So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today. — Jesus (Matthew 6:34)
The rabbi said a mouthful there. Today’s trouble is more than enough for today, but I will insist on heading for tomorrow, either in my dreams or my dreads.
The dreams … oh, to be of use. To have fulfilling work for a living wage; and to help others to the same worthwhile goal. In my case, for that work to have something to do with creating and dwelling in a community of Spirit, that works in love for justice.
The dreads … well, that list gets longer every day, doesn’t it. Fear of losing my lover, of hurt coming to my children … that I’ll never find fulfilling employment, that my calling will be thwarted always. That my body or mind will falter before my desires. That there is nothing I can do to turn the Titanic of this materially obsessed nation run amok on the power trips of the profit-obsessed.
My heart is pounding just writing the list. Stopping … breathing.
And remembering a snippet of a poem a new friend shared with me on the women’s retreat last weekend … this is from Diane Ackerman’s I Praise My Destroyer:
… Our cavernous brains
won’t save us in the end,
though, heaven knows, they enhance the drama.
Despite passion’s rule, deep play
and wonder, worry hangs
like a curtain of trembling beads
across every doorway.
But there was never a dull torment,
and it was grace to live
among the fruits of summer, to love by design,
and walk the startling Earth
for what seemed
an endless resurrection of days ….
I stand before that curtain of beads, my breath contributing to the trembling, and strive to remember my way back to grace. Surely this notion, to love by design, is part of it. It is the recollection and intention and choice to love rather than to fear that begins to unravel the snarls of the past and dissipate the fogs of the future that are getting in the way of this moment.
This week’s lections unwind wisdom if we’re willing. I sat with Isaiah 49 a long while this week; its conclusion is an old favorite, and I’ll get to that, but look at the words lurking in the middle:
I have helped you …
saying to the prisoners, ‘Come out,’
to those who are in darkness
I can hear those words so many ways; they’ll definitely preach. What imprisons you? Poverty? Fear of loss or disapproval or death? Your past? Old hurts? A closet? A literal jail? What society thinks of or legislates about or opines on your race, gender, class, sexual orientation, age, nation of origin, religion (or lack thereof), status, pursuits, choices?
Whatever it is … if you are a prisoner, like me, and I’ll bet you are, God has two words for us:
We gay folk have claimed those words, and queered them, and now we need to throw them back like a lifeline to all those others who are still imprisoned in a closet or jail of their own or others’ making.
God in-the-prophet’s-words goes on to say, “To those who are in darkness …” what? Come into the light? Let the light shine upon you?
All good answers. But no. God says,
These words give me such an ache in my chest. I was invisible for so long. I chose to hide, as a child, to survive first physical beatings and then sexual abuse and then the turmoil in my parent’s marriage. I hid in plain sight after that; acting out sexually and over other boundaries until I finally escaped into a marriage, even taking another name to hide under, pulling labels like “wife” and “mother” over my head, living a secret life in bits and pieces on the inside.
Finally, God would not let me hide anymore, pulling me out of that straight marriage and out of even the fulfilling parts of my life to stand in full light, acknowledging all that God had made me to be.
I am the fruit of God’s labor, just one of the children who have come from God’s womb. I am still learning to show myself … there are volumes of stories in those two words. What do I have yet to show myself? What of myself do I have yet to grow into so that I can show it to God and the world? Who is God calling me to show myself to, as evidence of what love can do and be and say and live?
To those who are in darkness, ‘Show yourselves.’
It can be scary. I can feel exposed, alone, even lonely and forsaken, if my showing myself does not draw community to me, or enable me to find community on the beam of common interest and desire.
Then I can return to fear. But God has a word for that, too. When we cry out, “the Lord has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me,” here’s what God says:
Can a woman forget her nursing-child,
or show no compassion for the child of her womb?
Even these may forget,
yet I will not forget you.
See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands …
Breasts tight with milk, leaking at the cries of a child, may make it hard to forget a child, though in the early throes of motherhood, one might like to forget. There were certainly times I would have liked motherhood to have hold of someone else’s body, and not mine. In a world where impossible stresses and/or mental illness can lead women to kill their own offspring, it’s certainly possible to imagine the bonds between mothers and children frayed to breaking.
But, Isaiah assures us, that is not the case with God. God will not forget us; God has written us into the palm of God’s own hand.
This verse has been graphically dear to me since I first read it, but I have to say it is even more precious to me now that I have a teenage daughter. What does she write in her palm or on the Back of her hand? Those things she absolutely must not forget. It might be someone’s name and number … an email address … a homework assignment … some code or cryptic reference to something she loves or wants.
Think about it. Have you ever met anyone more passionate about what she is passionate about than a teen-aged girl?
Yeah, so here’s God as teenage girl, in love with us, infatuated with us, dreaming of us, never forgetting or forsaking us, writing our names in the palm of Her hand. (There’s probably even a heart dotting the i in my name.)
Okay, so where are we so far?
Jesus knows today’s got trouble in it … check.
God knows we’re afraid, and reassures us that we are in Her hand … check.
What do we do with that? This Sunday’s psalm gives us a clue.
I have calmed and quieted my soul
like a weaned child with its mother;
my soul is like the weaned child that is with me.
Two things about this, maybe three. First, the action is self-directed: I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child that has learned to self-soothe, without the breast or a bottle or a pacifier. It’s a stage a child grows into, of necessity, as she becomes a person.
Same with me. As I learn and grow in my faith, part of what I need to learn is how to find comfort, how to draw upon what I already have, to get what I need. I do know how to calm and quiet my soul: breathe in, breathe out … become aware that I am breathing in, breathing out … know that God is present to me in this very moment.
Yeah, I know. I just forget to do it, or I lose faith in the simplest of things and don’t do them, even though I know they work, even though I know they are the path back to God and sanity and peace in this very moment. Which, of course, is the only one available to me.
When I fall back into my memories, even memories of experiences when God was with me, I am alone. No one remembers my memories exactly like I do, because they are of my experiences in those past times.
When I get caught up in my dreams and dreads, again, I am alone. No one hopes exactly as I do, no one is dreading exactly what I fear, and because these are imaginary scenarios, no one can truly inhabit them with me.
God is certainly present to all these past and future times; but I am not able to experience God in the past or the future. I can only experience God right now.
And in this moment, experiencing God, I am like that weaned child: I’m not on my own, all alone. I’m still with my mother. This is what the last phrase is saying:
My soul is like the weaned child that is with me.
But it is saying something else, too. Flip the perspective, and consider … back in the psalmist’s day, where were the weaned children hanging out? With their mothers, I’ll wager. The person writing or singing this psalm sure sounds like a woman, singing that her soul is like the weaned child next to her. Able to be comforted by sheer presence and proximity.
I get it.
Jesus: Today’s got trouble in it.
God: I know fear is all around you … and yet, you are in the palm of my hand.
Me: I will breathe in your presence and your nearness. And I will not worry about tomorrow. Right now, and for today, your grace is sufficient.