No Language But A Cry

"Nearby is the country they call life; you will know it by its seriousness." -Rainer Maria Rilke

faces, and places, and the privilege of an ache

A few nights ago, as I lay in bed and tried to fall asleep instead of seeing Dr. Lundin’s face in my mind, I remembered something about that freakish Friday only one week ago: it was also the same day that I’d been hospitalized two years ago as a freshman in college. I’m not a mystic, but I found myself silently stunned in the semi-darkness as I reabsorbed a day where a beloved professor had unexpectedly died, (a mere three days after a different English professor had died), my sister was in a city blowing up on media and seemingly in real life, and two years ago I’d experienced something that continues to haunt me in its trauma. How can one day hold so much? – both the weight of painful memories from the past, and a loss that I knew would render that day deeply significant for a very long time.

I attended a funeral today for a professor who was more than a professor to me, the first funeral I’ve ever consciously attended for somebody that I loved. And I am weary now. Weary of seeing headlines on the news that make me flinch in horror. Weary of terrorist attacks and refugee crises and people blaming people for blaming people for blaming more people. Weary of trying to be better than I know how to be, and of memories that reincarnate more viscerally than I can imagine Christ’s incarnation. I am even weary of the beautiful. Can you be weary of the beautiful? I don’t know. But I know that there is beauty, and it is like that light out of the corner of your eye that you glimpse for only a second before it flits away, always a step out of reach, always a second too late. . .

I believe in voltas. Turns. The tragic comedy of the Gospel. But sometimes I feel too human, more human than I know what to do with. I wish there was more hope in me, less skin. Sometimes I feel things too much, I think. Events and people and stories and past lonelinesses clinging to my body like rain drops with too much adhesion, not enough gravity. I am a part of all I have met. Tennyson knew. I have met so much. And it is such a privilege. I am honored to have known so many beautiful people. I think of the special needs students I got to work with in high school, or the friends surrounding me now in college, or the professor whose funeral I just attended. I am so privileged to be a part of all I have met. But the meeting.. Sometimes it feels like I’ll never be able to untangle the web of corded interactions and experiences – many not even mine – from my own, quiet self. I have tasted goodness so good I do not even deserve to believe in its existence. I am privileged. I am aching, and yet I know I do not deserve the privilege of this ache.

History may be freedom. See, now they vanish,
The faces and places, with the self which, as it could, loved them,
To become renewed, transfigured, in another pattern.

-T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding

The faces and places. I have my own – faces of unrepeatable anguish and faces of unspeakable beauty; places of death and resurrection. And I know you, you have yours. Your own faces and places, Edens and Gethsemanes. We are weary but we can be Christ-bearers for each other, showing each other our face when we forget we have one. I am a part of all I have met, but I am not the sum of them. And you are not the sum of yours. Jesus meets us in the failing of our bodies to hold communion with all the faces and places that we wish we could. We are weary, we wear so much. We are privileged to wear so much. He was already worn them all. The masks and the faces and the places. Come, all you weary, and I will give you rest.

a poem for dr. roger lundin, in six parts

  1. “A God who ‘stepped into’ means a reordering of cosmic scenes.”
    Eliot’s fragments pick up weight, fill out their edges,
    lend themselves into a metanarrative of grace. You taught me that.
    You taught me about life and death and the persistence of the first
    within the temporary victory of the other.
    That’s why I’m sitting here by the window,
    letting the sun warm skin frigid with grief,
    reading Milosz.
    Zagajewski was the only Polish poet I ever read before I met you.
    I tried for weeks to love Milosz only because I knew you did;
    even today, my love is only imitative,
    a preposition to remember you by.
    I hold a book of his essays you once
    asked me to write a paper on, and I pretend I understand the words
    any more than I did nine months ago.
    I didn’t tell you how confused I was then; I wanted to impress.
    I won’t tell you how confused I am now; I don’t want
    to disappoint. I read essay after essay in the slant sunlight,
    (Dickinson’s slant of light, as you taught me),
    and I score the words for you,
    like some scratch-and-sniff sticker holding the elusive scent of afterlife.
    Every time I come across a phrase you said in class,
    I try both to close my eyes against the pain of it
    and also to etch it in my mind.

    2. You knew Death more intimately than anyone I met.
    There was a familiarity in your voice whenever you spoke of it –
    you used the du form, not the Sie.
    There was such gentleness in your sad smile when you spoke of your mother,
    or the brother you lost at fifteen. Now, even as I grieve that you are gone,
    I cannot shake the thought of you looking down in Heaven,
    chiding kindly that I should be more reconciled to Death.
    I am sorry to disappoint.
    You are safe in your alabaster chamber,
    a meek member of the Resurrection, but I –
    we –
    we are still here,
    stuck in the crescent above the years
    and immersed in weeping, waiting,

    3. remembering. We are re-membering.
    We carry our histories on our backs, you said.
    Our histories, which you said are as much about the making
    of truth as about the finding of it.
    You spoke of Christ remembering us,
    reassembling our grief into something redemptive,
    and I wrote a paper about sacramental remembering in honor of your wisdom.
    I showed you the poems I wrote, inspired by your class,
    and you read them as if they were Eliot’s Four Quartets.
    I remember the first day I went to your office and you asked me about my life.
    Where was I from. Why did I love Rilke so much. What did my quiet mean –

    4.Come back to my office again, Rachel. Keep
    coming back. I see you. I want to know you.

    5. After the first day of Dickinson back in August,
    before you got sick and I prayed everyday for your health,
    you asked me to come to your office. You asked about my summer,
    about my father, about what I was learning.
    You said, “This morning I thought to myself, I get to see Rachel again.”
    A week ago, I changed my concentration just to take
    your seminar and thought to myself, Soon I get to see Dr. Lundin again.

  1. When I heard, I wandered outside,
    blinded, in shock at the absurdity of it all.
    Rachel and I, we sat together a long time,
    alternating glances at the last page of King Lear and your closed office door.
    We swapped stories of your best moments and decided
    once we’re off covenant, we will drink a toast to you.
    We tried to think which drink would be most fitting for you.
    Red wine, maybe, we said.
    So if you’ll only wait a moment, my dear professor, we’ll drink a toast to you –
    we’ll “lay the laurel on the one / too intrinsic for renown.”
    I wish I had better words – less shock and grief and more adequate laureling.
    But then again, you are used to my only semi-adequate poetry.
    You have always understood that it is when I most love something
    that I write a poem about it.

a story a day keeps the doctor away (an attempt at flash fiction)

I’m currently enrolled in a flash fiction course. For those not familiar with the term, (and I wasn’t before I signed up for the class), flash fiction is basically a subset of the short story. It is, in essence, the very, very short story, ranging from 200 to 1,000 words. As part of our assignment, we are required to write one piece of flash fiction everyday for two weeks, in the hopes that the repetition instills habit and daily creative processes. While this has been a frustrating experience, and transitioning from writing poetry to writing stories has not been easy, it has also been extremely beneficial to me as a writer. It is challenging me to try new styles, take out unnecessary words, and come up with ideas every single day. This piece is one I wrote today and thought I’d share on my blog – partially for the sake of feedback, partially because I haven’t posted in a while. The story is not yet titled.

[A quick disclaimer: I’ve next to no experience giving a sermon, and this was more an exercise in creativity than an accurate representation of the role of the preacher.]


The preacher is useless.

Everyone knows it. His nerves are artists of shade, making his suit a patchwork of dark and darker, and his words sputter just when they should hit the freeway. He’s about 25 – too young for a preacher. You haven’t tasted enough life at 25. You have – maybe – a Greek title of brotherhood and a part time job at 25; no sermon about eschatology or the power of sin can hold a congregation when it comes from the lips of a man who can’t grow a beard.

He trips his way through the message while the teenagers picks pleats and the older ones admonish the younger ones and wish they had pleats to pick or friends to text. He wonders why they learned so much theology in seminary. Surely a course on how to hold the attention of a media-saturated, attention-deficit congregation with the sheer power of language would have been more useful. And the help of God. The help of God could maybe get a preacher till Sunday evening.

When the deacons stand up to minister communion, the preacher says something about the Target wafers representing Christ and thinks that he now understands why the atheists laugh. Transubstantiation makes sense in a classroom of theologians, but in the small, musty chapel, it feels as ridiculous as sitting in a pew for an hour and a half while a world sits outside with its waiting list of problems.

“The body of Christ broken for you, Jamie.”

He likes to say their names when they come up. Jamie takes a Target wafer and a thimble of grape juice. He wishes it was a shot of something else. The preacher knows Jamie only got out of house arrest two weeks ago and his parents make him go to church to “better himself.” The preacher is sorry he can’t catalyze the process a little; he knows how slow change comes and how quick it leaves.

“The body of Christ broken for you, Mattie.”

Mattie takes the wafer and juice without looking at him. She forgets to partake with the congregation and slips the wafer into her braces-infested teeth. Matthew and Emma are next, holding off their next fight for the sake of temporary forgiveness, and he watches them retake their seats as far away from each other as possible.

The pews are full again, the people watching him, waiting for permission to eat their snack before they can get a real lunch. He knows them – their stories, their unanswered prayers, their sons who never call home and their daughters who can’t get married. They do not carry their own pain, they stuff it away under carpets, behind desk jobs and unpaid loans, but his is a vicarious role.

“On the night that Jesus was betrayed, he broke this bread and drank this cup and said, ‘Whenever you do this, do it in remembrance of me.’”

The preacher chews the wafer and swallows the juice, spills a little on his tie. He hopes no one noticed. Permission granted, they all eat and try hard to remember. Jamie. Maddie. Matthew and Emma. The body of Christ broken for you. Eat, and remember. Perhaps the point of it all, the preacher thinks that night as he crawls into bed and forgets to put his soiled tie into the hamper – perhaps the point of it all is not some mystical quality of Christ’s presence manifest in Target wafers and grape juice. Perhaps the point of it all is not to eat and remember that you will never remember well enough, adequately enough to save. Perhaps the point is that someone – even a useless preacher with sweat patches and failed words – administers the elements to you, says your name and to eat and remember, but says also that when you forget, someone else remembers you.

a meditation on light (and other confessions)

Light spills. Light pools and shimmers, winks and hides. Light bends and breaks and the shattered hues dissolve upon a palette of impeachable softness. And you feel it. The wrongness. The way the wrongness is so prevalent it is almost right. The way it makes all the good feel alien. The way it makes you unsure of what to think, unsure of corners and angles, unsure of what it means to be sure – unsure if certainty is indeed even an uncertainty or just an unabstracted falsity. It breaks. You break. We break. We already broke.

Perhaps the point of everything is to be able to hold the breaking upon your fingertips and resist the urge to save. To know it, to taste the preliminary ripeness on your lips starved as searing need, and to let the acquaintanceship be enough. If ever you come, I will meet you in the cotton fields, and the hands widowed in my pockets will be an unsaying of every grain of grace you gifted to a girl afraid of presence.

If today is real… If today is, indeed, a singing of, and if these words on this page hold not just scribbles but some kind of unshackled meaning… If today is real, then all the laws I have ever tried to govern myself by are rendered void. If today is real, then my love has not been. If today is real, then my vague and iridescent dreams where I was a vague and iridescent self, helpless and watermarked, were truer than all my achievements and desires. Because it today is real, then the weight of my attempts to not make it to this day were lighter than the nails they put on you and the thorns they made you wear. If today is real, I did not do something right so much as I did something terribly, terribly wrong, and you walked through memory and mystery and metaphor to open the doors I refused to guess through. And they tell me that today is real. They tell me that you murmured poetry through my discarded layers until a part of me would only know you in the foretaste of a verse. They tell me the many deaths I dreamed for myself were the dregs of a cup you already drank, and they tell me that the many lives you offer me to banquet upon are the remembered covenants you wrote into a narrative of suffering and suffering and insufferable joy. They tell me that my deepest longing is true, and I am not my own. They tell me – but they tell me so much, so much and so many, truths and voltas and should-have-beens-but-aren’t’s and foreshadows and covenants and deaths and loves and judgments and graces and faces, faces once faceless, and – and they cannot all be true because then, surely, I am more wretched than my eyes can withstand… More forsaken than can be recovered… More Beloved than I can endure.

Compassion (v): to suffer with

If you take pen and paper, you can carve confession from in-between the glaciers of my doubt. When the ice melts enough, it’ll dilute the ink, make it run on the page, mar the repentance unholy and the forgiveness invalid. When the flood came, Noah’s ark rode the waves of my carefully constructed creed dripping wet on surfaces already rained through. The story you read on the thin pages thinly bound together has been white-outed first and rewritten by the ones who survived – the lucky ones, we call them, who ran more than they ached. If you want my beliefs straight-edged, see how your knife is sharpened on the sorrows of the world, the way the pain of refugee and college student bleeds onto the arms of a faith already diagnosed anemic. There is so much blood, so much sacrifice, so much selfishness, so much…so much, so much — silence where there should have been words, words where there should have been silence, repression where there should have been tears, creed where there should have been confession, liturgy where there should have been communion, handshakes where there should have been embraces, depression where there should have been covenant, memory where there should have been forgiveness, time where there should have been space, and need, longing, ache, grief, grieving, weep, weak, wet like genocide, like the fingerprint of mystery trying to leave its mark, trying to hold a presence, trying to fill, to cover, to make up for the lack thereof…

To the Syrian refugee who lost everything in order to gain nothing…
To the victims of school shootings and the victims of threats of school schootings…
To the woman who blinded herself because she thought she deserved to be disabled…
To the one afraid to sleep because of nightmares…
To the one afraid to wake because of real life…
To the ones who died, are dying, are afraid of death, or want to die…

Somebody’s faith stumbles for you. Somebody’s faith trembles in the face of what you have experienced. Somebody’s faith wants to plead the fifth, wants to trust but is afraid, feels your pain and the helplessness of its own belief to change another’s circumstance. Somebody else cares enough to allow their faith to falter. To the one who is suffering – I am suffering with.

The Crucified God (or, He stretched his arms wide enough)

I confess that in moments of distress, I often turn to Rilke before I turn to the Bible. There is something about the poet’s language – the way he wrestles through anguished questions without giving an easy answer, the way the words are fresh and new, the way his pen seems to weep the tears you wish you had inside you… Rilke’s poetry often seems to stand in stark contrast to so many Bible verses I have heard people quote over and over again (and usually out of context). This is what Rilke wrote in his fourth Duino Elegy: 

Above, beyond us,
the angel plays. If no one else, the dying
must notice how unreal, how full of pretense,
is all that we accomplish here, where nothing
is allowed to be itself. Oh hours of childhood,
when behind each shape more than the past appeared
and what streamed out before us was not the future

And later, in the tenth Elegy:

And gently she guides him through the vast landscape of Lament,
shows him the pillars of the temples, and the ruined walls
of those castles from which, long ago, the princes of Lament
wisely ruled the land. Shows him the tall
trees of tears and the fields of blossoming grief
(the living know it just as a mild green shrub);
shows him the herds of sorrow, grazing, — and sometimes
a startled bird, flying low through their upward gaze,
far away traces the image of its solitary cry. —

On this Saturday morning, I am reading Rilke and listening to Itzhak Perlman’s violin heartbreakingly soar its way through the Schindler’s List score. This morning, the poet and the musician are my intercessors, helping me to pray words I can’t find, helping me to wrestle through emotions I don’t want to think about.

This first month of my junior year (and what is likely to be my final year at Wheaton) seems quietly characterized by the theme of death. I don’t mean this morbidly, and I don’t necessarily mean death as strictly the cessation of living. I guess I mean that everywhere I turn, everywhere I look, there rests the soft, almost gentle presence of entropy in so many things and places. In a sick professor who has been in the hospital since my third day in the class – a professor who means so much to me. In more sick professors and people who step in front of trains and news’ headlines that make me feel sick. In my own brokenness, my infallible weakness and tendency for sin and selfishness.

Sometimes it is so difficult to believe that the garden did actually exist at one point – that it wasn’t simply some mythological invocation to start the epic, too transcendent to ever have been real, but that that level of beauty was once simple reality. It is difficult to believe that one day the garden will exist again, in even greater depth and magnitude, and that I – that we – will be in it. How does one, even with all the poetry and music and friendship that exists in the world, learn to walk the thin line between selflessness as a compassionate virtue and selflessness as the result of too much squandering? If I poured myself out and drank what cup I could and worked with my hands and my words and my heart to redeem some of the pain I see around me, would it mean anything?

I am here. And He is here. And death is here. These three statements are true, and as much as I can reconcile any two together, my small self cannot reconcile all three. But I admit, as I must continually force myself to say both aloud and in my heart – I admit that I am small. I admit that I am finite, and I cannot see all ends. I admit that there is a level of both suffering and beauty that my small self can only tremble to acknowledge. And for every glimpse of death I see as a college student making her way through formative years, there is an equal glimpse of beauty piercing through the tremulous membrane between what is now and what will be. I will wait. With tears and fear and perhaps even a small amount of faith. In every instance where I cannot reconcile the realities of what I see and what I believe, there Jesus will meet me – the crucified God, who reconciles all realities – painful and beautiful, by sight and by faith – to Himself.

“if i give it all to You, will You make me all new?” (true learning to be Truth)

Before I write anything, let me begin with what I know is true:

  • Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
  • He has transferred me out of the domain of darkness and into the kingdom of His beloved son, in whom I have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
  • Somehow, illogically, inconceivably, my weakness has some kind of a sharpening or refining effect on the power and strength of God. When Paul writes that “His power is made perfect in weakness,” he is not being metaphorical. In some incredible way that I can’t understand but have to trust, my weakness is valuable.
  • I am not defined by how others see me, by the classes I take, by my major, by my relationships, by my job experience, by what I do, by how well I can speak, by any object or person or idea or conviction that attaches itself to me. I am the one who is loved by Jesus. And his love is (and how freeing this is) entirely for the individual child of God that I am. I am not loved because I read the bible this morning, because I have good memory, because I have meaningful friendships, because I pay attention in classes, because I want to serve. His love is. It is not because of anything – it becomes my because through which everything else is a gift.
  • I will fail this year. I will fail academically – particularly in my advanced German course. I will fail relationally. I will not love people as I ought. I will love for reasons other than for love’s sake. I will fail at growing more and more into Christ’s likeness. I will fail in prayer. I will fail in forgiveness toward others and myself. I will always, always, always set standards too high for me to ever reach. And grace will always catch me. Grace will far outrun and outlast my failure – always, forever, eternally. Jesus doesn’t just accept my failure, but he in his re-membering nature takes what is corrupt and spoiled in me and remakes it into something new. There is no poverty in the kingdom.

These things are true. They are true. They have been promised to me in Scripture, and God’s character is His covenant with me. Before I process anything else, before I speak anything else or listen to any other voice, I must listen to the voice of the Gospel delivered to me in the human, physical, substantial body and personhood of Christ.

There are so many things I don’t know right now. The reality of no longer being a kid keeps hitting me over and over again. I have so many fears and insecurities running through me. A professor who means quite a lot to me quietly announced today that he has a serious medical condition. I just finished a summer I am only beginning to sift through and process. There is uncertainty around every doorstep, crawling through walls I have tried for years to insulate with unhealthy habits and intellectual discipline. And this is good. It doesn’t feel good but in many ways, the fear and uncertainty is forcing me to better construct myself, insulate walls with things that are godly, that feel less substantial but take far less of my humanity with them. I am learning what it means to be human. And that is both a terrible and beautiful thing. I am learning what it means for God to be God. And that is a terrible and beautiful thing.

There is a song I like that asks, “If I give it all to You, will You make me all new? If I open up these hands will You fill them again?” I don’t know much, but I believe deeply that the answer to both those questions is Yes. Yes, Jesus remakes and refills, and he does it most beautifully when I allow Him into the parts of me that feel empty with neglect and loneliness or too full with anxiety and fear. Jesus gives me a Yes I can trust. He is the Yes I can trust, in whom all the promises of God take on their affirmation in flesh. When I do not know, Jesus is still always the face of God I can trust.


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