Monday, April 22, 2013

sucking chest wound

In high school some friends and I got to be part of a disaster preparedness drill for a local children's hospital.  We were each assigned a trauma injury, rolled in on gurneys, and the doctors had to deal with all of us at once.  I had the "sucking chest wound," you know, the kid they're supposed to give up on because she has minutes to live anyway, and they're more likely to save someone else.  So a lot of doctors came by and left quickly, but I thoroughly milked every moment of gurgling and gasping like the quintessential melodramatic teenage hollywood wannabe who got to replay her death scene over and over.  It was fabulous.

nerd moment.

So when a tornado passes over your house, it isn't that the wind is so strong that it sucks your roof off.  The speed of the wind causes the pressure to drop and difference in pressure causes the air inside your house to push upwards on the roof.  It's more like the air inside the house is trying to rush out to fill the void outside.

the synthesis?

I have these moments where I tangibly feel that same sucking chest wound. The difference in pressure between my outside and inside is so intense I feel like I have my mouth stuck on the suction end of a vacuum hose and and I'm being turned inside out because of the negative pressure.

I had one of these moments recently and all I could do was sit in my car and sob.  At some point though, I've come to realize that the fundamental nature of these moments is longing.  The anticipation of something like marriage, or heaven, or children, or spring, or anything good is so arousing that if you  drift away from or even lose the focus of your longing, then the void left is overwhelming.  I'm not being trite when I say that I completely understand why people drink or have sex or do drugs or become workaholics - anything to feed the black hole created by the longing.

I love cooking, and no, I'm not changing the subject.  Someone once asked me if I were a good cook.  I find that a strange question.  I love to eat what I make, but I suspect I'm a terrible cook.  What I love about cooking, though is how much it teaches me about the art of waiting on God.  Emmett's grandfather taught me how to make jam, and I spent hours in his kitchen learning how to wait for just the right moment.  Too soon and it never gels, too long and turns out unpleasantly firm.    I'm a rusher though, and without proper training (sometimes even despite my proper training), all my jams would be a runny mess.

I have the same problem in life.  If I have a question, then I want an answer and then the conversation is over.  It isn't that I don't care about people, so much as I don't know how to go about the art of building relationship.  Emmett was wonderful at this.  We would have a question we needed answered, something as simple as 'when are you arriving.'  Emmett would make a call and an hour later we would have our answer.  I would get so frustrated, and he would look at me like I was nuts because for him, you can't just ask a question.  It has to be just right.

In cooking, as in life, I'm really bad at sensing the 'just rights.'  Too many plans here, too little self-control there, a little over-indulgnece here, a smattering of conceit just then, a missed social cue, or a preoccupation with my own agenda, and before you know it, my longings have become so blurry that the same old sucking chest wound appears out of nowhere.  A gradual buildup of missed cues and 'just rights' becomes a landslide of unfulfilled longing set loose by a single pebble.  Not enough time to wash my hair or being tired or feeling inadequate next to someone more beautiful/talented/hip/funny/etc - any of these pebbles can trigger an overwhelming rush of emotion.

I find myself learning the art of longing, of waiting, of seeing the 'just rights.'  Balancing the promise of a new creation with the reality of sin is an art that escapes me.  How to live in the tangible joy of the promises of Christ without feeding that insatiable sucking chest wound is not an art I've mastered.

Monday, April 15, 2013

champagne for breakfast again - well of course!

Part of getting used to living in the post-Easter world -- part of getting used to letting Easter change your life, your attitudes, your thinking, your behavior -- is getting used to the cosmology that is now unveiled.  Heaven and earth, I repeat, are made for each other, and at certain points they intersect and interlock.  Jesus is the ultimate such point.  We as Christians are meant to be such points, derived from him. The Spirit, the sacraments, and the scriptures are given so that the double life of Jesus, both heavenly and earthly, can become ours as well, already in the present...
...The message of Easter, then, is neither that God once did a spectacular miracle but then decided not to do many others nor that there is a blissful life after death to look forward to.  The message of Easter is that God's new world has been unveiled in Jesus Christ and that you're now invited to belong to it.  And precisely because the resurrection was and is bodily, albeit with a transformed body, the power of Easter to transform and heal the present world must be put into effect both at the macrolevel, in applying the gospel to the major problems of the world... and to the intimate details of our daily lives.  Christian holiness consists not of trying as hard as we can to be good but of learning to live in the new world created by Easter, the new world we publicly entered in our baptism.  There are many parts of this world we can't do anything about except pray.  But there is one part of the world, one part of physical reality, that we can do something about, and that is the creature each of us calls "myself." Personal holiness and global holiness belong together.  Those who wake up to the one may well find themselves called to wake up to the other as well...     Surprised by Hope N.T. Wright
Two currents of thought are radically changing my life right now; a deeper understanding of the inner workings of my sinful nature thanks to the writings of John Owen that I have often quoted on this blog, and a radical shift in my understanding of the resurrection, thanks to the book quoted above.  It is no coincidence that I have come across these books and find myself working through them concurrently.  Owen says that proportionate to our understanding of sin will be our desire for grace, and I find that my desire for grace creates a desperate need to rightly understand the resurrection of Christ.

I have, like most other Christians these past few months, been overwhelmed by the sins of the world coming to light in stories of murder, blindness, and manipulation.  I mostly marvel, though, that we are surprised by these stories.  Because apart from Christ, I could justify any one of these actions.  In grieving the world I've noticed a terrible temptation to judge myself in comparison to the the world only, without respect to Christ.  To lash out in judgement, thinly veiled as righteous horror, is my first impulse, but the deeper I go into Christ the more I am aware of my own sinful nature and need for grace, and the more I realize that apart from grace I would do these exact same things.  Then I find myself caught up in grief and prayer in strange new ways and I find answers I never quite expected.  Consider this:
But Easter week itself ought not to be the time when all the clergy sigh with relief and go on holiday.  It ought to be an eight-day festival, with champagne served after morning prayer or even before, with lots of alleluias and extra hymns and spectacular anthems.  Is it any wonder people find it hard to believe in the resurrection of Jesus if we can't throw our hats in the air?  Is it any wonder we find it hard to live the resurrection if we don't do it exuberantly in our liturgies? Is it any wonder the world doesn't take much notice if Easter is celebrated as simply the one-day happy ending tacked on to forty days of fasting and gloom?  It's long overdue that we took a hard look at how we keep Easter in the church, at home, in our personal lives, right through the system. And if it means rethinking some cherished habits, well, maybe it's time to wake up.  That always comes as a surprise...
...But we should be taking steps to celebrate Easter in creative new ways: in art, literature, children's games, poetry, music, dance, festivals, bells, special concerts, anything that comes to mind.  This is our greatest festival.  Take away Christmas, and in biblical terms you lose two chapters at the front of Matthew and Luke, nothing else.  Take Easter away, and you don't have a New Testament; you don't have a Christianity; as Paul says, you are still in your sins....
...In particular, if Lent is a time to give things up, Easter ought to be a time to take things up.  Champagne for breakfast again -- well, of course. Christian holiness was never meant to be merely negative.... Easter is the time to sow new seeds and to plant out a few cuttings.  If Calvary means putting to death things in your life that need killing off if you are to flourish as a Christian and as a truly human being, then Easter should mean planting, watering, and training up things in your life (personal and corporate) that ought to be blooming, filling the garden with color and perfume, and in due course, bearing fruit...
I was tempted to quote the whole book, but I'll stop there.  Do you get it?  Do you get that the deep griefs of this world are answered completely by the resurrection, the promise of forgiveness and a new creation.  Therein lies a deep, hopeful, and wildly joyful cause for dancing and kissing and champagne for breakfast!

I have tried these past few years to travel my own road of grief with an open hand.  The temptation to bury grief under activities or false idols or work or alcohol or sex or any other distraction is overwhelming at times.  But I have found that real grief, rightly experienced with Christ, coexists with a joy beyond my ability to express in words.

As I walked the Ganier trail at Radnor lake yesterday, I was met at the top by a furious barrage of wind that nearly blew me over. I laughed and wanted to shout hallelujahs and shake my fist and say, "do your worst because I know who made you and he loves me!"

But of all the things in Wright's book, one small side note haunts me more than any other.  In his discussion on how the resurrection works itself into our pursuit of justice, he mentions offhandedly that at the center of the peaceful dismantling of apartheid was a black African archbishop who spent the first three hours every day in devout, fervent prayer.  Thirty years prior, no one could imagine the peaceful dismantling of apartheid, and yet it happened.  I'm not sure why this example stood out among so many other examples he gave, but I am convicted that as believers we don't shout hallelujahs and raise our fist to the wind and go on our way in personal triumph, otherwise unchanged.

Deep grief and wild joy are made for each other.  Because I shake my fist at that same wind by bowing my knees in prayer and asking him to change me and bring healing to this broken world.  I cannot meet the brokenness of the world until I've deeply reveled in the knowledge of my redemption and new life.  So this morning I'm raising a toast to the creator and bowing my head in grief all at the same time, all while gaping in wonder at the mystery of this whole crazy mess.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013


I don't visit my backyard very frequently in winter, so this time of year, I'm often surprised by the difference a few days can make.  Walking out to the compost this evening I saw the peach tree in full bloom, and my breath caught in my chest.  Spring has been a long time coming this year, and I am keenly aware of its delay in both body and spirit.  The explosion of blossoms caught me off guard, and I finally felt the promises of Easter stirring in my heart.

Recently I've been bogged down in the twenty-something-eth chapters of Leviticus.  Just imagine that sucking sound your galoshes make when you pull out of the mud.  Yup.  That's where I am.  But there mired in the directions on which animal to use and which parts of it to burn and who can eat it and who you're not supposed to sleep with and how many years you're not supposed to eat the fruit from a tree you just planted (I'm totally not making that one up!), there when you least expect it God says over and over to be holy because I am holy or because I am the one who makes them holy.

And then I'm reminded by John Owen that holiness is not just an action, but it's also the intention and thought underlying the action, as well as the manner in which we carry out the action.  Seriously.  I'm already drowning just trying to do the right things sometimes.  If I have to analyze my attitude, then I just might as well sit in a corner and give up.

This morning I read in Romans 8 about all creation groaning as in the pains of childbirth along with us, longing for the new creation.  I think I've groaned with longing for that new creation so much these past few years some people might mistake me for a zombie.  I get stuck in the great mystery of Romans 7, being caught up in the middle of that epic struggle between the old creation and the new creation, the reason for so much of the groaning mentioned in Romans 8.  I get so stuck in that struggle that I forget the promise of Easter and a new creation.  I forget that my groaning is a sign of Christ's victory.  I forget that the promises are real.

And all my forgetting is why I need spring so desperately this year, to remember the promise that all things will be made new, that the present creation is groaning with me in similar anticipation of being made new, and that this kind of groaning is the song of the redeemed right now.  But groaning won't be our song forever.  One day I'll step outside of this body and into a new creation, and my breath will catch in my chest because everything will be exploding with new life.  I will find that I have a new song that was somehow mysteriously forged through all this groaning.  That will be a glorious day indeed, and I'm thankful for that reminder from the peach blossoms this evening.