Jeremiah 20:(7) O Lord, you have enticed me, / and I was enticed; / you have overpowered me, / and you have prevailed.
(9)If I say, “I will not mention him, / or speak any more in his name,” / then within me there is something like a burning fire / shut up in my bones; / I am weary with holding it in, / and I cannot.
One week this term we studied Jeremiah, that byword for gloom. So’s you know, I’m not counting the book in my short list of favorites. It’s tough words in a tough time.
But today as I read Merton’s multiple references to a faith that is arid (his word!), that stands outside comfort or nearly any mortal thing, I reached back for Jeremiah, who in some ways is becoming my friend.
Jeremiah’s complaint, which stands aside from his choices, is that God’s work for him hurts. It hurts to perform, it hurts to refuse to perform, it pulls Jeremiah as if he’s chained to cars driving in opposite directions. It has to be done, there’s no effective refusal, but there’s no emotional reward in the doing.
Writing my poems is not like that; I gain emotional reward as I craft them, as I carve away everything that’s not the poem to let the poem remain. Except.
Except that I do not control the process. I definitely don’t initiate. As you may have noticed by reading here, I have yet to discern a set of behaviors that are more likely to yield fruit than others. I don’t do poems in any way I understand labor.
This is work that God handed to me, that sits like a burr on my skin for me to perform…except that I’m not routinely performing it…and so I hear my culture tell me I’m a slacker. A dilettante.
This call is not, per se, a comfort to me. My faith in God and my trust in God’s direction does not always raise my spirits. And my ideas on how to live my call feel more like random blundering in a dark room filled with angular furniture than any upward path guided by bluebirds and woodland creatures. Getting to my truth seems nearly accidental some days.
God, you give me work I can only do as you push me to do it. Only I can do it, but I can’t do it alone.
Jeremiah grits out my cry.