Psalm 31 (morning)
Psalm 35 (evening)
One of the themes that jumped out for me in our set of readings today was “houses in disarray–” but I have to confess I probably have a personal reason for that. I have been undertaking a major remodeling in my home since April–so it should come as no surprise that I heard the phrase from Haggai, “Because my house lies in ruins, while all of you hurry off to your own houses,” in a rather up close and personal way, not to mention the line in Matthew’s Gospel, “See, your house is left to you, desolate.” As I write this, I have roughly 2.5 rooms in my eight room house that I would even dare to call “liveable.” The rest are either filled with boxes that I tried to label and now can no longer reach anyway, or gutted, awaiting my contractor’s next move.
Now, most days I’ve survived this reasonably well–but there are days I’ve just been weary of it. I’m tired of all the dust and dog hair–there came a place where “cleaning” just became a pointless exercise. I’m tired of eating off of one set of dishes that I wash over and over in the sink, like it’s the only dishes I have to my name. (Well, they ARE about the only ones I can find.) I’m tired of coming home to annoying surprises like the breakers flipping off or the furnace not working, and I’m tired of being unable to invite over anyone but my most intimate friends, who would not run screaming from the dirt and clutter and tell the entire town I’m one of those “hoarders” like they show on TV. Those wonderful plans in my head of this rather monastic, but hospitable home I envisioned last winter seem so far away at times, I can barely remember them.
This remodeling project has been a very vivid reminder that “getting my house in order” is really hard emotional work, even when I am not doing the actual physical work of it, and some days the best I can do is simply bear it and start over again tomorrow.
Today’s readings also speak of a great deal of the angst involved in misfortune, grief, and loss. In Psalm 31, the Psalmist describes the angst of those times we feel abandoned and scandalized; in Psalm 35, that angst is transmitted into some heavy duty “smite my enemies” stuff that we can all identify with, but feel a little queasy that we can abandon our sense of political correctness so readily. Revelation 2 reminds us of our own codependencies and what we will sometimes tolerate to the point we have lost the navigational frames of reference in our own souls. Matthew’s Gospel reminds us of the monuments we erect to self and ego, which in reality are merely whitewashed tombs, while the innermost core of ourselves goes hungry.
As much as the world focuses on the “happy” of the December holiday season, the icky truth is for many people, it is a time of despair and remembering loss–the popularity of “Blue Christmas” services attests to this. I think the hardest thing for me, when I have been in that dark place of loss and despair, has been to resist the pressure of the world for me to simply shut up and act happy, ignoring my own pain and angst. Likewise, when someone I love is in that place, I find it difficult to see them in that place and my mistaken tendency is to try to cheer them up or get them to ignore it, when in reality what they really need is to be in that place and exit it in their own time, and for me to merely sit with them quietly.
Yet, today, it’s our Old Testament reading that shows the glimmer of hope, the light shining in the darkness. We seldom venture into the Book of Haggai, but it’s an incredibly interesting little gem in the books of the Minor Prophets. Haggai dates from around 520 BCE, at a time the Jews had returned to their Holy Land from Babylonian exile. The temple was in shambles, and various other problems–lack of sense of identity, drought, and a poor local economy–had delayed the rebuilding of the Temple.
Haggai enjoyed an unusual position as a prophet–folks actually listened to him! As they began rebuilding the Temple, at first they only had his prophetic words by which to cling to hope. But as they began to work on the Temple, they began to see their fortunes change. The Twelve Step programs have a saying–“Fake it till you make it.” With God’s help, the Jewish people really did fake it till they made it. Somehow, they were able to see both their past glories and their dark days with a certain kind of clarity, as well as hope in the progress of rebuilding.
Putting our houses in order can never be an angst-free or despair-free proposition–nor will their rebuilding be perfect–but we can learn to appreciate the special clarity darkness provides as a backdrop for seeing even the tiniest glimmer of light.
Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, writes about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid