Thursday, April 28, 2011

Losing Sleep (and not bitching about it)

A terrible cold is currently rampaging its way through my little family of four.  Sophie had it first, then she shared it with her dad, her brother, and me, so we are all congested, headachy, and coughing.  Unfortunately, one of the traits of this particular cold is that it is nearly impossible to sleep, so for two nights now, we haven't.

Last night was particularly bad.  We put Sophie to bed at eight-thirty, and she reappeared in the living room every 15 minutes or so, until when I went to bed at ten, she still wasn't asleep.  She wanted a drink, or to "sneeze her no,'" or to go potty, or me to cover her up, or to snuggle her, or to sing with her.  Now, it isn't unheard of for her to resist bedtime, sometimes ferociously.  And it gets annoying, and sometimes we overreact.  But last night, I tried to snuggle her to sleep and she still stayed awake, and after we put her back in her room, she came back again and again.

Around two a.m., as she came to my bedside for the fourth or fifth time, I let her in bed with me, nestled way over on my side so she didn't bother her dad, who was also sick and restless and thoroughly frustrated with her.  Normally I would have been frustrated, too, and cranky with her for not staying in bed, but she was clearly miserable and unable to sleep, just like us, so I let her snuggle in beside me.

But as I lay there in the dark, fried from the lack of sleep and uncomfortable because of the humidity from the running vaporizer, the nagging cough, the pressure in my ears, and my unshaven legs,  I didn't feel any of the things I expected to feel, the things I usually feel.  I didn't feel frustrated with Sophie, or annoyed with Greg because he was frustrated with Sophie, or cranky that I would have to get up for work without having had any rest, or put upon because it's hard to sleep with a toddler lying on your face.  I just felt joy.  Joy and gratitude.

Even when Joel woke up at 4 a.m., needing changed and fed, I didn't feel the usual exasperation.  I just enjoyed his smiles and coos as I changed him, then took him to bed and nursed him back to sleep as Sophie played with my free elbow.  Normally, being the center of a mommy sandwich at just before dawn on a workday would leave me irritated, but as I lay there between my sweet babies, I had an overwhelming sense that things were supposed to be just this way, and that this was what mothering is all about. 

My alarm went off at six.  I got up, trying to stay quiet in case Greg had been able to fall asleep.  I tucked Joel into his crib and got ready for work.  Everything I did was routine: showered, dressed, packed a lunch, packed the diaper bag, ate breakfast, laid out Sophie's clothes, nursed baby Joel... Nothing extraordinary, nothing new.  But through it all, I took unusual pleasure in all of those things. 

Greg, being the whirlwind of efficiency that he is, had the kids in the car and off to the sitter by 7:25, and that left me with 15 minutes to wander around our home, straightening up here and there, basking in the afterglow of a strange and wonderful morning.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Holy Saturday

Today is the day of Holy Week when I identify most closely with the disciples.

I'm not sure I'd have been brave enough to step out of the boat onto the water like Peter, or if I'd have calmly collected the baskets of leftovers after seeing Jesus feed the five thousand.  To be completely honest, I'm not sure I'd have left my fishing nets to follow him in the first place. 

But I can say that, had I been his follower, had I walked with him, learned from him, invested my life in him, then this so-called "Holy Saturday" would have no doubt been the darkest day of my life.

The disciples often get a bum rap for being too dense to make sense of Jesus's actions and teachings--an easy position for us to take, after two millennia of perspective, theology and tradition to guide us.  But in recent years, I've come to appreciate the amount of grappling (and sometimes outright scrambling) that the disciples had to do to keep up with what Jesus was doing right in front of them.

I'm not all that comfortable with flawlessness, you see.  I'm not all that comfortable with unhesitating faith.  Pain, though, is another story.  I can identify with the grief of Holy Saturday.  I can empathize with the dejection, the despondency, the fear.  I know a thing or two about fear.

Thanks be to God that Holy Saturday isn't the end of the story.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Good (Earth) Fri(Day)

Today, Christ is on the cross. 

Today He suffers.

Today He bleeds.

Today He is mocked.

Today, the Word, through whom all things were created, is tortured and killed by the creation.

It is cruel.  It is violent.  It is disturbing.

It is compelling.

This Jesus, this gentle, compassionate, sinless Jesus, who is one with God the Father, who could call down the angels of heaven to whisk him away into glory, submits himself to this agony at the hands of humanity.


To be sure, it is for the very people victimizing him, and for their children, and their children's children, down to you and me, and our children, too. 

But not just these. 

Scripture speaks of Creation itself being subjected to a curse, of its groaning as with birth pains.  Scripture also speaks of the eventual renewal of all things, and of Christ being the means by which God is reconciling all things to himself.

So today is Good Friday, and Christ is on the cross.

For you.

For me.

For the reconciliation of all things.


Reflection: Maundy Thursday

The special services and observances of Holy Week are a relatively new addition to my spiritual practices.  The Southern Baptist churches where I grew up didn't take much notice of the liturgical calendar, so these last four years have been a learning time for me. 

As I have mentioned before on this blog, I have been through quite a spiritual upheaval in the last few years.  After coming of age in a conservative Evangelical tradition, I had quite a long "dark night of the soul" in which I struggled with various aspects of my faith.  Part of the renewing of my faith and my love for the church has been the dismantling of my belief system.  As uncomfortable as is the process of questioning everything, it has been vital and freeing and life-giving as well.

I'll be honest: Systematic theology is very, very attractive to me.  "A place for everything, and everything in its place" seems like a beautiful, orderly, peaceful goal.  And because I had devoted myself to understanding Southern Baptist doctrine and scripture interpretation, I very nearly had such a theology in place.  The problem was that it brought me neither beauty nor peace. My neat-and-tidy system of belief left me with very little to believe in.

My first Holy Week experience in 2008 was about fitting all those pieces together.  During the following two years' Holy Weeks, I was very aware that the pieces in my hands didn't fit together in any sort of coherent shape, and so I was at a loss.

And so last night, as I gathered with my beloved church family to commemorate Maundy Thursday, to walk through the steps of Christ's last supper, the institution of the new covenant, his agonized prayer in the garden, and the arrest of the Messiah, I resisted my need to measure and dissect and understand, and I just embraced the mystery.  I made myself sit in the tension rather than search for intellectual answers to the deep questions of my soul.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Room at the Table?

[Update 4/20/2011: I love it and hate it when someone says what I mean, but in a much, much better, friendlier, clearer, more intelligent way.  Here's an example.]

I think seafood is disgusting.  I hate it.  I hate the smell, the taste, the texture... Everything about seafood gives me the heebee jeebees.

And yet I know many people who love it.  I have friends (who are otherwise rational, responsible, sane-seeming people) for whom seafood is not just enjoyable, but is a favorite food.

What is wrong with them?  I often wonder if their taste buds are, perhaps, deformed in some way, or if their DNA has a faulty mutation that makes them think this way, because, seriously, seafood?!  Perhaps I need new friends.

Another example: My husband is the dearest, sweetest, most loving man in the world.  He's dependable, good at his job, and a great father.  I've never heard anyone say a negative thing about him, because he is an all-around great guy.  And yet, even after years of my attempts to educate and persuade him otherwise, he continues to deny that Led Zeppelin is the greatest band of the 1970s.

I have often wondered if he is human, or if it is advisable for us to continue on speaking terms.

I jest, of course, but it's easy to understand the sentiment.  Sometimes what seems obvious and incontrovertible to me, seems exactly the opposite to someone else.  And it's funny when it's framed in terms of food preferences or musical tastes, because as personal as those are, they are not who we are.

But what about the bigger issues?  What about the different ways we have of understanding the world, our faith, our role in the world as Christ's followers?  What happens when we disagree about those things, the big things? 

For instance, what of disagreements about our origins?  Some Christians hold to what is called "Young Earth Creationism," which takes the Genesis 1 creation account as literal fact and dates the earth at about 10,000 years old.  They dismiss modern science and its theories for various reasons, taking the Bible alone as their science book.  Other Christians see Genesis 1 as an inspired, mythic story and have no problem accepting the prevailing theory that the earth is about 4.5 billion years old, and see the body of evidence supporting this theory not as a threat to the Bible's authority, but as a compliment to it.

And what about our response to tragedy?  Some would say that everything is as God wills it, or everything happens for a reason, and we're not meant to understand in this lifetime.  Others would say that the world is broken, and bad things happen, and not every tragedy is sent from God, but results from our fallen state, and the rain will fall on the just and the unjust until God renews heaven and earth.

What about our views on salvation and heaven and hell?  Some people say that God has determined the few who will go to heaven, and everyone else will go to hell, and since God preordained it, we have nothing to do with it.  Some would say that we are free to choose salvation, and all those who don't choose it are bound for hell.  Others claim that salvation is available because of Jesus, though a person doesn't necessarily have to pray a "sinner's prayer" in order to avoid hell and go to heaven.  Still others (who wear that dirtiest of dirty Christian labels, universalists) purport that, in the end, God lets everyone into heaven.

Lots of viewpoints.  Lots of important things to think about.  And these are just a few examples of the kinds of deep beliefs Christians hold.  Unlike our food and our music, these deeper issues aren't just preferences, but vitally important issues that help shape our faith and our very selves, and as such are worth wrestling with, worth struggling over.

I have spent the last few years doing much of this kind of wrestling, and from what I can tell, I am only at the very early stages of this journey.  But the one thing I struggle with the most is that there will always be other Christians, other members of my family of faith, with whom I cannot agree about some of these issues. 

What then?  Christ's words in the Gospel of John said that the world would know us, his followers, by our love.  And yet the most mainstream perceptions of the church are of hypocrisy, infighting and judgmental self-righteousness.  So how can we change that?  How are we to present a united, loving front to a world in desperate need of it when we can't even stop shouting at each other long enough to understand what the other side is saying?

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Campus Visit, and a Lesson About Time

At the end of March, Greg and I took the kids to visit our families back in Arkansas and Missouri.  On the way down, we made a spontaneous decision to visit our college campus and see how the place is faring.  And even though we only spent a couple hours there as we passed through northern Arkansas, in a way, it was the best part of the trip.

Many things have changed at WBC since we graduated in 2004.  Though we didn't get to go by our old apartment, or visit our gloriously gross old dorm rooms, being back on campus still felt like coming home.  We toured the newly built chapel and walked through the rest of campus, noting the things that had changed and the things that hadn't, imagining the current students as 2011 versions of ourselves, going about their day with classes and work and lunch with friends.

I'm not sure if it's the place that is so different, or if it is I who am different, and because the place is so much the same, I felt the changes so keenly.  Either way, the hours there on campus last month went too fast, and yet they felt strangely outside of time. 

Thanks to the efforts of our fabulous Alumni Affairs director, we spent the bulk of our time in the student center, at a table with three professors who spent four years in close contact with us, shaping us and teaching us.  Though there was nothing very remarkable about the chicken strips and turkey wraps on the table in front of us, that hour or so of conversation was very special.  Our teachers asked about us, about our life in Nebraska, about our church and our experiences.  They held baby Joel and played with Sophie, and told us about the changes in life at Williams and in their own families and lives. 

To an outside observer, it probably looked very normal, even mundane: Six people sitting around a table having a conversation.  But I couldn't help but regret every second as it passed, because there were too few of them to be had.  Those people we were visiting helped shape us into the people we are today.  They have a claim on us, and we have a responsibility to them, in a way; a responsibility to let them see the fruits of some of their labors. 

Yes, that hour in the student center made us late to our afternoon engagement, but it was well worth it.  It is the best hour I remember spending in quite a while.  It was holy time.  What a blessing.