Thin Places

wpid-20150923_201246.jpgI went to a Celtic-inspired church celebration of the Autumnal Equinox tonight. It was called Ait Caol, which translates from Gaelic to mean, “A Thin Place.” I’ve been slowly drawn more and more to Celtic spirituality after my last trip to the Labyrinth, a labyrinth created by this particular church. I like the artwork and the designs, the symbolism, the connection to nature. I like contemplation and sacred space. I saw an advertisement for this church’s equinox service and thought I’d check it out. It was the first church service I had been to since Easter, and it was quite nourishing. This post will be a sort of stream of consciousness of my experience there. I’ll link to pasts posts as I write, because my experience this first night of Autumn has reminded me of my first Fall in Colorado, of the hope I held onto then, the I hope I need again.

Thin places… To me, thin places have always been scary: High up in the mountains where the air is thin, you may be closer to the heaven, but it’s harder to breathe. Thin places remind me of suffocation. They remind me of the small space of breath between death and life. Ait Caol is supposed to mean a time when heaven and earth come so close together that only “a thin space” separates them.. perhaps that’s still the same thing.

Tonight, I thought about Autumn. I thought about the Harvest, about this transition time between joyous thanksgiving for the bounty of before and steadfast preparedness for the darkness ahead. How the same God brings both light and dark, creation and destruction, life and death… I’ve always been fond of Autumn, but in the last two years it has struck a deeper chord with me, and perhaps all this time I’ve been noticing the thin place without being able to name it.

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I thought about lighting a candle while the dark tries to creep in through the windows. One small flame will stand against the dark. A Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot will not, shall not, overcome it.

“We invite you to celebrate this bittersweet time by being fully present in the now,” the bulletin says.

wpid-20150923_201329.jpgTonight, I thought about Communion. If you’ve been following my blog for a while now, you’ll know I’m fascinated by the “big medicine and strong magic” of Communion. I’ve written about how eating the bread of Communion as my first meal of the day taught me more about the satisfaction of the bread of life. I’ve written about how drinking real wine taught me more about the surging power of the blood of Christ. This year, I got to receive Communion from a dear friend during a dark time. Tonight, the church gave Communion to each other.

We knelt at the altar in the middle of the room and passed the bread and the wine to one another. We each heard from one neighbor and said to the next, “The body of Christ, the bread of heaven. The blood of Christ, the cup of salvation.” I knelt next to two complete strangers, but they were my sisters. It was so beautiful, so pure, so holy.

They read a psalm (126) that mentioned the Negev desert, and I was transported back to Israel in my mind. The desert helped me connect with such symbolism five years ago, and it still helps me to better understand the psalmists today. “Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like watercourses in the Negev.” Watercourses in the Negev-what an absurd notion! What a miracle! What life-giving power such miraculous streams would bring to that devastated desert… “May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy.”

A beautiful, meditative, spiritual space. I am thankful. If anything, tonight helped to remind me of where I’ve found those thin places before, of that space between death and life where, instead of despairing, I found hope – the candle against the darkness, the beauty of the dying sun. I want to dwell in the thin place.

Easter won’t let me go…

It’s hard for me to go to church anymore. It’s hard for me to follow the church calendar, to find meaning in days like Palm Sunday or contemplate seasons like Lent. It just doesn’t reach me anymore, not now. Some of it never reached me… I never could quite accept a calendar when I wanted to celebrate all holidays all the time…I wasn’t good at following the guidelines, though I tried.

I’m currently reading Faith Shift by Kathy Escobar, and it’s been helpful to me as I process this unraveling period… she is helping me to understand that there is still something left after the house of cards comes tumbling down. (Though I know my shifting is intricately tied to the sudden loss I experienced two years ago and the abrupt upheaval of my life to the point where I didn’t really have a church community to “lose” anymore, the book and her stories are still helpful.)

Anyway, what I’m saying is… a lot of “religious” things have fallen away recently, but Easter keeps tugging at my heart strings. Easter won’t let me go. I’m going to go to church on Easter Sunday, or at least I’m going to attempt to do so. It’s still going to be difficult for me. But it’s a sunrise service, and there’s just something about sunrise church services that I can’t let go of.

I was trying to describe it to my friend, who graciously said he would go with me: “Well, the service doesn’t start at sunrise, it starts before. We start in darkness and we end in light.”

And that very concept is what I can’t shake from my mind. That, the whole darkness turning into light thing, is what won’t let go of me.

I wrote about Easter last year, about how I don’t know how to sing, “He is risen,” when death still feels so close and so painful, and yet I still want to hear that Christ is, in fact, risen. I still need to hear that death is not the final end, even as it feels so final and so consuming.

I wrote of eucatastrophe, a word I think of often but still can’t quite describe adequately. I don’t know fully what it is, but I find hope in its meaning, a meaning I can’t articulate. The good catastrophe, the sudden joyous turn. Like Easter, a eucatastrophe involves light reversing the darkness, but as Tolkien wrote, we can’t see it yet. It doesn’t always seem like a happy ending, “…at least, not what folk inside a story and not outside it call a good end,” says Sam. We can’t see the glory on the other side yet.

I don’t know why I’m drawn to the sunrise and the symbol of a resurrection that I don’t understand, but I am… And I think it is only a light like this that will bring me back to a building that I don’t know how to or even want to be in anymore… just for one day. For one day, I can join in the singing. For one day, I can awaken the dawn. I can believe.

Light is coming. Let it reflect backwards through time, through space, through the “chinks of the universe.” Let it pierce this shadow, and let it kiss my face. Let me sing.

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Still Haven’t Found…

I used to think U2’s “Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” was a great song, but also a sad one.

wpid-20150207_172018.jpgI believe in the kingdom come
When all the colors will bleed into one, bleed into one
But yes I’m still running.
You broke the bonds and You loosed the chains
Carried the cross of my shame, of my shame
You know I believe it
But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.

I used to hear that and think, “No, see, Bono, that was it. You found it. Right there.” I would think about how sad it was that those words weren’t enough for Bono, that he still felt lost and searching even though he believed in Jesus. How could he still feel the need to search for anything else? What, exactly, is he looking for that Jesus can’t satisfy?

Now that I’m reaching my mid-twenties, roaming in search of community, home, and still reeling from the loss of my last surviving parent, I think I’m starting to see where he’s coming from, that lifelong search…

The song hits me in a new way, and tears stream down my face as I try to drive home. I believe it, Jesus, you know I believe it, but I still feel lost and confused. I believed it, but where has it led me? Where am I going? I’m seeing as through a mirror darkly. I want more, but I don’t know what that more is. I want TRUTH, but I’m terrified of finding out I’ve been lied to… I’m afraid of everything I’ve built around me since the age of 5 unraveling and falling to pieces.

C.S. Lewis says God has to knock down our house of cards just so we can finally see that it was a house of cards after all. But then what’s left?

Someone once spoke to me in prayer three years ago about a vision of myself wrapped tightly in bandages and cloth that were slowly being unraveled so that I could see…

I know it was also Bono who said, “For all that ‘I was lost, I am found,’ it is probably more accurate to say, ‘I was really lost. I’m a little less so at the moment.’ And then a little less and a little less again. That to me is the spiritual life. The slow reworking and rebooting the computer at regular intervals, reading the small print of the service manual. It has slowly rebuilt me in a better image. It has taken years, though, and it is not over yet.”

Am I “rebooting?” Where am I going?

I’m almost finished with my reread of the Harry Potter series and I don’t know where to go next. It has been such a comfort to me, a way for me to escape, to remember, to believe in love, and to work through my emotions. I’m afraid. I’m finding it hard to pick up my Bible anymore, and I’ve let the mirror collect dust so that now the Image I see dimly is even hazier and darker than before. I don’t know where to turn.

I’m cynical and I’m tired. Some days I’m afraid to even look into the mirror, and then I’m afraid I’ve gone too long without doing so… How do I begin to go back again? How do I clean off the dust? How do I accept that it’ll never be truly clear? I hope I’m not too far gone.

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Let there be Light, and let it warm my bones.

on death, prayer, and phoneixes

I’m trying hard to write. I’m trying hard not to write. When the grieving thoughts strike me during my lunch break, I ache for the cathartic process of creating beauty from ashes. Then break’s over, a happy face returns, and by the time I get home, I decide I’d rather escape into Harry Potter‘s world of ashes and phoenix songs than focus on my own.

Where’s my phoenix?

I’m currently reading three books at the moment:

1) Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (I just finished Goblet of Fire) by J.K. Rowling
2) Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer by Richard Rohr
3) American Afterlife: Encounters in the Customs of Mourning by Kate Sweeney

You wouldn’t think those three fit together very well, but they mingle beautifully in my head.

For example, Rohr writes, “Historic cultures saw grief as a time of incubation, transformation, and necessary hibernation. Yet this sacred space is the very space we avoid. When we avoid darkness, we avoid tension, spiritual creativity, and finally transformation. We avoid God, who works in the darkness — where we are not in control. Maybe that is the secret: relinquishing control.”

Sweeney writes of Victorian mourning customs, “However, while strides were taking place in the name of modernity and expedience in other realms … mourning was designed to be hard. You had buried your brother; you would stay up nights over a candle sweating over the thinnest pins wrapped in his hair. You would wear scratchy clothes and mourning veils for months. It would not be convenient or subtle, and you would not be comfortable.”

Rowling writes many of her great quotes in the voice of Professor Dumbledore. When I stumbled over this passage in Goblet of Fire in which Dumbledore speaks to Harry about witnessing a tragic death, I cried. She writes, “‘If I thought I could help you,’ Dumbledore said gently, ‘by the putting you in an enchanted sleep and allowing you to postpone the moment when you would have to think about what has happened tonight, I would do it. But I know better. Numbing the pain for a while will make it worse when you finally feel it. You have shown bravery beyond anything I could have expected of you. I ask you to demonstrate your courage one more time. I ask you to tell us what happened.'”

I remember that. I remember wanting nothing more than to sleep… to sleep and wake up and find that it had all been only a nightmare. Even though I know now that no amount of sleep will reverse what happened, I welcome a deep, enchanted sleep to escape for a bit.

Have I been sleeping too long now? Have I avoided telling my story? Have I been avoiding the darkness, or have I just been letting myself stay comfortably numb in the twilight?

Rowling goes on to say that the sweet song of Dumbledore’s phoenix “warms” Harry’s insides, giving him hope. I ache for a phoenix. Am I really going to be transformed, as Rohr claims… or have I already passed the incubation period? Sometimes I wish we still honored a Victorian mindset about death, where mourning was public, prolonged, accepted, where our outside appearance reflected the turmoil of our hearts. But what happens after the designated “mourning period” has ended? What happens to widow after her year of wearing nothing but black ends abruptly and she is expected to wear color again? Does that mean she no longer grieves? Does that mean she’s “over” it?

I don’t want to talk about how long it’s been.

I returned wpid-20150114_161158.jpgto my walking lake today. I didn’t walk it, because it was chilly and I wasn’t wearing the right shoes, but I just felt the urge to see it. I hadn’t been to the water in months because of the bitter cold. I’ve been hearing the geese, though, the cacophony of life that inhabits this frozen wasteland. It’s as though they’ve been calling to me, beckoning me. So I went back today, just to look. I found light again, a beauty reminiscent of the one that saved me during those toughest months of my life… Is it wrong that I haven’t been walking there? Is it bad that I haven’t journaled?

I still just want to read Harry Potter and forget — No, forget is not the right word. I do escape, that much is true, but I also find a part of myself in those books, my grief, my childhood, my fear, my hope…

Sometimes all I want to do is fall inside those pages and never come out, so I’m breaking up the wizarding world with a book about death and a book about prayer… It’s a strange little collection, I know, but I hope it will awaken me slowly, allow me to breath a bit deeper, and lead me even closer to resurrection…

thoughts on enduring.

wpid-20140829_152842.jpgI don’t want to write this.

I don’t want to write about how I left work today because I felt too wrapped in semi-conscious grief to function.

I don’t want to write about how it’s been sixteen months, and I suddenly now feel as raw and broken as I did sixteen months ago.

I think Fall is triggering something. Last Fall was pretty bad, and even though circumstances have changed and I have happier things in my life, I still have this one overarching sorrowful thing that screams inside my head.

This can’t be happening. I have to be able to function. I have a good job. I have love in my life. I get to spend time with my family. How can I still get lost in the darkness?

I don’t want to write about it because I’m afraid it will suck me back into the vortex.

If I write about how much I miss them, about all the other losses that come with it, I’m afraid I’ll go down a spiral that I can’t climb back up. But I’ve been told I need to focus on it, allow the grief to wash over me, and it will—it’ll wash over me and pass. That’s what they say anyway, but it doesn’t feel like it’s passing.

Today, I had tears stuck in my eyes. They were literally stuck at the edge of my vision, making it unable to focus on anything else, blurring my sight and fracturing it with rainbow colors. And they wouldn’t go away.

They’ve gone now. If I write about it, I’m afraid they’ll come back. If I don’t write about it, I’m afraid they’ll come back tomorrow at the most inconvenient moment.

Even in tears you can see a rainbow…. Is that supposed to mean something? Even the dying leaves are beautiful…

I know, I know, I wrote a lot about Autumn last year. I can’t help it, it’s a bit of an obsession. It’s the one time of year where the Earth joins us in our dying, where we find joy in the dying.

I can’t escape this poetry. Maybe that’s what’s triggering the “relapse” of grief, I don’t know.
Maybe it also has to do with the upcoming holidays. The first round was terrible, and I know the second won’t be much easier.

Recently I saw a play based on The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion’s memoir which I’ve quoted here before. In the play, the actor playing Didion talked about geology… about the lessons of science. The earth is in a state of constant change, but it always continues.

Today I wrote on my arm: “Endures.”  I do that sometimes when I need a reminder to get me through the day. Endures. His love endures forever. God endures forever. I endure, here, in this moment. Despite it all, I have endured. I will endure. He holds me close. A dying star leaves behind the perfect conditions for new ones to glow. Life finds a way.

Mingled.

As I approach June 10 2014, I don’t know how to feel. Once again, I let the words of Josh Garrels speak for me:

We wait for downpours
A drenching joy
A carnival sky

But what I don’t say,
What I can’t say,
Is that with this joy
Comes a mourning…

Something left behind
Blue lined, teary
Mingled, I move on…

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Mingled, I move on. I really don’t like the term, “move on.” It sounds so final, so simple. It’s something you only do once, and once you’ve done it, it’s over. You’ve moved on, life is normal again. Also, the word “move,” implies a moving away from something, leaving something behind. I don’t want to “move on.” I like better the phrase my grandmother used to say to me for a while after my mother died: “Keep on keeping on.”

Mingled, I keep on. This year has been one of survival. I’ve had a few people ask me recently what I plan on doing with my future, and I cannot answer them. I cannot answer them because all I’ve been able to do is focus on surviving, and that is what I plan on continuing to do.

I do know one thing I want from this life, though. I want not only to survive, but to thrive.

Whatever that means, whatever that looks like, I want it. And I know for certain that my mom and dad would want that for me too.

Mingled. The year is over, but the grief and the mourning and pain are not. There will still be times when I am not anywhere near “okay.” I will keep writing about it, because I have to, because I want to share with others, I want to cultivate roses in this wasteland, as I walk through this valley of the shadow of death. Let there be light. Let there be beauty. Let there be joy. (And let there be recognition of sorrow, too.)

Let. There. Be. Life.

All things will change
We wait for the rain
And the promise remains.

Substance.

It has been almost a year now since my dad died.

It sucks. It is painful. I miss him, and I am trying not to think about it too much. Strangely enough, though, I feel similar now to how I felt last year, just before it happened: hopeful. This tragedy has led me to a place I never thought I’d be, and I think I am finally starting to settle into that place, to find the hope in it. God has blessed me with a joy I never thought I’d find. …And I am terrified of losing it all again (just as I had lost my hope last year).

One day, one breath at a time. Manna today, what is it? I cannot comprehend it, but I can choose to accept it, this mystery, and I can trust that God will provide this inexplicably satisfying mystery daily. Today the manna brings delight to my soul. Tomorrow it may not be so joyful, but it will still fill me, as my God promises never to leave me nor forsake me.

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Autumn.

I don’t have many words today, but I have this:

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I’m starting to love aspen trees. The bark, ash grey with scars of black, leading up to flimsy branches with beautiful crisp leaves bright and yellow in the autumn sun… Magnificent.

There’s just something that speaks to me about the aspens. It speaks of hope, wonder, beauty amid turmoil.

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It speaks of autumn too: that even death can be beautiful, that what seems like loss can be a renewal.

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I wrote a lot about spring this year, when the world felt full of promise and excitement.
I did not know the gloom and pain that summer would bring.
I did not know that fall would lead me to contemplate this “season of dying” in more than just metaphorical terms. I did not know I would get to see the aspens.

And yet the hope I saw in spring, I see still in fall. Maybe it’s a fool’s hope, but it’s hope nonetheless. That hope says He has made everything beautiful in its time, and that death is just a part of this thing we call life– and He has redeemed it. The aspen tree is strong and beautiful, and it thrives even amidst its scarred and seemingly burned bark. The fire that kills it makes it grow stronger the next time. Its leaves are tough yet smooth, invoking wonder in both the spring and the fall.

Autumn is golden.

Cherished and Enough.

IMG_7624“But if the gospel of Jesus is relational; that is, if our brokenness will be fixed, not by our understanding of theology, but by God telling us who we are, then this would require a kind of intimacy of which only heaven knows. Imagine, a Being with a mind as great as God’s, with feet like trees and a voice like rushing wind, telling you that you are His cherished creation.”

–Donald Miller, Searching for God Knows What (emphasis mine)

“To find your identity within the will of Tze-Yo-Tzuh [He who is] …that is the highest of all freedoms.”

–Gene Luen Yang, American Born Chinese

“If man was wired so that something outside himself told him who he was, and if God’s presence [in the Garden] was giving him a feeling of fulfillment, then when that relationship was broken [the Fall], man would be pining for other people to tell him he was good, right, okay with with world, and eternally secure.”

–Donald Miller, Searching for God Knows What

Oh dear one, listen to that voice like rushing wind that thunders like the mighty waters, yet is also quiet, and still, and whispering…

“You are My beloved child. That is enough.”

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