confessions

[a poem by Rachael Barham]

confessions

I say it because I’m with friends
and a couple of glasses of wine and laughter
have loosened my heart
and my tongue:

“Sometimes when a friend asks for prayer
I think, I can’t.
What if there’s no point in praying?
What if there’s no God?”

The smiles and nods
tell me I am not alone.

“But other times
I find my heart rises
to God and to love
with no regard for doctrine or doubt.
Yes, I can pray.”

(I wonder.
Would I have confessed
the first, the moments of uncertainty,
without also confessing the second,
the moments of faith?)

“And then I message back “Praying” 
and feel victorious!”

The laughter lasts a while –
laughter of recognition and relief,
laughter full of unspoken stories,
of relationships with friends
and families and childhood churches
whose belief appears to be
single, unwavering,
that illusive benchmark I suspect
I may never again reach
(though in truth I never did;
I just pretended
–  to myself above all).

Beneath the laughter
there is also pain,
misunderstanding, distance.
The pain of leaving
and the pain of holding on.
The pain of the inner struggle
to find and walk one’s own road
with love and courage,
the new road, now road,
but one that connects
at some crossroads miles past
with the old, well-worn.
Yes, continuity and discontinuity, both.

I say it because I’m with friends
and I need the healing balm
of laughter and confession mixed,
for this truth not to be so serious and heavy,
weighed down by years of silence and taboo.

I say it because I need to hear out loud
that I am not one.
My belief is not single.
Uncertainty and faith
dwell side by side in me.
(Perhaps less disparate than they at first appear,
different ways of approaching the same mystery,
two sides of the same dark coin?)

I say it because I need to balance
the complex victory of “Praying”
with the equally complex victory of “I can’t.”

Most of all I say it
to lay down any claim or need
to be champion of the faith
– that burden is not for me to bear –
and to take up instead the only burden
(at once heavier and miraculously light)
that is truly mine:
the burden of being myself.

– Rachael Barham – (from her blog)

the person we’ve all been

Not to know yourself is dangerous, to that self and to others. Those who destroy, who cause great suffering, kill off some portion of themselves first, or hide from the knowledge of their acts and from their own emotion, and their internal landscape fills with partitions, caves, minefields, blank spots, pit traps, and more, a landscape turned against itself, a landscape that does not know itself, a landscape through which they may not travel….

You see it too in the small acts of everyday life, of the person who feels perfectly justified, of the person who doesn’t know he’s just committed harm, of the person who says something whose motives are clear to everyone but her, of the person who comes up with intricate rationales or just remains oblivious, of the person we’ve all been at one time or other….

Many of the great humanitarian and environmental campaigns of our time have been to make the unknown real, the invisible visible, to bring the faraway near, so that the suffering of sweatshop workers, torture victims, beaten children, even the destruction of other species and remote places, impinges on our imagination and perhaps prompts you to act.

– Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby

social power and depression

[on the role of justice in the experience of depression]:

The United Nations—in its official statement for World Health Day in 2017—explained that “the dominant biomedical narrative of depression” is based on “biased and selective use of research outcomes” that “cause more harm than good, undermine the right to health, and must be abandoned.” There is a “growing evidence base,” they state, that there are deeper causes of depression, so while there is some role for medications, we need to stop using them “to address issues which are closely related to social problems.” We need to move from “focusing on ‘chemical imbalances’ to focusing on ‘power imbalances.’”

– Johann Hari, Lost Connections

bone-chilling precipice

I won’t sugarcoat this: Standing on the precipice of the wilderness is bone-chilling. Because belonging is so primal, so necessary, the threat of losing your tribe or going alone feels so terrifying as to keep most of us distanced from the wilderness our whole lives. Human approval is one of our most treasured idols, and the offering we must lay at its hungry feet is keeping others comfortable. I’m convinced that discomfort is the great deterrent of our generation. Protecting the status quo against our internal convictions is obviously a luxury of the privileged, because the underdogs and outliers and marginalized have no choice but to experience the daily wilderness. But choosing the wily outpost over the security of the city gates takes a true act of courage. That first step will take your breath away.

Speaking against power structures that keep some inside and others outside has a cost, and the currency most often drafted from my account is belonging. Consequently, the wilderness sometimes feels very lonely and punishing, which is a powerful disincentive. But I’ve discovered something beautiful; the loneliest steps are the ones between the city walls and the heart of the wilderness, where safety is in the rearview mirror, new territory remains to be seen, and the path into the unknown seems empty. But put one foot in front of the other enough times, stay the course long enough to actually tunnel into the wilderness, and you’ll be shocked how many people already live out there – thriving, dancing, creating, celebrating, belonging. It is not a barren wasteland. It is not unprotected territory. It is not void of human flourishing. The wilderness is where all creatives and prophets and system-buckers and risk-takers have always lived, and it is stunningly vibrant. The walk out there is hard, but the authenticity out there is life.

– Jen Hatmaker, quoted in Brene Brown’s Braving the Wilderness

psalm 42 retold

[SSU ministry student, Jessica Williams, recently shared this personal re-telling of Psalm 42]:

As a newborn babe cries out for the milk of her mother, so I cry out for you, O God.

I thirst for God, the living God.

As an orphaned child longs to be held by the arms of their parents, I have longed to be held by You.

When can I go and stand before the One who made me?

Day in and day out I taste these tears that fall upon my lips,

And evil endures in ways that confound me, saying

“Where is this God of yours?”

My heart is breaking inside my chest,

It wasn’t always like this.

I can remember a time when the church felt like a safe shelter,

I walked in freely and we worshiped together.

There was space for me and we sang with joy in our hearts, giving thanks in celebration.

So how did I get here?

Why has this pain come now?

I am sick with sadness, it reaches to my core.

Put your hope in God, I say. And I will. I will hope in God.

I will hope in Goodness. I will hope in Love. I will hope in Beauty and in the power of the Human Spirit. I will hope in Compassion and in Mercy and in Justice. I will hope in unruly children and in rebellious youth and in persistent women and in kind men who are willing to change their minds.

I will hope in God.

And I will find a way to praise You again.

But, right now, I am deeply discouraged.

Still, I remember You.

Even from the far-away place of my youth. The Cascade Mountains, the source of the Deschutes River and the land surrounding Cougar Mountain. That is where I knew you first.

But the deepest places in me keep calling out to the deepest places.

I hear the tumult of the raging seas as wave after soul crushing wave sweeps over me.

The tide pulls me out again.

I cannot catch my breath.

And yet, every day of my life, You’ve poured out your unfailing love upon me.

And even through the darkest nights your songs were on my lips.

I have found that I can only pray to the God who gives me life.

O God, You’re the only thing that’s stable here, but still I cry,

“Where are you? Have you really forgotten me?”

Why am I still wandering around in grief? I’m unable to see a path and the darkness laughs, saying, “Where is this God of yours?”

I am so discouraged.

My heart is sick with sadness.

But I will bury my hope down deep into God.

And one day, I will praise You again.