Trusting Love: January 15, 2019
Emma wants piano lessons.
We want her to learn piano; and in fact, our dear friend, Sallie, gave us her piano so that Emma could play. And play she does! A happy surprise is that Mark has played almost every day since we put the piano, pride of place, in the front window. It supplanted the Christmas tree, which looked just fine in the library.
I was taking down the tree and packing away Christmas decorations on Epiphany, right in the midst of the Clemson National Championship football frenzy. I play sports, and cheer my kids’ teams, and watch playoffs on TV. So I was not immune to the excitement. I might have worn some orange.
But I was also pondering the sobering results of my annual budgeting. My job position was cut back last year, and the consequences of a 54% salary reduction had caught up. Mark and I were both reeling from the implications. Our cushion was gone and we’ll either need to make deep cuts to our spending, or I need to find full time work. Or both.
I don’t feel like we’re extravagant spenders. We don’t own fancy cars or go on lavish vacations. Or any vacation short of visiting friends or family with whom we stay. Our kids are in public school. Most clothes come from thrift or consignment shops with occasional exceptions for shoes. We don’t buy jewelry or electronics or go to movies or eat out much. We do entertain a lot. We spend more on alcohol than we should. But here are the big-ticket items: taxes, retirement, tithing. Include house payments, and we’re left with 31% for everything else. And what’s so galling is that I feel like we make a lot of money. I feel like 31% should be plenty.
But the reality is, there’s no money for piano lessons.
As a parent, that hurts.
And in just the dumb luck of bad timing, I was nursing this hurt as I was hearing a lot of Clemson friends excited about going to California. I’m thinking: they can take their whole families to California for a football game and we can’t afford piano lessons?
Now I know that some of you reading this went to that game. And most of me, the best part of me, is happy for you. Truly. Your Facebook pictures were beautiful. And it’s not that I want you not to go; it’s that I envy your ability to do so.
For others of you reading, you might be envious that Mark and I have the luxury to save for retirement and own a house. Some of you might strive for the fortitude or habit of tithing. Mark and I have been having some philosophical debates about the relative merits of each. I wondered could we cut back on savings for the sake of some flexibility in the paycheck-to-paycheck budget. Mark, who is closer to retirement than I, countered with, “What if it’s tithe versus beer?” Touché! We both laughed, but it’s a relevant question. What are our priorities?
Plus I always miss my mother on Epiphany. She died on January 5, 2006. The twelfth day of Christmas. The next day, Epiphany, felt especially momentous that year. I was joyful for her and devastated for me. Both. At the same time. It’s the same every year.
Recently I was pondering Luke 5:12-16, one of the healing stories. In this story, as in many others, Jesus tells the man 1) don’t tell anyone, 2) go show yourself to the priest, and 3) present the ritual offerings for cleansing.
I’ve been wondering how the priests felt.
On the one hand, here’s this so-called rabbi (we’re never told of any formal schooling or apprenticeship—how does Jesus become rabbi?) healing the untouchables. Healing’s good, right? And, he doesn’t use this power to turn the people against the priests or their tradition. On the contrary, he instructs them to tell only the priest and to fulfill the traditional cleansing obligations. Good!
On the other hand, Jesus challenges the priests to consider their own actions. Are those priests happy for the healed person? A person they’d probably given up on? Can they be pastoral in the moment—or does the challenge to their own security remove them from another’s joy? Can they feel both at the same time?
Jesus confronts not by rebelling, but by diving deeper into the very tradition that his acts challenge. He’s not challenging the truth of the tradition, he’s challenging the trappings that men have layered on top of the truth. It’s the very embodiment of Abraham Joshua Heschel’s observation: “We worry more about the purity of dogma than about the integrity of love.”
I wonder what would have happened if a few priests had embraced Jesus’ revelation? Embraced and embodied the deep truth of their tradition? How would that have changed the process and the spectacle of the crucifixion? Maybe Love could have conquered death without crucifixion. Or maybe there would have been more than one man crucified for his stronger allegiance to God’s Love than to religion’s dogma. And maybe that would have been untenable, even for mighty Rome. Or maybe we humans need to be shocked into awareness. Maybe we need to be shocked into reconsidering our priorities.
Maybe I was just sulking.
I always want Epiphany to feel more joyous. More exuberant. Aha! It’s the baby! That’s what the star means! Now I get it: God loved Godself right into physical existence to charm us into trusting Love. And invites me to be that Love for others. What a privilege!
But the holidays have worn us all frazzled and sick of each other. The tree is dead and brittle. I can’t mail my thank you notes until the kids finish theirs. And don’t even get me started on the stupid Science project that tried to ruin our vacation.
Epiphany is an eye-opener every year. It’s a tender moment when it’s easier to see the pendulum swing between too much and not enough. Between having what we want and wanting what we have. Sometimes, some years, we need to be able to sit in the dark, to nurse in quiet our woundedness. To dare to let go of the past so that we can receive the future. And believe both to be a blessing.
Here’s something James Finley wrote: “The dark night of the soul is dislodging you from belief that you can love on your own terms.”
My resolution for 2019 is to try to love—and live—on God’s terms.
Most mornings I remember to give each child a good, solid hug and say to each one, from Psalm 118, “This is the day that the Lord has made.” They reply, “Let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
No. It doesn’t always sound like rejoicing—on either side. But I think it helps us remember the gift that each new day is. A gift that we still have each other. A gift that God every day whispers, “Here, let me show you how to live the faith you say you profess; let me love you into discipleship.” A gift that God loves us right where we are, with whatever joys and challenges the day may bring. And for just a moment, every morning, it feels like Aha!