When words fail

In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. —Romans 8:26

I had planned to share with you another magical place on my recent journey to the California coast. But that’ll have to wait.

I don’t know which of the many words tumbling through my head I ought to share here. I don’t know which words to fling up to heaven, like the song of a caged bird. I’m relieved to have a Holy Spirit who will intercede with groanings. There are some prayers for which words alone do not feel sufficient.


One of my least favorite memories came screaming back this week.

When I was just out of college, I taught at an all-white high school in a rural community. The klan had a heavy presence in that community, and every so often, one of the teenage boys would ask me if I had gone to the march the previous weekend. Some of the students wanted to know when was I ever going to get married, because I was clearly teetering on the edge of becoming an old maid. I was an outsider to them, a woman who talked funny and definitely wasn’t from around those parts.

One young man insisted on carving swastikas in his tests and quizzes. He didn’t like me having the temerity to tell him to stop doing that. He bragged to another teacher that he was going to kill me. I remember one of the assistant principals asking me if I had any students in that boy’s classroom who would protect me if it came down to it. And that was the end of any conversation about the matter.


Of everything I’ve read this week about Charlottesville, the one line that keeps repeating in my head is from a Bitter Southerner article, The Perpetual Unpleasantness:

As for me, I find myself inextricably drawn to a simple idea: that the time for the benevolent but silent white Southerner is over. —Chuck Reece

Silent benevolence is not unique to Southerners. Racism isn’t, either. And so I would enlarge Reece’s call to include all benevolent but silent white people.

Reece’s words remind me of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s:

Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.

So let me not be silent, but instead, find the courage to speak when necessary.

A white man filled with evil intent killed a young woman this weekend. He ran her over with his car, believing her death was better than trying to understand her words. He’s not alone in believing her death justified.

On Monday, one of my former college professors shared a link to an alt-right KKK site. The site listed several reasons applauding the young woman’s murder. I left the page after reading their number one reason. Do you know what their number one reason was? You should. And it should chill you. It was this: She was childless and, as such, a burden on society and therefore useless.

Now, y’all can just take a look at my Good Aunt series to know why that number one reason might have really grabbed my attention. So, no, I should not remain silent.

I get it. Silence is more comfortable. Easier. Safer, at least in the short term. But it does nothing to stop the spread of the disease of racism. To get to the root of what causes such intense hatred. To get us to a place of healing.

The number of voices crying out against what happened in Charlottesville gives me hope. My faith demands hope, too. My faith also demands bravery and wisdom and reconciliation. I hope we’re all up for the task ahead.

I’ve shared this image with you before, and I’ll leave you with it today.

The image includes the NASB’s translation of the verse, but perhaps the more heartening translation for this circumstance is the NRSV. It says:

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

Red-letter words for dark days

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. — Matthew 5:4

I’ve been reading through the red-letter words of the Bible this morning and listening to a filibuster in the U.S. senate chambers on gun-reform laws. Less than a year ago, I wrote a similar post for a similar reason: a gunman went into a sanctuary and killed minorities he hated. I am heartsick to be here again with another list of names.

I had planned a very different post today, but it will wait. Life and death interrupt us all in ways we never anticipate, in events that horrify us and cause us to pause. Some days, “business as usual” just feels wrong.

Today, I share the same picture as last year and a different, too-long list.

ninecandles2015_FT

Last year’s nine candles. Today, 49 more names.

Continue reading

Flowers and candles: What we tell the children and ourselves

ninecandles2015John1_FT

By now you’ve likely seen the video of the French immigrant father with his small son discussing the terrorist attacks in Paris. If you haven’t seen it, many sites have pulled it  because of copyright issues, but you’ll find it here at the 6:22 mark of the video. (For English subtitles click on the CC icon at the bottom of the video screen, and select English.)

I’d also encourage you to watch the clip right before this sweet father and son, starting around the 4:30 mark. In that part of the video, a French Muslim girl and her mother talk about their reactions. The mother says, “We must be humans and not barbarians.”

The young girl smiles bravely and says she’ll try not to have nightmares. The little boy lets a relieved smile creep across his face as he looks from his father to the flowers and candles. “C’est pour protégé?” he asks. This is for protection? The expressions of both the girl and the boy fill my eyes with tears and my heart with hope.

What do we tell our children and ourselves in times of darkness, when we hear reports of jihadis hoping to spark an apocalyptic war? How do we comfort our children when they see adult fears threatening to overcome our sense of compassion and our common humanity?

Perhaps the French father is on to something that could comfort us all. The candles and the flowers will protect us—not literally from the guns, of course—but because they suggest a willingness and a desire to let goodness rise up, to cause goodness to triumph over the evil.

I don’t know enough of other religions to speak of them, but Christians believe in the capital L Light that triumphs over darkness: “The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it” (John 1:5).

There is light and there is darkness in this fallen world of ours. The light is stronger, and the Light will protect us. Perhaps not in the ways we expect or hope or imagine. But to me, flowers and candles are a good start.

This past Sunday, I attended a prayer service at the Episcopal church I’ve been visiting. I’d like to leave you with the evening prayer that we spoke together at the end of the service. May it be an offering of light to you:

Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen.

Trying to control the darkness and the light

We set our clocks back Sunday (though some of you reading this may never change your clocks and others may change yours on different dates). This artificial change brings light earlier in the morning but also summons darkness earlier in the evening. Is this a human attempt to control the uncontrollable nature of time? Is it part hubris for humans to attempt to wrangle obedience from the sun and force it to rise and set on our command?

I used to love this weekend every year when I was younger. I relished the extra hour of sleep and waited all day to change my clocks. Each time I looked at the clock, I’d celebrate a small triumph over time: “Hah!” I would think, “I really have an extra hour,” when in fact I only had the same amount of time as always. I could pretend there was a 25-hour day in the fall and ignore the required 23-hour day in the spring to balance the truth that we all only get 24 hours in every day, no matter how much we try to cajole and shift and control time.

Maybe in youth, I walked in a different sort of light, didn’t need the sunlight as much as I do now, wasn’t as influenced by the shorter days and the lessening of the light. As I age, this day and the week that follows grow more difficult for me. It’s like a week of vertigo for my brain as I attempt to adjust to a new pattern of light and dark in life. The dog gets antsy in the afternoon, thinking I’ve forgotten her walk and dinnertime. My husband runs mostly in the dark—whether he runs before or after work—and all too soon, he’ll also leave for work in the dark and return in the dark. I’ve heard from several friends recently, bemoaning the coming dark in this way: “Only the Christmas lights make it better this time of year, but then …” They all seem to trail off at the same point, with an agonized look toward post-Christmas and winter’s dark. This is a hard change.

There’s a Bible verse that comes to mind especially during this week following the time change:

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

— John 1:5 (NIV)

I especially love the NIV translation of this verse because it’s about light (and God) winning, light equaling strength, light defeating the darkness and by extension, good defeating evil.

I’ve been pondering this balance of light and dark more than usual lately as my move looms ever closer. Each goodbye is tinged with both light and dark, but I like to think that the joy of each friendship outweighs the dark sadness of saying a temporary farewell.

I also fret about the light in my new home. Will there be less light in the winter there? And if so, how will it affect me? But the simple truth is this: I am not in control of the darkness and the light. I have to trust that the light can and will overcome the dark.

I bought a golden mum earlier in the Fall, and this is one of my favorite photos of it:

FallLightandDark_2014FT

Light overcomes dark.

 

This mum positively shimmered in place. I would walk by a window and glimpse a golden halo through the glass, the mum defeating darkness and mimicking the sun’s own light.

I should print the photo and write John 1:5 on it. And maybe set it nearby as a reminder to hope even as the dark sets in. Something like this (feel free to print this out, if you like):

FallLightandDarkwithJohn_1_5_2014FT

 

Attempting to control light and dark
Will we forever try to control time and dark and light? This National Geographic article suggests that the answer is yes. It’s a great read if you’d like to learn more about the history of US efforts to fiddle with the sun. My favorite line: “‘As you can imagine, the Congressional Record on daylight saving constitutes the great comic novel of the 20th century.'”

Check out this Washington Post article about the politics of time. The article also provides a map of countries that practice the time switch. If the time change itself hasn’t already made you dizzy, this list of countries and their decisions about time zones and changes may leave you feeling a little off kilter.

And if you’re looking for a defense of the dark, this is a beautiful read. My favorite line: “Surrendering to the dark was my only hope of making peace with the light.” Because, after all, even the light can overwhelm us somedays.

So how about you? How are you adjusting? Does “falling back” affect you?