Once we have been in a place for so long, our friends get used to us. They don't get uncomfortable when I talk about our sex life at the dinner table or they sit patiently on the other end of the phone and listen to me yell because I don't want to yell at Grant and need to yell at someone about him. Our best and truest friends have listened to their fair share of things that most couples don't make the outside world privy to. We believe that the only way to bring light is to acknowledge the darkness. We don't shy away from getting into the deep, heavy bits of life and tend to gravitate more towards people who admit that life isn't always a bed of roses. This makes us an acquired taste.
On Friday, Grant and I attended a conference together. We left the babes at home with a sitter and enjoyed the rare beauty of sitting next to each other for 5 hours listening to different speakers. One of the presenters was an artist named Scott who spoke about a woman in his church who was recently diagnosed with cancer. He showed pictures of Sarah and her fiancé before she knew she was sick, pictures of her wedding day stunning in a white head scarf, and then, after we had all fallen in love with her smile and her life work with refugees, Scott told us that she died. He talked about what his community did with her death. He talked about the deep sorrow and darkness they all fell into, trying to make sense of why something like cancer would happen to someone who was obviously giving so much light and goodness to the world. He spoke about a trip to Israel that he took with Sarah's widow one week after she passed away and how they just walked the streets where Jesus had walked carrying his cross to the hill where he was going to die.
Instead of spiritualizing the significance of Jesus dying and Sarah dying, Scott talked about how horrible it felt that she died. How lonely and how dark and how unanswerable the questions were. He talked about how Christians rarely sing the song of pain and sorrow that non-Christians sing when really bad things happen. The terrifying fear that struck the heart of every parent after the shootings in CT. The unimaginable grief of the mother who returned to her apartment in NY and found the nanny had murdered her two young children. The hopeless and vacant stare in the eyes of women who have been raped and the bodies floating down Canal Street after Hurricane Katrina. The high school students in Chicago who drop to the ground when shots are fired at them from neighborhood gangs because if you run, you get shot in the back. Starvation, suicide, war, homelessness, natural disasters, terrorism, kids with cancer- the list of things that keep those who don't believe in God from changing their mind.
Scott talked about the words that Jesus said while He was hanging on the cross, dying for the sins of the world. He quoted song lyrics. Lyrics from the Psalms- "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?". In his dying moments, Jesus sang the song of pain and experienced the dark and lonely reality of being without God.
If the Son of God can pound on the casket and say that death is not right, why can't we? We who know or at least have been presented with the idea that life was supposed to be beautiful and safe and peaceful, why aren't we the ones screaming the loudest that this is unfair? That kids shouldn't die, that humans shouldn't be abused and raped and murdered and left alone, that the world shouldn't be chaotic and scary. This is not how it was supposed to be.
But it is only when we sing the song of pain and sorrow that the second song makes sense. The song that God sings back to us as the answer to our rage and confusion. The answer to our screaming into the darkness. God answering back that we can bring our anger and our sadness and our pain and our confusion to Him. He is not afraid of them. He isn't surprised by them. We don't know what to do with them other than feel them so intensely it would crush us. He is calling us, summoning us, asking us to come closer. To be human. And to be loved. To remind us that one day, all things will be made new. Omnia Nova. The return of life as it was created to be. No more pain, sorrow or death. No more tears or loneliness. God will be with His people again.
Grant and I might be really good at singing the first song. Pounding on the casket and saying that life isn't fair. Showing our guts to the universe. Living our own Jonny Cash song. But I have asked myself many times how good we are at echoing the truth we believe about the second song. That Jesus Christ is calling us to Himself. That the reason we aren't devastated by the troubles we face is because we believe one day God will return to earth and everything will be according to its original design. Do our friends know that we believe in God and what that means?
|The calling of St Matthew. Michelangelo Caravaggio, 16th century|