“I hate you for what you did
And I miss you like a little kid.”
So begins the song “Motion Sickness” on Phoebe Bridgers’ 2017 album Stranger in the Alps. If you haven’t heard it, the song has a folk-rock sound, with a little alt-country in the guitar – an upbeat juxtaposition to lyrics that express anger, sadness, and, well, emotional motion sickness.
Full disclosure: I love this song. While many of my friends were listening to Bridgers, 27, years ago, I’m still newly arrived at her catalogue, and I have been listening to “Motion Sickness” a lot recently. It feels apt right now, when I have hit another wall of pandemic fatigue and frustration; when our country continues to restrict access to voting rights, reproductive care, social welfare programs, and climate infrastructure; when our city grapples with on-going violence, grief, and stunning inequities; and when, to top it off, it is cold and dark and spring feels far away. Turing the song up in my car or while I do the dishes, I get that floaty, perfect, free feeling that the right song at the right time can elicit. The chorus sums my emotions up perfectly:
“I have emotional motion sickness,
Somebody roll the windows down.
There are no words in the English language
I could scream to drown you out.”
The phrase “emotional motion sickness” so wonderfully captures how a barrage of emotions feel, shaken up together and desperate for release but not quite articulable, the frantic noise of the world seemingly unceasing. Maybe you can relate.
In addition to listening to this song on repeat, I have also been reading up on theodicy, in the form of Bryan Bliss’s book Bad Things, Good People, and God: A Guide for Teens (2022). (Beyond the specifics of my call at Redeemer, I find that theology books meant for younger readers can be excellent introductions or refreshers for people of any age. Plus, they’re fun. The chapter titled “The (Mostly) Dead Theologians Answer Club” was both highly amusing and a succinct way of exploring really big theological concepts that have evolved over thousands of years.)
Theodicy means, more or less, if God is good then how do we explain sin and evil? Or, why do bad things happen? Why is there suffering? If God loves us, why? As I started the book, I immediately thought of the beginning of “Motion Sickness” – “I hate you for what you did / And I miss you like a little kid.” Why, God? Aren’t you our loving parent? Aren’t you supposed to be in charge? Where are you – I miss you.
These are real, hard, and often painful questions. Maybe you have asked them before. Maybe you are still asking them. They are questions that require serious wrestling, like Jacob and the angel; questions that people have been wrestling with for thousands of years. They are uncomfortable and there aren’t easy answers. Bliss writes that, like Jacob, we might be left with an injured hip for taking the risk of engaging with such questions (Bliss, 5). Questioning God can feel scary, especially if you’ve been raised never, ever to do that. But God is big enough for the struggle – for the questions, the doubts, the anger, the grief. Jesus certainly experienced those emotions, and the Psalms are full of them. And, maybe, getting that up close and personal will ultimately draw us closer to God, invite us into new ways of experiencing or knowing God, or lead us to new ways of living.
There are many, many different approaches to answering questions of theodicy (see “The (Mostly) Dead Theologians Answer Club” for a few), far more than I could offer in this post. Some of them resonate with me, some don’t – some are part of our tradition in the Episcopal Church, others aren’t. But sometimes a theological answer isn’t really what I want. Sometimes I want my anger, sadness, and emotional motion sickness to be heard. I want God to listen and get in the car with me and sing along as loud as we can.
And I believe that that is true. I am indeed convinced that “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:38-39). I am convinced that God is sitting next to me in the car, singing – God, blessedly incarnate, who has felt this same tune. I am convinced God is sitting next to you, too. And I know it doesn’t always feel that way. So when it is hard to hear the harmony, know that there’s a highway full of people waiting to lend their voices to the chorus with you. God will be singing along with them, too.
P.S. Two books if you want to read more: The one I mentioned above is Bad Things, Good People, and God: A Guide for Teens (Morehouse Publishing, 2022) by Bryan Bliss, a YA author, theologian, and doctoral student who is in the process of becoming an Episcopal priest. Another very readable book that grapples with similar questions is the memoir Everything Happens for a Reason (and Other Lies I’ve Loved) (Random House, 2018), by Kate Bowler, a professor at Duke Divinity School and creator of the podcast “Everything Happens.” If you have any recommendations or favorite places where you’ve gone to wrestle with these questions, I’d love to hear about them.
Two years into a worldwide pandemic, and within that, a time of political and social upheaval in our own country and families, it can feel pretty dark right now. Where is the light, and how can we kindle it for one another?
Robert Louis Stevenson, the author of Treasure Island, Kidnapped, and Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, struggled with lung disease throughout his short life. Constrained by ill health, his muscles of imagination strengthened, enabling him as an adult to top mountains that his body could never conquer, thriving in conjured worlds of physical and spiritual danger. He had been mostly unable to attend school as a boy or play with other children, and he grew up in his grandparents’ house tended by maids, tutors, and a fervently religious nurse named Allison Cunningham, whose folk tales caused the boy to have nightmares. “Cummy,” as Stevenson called her, also cared for him tenderly, reading to him from Pilgrim’s Progress and the Bible, long day after long day, when he was especially weak. Once, late in the afternoon, Cummy found Stevenson staring out the window at the lamplighter, as the man moved from light post to light post, igniting the gas street lamps. She asked Stevenson what he was doing, and the boy responded, “I am watching that man poke holes in the darkness.” Stevenson’s writing, rooted in his own losses, offers his readers a similar gift: inviting them to envision a world better than the one they have. When times are especially tough, poets poke holes in the darkness.
That is the genius of the writer Isaiah, actually three different authors, who made sense of the people’s struggles over two centuries. The context of 8th-6th century BCE Israel would be very familiar to us: international superpowers treating smaller countries like pawns, institutions rocked by scandal and then weakened by apathy, average folks worried about their physical safety, how to keep food on the table, and what moral compromise their leaders would engage in next. When Jerusalem falls and the people are marched into Babylon, it even looks like they have lost their religion, until Isaiah helps them altogether re-imagine God’s power and presence. This period is called the Exile in Jewish history, and for all of its death-dealing losses, it is also the moment of a spiritual flowering whose gifts can be opened to us right now.
Isaiah helps the people see that their God is portable, not tied to a piece of real estate or a building. He helps them see that God is on the side of justice and peace, not in some political victory. He broadens the vision of God’s compassion and breaks the tradition of party and nationalism—God is for all people, and He intends the well-being of every tribe and nation. Every valley shall be exalted, he says, and every mountain will be brought low. And in this same moment of Exile, the poetry of the Psalms is penned, and the origin stories of Genesis and Exodus are composed. In that exceedingly dark period of time, poets gave us the language of creation and redemption, of struggle and strength, of a Suffering Servant who reveals that love is older and more powerful than hate. In your most bewildering wilderness, Isaiah says, a voice of light and hope will cry out: The kingdom of God is within you shining, and no power can ever take that away.
The light is in each of you—I see it and am warmed by it, even when you are fairly convinced it has gone out. The light is in the compassion you offer your parents or neighbors or children, especially on the days when you feel like there is nothing left to give. The light is in the difficult conversations you have with colleagues and strangers, when you say “Tell me more” and you ask where it hurts. The light is in the ways Redeemer is righting the wrongs of red-lining and inequitable schools, when you invest in affordable housing and help make every neighborhood a place to learn and thrive. The light is in your personal study and spiritual exercises and welcoming worship that invites everyone to join hands and build a better world than the one we have.
So many of us are in a night of struggle, but in the love you embody, I see a light that shines.
Last Tuesday, I was part of a circle of women* gathered around the fireplace in our Parish Hall. We began our time together by reflecting on and sharing our answers to the questions: “What do you love most about winter? What do you find most challenging about winter?” Light, both the exquisite quality of it, and the lack of it, was a common refrain. The architecture and silhouettes of naked trees, another. Some of us love wearing winter clothes and sweaters; some miss gardening and warmer outdoor activity. All of us, it seemed, were grateful simply to be gathered together, masked and all, by the fireplace, which crackled and glowed.
Our discussion was led by one of our “Ruth’s Sisters” who also happens to be a professional therapist. We learned about seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression that begins and ends during a specific season every year; it doesn’t have to be winter, specifically, although most people do experience SAD during the winter months. What some of us call the “winter blues” refers to a milder version of SAD, which appears to be related to varying amounts of exposure to sunlight in different seasons; this in turn affects biological and neurological functioning and can lead to fatigue, low mood, increased appetite, difficulty falling asleep at night, and other experiences associated with depression. Getting sunlight (or a light box!) first thing in the morning for 15-30 minutes helps, as does going for a daily walk and committing to a regular sleep routine and schedule. To learn more, click https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/seasonal-affective-disorder , with many thanks to Annick Barker, LCSW-C, for leading our discussion and putting together the handout/information sheet from which most of the above was taken.
One remedy or way of navigating through winter blues can be delighting in even the smallest of things. As a holiday gift this year, a friend of mine gave me a lovely collection of essays called The Book of Delights, by award-winning poet Ross Gay. The mindfulness and attentiveness he gives to things many (most?) of us would overlook, combined with his gift of writing, are truly a delight (I will never look at a praying mantis in quite the same way again, after reading Essay #7!). If you’re looking for a book that you can digest and be nurtured by in small, bite-size pieces, I commend this gem to you.
Speaking of delighting in even the smallest of things, below is the poem with which our group of women ended our “fireside chat” the other evening (with many thanks to Annick Barker, again, for sharing this with us!). On this cold winter day, on the ??th day of our ongoing pandemic, amidst so much that continues to be hard in our lives and in our world today, may you experience something of bounty and delight … and remember that God delights in You.
Make much of something small.
The pouring-out of tea,
a drying flower’s shadow on the wall
from last week’s sad bouquet.
A fact: it isn’t summer anymore.
Say that December sun
is pitiless, but crystalline
and strikes like a bell.
Say it plays colours like a glockenspiel.
It shows the dust as well,
the elemental sediment
your broom has missed,
and lights each grain of sugar spilled
upon the tabletop, beside
pistachio shells, peel of a clementine.
Slippers and morning papers on the floor,
and wafts of iron heat from rumbling rads,
can this be all? No, look – here comes the cat,
with one ear inside out.
Make much of something small.
~Robyn Sarah, from A Day’s Grace (Porcupine’s Quill, 2003)
*Ruth’s Sisters: Women navigating midlife transitions in body, mind and spirit together in community grounded in faith and spirituality – meets twice a month, typically the 2d Tuesday evening 5:45-7:15 p.m. at Redeemer and 4th Saturday (time TBD) for a fun outing. For more info, contact Cristina.
“The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.”
This quote has been attributed to the late Albert Einstein, German-born theoretical physicist and deeply spiritual human being. Allegedly he spoke these words in reference to the need for a new ethical perspective in light of the development of the atomic bomb. With the continued competition within the human species and lack of true compassion and collaboration, he believed unless the heart of humanity changed our species would annihilate itself. Spoken during the middle of the 20th century, truer words have never been spoken given the current situations of our present day and time.
Perception creates reality and whatever we continue to perceive is magnified. But, what if we could perceive differently and thereby affect our lives and the lives of others in wonderful, life-giving ways? What if we could know shalom more consistently right now? What if we changed our point-of-view? This was the message of Jesus of Nazareth preaching repentance in order to experience God (the kingdom of heaven).
Changing our perspectives, changes our reality, and Life takes on a newness previously unknown. Our thinking shifts from darkness to light. We begin to live life in the Spirit which is eternal, loving, and liberating. The alternative is to live in the current temporary, unloving, and enslaving state of be-ing. Let’s face it if we do what we have always done we will result in get what we’ve already got! How can we make room for the creativity of Spirit? Isn’t it time to create something better?
LIFE in the SPIRIT, is a new adult forum beginning in late February which will allow us to explore together the challenges of shifting our perspectives to create something new in our lives. Adapted from the book, DISCOVERING OUR SPIRITUAL IDENTITY, by Trevor Hudson, we will learn and share together. Through defining what we mean when we talk about “spirituality vs. religion” and discussing what makes for a spiritual life (a life of meaning and purpose) we begin to come to know who we truly are: Spiritual beings living in a temporal reality. As we come to understand WHO we are, we begin to perceive the connection between us and everybody else; indeed between the rest of creation.
There is a word in the Zulu and Xhosa languages of S. Africa, ubuntu. It means “I am a person because of other persons,” and it is actually a philosophy or way-of-life which states that no one of us exists in isolation and that we are all interconnected. True spirituality is a way of describing that connectivity.
Requirements to attend the forum are an open heart and mind and the desire to become the change you wish to see in the world. All sessions will be on Sunday afternoons on ZOOM twice a month. “Holy experiments” are designed and provided to help us integrate what we are learning into our everyday lives. We hope you will join us. Watch e-Redeemer for more information.
Remember, Change your mind…change your Life!
Many blessings and Much love in this new year!