Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Will Smith, Grief, and Christmas

I went to a movie the other evening. I went alone because it felt a necessary and desired offering on the 4-month anniversary since my father passed away. Four months. I’ve seen September, October, November, and half of December come and go without him. I’ve passed through my oldest’s birthday, my husband’s birthday, a Halloween, an historic election, and Thanksgiving without him. And right around the corner is Christmas. I have yet to determine if it is kindness or cruelty in grief that so many significant days are packed into such a short period of time.

I needed sanctuary. A place of remembrance that allowed me the chance to honor a life, and a death, that has forever changed me. My altar was a big screen and a reclining leather seat. My dad loved movies. I suppose that’s where I got it my affinity for cinema, so it seemed fitting to find myself on this anniversary in a place doing something we both love. 

I didn’t know what I was hoping to accomplish in that dark theater. I didn’t really go with any kind of expectation. That fact, in and of itself, was a gift. 

I parked, froze as I walked from the van to the lobby, bought my solitary ticket, and found a seat among 20 strangers who had also chosen to see Collateral Beauty.

It’s a movie about grief. It’s a movie about life. It’s a movie about what we do with three abstractions: love, time, and death. Although the movie is filled with Hollywood heavyweights, it plays out as a fairly predictable and contrived storyline. Even still, there are some lovely moments where Will Smith’s vulnerability gives the onlooker the permission to grieve along with him.

I had no epiphany during the film. No moment of clarity as the credits rolled. I got up from my seat, walked back to the van, and went home. If I was sure of anything it was that I was glad I had been there. Glad to have followed through and spent a portion of that difficult day at the movies.

Now, days later, I recognize something more. Spending 97 minutes watching Collateral Beauty was the embodiment of Advent reality. The film clearly invites the audience to enter into grief, but if you accept the invitation you aren’t alone. What the film gave me was a chance to be okay with everything I might be feeling and my reactions to those feelings because I am not alone. The raw grief of the fictional Howard Inlet is a reminder that we all connect with grief because we all “bear the wound.” I am not alone in my grief. 

That’s the message of Christmas. We aren't alone. God wrapped Himself in flesh and bone and stepped into time, and in doing so He showed us there is nothing we experience by ourselves. He’s been there. He’s done that. He’s gotten the t-shirt. For grief. For being misunderstood. For the joy of genuine friendship. For being hungry. For fighting to accept the reality in front of Him. He’s walked the road. He’s lived in that neighborhood. You and I aren't by ourselves through any of it. 

Christmas says God really is Emmanuel - the God who is with us. Peering into the Bethlehem manger doesn’t erase my grief. It doesn’t eliminate the struggle of adjusting to life without my dad. But the swaddled baby reminds me I don’t do any of it by myself. I am not alone. And today, that will be enough for me.

The Word became flesh and blood, 
and moved into the neighborhood. 
We saw the glory with our own eyes, 
the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, 
generous inside and out, true from start to finish. 
- John 1:14 (MSG) -

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Prelude to a Magnificat: Mary’s Ache

My thoughts behind this poem:
I can imagine a “just-made-it-to-womanhood” girl whose loving devotion to God placed her in the middle of some of the most difficult circumstances an unmarried female could find herself in the days of King Herod. I imagine that Mary, like all of us attempting to walk by faith, faltered in her own understanding and acceptance of God’s will over the nine months Jesus grew in her womb. I imagine the one brave enough to say yes to God’s request was also gutsy enough to be real in His presence. Maybe we can do away with the whitewashed, romanticized girl we conjure up in blue robes, and instead see her as we might actually be had we found ourselves in her situation. 

Between the angelic proclamation and the lyrics to Mary’s Song in Luke 1, I suspect there was a whole lot of soul searching that happened in Mary’s heart. And so, this is my license to wax poetic concerning what could have been happening inside of Mary as she comes to terms with all God’s plan required of her. I see a newly birthed woman preparing to give birth while her tenuous faith and faltering confidence keep her company. And as her vanishing world of safety slips through her fingers, I imagine honest-to-God moments where she pushed back against the inevitable pain brought on by this path she accepted. I choose to place the timing of this poem just before she visited her cousin, Elizabeth. And I end the poem with questions that I think Mary might have easily asked and that God, in His infinite graciousness, immediately answered for her in the greeting she was given by Elizabeth.


This root of grief. 
Growing invisible 
while my abdomen swells.
Loss of trust 
and social standing.
It’s enough to break anyone.
At least to break me.
I am my name.
Like self-fulfilling prophecy.

Shushed whispers,
eyes speaking a thousand judgments.
Virgin in body, but not in reputation.
I die again with each look of a father’s disappointment
and midnight weeping from a mother.
Would they even believe what is true?
Do I still believe it to be true?

Man in glowing white
pronouncing favor,
promising a child,
a king, a savior.
But blessed?
I, who am spared no rejection?
Who befriends isolation and loneliness?
Anger brews and boils.
Lingering long enough for me to invite it in
when doors have closed their welcome
and friends have disappeared.
Bitterness harvested from a heart that God chose.

Prescience might have altered my service.
How is holiness born from scandal?
Or rescue birthed from reproach?
For now, only torment seems the return
on my investment of faith that
makes God the King
but me?
I am lost and afflicted.
Questioning my sanity,
and my willingness to suffer.

My tears have bled me dry.
How long, Lord, 
before you change my name?
How long must I wrestle before becoming Israel?
How far must I walk to be Abraham?
Jehovah, Your name is great,
do not forget about mine?
Will you salvage it?
Can you redeem bitter?
Redefine Mary?
Restore me?

Have mercy, God.
If I found favor once, 
could it be found again?
Would you confirm what I heard?
What I know, but now doubt and fear?
Would you remind me
that your servant is always safe,
that you are in this struggle,
that I am blessed by you?
Even as my world distances itself from me,
will you show you are still close and fulfilling your promises?