People are reasoned, while God is mad. They love only beauty; who knows what God loves? – Annie Dillard
Who knew hayfever and heat could be so incapacitating? I have been languishing, lazy and lethargic in this heat; my very bones seem to have taken on weight and any attempt at movement or even mental alertness seems too much to ask of my body. My enemy—near invisible specks of pollen—is hidden in each breath I take. It’s so ridiculous, really, it borders on injustice—how all 130 pounds of me are utterly helpless against mere floating particles.
Again, I am faced with my own body’s vulnerability, its absolute impotency against the forces of this world. With age comes the shedding of the illusion of immortality. My body is no clean canvas; it is etched with violences: blisters and bruises, scars and burns, cuts and scrapes, bites and stings, half of which I have no living memory of receiving. But undeniably there they are, little testimonies to the fact that life batters on all sides.
If I have learned anything this year in England, it is that death isn’t hidden. It isn’t lurking around the corner or in the dark margins of life, just out of sight. Death is the centerpiece. Death is the pattern, the texture of our lives. My body is text—each day an aching muscle, a new injury, this cough that won’t go away weaves into that persistent narrative: “You are bound for death. Each breath is one breath closer to ever-silence.”
Every moment of the day rushes toward night. Every hello holds within it the dark seed of goodbye. The face of the one you love is marked with scars, wrinkles-to-be. The whispering shivering leaves that still and shatter you are gashed and ripped from wind, rain and caterpillars.
The things that are most beautiful are the transient ones, the ones you can only try to catch before they’re gone: a sunset, a firefly, the glisten of dolphin back, that arresting stillness of an empty city street where the only sound is the rhythm of your feet on the pavement, twenty months of your life.
I started this piece over two months ago, in high summer, as we were counting my grandpa’s last days. I meant to write about him and his lungs which long ago renounced their task, about a God who is good and yet suffers His children to walk through fire, and what it looks like to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind, and broken and scarred bodies. But my grandpa slipped from this life into the next before I finished. After the fact, how does one gather the loose ends and tie them off? Reality is too complicated for that.
I was away at a youth Christian camp when it happened, worshipping my God who holds time in His hands. Then it was the long goodbye, followed by the long hello—long, but fast and full. Now it is two months and 108 pages in my journal later—and every day I feel the edge, am pushed up against the cusp of darkness, wilderness, unknown.
A few days ago I sat by a creek with the eucalyptus trees towering above me, breathing in that deep damp smell that is the secret of the forest. I sat there and tried to empty myself, tried to pour out these questions and thoughts that assault me like battering rams, tried to release myself from the frantic busyness and emotional intensity of the last two months. All I wanted was to sit there, still, in the earth’s humming silence like a reed bending in the wind.
But that’s impossible right now. There is a restlessness in me, simmering words and stories that are wilting from keeping them inside. There is power in the telling; stories infuse new life into old bones. My craving is for substance, commonality, questions that cut deep, conversation that fuels the fire in my heart and hospitable space to share what has transformed me from the core.
What is seen is temporary; what is unseen is eternal. I have lost already my pseudo-British accent, am quickly losing my British vocabulary. But oh I have known joy so deep and true it streamed from my heart like living water, have felt the sharpness of a heart shattered for injustice, have held the cup of living and dying to my lips and have drunk even the last dregs.
These are the things I carry invisibly, unwittingly. Their hidden power emerges in the most unlikely of times and places, when I stand in a place that once was familiar and known. Something unsettles in my stomach, and I bring the details of the present close, examine them as under a microscope, step back, hold up these new bits of who I am to this light, and ask “What is this? Who am I becoming? What is it about this situation that makes me feel so remote and ill at ease?”
But how do you speak these mysteries in normal conversation? So much to say but words are ill-fitted to the task. And how do you engage people who have no desire or capacity to talk of matters of the heart? You talk about routine, talk about the weather, talk about your plans for the future, talk about small tangible things that you can hold in your hands and offer to each other in lace with a bow on top.
Life in Plaistow has ruined me for normal life forever. I don’t want those pretty little offerings; I don’t want yoga on a beach, or the leisure to sit in a coffeeshop all day; I don’t want a job that impresses people; I don’t want a little family; I don’t want to fight for a cause for the thrill of belonging to something bigger than myself; I don’t want to give my life to music or writing; I don’t want to fall into a death-cycle of maintaining image, reputation, and status; I don’t want neat answers; I don’t want to avert my eyes from what is gruesome; I don’t want to pretend I don’t feel the impossible weight of the splintered mess that is life and death on this planet.
Give me substance; give me trauma; give me truth; give me what I won’t understand. Give me the terror and beauty of intimacy with Jehovah, the Lord of Heaven and of earth.
The marks on our bodies fade but herald a deeper, more lasting woundedness on the membrane of our being. We stumble through the days of our lives internally crippled and maimed; our hunger for companionship crashes us into each other, and each crash whacks away another bit of our hearts. I come to you now with this offering wounded, with barbs sticking out of my heart.
Oh but my Jesus, my sweet Jesus, carries in His body the memory of supreme violence, brandishing scars that have been transformed from glory into glory. He is the treasure we have in jars of clay. He is the unseen yet eternal light that burrows deep beneath the surface, beneath all that is unlovely and lacerated and scarred beyond recognition, and transforms us there in the deepest, darkest place from glory into glory.
[originally published on dailymarvelous – 10.18.2012]