“But nobody said things were going to be easy. A taste for the sublime is a greed like any other, after all.” – Annie Dillard, “An Expedition to the Pole”
“A mustard seed was all I needed to sow a dream” – Chance the Rapper, “How Great”
“When David heard that Absalom was slain, he went up into his chamber over the gate and wept, and thus he said, ‘My son Absalom, O my son, would God I had died for thee.’” – Eric Whitacre, “When David Heard” (2 Samuel 18:33)
Holy Week has just ended. The Church has collectively remembered that two thousand years ago we killed God and he loved us anyway. We said, “We have a law, and according to that law, he ought to die,” and so God died at our hands. God gave us a temple and we said, “We don’t need that, we have other places to go.” God said, “I’m here to talk to you,” and we looked behind us, around corners, over our shoulders like “Who? You must not mean me.”
Please don’t think me a good Christian. I don’t know what I am, but good is not part of it. Me, I’m confused. I’m pretentious. I don’t really doubt much, but I definitely do question. I hate to pray aloud. I am a judgy church-goer. I despise contemporary worship music. I’m terrible, really. I want everyone to believe in God, to know that there is more than just humans and our toils, but I am unwilling to evangelize. Sometimes I read the gospels and Jesus seems like a robot to me. Sometimes I don’t read the gospels at all. I feel embarrassed to tell cool non-Christians that I’m a Christian. I feel nervous about writing all of this. I fear that I’m not being humble. In fact, I know that I’m often either proud or mute and bashful or a weird combination of both.
But my soul belongs to God. I gave my soul away long ago, the most precious thing I own. I gave it back to the being who made it in the first place, and frankly I’m astonished that I was strong enough to do that. My faith is a fertile, fertile mustard seed, planted in my simple childhood, rooted and sprouting, irreversible, though my grubby fingers often try to pull it out of the ground and put it somewhere else for safekeeping. I’ve read the Bible, I love the stories and know them. I think the Bible is the most beautiful thing in the world and I also frequently think myself too cool to think about it very much. I have not been consistently attending a church lately because it felt socially exhausting, and our schedule has not allowed it. I am not a good Christian.
But I am one. All the way. My soul belongs to God.
I spent Good Friday at Fourth Presbyterian Church on Michigan Avenue thinking about Jesus, about sons, about death and fear and grief. About humans, mostly, and how heavy the weight of life is, how bad we are at living well. The words, “my son, my son, my son, my son, my son” rang in my ear, and I felt my future children stir somewhere in the half-light of another world and I grieved for their death, someday. Rachel weeping for her children. I don’t know Jesus because he was an actual human and he is no longer on earth, but I do know that love is stronger than death and nothing can make sense of the pain of being alive except God and his own grief. The choir sang this passage: “When David heard that Absalom was slain, he went up into his chamber over the gate and wept, and thus he said, “My son Absalom, O my son, would God I had died for thee.” At the end of the service, the bells rang thirty-three times and the lights dimmed in the cathedral until only the light of Christ was left, the candle, which was then snuffed out by the pastor, a woman. And for a moment, all was silent and dark on Michigan Avenue in this giant stone room, and I could hardly breathe.
And then everyone around me got up too fast, shuffling silently down the aisle, so pedestrian. And I still could not move, was angry that anyone had moved, wanted to stay suspended in the otherworldly holy darkness, God’s grief and mine too, black reverence, Jesus’ death. God’s son, God’s son, God’s son. Until I did. I got up and walked. A little girl walking beside me looked back at her mother and whispered, “Where’s my hat?” In the lobby I saw heavy rain out the door, busses roaring past, the John Hancock building. The world still zipping by though Jesus, who I do not live in the right time or place to have known personally, had died again and I had killed him, though all my future children will die too and I cannot save them, though children weep in Syria and everywhere, my son, my son, my son. And I too wondered, “Where’s my hat? Why didn’t I bring an umbrella? Where should I wait until my husband can pick me up when he’s done with work? What will I eat for dinner?” Feeling everything and nothing, simultaneously feeling silent in the weight of the darkness and getting up right away to shuffle on to somewhere else. I sat on the steps of the church under the eaves and waited for Isaiah to come pick me up. A homeless man asked me for money, and I lied and said I had none.
So complicated to be human. So complicated to belong to God.