I made for grief a leaden bowl and drank it, every drop. And though I thought I’d downed it all the hurting didn’t stop.
I made of hope a golden sieve to drain my world of pain. Though I was sure I’d bled it dry the void filled up again.
I made of words a silver fork and stabbed love in the heart, and when I found the sweetness gone I chewed it into art. ~Luci Shaw “What I Needed to Do”
How can I stow away our hurt and grief when it keeps refilling, leaking everywhere? Where can hope be found when all feels hopeless? When I have been loved beyond all measure, with bleeding hands and feet and side; why not turn to the Word, its sweetness never exhausted no matter how often I chew through it in my hunger.
A book of art in words and photography, available to order here:
Gardens are also good places to sulk. You pass beds of spiky voodoo lilies and trip over the roots of a sweet gum tree, in search of medieval plants whose leaves, when they drop off turn into birds if they fall on land, and colored carp if they plop into water.
Suddenly the archetypal human desire for peace with every other species wells up in you. The lion and the lamb cuddling up. The snake and the snail, kissing. Even the prick of the thistle, queen of the weeds, revives your secret belief in perpetual spring, your faith that for every hurt there is a leaf to cure it. ~Amy Gerstler “Perpetual Spring” from Bitter Angel
We all want to fix what ails us: that was the point of my many years of medical training and over 40 years “practicing” that art. We want to know there is a cure for every hurt, an answer for every question, a resolution to every mystery, or peace for every conflict.
And there is. It just isn’t always on our timeline, nor is it always the answer we expect, nor the conflict magically dissolved. The mystery shall remain mystery until every tear is dried, as we stand before the Face of our Holy God who both loves and judges our hearts.
Sometimes this life hurts – a lot – but I believe in the perpetual Spring and Resurrection that guarantees our complete healing.
To pull the metal splinter from my palm my father recited a story in a low voice. I watched his lovely face and not the blade. Before the story ended, he’d removed the iron sliver I thought I’d die from.
I can’t remember the tale, but hear his voice still, a well of dark water, a prayer. And I recall his hands, two measures of tenderness he laid against my face, the flames of discipline he raised above my head.
Had you entered that afternoon you would have thought you saw a man planting something in a boy’s palm, a silver tear, a tiny flame. Had you followed that boy you would have arrived here, where I bend over my wife’s right hand.
Look how I shave her thumbnail down so carefully she feels no pain. Watch as I lift the splinter out. I was seven when my father took my hand like this, and I did not hold that shard between my fingers and think, Metal that will bury me, christen it Little Assassin, Ore Going Deep for My Heart. And I did not lift up my wound and cry, Death visited here! I did what a child does when he’s given something to keep. I kissed my father. ~Li-Young Lee, “The Gift” from Rose
I did, without ever wanting to, remove my own children’s splinter, lanced a boil, immobilized a broken arm, pulled together sliced skin, cleaned many dirty wounds. It felt like I crossed the line between mommy and doctor. But someone had to do it, and a four hour wait in the emergency room didn’t seem warranted.
My own children learned to cope with hurt made worse by someone they trusted to be comforter.
I dealt with inflicting pain, temporary though it may be, to flesh that arose from my flesh. It hurt as much as if it were my own wound needing cleansing, not theirs.
Our wounds are His – He is constantly feeling our pain as He performs healing surgeries in our lives, not because He wants to but because He must, to save us from our own destruction. Too often we yell and kick and protest in our distress, making it all that much more difficult for both of us.
If only we can come to acknowledge His intervention is our salvage: our tears to flow in relief, not anguish, we cling to His protection rather than pushing Him away, we kiss Him in gratitude as we are restored again and yet again.
Salvation to all that will is nigh; That All, which always is all everywhere, Which cannot sin, and yet all sins must bear, Which cannot die, yet cannot choose but die, Lo! faithful Virgin, yields Himself to lie In prison, in thy womb; and though He there Can take no sin, nor thou give, yet He’ll wear, Taken from thence, flesh, which death’s force may try.
Ere by the spheres time was created thou Wast in His mind, who is thy Son, and Brother; Whom thou conceivest, conceived; yea, thou art now Thy Maker’s maker, and thy Father’s mother, Thou hast light in dark, and shutt’st in little room Immensity, cloister’d in thy dear womb. ~John Donne “Annunciation”
What next, she wonders, with the angel disappearing, and her room suddenly gone dark.
The loneliness of her news possesses her. She ponders how to tell her mother.
Still, the secret at her heart burns like a sun rising. How to hold it in— that which cannot be contained.
She nestles into herself, half-convinced it was some kind of good dream, she its visionary.
…It’s true it can make you weep to peel them, to unfurl and to tease from the taut ball first the brittle, caramel-colored and decrepit papery outside layer, the least
recent the reticent onion wrapped around its growing body, for there’s nothing to an onion but skin, and it’s true you can go on weeping as you go on in, through the moist middle skins, the sweetest
and thickest, and you can go on in to the core, to the bud-like, acrid, fibrous skins densely clustered there, stalky and in- complete, and these are the most pungent… ~William Matthews from “Onions”
…I would never scold the onion for causing tears. It is right that tears fall for something small and forgotten. How at meal, we sit to eat, commenting on texture of meat or herbal aroma but never on the translucence of onion, now limp, now divided, or its traditionally honorable career: For the sake of others, disappear. ~Naomi Shihab Nye, from “The Traveling Onion” from Words Under the Words: Selected Poems.
Onion, luminous flask, your beauty formed petal by petal, crystal scales expanded you and in the secrecy of the dark earth your belly grew round with dew. Under the earth the miracle happened and when your clumsy green stem appeared, and your leaves were born like swords in the garden, the earth heaped up her power showing your naked transparency…
…You make us cry without hurting us. I have praised everything that exists, but to me, onion, you are more beautiful than a bird of dazzling feathers, heavenly globe, platinum goblet, unmoving dance of the snowy anemone
and the fragrance of the earth lives in your crystalline nature. ~Pablo Neruda from “Ode to the Onion”
Everything smells of “eau de onion” here in the kitchen as the onions are brought in from our late summer garden to be stored or dehydrated and frozen for winter soups and stews.
This is weepy business, but these are good tears like I spill over the whistled Greensleeves theme from the old “Lassie” TV show, or during any childrens’ choir song, or by simply watching videos of our grandchildren who are quarantined so far away from our arms.
It takes almost nothing these days to make me weep, so onions are a handy excuse, allowing my tears to flow without explanation:
I weep over the headlines. I weep over how changed life is and for the sadness of the stricken. I weep over how messy things can get between people who don’t listen to one another or who misinterpret what they think they hear. I weep knowing we all have layers and layers of skin that appear tough on the outside, but as you peel gently or even ruthlessly cut them away, the layers get more and more tender until you reach the throbbing heart of us.
We tend to hide our hearts out of fear of being hurt, crying out in pain.
Like an onion, each one of us exists to make the day a bit better, the meal more savory, to enhance the flavors of all who are mixed into this melting pot together. We aren’t meant to stand alone, but to disappear into the stew, and be sorely missed if we are absent.
So very dish needs an onion, and for the sake of the dish, every onion vanishes in the process.
No, I don’t mean to make you cry as you peel my layers away, gently, one by one, each more tender until you reach my heart. Chop away at me if you must but weep the good tears, the ones that mean we weep for the sake of our meal together: you eating and drinking, and me – consumed.
We live in a world of hurt. We are consumed with hatred for all that is unjust and unfair yet underneath it all we are people who are in fear and in pain.
We get angry at what we don’t like or don’t understand and that includes God.
We are a people struggling with a profound irritability of the spirit. We give no one the benefit of the doubt any more, and that includes God.
We ask God why He doesn’t do something about the suffering we see everywhere, or the terrible hurt we feel ourselves. We want answers, now, and that includes answers from God.
Instead He asks us the same question right back. What are we doing about the suffering of others? What are we doing about our own misery?
God knows suffering and hurt. He knows fear. He knows what it is to be hated, far more than we do. He took it all on Himself, loving us so much because His pain was part of the deal He made with us to rescue us.
With that realization, we trade our pain for hope, our fear for trust, and our hatred gives way to His sacrificial love. Only then are we ready to respond to His call.
There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear.. 1 John 4:18a
Renouncing fear We stand in your glorious grace. When the oceans rise and thunders roar I will soar with you above the storm Father, You are King over the flood I will be still and know You are God from “Still” Hillsong
Gratitude as a discipline involves a conscious choice. I can choose to be grateful even when my emotions and feelings are still steeped in hurt and resentment. It is amazing how many occasions present themselves in which I can choose gratitude instead of a complaint. I can choose to be grateful when I am criticized, even when my heart still responds in bitterness. I can choose to speak about goodness and beauty, even when my inner eye still looks for someone to accuse or something to call ugly. ~ Henri Nouwen
When the slings and arrows are directly aimed at me, hit their mark and open a wound, I can choose to pick at the scab, maybe even cause it to get infected and make the scar worse, or I can marvel I’m still standing, still capable of doing what I do best, and able to fully heal.
I see beauty in recovery and becoming whole again. I see goodness in those who come alongside even if it means they become a target along with me.
Even when my heart bleeds from its inflicted wounds, I choose forgiveness arising from grace and gratitude. I hope I too will be forgiven for any wounds I inflict.
All becomes grace, the gift that never stops giving.
Try as we might to find common ground with those so unlike ourselves, it is the differences we focus on despite our efforts to understand and befriend. Whether it is cranky politicians sparring in the headlines, or the perpetual struggle between weak and strong, we miss seeing Creation’s intended balance all around us.
We can dwell compatibly, lion and lamb, without one becoming a meal for the other. Indeed, prey transforms the predator.
Even the barbed and bloody thistle releases its seeds in the cushion of thistledown, drifting gently where the wind will take it next, at once forgiven for the scars it inflicted.
May I strive to be comforting rather than prickly, healing rather than inflicting, wherever I may land.
Mo sheasamh ort lá na choise tinne You are the place where I stand on the day when my feet are sore. ~Irish saying translated by poet and theologian Pádraig Ó Tuama
We need strong feet to carry us through the hardest pathways of life, stumbling into holes, treading carefully over sharp rocks, scrambling up steep climbs and through the muddiest mire.
Our feet get sore: blistered and calloused, develop tendonitis and fasciitis, suffer bruised toes and fallen arches. When every step is a reminder of our failures and frailty, we beg for a soft landing with each stride.
But more than comfort, we need a stable place of trust to put our feet, to stand firm when standing feels impossible.
Lord, be our landing place when we hurt. May your gentle road rise to meet our sore feet.