Wound

W is for Wound.

Flannery O’Connor said, “Grace must wound before it can heal.”

I scribbled those words in my notes during one Flannery O talk given by Dr. Ralph Wood at Laity Lodge.

If I can grasp that concept, I think I’ll be able to understand her writing more.

Jonathan Rogers looked at me during one session and said, “You don’t have to like Flannery O’Connor.”

I know. But I want to.

I really do.

I want to wrap my mind around this peacock-loving, slant-writing, perfect-word-choosing writer.

I want to be able to read one her stories where someone is gored by a bull or where a grandfather kills his granddaughter, I want to  read one of those stories that leaves me feeling like I’ve been sucker-punched, and be able to say, “Ah, I’ve been wounded so that I can experience the grace of this story.”

Flannery O’Connor  said, “All my stories are about the action of grace on a character who is not very willing to support it, but most people think of these stories as hard, hopeless and brutal.”

Yes, that’s it, Flannery. That’s me.

I see the hardness and hopelessness and brutality, and I miss the grace.

I said something to Jonathan about Judgement Day, the story that did me in on Flannery O. It’s the story of an old man from Georgia brought by his daughter to live with her in New York City. He wants to go home but dies in a horrible death in New York.

“I’m stuck with this image of a man with his head stuffed in the spokes of the railing. It’s an awful image,” I told him.

“Yes,” JR agreed, “but he got to go home.”

In the end the daughter brought her father’s body back to Georgia.

Was she the one wounded?

Was she the one who experienced grace?

See what I mean about not understanding Flannery?

And yet if grace were easy to understand, somehow it would seem cheaper.

So wound me, grace, so I can heal, and be more aware of the amazing power You hold.

Help me learn to extend that same grace, then, to others.

Society

S is for Society.

Maybe society isn’t the right word.

At Laity Lodge, though, we were cut off from society. My car companions were laughing about how friends and family were shocked that they wouldn’t be able to keep up with March Madness while we were there.

Laity Lodge has no televisions in the rooms and no cell phone reception. I wonder how many people pulled out their cell phone when they got there just to make sure that the warning was a truth.

I have a friend who rents out her home weekly during the summers in Cooperstown. Even though cell phone companies have upped the coverage in that area during the summer, the way her home is nestled between hills, she still has no cell coverage. The fact that there is no cell reception is clearly stated multiple places when people rent the home, but she said they still pull out their cell phone when they arrive to check to see if it’s true. It is.

I thought about that cut-offness one day as I was walking the grounds at Laity Lodge. All sorts of stuff could be happening in the world and I wouldn’t know. Plane crashes, racial tension, earthquakes, men kneeling in the sand, presidential candidacy announcements, March Madness.  Somehow I would survive three or four days without knowing whether or not any of these things happened.

Early in Fiddler on the Roof, the people of Anatevka gather while someone reads to them from the newspaper. The news they hear is already old, probably several weeks, ancient by today’s standards. Yet, they listen because it’s new to them.

Well, I was reading my paper. It’s nothing very important, a story about the crops in the Ukraine, and this and that…. And then I saw this….

“In a village called Rajanka, all the Jews were evicted, forced to leave their homes.”

Some news is just a kick in the gut.

Most news we hear is either nothing very important or it’s awful. I didn’t feel I was missing anything by missing it for a few days.

The truth is I was cut off from society, and yet I wasn’t.

I was in society with the 80-some people on the grounds.

And the hummingbirds.

And the Frio River.

And God.

It was good.

It was very good.

The highest society.

Prayer

P is for Prayer.

Before my trip, with the Lenten season on my mind, I wrote a Collect for Laity Lodge.

To the God of Silence —

Speak to me in whispers
in gentle breezes
in birdsong
in the laughter of running water
and the tears of gentle rain.

Remind me now and again
that You are with me every moment.

Fill my heart with Your silence
and Your song

Through Jesus —
who heard Your silence in Gethsemane
and again on the cross
and who now sits at Your right hand.

Amen

 Elie Wiesel, in his foreword to the newest translation of Night, said, “[I] trusted the silence that envelops and transcends words… For despite all my attempts to articulate the unspeakable, ‘it’ is still not right.”  And later, “[Some things] need to remain between the lines.”

Night‘s awful story needs to be heard — yet it speaks as much through the silences as it does with the words. It is a powerful book.

And I found myself, during Lent, going again and again to God’s silence in Gethsemane and at Calvary.

So much is said between those lines.

God’s silence is powerful indeed.DSC03871

Hike

H is for Hike.

Henri Nouwen said, “Friendship has always belonged to the core of my spiritual journey.”

Friendship is the core of almost any journey — and it was true of my hike at Laity Lodge.

I know that I already mentioned the hike in my post, Bluff, but it really is a three chapter story for which I only told the middle chapter.

Chapter One — One mile hike up.

Chapter Two — Pretty view.

Chapter Three — One mile hike down.

While I loved the view, I think I loved the hiking part more. Because of the friendship aspect.

The hike up

Walking to the start of the trail

When we walk with someone, we learn something — about them and about ourselves.

On the way up, I walked with Dawn — Dawn-of-a-thousand-careers, also known as Dawn-of-the-mutual-friends.

Everyone has a story.

Everyone has a thousand stories.

As much as I love reading stories, I love hearing the stories. I love asking questions so I’m picturing it clearly in my mind. And hearing the rise and fall of the teller’s voice as they emphasize the words that are important in their telling of the story. I love seeing them smile when they tell the parts that make them smile, and bite their lip a little when they tell the parts that are hard.

I loved hearing Dawn’s stories on the way up.  One of her stories involved running a marathon (or was it a half-marathon?) where she completed it by sheer will-power. She’s a strong woman.

What I learned about me while I was hiking with Dawn was that I don’t like to confess to my weaknesses.

I was running out of breath, going what felt like straight up. The gap between us and the next group of hikers grew larger and larger as we hiked slower and slower.

Darned if I would admit needing to rest though!

If Dawn could keep going, I could keep going.

Thankfully, she stopped.

“I need to catch my breath,” she said.

Benevolent me, I said, “No worries. I don’t mind waiting.”

What I meant to say was, “Thankyouthankyouthankyou.” gasp-gasp “Myheartispoundingoutofmychest.” gasp-gasp  “I (gasp) need (gasp) a-rest, (gasp) too!”

On the hike down (which was much easier) I walked with a young woman named Kristen. Tall, beautiful, and with an enviable openness about her — she told me about her work, her church, her family. It hit me as we were talking that she is the same age as Philip, my oldest son.

I could be her mother, I whispered to myself, but the words flew away in the Texas wind.

I marveled at the fact that I had arrived at the enviable stage of life where I have friends, real friends, that span many generations, and I’m right smack dab in the middle of them.

It was a cosy feeling — not out of breath at all.

A hike with friendship at its core.

 

 

Dawn

D is for Dawn.

This post is about four Dawns — no, make that five. But where to begin?

Dawn #1 — For years, I have prayed for a friend named Dawn.  I’ll call her Dawn-with-the-many-boys because this Dawn has four sons.  Raising sons is the most fun job in the whole world. Boys possess a certain crazy energy that plays out in ways that most mothers never dream of — swords fights and jousting, damming creeks, and putting batteries down the drain. I speak from experience. Mothers of boys need prayer. So I pray for Dawn. Every day.

Dawn #2 — Several months ago, when I was praying for Dawn-with-the-many-boys, I felt this nudge to pray for another Dawn. I’ll call her Dawn-of-the-mutual-friends.

I felt a nudge – Pray for Dawn-of-the-mutual-friends.

“But I don’t even know her,” I countered.

Pray for her.

So I did.

Then she climbed into my car at the San Antonio airport. Unplanned. Yet, I wonder if it was. As her story unfolded to me, I realized how much she did need prayer. I felt both privileged and thankful that I could pray for her, and now in a more meaningful way.

Dawn #3 — For Lenten reading, I had chosen Elie Wiesel’s trilogy, Night, Dawn, and Day. High-schoolers across the country read Night, the story of Wiesel’s time in German concentration camps. Buchenwald, and Wiesel, are liberated at the end of Night.

But the story wasn’t over.

Dawn tells the story of a concentration camp survivor recruited by a Zionist group to fight in Palestine. Elisha, the main character, is called on to kill a man — an act that will forever change him.

“Elisha–” said the hostage.

I fired. When he pronounced my name he was already dead; the bullet had gone through his heart. A dead man, whose lips were still warm, had pronounced my name: Elisha.

I kept putting that scene next to this, from Night:

…The officer wielded his club and dealt him a violent blow to the head.

I didn’t move. I was afraid, my body was afraid of another blow, this time to my head.

My father groaned once more, I heard:

“Eliezer…”

… His last word had been my name.  He had called out to me and I had not answered.

And next to this, where a life is laid down, not taken:

“Father, into your hands, I commit my spirit!” (Luke 23:46)

I read Dawn a second time during my flights. I’m still wrestling with it.

Dawn #4 — I watched the sun rise every morning from a lonely place near Laity Lodge. In the daytime, I had bemoaned the telephone poles and wires stretching across this view. When I came home and looked at my photographs, though, I saw a cross, an empty cross, on a hill.

Laity Lodge dawn

Laity Lodge dawn

Dawn #5

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb… (Luke 24:1)

An empty tomb, an empty cross, a hard story that isn’t over yet, women who are dear to me.

Dawn, Dawn, and Dawn at dawn.

 

 

 

Communion again

IMG_5903[1]I was the first in line for communion.

When the teen server tore off a piece of bread and handed it to me, she looked at me and paused.

I waited for the words — “This is the Bread of Life.” Or, “the Body of Christ broken for you.”  Which would she say?

She hesitated and then her face broke out into a big smile. “Hi,” she said. She had forgotten what she was supposed to say and simply greeted me.

I laughed and took the bread to dip into the challis.

The little girl beside her lifted the cup to me and said, in a tiny voice, “The cup of blessing.”

I dipped my bread and went back to my seat, still smiling.

Sometimes, in the somberness of the occasion, we forget that it was like a family meal in that upper room so long ago. I’m sure there was a clatter of dishes and hubbub of voices while everyone dined, reclining at the table.

  • Peter objecting to Jesus washing his feet.
  • Peter motioning for John to ask Jesus a question.
  • John asking Jesus Peter’s question.
  • Jesus dipping the bread and handing it to Judas.
  • Judas leaving.
  • Peter’s exchange with Jesus.
  • Thomas’s exchange with Jesus.
  • Philip’s exchange with Jesus.

Comings, goings, actions, conversations — all in the course of one meal.

Quiet introspection played no part.

Listening to Jesus did.

Sometimes, in the ceremony and formality of communion at church, we miss the human connection — and that’s what Jesus did on earth, connect with us in a very human way.

“Hi.”

Communion amazes me every time.

Andrae Crouch

The only photograph I could find from my time at Mid-State Baptist Camp

The only photograph I could find from my time at Mid-State Baptist Camp

When I was a teenager, I worked at a small Baptist camp in the wilds of upstate New York.

I was initially hired as the cook — don’t ask me how — but eventually was moved into the lifeguard position after they tasted my cooking and the other lifeguard left.

To my Baptist friends, forgive me, but sometimes Baptists can be stodgy.

Although I attended a Baptist church at the time (which wasn’t stodgy), I was unprepared for the strictness of this camp.

I had to sign some sort of statement of faith to work there, and, being 18, gave it only a cursory reading. Yep, I agreed (or so I thought) and quickly scrawled out my signature.

Trouble arrived on two fronts. One had to do with speaking in tongues.

For the record, I do not speak in tongues. I speak English and know a smattering of other languages. In worship services, I speak in the tongues of men – mostly American — not angels. I told someone else at the camp (I’ve never really been sure who) that I believed that the gift of tongues could still exist today. Before I knew it, I was called in before a panel of pastors to discuss the matter.

You have to picture it — I was a slip of a girl, blonde, freckled, unschooled in theology, wearing t-shirt and shorts — and, in my mind’s eye, I still see them wearing suit coats, sitting in a semi-circle around me, grilling me about the charismatic movement, of which I was not a part. I stood my ground, though. I do believe the gift of tongues could still exist. In the end I had to promise never to discuss tongues with any campers, and they would allow me to continue working.

The other problem was music. The dining hall was a long low building with a kitchen at one end, rows of tables and folding chairs in the middle, and a turntable with speakers at the far end. I had just discovered Andrae Crouch and the Disciples. His album, Keep on Singing, lived on that turntable.

While I worked in the kitchen alone, I blasted Andrae Crouch over those speakers and sang at the top of my lungs.

Take me back. Take me back, dear Lord.
To the place, where I first believed…

I closed my eyes, clasped my hands, and swayed while I sang:

How can I say thanks
for the things You have done for me?
Things, so undeserved,
Yet You gave to prove Your love to me.
The voices of a million angels
Could not express my gratitude.
All that I am,
And ever hope to be,
I owe it all to Thee.

I opened my eyes to find two Baptist ladies staring at me.

“Turn that music down,” one said.

“You can’t play music like that here,” the other one added.

I turned it down temporarily, but, oh, I still played Andrae Crouch — for two solid weeks. He kept me company and lifted my spirits. He gave me confidence. Trouble came from time to time, but that’s all right, I learned not to be the worrying kind.

Maybe that was why they booted me from the kitchen.

Andrae Crouch passed away yesterday. I’m sure he’s singing now in heaven.

But one summer, I sang his songs on a mountaintop. Today, I just gotta tell somebody.