This Grace That Scorches Us

by Rev. Anna Blaedel

“Here’s one thing
you must understand
about this blessing:
it is not
for you alone.

It is stubborn
about this.
Do not even try
to lay hold of it
if you are by yourself,
thinking you can carry it
on your own.

To bear this blessing,
you must first take yourself
to a place where everyone
does not look like you
or think like you,
a place where they do not
believe precisely as you believe,
where their thoughts
and ideas and gestures
are not exact echoes
of your own.

Bring your sorrow.
Bring your grief.
Bring your fear.
Bring your weariness,
your pain,
your disgust as how broken
the world is,
how fractured,
how fragmented
by its fighting,
its wars,
its hungers,
its penchant for power,
its ceaseless repetition
of the history it refuses
to rise above.

I will not tell you
this blessing will fix all that.

But in the place where you have gathered, wait.
Lay aside your inability
to be surprised,
your resistance to what you
do not understand.

See then whether this blessing
turns to flame on your tongue,
sets you to speaking
what you cannot fathom

or opens your ear
to a language
beyond your imagining
that comes as a knowing
in your bones,
a clarity
in your heart
that tells you

this is the reason
we were made:
for this ache
that finally opens us,

for this struggle,
this grace
that scorches us
toward one another
and into
the blazing day.”

-Jan Richardson

Tending to the reason we were made, this ache that finally opens us, this struggle, this grace that scorches us toward one another: this tending is a spiritual practice.  Faith is a practice of tending tenderly to the aches, to the pressing weight of the world, to the pervasive pains and violences that are personal, relational, political. This is how we encounter the healing salve of salvation. Tending to ache is the work of faith, and it can be exhausting work. I have been wondering what it means to practice gratitude and prepare for joy in the midst and mess of this exhaustion and ache.

What does it mean to practice gratitude, when last Thanksgiving militarized police were turning pepper spray, attack dogs, and water cannons in sub-freezing temperatures against Native people on Native land, in order to lay a dangerous and illegal pipeline for the sake of corporate profit?  What does it mean to practice gratitude, when this Thanksgiving, one year later, that very pipeline has already ruptured, spilling over 200,000 gallons of oil, contaminating sacred land, sacred water?  What does it mean to prepare for Advent, to make room in our hearts and our world for the birth of Jesus, a Palestinian Jew born to refugee parents, without legal status or documents, when the White House is rescinding the Temporary Protected Status of 59,000 Haitians, and countless more Nicaraguans and Sudanese, living in the US for humanitarian relief?  What does it mean to give thanks when life is simply and profoundly unlivable for so many, and becoming increasingly unlivable every day? When we live in a country with a President who would, today, very likely deport the Divine?

If you are feeling exhausted, you are not alone. The crisis of exhaustion in this county is one of oppressed people, particularly Indigenous and Black people, have been living with and in and through for generations.

The Hebrew word for hope—tivkah—means a binding together, an interweaving. Hope begins by tending to our tender togetherness, the interwoven connections with one another and with the Divine that we simply cannot afford to sever. Tivkah hope is never triumphant, but is always tender, and always tending to our longing for a more just, more loving, more livable world.

Thérèse of Lisieux taught that we come to know God by participating in God. Participating in God is the practice of faith: organizing communities, enfleshing collectivities, of resistance and insurrection, practicing care that is fierce, and tender, and generous, and transformative.

In this short season between Thanksgiving and Christmas: May we practice gratitude by seeking to make life livable for the most vulnerable. May we practice gratitude by cultivating the courage that allows us to keep seeking justice. May we practice our faith and participate in the Divine by resisting the insidious belief that buying or owning more things will make us happy or whole, by resisting the insidious belief that tactics of fear, supremacy, and war will save us or keep us safe. Following the Way of the One we call Christ can be exhausting, but it also offers us gifts of delight. Gathering at table. Extending our tables. Sharing stories. Listening deeply. Leaning in. Creating new stories. Holding one another and being held by one another. Praying, dancing, singing, and caring our way into new ways of being together.

Feel the ache, dear ones. Linger long enough in it to allow for gratitude to mingle with grief, pain to press into possibility, faith to be deepened by doubt. This ache is the reason we were made. There are no easy answers. No clear paths. But. And. We belong to a story to reminds us that wounds and wilderness spaces are the very sites of encountering God. And, we are made by, and met by, and in relationship with, and participating in a God who does not ever abandon us, no matter how deep the despair or exhaustion, and who calls us never to abandon one another.  Thanks be, in tender hope, together.

rev anna blaedel

By Rev. Anna Blaedel

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