What do you taste?
Church, I’m sure you’ll understand. I do what I don’t aim to do, and I don’t do what I aim to. I came here today typing with one finger, because chocolate is smeared on my others. Here in a second, I’ll lick them clean and think to myself how gross and silly I am. Not a rare thought. I aim to not think that thought anymore. I aim to not lick my fingers and touch my computer, but alas I’ve gone and done it.
I’m having a hard time writing. I aimed to write in the early morning, but instead I took a walk because I suffer from swirly brain, pulled in so many directions I might break down into atom-sized ambers, and what good would a million swirly-headed mes be?
Across the yard we’re having a house built for my mama, and I figured I’d go visit the men working there while I was kicking through leaves. The contractor’s daddy was holding a ladder while his grown son wobbled way up high with a board and a nail gun. Lord have mercy, I hope my sons lie to me if they ever acquire such a job. The man was 84, having learned a long time ago that his son might fall. The ladder inched to the side with every step his son took.
Back up at the house, we could hear my Isaac coughing through open windows. This is his twelth day with pneumonia. Sometimes the ladder inches to the side whether we’re holding it or not.
I’m only just learning how to hold them as soon as I need to turn around and learn to let them go. It’s all in flux. Some might say that the life of a mama is a cluster flux.
We successfully pulled off a family party again for Halloween instead of trick-or-treating. Glory Hallelujah. The best side effect of birthing so many children in such a short period of time is that they are their own best friends. They’ll dress up for one another, even if they have pneumonia. We ate s’mores and felt electricity in the air, something special.
This is love, the commonest things made a delight. It’s lighting a fire when it’s already warm out. It’s the kitchen so loud that you leave your body, yet somehow the dishwasher gets loaded. Love is in the bulb-season of putting terrible-looking things in the ground with no good return for a long time. It is planting a fall garden late. It’s in the way we enjoy planting as much as we do the harvest. Love is endless work and curled-up rest. It is the process between tight-fisted and open-handed.
I bought a box of 50 daffodils and 50 tulips. The bulbs wait sealed in that box on my front porch, breathing and dying all at once, like a promise and a curse all at once.
They always tell you writing is hard work. In phases the hard part is getting the words out once you sit down. It’s trying to break ground that has hardened after so little rain. In other phases, the hard part is sitting down at all. It’s trusting the world to keep spinning. It’s the children trusting you’ll still be there even when they can’t see you.
I much prefer All Saints Day to Halloween. It’s far more spooky and mystical to think of all the ones who aren’t here and yet who are. If we thought about it for a minute, it would set our spines perfectly straight. We wouldn’t talk about the disciples like they were far off in a storybook. We would remember them like they’re listening, like they could take bloom any second.
I would like to be at ease in the communion of saints, but there are a lot of us whose strongsuit isn’t to make ease. Some of us have stripped naked in the streets – certifiably insane. Some of us speak in tongues, and some have spoken with birds. Some handle snakes and some leprosy. Some wait in the dessert like refugees to help those seeking refuge. Some of us have bled from our hands or lost our heads. What a weird bunch of wonderfully terrible people we are. The day after Jen Hatmaker’s interview with Jonathan Merritt went live, I took to my bed, split to pieces over the ill-regard we have for one another within the church. We forget that we are a we, not an us and them.
The us-and-themness within the church is as bad as it ever was – especially today. Yesterday I caught myself praying for both presidential candidates, and I felt tender for both – witnessing a true miracle in my own heart. It can happen. When we can’t tell the difference between the courthouse and the church, let’s remember that so many things can happen.
I wish I weren’t one who takes to her bed, but there can be a beauty to being sensitive. That beauty doesn’t show itself well in chaotic to-do lists or in houses full of boy-racket, but it does show well when there’s pneumonia, when the temperature of a room needs to be taken. I can sense a shift in the air, and at first I don’t always handle it well. Sometimes I get down, thinking I taste death when I should instead get on my knees and plant the dying seed in the ground. Sometimes I hold the bulb in my hand and never plant it in the ground.
Shakespeare’s Julius Ceasar says, “Cowards die many times before their deaths, The valiant never taste of death but once.”
I have a son like this, too – only amplified. We are the death-tasters on bad days, but that is only the shadow side to who we are on good days. We are what saints are made of. We are the valiant, open-handed, believing, present ones. My sensitive son can read me. What are her ingredients today? Sometimes I’m yellowjackets and fallen ladders. Sometimes I’m a waiting-room and balm and honey. I know how I’m doing when I look at him. He echoes me. We’re like an organism – my son and I. We’re a living organism like this, too, in the church. We are one. From ancient times and into the future, we are one.
In the tension between fearful and dauntless, I hold a shovel. We wonderful, terrible saints are groundbreakers. When you taste death, don’t magnify it. Don’t roll it around in your mouth. Spit it out of your mouth and bury it. In just a few months, the tulips will grow.
Dear church, use your valiant mouth to speak life and blessing. You don’t have to call good what isn’t good, but …
“Be at peace with each other” (Mark 9:50).
“Honor one another above yourselves” (Romans 12:10).
“Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you” (Romans 15:7).
“If you keep on biting and devouring each other…you will be destroyed by each other” (Galatians 5:15).
“Be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:2).
“Be kind and compassionate to one another” (Ephesians 4:32).
“Forgiving each other” (Ephesians 4:32).
“In humility consider others better than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3).
“Do not slander one another” (James 4:11).
“Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another”(I Peter 5:5).
“Love one another.” (I John 3:11)
“Love one another.” (I John 3:23)
“Love one another.” (I John 4:7)
“Love one another.” (I John 4:11)
“Love one another.” (I John 4:12)
“Love one another.” (II John 5)
photo image by Seth Haines