i cannot write about sandy hook.

Because what would I tell you?

I guess I can tell you that true to form, it took three days for the grief to hit. That it wasn’t until I stood with my congregation to say the Nicene Creed that I realized I was weeping, because I had to fight my way through it, because I meant all the I believes. I could tell you about the woman who had to stop in the middle of the prayers of the people because her own tears had taken over, that phrases like the congress and the courts and those in trouble, sorrow, sickness, need, or any other adversity were punctuation in themselves. We passed peace around as a prayer. I received the Eucharist in desperation, thinking of the Sacrifice in and out of time, of Pascal writing Christ will be in agony until the end of the world.

God with us.

We sang,

He comes, the broken heart to bind,

the bleeding soul to cure…

It all brings into sharp focus the fact that sometimes I need that I need to stand in the words of others to make my prayers more true, to mouth words alongside while all my heart can say is yes.

So. I am offering the words of others to you today, who have written in response to the tragedy of last Friday. Some I know, some I don’t, all I think you should read in light of your questions and heartbreak. And in light of the fact that you don’t know how to respond.

  • An Advent Response to Newtown, Connecticut: “And the most honest – the most faithful — utterance in your soul is, “No way.”  There’s no way this can be right.  There’s no way this is true.  There’s no way we can keep nodding along while children die. That is the real moment of your conversion.” [Thank you, Craig Nash, for sharing this.]
  • God Can’t Be Kept Out, by Rachel Held Evans; calling bullshit and breathing such hope in the same post: “If the incarnation tells us anything, it’s that God can’t be kept out.”
  • Tonight I’m Praying, by Emily Maynard: “I pray especially for the [weird] kids who are picked out because someone can link them in some cruel way to the kid who destroyed so many lives on Friday.”
  • when i am a slow prophet, by Preston Yancey; weaving poetry, prayers, and wisdom: “I am thinking of mother arms. I am thinking of empty mother arms. Christ, our Lord.”
  • a short, but necessary post about the way we’ve been talking about mental illness in the wake of all this: “When we talk about “the mentally ill” in a way that takes for granted the connection between illness and violence, we actually contribute to the systemic problems that prevent people from getting adequate mental health care.” [Thank you, Dianna Anderson, for sharing].

added 12/20:

  • Anger and Advent, by Kristin Tennant: “Facing tragedy in the midst of Advent highlights that conflict. I can’t express both joy and sadness at once. I don’t know how to feel both defeated and triumphant. I can’t seem to marry anger and peace. So I am left feeling numb. Nothing.”
  • Immanuel, by Alise Wright: “When we who claim belief in this story say that God is beholden to our laws regarding teacher-led prayer (because let’s not kid ourselves into believing the lie that God has been completely banned from the public school), we cheapen his presence”

Christ have mercy.

If I find more posts/resources around the web that I think should be included here, I will add them.

If you have read any especially helpful posts/articles, feel free to add them in the comments below.

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a hiatus and a hopeful start.

All nerves and a trying-too-hard accent scarf, I lock my eyes on the question in my lap: “What life experiences or crises have shaped or changed the way you read the Bible?” as I blurt with a tongue prompted oddly by Spirit, “Well, right now.” I tuck my legs more firmly into the chair and sit on my hands, like a small child.

This is not normally an issue for me–the talking in front of people, the new faces. I am a people-person, an extrovert, a charmer.

But somehow, that’s not how it works today. Today, I fought the feeling that I need to go, that this showing up may be a part of my staying to follow. I got in my car, turned the key, and half-sped to the church parking lot, still arriving late. Maybe it’s the lateness that makes me overly aware of how loud I am breathing, the tempo of my speech, the flush of my ears. Maybe.

In the circle, I babble about the gap year, the discernment, the listening, the faithfulness question, the staying, all in halted piecemeal, without the grace of hyperlink or draft. I just say it’s happening, the changing of approach. The heart I bring to scripture is different than it was even a few months ago. When I bring it at all, I add silently.

Part of the shaping I am fighting of late is the feet-dragging.

The first time I really confessed this aloud was under a taco stand awning a few weeks ago, after he made a passing half-joke about his “quiet time with Jesus.”  [It’s a phrase we’ve both heard a lot. It needs changing, I think.] He nodded, knowing this means something to me. For a long time I actively avoided reading the Bible on a regular basis because I had heard one too many sermons on turning devotion into a checklist. Not me, I had said, in favor of total spontaneity, which at the time sounded like the most loving way. Last spring, that changed. Some strange combination of class and books and friends and Holy Ghost helped me realize that there was something missing, and it was scripture.

Ignorance of scripture is ignorance of Christ Himself, I read somewhere.

I think the Incarnation means that this is not the end of it, that there are manifold ways He reveals Himself [ten thousand places, even]. But finally I knew that there was something about the words on the page to teach me about the Word, something about the stories that would teach me about who He is. Go figure.

That said, I haven’t touched the stuff in weeks.

Except on Sundays when someone says, The word of the Lord, and I respond with the rest, thanks be to God. 

Some thanks.

In a letter from a beloved longtime friend this week, she writes about a recent revelation: that her perpetual busy-ness is a method of avoidance. What am I avoiding? she asks, guessing at Confession, wondering at more. Reading this, I smiled with love, because it’s been true for a long while now. Stopping, I consider, But it’s never been true for me. Until now.

The whats of avoidance I have a guess at. It’s finding out the whys that terrify me.

If I had to guess, it’s something to do with trust, with fear, with a wounded spirit.

And in the midst of transitional uncertainty, I find that approaching a Book of which I know so little daunting to say the least. I’m not sure what I will find.

Now I’ve trailed off at the end of what has turned into Sharing Time, and I find the young priest beside me nodding, along with some of the older students in the room.

“The Bible can be hard to turn to when you are trying to listen. After all, it’s full of people hearing things they don’t want to hear.”

That too. 

She glances around the room, and says, “Well, maybe this is a good place to live some of that story together.”

That may be.

When it comes time to pray, I find out, with terror, that we are supposed to pray our requests aloud, around the circle.

Friends can tell you I have a hard time with praying in front of people anyway. (I hope it’s something I get over some day, much like my former issues with talking on the phone.) Not to mention that “prayer request time” has always looked way different to me.

But praying for myself, my world, with everyone listening? Goodness.

Of course I’m up first.

Embedded in the halted, shaky litany was one of the most honest things I’ve prayed in a while: Help me to follow You instead of my own rebellious heart. 

We say our Ah-mens, and the young priest rushes out to process in Rite I.

I pick up my “Book of Mark Bible Study” packet, thinking, maybe beginning again doesn’t have to be so hard.

paradox of grace.

I’ve been thinking lately about how odd grace can be—how odd it often is, in fact.

I think I know by now that it does not compute, at least to us—if it made perfect sense, if there was always a 1:1 ratio, a traceable reciprocity, it might not even be grace.

(And maybe the wonderful thing about it is the mystery, the very fact that we cannot examine its entirety cupped in our hands.)

Grace doesn’t make sense, thankfully so. It is what makes salvation possible for the most wretched, even me. Against the odds, the darkness that seemed so complete, so pervasive, is redeemed.

But sometimes, it’s just weird.

Sometimes, pigs can be a source of prophecy.

OK, OK, that’s a little out of context, and the Flannery O’Connor story I’m thinking of doesn’t have pink things squealing “Thus saith the LORD”s, exactly.

But her character Mrs. Turpin is convicted by the sight of pigs, prompted to call out to the heavens like a Biblical character herself, probably for the first time. By the end, there are crickets chirping hallelujah.

And then, there is that alcoholic priest in Greene’s Power and the Glory—who offers Eucharist with wayward hands. It is an image I cannot shake; at once it makes me cringe and gives me hope.

And it is odd, so very strange, that a King should come as an infant, that He should lay His head against straw, that His audience should be a smattering of shepherds.

That He should even become man at all.

I wonder if we lose something big if we miss the strangeness of this story in particular.

For one thing, we forget to make the transfer from this story to ours. We miss daily offering cloaked in oddity. We cease to expect it.

When we miss the arresting strangeness of the Incarnation, we miss the possibility of the incarnate in the strange.

I mean this both in the receiving and the giving—we may lose a certain kind of vision, as well as a certain kind of action; we are blind to its manifestation as well as the ways we might make it manifest.

Perhaps the most gracious gift to give is a pack of cigarettes.

Perhaps counting calories can confer a striking lesson about spiritual discipline.

Perhaps the song on the radio you hate can impart a sort of wisdom.

Perhaps there is a beautiful image of sacrificial love embedded in the functional dysfunction of a divorced couple giving each other their time, their talents, even their resources and roof.

Perhaps the most perfect confirmation of journey and change can come through a random run-in with a stranger at a wedding, states away from home.

Perhaps friendships can be formed in the most unlikely of places.

Perhaps at the moment we admit possibility in paradox, we discover how present His Presence is.

There is more to this, I think. More, because I do not know all the manifold ways in which grace may be strange. I have tidbits, whispers, moments where all I can do is shrug, and hopefully laugh and give thanks.

I’m wondering, what strange graces have arrested you, lately or otherwise?