Monday, June 20, 2011
Yesterday I padded into the sanctuary after dropping the kids off at Sunday School, digging through my bag while I walked to save time. I spread my books out in the last pew and hurried began reading, hoping to finish The Rest of God by Mark Buchanan in the 47 minutes I had captured before I had to make the rounds and collect my children again for donuts. Even in my fuss, the irony of my rushed and wrinkled self hurrying though Buchanan’s book on Sabbath (cleverly titled to encompass the double meaning of God’s rest and the rest of Him that we can only know by slowing) in the quiet of an empty Sunday morning sanctuary was not lost on me. So I set the book aside and picked up my Bible, tense and impatient, with nothing in mind to read, but feeling nonetheless obligated to begin with God’s words about himself. Flipping around in search of Psalm 126 (just because) the text of Psalm 131 caught my eye. I have read this psalm of ascents before, but this reading was bright with relevance:
O LORD, my heart is not proud, nor my eyes haughty;
Nor do I involve myself in great matters,
Or in things too difficult for me.
Surely I have composed and quieted my soul;
Like a weaned child rests against his mother,
My soul is like a weaned child within me.
O Israel, hope in the LORD
From this time forth and forever.
The text brought to mind the mothers and babies with whom I had shared a bit of shade recently.
And it also illuminated, like the blinding lights of a surgical suite, the messy tangles of anxious twine I had wrapped around my heart. I think I have always been a person prone to brooding and hording the troubles of others, all the while nursing the most preposterous versions of my own fears. But the end of summer last year brought with it an anxiety cocktail that left me, literally, feeling around for my own pulse with my head resting against the window. My son was grieving the reality of adoption with a rawness and depth afforded him by his expanding consciousness. His body responded in fever; mine responded by depositing a heavy, burning stone in my chest. At the same time I was also slated to begin a doctoral program about which I was equally excited and terrified. I borrowed as much trouble as I was able from these circumstances and found myself sleepless and trembling, absolutely breaking under the weight of the things I had collected.
I had indeed involved myself in great matters and things too difficult for me.
This psalm is curious in that the responsibility for the composition and quieting of the soul belongs to the psalmist. Hope – like the warm breast of a mother against which a child can lean and rest – is found in the Lord. But it is the responsibility of the disciple to find it.
I heard a similar word from a friend who found me crying by myself in one of the covered rotundas on the property of the compound where we were staying in Rwanda. I had been away from my kids for a week and had had precious little contact with them. We had split the day between the quiet violence of a genocide memorial and a visit to a prison where many genocide perpetrators live in an unbelievably crowded and pungent ramshackle behind high walls. My husband had made an off-hand remark, which I weighted with complicated history. His breezy words tumbled the house of cards I had been building and I let myself deflate like a circus tent, folding under the giganitic foot of some unseen monster.
When my friend asked me what was wrong I gave her the long answer, threading these intense beads onto one sagging ribbon. I had expected her to console me, maybe even congratulate me for condensing so many big worries into such a small space. Instead she told me that I needed to stop worshiping fear and bothering with things that were God’s business. It wasn’t the response I wanted. And the truth of it left a stinging mark. But I heard it. And took a breath.
Buchanan suggests in his book that not everyone wants to get well: “It is the most natural thing to befriend your sickness”. I underlined that phrase. Twice. Before being set straight by my friend, I would never have thought of myself as sick or friendly with sickness. She had introduced me to my own shadows. And I did not like it. But if we really want the rest of God - the contended stillness of a small child with its mother - we must stop. And unpack the stones we have accumulated in our satchels. Then we must sit in stillness and get to know the feeling of breathing again.