“Apparently, then, our lifelong nostalgia, our longing to be reunited with something in the universe from which we now feel cut off, to be on the inside of some door which we have always seen from the outside, is no mere neurotic fancy, but the truest index of our real situation. And to be at last summoned inside would be both glory and honour beyond all our merits and also the healing of that old ache.”
― C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory
The New Year often feels fresh and clean and full of promise. A year ago I was madly finishing up my little guide to telling your story (my free gift for subscribers
) and the writing world felt full of hope as I launched Circling the Story. It felt like a gift waiting to be opened, with the eager anticipation children have when their secrets come bursting out in a joy that's all elbows and dancing; it's uncontainable.
Today I sit and listen to the Sufjan Stevens' Carrie & Lowell
album and am okay with the just sitting, letting the melancholy and melody roll over me. 2015 has been a year of transition and 2016 is likely to be more of the same. I'm a bit rootless and a bit achy. I'm learning with shaking and feeble hands to accept these as gifts, to watch as this weight of glory slips nimbly through my fingers. I'm waiting to see the unfurling of all longing -- to see how the story makes sense.
Glory always comes through knowing. Glory comes through the very stuff of earth, through flesh and bone.
Oh, how I desperately want it to be abstract. How I want glory to hover above heads, shelved away neatly and tidily, so I can put it securely on my bookshelf. I'll classify and annotate it and sound smart in the process. But glory, as we've just celebrated at Christmastime, comes through broken flesh, through an outpouring of blood and sweat and tears. Glory, it turns out, never arrives how we think it will.
In the first garden, there was the communion of cool evenings and I think God must've sat with Adam and Eve on their front porch with a drink in hand, watching life walk by. How they must've commented on gecko colors, the rippling movement of the mountains, and the perfect pliability of an avocado. How laughter must've spilled over into song and love and delight. Delight birthed from presence. It must've been untinged by yesterday or clouded by tomorrow, delight without shame or fear. Delight without brokenness.
Glory sometimes feels like joy, in tiny snatches of front-porch delight, where light seeps out of pores and there is beauty in each leaf and ray of sunlight -- and even, in the shadows. In those times, my flesh is golden with hope.
It is unselfconscious. Sometimes then the glory spills over, wide and deep. Just the other day we turned up the music too loud -- all six of us -- and I danced like no one cared, because they didn't care, or rather they cared appropriately. I grew breathless from it all. We shimmied and laughed and bounced off couches. In the shadow of the waning Christmas lights and a tree gone limp from so many days of festivities, we stomped and flew. My two-year-old daughter does not know the voice of self-reproaching shame; she just knows the glory of movement, of twirling and spinning and jumping with "I yump, mama, I yump!" My husband and I sing earnest love songs, the songs that were the soundtrack to our teenage electricity and now feel a bit tired and worn in their naivete. We chuckle at their lack of nuance, but there is something in their simplicity, too -- something that makes me wish love were as simple as it started. As I stomp and run and circle my hips, I am the young lover. And I am the tired, old woman. But his eyes on me -- there -- there, is the gentle coal glow of love. It just needs a bit of fanning to burst into wild, phoenix flame.
We're all waiting for resurrection, for the surprising delight of glory bursting forth where it just shouldn't be.
Where it can't possibly be true. We're waiting to erupt in laughter for the goodness and inappropriateness of it all.
But the ache follows like a ghost.
At other times, the times I try to lift and carry glory, to stuff it into my small frame, there is only its weight. I'm buried beneath it, hopeless to push away rocks from the tomb. When I am worn out from the To Do lists and platform-building and amassing words for self-worth instead of giving them away as gifts
, I am spent. Then there is nothing left to do but sit in the dark and wait. That, as much as the dancing, is also an offering -- waiting with empty hands, cupped ready for the body and the blood
, small flecks of earth to fill a void that gapes wider than the elements. How can things like bread and wine plaster over soul famine? When we live where violence and oppression are flung like arrows and gunshots and knock at my own heart, what then? What to do when I am entangled in the death of dreams? Those days my breath is caught in my throat. I am quiet, crouching -- waiting for hope that is burrowed deep and dormant
. Because most days the noise and chaos gets the best of my resolve and I'm left in a puddle of "should haves" and shame. Glory feels like a far-off dream, the stuff of fairy tales, with a threshold too impenetrable to cross over.
With the weight of glory too heavy for our shoulders, we walk around with gaping wounds and bleeding dreams, and we figure the time in the tomb feels too long, too dark. When glory feels like another pretty story, our eyes grow dim with cynicism and anger, and we push off responsibility and point fingers. Our limbs age, they grow cold and hard. Meanwhile we walk thirsty and homesick, finding no place to lay our heads.
We find names for "that old ache," that longing for glory, that longing for home. We call it "childhood" and speak of growing up as the loss of innocence. We talk of abuse and shame and cultural narratives that bind our hands behind our backs and dim our eyes. We talk of circumstances and responsibilities piled like rocks in our pockets so we just can't run anymore. We tame the ache by naming it new again.
Then we package the ache up into containable intellectualized packages that befit our modern sensibilities. We buy and re-buy the ache in the chocolate and wine and the gym resolutions. We buy the ache in granite countertops and vacations and do-gooderism -- all to push off its invariable return. When that fails, we try a different tactic to push off the ache; we pin our hopes to the future: "When I achieve this..., get the bonus check..., marry the right person..., when my children are grown..." But the ellipses never end and the blank spaces are never filled. The ever-receding horizon stretches on and we become black holes, convinced that we can be filled by the promise of gold and glory. So we consume and suck things that we term "life" right into our marrow. But there is nothing there. We're empty white-washed tombs longing for a cold drink of living water. All the while we wonder if water would really slake our thirst.
But, when we heave off that glory stone, and our insides are burst apart from a glory that cannot fit in our frames, then -- then, there are finally cracks for the water to seep in. What happens after the explosion is the healing of that old ache. Of course, the wounds stay open on this side of the door. But even now, on the outside of the door to that great feast, we taste little morsels of the Kingdom
. We taste and see that the Lord is good. We laugh. We dance. We feast. And it is only through death that we are born again to new life. It is only in the falling apart that there is room for crumbs of glory that we gather from under the table. Only then can we erupt in laughter.
As we wait in the tomb and as we dance, may glory rise from the ashes and may it be a sweet offering. May we take our ache to the well of living water that never runs dry. May our thirst be satisfied. I'll sit with you with your ache, because it feels different from mine. I'll strain my eyes to see the home that is a long way off, with a father waiting on the porch who scans the horizon for his boy to come home.
I pray we may hear our names called from the other side of the door. And on that day there will be laughter.