Writing over Anger with Love

This poem reflects something I need to give and receive in my life now…something I’ve lost beneath blinding rage. It isn’t pretty and I need to release it and grasp on tightly to the love of God.  The poem is a critique of church rules and right ways of doing things. However, the silly lies of anger are written on my walls.  I’ve been here before, recently even.  Something clicked tonight at church, and I breathed in the life-giving breath of God.  I hope love is written on my heart, and that this time it lasts—that God’s graffiti will paint over the anger permanently—I don’t want to sink back into that angry place.

heart

God’s Graffiti

We’ve splashed our rules
all over the sanctuary walls…
so many rules we don’t have time
for dancing…
our graffiti
defiling the house of God.
God’s graffiti is different:
God writes LOVE
upon our hearts.
Some night, let’s sneak in the sanctuary
and paint over the rules
and write God’s graffiti
all over the walls…
LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE

— Ann Weems

Advertisements

When to Run Away

How does one discern the genuine character of love in its various forms (for here, I am not merely speaking of sexual attraction nor the state of being in love) manifest?  When someone says, “I love you” what does that mean?  How do we give and receive love?  These aren’t meant to be answered, but arise from an encounter I once had.  Here is a story of a stranger telling me that he loved me…(the majority of this description, by the way, is directly transcribed from an e-mail I wrote following the incident)

On this day  seven years ago (28 October 2001), on a beautifully still autumn morning in Tuebingen, Germany I quietly strolled along the path next to Neckar River.  I let my mind go and centered myself as I walked, breathing in “Jesus” and out “mercy”. I found the bench I often sit at that faces the water along a secluded path and sat down alone. I had my journal with me so I began to write, then put it away, just wanting to sit and pray.

I was startled by the appearance of a man, who called out to me.  “Wie bitte?” I said, which in English means, “Pardon?” He replied in English, “Can we talk?”. I agreed. His name was Gilbert, a 30 year old African from Cameroon, seeking political asylum in Germany.

Then, he startled me again.  He looked me in the eye and said, “Megan, I love you”. He repeated it numerous times. I didn’t know what to say, I didn’t know how to respond. I was not afraid, but perplexed and shocked. He said something from the inside told him to talk to me.  He asked when we could meet again. I did not want to make any definite plans nor did I want to give him my phone number or where I live.

There was something inside me that wanted to hold back; as deeply as I believed in God’s mysterious love, even from a stranger, I was shaken.  I doubted his sincerity.  I have had encounters with strangers that have been moving—such as the man at the Columbia River whom I had met three months prior.  He did not say he loved me, but the conversation so moving I had felt in the presence of the risen Christ.  This time, however, I was not moved.

The next day I saw Gilbert again, though not intentionally.  He repeated to say, “I love you.”  This isn’t right, I thought to myself.  I told him that I did not love him. But then he said that when he said he loved me, and if I said it in return, we would be like brother and sister. He said we would talk and meet with each other. He said there were different loves. This love he was saying to me in his words was “Agape” (or see C.S. Lewis’ The Four Loves)…But this love is like when I talk about [my friends from home], I say they I love them. This is what he said he saw in me. This was difficult for me, because I do not open up my heart to many people…there are few real close friends that I can say that I love. And here, was a man of 30 telling me he loved me and wanting to know if I loved him.  Agape…in the back of my mind I wondered if this was his real intention, I had doubts.

Friendship-love, Agape-love (or Caritas)—those I understood and had experienced, and still do.  But this man communicated neither.  Simply put, there are strangers out there who are not to be trusted. Common sense and intuition told me to ditch the guy, but being the contemplative person I am, I carefully avoided him, yet continued to reflect on the love of God.

Seven years later, I haven’t stopped…

Love from a Stranger

If I were to speak my previous entries in a spiritual direction session, I, as spiritual director, might ask a question often used: “What does it look like?”  That is, when I say love, what do I mean?  How is that expressed?  Here is a story of what I mean, because I am not merely talking of eros love.  No, I love with compassion, too.  Though I have stories from my work with the homeless of deep love being manifest in and through them, I have a story when compassion was shown to me.

It was July of 1985.  My family was present at a church retreat at Ocean Shores, WA.  I was 5 years old, but I have vague memories of campfires at the beach, and even falling out of the bunk bed one night.  The return home, however, has been forever and vividly burned into my memory.

Our car took the lead in a caravan of carpools.  My dad was at the wheel with my mom as passenger; my sister and I sat in the back, largely ignoring each other, lest one of us dared to cross the middle boundary that lay between.

We only had a few split seconds before the car hit us, barely enough time for the brain to register that a car was heading straight in our direction.  My dad hit the brakes, but we were on a bridge and it was too late.  I remember looking up and seeing the swerving car; I didn’t even have time to be afraid.

There was so much love that day, in the presence of our church family, and those who stopped to help.  The driver of the other car had fallen asleep, and hit us head-on.  The impact of the accident knocked me out.  I remember being carried out of the car by the vicar’s wife.  Barely conscious, I remember seeing the remains of our crumpled car, though I blacked out and regained consciousness again in the ambulance.  I have no memory of pain until I entered the emergency room.  There, while the doctors were working to save me, my body went into trauma.  The seat belt that saved my life also caused internal bleeding.  I remember convulsing and throwing up blood; my body felt as if thousands of needles were sticking into me all at once.

Meanwhile, my mom and sister were going through their own trauma—my dad was the only one not seriously injured.  And that God for that, as his attentiveness was much needed.

I spent a week in the hospital.  My mom was severely injured.  The dashboard had crushed her right leg.  So at five years old, I spent those nights in the hospital without my mom to comfort and hold me.

One of those days in the hospital I received a visit from an elderly gentleman.  He stopped to see me and talk with me, although I barely remember his face or what he said.  But I will never forget his presence.  He brought to me, as he did with other children in the hospital, stuffed animals hand-made by his wife.

Three years ago I was a hospital chaplain for 10 weeks…there I was able to love others as this man had loved me.  My calling may not be to hospital chaplain, but the love I speak of fills my heart so much that I have no choice but to give this love.  This is what I mean when I say I may not be meant for an eros love relationship (see C.S. Lewis’ The Four Loves).  I am searching for love, yes, but even more I must search for ways that my love may be shown and how to let love be shown to me.

The knitted goose this man gave to me has been one of my symbols of love, compassion, and grace.  And, as a clever 5-year-old, I named this creature, “Goosey”.  My Goosey stayed by my side throughout my childhood, and on my most recent trip home, I brought him back to Seattle.  Goosey has fared well over the years, only once needing to be mended.  That goose is strong, independent, and well-worn—just like me.

I love this goose, and the goose was made with love.  I love that man, who surely has passed away by now. And I know that he loved me.

Amen.

To love and be loved

Falling in Love with God

Nothing is more practical
than finding God,
that is, falling in love
in a quite absolute, final way.
What you are in love with,
what seizes your imagination,
will affect everything.
It will decide what will get you
out of bed in the morning,
what you will do with your evenings,
how you will spend your weekends,
what you read, who you know,
what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you
with joy and gratitude.
Fall in love, stay in love,
and it will decide everything.

Pedro Arrupe, S.J.

Loving and being loved is part of what it means to be human.  To reflect on my recent state of heartbrokenness, is to reveal that I do indeed love.  For, if I did not love, my heart would not hurt as it has this past month.  And If I did not love, I would not take as much joy in my life, even when sadness surrounds me and those I love—because I know love is there, too.

Love is not easy, nor does it guarantee sustained happiness.  Loving human beings hurts when we fail each other, and loving God hurts when it seems God has forgotten us.  But, ah, to love life and love God, are two sweet pleasures!

Recently, I heard John Bell from the Iona Community in Scotland speak.  While guiding the group in an exercise to recall significant moments in our early lives, he said this of love: Love demands tough decisions.  Indeed.  And he said this to define what it means to be in ministry: to love God, to love people, and to love language.

It is my love of God’s people that often causes me to weep late into the night.  Abuse, death, loss, grief, broken relationships…these I have wept for recently.  The tears of compunction that wash down my face come out of a deep love for humanity and those close to me.

Sometimes I wonder, upon observing the developing love between other people, when is it my turn?  Who will love me so deeply?  Dwelling on these thoughts sends me down a dark and lonely hole.  I have but to be reminded of the love that is in my life, and the love I have to share.  Perhaps it is meant only for God and for God’s people.  Though my prayer and spiritual life deep, I am not meant to be a monastic—oh, I have had moments of ecstasy where I lived as though I were monastic.  But I am meant to be in the world directly serving and loving God’s people.  This is tough, as often think I lack the experience of being loved.  Maybe I am, and I do not see it.  I, too, must remember I am loved.

So whom do I love?  I love God. I love my friends.  I love my sister. I love my niece.  I love my parents, and extended family.  I love my church community.  I love the homeless men and women I once served.  I love my housemates.  I love the woman who payed for a book with pennies.  I love the man who sells Real Change next to PCC.  And many more…

To return to the quote above.  These words, though only known to me for a short while, have been the basis of my life until now.  Love has guided my life, and it will continue to guide my life…whether or not I have a love who holds me at night.  This I repeat, three words I tell to many others but need more often to tell myself: You are loved.  Yes, I am loved.

Spiritual Struggles with Disease

“You are beautiful” they chorused.  “You are sexy.”  My lip was quivering, and I could scarcely respond.  The group looked at me intently and lovingly while tears rolled down my face.  I wanted to repeat those words for myself, but my body wouldn’t let the words pass my lips.

I closed my eyes and took a deep breath.  A smile formed.  I had just been told I’m beautiful and sexy by the three males in my group—a married man in his 40’s, a Dominican brother wearing a habit, and a 20-something young man.  And it was safe and comfortable for all to do so. This moment, one of the last times my chaplaincy group met, was one of the most intimate I experienced during the 11 week unit.

The issue I had brought before the group provides some context for this intimate moment:  As many young women do, I have struggled with my appearance.  In my situation, my physical appearance and body have been painful–physically and emotionally.  I was born with a genetic disease called Neurofibromatosis, which among other manifestations, causes tumors and birthmarks.  The tumors are presetly unpredictable, unstoppable , and can grow anywhere on the body where there are nerves.  The gene is dominant, thus each carrier has a 50% chance of passing it on to his/her children.

I have 30+ tumors on my body, mostly small and underneath the skin.  The problem area has been the right side of my face and neck and my right ear.  The tumor and brithmark that define my face cause me the most grief, yet I despise all of them.  How can I call this body beautiful?

Having this disease has forced me to reflect deeply on a regular basis about myself, my faith in God, and perceptions of others.  I’ve had three surgeries and I know the pain of being in intensive care after 9 hours in the operating room.  This disease gives my mind a reason to destroy my self-confidence and self-love.  This is why it is so hard for me to say, “I am beautiful,” and mean it.

Long ago I rejected the God of the Purpose Driven life, who as author Rick Warren states, makes us right down to our DNA.  That’s bullshit, I say.  I don’t want to believe in a God that would create a genetic mutation and intentionally give it to me…so what, if it’s a gift so others can admire and receive strength?  Well, they do.  But courage, strength, and hope are often all I have when facing something without a cure, that probably won’t kill me but has potential to cause more discomfort…maybe even a brain or spinal tumor.  I’d give the extra courage and admiration away if it meant I could live without the presence of these tumors.

So today I visited a genetics clinic in Seattle and will begin the process with doctors and surgeons about what is going on with my tumors and if surgery can be done.  This has been on my mind for months now (and added to my emotional swing this week), and today the process has officially begun.  May I find a job soon with good benefits!

When my chaplaincy group supported me, my heart was touched.  I need that kind of love and support.  Three years later, I still struggle…and it’s so hard when there aren’t many honest moments for another to say to me, “you are beautiful, you are sexy.”   The strength and courage I posses are qualities that many people admire about me.  This disease, while constantly challenging my faith, has also strengthened it.  I have experienced a deep love of God through the faith, doubt, surgeries, and recurrence of tumors.

However, God’s love cannot completely satisfy the longings of my heart.  Some of the loneliness I express in these posts have surfaced when I see good friends dating.  So lovely together.  And I go to bed at night alone and weep, while my hands rub over my tumors.   Is anyone ever going to stare at me with love to say, “you are beautiful!”  The only stares I get are people curious about what’s on my face.  Will anyone actually want to touch my face, my arms, and all the other places where there are tumors?  I don’t know, but I can hope…

This is long and deeply personal.  But one reason for others’ admiration of me is that I am able to share such struggles with candor.  I’ll end by professing this disease has given me courage to boldly proclaim the Resurrection.  By believing in the resurrection, I know there is more than this, and that I don’t suffer alone.

Christ is risen.  He is risen indeed.  Alleluia!

on breaking free from fears

This morning I went on a run with a friend, a nice loop of about 6 or seven miles. It was an interesting run on a not-so-interesting morning blanketed by gray stratus clouds. Back at home, blissfully enjoying the post-run endorphin high, I engaged with my heart. But the bliss soon wore off, leaving a vacancy for something more somber. Something I have noticed lately is a joyful life, with much to be thankful for and bathed in laughter and shared time with good friends. And yet, a great paradox exists as I am deeply lonely; even in the midst of comfortable company, I find a sadness in my soul. I find solace in the music of Evanescence and Linkin Park, whose music and lyrics embody intense emotional wounds that speak to me. So….for me…such joy, such love of life…and such sadness…brokenness. And I’m not the only one.

Furthermore, inside my spirit is fear. In addition to joy and love of life, I have an array of possibilities before me as I prepare to receive my master’s degree. Enter the fear. This is by no means an abnormal fear to have–but looking deeper, I really am afraid: Afraid to leave (Seattle, my friends, my community). Afraid to stay here…fear wants to tell me to run away because it’s easier, I won’t have to deal with the complexities of relationality. And more…

All this was flowing through my head as I sat down to read for my class on spiritual discernment. Ha, what fun…here I am lost in the midst of deep inner feelings, and my homework is right in line, a huge help for both spirit and studies. So here I am…doing what I do, and doing what I help other people do…discerning. Sometimes it’s a bit much and I’m thankful for friends to bring me back to life, back to reality with laughter and shared conversation.

I know I have courage and a strong spirit. Now is the time to summon up that inner strength, the sort of courage only known from experiencing pain and brokenness. It seasons my life, never quite disappearing, yet sometimes remaining beneath the surface of my being. So here I go…I dive into the waters and go with the swift flow of the river in hopes that my courage will carry me through.

And here, when can I reach this place in my spirit, I am free. Although loneliness and fear are present, I am not bound to them and I do not have to hide my brokenness. I can however, break free from their distortions to engage more deeply with life and learn to love more deeply.   As my friend and I ran this morning, we pondered potential names for what I’d name a spiritual direction practice if I had one: I am free to be broken…

God help me to find the courage to face these fears and break free from them!