The week I spent on vacation, I spent a lot of time beachcombing.
The ocean speaks so much to my soul. She is an entity to me…not a diety, but certainly a sentient being. I talk to her while I walk her shore. I approach her always with hands held open for the gifts that I know will be there, though simply being beside her is gift enough. I don’t demand anything from her. I simply dwell in her presence. Each bit of agate, or beach glass, or shell, or interesting rock that she places in my path is a gift for which I give thanks. And I believe that every treasure I found was a treasure meant for me–how else can you explain that dozens of people can be beachcombing around me, and not pick up the treasure before I do? Because we’re each given different gifts. They have no claim on mine, and I have no claim on theirs.
I breathe her in…the scent of the air, the tang of low-tide, the cold, almost metallic taste of her water. I work my feet into the sand, let her wind tug at my hair. I bring my children to her, and teach them to love and respect her as I do. My beloved and I wrap up in one another, and sit in companionable silence to watch her waves pound against the shore. And at the end, when I must leave and it feels as though something in me is being torn, I go to her, and I tell her good-bye.
This summer, I found myself wondering why I didn’t have a similar relationship with God. Why I felt so free to complain to Him, snipe at Him, make demands of Him, whine about how the gifts He’s given others are better than the gifts He’s given me–that I deserve their gifts and my gifts, because of all that He’s put me through (because my trials and struggles have been oh-so-much greater than the trials and struggles of everyone else). How I don’t approach Him in grateful, tip-toeing love, respect, awe, and peace, but more as a fishwife, voice raised in nigh-constant harrangue.
And then have the gall to wonder why He seems to be ignoring me.
So that has been my spiritual discipline for the last week or so. To simply dwell in the Presence of the Most High. To (try) and not make demands, but simply sit, hands open for the gifts that I know will be there. To express gratitude for what has been given, rather than complain about how what I got isn’t the same as what someone else got. To realize that when I waste time looking about at what others have, I miss the enjoyment of what I have; and to realize that there are probably plenty of people looking at my gifts and thinking that I’m not coming out of the deal too harshly. To take the time to agree with them: fishwife or no, the blessings have rained down thick and fast on this stubborn and stiff-necked Child of God.
The seminary process, the synodical process, and working in the church gave me a very dark view of Christianity, and God. I said that it didn’t. That I was angry at the Church, but still loved God. But my tagline wouldn’t speak to me so deeply if that was the case. I have felt, for nearly ten years now, deeply wounded by God. Before I was a pastor? I could hear God speak to me. After? I couldn’t. Not so clearly. And lately: not at all. Bitter and angry, I changed from a person who treated God like a beloved Father to someone who treated God like a vending machine–“I did what you want, now what do I get?” or “Remember when I had to watch Rollie burn to death? You owe me for that.” or any of the other really flattering things I could write here. As though I had (or deserved) some sort of equal-footing relationship with God. As though he owed me something beyond dying to give me life. As though I were specially singled out to have to deal with the shit of life, when really: not one of us are exempt from it.
The gift of self-realization I’ve been given in the last few weeks has been far from flattering. It’s been quite excruciating, actually. To be brought to the place where I am shown my flaws, and can no longer counter with a “Yeah, but…” but only look at myself and writhe in embarassment at my extreme arrogance. To feel like I need to ask forgiveness of everyone I’ve interacted with for the last decade or so, because I’ve truly believed that what I was going through was so outside the realm of fairness and so beyond what they were going through that it somehow made me superior to them, “Look what I’ve survived, puny ones! I’ve watch a man burn. I’ve held a woman who killed her own child! Kansas! North Dakota! Bankruptcy! Double suicides! Threatened miscarriage! Crippling depression! A husband I sometimes get out of sync with! Look at my life and tremble before the suffering!”
Which is not to belittle the suffering I’ve seen and experienced. It has, in many ways, sucked wookie. But it is to elevate the suffering of others to being at least has significant as my own, and in many ways: worse. For the suffering I’ve experienced has largely been the suffering of others, and not my own. Death has come close, but it was not my husband that burned nor my child that was killed.
I have luxuriated in a decade-long temper tantrum. It’s time to grow the hell up. It’s time to humbly beg forgiveness.
May you be blessed forever, Lord, for not abandoning me when I abandoned you.
May you be blessed forever, Lord, for offering your hand of love in my darkest, most lonely moment.
May you be blessed forever, Lord, for putting up with such a stubborn soul as mine.
May you be blessed forever, Lord, for loving me more than I love myself.
May you be blessed forever, Lord, for continuing to pour out your blessings upon me, even though I respond so poorly.
May you be blessed forever, Lord, for drawing out the goodness in all people, even including me.
May you be blessed forever, Lord, for repaying our sin with your love.
May you be blessed forever, Lord, for being constant and unchanging, amidst all the changes of the world.
May you be blessed forever, Lord, for your countless blessings on me and on all your creatures.
~Teresa d’Avila (1515-1582)