Recently, I buckled myself into seat 10D, ready to bounce up the west coast on a flight from the Bay Area back to home to Oregon. Just as I breathed out a sigh of relief to be on my way, the gentleman sitting across the aisle hailed the flight attendant. He showed him the two airsick bags he’d procured, but requested more as he was fighting the flu.
Cue anxiety attack. Blood racing. Sweat forming on temple. Nervously looking around for an escape. Despite the fact that I was flying alone, no young children in tow, I started panicking.
Airplanes are tiny enclosed spaces—this plane wasn’t quite a puddle jumper, but close—and frankly, there aren’t many places to run and hide or escape. Luckily, the flight attendant happily reseated me in the back of the plane and even brought me a glass of complimentary wine. Later, at cruising altitude, I read these words from Sara Miles, author of City of God. I halted in my anxious tracks.
“….though incarnation is at the center of Christian faith, it can be scary to experience it as we say in my neighborhood, en su propia carne, in your own meat, here and now. It feels way too dangerous to mix up the grungy facts of our bodies with the Spirit, which most of us would prefer to imagine as elevated and immaterial….when random bodies slam into each other unplanned…anything can happen. A spiritual life is a physical life, shared with other people. Those who hunger. Who thirst. Who sing. Who bleed and stumble; who breathe on one another and create, out of these crudest physical facts, a mystical body.”
The church as we know and experience it is often a place enclosed, indoors, controlled and confined. We have perfectly crafted, hour long worship services that leave attendees feeling “ready for the week ahead”, encouraged and often “safe.” This reflection of Sara’s, though, and my moment in the plane, hit on a raw nerve—how might God be moving us to be in the midst of the mess?! The middle of illness. Brushing up against something that makes us sweat and recoil. Continuing to stay put, in the present, even when we would rather hide and escape.
As a parent with two young boys, as a wife of a minister, as an elementary school teacher, this tendency to run for safety and escape from the mess often prevails. I happily model and live out the escape.
In our classrooms, in our homes, in our communities, in our daily lives we don’t get to “pick” those we share physical space, as Sara mentioned. And close community is hard. When my students bully and bicker and complain….when my boys fight tears, frustrated over friendships and misunderstandings….when I shut my mouth, refuse to communicate and become passive aggressive with my spouse….in each of these, and in so many other scenarios, God’s call to be the hands and feet of Christ feels impossibly hard. It’s scary, a hot bed of fear.
How do we practice God’s call to walk with an open heart of love in the midst of fear? How is it that we teach our children to do the same? To love the unlovable? To sit with those in need? The lonely. The afraid. Because truly, our classrooms, our churches, our communities, our households are full of people living out the “grungy facts” of daily life. No one’s home life is above reproach. Our knee-jerk reactions are often prompted by our own needs and emotions rather than those around us. In a classroom of 30 students, with 30 different needs and 30 varying personalities, how do we teach ourselves and these young ones to offer love and grace to those that don’t seem so loveable or deserving?
Last week, as we felt the heavy burden of bullying pressing down on our classroom of 2nd graders, as my eldest decided a friend at school was too tough to keep investing in, as the darkness and reality of Good Friday settled in, we dove into this truth from Esther de Waal ,“the promise is not that we shall escape the hard things but that we shall be given grace to face them, to enter into them, and to come through them. The promise is not that we shall not be afraid. It is that we need not fear fear.”
So we start being brave. We begin naming our fears. We look at those who are in our “here and now” and seek ways to be living grace. We brainstorm ways to be “secret friend agents”, not yelling about our loving ways from the rooftops and on the intercom, but rather, to care for others and work together in the quiet, everyday ways. In the lunchroom. On the playground. With our “I CAN’T HANDLE HIM” sibling. In class we have been writing about acts of kindness in our journals. At home during dinner, we work on naming the places and ways where others were kind and loving even when scared. Times when we “charged the dark” and didn’t fear fear.
Sometimes following this call to be the incarnation ourselves is one which could be labeled “FEAR” with a capital F. But…we are in Eastertide. These 49 days following Easter, walking day-to-day towards Pentecost, are all about living, wrestling with and embracing the resurrection. The way Christ turned everything upside down, “facing” the fear, “entering into” the fear, “coming through” the fear shows us a new way. As we seek to practice our faith journey authentically, it becomes imperative that we too stop fearing fear. Encouraging our children to step into honest communication, risky love and generous grace-giving is often easier than doing so ourselves. Despite the fears and inevitable hard times, may we lean on the promise that God meets us in the messy attempts and gives us, and the little ones given to us, grace to stay in the here and now.