Instead of sitting right down with my keyboard, I spent my first hour sifting all the pages in my planner. I take notes whenever I’m in a seminar or meeting, so the blank pages in the back of my planner silt up over time. The Think Better, Live Better conference; a scattering of webinars; a handful of volunteer meetings; the stump speeches of two CEOs of GSUSA; Dr. Rigby’s wonderfully interlaced talks for Synod of the Sun’s Presbyterian Women’s Gathering this summer.
On a pageful of jottings from a pre-release version of Dr. Rigby’s sessions is, perpendicular and blocky: UNDONE AND REMADE. I’ve been feeling this in my cells. More accurately, I’ve been suspecting and dreading this for a while, even before my prayer of Old Man Kangaroo.
One of the most consistent warnings, across all cultures’ early stories, is, “Be careful what you ask or wish for.” And sometimes they’re warning of unintended consequences…none of us are clever enough to foresee all eventualities. Sometimes, though, they’re warning of the path you’ll have to take to reach your desire. The heroine may set out naïve and blithe, but farther along the way will be grueling, and fill with loss. And when she’s reached that spot on the path, there’s seldom an option to turn around. One can only keep going…or stop once and for all. Perhaps that’s why I took to my mental health exercises so diligently—the old stories had told me the same thing all along.
There are a set of books that molded me; they read like those early stories even though they’re made by one person, and fairly recently, too. When I think about UNDONE AND REMADE, I immediately jump into The Farthest Shore in the U. K. LeGuin’s Earthsea books. Here the old hero and the young hero confront what it means to be alive by walking through to the other side of death. Woven in the story are visions of everything undone, and everything remade. It is terrifying, unmaking. And even when remaking comes as a gift afterwards, the memory of unmaking remains. The heroes climb from the valley of death across the mountains of pain, completely drained even though at last again in the sun.
Less than a handful of years ago, an offhand corner of a sermon caught my attention. (Yep, it’s true, I seldom hear a sermon head-on.) If I recall, the heart of the sermon was in Galatians. All I heard, though, was “fourteen years in Tarsus,” linked back to Acts’ matter-of-fact reporting of Paul’s arc from Jew of Jews to Jesus’ apostle, nearly lynched for preaching in Jerusalem’s squares. Paul’s well-wishers smuggled him back to his hometown, Tarsus, to save him. And with the white-hot heat of conversion still on him, Paul waited on God’s timing before he preached again. (Acts 9:28-30; Galatians 2:1)
It was the number that pierced me. Fourteen was the number of years between God’s call to me as “anointed, like David,” and my A’s high school graduation. Sure! Paul sewed tents; I was raising children–de facto, if not de jure. All these years between I’d kept asking for a little more detail to fill out that call; maybe I’d needed to wait for one season to finish before the next began!
It was, I think, a year or so after this that my prayer of change solidified inside me, and I wrote it down. As I wrote it, I wanted to take it back somehow. I could feel in my shoulder blades that being different was to ask to be alien, foreign, othered inside my own life. A’s troubles were, in parallel, pressing down on me; I sketched images of carbon compressed into rubies and diamonds. Of silver and gold burned to remove impurities. But 2014 came and went without any clear marks or signs.
Dr. Rigby drew for us a cycle: the Word, grace, then closeness to God’s self. Each of us first undone, then remade by Word, by grace, by God. She quoted:
Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow[…] –Hebrews 4:12
That is a brilliantly-forged narrow blade, finer even than a scalpel. Whose cuts, I hear, don’t hurt until much later, when the nerves have had time to awaken to the change.
I am getting serious about adding something new to my days. At one level, it seems ridiculously simple: I’ll take a seminary class this spring, assuming they’ll have me. I’ve done grad school before; I enjoy school. I’m too cagey to commit yet to more than one class, even to myself, but I will likely take more.
At another level, something more is going on. I’ve had nightmares that when pulled apart into symbols become spurs of strange encouragement. After dinners, My Sweetie thoughtfully tries to comprehend me: what’s my goal? What will I use this for? When I finish, what will be different? When I finish, what then? And I can only answer: no goal, no use, I don’t know, I don’t know. I know my head feels empty. I know I want to fill my head. I know seminary-things are, for now, what I want to fill my head with. How does this fit in with all my other works? How does this tie in to understanding the work God wants me to do? I don’t know; I don’t know.
Undone. I may be undone. God’s promise is that we will, nevertheless, be remade. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:16).