While splashing around in the sink doing dishes a few days ago I started thinking about Haiti. I was listening to NPR news reporters cover various stories of the grievous destruction and deep suffering that face so many. The reporter was interviewing an American aid worker—asking “simple” questions. I stopped clanking the dishes and turned off the water. The reporter asked, “what is it like there?” The question was met with a long silence followed by a muffled gasp. The aid worker whispered, “sorry,” and there was another pause. Voice shaking, he said, “I think I’m just so exhausted. It’s really hard here. I’ve seen a lot of hard things. There is a lot of suffering.”
Both this Sunday and last I have been grateful to pray with my church—as one—for Haiti. Sometimes the hard realities of life aren’t spoken “up front” in churches, and this can be frustrating (yes, it is equally frustrating if only the hard things are spoken and, instead, the hopeful things are lost. Hmmn, a call to live somewhere in the middle?). One thing I love about the liturgy at Grace is the time each week for the “prayers of the people”—a corporate naming of the sorrow and voicing of the pain as we say together, “Lord, hear our prayer.” Often, there are prayers of joy and prayers of sorrow offered together, and this is always remarkable to me. What a strange but beautiful reality to pray and praise the birth of a new child alongside the prayer for a dear woman recovering from an aneurism.
I know I am not the only one who recognizes these tensions of life because Peter Mulvey sings, “my friend’s dad died this past winter time, and so we were standing by a hole in the frozen ground. But my little niece has lost another tooth, and today the air is warm and the blackbirds have returned…”
Hope and sorrow, strangely, seem to live together, don’t they? Faith doesn’t eliminate experiences of doubt. But doubt doesn’t eliminate faith, either (or, should I clarify, it doesn't necessarily eliminate faith). We might find ourselves in seasons of life that produce prayers like, “I believe, Lord. But help my unbelief.” The sun hasn’t shone since last Tuesday, but I am hopeful for a break in the clouds (i'm being serious, not poetic).
I watched (500) Days of Summer last night. There’s a scene in which Summer is asked what happened in her previous dating relationships. She answers, “What always happens? Life.” I find this very interesting. People say, “Life happens.” I’m sure you’ve heard it, right? Life happens. Yeah, it does. It happens in harder ways for some of us than for others, though for each of us it’s “happening” is very personal. And we make decisions and choices in life as it happens. I’m sure I’ve typed my thoughts out on here before about how life doesn’t seem to ask permission. It’s so “unashamed” in its movement forward—a mix of beauty and horror, delight and loss.
Because of several of my classes, I’ve been necessarily thoughtful about the story of life. We all live a story. There are a multitude of sets, plots, characters, and climaxes. But what’s the purpose of all these stories? How can we understand them?
I realized last week that I see over a hundred faces on my way to work in a given afternoon. That’s incredible. I love to look at these faces, curious about the stories they represent. Do you ever wonder what his story is, or hers? I do.
There is one great story that organizes all these little stories, gathers together our broken and unfinished stories, and provides meaning (a meaning beyond our own feelings of meaning). When we banner our own stories (important as they are) at the expense of the larger story, we sense the loss of meaning—a certain emptiness. So I’ve been wrestling with thoughts about Christ’s ministry, recognizing in fresh ways how he engages the personal stories—the lives of all kinds of people—and brings fresh meaning to them by introducing the larger story. It’s absolutely remarkable, really. It’s shocking. It’s beautiful. It’s difficult. It’s hopeful.
And this little life that I am living here will put me to bed tonight in a warm apartment with clean, crisp sheets that I washed this afternoon. I will go to bed here, and there are thousands in Haiti without bed or home or family. And I pray that I live this story remembering the larger story because without it, I cannot make sense of my own life or any other—or the events that have left Haiti bruised and broken.
Be your powerful, active, sovereign self
“You are the God who creates and recreates,
who judges and delivers,
who calls by name and makes new.
This much we gladly confess in praise and thanksgiving.
This much we trust and affirm…
only to ponder the chance that we are too glib,
that we say more than we mean,
that we say more
than we can in fact risk.
We make our gingerly confession in a world filled
with those who cynically acknowledge none but themselves…
and we stand in solidarity with them.
Thus we ask, beyond our critical reservations,
that you be your powerful, active, sovereign self.
Give us eyes to see your wonders around us;
Give us hearts to live into your risky miracles;
Give us tongues to praise you beyond our doubt.
For it is to you, only you, that we turn on behalf of the world
that waits in its deathliness for your act of life. Amen.”