I have this, for now
A few of my certainties at the moment
Some people rise early in the morning, make tea, pull out a Bible or journal, and sit quietly in an easy chair to pray. Or so I hear. Me? I tend to go for a long walk in the edges of my too-much life and that’s where me and God get down to business: where I rage and cry, argue and rest, yearn and worship. It is perhaps not as inspiring or aspirational as paintings of prayer from old masters or the promises of a devotional book; this just looks like a red-faced middle-aged mother in her beat-up runners and a ball cap on the city path, whom many people have to pass (“on your left”), but it’s been my main sanctuary for past three or four years in particular.
This past weekend, Jesus and I were handling some difficult business on my walk. And at one point, I told him something like, “It feels like we’re in a boat and I brought along everything precious to me for the journey including all those old opinions or priorities or certainties, but you keep tossing things overboard with a grin. What’s left? what’s left but us, here in the middle of everything, together?”
I swear sometimes I can hear God laughing.
As we walked together, we began to explore that. So what remains? If I don’t care about so many things that used to feel like The Most Important Things, then what?
What are my certainties right now? After the storm, after the shipwrecks?
After the ways that life beats us down a bit? After the diagnosis and the losses, the unanswered prayers and the empty certainties, after the grave side service and the broken heart and the loneliness that still comes?
After the wilderness and the long nights and the once-tidy answers?
After you’ve reached the end of the knowledge and the answers and all you’re left with is the rest of the journey?
I kept asking, What has remained, Jesus? What do I still have? and slowly, slowly this is some of what emerged.1 These might change sometime, maybe by tomorrow. But I guess have this, for now, anyway:
I need to live into what I’m for, not just settle for being against. It is always worthwhile to name what I hope for, and to live within that shelter.
It’s always worthwhile to put your hand to good work. However humble and uncelebrated, underpaid or unpaid, it’s honourable to work.
When I hate everything and everyone and start to think there is something to the doctrine of depravity, it’s usually a signal to log off and do some good homely work for a while.
I can always, always call upon my sister, my mum, my dad, and know that I will be met with compassion, truth, love. This is as great a love story as any other.
By its very nature, light will always disrupt the dark so even the smallest candle, the tiniest flicker - joy, love, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness - matters.
The ordinary joys will turn out to be the truest, longest-lasting ones.
I trust in the God of the midnight hours and the unknown depths because I have known Them there, too, and morning still always comes. Not always with joy, mind you, but morning comes.
“Pine trees are just as real as pig stys”2 - and theologically speaking, I’d rather spend my time there, all things considered.
Jesus is an enduring friend of the heartbroken and the sinners, and so very near to the sad ones.
The tiny, scrappy wild flowers that stubbornly grow in the cracks of sidewalks in the middle of a city are a better sermon than anything I’ve heard preached.
Jesus always seems to pick the “wrong” ones - the least likely ones - to complicate our tidy categories and push us further into grace, teach us about love and upend our certainties. (Sometimes we are the “wrong” ones.)
God loves us, broods over us like a mother nursing her baby in the dark, her heartbeat is still the rhythm of our peace.
Yes, new love is fun and exciting but this? this becoming-lifelong goodness? these decades of love? this knowing that we’ve dwelt together in the scorched earth and highest mountain peaks, the empty bank account and quietest breathless places, and yet still turn to one another with passion and choice? that feels like the greatest miracle/goodness/gift/sanctuary of my life … even if that truth means that it devastates in the end. Grief always collects and love is worth the price.
The shoutiest voices are rarely the ones worth listening to, so lean in closer to the steady, ordinary, quiet, faithful ones to remember what a life of faith looks like.
God is even better than we can imagine: more true, more beautiful, more at-work, more loving, more generous.
Assigning positive intent and a more generous interpretation to people is a considered risk that I choose on purpose, it is not foolishness or naïveté.
I still find life, goodness, hope, direction, possibility in the underlined scriptures in my beat-up Bible, and the Church’s creeds and the old hymns and the happy-clappy Jesus-is-my-boyfriend songs. Sometimes I need to rest there more than I need more critical thinking. And I don’t feel the need to explain or justify this anymore.
It’s a form of healing to make space for what makes us more human like art, creativity, food, language, connection, work, beauty, each other.
If the way God loves us is even a tenth of the way that I love my children - the way that I am inside out and burning alive when they suffer, the roaring of love in my ears and stomach at all times, the way I long to gather their long bodies up into my lap like when they were babies so I still keep trying , the delight I take in their freckles and foibles - then I think we’re all right. (Promise.)
The simple and honest things usually wind up being what matters in the end.
Love isn’t a magic spell of protection and I hate that with my whole entire heart: life and death and suffering and sorrow still come to us all, no one escapes being a person in this world. Yet somehow, even as the love doesn’t protect, it sustains.
Prayer doesn’t always change things around me but it does change me. I think this is worthy work deserving of our intention.
I don’t have to be gentle with God: I can rage and cry and curse and collapse and still be held fast. God isn’t fragile, I cannot break God’s love with questions, doubt, anger, uncertainty.
It gets a little easier to forgive when you realise that most of the adults of your childhood or youth didn’t have any more of a clue than we do - and they were scared or dealing with their stuff or trying their best, just like we are.
I will always find God more in the wilderness than cathedrals. I want homemade bread and clear water, quiet and stars as sacraments, too.
The love and prayers of my parents are still the foundation of my life in ways I won’t probably ever fully understand.
Miracles can be an act of co-creation so don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty and your heart broken in service of healing yourself or the world.
I do admire the faithful rituals and traditions of so many even while knowing they’re not mine. I’m still a sloppy, experiential, low-church/down-in-the-dirt church kid who bristles at authority, side-eyes boundaries for God, longs for the mystical, and likes to sit in the back row near the exit.
I will probably always feel most comfortable on the outside edges of the inside.
Being resolutely alongside people, not pretending to be above or further ahead, is more comfortable for a soul. Pedestals are bad for followers but even worse for leaders.
As tempting as it is to self-protect ourselves and our hearts as a guard against inevitable disappointments, it’s always better to care, to keep giving a damn, to risk love, to keep trying.
That last golden light of the day, just as the sun sets, is as good as baptism.
God is good and every good thing, every lovely thing, every true thing, is from God. I’m not interested in anyone’s abusive, small, petty god cosplaying a twisted version of “love.”
Solvitur ambulano (“It is solved by walking.” - St. Augustine).3
The steadfast blue of Alberta skies and the gold of a wide open prairie is the landscape of my soul.
The lines, “When peace like a river attendeth my way
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well with my soul.”4
The way I did believe once was - and is still - sweet and sincere. I can bless the box I once needed for God even as I leave it behind.5
Even when it seems that evil or despair is winning, there is always always always a remnant of faithful ones: I want to make a home there with them.
When I don’t/can’t believe anything, I can actively choose love and grace, justice and peace, candlelight and the prayers of others, long drives and good music. So I’ll stay on that road until I cross eventually paths with belief again. (That’s just as holy as someone else’s uncomplicated belief.)
God is as near as my next breath, and the next, and the next. Keep breathing.
I love Jesus with my whole heart. I can’t seem to be talked out of this. I have loved Jesus for almost all my life, I hope I always will.
And there is still Love. Love. Love.
I do hope you’re well. I think of you all often and I pray for you each time.
And in case you missed these recent Field Notes:
Pansies: We're all a patchwork quilt of love and story (for subscribers)
Yes, “some,” not all. So don’t get hung up or weird about what you feel is missing or should be there. And I’m pretty sure even these would make God laugh a bit.
This is a line from L.M. Montgomery’s Emily of New Moon I’ve always remembered.
Walking can be a metaphor here: if it wasn’t changing literally St Augustine’s words, I’d have edited it to “moving” but whatever, the idea remains.
These are the lyrics to the hymn, “It Is Well With My Soul” by Horatio G. Spafford.