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Thoroughly Alive

We must hunger after the beautiful and the good...

 

Gentle Defiance

Expect the end of the world. Laugh. Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.

-Wendell Berry

Sometimes dark and bright collide in the most unsettling of ways.

The usual afternoon storm was finally drifting in over the foothills as I sat in my favorite old Colorado coffee shop last week with my sister. I'm home for a couple of weeks before the wedding and I love the sweet normalcy of these ordinary moments. There we were, feet propped side by side on a battered leather footrest, sipping our favorite chais, each in our own writing world, now and then glancing up to see what the other was thinking.

I found myself, however, unable to write. My inner world was one of confused words and tangled ideas. I have three more papers to finish before the wedding (pray for me) and should have been typing industriously. But my mind and heart circled back and back to the headlines of the last days. My soul strove to formulate a way in which to meet the pall of fear flung by so many evil events. My sense of their darkness was heightened by the bright joy of my wedding preparations and the stark contrast of their beauty against the dim canvas of a grieved and broken world.

IMG_5638 (1)For my past days had been radiantly happy day well. My sister woke me early the morning before to a day of bridal surprises. She gave me a handmade booklet and allowed me to turn one page every couple of hours, each revealing a new plan for our day of sisterly delight. We had coffee and talked about my new little house. We went for a makeover. We did a bit of trousseau shopping. We planned the music for the reception. We delighted in every detail and in doing so reveled in the marvelous fact of the love I've found in Thomas and the story we will begin with our wedding.

My heart was thus brimful with that joy and the sharing of it when we happened upon the headlines. Wanton, destructive evil. Death. Terror. And I sat in my chair as the teakettle boiled and wondered what in the world to do. Joy came in and we sat together, tears in our eyes as we digested the horror in France after several weeks of such headlines. We were bewildered and afraid as we spoke of the way the heart begins to ache, then freeze, unable to process the numbers of death, the landslide of violent events.

What can we do?

It's the question we asked and the one that halts me in my tracks and makes me restless all at once. There we were, in my room, two sisters rejoicing in a wedding together, and then a black, evil shock of an event right next to wedding day radiance. In the shadow of such events, rejoicing can seem not only futile, but flippant. How can I shop for wedding dress shoes when people are dying?

What should we do?

There's the obvious: pray for the shattered and bereaved, pray for healing of the world. Give whatever we can to whatever effort toward peace we can. Mourn. We mourn far too little in our hurry-up age. Use voice and action to urge and request and create whole and just and loving communities. Those are the large-scale actions that connect us with the wider world in which we exist.

But what am I to do?

My question and continuing sense of bewilderment had to do with the scale of the ordinary, with me in my chair and a wedding to plan and three papers to write and precious little time with my family. The yawning despair of so much death can incapacitate me if I let it. The shadow of it can tinge each conversation. It can edge my image of the future with fear. It can dim the brightness of joy with a self-protective cynicism that expects evil rather than good.

What we did felt at first, out of place.

We sighed, rose from our chairs, and went forth to take joy in the rest of our sister day together. Every minute was precious. We don't have enough time with each other these days. So we had tea on the front porch in the warm, sapphire radiance of a Colorado day. We watched the wedding episode of our favorite old series. We read classic poems of love aloud and painted our nails. And as I walked forward in savoring the presence of my sister, in planning for a marriage that I hope will embody divine love in ordinary time, in making our dinner and cleaning the house for the arrival home of my mom, I found myself caught up in a sense of re-ordering.

And this is what I'm supposed to do.

I live in sacred, defiant normalcy. I walk forward in work and wedding plans and great joy in my family's presence. I work diligently. I rest deeply. I love thoroughly. It's a tall order to keep the destructive energy of the truck driver in France, or the war in Syria, or the shooters in America from draining my attention and engagement away from the ordinary. But when I ask myself how I can counteract their destruction, the best thing I can think of is simply to do the opposite of what the truck driver, the shooters did.

I live. With vim, courage, and attention. And I help others to do the same. It is an act of gentle defiance. Every kind word spoken, every meal proffered in love, every prayer said can become a feisty act of redemption that communicates a reality opposite to the destruction of a fallen world. Here, in ordinary time, in kitchen and slightly messy bedroom with a thousand things to do, I counteract despair with laughter. In place of destruction, I make order. I form spaces and hours in which people can be loved and conversations had in which those who take part know their lives to be precious. I take what is broken and heal it, giving myself in whatever love I have as the answer to loneliness, sorrow, and isolation. I look at each human on the street as divinely beloved and use word and act to communicate that fact with a power of Love much stronger than the death that reigned in the driver's heart in France last week.

I 'practice resurrection' as Wendell Berry states in his battle cry of a poem. I'm not denigrating the utter gravity of a world pocked by violence. I'm not saying we don't mourn or face facts or live in awareness of suffering. I'm saying we meet those hard facts with a grace beyond their limited narrative. I mean we live so that our workaday, creative hope is a defiance of the fear by which evil seeks to paralyze love in the world. We root ourselves in the risen Christ whose life in us and in the world is an advancing, creative goodness that comes in the tiniest corners of creation as we order, imagine, and fill them with a love that is rooted in eternity and cannot be touched by death.

Big ideas, those, I know. But ideals like that allow me the extra strength I need to move beyond despair, to snap myself out of scaring myself to death with endless scenarios of tragedy. Ideas like that help me to get hope back squarely in my hands. And that is a profound defiance of evil and the death it brings to love.

So I'll rejoice in my wedding, in my family, in a love that participates in the pattern of ever-progressing relationship that God himself began in the garden and continued in Christ. I take faith. I walk forward in hope. I root myself in love.

That is what I do.