Resurrection

It’s gray and misty outside today. Sometimes rain feels fresh and cleansing but this is the cold, sleety, spitting kind. I’m at a coffee shop but I want to be at home under a big heavy blanket with my kids tucked in beside me. I want to sleep. One of my most beloved spiritual mothers lies unconscious in the hospital. Good Friday was yesterday, Easter tomorrow, and I feel the expansive silence of this day. It yawns into the damp corners of my home and my mind.

I’m remembering Easter Sunday in the church of my childhood. The dozens of lilies circling the stage and the way the pastor greeted our pastel-clad congregation, “He is Risen!” and we’d shout, “He is risen indeed!” A full orchestra led us in the hallelujah chorus, and the pews emptied as men and women crushed in upon the choir to join them for the four part harmony.

For those of us who struggle to find a faith home, to find our part in the choir, to make ourselves presentable, Easter is another lonely holiday. I miss the old certainties during this season more than any other time of the church year. I miss the easy joy, shouting the refrain, singing the triumphal hymns without a flood of questions about what the hell they even mean or how this is good news for the poor and oppressed in this here and now world. I miss the comfort of community where everyone mostly agrees on mostly everything – biblical interpretations, politics, parenting. Nobody thinks about these messy, complicated questions. Nobody wonders what Jesus was actually like, or what he would think of our celebrations. It’s a day of victorious shouts and scalloped potatoes, why ruin that with unanswerable questions?

But it comes with a cost, doesn’t it? The millstone of atonement theology – praying to thank Jesus for dying for my sins, apologizing that he had to, singing “it was my sin that held him there” while I imagine Jesus bloody and limp because I didn’t empty the dishwasher the first time my mom asked, because I shoved my brother, because I had a crush on a boy and daydreamed about being kissed.

It makes a lot of sense that so many of us who were whipped into church submission as 8-year-olds grow up to be the people who jeer “ALL lives matter”, who want to purge our nation of asylum seekers, who scream about bathroom bills. Jesus was, after all, only turned over for execution after the mobs, whipped to religious fervor by the men in power, screamed for his crucifixion.

It’s insidious the way we’ve retold the story of Jesus. He’s been weaponized, a tool for shaming children and adults alike into unquestioning submission. He’s been sanitized from a more aloof Shane Claiborne type into someone who would have been welcomed at a mega church on Sunday morning, someone charmingly edgy who has “a past” (nothing too scandalous), someone who has been carefully groomed to stay theologically “on message”.

We’re told the takeaway, the “good news”, is that we have hope now, now that he’s dead and raised to life. He conquered the grave so you can live forever! Don’t worry about what that means, they say. It’s a wonderful mystery, they say. Jesus is at the right hand of God the Father. Yes, his literal right hand. In heaven, where you’ll have a literal body/no, no body, it’s a place for the soul/we’ll get new bodies. We will/won’t work and learn and marry and have families/new families/we’ll be reunited with old loved ones and live happily every after. We won’t want relationships/won’t want new children/ won’t have sex/we’ll be satisfied in Christ. (ew) You will/won’t get to meet your dead baby/dog/grandma. You won’t want any of that because all you will want is God. There’s really no point in worrying about it. What you need to know is that you should be hell-bound, but thanks to Jesus/predestination/the sinner’s prayer you’re not, and God no longer hates your guts because he murdered his only son for you, to fix the problem of the evil he allowed/created, so just be grateful/trust the bible/don’t ruin Easter dinner with these questions, dammit.

And yet, here I am, 8 or 10 years into the questions and I’m coming back around on this story. On Jesus. On the gospel. I can finally see that Jesus’s cosmic-breaking-in was  for those of us on the margins, those of us that can’t find hope in the answers of the religious elite. Less Gospel Coalition heretic hunting, more college students hunger striking on behalf of their food insecure friends.

The hope of Jesus is the breaking through of the cosmic Christ. The end of the us vs them binary.  In Christ we learn to see the Divine in our sister, our neighbor, and our enemy as we do in ourselves. In Christ we learn to spend our privilege for those without it and to center their stories in our communities, working towards justice together.

I imagine Jesus shaking his head at us, not because we haven’t evangelized enough souls out of hell or because we are “sinful”, but because we’re so distracted by all our rules that we completely miss the work God is already doing in our midst.

“The spirit of the Lord is upon me,” he would say,

“She has called me to give hope to the poor. Yes, just the poor. You wealthy folks are going to have a mighty hard time understanding the kingdom of heaven.

“She has stirred in me a passion to free women and children trapped in the sex trade or in homes with abusive partners and fathers. Her spirit guides us to free the children and their parents held like animals in cages at your borders.

“She insists we ensure proper representation and fair trials for Black and Brown men incarcerated in your evil criminal ‘justice’ system.

“Our great healer waves the banner of healthcare for all, pointing out how ridiculous it is that a civilization advanced enough to develop life-saving medications and surgeries to heal the sick lacks the ethic to actually heal them without demanding payment.

“Most importantly, and hear me on this because y’all struggle: our Divine Mother calls for the centering of the stories of all who have been stepped on and used and tossed aside in your relentless pursuit of a bargain and a bottom line.

“I have come to proclaim a year of jubilee because you thick headed people need a hard reset. Forgive debts, turn over industry to the people, marry, care tenderly for the children and the aged, focus on the needs of the poorest among you.

“Then you will know the kingdom of heaven.”

The government was angry. The religious leaders were incensed. The crowd was full of fear and their imaginations could not see the imprint of the Divine in this vagabond.

So they murdered him.

Not quietly, but publicly. A warning to any others who would dare follow in his steps. I’m not sure what I believe about Jesus’ divinity or his knowledge about what was to come, but he certainly could have run away. He could have fled like his parents did 30 years before, living as refugees while the king had a price on his head. But no, not this time. He submitted to their anger, their fear, their evil. He hung on a cross, a bodily witness to the stone cold hearts of men.

His disciples hid.

The women waited.

And then the women (the women!) told the story, the story of the boy who lived.

I don’t know what the resurrection actually, literally was, and that has bothered me so much for so many years. But even so, I feel this story in my bones. I believe with my whole heart that evil, angry, powerful people do not win. Love abides. It flourishes in the weak, in the forgotten. Perhaps the Resurrection was both an infusion of hope in our desperate humanity and a tugging of the edges of our timeline, a cosmic bend away from our fear-fueled destruction.

A new life in the way of Love.

Resurrection.

macro photography of yellow flowers during sunset

Photo by Tim Eiden on Pexels.com

 

Standard

Selah, child of light

For years I have said that miscarrying our tiny Selah was the beginning of the end of faith for me. In the days after that very worst day, family and friends reached out with words of comfort, with meals, with stories of their own loss. Tangible, vulnerable acts of kindness that made me feel less alone. But there were also family and friends and trusted mentors who felt it was important that I understand that no child is promised to heaven except those that God predestines. In fact, they said, it was prideful to claim an assurance of grace for my child – who was I to know the will of God? They said I should find comfort in God who is “in control”, who leads us into suffering for our sake, or for his glory, or to teach us to trust him. It felt like a threat. If he wants to create a child to die in your womb and then condemn that tiny soul to hell, who are you to question him? Maybe he did it precisely because you are the sort who would be brazen enough to call foul. 

The sentiment itself wasn’t shocking. I had always believed this theology, I had even offered those words to friends in their own suffering. But something changed in the sharpness of my grief. Ideas that had once given me comfort now failed because they made God look like a monster who delighted in inflicting suffering or creating and then murdering unborn children and destining their souls for hell, all in some bid to bring himself more glory.  Okay crazy nightmare hitler god. At least hitler was finite. This is the all knowing, all loving, all powerful God, and this is how he uses his power? This is goodness? This is love?

These were the first questions of my deconstruction out of reformed fundamentalism, made possible by the life and death of our dear first daughter. Deconstruction is, itself, a kind of death. An end. But as the years have passed I have begun to see her brief existence as more than just the tipping point out of a toxic faith. She was like a portal to the non-dualities of this universe. Through her I gained eyes to see the fear and oppression that was keeping me in line with this frightening theology. Through her I found the courage to imagine that, if there was a God, a Divine Being, a movement of Love in the universe, it would not, could not, delight in inflicting suffering on human beings or burning tiny fetuses eternally in hell.

Selah taught me how to wonder, how to fight against fear, how to sit with grief and heartache without pithy answers or submission to a dictator’s will. I don’t know if I ever would have found my way out of that toxic theology without her. She led me, with her short life, through all the rules and gates meant to protect God from our humanity. She showed me that God is not a king in a walled off fortress. Love cannot be contained.

I have gained momentum in running after her, following her small frame towards glimpses of the Divine in the wilderness beyond the gates, but it hasn’t been easy. The blinding flood lights and the hum of fluorescent bulbs that keep every doubt or shadowed thought at bay distorted my view of what laid beyond. The light of certainty illuminates all the carefully laid doctrinal walls between the desperate within and the desperate without. For so many years I was so sure that they were right, that God could only exist in this pure architectural wonder. I left timidly, with backwards steps, tripping my way down the front steps and across the grounds. I told myself that I just needed perspective, perhaps a new group or guide could show me how to find my way back in, back to God, back to the community I loved.  The further we ventured, the dimmer the light, the light I thought was God, became. I grew angry, then weary, then hopeless.

But then, at the edges of human answers, I stopped. It felt like the small soul that was tugging me out there was trying to turn my face, to finally look ahead rather than back at what was. By now the fortress was nothing but a dim glow on the horizon and my eyes were finally adjusting to the dark. It was so quiet. But then I turned and found the whole universe stretched out before me, before us, a resplendent tapestry of light and void. It pulsed with hope, with song, and I could finally see the shimmering movement of Love in and among all beings, across time. 

I fell into it, and it caught me, like a child safe in her mother’s arms.


Thank you, Selah-girl, for showing me the way.  For giving me the anger and the courage to escape the oppressive ‘certainties’ so I could experience the delight of true wonder and mystery and awe. Your name means “pause, reflect deeply” and is found at the end of many lines of psalmic poetry. It came to me in those vulnerable days curled up on the couch as you faded from my form, and at the time all I could reflect on was my helplessness and sorrow. I am so grateful for the journey we have been on from that place. Together we have lived into your name fully, always circling back, always with more questions. I never would have had the courage without you, my beloved girl. Thank you leading me home.

Standard

Carrying Lost Hearts

This week I will be sharing pieces I’ve written about our miscarriage over the past 6 years. They have been scattered across different blogs in different seasons, spanning the full arc of my faith deconstruction and grief journey and I wanted to bring them together in one place to make them more accessible, and also as an act of remembrance for our Selah. March is Pregnancy After Loss month, something I couldn’t fathom in the wake of our miscarriage and have been wrestling with ever since the arrival of our twins just over a year later. If you have experienced the loss of a child, please know you have a home here, that I hold space for your pain, and that you are not alone.


March 25, 2015

Tuesday will be two years since we lost our little girl. Selah was an unexpected Lenten mystery in our lives, one I will never understand. She launched us into giddy parenthood and bottomless grief in one swift week. When I began miscarrying on Easter Sunday, the last bits of my feeble faith crumbled.

I will never forget the hours I spent in the shower that week, crumpled on the floor sobbing as I contracted and bled out what should have been my daughter, passing the clots that should have sustained and nourished her. When the water ran cold Drew would bundle me back into bed and we would shiver into each other, exhausted. I felt so dry when the tears stopped, parched for words and life and hope.

It is hard to talk about a lost child. I can’t remember the last time I cried for our Selah. Life with Evelyn and Rowan is so consuming, weeks will pass and I haven’t even thought about her. We’ll be out grocery shopping and as I’m bagging up some spinach a woman will walk up and coax a wave and a giggle from R&E and gush “oh twins! Are they your first? What a blessing! And look, one of each, now you’re done!” Ladies in the grocery story don’t mean to make young moms cry about their never-to-be-born child, so we put on brave faces and lie.

I don’t know if we’re done having children. I don’t even know if we’re going to survive today, growing another human is the farthest thing from my mind. But so is swearing off them all together. And one of each? Why do people say that, as if the genders of children are limited edition collectibles that depreciate in value if you have duplicates?

But she doesn’t mean any of that. She’s just forgotten what it feels like to be young and overwhelmed with needy children. She just wants to be friendly. I look at her kind eyes and stutter a reply and then she says they are beautiful and “God bless” and wheels her cart towards the deli. And there I am, plastic bag in hand, swept up momentarily in the impossibility of life and death and our ability to mourn and move on and mourn over and over again.

And then Evelyn is chewing on the index card that was my grocery list and ink is smudged around her lips and Rowan is howling because he wants paper too and so I’m digging in my purse for the Tupperware of snacks that will get us through to the checkout line. All thoughts of new life and motherhood and death are crowded out by the realities of my needy children and the clock ticking down to naptime.

And it really isn’t fair. There’s no good time to ask about the child I lost at 8 weeks. Even if you and I were sitting in my living room and we were drinking tea while the children played quietly and peacefully at our feet, if you asked about what I’ve been thinking about my Selah I would be overcome by the guilt of being a woman who hasn’t thought about her dead daughter since the last time someone reminded me in a grocery store. I would stumble for words and feel the need to try and sound like I think a devoted grieving mother should, but I would come up empty.

Selah flung open the door to my motherhood and then she left me standing awkwardly on the stoop, waiting to be let in. When Rowan and Evelyn came along I was suddenly shoved through the door with such force that I spent the next many months stumbling for footing. Now, as we round the corner on their first year and the dust is settling I’m finally finding some brain-space to feel all that we have become together. Because of Selah but also without her.

Dear friends, there are more people in your life who have lost children than you would expect. There are brave women who have labored and birthed beautiful babies and had to say goodbye to them the same day. There are mothers and fathers and grandparents who carry the broken hearts of parents who have outlived their children, taken too soon. Always too soon. There are family members and friends, people who were in our life one day and gone the next, leaving us in the void. We all know grief in some way, the weight of the world cannot be shouldered alone.

When grief is fresh, carry it together. When it rushes in and out again unexpectedly, accept and acknowledge it without guilt or fear, as much as is possible. If grief abides, do not be alone for too long. Remind others that you are hurting and let them stumble along beside you. It’s the best we can do, to offer our open hands and beating hearts in love for another. We do it for the ones we’ve lost and the ones we still have. We do it because love was meant to be given, to flow freely in the way of grace. We do it because we are alive and this is hope. This is the way we push back against death and press into life.

My faith is still in shambles, scattered and splintered like a shipwreck on a rocky shore. But I am picking my way through the debris when the tide is low and the sun is warm and, somehow, I am finding hope in these smashed bits. I’m grateful that whatever can be resurrected from this mess will always bear the marks of my heartache, that Selah’s story is forever my story too.

I carry her in my heart.

 

selah's memorial

The view from our little memorial site for Selah on Lake Ontario.

Standard

claiming resurrection

This week I will be sharing pieces I’ve written about our miscarriage over the past 6 years. They have been scattered across different blogs in different seasons, spanning the full arc of my faith deconstruction and grief journey and I wanted to bring them together in one place to make them more accessible, and also as an act of remembrance for our Selah. March is Pregnancy After Loss month, something I couldn’t fathom in the wake of our miscarriage and have been wrestling with ever since the arrival of our twins just over a year later. If you have experienced the loss of a child, please know you have a home here, that I hold space for your pain, and that you are not alone.


April 1, 2013

About a week ago Drew and I found out were pregnant. We were filled with joy and anticipation at this surprising answer to prayers for direction and purpose in this season of confusion and closed doors.

In just a few short days we began re-imagining our year ahead, what sorts of job opportunities could provide for a little family of three, where we might find housing, how we might move closer to friends or family. We talked of how fun it would be to surprise our moms with the news on mother’s day (if we could wait that long!) and I marveled at how this little one would carry me through the church year: growing quietly all through lent, announcing its arrival just before our resurrection celebration, finally joining us during the season that remembers our Christ’s own birth. Such peace.

But then, while shouting our alleluias and “He is risen indeed!” and smiling at rows of little kids on stage singing “Up from the Grave He Arose!”, I began miscarrying.

At first I didn’t even realize what was happening. I wanted to just think of it as a late late period, as if nothing had ever happened. I felt so sheepish for my joy, for all the planning that we managed in a short week. As I googled my “symptoms” and learned that this is commonly called a “chemical pregnancy” – the failure of the embryo to properly implant in the uterus – I felt even more silly for my grief. I was barely even pregnant. This brief burst of new life, just a few hundred cells woven together and gone rogue.

Just a few hundred cells.

But when I stood in the shower last night, trying to soothe wretched cramps and relax for bed I found myself praying somehow for God to receive our little one. This one he created in my womb, this one who was snatched by death far too quickly. And the grief came in great waves, shaking my whole body, making me feel small and frail and so exposed. How could it be that death could lurk even in my inmost being? I felt so violated. And on THIS day! Resurrection day. A day to celebrate conquering the dark shadow of death. Why?

Drew found me and held me and the hot water beat down with our tears and somehow in that embrace there was comfort in the midst of suffering. What a mystery of marriage to have the presence of another person to say “No, this is not right. This is not what we were meant for” and to cry out to God for his kingdom coming. To speak His promises of life over me and petition God for the peace we so desperately need in this broken place.

Addie Zierman says it beautifully:

“God is here, and I feel him close and real these days. But also, still, there is this hole. There is the empty space where a baby should have been. And I feel that too, tender and sharp.

I know it will get better with time – these things always do. But also, I know that this world is cracked through. The people who are supposed to love us best fail us in the worst possible ways. The pregnancy doesn’t take, or the baby is gone before you can hold him. The lump is malignant. The crash is fatal. Over and over again, people keep leaving before we’re ready for them to go.

We are, all of us, punched through with holes, living with a little bit more emptiness every year. And it’s possible to be filled with the Spirit and still feel the void.

It’s true that God is the best kind of Father. And also, the absence of your flesh-and-blood Dad matters. There is the way things should be and the way they are, and between them, there are a hundred thousand hollows, echoing with emptiness.”

The absence of my flesh-and-blood dad matters. And so, this Easter monday, though I am reminded all too intimately why this Jesus needed to rise from the dead, I mourn his distance. The Spirits’s presence is a mystery that abides within and around me, but it is not enough for this woman, meant for a new earth, fully realized, bathed in light and life.

But my resurrection hope is in this: I refuse to accept this as a mere blip of life. I refuse to feel silly about my sorrow, to downplay the death of our first child. (My confidence is already waning as I type that sentence. Child? Can I call it a child? Statistically, so many women experience this kind of miscarriage and never know. Does that mock the miscarriages of women whose sweet babes are birthed still so much farther along? Or the mama who loses a little one to a casualty of the “real world”?)

Because I have nothing else to lean on, because Easter is the ushering in of the sort of hope that sustains in seasons like this one where so many doors are slammed in my face and this one is just impossible, I claim the resurrection as a promise that I was not meant for death and neither was this little life that grew oh-so-briefly inside of me. This indignation in the face of death, this is grace. To be brought up from the despair that has so trapped me for many long months and into sorrowful hope, this is resurrection. I claim the grace to wonder if perhaps this little one is already continuing to develop elsewhere in whatever home heaven may be. I miss you, little one. May you be in peace.

“Easter was when Hope in person surprised the whole world by coming forward from the future into the present.”

     – N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope

Standard