Separation Anxiety

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After a semester that involved a lot of theological and philosophical reading, I finally had three weeks to read anything I wanted before diving into my summer classes: Catholic Intellectual Tradition I & II . So naturally a novel about a suicidal theologian who spends three days on Patmos with the Apostle John would be high on my list of fun reads. Because, of course, my idea of a light and fluffy summer book involves a sarcastic Saint John picking apart every theologian from Polycarp, Irenaeus, Origen, and Tertullian to Luther, Calvin, Barth, and MacDonald. I realized the absolute hopeless depths of my church nerdiness when I started giggling out loud about Augustine being described as leading the West to exhaustion. It all came down to the same question: union or separation? Well now, that’s a fine way to distill the last three years of my studies.

But one line especially knocked me for a loop.

“The gospel is not the news that we can receive Jesus into our lives. The gospel is the news that Jesus has received us into his.”  

– Patmos, C. Baxter Kruger

Have you accepted Jesus as your personal savior? That question has always irked me for reasons I couldn’t quite name. It became a foundation for my Salvation Cupcake Theory. There have always been things that never rang true for me, things I could not learn or absorb (not for lack of trying). As I read this book, all of of the sudden it clicked that every single one of those things I could not take in taught some idea of separation from God. Every one implicitly or explicitly taught that some how, some way I had to find, make, discover, earn, repair, or rebuild a way back to God. But here’s the thing – there is no way back. There is no need for a way back. God never left. Deep breath. Say that again. God. Never. Left. And I don’t have the power to leave God. Somewhere along the line, I simply closed my eyes to what was right in front of me. He was already there! And I couldn’t see it because I closed my eyes to it like a three-year old with my eyes shut tight – if I can’t see you, you can’t see me. I’m not here and neither are you.

I close my eyes when I’m scared, when I’m hurt, when I’m tired, when I’m overwhelmed, when I want to be left alone or when I don’t want anyone to see me cry. I close my eyes when I start to panic and the whole world has suddenly become too loud and too close. I close my eyes when something triggers a flashback. I close my eyes to stop and think when I know I’m about to say something I may regret. I close my eyes to protect myself and somewhere along the way, I felt a need to protect myself from a made-up version of a distant, angry-parent God that never existed and to hide a made-up version of myself that was, at best, a horrible caricature of who I really am. That has been a lot to let go of and little by little, I have been and still am letting go of it. For the last three years, as the worst of that mess has settled, I’ve found myself having the same conversation with Jesus over and over. He asks me to look with his eyes and see what he sees. And my best answer is, “Show me.” But to do that I have to open my eyes. Some days I start to wonder if I really want to see want to see what he sees. But then some days, one line on one page of a book I picked up for just for fun makes a third of my life suddenly make sense and I’m blown away by the sheer simplicity of it.

 

Book Recommendation: Patmos by C. Baxter Kruger

In Good Hands

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I’ve had years where Lent sort of builds and somewhere just before or even during Holy Week, something shifts. Some years its been quiet, like last year’s time spent in solitude on Cape Cod. Some years, it quite dramatic, like the Holy Thursday I ended up in an empty church late at night, sobbing on my knees before a statue of the condemned Christ as I realized that He had been with me through everything I had survived and He understood what no one else ever would. But this year, it seemed like Lent started a few days early. After sort feeling my way forward, I suddenly found myself faced point blank with the question: What did I really believe and how far would I go to stand by that belief? No sooner had I declared that above all I trust that nothing can take me out of God’s hands than the Gremlin tried it’s damnedest to do precisely that – in church no less – and in the one church I had always run to for safety. Because of that trust, love trumped fear. Part of me shattered that night but not in bad way. Some illusion that I’d held on to fell away. And the realization that home really wasn’t home anymore became clearer than ever.

It took a day or so to gather my wits about me and I so wanted to get to church that first Sunday of Lent but another Sunday snowstorm (a now weekly event here in New England) put the kibosh on that. An injured pastor coupled with a pipe break early in the week called yesterday’s services into question as well. Thankfully, by Sunday another pastor was able to fill in and while the hall and kitchen were a mess, the water damage had stopped at the very edge of the sanctuary. The weekly Sunday snowstorm kindly waited until mid-afternoon before dumping another six inches on us. I was so grateful to be home in this little Lutheran church, with it’s handful of what the pastor refers to as “Moonlighting Catholics”.  You can’t miss us, we have many little tells. We celebrated a baptism and thus that became the main focus of the service as we were reminded that in baptism we are claimed for Christ and nothing, absolutely nothing, can take us out of His hands. Each of us is called by name and we are His. The truth of that rang so clearly for me. Everything I had come to on my own ten days earlier echoed back to me. It’s a far cry from the days of the figuring that since I was in the world, I was somehow saved by accident or by default, by some sort of divine Salvation Cupcake rules that I wasn’t privy to understanding. That wrapped around me like a much needed hug.

Where does that leave me? I’m not quite sure. Some of the pieces of that shattered illusion have been rearranged into something else, by hands other than my own. That new image is still unclear to me. Patience – a virtue, but not one of mine – is what is being called for this time and for once, I won’t argue. The remaining pieces, I still have to pick through to understand what can stay and what must go. But despite the soul-rattling start to Lent, I am more certain than ever that I am in very good hands. I have been led to where I am right at this moment. I have finally stopped fighting the process. (Cue the collective gasp from my longtime readers – yes you actually read that right – and some of you can stop smirking right now.)

The Salvation Cupcake Theory

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Once upon a time, it was a big deal to bring cupcakes to school to share with your classmates on your birthday. Now you have to remember, back in those days, there was no such thing as a ‘Cupcake Wars’ television series and there was no cupcake food truck in the parking lot at the office. Designer Madagascar Vanilla cupcakes with green tea icing weren’t even thought of yet. Cupcakes were just a simple homemade treat and once a year, it was cool to be able to pass cupcakes out to celebrate your birthday. For those of us who tended to be a bit on the quiet side or not quite part of the In Crowd, it was a day of earning extra cool points. In my case, it added up to a fair amount of cool points since my Mom’s from-scratch chocolate frosting is unbelievably good. Those days are the birthplace of Salvation Cupcake Theory.

So what do cupcakes and salvation have to do with each other? Well growing up Catholic back in my cupcake-laden school days I learned that Jesus was the Savior of the world. Somehow, I missed the part that I meant the world to Him. And to be clear, that’s not to imply it wasn’t taught. I just missed it or it hit that section of Teflon Brain that I have when it comes to certain spiritual topics.(See also Baltimore Catechism, Act of Contrition and most other rote prayers.) To follow my dangerously flawed logic to its equally flawed conclusion: He comes to save the world. I, being in the world end up saved by default, not by His choice.

Think back to cupcakes. Remember that rule about bringing one for everybody? The cool kids, the good kids, the bad kids, the quiet kids, the class clown, the bullies and even the class weirdo, everybody got one. Now it was common knowledge that how well you were connected to the cupcake-giver determined which cupcake you got. Best friends go the best ones with the extra frosting. Weirdos and bullies got the cupcakes that fell over in the tray and ended up with lopsided or missing frosting. Having always been something of a odd duck, I was usually more likely to get a slightly flawed cupcake. I didn’t exactly see The Cupcake Giver and I as BFFs (best friends forever) so yeah, I got the Salvation Cupcake but only because I happened to be here.

I remember the summer I spent working as a maid. I spent a lot of time on my knees scrubbing the floors in strangers’ bathrooms. One of my fellow maids came to me one day and asked me if I’d accepted Jesus as my personal savior. I answered, ‘Yes’ but somewhere in the back of my head I was thinking that it was only because He was kind of stuck with me and that
thought really gnawed at me. It gave me plenty to think about while I was already on my knees.

The Salvation Cupcake Theory was pretty much in the background my whole life until about four years ago. Much like the cupcakes at school, it was just the way things were. The whole personal savior question had stirred up something but it didn’t really hit home for quite awhile. When it finally did, it hit like an Acme safe dropped on my head, which was good thing because I think it chipped off some of the Teflon. Some, but not all. I still forget some days and something I read this morning brought the original Salvation Cupcake post to mind. I hadn’t read it since I posted it in 2009 and rereading it made me see how much has changed since I wrote it. Even in 2009, it still hadn’t quite filtered through the Teflon I wouldn’t even BE in the world to get a cupcake in the first place if He hadn’t so desired it.

Still, I have to admit the idea of getting a BFF cupcake with extra frosting kind of scares me a bit. Let’s face it, I’m the type likely to drop frosting on the floor, slip on it and break a hip or something. But then again, how could I possibly say ‘no’? So I accept it, but with a serious heads up to the Cupcake Giver, ‘Dude, you better be ready to catch me. You know what I’m like….’