Sunday, December 6, 2009

Make Straight a Path Throught the Desert

Today is the day in the church year on which we read about John the Baptist, that seemingly deranged cousin of Jesus, he of the animal skin attire and the crunchy locust meals, out in the desert crying for the path of the Lord to be made straight, for valleys to be filled and mountains leveled.

I have always been mystified by John's obsession with the destruction of some of the most beautiful of our planet's geographical features. Year after year I have listened to this text and wondered: What would you do away with? The Pacific Crest Trail? The valleys in which the lochs of Scotland lie? The Tetons? What kind of a proclamation is this?

This year, I think, I am starting to get it, for the first time ever. I wonder whether I would ever have had a glimpse of what it means had I not been stumbling around in another dimension for the past fifteen months.

I have used so many geographical and geological metaphors to describe this journey, a journey that I would run from as fast as possible if that option were open to me. Relentless tsumani. Insurmountable mountain. Rock-strewn trail. Impenetrable wilderness. And, of course, desert. Endless, dry, empty, lonely desert.

None of them is a road back to the light. None of them is a road to hope.

It seems that they must all be navigated. There is no other sound option; we have to swim, climb, and walk through the terrain of grief, inhospitable as it is, or we will not reach that juncture at which it becomes not merely agonizing but transformative. We don't get to dispense with the wild craziness that makes the aftermath of loss so intolerable; we don't get to pretend that we're all right or that it never happened.

But ~ and this is what I think John the Baptist is talking about ~ we do have to find the way out. We have to reach, with our eyes open, the place where the swells of water become gentler, where the density of the forest begins to recede, where the desert seems to offer something other than parched wasteland.

I don't think God wants us to level the Alps. In fact, Jesus always found God in places like mountaintops, deserts, and valleys ~ the story is quite clear on that point. But what he found there is a transparency of vision that we so often lack. That most of us, I think, lack completely when we are plunged into the darkness that follows the death of a child.

And so the invitation, perhaps, is to go to the places he went but also to see as he did, with clarity and gratitude, rather than with eyes clouded by tears and a mind crumbling under a weight almost too great to bear.

I have, of course, no idea at all what I am talking about. I was moved to write this post by the words of this father, who lost his nine-year-old son to a malignant tumor several years ago, and who I found via my friend and fellow traveler Karen, mother of beautiful Katie. He is much farther along the road to gratitude than I am. But as I skimmed his essay again, I couldn't help but notice how many allusions he makes to things which have appeared in my own thoughts and writings: the suffering of other parents, the Holocaust, the omnipotence or lack thereof of God, the compassion ~ or not ~ of God, what prayer is and isn't. And even the Wizard of Oz.

Oh, for that elusive pair of ruby slippers.

We have to find clarity without them.

And so: Advent.


artandsoul said...

I have a very dear friend who's baby died at the hands of a babysitter many years ago. She has been traveling this road for seven years.

This past year I have seen her make some headway on a path. Not the path of "getting over it" or "getting past it" but of acceptance and embracing what is the path itself.

I feel privileged to have accompanied her on part of the journey. If it's okay, I'd like to share with her this post you made today. It is such an affirmation of her own experience.



Gannet Girl said...

You're certainly welcome to share it, Cindy -- but if you've read today's post on my other blog, you know that conflicting feelings still pile up on one another.

My deepest condolences to your friend. It is a very long road.

Stratoz said...

you write... None of them is a road back to the light. None of them is a road to hope.

With some uncertainty I agree, with some uncertainty I would also have agreed if you had said "all" instead of "none"

in other words I have no idea where either of us are headed, except into a mystery which can lead to those things we desire.

artandsoul said...

GG - yes, I know that the conflicting feelings do pile up. I think that's what I meant by embracing the path.

It has both "good" and "bad" feelings and it is the judgment of the feelings that seems to be dropping away.

It is what it is. And she's not alone. I don't even know if that makes a difference, it also is just what it is.

I do read your other blog - and feel a strong attachment to them both. Did you depublish a comment on this one? I may be imagining it, but I thought there was another post.

I tend to read yours over and over, because there is a richness and an understanding or resonance that takes me some time to really get.

You're helping me with my own life, with Advent, with The Church, and with my own beliefs. So thank you very much.


Michelle said...

I remember wishing for a "day off" from grief, a day not to have walk the rough places, or climb the mountains - holy or otherwise.

These passages from Isaiah are very evocative for me, and I read them each year from a different place, and hear in them a different note...

Gannet Girl said...

Art & Soul, I don't think I deleted anything here, altho I could have forgotten!