Monday, September 28, 2009

I am an Old Woman

Someplace inside me is fifteen and a half weeks old.  The rest of me is a hundred.   

I sit in my chair and watch the children.
I flip between Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune.
I eat dry toast.
I stare blankly.
I am uncertain of my body.
I wonder if I'm dying.

Do you really want to hear about this?  
Of course you don't.  

I'm not dying.  I am, in fact, very much alive.  

But I'm in that dying place.  The season when everything withers and my spirit crawls inside itself and the world is very cold and dark.

And I would love to write that I am praising in this storm, suffering joyfully.

No, in fact I am a terribly crabby old woman.  

It is something I try to keep it to myself, a place in my mind I go to at the end of the day when it is all too much, everything hurts and I cannot bear one more day to feel this way.  I retreat to my dark room, where I can be alone and curl like a fetus into myself and try to lie so still as to calm this raging within.

And as my body rages I think dark thoughts, things I thought I was over, places I don't want my mind to go.  I fight old fights and scrape open old wounds and replay old regrets.  Fears that leave me cold.  Prayers that never were answered.  Pharisees and hypocrites.  Pride and ambition.  Human cruelty.  The unbearable sadness in the world.  

I wonder what it all means.  I doubt everything.

As often happens in my dark moments, God lights a candle with a book.

In Prayer, Does It Make Any Difference? Philip Yancey wrestles with these hard questions.   What is prayer anyway?  Why does God seem so arbitrary in answering prayers? Is God listening? 

He quotes one philosophy professor,
If God can influence the course of events, then a God who is willing to cure colds and provide parking spaces but is not willing to prevent Auschwitz and Hiroshima is morally repugnant.  Since Hiroshima and Auschwitz did occur, one must infer that God cannot (or has a policy never to) influence the course of worldly events. 

Even for one who rejects the professor's extreme conclusion, the haunting questions linger.
Yancey doesn't try to draw any fast formulas or conclusions.  He isn't afraid to let questions linger, to deal with the messiness.  He frankly discusses his own struggles with prayer, and gives examples of others who have experienced times when God seemed far away and not listening.  He reminds the reader that the Bible is not only a happy book, that it is indeed full of passionate emotional outbursts, questions and accusations and laments.  

In another place he writes,
Walter Brueggemann suggests one obvious reason for candor in the book of Psalms: "because life is like that, and these poems are intended to speak to all of life, not just part of it."  Brueggemann finds it jarring to visit upbeat evangelical churches and hear only happy songs, when half of the psalms are "songs of lament, protest, and complaint about the incoherence that is experienced in the world.  At least it is clear that a church that goes on singing "happy songs" in the face of raw reality is doing something very different from what the Bible itself does.
It comforts me to know that I am not alone with my questions.  I am so thankful for thinking, honest people who wrestle with God and write about their own struggles and doubts.  

Just as my raging body is curled around a small, still body yet to be known; so I sense my raging doubts and emotions curled around a small, steady faith.  
I have a lot of faith. But I am also afraid a lot, and have no real certainty about anything. I remembered something Father Tom had told me--that the opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. Certainty is missing the point entirely. Faith includes noticing the mess, the emptiness and discomfort, and letting it be there until some light returns.
— Anne Lamott (Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith)
By the way, Yancey's website is worth checking out, especially his Q&A.  And of course, I highly recommend anything he writes.  I have also been greatly impacted by The Jesus I Never Knew and Soul Survivor.