kyndallrae

creating me [using words]

Archive for the month “May, 2013”

Slow and Unsteady

Slow as molasses
this reconstruction
of the inner life.
Spurts of speed and joy
arrive as unexpected graces,
then leave as quickly
as they came.
I am lonely when they go.
If ever I were to shut down
and die a mourner’s death
twould be now–
I’ve grown thin enough
to be swallowed
by this slothful depression,

but muscles are building
back unseen, I feed
them vitamins and two
tablespoons of angry fire
each morning or as
needed. I name what
I need and sometimes
I am heard. Not always,
but, then, I never
used to ask at all.

Those who give advice
without bothering to listen
are like bricks falling
on the head of the wounded,
adding weight
to the load too
heavy to lift alone.

To ask a question
is to offer a hand.
To read and reread with understanding
is to kiss a wound.
To say, “I hear you,”
is to be friend.
To peer into the depths
and ponder their meaning
is to stand with.
To refuse to run away
from that which baffles
is to be courage on behalf of another.
To reject with fervor
any abuse of a human soul
is to be a hero to one.
To encourage the renegade
to keep going
is to aid and abet
a most necessary revolution.

Slow as molasses
this reconstruction
of how we relate to one another.
Listeners and champions
arrive as unexpected graces,
sometimes leave as quickly
as they came.
I am lonely when they go.
If ever I were to shut down
and die a loner’s death,
it will not be now,
when I’ve only just begun
to be heard.

First Breaths

Breathe breath into this mud and clay,
create lungs from the muck,
clear/create a space for air to flow.
Expand, open, release, live
as Adam lived.
It wasn’t something out of nothing,
it was ribs and flesh and arms and organs,
all from tumbled soil.
Eventually would not be good
for this human to remain alone,
but as creation first transpired
it was a sacred, private affair
between soiled slop and breath of God
this coming to awareness,
these first labored breaths,
like being born full-grown.

What is it like, oh human,
to open your eyes at last for the first time?
To feel your toes upon the dirt
from whence you came?
To inhale the same ruah
that stirred you into being?
What is it like, oh human,
to at last be human?

Addressing the Unanswerable

Yesterday’s sermon (Romans 5:1-5, audio here). . . 

I sat with a group of women on Thursday, and every single one of us had a tale of personal and gut-wrenching woe, and when it was time to pray, I had to pass up my turn because I was crying, and so the next person prayed, “Kyndall’s tears are her prayer this morning,” and then when we were done praying for our personal problems, we unbowed our heads and opened our eyes and I said, “And if only we could stop having national tragedies.” We had yet to even get to the worst of it, and we decided that sometimes we ministers just know too much about pain—our own, other people’s pain, worldwide pain, etc. We don’t have enough prayers, much less enough faith, for all that we carry in our hearts. People like Larry, our hospice chaplain, know this burden so well, but, of course, it isn’t just ministers who bear too much pain. There are those of you who work in hospitals, those who work with broken families, those of you who feel deeply for your friends, those of you who’ve seen what you wish you could unsee, those who live with chronic pain or chronic depression, so forth and so on.

I was planning to come here to the church on Thursday after that meeting with the suffering ladies and work on this very sermon, but instead I went straight home and crawled back under the covers and decided I’d had enough. The tornados this past week happened in my own home city, and I just can’t even watch the news coverage because my heart is out of space for pain. I can’t bear another news clip or picture. Do you ever feel that way? If one more bad thing happens, you’re going to organize a strike on life and refuse to work until the big boss decides to improve the working conditions?

In seminary I took an elective course titled, “God, Suffering, and Evil,” and a surprising number of people elected to take the course despite it not being a requirement. We started our first day of the semester by going around the room, each person sharing a personal experience of heartache that made them want to take this class, to attempt to answer the unanswerable question of theodicy, why we suffer if God is good and powerful.

The pain you encounter either makes you face the question or shut down all your questions, but it rarely, if ever, provides you with a satisfying answer. “Why God? Why?” is the most common, but there are many questions that plague and very few clichés that pacify us in the slightest, though we keep on repeating hollow responses regardless. Thomas Merton said, “One of the moral diseases we communicate to one another in society comes from huddling together in the pale light of an insufficient answer to a question we are afraid to ask.”

Depending on how you read it, the Bible can sound a little shallow on the topic of suffering too. “We glory in our sufferings,” says today’s text, and I find myself frowning, Who says that to a hurting person? That you should rejoice and glory? How insensitive. (It’s okay, by the way, to get a little angry when you read the Bible, if you need to.)

However, I do notice that I don’t think this passage is giving us instructions; it’s not telling that we should glory in suffering, and shame on us if we don’t. I think this text is making a profession, giving a testimonial, if you will, that here is a people who have been enabled to glory in their suffering, absurd as that sounds. These are a people who’ve encountered a miracle, and they are trying to put into words what they have experienced.

The text says “since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.” In other words, this is a distinctly Christian take on the topic and role of suffering. The rest of what is to come, about suffering producing endurance, endurance producing character, character producing hope . . . all those inspiring words are set in the context of a Christian faith, and so I find myself asking the question, Why does that matter? Why does Christianity matter in light of suffering?

I’m not always comfortable labeling things as Christian: Christian service, Christian love, Christian suffering, etc. because I guess I’m a little worried about sounding snooty when I know so many people of other faiths who have endured extraordinary things with admirable grace and certainly with more kindness than I could ever muster. So, I don’t want to talk about “Christian” suffering as if we’ve got a monopoly on how to do this; I mean, we’re all pretty much at a loss when grief befalls us, and we all deserve care and help as much as the next person, regardless of what faith we profess.

But the fact remains that I am a Christian, and so are you. This is the faith we profess in this place and so it behooves us to consider, What does it mean to suffer as Christians? History tells us we suffer no less and no more than anyone else, but we do suffer and our faith plays a crucial role in how we deal with it. We are no more equipped than anyone else to really answer the question about why bad things happen; just like everyone else, our stilted explanations never solve or assuage anybody’s pain. So, it is not with presumption but with humility that we examine the topic of Christian suffering; not because Christianity provides an answer to the unanswerable, but because Christianity suggests to us certain ways of living the question.

The first, and perhaps most important, thing that Christianity has to say about suffering is this: Pain does not get the final word. Oh boy, does it ever get a word in all right. Far more words than we ever think are fair or acceptable or even bearable. But that’s the not the final word. This is demonstrated to us time and time again in biblical story, but most powerfully in the resurrection, the hallmark event of our Christian identity. Evil, though fierce, does not get the final word. Evil, though rampant, does not get the final word. Evil, though persistent, does not get the final word. Evil, though gruesome, does not get the final word.

This is what the reconciling work of Christ teaches us. You would think all is lost, but in the Christian economy, nothing is lost. Everything can be found; everything can be redeemed. Every story can have another chapter; every sin can find forgiveness; every harm can meet redemption; every death can bolt upright in life. There are no nails in any coffin. Yes, of course, people die and people get sick and people stay sick and people lose the ones they love, and so little ever seems to go the way we wanted, but yet there are miracles too, and faith is when we see them both side by side: the deaths and the miracles happening all in one unpredictable swirl, and we believe, somehow believe the miracles will outlast and outshine the dying. Evil does not get the final word.

This belief in resurrection and redemption is no easy dismissal of pain, no quick fix, no silly tool for maintaining denial. This is the redemption that comes after the full force of death has been felt and delivered. This is the laughter that comes after many, many tears. This is the joy that comes in the morning when the night has been oh so long. It isn’t a cover-up story or a cop-out or a disillusion; it is a story for the dead, for the broken, for the displaced and the trodden. It is the story you go to when all your tricks have failed you, when all your attempts to control and perfect have let you down; you show up at the one crazy place where they still believe in resurrection. This is faith. This is church. This is what we mean we say, “I am a Christian.”

Evil does not get the final word.

This is true in big ways and small ways, both communal and personal. Evil doesn’t get the final word inside of you. No matter who we’ve been or what we’ve done, our offenses are forgiven. “We’ve been justified,” proclaims our text. And there’s more than just forgiveness! There is transformation too. No matter who we’ve been or what we’ve done, our stories don’t stop there. Evil does not get the final word in who we become. Our sufferings lead to endurance, endurance brings us character, character leads to hope, hope opens us to love.

How else do we make peace with ourselves but both to know we are forgiven and to know we do not have to stay the same. We will not stay the same. This is where the personal component of Good News and salvation is so key—the world won’t transform unless people transform. It starts with you; world peace and reconciliation begin in your very own heart. Evil does not get the final word.

When tragedy strikes, we want to find solutions and preventions, and of course, that work is important. But we also have to peer in here, every time, and decide, “How will I let this pain shape me? Will I turn towards cynicism and withdrawal or will I grasp after hope and take a step towards courage? Will I close up my heart or open it wide? Will I allow this pain into my heart for a purging, a reordering, and a remaking of my inner self? Will I endure, and with endurance, build character, and through character, find hope?” Evil does not get the final word.

No one can really answer satisfactorily why it is that suffering happens with such regularity and brutality. It is of essential importance to my own theology that I both know and profess with certainty: God does not cause suffering. My God must be a God who is actively staving off more suffering than I can comprehend, and for reasons I can’t explain, evil continues to get a word in, but I think God, who hates evil, is more disappointed and grief-stricken over that gruesome reality than any of us.

Couldn’t God do more? that’s what we always wonder, and we’re being perfectly reasonable to ask it, our questions like angry prayers, like protestors lining a sidewalk holding up banners for a cause, demanding that the heavens take notice. It’s just that I think when Jesus came to earth, he got markers and poster board, scrawled, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken us?” and then he led the march, and that’s why I want to be a Christian.

And the second reason I want to be a Christian is because even though God the Father remained shockingly and disturbingly quiet that day the Son hung on a cross, even still, there was a resurrection, a Sunday after the Friday, a sunrise after the dark. Most of our lives feel like Saturdays—the limbo between our deepest questions and any clear signs of an answer. It’s no longer Friday, but it sure isn’t Sunday. It’s like the twilight hour where darkness isn’t complete but light isn’t here either—this is the shadow in which the life of faith gets lived.

So when the text proclaims that “we boast in the hope of the glory of God,” it isn’t referring to arrogance. It’s referring to the ridiculous, the unseen, and the unbelievable. It is absurdity to boast in hope in times like these, and only the fools and the outcasts and the truly downtrodden hold on. If you’ve got any faith left inside you at all, you know it’s there by miracle, not by effort. And as embarrassing and silly as it is to believe, somehow “our hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts.” We may seem like crazy fools for believing, for enduring, but as long as believing leads us to loving, then how can we ever be ashamed of what we’ve become in our suffering?

This is what the enduring expansion of love teaches us: Evil does not get the final word. Amen.

Happiness

Swaying from the swingset to the sound of the icecream truck,
one time in a hundred Dad gives us a dollar,
we run out to the truck and wait in the line of kids.

Night after night the neighborhood boys
gather in my yard because I have the one dad
on the block who plays with us all.
I get to be the pitcher when Dad is up to bat,
the only kid who can throw it half-straight,
or, at least, that’s what he lets me believe.
The water meter is first base, the mailbox second
the corner of the sidewalk third.
We all know the routine invented
by the brilliant mind of my much-adored Dad,
who always sees a game in the making
wherever he goes.

On Saturdays he sometimes takes us down the
short-cut to the donut shop on our bikes,
I’m convinced it’s a secret passage.

He coaches all my little league sports,
makes me feel like I can be the best,
even better than the boys,
and so I am.

When I’m older, with different coaches,
He comes by the bench at half-time,
“It’s up to you,” he tells me,
“and you can make it happen.
Driiiiive to the basket” he adds with fervor
in that funny emphasis only a quiet man
can muster, silly grin on the face that
is trying to make me take this game—
and my role in it—more seriously.
He makes me feel like a star,
Though neither of us are much for pretention,
I’m his star, that much is clear.
I play like he plays, and we both know it,
and I try to be even more like him,
with his uncanny ability to hit a shot,
to sneak a steal, to surprise everyone
despite the skinniest arms you’ve ever seen
on the court. He is one of the gentlest
people I know, and the very first person
to teach me I can be aggressive.
It takes me a really long time to learn,
but he is exceedingly patient.

I never do play football with the cousins;
being the only girl never stopped me before,
I just honestly don’t know how,
but I’m still proud to see my dad out there.
The only grown-up in the mix
the adults inside chatting,
my dad outside playing and playing and playing,
I feel cool by default.

Hours and hours and hours on the driveway,
He never seems to tire as my rebounder.
Mile after mile we run together,
and tire he does, but on he runs.
First he teaches me I can run an entire mile—
I do not believe. And years later, as I outrun him
instead, he doesn’t even complain,
just lets me feel victorious.

He still remembers my stats from ten years ago
like they happened yesterday;
it’s good to be remembered.
Even now, I’m his star.
Even now, we look for a moment to sneak some hoops.

My Writing Whys

You may have noticed I’m going through an emotional upheaval, you astute reader, you. It’s true. My heart is being, has been, wrenched in nearly all the ways, but alas, she beats on. Remarkable, hearts. (You should write yours a thank-you note sometime, and I’m serious. We’re so quick to blame or bemoan our hearts despite their thankless perseverance, have you noticed?)

Back to my own heart. She has been shredded, but she’s healing back stronger than ever, which has unlocked a stream of creativity I didn’t know I had and I stare in shock at the page of mysterious words that flow from my pencil. I scarce believe they’re mine, and at the same time, I see myself in them so clearly, like looking into a freshly-cleaned mirror.

I have no idea–literally no idea–if you can relate to what I write or not because I quit worrying entirely whether I was making any sense at all to anybody but myself. So why post what may strike you as utter nonsense? Why reveal these soul fragments so dear to me only to see them potentially lost in a sea of misunderstanding?

Just in case these odd shaky poems are a buoy for one other drowning soul? Maybe.

It worries me that it might be narcissistic to write about myself all the time, but then, what other topic am I an expert on? I’m not so sure we need one more blog of theological opinion, though perhaps I could add an intelligent word every now and again. I’m not sure we need yet another voice of social commentary. (Why is it that we think ourselves experts on other people’s pain?) But I can write about one thing no one else on the planet can write about, and that’s my own story/my own heart/my own inner workings told in my own words and in my own strange ways.

Not writing to persuade you of any one particular thing but writing as in invitation to your own labored but wonder-filled journey of becoming. If I can do it, so you can you! Trust me, I’m not that brave. I am a big scaredy-cat who chooses one brave thing a day and tries to speak the truth in a thousand stilted ways which is ridiculously harder than it sounds.

These amateur poems are like the beats of my heart–thump, thump–keeping me alive despite the pain that wants me dead. And I haven’t got the slightest clue why I would do this, dear reader, because I am a very private person, but I’ve taken your hand and placed it on my heart and said, “Here, listen. I know we’ve all got one, but isn’t this remarkable?!” And I’m somehow enthused enough to imagine you’ll say, “Yes!” and then you’ll reach for my hand and I”ll listen for your heart, and maybe the world will be a teensy bit healed by this sharing. I don’t even know if that’s right, about the healing, but look at me, I’m telling you what I think anyway. What a strange compulsion, this writing through pain. Thanks for listening!

With love,

Kyndall Rae

Guilt and Shame Intrude

Guilt, be slain, you false accuser,
ha-satan, retreat, you devil . . .

. . . or, might I show hospitality
to my enemy? Give welcome at the door?

What gift is hidden in your lurking
presence? None! None!
cries my wounded child, huddled in fear,
but, “Shh, shh, I will protect you from
our visitor, even as I feed him bread.”

I turn towards the intrusion,
I want you dead and gone!
But I look into your malevolent eyes instead
and wonder what you’ll teach me
as I refuse to cave under torment.
You were going to come in anyway;
might as well seat you at the table
where I can see and study
rather than be stabbed in the back.

Your lips curve in sinister smile,
but I have unnerved you, being so forward.
I will force you to speak clearly.
No sleepy whispers in black masks,
no sneaking in through bedroom window.
You will sit here in my lamp-lit rooms
and I will hear your case, unflinching.

In the inner folds of your long coat
there is a tiny but brilliant diamond.
I can tell by the way you finger the lining
of your gruff garment and by the stance
of your defensive posture that
though you’ve come to pillage and plunder,
you’ve got a prize of your own.
All the stealing intended to distract me
from noticing that what you are hiding
belongs to me. I recognize its glint.
Even through folds of fabric,
it lets off a shine–
it is the small and righteous truth,
searing as the sun, that shame
attempts to hide. It is the gift
of my own vulnerability; it is the treasure
of being who I am without any fear.

Friends: You do not have to bar the door or
wield a weapon; just out-trick the trickster, knowing,
Shame never visits your house
without a diamond in his trench coat.

 

*I picture this scene in my mind: a small cabin in a dark wood–one open room with kitchen, den, and fireplace and a small dark bedroom in back. Ha-satan means “the accuser” in Hebrew, and he–Guilt/Shame–comes as an intruder in the night and as accusations usually go, intends to sneak up on me  when my defenses are down and steal from my modest house of wisdom. He used to be able to rob me at will, but my instincts have improved, and this time I notice him. At first, I feel aggressive and afraid–the inner child of my psyche is screaming at me to get him out. But then I have the idea to stop being afraid and face him head-on, without malice. In the end, this decision to welcome my enemy enables me to learn something valuable and his ability to pillage and destroy is disarmed.

And it seems I am finding that lighting lamps when shame intrudes helps me see through the lining to the glimmer of truth that is meant to be mine, shame only being nothing much but an over-sized coat that cannot harm me if I choose to look at that which I fear. 

Mourning

I woke to tears on my pillow
My body releasing?
by night what cannot
escape by day.

Pent-up pain churning, caged,
uncried tears take new forms:
tension in my jaw
nausea in my gut
burning in my skin.
My whole body is wailing.
“It’s okay to cry,”
I pat my aching joints.

Why are my eyes afraid to weep?
Everything else is sobbing,
from ankles to crown.

Introverts’ Plea

Oh my dear, how I long to talk,
telling you my private thoughts,
feeling the warmth of your interest.
I wish to be found fascinating
by one person, maybe two.
Like me enough to ask me questions.
Send a bucket down my well
knowing I am a deep reservoir
with much to give
to those who ask.

I do not splash my being
but I will water anyone who is thirsty.
In the age of the downpour of information,
who has the time to notice thirst,
to long for soul? Who has
the wherewithal to name the longing?
Much less the patience to ask
. . . and wait . . .
for the bottomless drink
that I am.

*This one is dedicated to Kelsey, who is an eternal spring.* 

Umbilical Vision

I passed an anti-abortion billboard
on the highway with a picture of a baby
and the words, “I dreamed before I was born.”
I know it was meant to be political
But I took it to be personal.
The Universe doth speak in mysterious ways
and she said to me,
“Before you emerge from womb to world
dreams run like whispers down a nourishing cord,
one knowing gut to another,
building you up for coming alive.”

Universe Send Me Flowers

Dear Universe,

Love me. Send me hope.
Send me flowers
with a note that lets me know
I’m seen.
Love me for the brave person
I’m becoming, have become.
Still I am needy,
needy, needy, needy.
Does that ruin it for you,
our friendship?
Do you want to run and hide?
I wouldn’t blame you.
But you rush at me
with abundance.
I laugh, you blow my cares
away with the wind-force
of your love.
I am swept into a smile
in spite of all the wreckage
in my soul, the breath of God
breathes life into these
weary bones.
Dance? Yes.

~K

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