It is March, and Sunday, and I am afraid. Truthfully, these day most Sundays I feel afraid, have learned to dread the slow onslaught of the inevitable Sabbath that I once used to count as my saving grace to get me through another week of school. Living in Wheaton, Illinois, Sundays are a weekly reminder of unbelonging. They carry with them the message that I do not wear my faith the same way as what (erroneously, I’m sure) it feels like everyone else does—that how I understand myself and the world in response to the narrative I call the Gospel is fundamentally different from how the people around me do, the people dressed so neatly, their best foot forward because church, like everything else in life, is a dance of false images.
And I know. Church is not always that, church is that and yet so much more, can be a place of abundant grace, a source of imperfect but genuine community. I know because I’ve experienced that, and sometimes I must remind myself that for all that my family has moved from church to church more times than some people change hair stylists, each new place has brought its own gift. That has been the case, that will be the case. Yet in this season of life, I still fear Sundays.
This morning, my stomach twists with all the many things I cannot learn to hold. I cannot hold them because they are not mine to hold on to, are not mine to covet, clasp, or cling to though they perhaps hold me in their own palms. My life, my future, the vast frames of who I am that, in humble actuality, are far, far smaller than I can ever know. Take comfort, oh small one, in your smallness. Your fear does not befit you, Rachel. You are not this big. Your God is not so implacable.
It is March, and 2018, and last week I flew into a strange city by myself and navigated unfamiliar streets in the rain, and this week too I will go through the familiar litany of packing and arriving way too early at an airport, and in a couple months everything will change (or nothing will change, nothing substantial, eternal, just more hop-scotching across different squares that end up at the same place), and in a few hundred lifetimes maybe things will slowly, finally start to make the semblance of sense. Maybe it is grace that I do not have a few hundred lifetimes. Maybe mercy begins with that which cannot be understood.
Once, Roger Lundin sat atop the edge of a desk and recited Emily Dickinson’s poem about Christ the Tender Pioneer—only he didn’t recite it as much as he spoke it as a benediction over us. And once, for an hour three days a week, I believed in a remembering God and his steadfast love in a way I’m not sure I can ever go back to, simply because that belief was so wrapped up within the teacher, the pastor who raced around the classroom with Huck Finn balancing atop his head, who so marveled at the technology of the iPad and spoke of the day he met his wife with such loving tenderness. Faith, in that semester, felt synonymous with the professor who invited me into his office and told me that he saw me, and who, a summer break later with a perilous diagnosis quietly tucked under his belt, invited me back into his office on the first day of the new school year and told me that he remembered me, that he’d woken up that morning excited to see me and my God what did I do to deserve even those twenty minutes. Let alone the entire previous semester. Let alone the privilege of remembering for the rest of my life the six foot six man who in some ways still gives me the courage to live my life.
It is March, and 2018, and Sunday, and I have been given infinitely more than I deserve. And like spring, the Gospel returns and returns in each new season with hues I hadn’t previously noticed, and each time sustains me through the long winters and whets my sense of beauty at the newness of life unfolding around me. And I am still afraid; contrary to most sermons, fear does not usually dissipate that fast. But it is fear, I hope, that is learning to hold itself lightly. If the Christ is indeed the pioneer who has traversed all paths first, and if indeed he is tender, even the unknown is grace.