Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Tensions I Live With

A friend who reads this blog challenged me the other day:  "What would happen if you wrote something less structured--something that didn't make it seem like you've got it all together?"  I almost spat out the water I was drinking.  Me?  Have it all together?  Hardly!  I often wonder how people would respond if they could hear the prayers I think but do not say; the ones I keep between me and God.  There are probably a few I would keep from God if I could!  How many times have I bitten my tongue to keep from telling a caregiver or paratransit driver just how angry I am with them or exactly what I think of them?  And I do this not because I am particularly virtuous or saintly, but because I need them.  Because they hold my life, or at least a substantial piece of the quality of my life, in their hands.  And if they decide they do not like me, they can walk or drive away.  They can leave me half dressed or make the time they spend helping me get dressed miserable.  They can make it impossible for me to get somewhere I need or want to go, or make the trip to my destination even more of an endurance contest than it usually is.  Then there are the things I say to my body in the countless moments when it doesn't do something I want it to or move as fast as I want it to, words I say despite almost 58 years that tell me my expectations are beyond unrealistic and I should be use to this by now; despite all the spiritual people I've heard or read who insist our bodies are wonderful and we should love them.  None of whom have disabilities, incidentally.  I've tried and failed to do that.  Have it all together?  No.  Absolutely, unequivocally, no.

My friend would probably tell me I can stop there; that it's ok to write something that doesn't necessarily have a point.  But his suggestion makes me uncomfortable for several reasons.  I know there is value in the simple expression of feelings.  I know that dishonest writing, writing that pretends I am something other than human, is bad writing.  I also know that writing is a craft.  A craft by definition is something you attempt to shape consciously.  The only exception I know to this rule is journal writing, and while journal writing may be part of the crafting process, it is not an end in itself--at least not for anything I'm willing to share publicly.

That's the other tension I live with--the tension between the importance of being honest, even and perhaps especially about the stuff that makes it clear I am less than wonderful, and my right to--my need for--privacy.  Every artist, every human being, has that need. The fact that I have a disability makes it even more important that I recognize and honor it.  For most of my life, I have needed help with intimate things--bathing, dressing, even toileting.  The older I get, the more help I need with those things.  Able-bodied people do them privately.  I don't have that luxury.  If I try to do them by myself, they either won't get done or I will put my health at risk. One of the few places I can choose to be private is in my internal world, the world of what I think and how I feel.  As important as it is that I write honestly, as important as honesty is to my spiritual life, it is vitally important that I allow myself to keep some things private.  So while I will choose to share some parts of me I'm less than proud of, there are "not together" parts I will not share.

I'm not sure what the point of this reflection is, particularly for people who don't consider themselves artists or don't have a disability.  Which is why even though I think my friend is mostly wrong, I hope he's at least partially right.  And maybe sometimes the point you're making is hidden.  Or maybe sometimes the best you can do is hope that your readers will discover their own point.

Friday, February 12, 2016


Every time I'm in pain, I think about ashes.  I moved funny yesterday--twisted something, or leaned too much to one side.  So every couple of minutes a spasm of pain grips me.  It will go away in time, I think.  These things usually do.  For now, this is a "Just be" day.  So said the voice I know as the maternal God within me.  No expectations.  No need to accomplish anything.  Just breathe.  Yell when the pain hits.  Curse God, the world, and your body when you need to.  Surely this permission is grace. (Years ago, I was hospitalized for a procedure which caused excruciating pain.  My sister, who at the time was an agnostic, leaned over my bed and whispered, "Say anything to God that you need to." It remains the single best moment of "pastoral care" I have ever experienced.)  I'm surprised I'm writing, since it usually qualifies as an accomplishment when I do.  But this came unbidden, in the midst of a spasm.  I've learned to pay attention to such visitations, though they don't usually come with physical pain.  If anything, pain blocks them.  Perhaps this is a "milagrito."  Today, a package arrived in the mail.  From my sister, the pastoral care whisperer mentioned above--Two charms and a bright orange box with a flower painted on it. She bought them in Mexico.  "These are 'milagritos', " she wrote on a card.  Little miracles. I'm suppose to put them around an altar. I don't have an altar, but perhaps grace means I don't need one.  I got a milagrito anyway.  I'm writing while I'm in pain.

Physical pain brings me down to basics.  All my lofty thoughts and promises, complicated theologies, vanish.  I am plunged to my animal nature; connected to what I have in common with the rest of the created world--with plants and animals, insects and trees.  It's not a bad thing--to be reminded, once in a while.  We all seek relief from pain, and a part of us anyway will one day be ashes.

When I asked my Bible study group what they wanted to talk about this week, they quoted the verse, "From dust you came.  To dust you shall return." I don't want to remember that my body will be ashes.  I don't want to think about the fact that I will die.  I've thought of that more than enough since my mother died. But to be brought down low is not a bad thing.  To feel my companionship with animals and trees.  To think of them as friends; to imagine that they empathize, to feel a pull to empathize more with them. . .How would that change the way I live?  What gift would that bring to my world?  It might at least make me feel less alone in pain.  Small as that seems, it would be a gift.  It might even be a milagrito, a gift of grace.


Monday, February 1, 2016

Looking Toward Lent

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

                                            [Jesus, in Luke 4:16-19, reading from Isaiah 61:1-2]

Dear God,

As I prepare for Lent, let me first say thank you--
for anointing me, at my ordination, to proclaim release, forgiveness, and your favor
to the sons and daughters whom you so love.

And let me apologize--
for all the times I have failed to proclaim, and especially to live, that good news.
There have been far too many.

I am anointed and blind,
anointed and broken,
anointed and captive,
in so many ways.

I need to hear
the good news I proclaim.

Lord, I live
among so much brokenness;
among people who have been
forgotten and betrayed,
who are hurting and angry,
who feel as if
they are imprisoned.

And they too
have been anointed.
They proclaim good news,
They forgive and release,
They live as your flawed and loving
daughters and sons.

Enfold us God,
for we are bound together--
needed and needing,
anointed and flawed,
healing and broken
in this your world.