Are there things you would do differently given the opportunity? Things so painful you’d prefer to leave them buried under layers of futile absolutions. If only we could rescind that nasty email mistakenly sent to the wrong person, delete those toxic tweets about our arch nemesis, take back the malicious gossip, lies, and betrayals, our lack of courage or integrity, the decision to get behind the wheel after a few drinks, a pointless argument, holding onto a damaging grudge, or flying into a jealous rage? No shit Sherlock. The important thing to keep in mind is resending the deed nullifies the lesson. Maybe it was horrible but where would you be without a few monolithic errors?
Take away the damaging experiences and you’re as appealing a sun burn. So what do you do? Go skipping off into the desert in search of aloe vera? A temporary solution at best, it takes enormous grit to overcome failure, disappointment, bad choices, as if burned by the fiery descent, you are permanently altered by the experience.
Pinnacle experiences are not to be endured, buried, forgotten but embraced as life giving manna, a breadcrumb navigation if you will, that leads one from captivity to freedom. A private eucharist to be received with the utmost reverence if any sort of grace is to occur. This is how we become a blessing to one another. “When my pastor calls the most difficult, annoying people in her life her grace-builders, I want to jump out the window. I am so not there yet, but I understand what she’s talking about,” writes Anne Lamott.
None of us is perfect, it’s as if we’re oysters, who take that tiny piece of unexpellable grit, and over time turn it into a pearl. Federico Fellini says the pearl is the oyster’s autobiography. We are not merely shells, with slimy innards, but pearls of great price, and all we have to do is select the setting in which we can shine. “We’re all both irritating and a comfort, our insides both hard and gentle, our hearts both atrophied and pure,” says Anne Lamott. This is the human condition. We are all in the same damn boat, casting our nets haphazardly about, in search of true bounty.
It’s actually scriptural, deeply embedded in the Gospel of Matthew, that the Kingdom of God is like a woman who is looking for good pearls. When she finds one good pearl worth much money, she goes and sells all that she has, and buys it. Why in the world did this passage make the cannon? Because life is precious, valued above all else, something sacred. Fr. Richard Rohr claims we are not just humans having a God experience. The Eucharist tells us that, in some mysterious way, we are God having a human experience! It is bloody, embodied and sensual, shocking us into a realization of our oneness with God.
Think about that?
Why would God need a human experience? Quite possibly the only way to perfect ourselves is in and through the strict boundaries of the physical world, the limitations, the enormous gravity of it all. How rare is it for one to push aside the heavy stone, open the dark tomb of our souls, and bask in the glorious light. If we are to grow and be nurtured we must remain conscious of our own wisdom journey. “God is always the subject of love, flowing through our relationships, through our opportunities and also our challenges, through each and every one of the particular conditions we find ourselves in at any given moment. No one and nothing is excluded,” Cynthia Bourgeault.
According to history, pearls are symbolic of wisdom gained through experience. These gems are believed to offer protection, as well as attract good luck and wealth. No wonder Larry gave me a beautiful strand of pearls on the eve of our wedding. I gave him a camera. There is something embedded here but for the life of me I can not find it. He captures, I adore, clearly a match made in heaven?
I wouldn’t be the badass woman I am today without each and every one of my mistakes. They are countless, but who’s counting? I meant that rhetorically, please, you don’t have enough fingers. Experience shapes not only the trajectory of our lives but the essence of who we are as a person.
The place of fracture once mended becomes stronger (trust me I know), replacing arrogance with humility, rashness with care, becoming a point of connection with others. Ash Wednesday is about this very thing, rising from the ashes of our failures, towards the option of new life. Resurrection from the past is our greatest gift. We should be assisting each other in this journey, not holding each other down, with the accusatory, burdensome weight of ones foot on thy neighbors neck.
Jacob Boehme says love can enter hell and there redeem it. This is not an active love, it sits there, “next to the anguish of betrayal of Judus, the indecision of Pilate, the cowardice of Peter, the sanctimony of the Pharisees; sitting there in the midst of all this blackness, not judging, not fixing, just letting it be in love,” writes Cynthia Bourgeault. She goes on to say that this allows love to go deeper, pressing all the way to the innermost ground out of which the opposites arise and holding that to the light.
It’s not light overriding the darkness but reconnecting it to the whole. It’s communal. That is the best news, we are redeemable as coupons, in and through each other, regardless of the errors of our ways, or our expiration date. “All of us lurch and fall, sit in the dirt, are helped to our feet, keep moving, feel like idiots, lose our balance, gain it, help others get back on their feet, and keep going,” claims Anne Lamott.
This is our Eastertide adventure, Jesus relentlessly pushing and prodding his troops toward a new level of subtlety, like a mother bird pushing her fledglings out of the nest writes Cynthia Bourgeault. We know how to do this. We know how to fly. She goes on to say, “what once tripped you up – your fear, your doubt, your craving – no longer does so.” A flaming spirit is descending on all of humanity, our hearts are rooted in love, and he asks us to go forth, and spread the good news. I say bring some aloe vera along, just in case, you never know when the need to sooth may arise.
I’m Living in the Gap, drop by anytime, you can help me push aside the heavy stone.
- “At start of spring I open a trench in the ground. I put into it the winter’s accumulation of paper, pages I do not want to read again, useless words, fragments, errors. And I put into it the contents of the outhouse: light of the suns, growth of the ground, finished with one of their journeys. To the sky, to the wind, then, and to the faithful trees, I confess my sins: that I have not been happy enough, considering my good luck; have listened to too much noise, have been inattentive to wonders, have lusted after praise. And then upon the gathered refuse, of mind and body, I close the trench folding shut again the dark, the deathless earth. Beneath that seal the old escapes into the new.” Wendell Berry
- “I imagine Lent for you and for me as a great departure from the greedy, anxious antineighborliness of our economy, a great departure from our exclusionary politics that fears the other, a great departure from self-indulgent consumerism that devours creation. And then an arrival in a new neighborhood, because it is a gift to be simple, it is a gift to be free; it is a gift to come down where we ought to be.” Walter Brueggemann
- You can strip yourself, you can be stripped, but still you will reach out like an octopus to seek your own comfort, your untroubled time, your ease, your refreshment. It may mean books or music – the gratification of the inner sense – or it may mean food and drink, coffee and cigarettes. The one kind of giving up is no easier than the other.” Dorothy Day