Thank you for all I forget are gifts,
Forgive me for all the grievances
I remember too well.
Save me from the self-pity,
which is true poverty.
Guide me, if I’m willing
(drive me if I’m not),
into the hard ways of sacrifice
which are just and loving.
Make me wide-eyed for beauty,
and for my neighbor’s need and goodness;
wide-willed for peace-making,
and for the confronting power
with the call to compassion;
wide-hearted for love
and for the unloved,
who are the hardest to touch
and need it the most.
Dull the envy in me
Which criticizes and complains life
into a thousand ugly bits.
Keep me honest and tender enough to heal,
tough enough to be healed of my hypocrisies.
Match my appetite for privilege
with the stomach for commitment.
Teach me the great cost of paying attention
that, naked to the dazzle of of your back as you pass,
I may know I am always on holy ground.
Breathe into me the restlessness and courage
to make something new,
and something true
that I may understand what it is to rejoice.
An understanding of the breaking down process – this feeling that you are not being treated well by luck or by God – helps you to realize that you are part of the great cycle of dismembering and remembering, and leads you to the source from which you are to drink. The only thing to do is to keep moving, to stay sincere, to stay dedicated.
There’s no true love affair which will not break your heart. There’s no marriage which will not eventually break your heart in one way or another, whether you stay together or not. There’s no good work in the world that will not break your heart. There’s no way of parenting a child without them breaking your heart and you breaking theirs. And there’s no way of coming to know yourself in that eternal marriage without going through that existential desperate sense of disappointment about who you are at the end of it. There’s no way forward without a real sense of heartbreak. And yet it’s astonishing how much time and energy we do spend trying to arrange things so that we won’t have our heart broken, so that you’ll remain immune from trespassing into that necessary human territory that every human being has had to go in to since the beginning of time. Heartbreak is actually a normal phenomenon of every dedicated, sincere human path, so we should be ready for that particular form it will take in any marriage we are involved with – whether a marriage with a person or with a work.
“Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy. . . “
“Behold the lamb of God . . . “
“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. . . “
Whether the narratives starred hayseed shepherds confronted by hosts of glittering angels or desert pilgrims watching something like a dove descend upon a man in a river as a voice from heaven called him “Beloved,” Christian faith seemed to depend on beholding things that were clearly beyond belief, including Jesus’ own teaching that acts of mercy toward perfect strangers were acts of mercy toward him. While I understood both why and how the early church had decided to wrap those mysteries in protective layers of orthodox belief, the beliefs never seized my heart the way the mysteries did.
I did not think I was alone in this. Both at All Saints’ and at Grace-Calvary, I had spent hours talking with people who had trouble believing. For some, the issue was that they believed less than they thought they should about Jesus. They were not troubled by the idea that he may had had two human parents instead of one or that his real presence with his disciples after his death might have been more metaphysical than physical. The glory they beheld in him had more to do with the nature of his being than with the number of his miracles, but they had suffered enough at the hands of true believers to learn to keep their mouths shut.
For others, the issue was that they believed more than Jesus. Having beheld his glory, they found themselves running into God’s glory all over the place, including places where Christian doctrine said that it should not be. I knew Christians who had beheld God’s glory in a Lakota sweat lodge, in a sacred Celtic grove, and at the edge of a Hawaiian volcano, as well as in dreams and visions that they were afraid to tell anyone else about at all. These people not only feared being shunned for their unorthodox narratives, they also feared sharing some of the most powerful things that had ever happened to them with people who might dismiss them.
Given the history of Christians as a people who started out beholding what was beyond belief, this struck me as a lamentable state of affairs, both for those who have learned to see more than they are supposed to see as well as for those who have excused themselves from tradition churches because they see too little or too much. If it is true that God exceeds all our efforts to contain God, then is it too big a stretch to declare that dumbfoundedness is what all Christians have most in common? Or that coming together to confess all that we know not know is at least as sacred an activity as declaring what we think we do know?