It has been my practice over the last several years to sort of disappear from these pages after Lent. My absence has never been intentional, but it has been consistent. As the reality of our unfortunate isolation became more apparent, I decided several week ago that I would keep writing every night on beyond Easter, which is still my intention. I just needed a couple of days off to sleep and listen to a lot of John Prine songs. That said, I will do my best to meet you here in the days to come.
One of the illusions of human existence is that of discovery. Rarely in human history has anything actually been discovered–as in seen for the first time ever. More often, what is deemed a discovery is nothing more than a new awareness on the part of the one who claims to be the discoverer. The reality is, as the writer of Ecclesiastes wrote centuries ago, there is nothing new under the sun. If we are willing to take an honest look at how we “discover,” we will find a relational trail that lead us to whatever newness has surprised us.
I don’t remember tonight who pointed me to David Whyte, but his book Consolations is rich nourishment–perhaps even more so the second time through. I started a new book–new to me–called A Tragic Sense of Life. It is written by Spanish essayist, poet, playwright, philosopher, novelist, professor, and obvious underachiever, Miguel de Unamuno, who lived about a century ago. I was introduced to him by Miguel De La Torre, who was introduced to me by Phil Snider, an author and Disciples pastor whom I met years ago at the inaugural Wild Goose Festival.
I have been given much; I have discovered nothing.
Sometimes we begin to see things we have not before because someone or something raises our awareness. I have written before about red bicycles and how they are my go-to metaphor for this phenomenon. If someone asks you if you have seen any red bicycles, you may answer no, but their question will give you eyes to see them all around you.
Early on in Lent, I wrote about the specificity of compassion (thanks to something I read in Pádraig Ó Tuama). I was talking about the stimulus bill and I said, “We do not need to stimulate an abstraction (the economy), we need to help people.” The contrast of abstraction and specificity has been my red bicycle, and I saw one again this morning in Whyte and then again in the opening chapter of Unamuno.
Whyte’s word for me today was giving, which he said was “looking for the imaginative doorway that says I know you and see you and this is how I give thanks for you.” A couple of paragraphs later he said, “Giving means paying attention.”
Hold those words and listen to Unamuno, a philosopher who is not particularly enamored of philosophers–particularly Western ones because of their fascination with abstractions.
We all lack something, only some of us feel it and others do not.
And I am convinced that we should solve many things if we all went out into the streets and uncovered our griefs, which perhaps would prove to be one sole common grief, and joined together in beweeping them and crying aloud to the heavens and calling for God.
It is not enough to cure the plague: we must learn to weep for it. Yes, we must learn to weep! Perhaps that is the supreme vision.
One of the ongoing conversations Ginger and I have centers around preaching. Recently we have been talking about the contrast between those who preach like lecturers and those who preach like storytellers. I will admit my preference is for the latter–and the reason is their attention to detail. A good story is filled with details. Even as sparse as the gospels are, they offer details that connect us to the story in ways, perhaps, we don’t even see at first. Unamuno might say that the lecturer deals in ideas–abstractions–and the storyteller communicates in specifics–humanity.
I am not moved by the idea of dinner or the theory of cooking, but by the hands-on preparation and presentation of the meal to those for whom I have cooked. My gift of a meal is attached to a person. Someone specific. I don’t cook things in general and then decide who needs to eat them. It works better the other way around.
I don’t cook with onions in our house (scallions, chives, leeks, onions, shallots) because Ginger is allergic to them. I love onions. I love Ginger more. I have no need for an abstract discussion about the meaning of sacrifice or attachment. I love Ginger. Onions hurt her. I don’t cook with onions. That is one of the ways I give thanks for her.
Working in the garden alongside of Tom and the others is my specific response to climate change, and to people I know who need food and cannot afford it. I can’t do much about pollution or policy, and I am not much of a scientist, but I can plant tomatoes and cabbage and zucchini. I can weed and till.
I can’t deal with everyone’s isolation, but I can hear the song of our common grief and find ways to say to those around me, “I know you and I see you.” I can weep with them. And make soup and cookies.
Lent has come and gone, the stone has been rolled away, and I am still riding the same red bicycle: we are all connected. Yet, with each turn of the wheels I am learning (again) that the choir of our common grief is larger than I ever imagined.