more questions.

Yesterday I met with a psychiatrist for the first time in years, a wonder of telemedicine that I could be on the comfort of my couch and drink coffee while recounting my history of medications that have worked and the others that failed and my symptoms that have followed me around since at late grade school. It wrapped up hopefully, with a new medication addition and reminder from another professional that navigating the world on fire with additional support is good care of my self.

Since the disappearing draft I have been contemplating the crooked path of symbols of sacredness. Items that are both means of grace, but have sorted pasts of their own. I told my wife, “we often quote that God lead God’s people to ‘a land with vineyards that you did not plant,’ but if someone else planted the vineyard–that means that there are people who planted and are now displaced.” Displaced planters, those who broke up rocky soil and drew the lines, who pruned and grafted and watered and cared–these are the plans of those that wish to see it through. Yet another drinks deep.

Wine is in a lot of sacred spaces, Passover Dinners and Communion, gifts of libations at temples, feasts to celebrate weddings and it crosses trembling lips with a promise of warm calm for a moment. Song of Songs praises the Loved as being a goblet of wine. I have participated in some of these moments, I have held for a moment on my tongue the work of another. What is it to see the Divine in the glass and still to know that justice may seem off for another? Who am I to receive what the other has labored for?

I don’t have a great answer, after all the justice of food is a complicated one in our world. I know that I can make choices on what to buy and what to do without. I can hear the echos of sermons past that grace at all is given through the suffering Christ, who offers his body to feed those that did not labor, and his blood to quench the thirst of those that did not care for the vines. Sacred is not unencumbered by the complexity of our world–if anything it is a reflection of how joy and grief are not opposites but cooccurring realities–there is bitterness and comfort in every sip. So I will grieve and I will praise.

What sacred things do you find most complicated?

2.15.19 Dance

I think one of the most distressing questions I have heard over my whole life is, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” or its sister statement, “do what makes you happy.” You see I find “happy” to be a very wild emotion to hold onto, let alone crawl inside and live there, for more of my adulthood then I would like to admit my companion emotion has been the gray muddled emotion that seems best captured by the word ‘melancholy’.

Melancholy is not quite sad, but there is a discomfort at the current conditions. Melancholy is anxious, sort of, it allows worry and doubt to dance along the daily thoughts. Melancholy sometimes is inexplicable tired and makes the tasks of life mundane and appear to drag on. I have always been ashamed of my melancholy bend, my propensity to see the world as glass with the dredges left in the bottom, especially when I fell in love with The One that sees the world as a jewel colored ocean begging to have you jump in and taste and see all that is wonderful and good.

Being next to her is a spark in the inky night and I began to wonder if being next to me was a bit like sitting next to pile of wet wood that should be your campfire. In some of my darker moments I wonder if I need to just snap out of it, find a way to be bright and warm before I smother the good that she is, in her brightest moments she warms me enough to believe that a fire is starting in the wet kindling of my being.

It is cliché to compare us to the great opposites attract tropes–we are not close to Paula and a cartoon cat. We make good partners. We are good friends. Our natural bends twirl around each other as she swings toward the light and I sway to the shadow.

When I shared my thoughts with her on my melancholy she smiled with her knowing grin–the one that comes with the empathy eyebrows and told me, “I have melancholy too. Whenever I see a sunrise or beauty in the grey–I still feel a little sad in those moments, because I know for every place that I saw beauty, I still have missed so much.”

 

March 31, 2020

I will just start by saying that I assume there are other minds much more qualified to discuss what sacred practice looks like during shelter-in-place orders. I am not reading any of those great mind’s work. I am just trying to get this mind to work.

I have Major Depressive Disorder.

I have not had a job since October.

There is a pandemic.

Those are not cause and effect.

The choice to end my job was related to making a move to another state, and taking care of my kids, but then…one month stretched into many more and then into a pandemic.

The thing about MDD is that when I am structured, intellectually stimulated and more or less well rested, my meds can take me the rest of the way to nearly normal functioning. When I am stressed by change, inactivity and lack of sleep, well– all bets are off and I may spend the day on the verge of tears crying because I believe I am failing my wife, our kids, and the good Lord above.

Speaking of the good Lord, I have been deconstructing and reconstructing my faith for a bit here, and with winter and moving and MDD and vicious viruses (suggested emoji–>🦠 (this looks more like an ameba)) I have been in a bit of a lull on feeling the closeness of the Divine walking with me. I know from the touch points in my past that these are the moments that standing stones, memories of when the goodness of God was so tangible I could taste it like honey and drink it like communion wine, are of invaluable hope. It lets me pray, “I can’t feel you, but I trust that you remember me as I remember you.”

I am here to remember, to rest and to confess. I am here to share in the communion of memory, the baptism through boredom, the bowed head of grief, and ultimately for the resurrection from the weary. I am here to listen for the small voice that isn’t the asshole in my brain. I am looking for moments of sacredness and hopefully sanity in the midst of all of this that we are going through.

I have never been good at disciplines (ask my dentist and my running shoes), but with no intension, the malaise that rolls in extinguishes my will and steals my joy. But I am not promising to do great big things everyday–this isn’t a story about bootstraps–but I am setting my intention to look for the ebenezers that are in my house, my lawn, in my Love’s eyes, and in eating bread (because God didn’t limit carbs, so neither am I).

See you tomorrow.

 

abandoned drafts

This is the start of a series where I return to older things I have written and didn’t finish, or they got absorbed into another thing, shedding some of the nuggets of thought that may have been  interesting to return to. I will leave the abandoned draft as I found them and continue thoughts in another color.

“You are just like your father!”she said with more than a touch of annoyance in her voice. She was right in some respects, whether by biology or by learned behavior I have some of my dad’s less than complementary responses to set backs in home improvement projects. I am like both of my parents in some ways, I bear my mother’s face shape, but the eye color of my father’s family. I am prone to run most of my thoughts and decisions through my emotion like my mom, but can organize thoughts and think of spacial items in my head like my father. I could go down the list, but I won’t bore you.

In Genesis, God says, “let us make humanity in our image, male and female in our likeness.” Imagio Deo, in God’s likeness, this likeness has intrigued theologians through the centuries. What is it about humanity that reflects an image of God? During the enlightenment the answer came much like Des Cartes’s philosophical foundationalism, “I think therefore, I am.” And great supremacy was put on humanities ability to reason, and it became the common way to speak of what in us is the reflection of God. The problem comes in when we note that their are those whose lives do not include the ability to reason, either by illness or disability or accident, but we seem to instinctively know that they are still image bearers. By hinging the image of God on a attribute that it’s not shared by all humanity we do damage, looking only for God in our perceived “normal” expression of humanity, and by doing so create idols in which God is made in our normalized image.

So what if this image bearing? Why note that we when have a passing resemblance to the Divine? I think that the reason it may be important is for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it reminds us that when we look for God in ourselves we may be clouded in our judgement. I carry with me memories, lessons and scars; and for better or for worse my sense of self has been in part constructed on those pieces. One such weakness I know of is a twenty year struggle with depression–and with it comes thoughts of shame and questions of my worthiness. At different times my view of God has been colored by these oppressive thoughts, and I have believed God to be ashamed of me and willing to punish me at a second’s notice. When I glance in I do not find an accurate reflection, and so I must ask for others to guide me to a better understanding.

Just a couple of days ago, a friend and mentor of mine died unexpectedly, and in mourning his death I have been reviewing my memories of his life–and one of the things that time after time I have heard from others that knew him was his great gifting to call out where God shown brightest in you. We are creatures that were never meant to stand alone, and I think that we are to point to the truth that all humanity bears God’s image and we are to call that out in the other. Stanley Grenz built his Trinitarian theology on the idea that our reflection is in part the community that is in the Godhead and in the everyday it reminds us that we cannot exists in our fullness without being in community.

Secondly…

A time away

For the folks following along at home, I have been nearly silent since April. I have not written anything more than some thank you cards. I have not created anything. I have not enter a period of being deeply depressed. Its a reasonable thing to worry on, after all–I am medicated for depression and anxiety. It has been a season of change–job and car (good-bye Violet!).

I have been silent, but I have not been still. The new job has taken a large amount of the energy that I would have put toward writing, but more then that I have been in a season of listening and learning. I will be back. I will have more to write. I will have more words of my own, but right now I am doing my best to let the words of others draw me deeper in thought and higher in expectation.

4.6.2018 Chaos

“When God began to create the heavens and the earth— the earth was without shape or form, it was dark over the deep sea, and God’s wind swept over the waters— God said, “Let there be light.” And so light appeared. God saw how good the light was. God separated the light from the darkness. God named the light Day and the darkness Night.

There was evening and there was morning: the first day.”                       Genesis 1:1-5

Creation, in the cannon of the Christian church it starts everything.

God creates out of nothing–ex nihilo– matter is created, joins into formless and shapeless mass–it is chaos. The water is impossibly deep and stretches over everything, it has no edges, no limits, its boundaries have not yet been drawn. It is over this chaos that the Spirit of God opens her wings over and coos to like a hen over her nest. Into this chaos the mothering God calls forth light–a flash, a second of brilliance and stars started burning across a galaxy that was in its infancy. This first step in bring order to the created is given names. You are Day, and you are Night.

Humanity comes only after Day and Night, Moon and Sun, Land and Sea and their creatures. In this first of Genesis’ creation stories Adam is made of mud and life is breathed into this new Creature–in Adam is all human potential–all features, abilities, races, genders and gifts. Adam is clay shaped by an artisan who can see all of the possibilities before any form takes shape, and with the second creation story as commentary on this mud-divine creature, God created, birthed, shaped all humanity to come in God’s image.

Our lungs are still being filled by God’s breath and our form were seen when God picked up the first bit of dust and smiled. As God’s reflection or likeness, we are called to create to hover and console in the midst of the chaos that is still formless around us. We can call out light where illumination is scarce. We can still name and draw out the truths of creation. We can also count on the mothering God to glide over and coo–to be our nurturing guide through deep waters and the chaos.

3.31.18 lungs

I am not sure this writing ended up in the place I started it, in the dark five days ago, but I feel like it would be counter to awful first drafts not to allow it to be seen. It also doesn’t have a great ending, but maybe you all could help me?

It is 2:26 am and I am awake. My body is fighting a cold and I am frequently overcome by coughing spells, so sleep is intermittent at best. There are so many things that I simply do not think of when I am well, when everything is running as it should. I guess it’s the old sentiment that you don’t know what you have until it’s gone (or gone and got gunked up with mucus). Much like breathing, gratitude is an essential function for health, but how do we come by it if the only it seems to be to catch hold of it is in the absence of things we need and love? Perhaps the work in gratitude is just lifting our gaze? To pay attention to the ever present number of blessings that are around us? But how do you give thanks for things that are unclear until their absence? Also how do we do it with out shaming myself into feelings that I should feel? Here are my late night thoughts on gratitude and gratefulness, in no particular order.

Let your thoughts rest on the (good) small things. Meditating or internal processing  starts here for me, in the tiny permissions I give to feel what it is I am feeling and then to let that feeling run it’s course. In the practice of meditation this is acknowledged that you will have thoughts that demand your attention and just to acknowledge those thoughts and let them pass out of your awareness. When at times I have been buried under the weight of depression and anxiety, I did not have space or energy to consider any of the things and nothing seemed small. (Everything is an existential crisis when you are just trying to convince yourself that getting out of bed is worth the emotional and psychological risk.) The risk of spending time in your head is we can build false gratitude on the rocky soil of should-bes, I should be grateful-I had a good childhood, I should be grateful-I have these children/relationships/material possessions (this one is especially harsh when you are trying to convince yourself to be thankful while grieving). I have never been able to really get to gratitude through shoulding on myself. Instead when I am sad, I found I just needed to give myself permission to be sad, to grieve and to mourn.  It is important to note shame when thinking about gratitude–after all the reality of the feeling is best when a work that is not buried in our sense of obligation.

Listen to the others’ story.  Listening to others is a work in allowing the holy imprint that God has placed on all of us to reflect back to us the truest word about all humanity–that we are deeply loved, a delight to God and covered in grace. Community also is where my rough edges, bad habits and wrong beliefs can be tried and tested. When I invest in the other I find that I am given windows into my own self, my blind spots and the places I take for granted. The caution is when that the mirror that is held up, it is not used to pray the prayerthank you God that I am not [what I believe to be an undesirable person, race, social location, ability, income level]. (And before you say, “no one says that.” When was the last time that you heard someone talk about a recent time of “helping poor people” showed them just how much they have to thank God for?) I want to emphasize this exercise is not: being thankful based on the it-could-always-be-worse reasoning. Listening deeply is a practice of letting the other’s story speak for itself, not listening for validation of my own story and understandings. Gratitude should not build off what I deem undesirable in the experience of the other, but  should let the other reflect the image of God back when I have not placed my gratitude within its proper location.

Find a location for gratitude that is outside of material possessions or transient ‘good.’ I will admit to my own struggle with this: I know intellectually and theologically that God’s blessing is not equivalent to my creature comforts. When I have been particularly depressed I have wondered why God is doing this to me, but conversely I am not sure I blame God for promotions at work or unexpected gifts. If I am ill it does not mean that God has struck me down, if I am well it does not mean that God is so very pleased with me to reward me with clear lungs. But this reward/punishment understanding is centuries older than I am and is supported by fire-insurance evangelism, prosperity theology and commercialism–Jesus’ disciples even asked, “who sinned–this man or his parents?” Religion is in the business of making sense out of the world, but God’s name has been given to somethings that are no better than dumb luck, genetic predisposition and socioeconomic loci. Likewise marketing’s business is to make any of us nearly religious in our gaining of markers of material status. Everything ages and wears out–bodies start to fail and iPhones get replaced–and my gratitude cannot rest in the things or the markers of normalized human existence.

Now, just to also address a couple of semi-related things. I do confess that God is good and working for good, because of this I think prayer about health or our needs is appropriate, even biblically recommended. And I do believe that I should give thanks for the things I have–I just can’t use them as indications of God’s merit or the reason to be grateful–the location of gratitude is in the confession of God’s goodness–even when circumstances in my life change.

3.24.18 Lament to Levity

“When all the world appears to be in a tumult, and nature itself is feeling the assault of climate change, the seasons retain their essential rhythm. Yes, fall gives us a premonition of winter, but then, winter, will be forced to relent, once again, to the new beginnings of soft greens, longer light, and the sweet air of spring.”                                    Madeleine M. Kunin

I often hear people say that they continue to live in the upper prairie states because, “I love being where there are four seasons.” The fact that this is easy to argue against–on March 24th we got like 6 inches of snow and I have spent more Easters in flannel and fleece than pastel dresses. We may have 2 seasons–a hot one and a cold one, but I don’t live here for the weather anyway. I live here because I have people here I could not really thrive without (and for some reason we haven’t just all made a pact to move to temperate places together). It was on back-to-back weekends with some of these important people that I stumbled across seeing the edges on one of my own seasons–book ends.

I have struggled with depression and anxiety for most of my life–the first time I was medicated was in seventh grade–but the last half of my twenties and the first half of my thirties have been some of the darkest and deepest dives into the black pit. In the midst of the darkness faith has still been a constant. I believe that some of the perspective on the matter that I now have has been because of God’s consistent and unwavering love for me throughout depression.

So dread and sorrow and disappointment and anger and sadness have been emotions that I have gotten really used to feeling while in the pit–and these are not the emotions that “good Christian girls” feel. We are supposed to count all things as joy and rejoice–again I say rejoice! (why does that still sound like it is through gritted teeth in my head?) There is this pervasive thought that because of what Christ did, humans are supposed to be filled with gratitude and be happy (dammit!). Well if you have ever tried to will yourself any other emotion than the one you are feeling you know this goes one of two ways: instead of the emotion you are trying to tamp down–say, sadness, it pops out as anger (or eating an entire bag of mini peanut butter cups), or you get good at shutting down emotions and you are just numb.

I don’t think God wants numb over tears. I don’t think God wants happy masks over sorrow–I think God wants us to be fully alive, free from unhealthy social expectations and  fully to be a beautiful broken and mended us. Mending and healing take time, and God was kind not to demand my tears stop in one instant and here is where my first bookend of this journey began: Lament. Lament (as I know it) is the spiritual practice of telling God that the current circumstances failed to meet your expectations and that you are expecting something different. Lament as spiritual practice can feel foreign to us, as we have been told that our joy is equal to how saved we feel, but this is biblical. Below is a favorite lament of mine, Psalm 13:1-4

For the director of music. A psalm of David.

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
    and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
    How long will my enemy triumph over me?

Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
    Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
    and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

Here the poem is short but direct–I feel forgotten. I feel like I am fighting within myself. I am in the dark, and no one, not even you God seems to know. Now if your internal response to my last statement is, No, you can’t say that! God is always with you and always knows! don’t stop reading–and lean into that discomfort. Laments are honest prayers written from the place of the pit–and God seems OK with the feelings as Jesus quoted another lament psalm from the cross, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Psalm 22:1a). God showed me through lament that my darkness did not scare God, instead God could hold all of my feelings and sit with me in the darkness.

And there was plenty of darkness.

Until there was a little more light,

then a little more,

and then some more still.

Until my lament could start to turn and I could pray with full feeling the last two verses of Psalm 13:

 

But I trust in your unfailing love;
    my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
    for he has been good to me.

 

When you have spent years blinking in the darkness you don’t always know what to do in the sun–you don’t always know how to be in spaces where you used to cry and mourn and slog your way through. And that is where I was two Fridays ago. Sitting in a chapel, with a small grin on my face and a question in my head, “what do I do in these spaces now that I am not feeling dread or sorrow or disappointment or anger or sadness? What do I do when lament isn’t quite fitting? And I heard in my head, “Learn Levity.” And just like that I was introduced to the closing of this season of depression–my other bookend.

Levity–lightness or humor, if you go to extremes it is irreverent and fickleness, but in that moment what I heard in it was, “I taught you lament, now I am going to teach you to be light.” God again is not scared of our feelings–either ones that are full of weight or of those that are feather light. And I imagine that it may take God another decade to love me to an understanding of how light life can be as well.

I am happy to close the bookends on this space in my life, to move on toward the “soft greens, longer light, and the sweet air of spring.”

He has Risen. Let the world be filled with the Light.

Like the bookends pictured? You can get them here. I do not receive any compensation for the link and I am not trying to promote their products, I am just grateful for the use of their picture.