feed, tend, repeat.

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(Meditations on today’s Gospel. Typed with one hand, lamb in lap.)

Do you love me?

I say the same things all day long.

Sit down. Use your fork. Don’t hit each other. Say please. Chew with your mouth closed. Don’t interrupt. Be kind. Say thank you. Hurry up. Take turns. Be gentle. Don’t yell. Watch the baby. Help each other. Say I’m sorry. Let’s clean up. I love you.

Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

Feed my lambs.

. . .

Do you love me?

I do the same things all day long.

Feed the children. Wash the children. Make the meal. Clean the house. Comfort the children. Teach the children. Let the dog out. Let the dog in. Drive the car there. Drive the car here. Load the dishes. Unload the dishes. Wash the laundry. Fold the laundry.

Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

Tend my sheep.

. . .

Do you love me?

I think the same things all day long.

I’m tired. I need caffeine. What time is it? We’re late. I should do that. I should clean that. I don’t know what to do. Help me. Deep breath. How much longer till naptime? Slow down. Try again. Love them. When is he coming home? I’m tired. Be patient. I love them. How much longer till bedtime?

Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

Feed my sheep.

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If he had cooked me breakfast, sat with me on the cold wet beach, stared up at the pale sky while we talked, what would I say if he asked?

What would I say if he kept asking?

God repeats. We repeat. It is the only way we learn. It is the only way we live.

Do you love me more than these? I hope I do.

Tend my lambs. You know I do.

. . .

Therefore, you shall love the Lord, your God, with your whole heart, and with your whole being, and with your whole strength. Take to heart these words which I command you today. Keep repeating them to your children. (Deuteronomy 6:5-7)

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courage from the tomb

What took more courage: going into the tomb or coming out?

On Good Friday the thought of going into the tomb overwhelms me. Too much blood and betrayal, too much violence and grief.

I drag my feet, wanting to stay in Holy Thursday where we break bread and wash each other’s dirt away. Yes, there’s betrayal and violence that night, too, but something feels safer in the celebration of service than in the commemoration of death.

When I’m thrust into Friday, it’s painfully dark and the Gospel makes me squirm and can’t it be Sunday already so we can get this mess behind us?

So whenever I close my eyes and try to imagine how Friday felt, the mocking and the beating and the pounding of nails into flesh, I’m awash with wonder at the courage it took Christ to die.

The courage it took to enter the tomb.

But this Easter, sitting in a dark church flickering with small candles of hope, I thought about the courage it took to leave the tomb.

Saturday must have felt so quiet and empty after Friday’s passion. Alone and safe in a cold stone cave. At last. Away.

Was he tempted to stay there? To let the hard work be behind him and the protection of death’s distance keep him safe from those who hurt him?

I used to think resurrection was a fairy tale trick, a golden glimmer from a magic wand that spun breath back into dead bones with a presto-chango burst of brilliance. But maybe resurrection is much more real, much harder.

Maybe resurrection starts with the courage to forgive.

The courage to move past pain and violence and death. The courage to move towards love and peace and life. The courage to walk out of the tomb and embrace humanity again.

I wonder if this is the reason Christ’s friends couldn’t recognize him at first, when they saw him in the garden and met him on the road. Not because he was a magical masquerader, but because he was utterly transformed by the courage that is deepest love. The courage it took to overcome humiliation and abandonment and rejection. The courage it took to forgive.

He looked different because he was different. Love won.

And the life that came from that courage – the life and the love and the hope and the faith and the Spirit that is still humming in so many of our bones – it takes my breath away with its truth.

The way everything is transformed when we live as if love wins.

. . .

So often I’m tempted by the tomb, tempted to stay in the solitude of safety and selfishness when I’ve been hurt. I’m tempted to hunker down against a world that doesn’t understand, that never understood.

But the call to live as an Easter person – to live into resurrection, to say no to despair and say yes to love – is a call that transforms. A call to have courage and let love win and leave the safe quiet and step back out into the world again.

I think of this often when I think of my children. How life will inevitably hurt them. How friends will betray and companions be cruel. How accidents will happen and mistakes be made. How their hearts (and probably bones) will be broken. How they won’t make the team or get the job they want. How people they love will die or abandon them.

Of course it’s not my job to shield them from any of it – it’s never our place to shield from life itself. We cannot hide in caves away from the world outside, content ourselves with licking our wounds from a thousand small deaths. The only thing I can hope to help them see is how to get up each time, breathe deeply, forgive and love again.

Try to let love win.

So my Easter prayer becomes one for courage. To shape a humble life that shows my children something about courage and forgiveness. To bear my own witness, my own small flickering light, to the love that wins.

callings and temptations

Today FaithND is running a reflection I wrote on this Sunday’s Gospel, about Jesus’ forty days in the desert and the words of Scripture that he falls back on in his hour of temptation. As I worked on this piece, I was captured by the idea that the devil preys on Jesus’ deepest callings and twists them just enough to pervert the true meaning of the Scripture he cites:

Jesus came to be bread for the world—why not zap stones into manna? Why not feed all the starving in one fell swoop, multiply the miracle by a million, transform every pebble of the earth into food for the hungry?

Jesus came to rule over the world with justice and compassion—why not become king in an instant? Why not seize the glory of all the nations, watch all the citizens of the world bow in honor to him in a single second?

Jesus came to model complete trust in God—why not hurl himself down into the arms of the angels? Why not prove exactly how it looks to fling oneself into the unfailing care of the divine?

I wonder how my own callings are confronted by temptations that look good on the surface, but deep down are distortions of the truth.

Take the calling to be a parent, for example. I find myself inundated by images and ideas and advice and assumptions about what it means to be a good mother. I’m still so new at this gig, just a few short years into a lifelong vocation, that I often find myself wrapped in doubts, worrying whether I’m doing this right, wondering if there’s another (or better or easier or righter) way.

I’ve never thought to consider these temptations as evil – I tend to reserve the term for large-scale horror, violence and destruction – but I wonder whether the weaseling of worry, the twisting of fears around my deepest loves, the perversions that prey on my keenest sense of calling, are nothing less than the power of darkness at work in my own mind.

We can do the right thing for the wrong reasons, or the wrong thing for the right reasons, but can this be calling? My belief in a God of goodness, who calls us in love for love, who longs to bring about fullness of life for the world, whispers no.

Perhaps, like Jesus, I need the words of others to remind me, to strike at the heart of truth:

There is no real occasion for tumult, strain, conflict, anxiety, once we have reached the living conviction that God is All.

All takes place within God. God alone matters; God alone is.

Our spiritual life is God’s affair because whatever we may think to the contrary, it is really produced by God’s steady attraction and our humble and self-forgetful response to it.

It consists in being drawn, at God’s pace and in God’s way, to the place where God wants us to be.

– Evelyn Underhill, The Soul’s Delight

 

a not-so-silent night

The cattle are lowing; the poor baby wakes.

But little Lord Jesus no crying he makes.

It wasn’t my cheeriest Christmas thought. But pacing the back of church with my baby screaming in my arms, wailing and wrenching whether I put him down or picked him up, reeling back and smashing his head against my own, all I could do was roll my eyes while the congregation sang “Silent Night.”

Give me a break, I grumbled. A silent newborn Jesus?

Perfection is annoying in the face of a tired toddler, anything but tender and mild.

. . .

Childhood is full of tears. Rare – if not impossible – is the hour that goes by without a cry. So every single day since my first was born, I have heard wails and dried tears. Tears for falls and fights, tears for tantrums and tiredness. Crying defines childhood more than any emotion. When else in life do we wail in public with reckless abandon?

So perhaps it’s because my second throws more tantrums than my first: crying in the car seat, wailing in the high chair, screaming on the changing table. Or perhaps it’s because this December has been dark with sorrow, plastered with pictures of public grief. But this Christmas I find myself frustrated with the image of a Christ child who didn’t cry.

Crying is our first form of communication. It is how we learn to be human. We raise our voice and let feeling burst forth in the hopes that someone will respond.

It must have been the same for Christ.

. . .

Jesus wept. It’s the shortest sentence in the Bible. But it carries a depth of emotion: the love and compassion Christ had for his friend. Jesus’ tears at the death of Lazarus were not a moment of weakness, a wimpy stumble or a private sniffle. They were an outpouring of grief, wet and wailing proof of his deepest humanity.

Crying comes from a desire for things to be differently than they are. As a child, we cry out of our desire to have a snack or a toy or to go to sleep when we are too tired. As an adult, we cry out of our desire for a situation or relationship to be changed. Christ’s crying for Lazarus meets us there, in that most awful human moment of losing someone we love. And since we know how to be as an adult because of how we were as children, Jesus must have wailed as a baby, to be able to cry as he grew.

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Crying makes us human. The bursting forth of emotion when facing the most basic needs of existence, when dealing with the rawest of our desires. We cry not just for food and drink, shelter and warmth, but in the hopes that if we cry out, someone will respond. Crying teaches us comfort, dependence, compassion and humility.

And even though Emmanuel means that Christ was fully divine from the start, the mystery’s flip side insists that he was always human, too. That he could not have been immune from the tears at the heart of the human condition. That like us he cried for warmth and food and sleep and love. That his first night in human flesh was not free from tears.

. . .

Round yon Virgin, Mother and Child. Holy infant so tender and mild.

Sleep in heavenly peace, sleep in heavenly peace.

Despite being Christmas, yesterday was full of tears like every other day. I don’t remember which cry I confronted, whether the tears over the stolen toy or the forbidden cookie or the forced trip to the potty. I don’t remember which child I comforted, whether it was the oldest who wails “I feel sad!” when tears spring to his eyes or the youngest whose frustrated frown quivers wordlessly before he dissolves.

But yesterday I remember holding a child close to my chest, his tears darkening my shirt as he sobbed. And as he struggled to breathe through his heaving, I felt Christmas songs of quiet nights and silent babes slip away into a darker, wetter image: a sweat-soaked girl in a filthy stable filled with the piercing shrieks of a newborn.

And I realized that what matters most about Christmas is not that Jesus didn’t cry, but that he did.

ordinary time

It was an ordinary moment, during an ordinary day, in an ordinary week.

(Which, in the midst of life with littles, means complete chaos.)

Ordinary is never boring, never dragging these days. Our ordinary is unexpected, our mundane is a mess.

With each new dawn, schedules get shifted and plans get changed. One boy rises early, the other sleeps late; one naps like a dream, one wrestles like a nightmare; one gobbles three plates, the other shoves the spoon away. The next day they switch roles and everything changes again. Never a dull moment.

It was one of these everyday-crazy moments that I paused, my attention caught by turning leaves on the tree near our window, flashing orange in afternoon sun. Ordinary, I thought, such an ordinary day.

Even in the midst of mania – one child spilling CDs from the cabinet, the other pulling paints from a drawer – my thoughts tended theological, as they often do.

I thought about ordinary time, where the church spends most of its year. I thought about all of Jesus’ ordinary time, the years before his public ministry. So much of what matters is ordinary – the regular season, the everyday work.

In a season of life when so much seems ordinary, preparation for what’s ahead or maintenance of what’s right now, I sometimes think about all the ordinary years that Jesus spent. Scripture goes silent on the subject; the Gospels skip from twelve-in-the-temple to thirty-in-the-desert in the flip of a page. But those long lost years must have held quiet growth, careful learning, hard work, cultivated relationships, deep prayer. It made all the difference how Jesus lived his ordinary years.

So many days I dream, amidst the cries and chaos, about the years to come. When the house is finished. When my kids are in school. When I have more time to write. I often wrestle with the waiting, the reality of so much ordinary stretching out in front of me.

But when I stop, seized by an extraordinary ordinary like autumn leaves in October sun, I realize how much God must love ordinary. Because all of life is wrapped around it.

The sacred ordinary of every day.