April 6, 2015

Every Riven Thing: Living with Noise and Imperfections

This past weekend I went to an Easter Vigil at a large Manhattan church. It was a lovely service, crowded, with beautiful music and several baptisms. It was not, of course, perfect. There was a microphone that didn’t work and a noisy child sitting behind us, up way past her bedtime, talking and crying through most of the service.

I have to admit I’d prefer a quieter service, but I also want children to feel welcome and at home in church. Ultimately, you just have to let the children be themselves, which means a bit of extra noise.

This is, I've been reminded recently, how life works: we have to live with noise and imperfections. Children are loud and messy. Sometimes they cry. That’s simply something we must accept. So it is with any community or even individual. There are parts of us that are loud and messy. There are times when we will feel anxious and fearful, when we will accidentally break things, and when we will feel sick and sad. There’s no way around this. 

There’s a temptation to believe we can fix ourselves and our communities, perhaps even perfect them, but this is not how reality actually works, nor is it the Christian story. The story we celebrated this past weekend does not ignore the pain and messiness of life, but rather blesses it. In Holy Week we commemorate the life and death of a savior who suffered, of a God who suffers. Resurrection does not erase pain and death. There is still a scar in Jesus’s side, holes in his hands and feet. The disciples are still afraid and sinful. The world remains imperfect.

No, in the story we tell every Holy Week, God loves and blesses our misshapen, broken hearts, our unpredictable, loud, and noisy world.

There’s a poem I like a lot by Christian Wiman called “Every Riven Thing.” “God goes belonging to every riven things he’s made,” he writes. “God goes, belonging to every riven thing he’s made//sing his being simply by being//the thing it is.”

If God is here with us, I think Wiman is saying, then simply by being what he made us we are evidence of God, of God’s love for and in this world. God is here with us in the seemingly unfixable world, in the loud and noisy children, in our imperfect worship, in our bodies that break down and our fearful hearts, our fractured communities.

Of course, some pain can be ameliorated, some ills can be addressed, and should be (the malfunctioning microphone in the vigil was quickly fixed, for example). I do believe that faith without action, faith that does not seek to heal and love and serve the world is empty. God’s presence in the world does not mean that God does not want us to do all we can to heal the rifts in it, but rather means that we should love the world as God loves it. Love the world as part of world. We are together in it.

I think this is a lesson for all of us who yearn for a healing and peace, who are sometimes frustrated that we cannot always comfort the children who simply need to cry, or are discouraged by the slow pace of change. If we are to follow a savior on a cross, than we must love what we cannot fix, serve those who are slow to change, remember that we must live with the noise and messiness of life even as we hope for resurrection.

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