Archive for the ‘Chapter 20’ Category

I had lunch one Friday in December with a woman who’s husband fell 2,000 feet off of a cliff and died in his early 40’s.  He had gone out for a hike with a friend that morning and he never returned home to his wife and two small children.   Her  name is Elaine Pagels and she is a professor of religion at Princeton University.  After her husband died she decided to write a book about Satan; she wanted to talk about how Christians deal with adversity.

Elaine, my friend.

“We all need someone to blame”, she said.  “That helps us avoid feeling what we really feel which is absolute and utter powerlessness.”  Yes! – I thought.  That feeling overwhelmed me in the days after Kesner died.  That was the feeling that I felt when I was doing that crazy woman walk down the Princeton hiking trail.  helplessness.   This had happened – Kesner was dead –  and there was not a damn thing that I could do about it.  I didn’t blame satan, I blamed God.  I kept saying to my mom:

“I feel so humbled.  God has humbled me.”

It would normally be a bit of stretch to call Elaine my friend, except I think we crossed over into that threshold during our moment at lunch in December.  She invited me to dine with her at Prospect House on Princeton University’s campus.  It is a mansion that used to house the President.  Now it is reserved for faculty use and it has the most lovely dining room with windows that overlook a garden, and the university campus.  My only other encounter with this place was during my days as a Princeton Seminary student; I would pass by and wonder who eats in there.

Prospect House

And there I was with Elaine, at the best table in the room, crying the ugly cry.  Oprah says there are two types of cries:  a composed cry and “the ugly cry;”  typically you cant control the ugly cry and it usually involves snot.

The composed cry

I felt the ungly cry coming.  On my way to Prospect House on that Friday in December, I passed by the University Art Museum and I remembered a date that Kesner and I had there the previous spring.  This was post-falling in love, when everything was beautiful and all was well in our world.  We walked around, Kesner and I, appreciating the art and flirting with each other.  I might be looking at a piece and he would come up behind me and put his arms around my waist and kiss me on my neck.  I loved that.

Seeing the museum was a trigger; and almost as soon as I sat down with Elaine, I began to tear up.  “I’m feeling emotional today..” I said.   And sure enough, by the time my pumpkin soup arrived, I was deep into the ugly cry.

I kept apologizing, I mean we were in this formal dining room and I was crying this horrible cry.  She thanked me for crying; she said she was honored.  She even cried a little too.

She said that when her husband died she didn’t cry at all.  She was afraid that if she cried she wouldn’t be able to stop. So she held it all in her chest and she got pneumonia.

Even though I felt that my lunchtime cry might never end, we did manage to carve out a very rich conversation about God and Jesus and The Holy Spirit.  We also wove in our stories about our loves and listened intently to each other.   “You cant turn it off like a faucet,” she said, “your love for that person who died.  Just because they’re gone doesn’t mean that you stop loving them or that you don’t still feel like you’re in a relationship.”  she made me feel less crazy.

And it was an interesting thing that she was saying about blame, that blaming someone or something makes you feel powerful.  Or at least a little less powerless.

Theological conversation has always been like food for me; particularly meaningful since Kesner died.  Yet, in the immediate days after his death,  I avoided speaking to clergy like the plague.  I just couldn’t.  They all called , texted or reached out in some way: Rev moss jr, Rev moss III, Rev colvin, Rev miller…   and those who didn’t call reached out on facebook.  I just couldn’t talk to anyone who represented God, unless they were among the ministers that are in my circle of close friends.  I didn’t want to hear that ‘God has a plan’ and I definitely didn’t want to hear that ‘God is good.’  I didn’t think God was good, at least not my definition of good.

Great Preachers reached out..

The only two that got through were Rev moss, jr and Rev colvin; this is because they called my moms phone.  My mother held the phone to my ear and made me talk to them.  I made sure to tell both of them how angry I was.  But as badly as I wanted to, I couldn’t escape God.  God was all over me, everywhere; with, and through, all of the Love that was around.  Holding me up.  And another thing began to happen, my old sermons began to preach to me.

I had experienced a wave of relatively frequent preaching a year  prior. As a result, I had an inventory of sermon topics stored in my head.  I even had the audacity to preach Job during that season.  what on earth did I know about life??  The title of my Job sermon was: ‘Do we serve God because God is Good, or do we serve God because God is God?’

Well damn, I thought.  I guess God doesn’t have to be good.  My old sermons would continue to preach to me as the summer went on.As I finished my lunch with Elaine on that Friday in December, she quoted Soren Kierkegaard, saying: “Life is lived forward and understood backward…”

Soren Kierkegaard

Yes, I thought.  For sure.

© Copyright Thank You Very Sweet, 2011

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