Nothing starts without an ending. Even when the earth was created ex nihilo, nothing ceased and God’s solitude ended. Beginnings are only the tails of endings and endings the nose of beginnings. As this reality sinks deeper into my understanding, my grief and gladness deepen also. Grief because the relationships that are just in bud, the new season I’m in, the goodness that is just now spilling into my cup won’t last forever. All will change and morph and, eventually, end. But also gladness, because ending doesn’t mean annihilation of what was, and, most of all, because ending means there’s another thing beginning.
Father, teach us how to rest.
“True restfulness is a form of awareness, a way of being in life. It is living with a sense of ease, gratitude, appreciation, peace, and prayer. We are restful when ordinary life is enough.” -Ronald Rolheiser
“Remember when Eustace turned into a dragon? And then Aslan peeled his skin off? It hurt more than anything, but it was also one of the most wonderful feelings because he was so so ready to be a boy again. This season feels like shedding, peeling, scraping, washing. It feels like ‘Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.’ Salty, stinging, pounding waves cleansing and softening.
Sometimes it’s knobbly dragon skin left behind, sometimes a trail of wet leaves.
Either way, beauty seeps in, usually in birth, but often in death.”
I posted this on Instagram last October and, looking back, it’s the dominant impression of 2018. 2018 was a hard year. I ugly cried more in the last six months of 2018 than in the last 4 years combined. I’m not a habitual ugly crier.
2018 was the year that brought an end to the best year and a half of my life. It was the year that I dated and broke up with a good friend. It was the year that my first sibling got married and my sister and closest friend started dating. It was the year of major transition in the fabric and structure of my family. It was the year I started teaching—a new job where I knew just enough to make me terrified and aware of all the things I couldn’t do. It was the year that I lost my head just after I thought I’d finally found it. 2018 was a year of transition and grief and so much battering.
There was so much light and joy and celebration in 2018, but that’s not what I’m here to write about today. I’m focusing on the grief and battering because it’s that part of 2018 that is most precious to me.
In the transitions that this year brought, I lost my identity more than I ever have before. I suddenly realized that my “stable constants” had been shifting, and I was waking up to a new reality. I didn’t realize how much those things (relationships primarily, lifestyle too) served as the reference points for who I am. They were such a part of my worldview that I didn’t even realize how foundational they are. Yes, I’m switching tenses because they are still a massive part of my identity, but I’ve also been loosed from them in a way that I’ve never been before.
We weren’t made to exist in an empty space where the only two points are me and God.
There’s this scientific and philosophical wormhole you can go down where you realize everything is known only in terms of other things and relationships between things are essentially what makes things “real.” In other words, if only one thing existed, it would be impossible to know it existed. Indeed, the thing itself wouldn’t know of its own existence and you could even argue that it would be impossible for one thing and only one thing to exist. (yet another reason that the unity of the trinity is a mind-boggling, but an incredibly necessary mystery) In other words, existence could be described as relationship. We cannot exist in a vacuum, and I would argue that we weren’t even made to exist with God alone. God alone is enough for our existence, but he didn’t create us that way. He created abundance of existence out of the infinite depths of his own relationship with his three persons. (the biggest word we have to describe the why, how, and what of this is LOVE—but that’s a tangent we don’t have time for today, I’m already going on too long) We were made for relationship with God, but also relationship with that abundance that takes the shape, most importantly, as other image-bearers and as all else that is (creation, ideas, etc.).
The point is, it’s GOOD and normal that we use relationships as references points. It’s normal, natural, even healthy. But when those relationships become the fundamental reference point, you’re set up for a lot of pain, because they aren’t fundamental. Those relationships are auxiliary.
The mercy of God made us creatures in constant motion. Motion is one of the best ways to tell if you’re going the right direction. You move and your reference points move and you get perspective. Staying in one place makes the closest tree the biggest one. The redwoods far away are made invisible by the elm saplings in my face. Movement keeps us wondering; it keeps our awareness fixed on the infinite because in movement our finitude is so achingly apparent.
This year I ached and cried and shook from fright. This year I got drenched in my finitude like that ALS ice-bucket challenge.
And I’m so grateful.
I’m new and I’m old.
I’m dying and living.
I’m catching hold
Is letting go
And letting go
Is staying grounded
In Person Truth.
(Prince Edward Island, in the middle of a multitude of transitions)
Choose delight and being, not worry and analyzing and those webby, putrid thoughts.
And then you start to see how–
The dead firs are lovely, if dilapidated, broken down and falling for the light that pierces the forest in their wake.
The potato fields are long, and they march joyfully over the hills. Modest and sturdy, they wear their white blossoms and wrinkled leaves with Island pride.
There certainly are dryads in the forest. The demure birches can’t hide that they have souls, and the old firs have seen them dancing all these years.
The ocean here isn’t barbarian, and you might almost believe that it’s been mostly civilized—like an Island farmer. But tiptoe out as far as you can until every gentle swell lifts you off the velvet sand. Let the weight of the water settle on your chest. Taste the salt on your lips and look to where there is no land, only the next swell. Then you start to feel. The raw, the heartbeat, the iron of the ocean. And suddenly it’s a little hard to breathe, your toes feel only cold, empty space below, and you feel yourself slip into that space where love and terror mingle intimately. Death by ocean might not actually be a tragedy. It would be terrible and glorious to be given up to this great body that goes deeper than your thought can even comprehend. It doesn’t stretch around the world, it is the world, cradling the land in its lap and thunder. Ocean is such a small word to describe the reality you’ve only just glimpsed in this moment of love and terror. It’s not much more than a moment. You shiver and swim back to shore, thinking wistfully of gills and a dorsal that would take you into her heart.
The fear of the Lord.
Sundays are dew days.
The flesh breaks open a little more,
(Like the hemoglobin tests at a blood drive.
The lancet breaks the skin,
The blood starts to leak out,
Gentle pressure and more and more is drawn out.)
Fills you full,
(Fuller than you expected)
And then, seeps out.
Are days of rain.
Life is so colorful. I don’t mean in a bright, hippie rainbow sort of way. Rather in the contrast that life has. Vivacious green smashed up against deep, painful, angry red, and impenetrable black coursed with rosy pink. Our class prayer meetings are what make me think of this. There’s so much going on beneath the surface of every one of us. Often, here, we share it. And as it comes out, it gets softer and more redemptive. Or it gets brighter and more glorious. But then there’s still a whole world underneath that hue that’s been poured out. You catch ghosts of it in eyes.
It’s a miracle that when I look at each of these people it’s easy to see them in the light of glory. It’s so delightful just to BE with them. To be in their presence, in their laughter, in their heartache. I see the things they will be and are being and I’m well-nigh overwhelmed with the glory. I think of who they are and who Jesus is in them, and I see a future with men and women, large and strong, striding across the world, stooping and lifting people up as they continue to grow. Their footsteps full of the light of Jesus as they continue to grow. Their mouths filled with praise as they continue to grow. Their sorrow turned to seeds as they continue to grow. And they continue to grow, sprouting into the life of Christ. Tumbling headlong into the transformation of Jesus. Into new bodies, new souls, new spirits.
And then I look at the obstacles in their way. Anxiety, depression, warped leadership, abuse, fear, apathy, selfishness, disappointments, broken hearts, stubborn people, sinful people, and their own rotting hearts. I listen and see the pain, the brokenness they’re experiencing right here in the household of faith. And I’m a little mystified. But also, grateful. Because somehow, I don’t understand how or why, but somehow, it’s these things that will make them strong. It’s these things, the dark things, that will make them real and alive. It’s here that the resurrected Christ will do his work most powerfully with the most beauty and abundance. Thanks be to God.
Thank you for making us physical beings. Beings that can reach out and touch each other and sip tea and feel the icy wind down our backs. Thank you for giving us form and shape–hard elbows and velvety cheeks and also, yes, also, tummies–warm and round, soft and plump–goodness in my gut.
“My weight is my love; by it I am carried wherever I am carried.” Augustine, Confessions