Man is born broken. He lives by mending. The grace of God is glue. ~Eugene O’Neill
We are born hollering, already aware of our brokenness – our emptiness evident from the first breath, each tiny air sac bursting with the air of a fallen world that is never quite enough to satisfy.
The rest of our days are spent filling up our empty spaces: whether alveoli or stomach or synapse hungry for knowledge; still hollering and heart broken.
So we mend and are mended through healing another, sewn up by knitting together the scraggly fragments of lives, becoming the crucial glue boiled from His gifted Grace, all empty holes made holy when filled to brimming so wholly.
My father would lift me to the ceiling in his big hands and ask, How’s the weather up there? And it was good, the weather of being in his hands, his breath of scotch and cigarettes, his face smiling from the world below. O daddy, was the lullaby I sang back down to him as he stood on earth, my great, white-shirted father, home from work, his gold wristwatch and wedding band gleaming as he held me above him for as long as he could, before his strength failed down there in the world I find myself standing in tonight, my little boy looking down from his flight below the ceiling, cradled in my hands, his eyes wide and already staring into the distance beyond the man asking him again and again, How’s the weather up there? ~George Bilgere “Weather”.
It was hard work, dying, harder than anything he’d ever done.
Whatever brutal, bruising, back- breaking chore he’d forced himself
to endure—it was nothing compared to this. And it took
so long. When would the job be over? Who would call him
home for supper? And it was hard for us (his children)—
all of our lives we’d heard my mother telling us to go out,
help your father, but this was work we could not do.
He was way out beyond us, in a field we could not reach. ~Joyce Sutphen “My Father, Dying”
Deep in one of our closets is an old film reel of me about 16 months old sitting securely held by my father on his shoulders. I am bursting out with giggles as he repeatedly bends forward, dipping this head and shoulders down. I tip forward, looking like I am about to fall off, and when he stands back up straight, my mouth becomes a large O and I can almost remember the tummy tickle I feel. I want him to do it again and again, taking me to the edge of falling off and then bringing me back from the brink.
My father was a tall man, so being swept up onto his shoulders felt a bit like I was touching heaven.
It was as he was dying 24 years ago this week that I realized again how tall he was — his feet kept hitting the foot panel of the hospital bed my mother had requested for their home. We cushioned his feet with padding so he wouldn’t get abrasions even though he would never stand on them again, no longer towering over us.
His helplessness in dying was startling – this man who could build anything and accomplish whatever he set his mind to was unable to subdue his cancer. Our father, who was so self-sufficient he rarely asked for help, did not know how to ask for help now.
So we did what we could when we could tell he was uncomfortable, which wasn’t often. He didn’t say much, even though there was much we could have been saying. We didn’t reminisce. We didn’t laugh and joke together. We just were there, taking shifts catching naps on the couch so we could be available if he called out, which he never did.
This man: who had grown up dirt poor, fought hard with his alcoholic father left abruptly to go to college – the first in his family – then called to war for three years in the South Pacific.
This man: who had raised a family on a small farm while he was a teacher, then a supervisor, then a desk worker.
This man: who left our family to marry another woman but returned after a decade to ask forgiveness.
This man: who died in a house he had built completely himself, without assistance, from the ground up.
He didn’t need our help – he who had held tightly to us and brought us back from the brink when we went too far – he had been on the brink himself and was rescued, coming back humbled.
No question the weather is fine for him up there. I have no doubt.
Most lie low, flourishing with damp, harvesting sunlight, no commotion, moss mouse-silent, even through wind and hail, stoic through motors roaring fumes, through fat-clawed bears grubbing.
They can soothe the knife-edges of stones with frothy leaf by leaf of gray-green life, and burned-ground mosses cover destruction, charred stumps, trees felled and blackened. Cosmopolitan mosses likewise salve sidewalk cracks, crumbling walls.
They root in thin alpine air, on sedentary sand dunes, cling to cliff seeps beneath spilling springs. For rest, they make mats on streamside banks, for pleasure produce silky tufts, wavy brooms of themselves in woodlands for beauty, red roof moss for whim, elf cap, hair cap, sphagnum for nurturing.
No fossil record of note, no bone history, so lenient they possess only those memories remembered.
I believe they could comfort the world with their ministries. That is my hope, even though this world be a jagged rock, even though this rock be an icy berg of blue or a mirage of summer misunderstood (moss balm for misunderstanding), even though this world be blind and awry and adrift, scattering souls like spores through the deep of a starlit sea. ~Pattiann Rogers “The Moss Method”
Moss completely carpets our front lawn –
only a few blades of grass persist within spongy moisture-retaining greenery.
When the rains stop and the sun turns up the temperature,
the faux-grass mat withers to shades of brown and sits dormant,
waiting patiently for fall rains to thrive luxurious again.
A messy mossy forgiveness.
the words I write
are like doormats of moss,
lying thick as a carpet across the page,
piled one upon another,
some more beautiful,
some so plain as not to be noticed,
some dry out quickly when the heat turns on,
some with just the right curve and form
to make a difference,
cushioning my fall
with a gentle grace.
God is not only the God of the sufferers but the God who suffers. … It is said of God that no one can behold his face and live. I always thought this meant that no one could see his splendor and live. A friend said perhaps it meant that no one could see his sorrow and live. Or perhaps his sorrow is splendor. … Instead of explaining our suffering God shares it.
How is faith to endure, O God, when you allow all this scraping and tearing on us? You have allowed rivers of blood to flow, mountains of suffering to pile up, sobs to become humanity’s song–all without lifting a finger that we could see. You have allowed bonds of love beyond number to be painfully snapped. If you have not abandoned us, explain yourself.
We strain to hear. But instead of hearing an answer we catch sight of God himself scraped and torn. Through our tears we see the tears of God. ~Nicholas Wolterstorffin Lament for a Son
“My God, My God,” goes the Psalm 22, “hear me, why have you forsaken me?” This is the anguish all we of Godforsaken heart know well. But hear the revelation to which Christ directs us, further in the same psalm:
For He has not despised nor scorned the beggar’s supplication, Nor has He turned away His face from me; And when I cried out to Him, He heard me.
He hears us, and he knows, because he has suffered as one Godforsaken. Which means that you and I, even in our darkest hours, are not forsaken. Though we may hear nothing, feel nothing, believe nothing, we are not forsaken, and so we need not despair. And that is everything. That is Good Friday and it is hope, it is life in this darkened age, and it is the life of the world to come. ~Tony Woodlief from “We are Not Forsaken”
Scratch the surface of a human being and the demons of hate and revenge … and sheer destructiveness break forth.
The cross stands before us to remind us of this depth of ourselves so that we can never forget. These forces continue to break forth in many parts of the world now, and many of us would like to forget how in some places in the United States we treat a person whose skin is black.
Again and again we read the stories of violence in our daily papers, of the mass murders and ethnic wars still occurring in numerous parts of our world. But how often do we say to ourselves: “What seizes people like that, even young people, to make them forget family and friends, and suddenly kill other human beings?” We don’t always ask the question in that manner. Sometimes we are likely to think, almost smugly: “How different those horrible creatures are from the rest of us. How fortunate I am that I could never kill or hurt other people like they did.”
I do not like to stop and, in the silence, look within, but when I do I hear a pounding on the floor of my soul. When I open the trap door into the deep darkness I see the monsters emerge for me to deal with. How painful it is to bear all this, but it is there to bear in all of us. Freud called it the death wish, Jung the demonic darkness. If I do not deal with it, it deals with me. The cross reminds me of all this.
This inhumanity of human to human is tamed most of the time by law and order in most of our communities, but there are not laws strong enough to make men and women simply cease their cruelty and bitterness. This destructiveness within us can seldom be transformed until we squarely face it in ourselves. This confrontation often leads us into the pit. The empty cross is planted there to remind us that suffering is real but not the end, that victory still is possible…
~Morton Kelsey from “The Cross and the Cellar”
In a daring and beautiful creative reversal, God takes the worse we can do to Him
and turns it into the very best He can do for us.
~Malcolm Guite from The Word in the Wilderness
May we remember today, of all days, the worst that can happen becomes the best that can happen.
We tussle and haggle over the price of what this will cost us, but realizing it has been paid for us makes an impossible loss possible.
We are paid in full, no longer debtors. From now on, we are freed from worry: the worst became the best.
We do not want merely to see beauty…
we want something else which can hardly be put into words-
to be united with the beauty we see,
to pass into it,
to receive it into ourselves,
to bathe in it,
to become part of it. ~C.S. Lewis from The Weight of Glory
Each day brings headlines that tear at us, pull us down and rub us into the mud. We are grimy by association, sullied and smeared.
Yet in our state of disgrace, Beauty is offered up to us.
In His last act with those He loved, Jesus shared Himself through a communal meal,
then washed and toweled their dirty feet clean, immersing them, despite their protests, in all that is beautiful and clean.
He took on and wore their grime.
It is now our turn to wash away the dirt from whoever is in need. He showed us how.
Outside the house the wind is howling and the trees are creaking horribly. This is an old story with its old beginning, as I lay me down to sleep. But when I wake up, sunlight has taken over the room. You have already made the coffee and the radio brings us music from a confident age. In the paper bad news is set in distant places. Whatever was bound to happen in my story did not happen. But I know there are rules that cannot be broken. Perhaps a name was changed. A small mistake. Perhaps a woman I do not know is facing the day with the heavy heart that, by all rights, should have been mine. ~Lisel Mueller “In November” from Alive Together
It does not escape me~
(I wake every day knowing this)
the earthquake happened somewhere else,
a windstorm leveled a town,
a drunk driver destroyed a family,
a fire left a house in ashes,
a missing child finally found at the bottom of a cliff,
a flood ravaged a village,
a devastating diagnosis darkens
someone’s remaining days.
No mistake has been made,
yet I wake knowing this part of my story
has not yet visited me,
the heavy heart
that should have been mine
Forgiveness is letting go of a bell rope. If you have ever seen a country church with a bell in the steeple, you will remember that to get the bell ringing you have to tug awhile. Once it has begun to ring, you merely maintain the momentum. As long as you keep pulling, the bell keeps ringing. Forgiveness is letting go of the rope. It is just that simple. But when you do so, the bell keeps ringing. Momentum is still at work. However, if you keep your hands off the rope, the bell will begin to slow and eventually stop.
Corrie Ten Boom
In just two weeks our Chapel family will begin observing Holy Week. Before the Sunrise Resurrection Sunday worship on our farm hilltop followed by a service inside the church and Easter brunch together, we gather for a soup and bread communion supper on Maundy Thursday and a Tenebrae (Shadows) Service on the evening of Good Friday. At the end of the somber Tenebrae service, our steeple church bell tolls, the bell rope pulled repeatedly as we sit within darkness in the sanctuary. This knelling of Christ’s death resonates in our own bodies. It is unmistakeable, hearing the pealing of our guilt and shame reverberating out for all to hear.
When the bell rope is released, the bell continues to ring a few times but then quiets itself. We sit in ensuing silence, aware the debt we could never pay on our own had been paid in full for us. We have been forgiven, the tolling of the bell now ceased, and the toll of our sin reconciled.
God has let go of our debt, freeing us from the shadows where sin had trapped us. We are able to then stand and walk out, redeemed by a flesh and blood God suffering in our place.
In the morning of the third day, we hear Him say our names from the empty tomb. Forgiven, all guilt and shame let go, we rise from our shadows to answer His resonating call.