Safe Landing

Hmm. Made it. All the kerfuffle and swallowed anticipation and sugar. It was okay. Maybe one of the best in a very long time. Lovely things happened, perhaps not so much because of Christmas as because of the movements and configurations of people that come with it. A moment of glory singing with my son at a Christian potluck, and another baking with him, making bread for Communion. Who could ever, possibly, ask for better. Discovering myself as a baker, which is very surprising, making mince tarts and puff pastry turnovers with Brie, white chocolate fudge and sausage rolls, Baguettes (they worked) and Norfolk treacle tart with clotted cream.

My body’s shot. Eating is anywhere from a challenge to a curse. Nothing’s working so well, but hey, I tell myself, it’s gotta come. And either it stays this way, gets better, or gets worse. No big surprises there.

I think maybe I really did let go. I don’t know if I can remember, ever in my life, a Christmas so free of expectation, so open to happiness. The Blue Meanies (not to speak of the Black ones) have shown up, and I’ve spent a modicum of time at the bottom of the pain and depression well, but I do that anyhow. No point attributing it to anything much. It’s the Bill walk.

Alongside of all this I’ve been working with a realization that’s been developing for a long time. It’s not news, not even to me, but the depth and extent of its applications are busy coming clear right now.

It’s not what we do that counts; it’s what we are. I’ve done some stupid things, some really sad ones, some that have done significant damage to other people. At the same time I was always doing the best I could. The things I did can’t be seen as things in themselves; they’re extensions/projections of what I am, my history, my DNA, my ancestral history. It doesn’t let me off the hook. I remain responsible for what I did and do, but it shows me integrated into a larger story. And recovery isn’t so much about forgiveness as it is about grief. God forgave me long ago, and Jesus came to bring me home. It takes away the guilt, but not the grief.

Today I was talking with my friend Abegael about novels we have shared. I am also collaborating with a fifteen-year-old friend on a piece of fiction, and wrote to him today discussing character. All these paths lead to the same conclusion. It’s not what our characters do, it’s who they are. As we write, or read, or live, the plot details are always interesting, but the main thing is discovering a living person there. As I write this, I am reading “The Brothers Karamazov”. It hardly has what we Western novel-readers would recognize as plot. It’s absolutely about the three brothers and their father, and very much about how they carry their inheritance, the different parts of him that each has embodied, and try to heal it.

Maybe as I release myself at Christmas, allowing it to be whatever it wants, not to be whatever it doesn’t want, and not judge my happiness or success by how shiny and good it is, I also in some way set myself free Maybe by cleaving with a little less desperation to the falala’s and the boughs of holly, I’ve allowed myself to experience, just a bit more, Jesus born out there on a cold winter’s night, born to set me free.

“Oh my love, oh my love, my love, my love

This have I done for my true love.”

(“My Dancing Day” – old English carol)


Cutting the cord.

I think I’ve cut some cord this week. It’s been extremely painful, both emotionally and physically. I think the cord was Christmas. I think that for most of my life Christmas has stood for pain, anxiety, and loss. My childhood Christmases had moments of glory, but most of them were build by two lonely and neglected little boys trying to create something beautiful. On Christmas Eve I’d take my little brother to whatever Disney movie was showing. We’d walk home in the twilight, stopping at the incinerator behind the pharmacy to warm ourselves, small snow falling. When I look at that place now I think how remarkable children are. It was a crummy lot tucked between the highway and some shops in a rough part of town, but we found our magic there.

But it was such hard work, and we were spinning a golden web over so much pain, holding at bay all the sorrow and trauma our lives had brought and continued to bring us. And so that’s what Christmas became for me. It was my job to spin a golden web, have everything just right, at whatever cost, against the fall of night.

This year night fell. It was ferocious, and I cut, or God cut, the cord. I’ve stocked my larder for guests and social events. No tree. No decorations. No boughs of holly. I’ve never felt like this. During the last week a tsunami of pain and guilt and sorrow have been unleashed. Normally I’ve bridged them with drugs and alcohol and sugar binges. Not this year. I’ve essentially been fasting for four days now. Just coming back to food with a little vegetable soup yesterday. I feel empty and tired and pleased and maybe, for the first time in my memory, free of some immense cultural and generational pain.

The fat lady hasn’t sung yet. There are still miles to go before I sleep, but I think I’m getting it.

Christ is born!

Lord, help me to navigate Christmas. I almost got swamped by a wave two days ago, but my head is above water and I’m swimming, fairly relaxed and confident. Please help me to remember that the waves are the waves of Your love, that they are not the heart-break and trauma of other years, and that each wave carries me closer to the shore, and that You are the shore as well as the waves.

This morning I feel kind of blown out. There’s been some worry, some grief, some challenging emotional weather. All these things have their narratives, but somehow this morning, and this is very unusual for me, the king of narrative, they’re all blown away. I find that all I want to say is “Alleluia! Christ is born!”

I haven’t been very good at joy in my life. Maybe this is as good a time to start as any.

The thing with joy is, it doesn’t have or need narrative. so all I have to say, even though officially it’s a bit early, is “Alleluia! Christ is born!”

Exodus. The Confluence of the Waters. The Bloody Bridegroom.

Exodus. The Confluence of Waters. The Bloody Bridegroom.

My life feels like some kind of confluence right now, rivers flowing in from every direction, hard to untangle water when it’s moving. That’s interesting, because I have long-time recurrent dreams of melted landscape, everything running with wet mud, no purchase for hands or feet, bluffs and inclines and ravines all to be negotiated, and all just moving liquid mud. And, interesting, there was just a moment of change. A couple of nights ago I was in the same place, I had, this time, come there of my own will, leaving my daughter and her mother to do so. Then, once there, I briefly had a mind for the plight of my children lost in the mud. At that point someone sprinkled the Powder of Life on a muddy ridge, firming it into something like a woven grass mat. (The Powder of Life comes from one of the Oz books, but I don’t think the context carried over, only the concept). Then the next night I came to the mud again, en route from the lakeside town where I grew up, coming home. This time the mud was only along the shore, and while I still had to navigate it, this time I could do it with one shoe on, one foot on dry land.

Looking now I’m seeing the confluence. I’m all tears and wailing this morning, but hey, that’s a river too. They all run together today. And for the first time I’m able to see upstream. All the seemingly unconnected things, the heartaches and losses and betrayals, all the grief, come from a moment of choice, It’s terrible that we don’t always get to recognize the choices we make when we make them. Question of the day: of course God forgives me. I sit here weeping and telling Him, and he already forgave me long ago, but what relation does that bear to the damage I’ve done to the people I love? That’s not about forgiveness. These days it’s about trying to find my way upstream.

It happens that I’m reading the Book of Exodus while this is going on. That’s perplexing indeed. I accept the Ten Commandments as absolute, as laws that govern my life. But in the same breath, God goes on to tell the Jews that if their ox should gore a man, the ox must be stoned, that if they don’t have a lamb to offer in the stead of a baby donkey, the donkey’s neck should be broken. I’m not using this reading to separate myself from the Bible – the purpose of the exercise is to incorporate it into my life. Since I see all of us as the Children of Israel, heading for the Promised Land, it’s workable.

But, and please feel free to comment if you have any perspective on this, how should one read Exodus 4, 24-28, the “Bloody Bridegroom” passage.