Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven

This morning I woke from a dream of grief to see the early light coming through my window. The pain of a lost relationship had receded from my daily life. Habits and calendars and patterns of movement shifted.

But in my dream, I still wept. I woke feeling disjointed, as these tears seemed to stain the life I am opening myself to. How am I supposed to live and love and be open to the future when what I have lost still comes to me in dreams?

I let myself sit and watch the freezing rain and listen to the hiss of passing cars. I should simply get on with things, the way my neighbors were busily getting on with another day. I should reject my grief and take up the joy of the morning and move on. Right?

“Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.” Romans 12:15.

Of course not. My grief is not a threat to my joy. The presence of grief does not mark the absence of joy. I am one who rejoices and weeps, all in one morning. Paul’s words in the letter to the Romans are calling me to be present with my grief as much as my joy. I find that the more present I am to my grief, the more ready I am for joy. My grief does not betray my joy. My joy does not betray my grief.

And my neighbors sliding through slush and snow and getting on with their days? They are rejoicing and weeping, too. When I can be present to the grief and joy that are tangled in my heart, I can go to others from the heart, from my mingled heart. I can meet their grief from my place of grief, and I can meet their joy from my place of joy. And they are one place.

 

The Return of Job

by Anna Kamienska

Job didn’t die
didn’t throw himself under a train
didn’t croak in a vacant lot
the chimney didn’t spew him out
despair didn’t finish him off
he arose from everything
from misery dirt
scabs loneliness

How much more authentic a dead Job would be
even after death shaking his fist at the God of pain
But Job survived
washed his body of blood sweat pus
and lay down in his house again
New friends were gathering
a new life was breathing new love into his mouth
new children were growing up with soft hair
for Job to touch with his hands
new sheep donkeys oxen were bellowing
shaking new shackles in the stable
kneeling on straw

But happy Job didn’t have the strength to be happy
afraid he’d betray happiness by a second happiness
afraid he’d betray life by a second life
Wouldn’t it be better for you Job
to remain dirt since you are dirt
The pustules washed off your hands and face
ate through your heart and liver
You will die Job
Wouldn’t it be better for you
to die with the others
in the same pain and mourning
than to depart from this new happiness
You walk in the dark
wrapped in darkness
among new people
useless as a pang of conscience
You suffered through pain
now suffer through happiness

And Job whispered stubbornly Lord Lord

 
 
 
 
 
 
“Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven” is the title of an album by Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Artwork by Will Schaff.

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Let the dead bury the dead


I go to church most weeks and I’m not always sure why. Sometimes I go because I’ve been asked to do something specific like read a poem or help coordinate the evening. Other times I go because I want to see people and share a meal and resist the isolating effects of the city and my psyche. Often I go because my church is a beautiful community and I want to help that community thrive. But in all these reasons there is something deeper that calls me, and I’m rarely sure what that is. It’s by going that I find out.

I know why I went this week.

This week we read from the Gospel of Matthew and heard Jesus admonish those who would follow him to do so directly, and to let the dead bury the dead.

And then, during a time of reflection after the sermon, my pastor put the question to us, to me:

“What is dead in your life that you don’t need to bury?”

Not “Have you experienced the death of something?”

Not “What do you need to let go of, what do you need to let die?”

Not “What isn’t really a death, but a beginning for new life?”

Not “What death do you need to accept?”

Rather, “What is dead in your life that you don’t need to bury?”

It was the kind of question that struck me at an intuitive level before I knew how to articulate my response. What struck me first was that the question didn’t linger on whether there were dead things in my life. No time for hemming and hawing about what’s not dead yet. The question confronted me: “There are corpses in your life. We’re starting with that truth.”

 

 

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Will Schaff. Click to enlarge.

 

 

There was no question that death had not shown mercy. It wasn’t up to me to let anything die. Death had done its work and now was the time for me to do mine.

We were given sheets of paper to write down our responses, and all the dead in my life came tumbling out onto the page. My sense of failing others when my marriage failed. My repeatedly crushed hopes for affirmation from my father. The ridiculous expectations I continue to burden myself with because I am a stereotypical first-born. My unkindness to myself for this ridiculousness. My unkindness to others because of my unkindness to myself. All the neatly stacked corpses.

 

 

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Will Schaff. Click to enlarge.

 

 

I’ve tried to bury the dead for years, but they keep rising from the grave. Dead sorrows can’t be drowned. At some point, I began dragging the dead around with me as if they were some sort of badge of honor, to show how “real” and “honest” and “deeply human” I was. I accepted these deaths boldly and wasn’t that kind of bad-ass of me? I was so hardcore.

 

 

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Will Schaff. Click to enlarge.

 

 

It seems to me now that I needed the dead to prove I was living. But as long as my focus was on the dead, I wasn’t actually taking the risks and exposing myself to the vulnerability of living, let alone the hazards of following the call I heard in Christ’s words. You can’t risk death until you’ve fully embraced life.

I didn’t need to deny the dead, I didn’t need to accept the dead. I didn’t need to get closure. Instead, I needed to let the dead remain unresolved, to let the dead bury the dead.

In his collection of essays titled “The Examined Life,” psychoanalyst Stephen Grosz writes against the notion of closure. Contra the work of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, he writes: “My experience is that closure is an extraordinarily compelling fantasy of mourning. It is the fiction that we can love, lose, suffer and then do something to permanently end our sorrow. We want to believe we can reach closure because grief can surprise and disorder us – even years after our loss.”

Not closure, then, but openness. Following where Christ is leading me, even if I’m not sure where that is or exactly why I’m following. Trusting that in seeking, I’ll find what I need to keep going.

 

 

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Will Schaff. Click to enlarge.