Sunday, September 14, 2014

Psalmody Psunday: 55

Special bonus points for picking up vague references to Indiana Jones and Shawshank Redemption. Send your answers with a SASE. Many will enter, few will win.

Randomly chosen, but as usual, pretty darn fitting. As a quick opening note, I love this psalm for its tone--I love how David ("a man after God's own heart," Acts 13:22)  didn't mince words when he was psalming. He just lays it all out there: "I am overwhelmed by my troubles" (v. 2), "My heart pounds in my chest" (v. 4), "I can't stop shaking" (v. 5), "everything is falling apart" (v. 11). I love that ours isn't a God we have to doll up for, present ourselves to with our fears and emotions tucked securely away. This year, maybe more than any other, has seen me come to God an absolute mess more than frequently. I love that He doesn't turn me away (or smite me, for the record). I love that He asks the Real Chandra to please stand up--or, more typically, lie prone and mumble into her pillow. He takes what He can get.

Moving along.

God's been showing Himself particularly awesome in the last several days, scraping away some lingering plaque and build-up in our relationship. I seek so hard to complicate, and He cleans out. But this psalm speaks so loudly to where I've been lately: in caves of frustration, of self-pity, of mourning. Some caves I have dug myself, others I've found myself in through circumstances, but all of them I treat as prisons I am helpless to. "Oh, that I had wings... I would fly far away to the quiet of the wilderness" (v. 6-7). Preach it, David. Anyone have some property on the Canary Islands I could get in on?

But God has been driving me--patiently, perfectly--to handle these frustrations in a different way than I would like: instead of anger and fuming, peace and stillness. Instead of retreating from the world, seeking unity and community. Instead of self-righteousness, humility and prayer. These things come unnaturally, and I frequently choose poorly, but He is good enough to keep bringing me to the same choices. Gradually, the right ones come more often. Very, very gradually.

David's summary, both of the situation ("the real danger is wickedness within the city. Everything is falling apart," v. 10-11) and the actual solution ("But I will call on God," v. 16, "Give your burdens to the Lord and he will take care of you," v.22), are still true millennia later. I can fuss and fume and whine and cry--and God accepts all of those forms of communication--but in the end, I am called to be where He has me, love who He has brought me to, and strive (struggle, wrestle, fight) for peace and unity.

Some weeks ago, a friend forwarded me a devotional. She does this frequently and, if I'm being honest, sometimes I read them and sometimes I don't. But that day I did, and this little nugget from Max Lucado has become something of a mantra for me:

This is the time for service, not self-centeredness. Cancel the pity party. Love the people God brings to you. He will work in you what is pleasing to Himself.  And you will get through this.
I find myself imagining David nodding in agreement.

At the end of the day, I choose. I can sit in my cave, growling and imagining conversations where my righteousness and wordiness wins the day. Or I can acknowledge that everything, including victory, belongs to the Lord, step outside, and get busy living.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

On Watching Brendan Gleeson Play a Dad

Drafter's Note: If my handwriting were more legible--it can be legible, but when I'm writing for myself it shifts more toward glyphs than characters--I'd just post photos of my marked-up, crossed-out, arrow-studded pages that I worked on yesterday at the picnic table outside Trader Joe's. Writing is indeed a beautiful mess.

There's no such thing an as old revelation, I suppose. As countless as they may be, each wave of realization hits hard, cold, breath-stealing. Like New England ocean water, there is no adjusting to the shock, unless you use "adjustment" as a euphemism for "numbing."

This is a movie about other things--heavy, important, life things--but it is this moment that arrests me, the blow hitting without warning, cutting off breath. A simple enough moment for most--obvious, assumed, almost unnecessary. A grown woman, scarred and bandaged from life's wars, becomes a child as she is folded in against him, his arm crossing and enfolding her. Tears--not of abandon, only of leaking, of honest overflow--and stillness. Quiet, the verb. Father, the noun.

The French make a dissection of the idea of knowing: je sais (I am aware of; surface-level; "I know her name") and je connais (I know fully, deeply; total comprehension and gut-level; "I know her--she's my wife.") I do not know, have never known this movie moment by experience. I recognize this scene as I would a foreign phrase I can parcel into my own--I could give you the gist of it. Je sais, but je ne connais pas. I cannot feel the scratch of stubble or smell the half dozen parts that meld precisely into his scent. There were embraces, but in them I held my breath and was someone else.

This is an old study for me--you would think I'd run dry of words for it. But years aren't balms so much as ice packs--there is a dulling and distancing of pain, but it takes nearly nothing to feel every nerve and capillary. Wounded and healed all at once.

Moments like this used to break me--wails of why, heaving tremors of self-pity. And echoes of that remain, if I dwell, if I linger and wait it out. But even in that stillness, if I am still enough, I can feel it: not the stubble, it's true, but a closeness; no, not a scent, but a shift in pressure--the repercussions of being quieted. If were speaking truth, it's not what I wish I had had, because I ache for the palpable pieces of this world. But it is devastatingly massive, heart-seizingly unreal to contemplate: the sculptor of stars wrapping His Spirit around me, not for any other purpose than to be felt and known. It is insane--no other word comes close. Crazy and true all at once.

I smile now, in these moments. Sometimes through tears. The hurt is still there, down in the deeper canyons, but I rejoice for the way life should be when I see it: when a friend scoops up his crying toddler and murmurs in her ear; when Remus tells Harry he is broken to leave his son, but he dies to give him a better world. The little notes that vibrate, in life and in fiction, validating that a little broken is not all broken, and that gaping wounds are healed one stitch, one day, one prayer at a time.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Owning Places

I am walking home today, the first real day of fall. (Like the first real day of spring in Maine, this has nothing to do with the calendar, everything to do with the switch being flipped--you know it is fall the way you know it's raining. Last's week's humidity has been traded in for a definite chill in the air, and every tree suddenly bearing tiny swaths of gold and red in its sunniest reaches.) The sun splays out across the harbor and shafts through the eight-foot high trunks of reeds to my right, and there, only a few feet past the public sidewalk, is a defined nook, a hidey-hole big enough for maybe three people to sit on snapped trunks and dry leaves. I smile but don't slow down in my walk. This is someone else's place--a place to sit alone, to cry or stare up at the clouds waiting for time to move, and, on very rare occasions, to bring very selected others. It is not my place, and I make no move to claim it.

Because I had a place like this once--a place that wasn't, by any stretched laws of property, mine, though I would have argued the point until I was hoarse. It wasn't used by anyone else--of this I was certain in the way that children are certain of improvable things. The parking lot at my church was far bigger than it needed to be by then, and the whole back half had long gone unpaved and unpainted, delicate flowering weeds smashing concrete to rubble from underneath. And it was there, along the back left side where the woods flanked in close, pressing up the corner of the lot into a near wave of rock. The hill was not a hill, I suppose, but what else did you call it, rolling steeply down into the underbrush? A skittering of stones and dirt, a check to ensure none of same has left permanent, mom-alerting traces on clothing or shoes, and I am there. Removed from every other thing. Invisible. Secured.

I have lost the time I spent there. I have no idea what I did while the sun sank low and my mother attended meetings and studies. But it was good time. Time when nothing mattered but nature's sounds and whether you could see the moon through the cracks in the trees. I didn't have a name for it then, but it was here I learned to sit quietly with God, neither of us saying anything. Clambering out again (with a second check of shoes and shirt) was a dull goodbye, but only a slight one--places like mine did not change or leave or shift their attentions. It would patiently wait.

I don't remember taking any girl friends here--I had friends at church, but I don't remember sharing this with them. Maybe that's the veil of memory, or maybe I was afraid they would take my place and make it theirs. But boys, I remember.

I took Eric there one afternoon. I don't remember any other memory of him but this one. I was whatever age it is when a boy's rat-tail begins, very slightly, to shift from weird to intriguing--disgust giving slow ground away to desire. And his large shoes crunching further into the woods, slowly gazing up trees appreciatively. "This is cool," he breathed, and I appreciated his agreement. Later--that same day? a different one?--he had to pee, and went to the far side of the clearing to do so. I stood immovable, neither turning away nor turning toward, acting with meticulous carelessness, insisting more to myself than him that this was normal.

Some years later, I took Jon there. We stepped easily down the slope--one step, then another--and I waited for the same sigh. I don't remember what he said--only my replies. "The house didn't use to be that close." "Well, ya know, I only came here when I was little." He wasn't mean, I remember, only confused. I'd brought him eagerly out to this place that was barely big enough for us to stand, looking plainly into backyards of neighbors.

The place wasn't the same after that, though it kept its promise and never changed. I tried to go back once, maybe twice, and by then could appreciate that whatever spell had kept me hidden, had kept the walls thick and the world at bay, was broken and gone.

Walking past the reeds today, I missed my place. I have no shortage of places I love to go--restaurants, beaches, parks, wooded trails--but none of them are exclusive to me. I must share custody with a thousand other souls, and the places are less themselves for it. My house is mine, but with no secret, open to all visitors--a different kind of ownership. So I share my spaces, and I commune with God in front of my computer or looking out my bedroom window at the moon. And these new places, and the time spent there, are good--but are a different kind of mine.