by Charles LaFond
Complex theology is priestly job-security. But I think the whole Jesus thing is as simple as a kiss on our neck, just behind our ear. Spirituality is that simple. Moisture, and a kiss from a savior who has been released from his tomb while we are released from ours. If we choose to climb out – and many do not.
Simplicity is hard for me to choose. I come from a family not naturally given to it, though my father would have chosen it had he not married my mother. I come from a long line of men, on both sides of my family, whose self-esteem was buttressed by possessions – mostly houses and job-titles. The women in my family liked beautiful things and my mother and grandmother both anesthetized their senses of a lack of control in their lives by taking control of pretty things as a means by which to fill a void and anesthetize their pain.
This week I moved. It was to be my retreat week and it indeed was my retreat week, though the retreat was asked to accommodate the move and in a way, it was a wonderful week. For me, as with any priest, a week of retreat is a time to connect deeply with our God, ourselves and the partnership there. My Rule of Life prescribes, in some detail, what a “retreat week” means and so I have a framework. My Rule prescribes three one-hour periods of meditation and three one hour periods of gentle reading about the spiritual life along with three 30-minute written reflections on the readings and the meditations. So, in my book, as long as I am faithful to the seven and a half hours of spiritual work, the rest of the day can be filled with gardens, walks, friends, foods, movies and art…or a move. This week, the extra eight waking hours was filled with packing and unpacking – dismantling and setting up – taking down and hanging art, sorting and discarding. A meditation on the incarnation – God entering the things of our life as a body.
My body aches even after two deep tissue massages. As I move more deeply into my fifties and after the accident in Prague which took two of my five senses, I am less and less inclined to soothe my anxiety about friendship with parties for which I generally end up as more caterer than friend. I am less and less inclined to make purchases of things which I then need to insure, un-wrap, place, dust and move, and finally discard wondering “what possessed me to buy that?” Possess. Pose. Possessions. Interesting…
These days my self-esteem is healed enough to feel, less and less, the need to impress others with my possessions. I am less and less inclined to eat to fill the void I feel for God, since eating no longer has pleasure attached to it and since the void is getting smaller as I approach reunion in twenty years. Or ten. Or tomorrow. And I am less and less likely to give into the decidedly male preoccupation with money, power and prestige as God whispers over and over and over again that I am beloved, and that I am enough, and that I have done enough.
Recently Joe and Liz came to the house with little Evelyn to say good bye. Liz was our curate and my friend; Joe, a resident theologian with the gentleness of Saint Francis and the strength of a Detroit metal-worker. We supported each other, calmed each other and reminded each other that all will be well, if very weird. Her husband Joe and I drank scotch together, smoked cigars and discussed theology, friendship and the church as She molts. The parting from these two, close friends nearly broke my heart. We had become very close friends and been a constant support to each other these last three years. We had each other’s backs and spoke honestly to each other’s faces; and that is a mark of friendship. There was no envy, no competition, no ego navigation.
My icon of the Myrrh-bearing Women at the tomb on Easter morning is one of my favorites. It is dark. No gold, since it is a scene in the early morning hours, before dawn. The action (the teal wings and rocks give it away!) is off-image because, well, so is Jesus. Joe has had this icon of mine tattooed onto his fore-arms. The tattoos seem like an outward and visible sign of the grace of our friendship.
We sat in the garden, in the heat of the morning sun, and said good good-byes. We went ‘round and told each other what we loved about each other and described what we will take away with us from the intensity of the trust and friendship we shared. We thanked each other for how many times one of us had showed up for another just on the right day, just at the right time. As we spoke this “thank-you litany” we looked each other deeply in our eyes, speaking slowly, and one at a time. I was reminded why we include Lamentations in our Book. And we wept. And we ate spanakopita and drank good coffee while my lab snored in the sun on the grass. I asked Liz and Joe what I always ask my closest friends – “What do you see about me that you think I may not be able to see?” and then I asked about Joe’s tattoo. I asked them a question: “What would you suggest I have tattooed on my inside wrist, were I to do so, (which is, I admit, unlikely)?” Liz said, after a long silence, “You should tattoo on your wrist the Greek for “Beloved” so that you remember that you are, no matter what others say.”
So “Beloved” was my word for this week of retreat. I read about the word, I mediated on the word. I sang and hummed the word. I wrote poetry about the word. There are too many words in our church. What if the last thing we heard in church was that we are God’s dearly beloved? What if we called each other “beloved of God” as a greeting? What if we could see that God shows up in the people who remind us of our being God’s beloved?
I moved into two rooms and a garden this week. The house is entirely glass on one long wall facing the garden. The house was built so that the garden is the focus and the house simply is the viewing gallery. And it will be just enough. I will host two to four friends at a time, and it will be just enough in front of a roaring fire, some braised lamb shanks, hot bread, and wine. And the new tiny house, running alongside its secret walled garden, will be much more than enough for one beloved man and his beloved dog to consider how lilies grow in a field and how angels sit by a tomb, and that Jesus is now everywhere. Everywhere. Whispering “You are Beloved. You are Beloved. You are Beloved” just by our left ear and just before He kisses our neck. Again.