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Since I currently have several employers/supervisors/churches/etc., please know that none of the words on my blog represent them or their beliefs. This blog is my own creation.

It also does not represent my children's perspective, nor my mother's; they think I am funny, but misguided.
(Quick update: only my mother thinks I'm funny now.)

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Broken Vessels


My deepest thanks to the Rev. Will Humes and the First United Methodist Church of Pottstown for inviting me to co-lead their annual retreat, which we called "Broken Vessels." Our focus this weekend has been brokenness and healing. Perhaps it seems odd to blog the weekend while still in the middle of it, but I have seen my calendar for the coming week, and it is a wee bit crowded. And anyway, we're never anywhere else but the in the middle of brokenness and healing, so what does it matter where in the cycle one begins or ends?

This is a ridiculously long post. The short version? It is/was a lovely retreat with movement of the Spirit. But some folks have asked me for more info so that they might adapt it for their use. Feel free. I was introduced to the broken pot art project described below by Lynne Farrow ten years ago at a Princeton Institute for Youth Ministry. I still have the pot, and could tell you the history of its pieces and how it came to be made spiritually. I made a new one today that has its own history.

Friday night 13 of us gathered, late in the evening, at the Farmhouse of Kirkridge Retreat Center.
   To begin we each wrote on a piece of paper the people and things that we had brought with us in the back of our heads that would prevent us from focusing this weekend. We wrote them down, then folded up the paper and put it in our pockets. We'll bring them out again after worship on Sunday. These people and things are not forgotten or left behind, rather they are close and carefully kept until we are able to return home. We are never totally removed from our context no matter how far we might run.

We ended our evening gathering with this reading:
This Blessed Mess: Finding Hope Amidst Life’s Chaos
by Patricia H. Livingston

Growing up, we lived adhering to schedules. Sheets were changed on every bed each Monday. Mattresses were turned once a month. (One month they were turned side to side, the next month up to down.) Meals were eaten at about the same time every day, and dishes were always done right after the final plates were cleared. There were schedules for when the windows were washed, the shutters repainted, and the closets cleaned. A list was hung on a bulletin board in the kitchen to write down any item that was used up (the mustard, for example) so it could be replaced at the next trip to the store.

That order provided me with a great sense of security in those formative years. The world-view taken for granted was: “if you behave yourself, if you conscientiously do the things you are taught, somehow all will be well…”

…College followed graduation, then I married very young, to a newly graduated West Point officer. Soon thereafter things stopped proceeding in an orderly fashion. Chaos began creeping in.

As a new Army couple we endured the upheaval of moving about once a year. Things were just unpacked in one place when it was time to think about repacking them again. Babies were born one after the other, all of them born weeks overdue, none of them sleeping through the night until they were at least two years old.

Laundry seemed to breed and multiply in the hamper until the only space not filled with clothes to be washed was filled with dishes to be done or toys to be put away…

..Little by little I was forced to let go of my notion of an orderly universe. At least any life I was able to manage was not tranquil and on schedule. What was expected often did not happen; what was dreaded often did. Most unimaginable of all, after thirteen years, there was a divorce.

If anyone had told me, standing on the long green lawn of the academy, in my white organdy graduation dress with my blue ribbon and laurel wreath, that I would be divorced from the father of my children, I would have simply said: “You are totally mistaken.”

In the disorder of divorce I felt overcome by chaos. “And where is God in all of this?” I anguished. It was a very big question.

(Notre Dame, IN: Sorin Books, 2000), 14-16. 

Saturday morning we regathered after breakfast and began with Scripture:

Psalm 51:15-17 O Lord, open my lips,     and my mouth will declare your praise.For you have no delight in sacrifice;     if I were to give a burnt offering,         you would not be pleased.The sacrifice acceptable to God is         a broken spirit;     a broken and contrite heart,         O God, you will not despise.
We brainstormed in small groups what constituted brokenness in this world. In 7 minutes we created a comprehensive list. We have experience. I shared a little bit of my own story--a little. Not the rawest, not the newest, not the oldest. I shared the brokenness I could share today that wouldn't cause more brokenness; we each have enough.

Next I told them that we were going to take a perfectly good garden pot,
and break it with a hammer. In every group somebody winces in pain at the idea. And in every group someone says it's a waste of a perfectly good pot. An in every group there is someone who gets overzealous with the hammer.

Wrap the pot in a sheet or a paper bag before you hit it with the hammer. That way the pieces stay together, the shards don't explode into your eye, and you can soften the blow a bit. Hit the pot lightly--it doesn't take much, and if you hit too hard you will shatter the pot dust. Oh, also, use terra cotta pots. This doesn't work with plastic.

Next, we began to work with the pieces. All you need is school glue.  Super glue is cheating. But also, superglue will permanently stick that flower pot to the end of your thumb. You have to hold the pieces together for a while. There's easier and harder ways to work this puzzle. I'll let you figure this out. The beginning looks something like this.

As the group worked, they chatted away. Every now and then someone's pieces fell out with a clatter. There were nearly curses. There were folks who couldn't stand to watch others struggle. There were folks who figured it all out easily. We recorded some of our conversation:
After a break, we gathered again around the tables and read a poem. I'll post a piece of it here, but please jump to the link to read the full poem. It is powerful indeed, written collaboratively by the radical women of color media justice collective:


From “SPEAK! collective poem
at AMC Keynote”http://blog.cripchick.com I speak because underneath my tongue and lips, my hips and hands,behind my eyes and down my back is a skeleton as mute and hard andinsistent as the bones of my ancestors.
It demands that I give myvoice so they may speak.


We formed into small groups again, and this time the men went off by themselves, leaving the women to form their own groups. It was a good separation. They met in small groups of three to speak of the brokenness in their own lives. It took a while.


As we closed out our morning sessions, we updated our thoughts from the morning's work. We ended with this prayer from my friend, Gideon Addington, who took his own life in 2009.
“Prayers for Broken People”
by Gideon (Travis) Addington

I am broken among the broken…

Lord, deliver me from my despair.

Give me strength that I might continue to fight.

I am tired. I am lonely and I feel I am alone among the mad.

I know I am not alone but my heart breaks.

Help me, save me…I try so hard, yet I know I should try
harder and that there is much I could do but do not…

Have mercy on me, help me be a better instrument,
a better servant and a better healer
for those that come before me.

Save me from my pride, from arrogance, and help me
remember that I am broken among the broken.

Give me wisdom to discern what I can do and cannot do,
and what I must walk to and away from.

Lord, save me.

Amen.
Out of Gideon's death came strong friendship and care among those he left behind. His death was a great sorrow, and out of that sorrow grew beauty. After lunch I finished gluing my broken pot.

I doodled on it with sharpie markers. I hated how it looked. So I colored it in.

But I missed the words I had written, words from the Speak! poem I'd read earlier. So I cut them out and glued them on. I added pictures. The broken pieces are now art. This pot will never hold a plant again, but it contains my soul.

We took a long break this afternoon. We'll have dinner in a while, but first we will gather again around this theme of brokenness.

Tonight we will read through a couple of different short quotations to come to terms with brokenness as beauty. It's not an obligation--there is no requirement that one consider brokenness beautiful. Yet some of us choose to claim it so. Leave us be.

The End of Memory: Remembering Rightly in a Violent World
By Miroslav Volf

Christians believe, however, that neither what we do nor what we suffer defines us at the deepest level Though the way we think of and treat ourselves and the way others think of and treat us does shape our identity, no human being can make or unmake us. Instead of being defined by how human beings relate to us, we are defined by how God relates to us. We know that fundamentally we are who we are, as unique individuals standing in relation to our neighbors and broader culture, because God loves us—to such a great extent that on the cross Jesus Christ, God incarnate, shouldered our sin and tasted our suffering.

Even more, by opening ourselves to God’s love through faith, our bodies and souls become sanctified spaces, God’s “temples,” as the Apostle Paul puts it (1 Corinthians 6:19). The flame of God’s presence, which gives us new identity, then burns in us inextinguishably. Though like buildings devastated by wind and flood, our bodies and souls may become ravaged, yet we continue to be God’s temple—at times a temple in ruins, but sacred space nonetheless. Absolutely nothing defines a Christian more than the abiding flame of God’s presence, and that flame bathes in a warm glow everything we do or suffer.

(Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2006), 79.
We will read some more Scripture, and perhaps this time we are ready for this one:
2 Corinthians 4:5-12 
For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 
But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.
Recognizing that God's light cannot shine through a perfectly smooth, unbroken pot, we'll consider the implications of our brokenness revealing space for others to see the divine. We are not alone in our suffering, and we do not suffer without reason. If we choose to redeem our brokenness, there is much that can be salvaged. This is not the same as imposing suffering on others, but if you want to get into a discussion of redemptive suffering and my thoughts on that, you will have to offer me an evening over wine and cheese.

We will close this evening with this story:
“The Broken Pot”
Author unknown

A water bearer in India had two large pots, each hung on an end of a pole, which he carried across his neck. One of the pots had a crack in it, and while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water at the end of the long walk from the stream to the master’s house, the cracked pot arrived only half full.

For a full two years this went on daily, with the bearer delivering only one and a half pots full of water in his master’s house. Of course, the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments, perfect to the end for which it was made. But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection, and miserable that it was able to accomplish only half of what it had been made to do. After two years of what it perceived to be a bitter failure, it spoke to the water bearer one day by the stream.

"I am ashamed of myself, and I want to apologize to you."

"Why?" asked the bearer. "What are you ashamed of?"

"I have been able, for these past two years, to deliver only half my load because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your master’s house. Because of my flaws, you have to do all of this work, and you don't get full value from your efforts." the pot said.

The water bearer felt sorry for the old cracked pot, and in his compassion he said, "As we return to the master’s house, I want you to notice the beautiful flowers along the path."

Indeed, as they went up the hill, the old cracked pot took notice of the sun warming the beautiful wild flowers on the side of the path, and this cheered it some. But at the end of the trail, it still felt bad because it had leaked out half its load, and so again the pot apologized to the bearer for its failure.

The bearer said to the pot, "Did you notice that there were flowers only on your side of your path, but not on the other pot’s side? That's because I have always known about your flaw, and I took advantage of it. I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back from the stream, you've watered them. For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate my master’s table. Without you being just the way you are, he would not have this beauty to grace his house."
 Tomorrow we will consider the pieces of paper we tucked in our pockets. We will consider our contexts which wait for us at home. We will think on our neighbors and our enemies. And we will think on how, in our brokenness, we might connect with others across intersections of race, gender, sexuality, class, and fear. Our reflections will center on this writing:
The Disabled God: Toward a Liberatory Theology of Disability
By Nancy L. Eiesland

...holding our bodies together requires coming to terms with our own bodies—bodies that sometimes throw us to the pavement simply for placing our feet carelessly, and bodies that twitch and pitch, searching for an ever-elusive comfortable position. Embodiment is not a purely agreeable reality; it incorporates profound ambiguity—sometimes downright distress. There is simply no denying it. We concede the precarious position of living a difficult life and affirming our bodies as whole, good, and beautiful. In this incongruity, the revolutionary act of accepting our bodies as “survive-able,” not deficient or deformed, is vital. “Survive-able” bodies are painstakingly, honestly, and lovingly constructed…Instead of flagellating ourselves or aspiring to well-behaved “perfect” bodies, we savor the jumbled pleasure-pain that is our bodies. In a society where denial of our particular bodies and questing for a better body is “normal,” respect for our own bodies is an act of resistance and liberation.

Holding our bodies together also means placing ourselves in solidarity with other people with disabilities. It means not distinguishing between “good” and “bad” disabilities, refusing to stigmatize people with intellectual disabilities as inherently more impaired than those with ambulatory disabilities, for example. For those very few “token” individuals who are allowed to succeed in the able-bodied system, it means refusing to be flattered into believing that our “extraordinary” achievements are the result of our atypical intelligence and talent…

Finally, holding our bodies together means uniting with other marginalized peoples in resistance. A liberatory theology of disability is in solidarity with other liberation theologies, though it incorporates unique emphases and perspectives. Structures and attitudes that keep women, people of color, and the poor marginalized also stigmatize people with disabilities as their “normal” practice…A liberatory theology of disability shares with feminist theology a valuation of the body as a theological resource. It, too, challenges the patriarchal image of God. Following Latin American liberation theologians, a liberatory theology of disability calls for justice for the poor…Bearing witness for peace and struggling against the weapons trade, a liberatory theology of disability calls for an end to the violence which tears at bodies and multiplies refugees, who often suffer undernourishment and inadequate care for injuries. With those who resist not-so-subtle racism in educational practices that conceal potent resistance narratives, a theology of disability seeks to uncover and expound the history of resistance to oppression.

(Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1994), 95-97.
We will close with a communion service, considering Christ's body broken and the beauty that has grown from that. At the base of our faith as Christians is always the ugly reality of Christ's broken body and our complicity in his suffering and death. And at the base of our faith as Christians is always the hope that beauty and life can come from it.

It is not perfect, but it is what we have to offer. The sacrifice that God requires is the brokenness we already bear.


3 comments:

  1. Katie, thanks for sharing this. May you all find blessings in the brokenness that is human life.

    ReplyDelete
  2. This is wonderful. Thanks for writing it all out.

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  3. Thank you. I love to remember the Leonard Cohen song, we're all cracked, that's how the light gets in (or is it out?). I am a broken woman living in a broken world. And yes, Gideon.

    xo,
    SL

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