Saturday, September 19, 2015

echoes and balm.

I arrived late to the Why Christian? Conference yesterday and found myself winding through the hallways of St. Mark's Cathedral in a pokey line. But we had coffee and energy and a few familiar faces. And then, armed with my wristband and swag, I followed into the sanctuary. It was packed to the gills. One chair had been added to each aisle, as if for a whimsical flight attendant, but those were filled too. People were singing and breathing and laughing and squishing in. There were bodies everywhere - and so I got goosebumps. I love when bodies embody.

I came alone knowing that I would not be alone. Most of my dorky church friends would be here. They too were stuffed into this holy space. They too were unpacking their fragile hearts while we confessed and chanted Psalms, while we were led and promised with words often left to our own lips.

I was acutely aware of the crowd, but also of the vaulted ceilings. While the square-footage below was brimming with questions and joy and sorrow and pain and wondering, there was so much space above. Our voices carried upwards. And I felt the Spirit hovering gently, tending to our two thousand hands, all holding piles of shit and suffering and hope and faith carried along.

It is good to be surrounded while listening to good storytellers. It's even better when those storytellers are preachers - powerful women who ache with the world's pain and glow with its beauty. It's the best when they fire their wisdom and humor and love at you nonstop for two days, reclaiming and reconverting you all weekend long.

You know that I am called to the margins - the fragmented and addicted and hurting places. But I am also called to be a source of balance and health for my little family. And so these things are always battling for my heart, though they should not stand so very far apart. The pressure of each weighs on me and I waste energy meant for grace on disciplining myself at every turn. It's exhausting.

This weekend I heard that familiar struggle and strength in other women. They told me I am not alone while convicting, absolving, wrestling and freeing me using the same truths I hand over to others everyday. This weekend these things were gifts for me and I white-knucked them every 25 minutes when a new broken beauty stood before me with witness and fierce, defiant love.

I have heard from 3 dear pastor|mama friends this summer, each fried and isolated for good reasons. They are weary from this hard work of being church and loving humans and dragging wild grace back into the arenas of shame, despair, achievement, and self-righteousness. Like me, they have seen and heard and carried enough to feel both completely shattered and fiercely compelled. And, like me, they do not always have a preacher when they need one.

Each speaker told us we are broken and beloved and brave. They preached the incarnation and death and resurrection so that our bodies were demanded and declared as well. We heard it dozens of times and with each proclamation, unified sighs would rush over us. We were starving for this news, again and again. It felt new every single time.

We became more convinced our of our own stories and witnesses, mutually inspired by the reclaiming and reconverting we shared with each voice. I called the spirits of my 3 pastor|mama friends from their far corners into the space, wishing they could be emptied and filled with us, wishing their bodies and stories could have been squished into the pews alongside us.

This morning the magnificent Rachel Kurtz offered a great gift. Three words into There is a Balm in Gilead, I had tears dripping from my jaw. Please note that I do not cry often or in public. When I do, I well up momentarily like a good Scandinavian, clear my throat and then it's over. But today the song bellowed so forcefully that I believed her. Her assurance and strength washed over me. The tears gushed through my body and cleansed pathways with their departure, then tumbled through closed eyes and down my cheeks. All my open spaces caught the healing gospel. It wedged into every crack and wound and ache. It filled my failures and covered my fatigue. It wrung me out in three short verses, granting deep peace.

When I opened my eyes, I looked up. I could feel others doing the same. Though we sat shoulder to shoulder, the echo reminded us that there are many more stories and saints in this fragile and unrelenting body. And our call is to keep being bodies who embody because there is enough balm for it all.