[Good?] Friday

Good Friday is, perhaps, my favorite church holiday.

This day commemorates the crucifixion of Christ, whose resurrection is the cause for the feasting and new-life celebrations of Easter. Which is also a great day.

But some people get so excited about Easter that they skip Good Friday altogether. After all, what’s so good about the day Jesus died? It wasn’t so good for him.

While there are lots of explanations of the word “good,” some people say that Good Friday is good because of the ultimate salvation it brought to humankind. Yes. That’s probably part of it.

But I think Good Friday is also good for its own sake. For all who have ever suffered, this is the day when God chose to identify with us. To stop and mourn with us. A day when the loss has taken place and the redemption hasn’t.

We love stories with happy endings. We love them so much that sometimes we skip ahead to the happy ending, past all the dark parts, the sad parts, the parts where badness wins. This Easter story has a happy ending, eventually. But it is not yet. First, there is a time that seems like “the end of all things.”

Sunday is coming, but Friday is its own sacred space. 

If you are mourning today, stop and be here. Be silent. Lament for a while. Today is its own sacred space.

If someone you know is mourning, stop and be here with them. Be silent. Lament with them for a while. Don’t, please don’t, try to fix, explain away, or rush them past their grief. Today is its own sacred space.

Whatever our grief, today is a day when we are not alone in it. When God became “a man of sorrows” and chose solidarity with us.

And that’s why I say Good Friday is good.

Peace to you.

Lament

Two weeks ago, I did something terrifying.

I read poetry in front of people.

Scary poetry. Honest poetry. Lament poetry.

Lament is one of my new favorite words. Merriam-Webster (almost the best dictionary ever, after the OED), defines it as an intransitive verb, meaning to mourn aloud. 

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Mourn. Aloud.

I love my church. It’s my family. But over the last year especially, I’ve been realizing that the larger church–or at least many people in it–has little space in its theology for the bad things that happen. I’m not talking about little struggles, bumps in the road. Those are a natural part of every human’s life. I’m talking about the bad things–the things for which there is no sense. Eight-year-old girls who get leukemia. Forty-five-year-old fathers who die of cancer. Classes of kindergarteners shot down by sick, deranged gunmen.

Volumes and volumes of Christian theology are devoted to understanding these things. Logical treatises, high-caliber philosophical explanations are offered. Yes, in moments of quiet, those explanations can help us understand a world that shakes us to the core. Yes, there is a place for understanding. But it’s not in the middle of the suffering.

It’s natural to want to skip past the pain to the victory; to tell thesis-driven, neatly packaged stories of conflict, climax, and resolution. We minimize the dark, torn-up moments of life because we don’t know what to do with them–instead we fast-forward straight to the overcoming, the lesson learned, the transformation accomplished. All those are good things to see and give thanks for, in 20/20 hindsight. But sometimes, when you’re in the midst of the story, you have no idea what the resolution’s going to look like. And when your feet are bloody from the road, you may not even be sure you’ll ever reach the destination.

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My pastor has started a sermon series on laments in the Bible, and it brings me joy because it means our church is talking about these things. The most helpful thing, when all the walls of your world are caving in and you have no pain tolerance left, is to mourn. To acknowledge the pain. The frustration. The fear. The confusion. The anger. The abandonment. These are real feelings. If you haven’t bled on the sharp point of these feelings yourself, others’ cries of lament may sound grotesque, depressing, even melodramatic. But listen anyway. Mourning sucks the venom from the snakebite. It keeps the sorrow from drowning you when you can’t yet see the shore. And to listen to someone else’s mourning, to be a safe sound room where their raw pain can be released, is to help them heal. 

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So here are a few laments. Though my lament two weeks ago was in poem form because I love the power of poetry to express raw emotion, laments can also be expressed through songs, stories, paintingsarticles, novels, and maybe even forms I haven’t discovered yet.

Here’s one of my favorite laments, a poem called Bereft by Robert Frost: 

Where had I heard this wind before

Change like this to a deeper roar?

What would it take my standing there for,

Holding open a restive door,

Looking down hill to a frothy shore?

Summer was past and day was past.

Sombre clouds in the west were massed.

Out in the porch’s sagging floor,

Leaves got up in a coil and hissed,

Blindly struck at my knee and missed.

Something sinister in the tone

Told me my secret must be known:

Word I was in the house alone

Somehow must have gotten abroad,

Word I was in my life alone,

Word I had no one left but God.

And a piece of a lament from Psalm 13 (The Message):

Long enough, God
    you’ve ignored me long enough.
I’ve looked at the back of your head
    long enough. Long enough
I’ve carried this ton of trouble,
    lived with a stomach full of pain.

And one from me: 

I am not a poet

I am just a

kid broken by the thunder of

gunfire

brimming with words that

have noplace else

to go.

Though laments are scary to share in all their raw honesty, the sharing is worth it if it frees even one other person to mourn aloud. Or maybe if it teaches someone how to listen. 

Have you ever tried writing a lament? Tried sharing it with others? 

Beauty from Storm

Yesterday morning arrived in gusty, wet glory.

When I lived in Seattle, waking up to gray morning after gray morning, nothing but sunshine seemed beautiful. But here, where sunshine is the norm, a really stormy day almost takes my breath away with its power and awe-full majesty. Sheets of rain cascade and collide. Leaves–mauve and orange and gold–scatter like trails of magic, effortlessly puffed down the street. Delicate tree branches bend and sway, threatening to snap at every moment in their reckless dance. It is inspiring as well as terrifying to watch.

But what struck me most was what was left in the wake of the wind and rain. When the loud forces of destruction quieted, I went tromping around with my camera and galoshes, noticing the tiny, quirky miracles left behind.

Things like mossy green baby-tears springing up between paving stones, the soft blooming to surround and overcome the hard.

Or the fact that almost all the maple leaves were stuck face-down to the sidewalk, leaving their stems sticking straight up into the air like the tails of curious puppies. 

What I thought was most interesting of all, though, was the sight of our lawn. I looked out the window and noticed that the helter-skelter whipping and tearing of the storm-force had mingled dead autumn leaves with flowers from our bougainvillea vine.

Life mingled with death, the shedding of a tree’s old coat beside pink crepe butterfly-delicate petals. The dying of the old year beside the flowering of the new. Autumn and spring scattered side-by-side. It made me think of Tchaikovsky’s Dance of the Flowers. 

It also made me think that even November storms that make the house creak, that strip the trees of all their finery, that force in bare branches and winter before I’m quite ready for them, can leave beauty behind them as well. Gales can even bring the beauty, sometimes: the same violent  winds that destroy can scatter the lawn with flowers.

Maybe–perhaps even this–the beauty wouldn’t come without the storm.

Broken Bones and Cookies

Well, I was going to write an elaborate and fascinating post on used bookstores.

Hopefully I still will, at some point. But not today. I’ve got something else on my mind.

Chocolate chip cookies.

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I usually have chocolate chip cookies on the brain in some form or other. Warm on a napkin, with the chocolate just a little bit melty, they make my shoulders unclench any time of day. I’m an absentminded baker who tends to calculate quantities wrong, but for these cookies, I try harder to get them right. They were one of the American delicacies I missed most in Britain. But now they’re on my mind for a different reason.

It was Wednesday night, a hard night, a gloomy night. An odometer-raising, package-juggling, asparagus-and-tears-for-dinner night. Grandma’s not doing well, and the pressure had me full under its thumb that night. I was supposed to meet a friend for coffee, but though I love talking to her, I just didn’t want to on Wednesday. I didn’t want to talk. I wanted to sit and watch British TV until my mind melted into oblivion. I texted her.

She came anyway. Showed up on my doorstep, skipped coffee. Carried in her hands a green recyclable grocery bag. Containing chocolate chip cookies.

People say all kinds of things to friends who are hurting. Sometimes they’re well-meaning things like Every cloud has a silver lining. Or God works out everything for the good of those who love him. Maybe they’re true things. But when the wave of suffering knocks you over from behind and tumbles you on the sand until your skin is scraped raw and you can’t remember which way is up, even true things don’t help.

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Suffering is a quiet place, a place where the rules don’t work right and you have to reinvent the wheel. Like falling in love, it’s a different experience for every person, and it feels like no one has ever experienced it before. That’s why platitudes, no matter how true, don’t help. They’re words. And while I love words dearly, you can’t use them to set a shattered arm or leg. Like sticky, cheerful Disney-character band-aids, they’re utterly helpless to solve the mystery and horror of bone sticking through skin.

My friend couldn’t fix my problems on Wednesday night. She didn’t try. Instead, she listened with her full attention (I did end up talking) and gave me a hug (thank you, dear). The chocolate chip cookies she brought said I don’t have all the answers. But I love you anyway. And somewhere between soggy Kleenex and melty chocolate pieces, I found the strength to keep going til tomorrow. That’s what helps.

Lately music has been helping me where words fall short. So if you’re in that quiet place tonight, reinventing the wheel or staring at shattered bone, here’s a song that another friend showed me today. It’s not a solution. But maybe it’ll be like chocolate chip cookies on your doorstep.