Sunday, October 5, 2014

2014.10.05 Don't Suffer Fools Foolishly

While writing my memoir, I connected with my women lunch buddies at Yale Divinity School, my God-school. We were mostly commuters, somewhere in the middle of our lives, and of different denominations. We majored in lunch. It wasn’t for the food; it was for the spiritual food of this small company of women, sharing gallows humor about the church, and perfecting the fine spiritual art of the lament while honing our debating skills on arguments about each one’s favorite heresy.

Excited by all the new knowledge we were exposed too, and being fools about how much we really understood, we weren't foolish to celebrate it in this informal way—a holy communion that felt just as holy as the altar one.
Beneath our ignorance and hilarity lurked truth: the late 70s was a crucial time for women in the churches. Doors were opening wider than before to welcome female flesh as ordained presiders at the altar and preachers from pulpits. We weren’t sure who could fit through. 

Oh, it was so hard to leave the refectory and trudge back down halls, and more halls, to get to the next class, or to the library where we read, and read, and read—alone.

I loved these women as much as I loved God—more because they gave hugs. When I found them all years after we left our seminary, we swapped memories. I asked each one the same question: Which big Christian idea is the hardest for you to believe?  Incarnation won.  It’s crazy to think of God becoming human. Or was it that humanity, chiefly of the masculine sort, inflated to fill big shoes? 

Incarnation seemed too demeaning for a big God, and yet, too impossible grand for humanity, even those at the top of the food chain. Is there a narrowing, a claustrophobic squeeze into which divinity is willing, for the sake of love, to enter? Do we suppose that our humanity, chiefly of the masculine sort, inflates to become God?  Although Incarnation is more common in world religions, it’s easier for Christians to swallow resurrection, the idea for which we cheer mightily and sing plethoras of alleluias in or out of Easter season.

Ah, we had so much fun battling out all these puzzles, not solving a thing but loving each other in the suffering of it all. We all knew that suffering was the mark of a good Christian, after all, so why not suffer intentionally over theology too slippery for any of us individually, or all of us collectively, to hold onto. Perhaps the point:)

I find Incarnation easier to swallow than Resurrection, possibly because it feels more intimate, and possibly because I like to think that my own fleshly womb has participated in Creation’s unfolding, and contributed its share of labor and suffering. This could be a control issue of course, or it could be simply a wonderment. God knows, having children transformed my life and still does.

And if suffering means anything at all it’s transformative. Franciscan priest Richard Rohr wrote in April of 2014 in a Meditation "Transforming Our Suffering": 

"All healthy religion shows you what to do with your pain. Great religion shows you what to do with the absurd, the tragic, the nonsensical, the unjust. . . .  Unless we can find a meaning for human suffering, that God is somehow in it, and can even use it for good, humanity is in major trouble."

A God who comes into human flesh as in Jesus Christ, and me too, help me live through suffering—not without much kvetching and lament, but with some assurance that the God in my flesh suffers with me. Incarnational spirituality sacralizes my smallness and my wounds, and resurrection spirituality gives me an out with hope. 

Theology aside, I prefer the religion of Christmas (Incarnation) to Easter (Resurrection.) This may change as I get older—and older!  Yet even the secular images represented by infants in creches or fat old men in red suits with beards, or by bunnies, chickies and colored eggs, carry spiritual messages of divine generosity and humility (Incarnation) and generativity (Resurrection.)  

Whatever your preferences, we all must face the truth of our condition and its limitations, the sheer humility of the flesh with all its foolishness.

I must admit, however, that, foolishness and preferences aside, both the Christmas idea of Incarnation and the Easter idea of Resurrection  merge divinity with humanity in such inextricably lovely ways that either way we, what?, are not alone—ever.

1 comment:

Rick Wheeler said...

What a wonderful account and a good future checking point to make sure we are on the right path. It is a joy, and a subject of wonderful reflection. Thank you soooo much!