Run to Him (“God Himself, scraped and torn”)

“You are tired,
(I think)
Of the always puzzle of living and doing;
And so am I.

Come with me, then,
And we’ll leave it far and far away -
(Only you and I, understand.)

You have played
(I think)
And broke the toys you were fondest of,
And are a little tired now;
Tired of things that break, and -
Just tired.
So am I.”

-e.e. cummings

I know.

Listen to me. I know. I know. 

You want to run until the breath curls up inside your body like a question mark sick of its own asking. You want to run until your chest splinters from exertion rather than emotion, run far past anything familiar, anything that can trigger memories (or sadness) or fear (or sadness) or nightmares (or sadness). I know. You want to run until you can retrieve every piece of communion love you’ve ever handed out. “Eat and remember”; you want to grab it all back because you didn’t realize remembering might mean forgetting first, leaving first, but you also want to run hard from that very sentiment, run because you know it is not true, because you know that you a better person for the giving. And yet you still want to run. You want to run from the claustrophobia of emotion choking your heart, from the hemorrhaging of thoughts bleeding out from your mind. You want to run, run, run – away from everything, away from people, away from friends, away from family, away from (and toward) hope, away from (and toward) the words, away from (and toward) the places inside of you burning a hole through your skin.

You want to run from him. Because he’s too bright, and your eyes are watering from the pain, and his bright illuminates your shadow. Because in his bright you can see your own tired. Too clearly, you see it. All the stitches from your scars. All the bruises from the times you’ve thrown the first stone at yourself. All the rope burns on your hands from clinging so tightly, so desperately. You see it all and it is too close and so you want to run from him. (I know. Trust me, I know.) You want to run from him.

Run toward him.

Right now. Run. Scars and stitches all, watering eyes, bruises and rope burns, your splintering chest, your hemorrhaging thoughts – run like the broken that you are. Run toward him because it is the very last thing you want to do. Run toward him because he is Gospel and Kingdom and this is Heaven being brought down to earth, this is faith and hope and obedience. It hurts like hell. It hurts like toxins, like forgiveness, like Christ. Run toward him because this is Kingdom inauguration. And inauguration can be found even here, even on this side.  When your fingers are slippery with hopelessness, you reach out and you grope blindly for the cloth of the Kingdom – soft and waterproof to all your stains – and you pull, pull with your hands, pull with your love, pull with your pain, even when your hands are raw and bleeding. Bring the Kingdom down, down, down to earth, down to here, to empty, to need, to longing; tear open the fissures of your world and let Heaven billow…and then settle…and then rest…and then resurrect. There you will find him and there he will match you – scar for scar, stitch for stich, bruise for bruise, burn for burn. It is an echo of love. You will not find it anywhere else. Run toward him.

If you do this, you will not have wasted your hurt. You will not have “squandered your hours of pain.” You will have used it well. You will have invested it. Those who reap in tears will sow in joy. It may be joy “with tears in its eyes,” but it will be joy because it will be Jesus. If you run the wrong way, he will become less real to you than he has in a long time. If you run toward him, you will find him bigger, and wilder, and deeper, and richer, than perhaps he ever was to you before.

 

“How is faith to endure, O God, when you allow all this scraping and tearing on us? You have allowed rivers of blood to flow, mountains of suffering to pile up, sobs to become humanity’s song–all without lifting a finger that we could see. You have allowed bonds of love beyond number to be painfully snapped. If you have not abandoned us, explain yourself.

We strain to hear. But instead of hearing an answer we catch sight of God himself scraped and torn. Through our tears we see the tears of God.”

-Nicholas Wolterstorff, Lament for a Son  

words, and weeping, and worship (i write this for (Y)(y)ou)

I am.

am.

am. 

Skin and bones. Tears and laughter. Arteries and bruised fingers, small hands and semi-consistent heartbeat. Prologue. Narration. Foreshadowing to which I am blind. Plot twist. Foil. An epilogue – sometime. A resolution – somehow. An author – somewhere.

I am. I am a person with a story. Some of that story I’ve told to others. Some of that story I haven’t. And some of that story I still don’t even understand myself. Part of what it means to be is to learn which parts of the story I need to cling to and which parts to let go. Which parts to ruminate on and which parts to hand over to the Author in broken surrender. The Gospel is tragedy, comedy and fairytale, writes Frederick Buechner, and if my story is patterned after the Gospel, that means it contains elements of each of those things as well. I am tragedy. I am comedy. I am fairytale. Not necessarily in that order – cut and dry, black and white. There is ambiguity. One day can carry hints of all three of those things. Perhaps even five minutes can. Learning to love Jesus and love myself means learning to trust that the tragedy, comedy, and fairytale all mingle and dance and kiss and life would not be as beautiful without their trinity.

 

Enough poetic subtlety for one post? Okay. Here’s my heart on a piece of paper:

I am tired. I am sad. I am so thankful my heart feels like it’s breaking. I am so broken my heart feels like it’s yearning. I am yearning so deeply my heart feels like it’s seeing Home, waving at a distance, counting down the days…

There was a time during the retreat this week where I sat and I cried. For a long time. It wasn’t exactly a crying for the present moment, though; it was more a cry of remembering, of letting myself feel, of realizing that certain wounds may not heal in the way that I want them to. Certain patterns of thinking may never go away. Certain temptations and desires – no matter how deeply I try, no matter how painfully I want them to – may never disappear. And part of what healing means is to accept that. To recognize that I don’t have control over that, and if I’m going to follow Jesus completely, I need to be able to accept that truth, terrifying as it is. But it is hard.

It is hard because of how deeply I believe in certain things. For example, I believe that Jesus is good. I believe it  – I would stake my life on it. Every moment I’ve ever experienced is caught in a net of His goodness, and “life itself is grace.” I have tasted enough of His beauty to be forever ruined for anything less. But I also feel this inkling in my heart that tells me I need to come to terms with the fact that some pains are not going to go away. I am going to have to keep feeling it, keep swallowing it, keep letting the tragedy bleed into the comedy and hope that the fairy tale is painting a watercolor out of it all. That the Artist is in the middle of a masterpiece. That the Poet is in the middle of the volta.

Sometimes you find an author who builds credibility with you. If they were to write another book, you would go to the store and buy it. If a certain scene or character feels weak or wrong, you would keep reading despite that because you trust them. Because they have proved to you in the past that they know how to write a good story. Because you have given them your time, your faith, and your self countless times, every time you open one of their books, and they have never failed you before. Because you know that they know far more about the art of writing than you.

“why?” “because he’s beautiful”

Every morning, I stand at a crossroad. I can choose life, or I can choose death. I can choose to to live selfishly, or I can choose to love people as well as I can. I can choose to live in Christ’s strength, or I can choose to dwell in my brokenness. I can choose to struggle on the side of hope, or I can give up trying. To be honest, it’s something I have to choose not just every morning but sometimes every hour. How am I going to live right now? 

I’m here because God wants me here. There are things I could do that would make myself feel “better.” There are easier ways of feeling okay, or of trying to make myself okay, or of dealing with memories, hurt, frustration. But I am not my own; I was bought at a price. And Jesus’s way is better. It may not feel like it. It may not provide instant results. It may take all of my strength (and then nearly all of his grace) to live in his way. But I believe it is better. That it is good – hard and painful and sometimes (seemingly) impossible, but good in a way that lifts up my soul. And there will be beauty that meets me in this path. Jesus is Beauty. Following him means getting the deepest taste of that beauty I can get on this side of life. And if there’s anything I know about myself, it is that I am addicted to beauty. Not the kind that society talks about, but the kind that makes your heart ache. The kind that defines the Gospel. The kind that you feel at the end of a good story. The kind you feel in friendship. My soul can feast on that kind of beauty. That’s why I follow Jesus.

I don’t have much to offer. I’m still tired, still weak, still broken. Loneliness seems to creep at me from every door. The memories are doing their best to haunt me. But Jesus is also still beautiful. And friends are still such a blessing. And prayer is still moving me in ways I could never move myself. I am both so close to the sadness and so far from it. For now, there is no black and white, no “yes” or “no” to questions like, “Are you okay?” There is balance, ambiguity, a taste of both light and darkness. But for now, that’s okay. Jesus is more beautiful than I am broken. And I will keep choosing life because he chose death so that I could even have this choice.

Have Thine own way, Lord! Have Thine own way!
Thou art the Potter, I am the clay.
Mold me and make me after Thy will,
While I am waiting, yielded and still.

 

what honesty looks like before we edit it (in other words, a poem)

A poem stemming from these words by Tennyson:

“Forgive these wild and wandering cries,
Confusions of a wasted youth;
Forgive them where they fail in truth,
And in thy wisdom, make me wise.”
 -In Memoriam A.H.H.

 What falls from my lips is not a word. It is
not a song or a shout or a scream.
What falls is instead something slippery as truth, soap
that loses a piece of itself every time it becomes a piece of me -
ambiguity; hard-edged, soft-shelled,
fences that imprison as much as they protect.
They are fences, my wild and wandering cries.

And my wild and wandering cries are confusions
of a wasted youth – but that is not to call them wasted.
They are not wasted but washed,
carried on the waves of my weary,
worn thin by the sand and the salt and the tears.
On the shores of my heart the bard prophetic knew:
“Confusion now hath made its masterpiece.”

But to be wild and wandering can be a thing of beauty.
The heart is a lonely instrument, melodic
in its dissonance, wild and wandering and whispering -
whittling fear into forestry, falling leaves – a chlorophyll symphony.
My cries are crafting a chorus on six silver strings,
a fret made of fretting wood and singing trees. The heart is
a lonely instrument, no pick guard, an abyss of brokenness
for a sound hole, a tired bridge;
but at least it’s making music out of me.

“forgive these wild and wandering cries”

Excerpt from Frederick Buechner’s The Final Beast. (I have not read it yet; I came across this quote, however, and it moved me. It made me hope in hope.

“The worst thing isn’t the last thing about the world. It’s the next to the last thing. The last thing is the best. It’s the power from on high that comes down into the world, that wells up from the rock-bottom worst of the world like a hidden spring. Can you believe it? The last, best thing is the laughing deep in the hearts of the saints, sometimes our hearts even. Yes. You are terribly loved and forgiven. Yes. You are healed. All is well.”

 

Excerpts from Tennyson’s In Memoriam – which is brilliant and painful and beautiful and worship.

(Introduction) “We have but faith: we cannot know;
For knowledge is of things we see
And yet we trust it comes from thee,
A beam in darkness: let it grow.

Forgive these wild and wandering cries,
Confusions of a wasted youth;
Forgive them where they fail in truth,
And in thy wisdom make me wise.” 

(IV) “O heart, how fares it with thee now,
That thou should’st fail from thy desire,
Who scarcely darest to inquire,
‘What is it makes me beat so low?’

Something it is which thou hast lost,
Some pleasure from thine early years.
Break, thou deep vase of chilling tears,
That grief hath shaken into frost!”

(V) “In words, like weeds, I’ll wrap me o’er,
Like coarsest clothes against the cold:
But that large grief which these enfold
Is given in outline and no more.”

(XXV)“I know that this was Life,—the track
Whereon with equal feet we fared;
And then, as now, the day prepared
The daily burden for the back.

But this it was that made me move
As light as carrier-birds in air;
I loved the weight I had to bear,
Because it needed help of Love:

Nor could I weary, heart or limb,
When mighty Love would cleave in twain
The lading of a single pain,
And part it, giving half to him.”

(LII) “I cannot love thee as I ought,
For love reflects the thing beloved;
My words are only words, and moved
Upon the topmost froth of thought.

‘Yet blame not thou thy plaintive song,’
The Spirit of true love replied;
`Thou canst not move me from thy side,
Nor human frailty do me wrong.'”

(LIV) Behold, we know not anything;
I can but trust that good shall fall
At last—far off—at last, to all,
And every winter change to spring.

So runs my dream: but what am I?
An infant crying in the night:
An infant crying for the light:
And with no language but a cry.

(CXXIV) That which we dare invoke to bless;
Our dearest faith; our ghastliest doubt;
He, They, One, All; within, without;
The Power in darkness whom we guess;

I found Him not in world or sun,
Or eagle’s wing, or insect’s eye;
Nor thro’ the questions men may try,
The petty cobwebs we have spun:

If e’er when faith had fall’n asleep,
I heard a voice `believe no more’
And heard an ever-breaking shore
That tumbled in the Godless deep;

A warmth within the breast would melt
The freezing reason’s colder part,
And like a man in wrath the heart
Stood up and answer’d `I have felt.’

No, like a child in doubt and fear:
But that blind clamour made me wise;
Then was I as a child that cries,
But, crying, knows his father near;

And what I am beheld again
What is, and no man understands;
And out of darkness came the hands
That reach thro’ nature, moulding men.”

a letter from God (to me, but maybe also to you)

“Why do you want to persecute yourself with the question of where all this is coming from and where it is going? Since you know, after all, that you are in the midst of transitions and you wished for nothing so much as to change. If there is anything unhealthy in your reactions, just bear in mind that sickness is the means by which an organism frees itself from what is alien; so one must simply help it to be sick, to have its whole sickness and to break out with it, since that is the way it gets better.”

-Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet 

***

See, Rachel?
See how I loved you enough to give you Rilke? That even though you have everything you need in Me, in My words, I gave you somebody else that you could cling to – somebody tangible, human, believable in a way that I can never be to you. (Though I am beside you, arms wrapped around your shoulder; though I became human for you; though I am belief.)

You are sick, Rachel.
That doesn’t mean you need to be afraid. It doesn’t make you a monster, as much as your heart fights these words even as you write them. It doesn’t make you any less human, any less brave. It doesn’t mean you are regressing. You walk with me. You walk with me. Your journey is defined by me, and I don’t step backwards. Reaching a valley that feels familiar is not the same thing as regressing. I am taking you places you’ve never been before – last night was proof of that, wasn’t it? The night before was proof of it, too. You’ve felt hurt and fear and the wild, falling, terrifying feeling of not being in control, felt it in ways you never have before. But haven’t you also experienced a depth of beauty that you’ve also never felt before? Beauty in friendships that takes your breath away? Beauty in brokenness – the kind you’ve gotten glimpses of in the past, but have never owned so personally before? I don’t just break you; I lift you up, too.

Don’t be afraid of me, Rachel. I am more gentle with you than you could ever be with yourself. It’s a bit of a paradox, Rachel, isn’t it? (I know that’s your favorite word.) You keep crying out to me, indirectly because you’re so afraid, “Don’t be angry. Don’t be mad. Don’t be ashamed. Don’t condemn me.” And all the while I am crying out to you, “Don’t be angry. Don’t be mad. Don’t be ashamed. Don’t condemn yourself.” I may be God, Rachel, but I have a heart, and it is a heart that breaks.

And Rachel, I know there are things that haunt you.
I know there are memories that imprison you; I know that you’re choking on pain you thought you already swallowed. But pain isn’t digested, Rachel – it is painted. It is sculpted. It is cultivated in poetry, in language, in the sunlight outside. You know that. It’s why you’re an artist. It’s why you write. Pain is like energy, Rachel; it cannot be created nor destroyed, only translated from one form to another. Find your pain, Rachel, which will itself be a painful act. But find it. Mold it into something. Write me a poem. Keep writing me letters. Write them poems, write them letters. Write because you need to, because it keeps you human, because it keeps you true, because it keeps you sane. (Actually, I keep you human and true and sane, but the writing is how you know me, so keep writing.)

I know you love the words. They were a good idea, weren’t they? I love them too.
Want to know some of the words that I love?
“For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”
“Beloved, we are God’s children, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.”
“Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.” 
You know what other words I love? I love the words I’m using to write your story. You can’t read it yet – how would you ever make it to the end, if you did? My stories are not easy. They’re not easy to read, they’re not easy to live – trust me, they’re not always easy to write. But they are good. And you’ve tasted a little bit of that in other people. You see the beauty in their stories, and they see some of the beauty in yours. Keep trusting me. I don’t write stories that aren’t good. So keep writing, Rachel. I’ll keep writing too. Maybe one day, if we’re both very careful, we will even find out that we are writing the same story.

I love you. It’s okay if your heart doesn’t believe it yet. They’ll keep believing it for you, for now. (And you can keep believing it for them.) But I do love you. And you belong to me. And I know that right now, your heart is yearning for me to hold you, yearning for me to still your shaking, yearning for me to wipe away your tears. And I am, though you don’t feel it and that kills me. But one day I will. It’s coming. I’m coming. You’re coming home.

a letter to myself

This was a way that she seemed to understand herself, the way that words felt their meaning, the way that they communicated to her her pain, her struggle, without destroying her, without taking it away from her and making it part of themselves – without taking her self away from her self. She found that she was always trying, never really understanding what it meant to really learn who she was, that she found giving away easier than receiving, that promises were hard to keep when they were not written. She was afraid but then again she had always been afraid, and that fear had saved her as many times as it had destroyed her, had given to her as much as it had taken away, and she did not know what to do without the fear. It was as much a part of her as her hands, her feet, her heartbeat, and the ones who wanted to take it away did not understand that to take away her fear was to take away most of who she was. So she stopped. She tried. She cried and she wondered. She prayed but only in small pieces, as if God could not handle her if she offered everything up at once; as if she could not handle it if she lost all of herself at once. She tried but she never really knew. She hoped but she never really understood.

But she heard it said once: “You can love completely without complete understanding.” And those words never really left her, even when she didn’t know if she agreed or understood, even when she didn’t want to remember them. Because the possibility that one could love something else – completely, wholeheartedly, without fear of self or hurt or death – without understanding the object of that love was deeply beautiful to her, more beautiful than anything she had ever heard before. It saved her, in the moments when it seemed like nothing could. It made her human when the world tried its hardest to dehumanize her. It made her okay despite not being okay – okay despite everything that would never be.

maybe someone else can tell me what it means

This is my attempt at writing a poem that is not free verse – in other words, a poem that actually has some semblance of rhyme, rhythm, and stanza. I relied a lot on Robert Frost for this one.

The day remains but spoiled it rots
be’twixt said word and hidden thought.
Falls inside the wedge of sunlight;
and while approaches threat of night,
falls outside the hope I brought.

Out there the dark folds on itself
But in me darkness deeper sits.
Whispers words of trying truths,
trying truths with lying roots,
and of my heart, seizing, twists.

Where once I saw the face of God,
in fragments now I recognize
a deeper gaze, a quiet solemnity,
a mask of ambiguity -
glimpses of love and death in His eyes.

I am the juxtaposition
of faith and doubt, humanity
and the absence of. I stumble
when I try, speak in infant cries,
and worship fullest when I bleed.

“We have survived, you and I. Maybe that is at the heart of our remembering. After twenty years, forty years, sixty years or eighty, we have made it to this year, this day. We needn’t have made it. There were times we never thought we would and nearly didn’t. There were times we almost hoped we wouldn’t, were ready to give the whole thing up. Each must speak for himself, for herself, but I can say for myself that I have seen sorrow and pain enough to turn the heart to stone. Who hasn’t? Many times I have chosen the wrong road, or the right road for the wrong reason. Many times I have loved the people I love too much for either their good or mine, and others I might have loved I have missed loving and lost. I have followed too much the devices and desires of my own heart, as the old prayer goes, yet often when my heart called out to me to be brave, to be kind, to be honest, I have not followed at all.

To remember my life is to remember countless times when I might have given up, gone under, when humanly speaking I might have gotten lost beyond the power of any to find me. But I didn’t. I have not given up. And each of you, with all the memories you have and the tales you could tell, you also have not given up. You also are survivors and are here. And what does that tell us, our surviving? It tells us that weak as we are, a strength beyond our strength has pulled us through at least this far, at least to this day. Foolish as we are, a wisdom beyond our wisdom has flickered up just often enough to light us if not to the right path through the forest, at least to a path that leads forward, that is bearable. Faint of heart as we are, a love beyond our power to love has kept our hearts alive.”

-Frederick Buechner, A Room Called Remember, pp.17-18

 

 

 

Truth is (a poem) (practicing honesty)

The truth is, sometimes people tell me that I am emotionless.
My sister used to half-jokingly say to me, “Rachel, you have no heart.”

I used to believe them.
Used to terrify myself with wondering what had happened
to my humanity, why I didn’t cry like other people,
why every single time somebody asked me if I was okay,
I could not help but answer, “I’m fine,” – even when I felt like someone was doing surgery on my lungs, even when loneliness
was my closest friend, even when everything I wrote
felt like a suicide note.

What I have come to realize is that I am not emotionless;
I am a poet, and that means you can’t find
my heart in the same places as everybody else. The truth is, you can’t look for
tears in my eyes, a smile on my face,
laughter swing-dancing its way
out of my throat. You have to look in the crevices of my rib cage,
that furnace where poetry spews
out like magma – you have to look for it in the hundreds of files on
my laptop bearing names like “A Helium Conversation”
and “The Grapes in Our Lungs”,
and “When the Light Spills Over.”

My pain does not manifest itself in screams, shouts, or steam,
it manifests itself in simile and linguistic symmetry and the silence of a heart bleeding itself out onto a white piece of paper, and
truth is – there is an underwater symphony that only comes out to play
when ink drenches a clean sheet of paper for the first time.

I know now that I don’t feel things
less than other people, I feel things differently.
My regrets are frequently visited self-portraits
in the making; my joys and triumphs are haikus limited to
a total of seventeen syllables;
my humanity is the English language crucified onto
a wooden stake made of splinted metaphors.
You cannot separate a writer from her words. Believe me.
I have tried.

The truth is, my poems are a lifeline.
Even on the nights when I want to sever the rope
tied to my waist, the poems don’t let me. They cling to my skin
like the prayers of a widow – scraped knees,
aching wrists, trust that refuses to shatter.
The poems, they cleanse me like rain,
they wet my hands that are trying so hard to evaporate,
they tell me stories with happy endings – the ones that you have to go
searching the world to find.
They tell me that I am one of those stories,
and that I can be beautiful
If only I give God enough time to write my conclusion -
they remind me that there is a difference between an epilogue
and an epitaph.

They tell me that I have a home in them.
That even when my faith grows thin they,
they at least will never evict me.
They tell me
that it is alright to be afraid;
they get afraid too, sometimes – and maybe together
we can be trapeze artists
learning how to twist art into Truth.