garden path

I’ve spent my entire life in religious communities. For the most part these communities have been filled with genuine, loving, thinking people driven by deep desires to learn how to live authentically and love others well.

Yet even into these communities platitudes have sometimes crept. Attempts to process grief or loss or suffering, to extend comfort or compassion when the truth is we have no idea how to offer either. Anne Lamott speaks beautifully in her book Traveling Mercies of our lack of language when it comes to grief, our need to learn to offer our awkward, fumbling presence instead of our words. In those spaces of heavy, broken silence, though, we lose our sense of self and separateness from each other’s suffering. Which means we hurt. And one thing we are very good at is trying to avoiding pain.

So we offer cliches. Well-meaning and honest. The best words we can find. But words. Words we can set between ourselves and the other person to ensure the distance from our own pain centers is maintained. I’m so sorry for your loss. You don’t deserve this to happen to you. I can’t believe s/he would do such a thing. Those of us with religious languages can sometimes introduce God into the conversation. God has a plan. God has something even better in store. God’s timing is a mystery, but trust Him anyway.

Terrible, senseless, tragic things happen all the time on this tiny rock of a planet. Trying to imbue the horrors of our world with divine purpose not only robs the sufferer of their right to feel the senselessness, it paints “god” as quite the heartless bastard. In The Divine Magician Peter Rollins beautifully addresses our temptation to gloss over such terrors as the Shoah or Jesus’ crucifixion and the damage done when we do so. The truth is, and please pardon the vulgarity, sometimes shit is shit. Painting over the shit in our lives, burning candles around it, sprinkling glitter to make it pretty will end with the same result – stinking up your house.

This doesn’t mean, though, that we are only left with the nihilistic option of facing our tragedies and letting them fester in our souls. If you’re willing to call it what it is, name the shit permeating all the once beautiful places in your life, in that naming you can begin to transform it. Take it outside. Dig up some earth. Allow the source of stench to become fertilizer. Plant something pretty. Something healthy. Something green. Allow the grossness you tried to dress up actually be what it is and produce something worthwhile.

This, to me, is the difference between God being in a thing and God redeeming a thing. At that distinction matters. God didn’t cause the terrible thing. He didn’t allow it with some grander plan in mind. Sometimes the thing is mindlessly horrible. The power isn’t in the thing. It’s in the transformation. The redemption.

Most of us hate change, often even positive change. Even more so when that change involves loss or confusion or instability. Yet change is the only avenue into our lives available to those redemptive powers. In the past year, I’ve experienced more change than any other season in my life. I’ve lost a church community (while holding fast to my spiritual community). I’ve lost reputation. I’ve lost friends. I’ve lost a job. I’ve lost forty pounds. I’ve lost a home (and gained a new one with a fabulous roommate, a furry friend, and five weird ass fish). I’ve lost some bad habits. I’ve lost my understanding of God. I’ve lost my heterosexuality (though frankly I never really had it). I’ve lost my singleness (to an amazing, adorable woman).

I’m still reeling a little from it all. So much change. A whole lot of shit. But I’m getting faster at recognizing it for what it is and heading out to the garden. There are a lot of signs of springtime sprouting and budding, alongside some still barren and ashy plots. For all I’ve lost, though, I’m more confident than ever in the power of redemption. So bring on the changes if they are the inroads to that power. And may I grow ever better at offering this hope rather than platitudes when you share your suffering with me. Because that hope is the only thing I have worth offering anyway.




  1. May 18, 2016 at 3:14 pm

    Love the point about the difference of God being in the thing versus redeeming. And you’ve always been a creature of change : )

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