Skin and bones, bound together with some hockey tape, some glue and maybe a few rubber bands.
I don’t know if you ever wake up feeling “fragile”. I do. There are some days I wake up without defenses up, from some deep dream or reverie, feeling the weight of the world. In that time, I will feel the sting of every painful thing that has ever happened to me, and perhaps to anyone else. I feel all creation groaning, like a woman in childbirth. In a think-positive world, such feelings are not allowed. I don’t like them very much. I try to banish them from my brain and from my thinking.
Some radio preachers spin this feeling, as “soul burdened”. Spiritual work, they call it. Your spirit is striving inside of you because it wants to accomplish something. I am not sure what, at 4 AM my spirit wants to do exactly, that pulls the Band-Aid off life and leaves me awake wondering why. Lingering thoughts of this nature do not really seem to be of much use.
Think positive they say. It makes me think of Kurt Vonnegut junior, who wrestled with mental illness. He said, “I look out and see all that is sick in the world, and they tell me I’M the one who is crazy.” Yes, all creation is groaning. Every newspaper proclaims it. There is, as the saying goes, no good news. In journalistic terms, “if it bleeds, it leads”. We all like to read about (other peoples’) calamity because it makes us feel safer.
I usually get up and have a cup of coffee at this point, trying to shake off the feeling like an athlete shakes off the effects of an injury. This early I am still all alone in my thoughts while the rest of the family sleeps. My grandmother used to share this affliction. She too would wake up in the night, sit at the kitchen table and have a cup of coffee. She was a very fine woman, perhaps with too much to think about. There was plenty to haunt her mind back then and plenty of fodder for my own thoughts today. I don’t need to borrow anybody else’s troubles.
I know what is at the root of all this feeling. Mortality. Mortality and the feeling that you can’t really control the freight train of life, it will just go barreling where it wants. All those good intentions and all that positive thinking won’t go very far at that point. And yet in the balance of things, I am also fine, at least relatively speaking. I live in a house. It is warm. There is food in the fridge. My bills are paid. We are all healthy, and all here. There is no real justification for the vulnerabilities which gang up on me so early.
It is of no use for someone like me to think of my grab bag of tricks, things that are a go-to in times of crisis, like a critical care nurse or a soldier snapping into action and moving on instinct. I don’t think I have EVER really known what is the right thing to do in times of crisis. The truth is I have had some uncomfortably vulnerable moments in my life. Times when I didn’t really know what to do, and there was no one to give me an easy answer.
The internet is no soothing balm here if you want to change the channel. I look at Christian memes and they all have flowery verses that talk about God being here, all written by someone who was feeling all alone trying to drum up an invisible friend. The fact is, all those positive posts just look like a lot of wishful thinking to me. They are no closer to the goal, than I am. No more able to school me in how to be ok.
If I were to be honest, I would say this is the truest feeling in the world, and that is probably why I don’t like it. I don’t like to think such thoughts. I would like to be as OK as OK can be, if it were down to will power or self-control. I wonder at times such as this, whether this is really the moments where God finds us because we can’t hide anymore from our own frailty. I wonder if this is what goes through your brain when you are dying and can no longer avoid such thinking. I wonder then if there is light at the end of the tunnel when you can’t wish it away and provide the light yourself. I guess that is why I am me and God is God. If God wanted me to play God, it would be a cruel joke indeed.
My mind spits back a scene at Niagara on the Lake, where we came across an emergency happening on the sidewalk. An elderly man prostrate on the pavement, surrounded by relatives pulling at their hair in shock and not knowing what to do. My wife who is a critical care nurse, snapped into action and took charge. With another lady who was a nurse, they took turns administering CPR and mouth to mouth breathing. After what seemed like an eternity, the ambulance showed up with better life-saving tools at their disposal. Like the ER shows on TV, they deftly took out a defibrillator and shocked the old gentleman. He bounced on the pavement. The crowd oohed and awed, impressed. He didn’t look so good. He didn’t sit up and rub his eyes and ask what everyone was looking at. They took him away. I asked my wife if he was going to make it. She said frankly, he was likely already dead by the time we all showed up. The truth was she was trying to force the breath of life into a corpse. I asked her why the paramedics did all that they did, and she said it was to “give the family hope”. It made me think of the scripture verses plastered on the internet with shots of forests and birds singing. They too are meant to give us hope.
Hope can be a pretty scarce commodity. Those who don’t need it, don’t go looking for it. There is no one who can sell it to you. There is no place in the market where hope can be clicked on and moved into the purchase cart. It is either free, or elusive. Some people are hopeful without anything to pin it to. They are really, kind of clueless and sometimes annoying to boot. Not serious you might say. The world is full of happy vacuous people with nothing to think about but YouTube pranks and other distractions. They are of no use to me in this present moment.
There are plenty of people who feel totally ok with the world and with themselves. This includes axe murderers who blandly relate their crimes to reporters taking notes, still in disbelief that evil can sit five feet from you without blinking, asking for a cigarette. Having seen my share in the court room when I was a sketch artist, I also shared that sense of disbelief, that all this is all happening, that there is no one to stop it.
And then I sit back and think to why I call myself a Christian. It’s not because I ever knew what to do. I am still here only because in times of calamity, people and things have showed up at the right time to save me. Whether that was by God’s hand I can only guess and I would like to claim such beneficence in the same way that the gurus and meditators do, the ones who always talk about the “universe” giving you what you need like some mysterious magical force.
Well, the answer people seem all to have a lot of answers. They are the easy kind because they are all OK or seem to be. They can offer all the easy answers in the world and in this moment of waking, I will know them to be false prophets, harbingers of a light that can also quickly be dismissed.
I wonder what Jesus thought about when he really had the weight of the world on his shoulders on the Cross. Reviled and laughed at, piled on by the authorities and everyone else who thought it a joke. The Bible tells the story, but it never lingers on these bad bits. It’s not meant to sell newspapers. If it were, they would gloss up the crucifixion in the same way Mel Gibson put it on film for all to see. It sold a lot of movie tickets.
If life is a serious thing, then we need a really big God. One who can descend into the most utter darkness and come back with some good news. I read in my own Bible in Ephesian 4:7-10, where Paul is talking rhetorically about whether Jesus is able to “bring it” when the chips are down.
“But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of the gift of Christ. Therefore He says: When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men. In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that He also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is also He who ascended far above all the heavens that He might fill all things.”
I guess that is why the Apostle’s creed states that Christ descended into Hell. He took the fight to the Enemy, and led captivity captive. I like that. Colossians 2:15-17 goes even further. “And on that cross Christ freed himself from the power of the spiritual rulers and authorities; he made a public spectacle of them by leading them as captives in his victory procession.”
If Jesus did this, he is the only one out there not posting memes of flowers and sunsets on the internet. He is taking me seriously because at moments like this, I need a Saviour. One who went to the dark places measure for measure and came back with some light.