June 8, 2007

The Wasteland

Category: News — Ira @ 5:24 pm


When writing this blog each week, there are several options. I can discuss where I’ve been, where I’m going, or where I am. This week I take you where I am.

The details of how I arrived are not important. Suffice to say, after a series of surreal and strange and exhausting events that unfolded from Friday noon (June 1) to the time I write this, I realized that once again, with little warning, I was surrounded by a vast, unfamiliar wasteland. Too far along to retreat, I found myself trudging along on one more lost road, winding through one more barren and hostile landscape, extending into one more bleak and endless horizon.

The sun is hot and I am faint. Roiling storm clouds threaten in the distance. There are people around me, but I feel alone. A few close friends have my back, but cannot walk beside me. They speak and I hear. Words. Prayers. Some, who cannot think of an original thing to say, tell me, “What doesn’t kill you will only make you stronger.” I flinch. They mean well. But I think that is a vapid, trite cliché. What if it doesn’t kill you, but makes you weaker anyway? Entirely possible. Probable, even. For some, anyhow.

Responding to a recent blog, a reader emailed me, “I think that things don’t always make sense, they don’t always turn out for the better, and they don’t always happen for a reason. Although God has power to control everything, He doesn’t. We have much freedom, and we have to slog at times.” Slog. An apt word. Through the wasteland.

Saturday night. I watch baseball. Then Baseball Tonight. I think about a drink. It would be good. It would relax, mellow me. Take the harshness off the edge of what I have witnessed and heard. The bitter things I’ve just seen and faced. What I will yet face. What I’m feeling now. But it’s really no battle. I take my prescription drugs instead and go to bed at 11:30 and sleep the restless slumber of a troubled stranger in a foreign land.

Sunday morning. I awake. Get up. Stretch. Mix and drink my Superfood. Drink coffee. Eat a bit. Mechanically get ready to go to Westminster Presbyterian. Maybe the pudgy pastor will have some words of comfort, words of hope, a message of strength. I know the singing will be good, at least. Always is.

I am not disappointed. The choir is joyous and outstanding, as usual. We sing. We read through the responsive readings. Psalm 130: “Out of the depths have I cried…..,” the pudgy pastor rumbles dramatically. “Oh Lord, hear my voice…..,” we respond in unison. And so on. We read the answer to Question 1 from the Heidelberg Catechism. We pray the Lord’s Prayer. In unison. We sing again.

And then, something out of the ordinary. The pastor calls thirteen young people, five young men and eight young women, to the front. They are to be taken in as members. All but two young men have already been baptized. The whole group stands on the platform at the front of the church. Young, probably between the ages of twelve and sixteen. He asks questions, ending each with “Do you?” They answer in unison. “We do” or “We will.” And then the two young men awaiting baptism kneel.

Westminster Presbyterian baptizes by sprinkling. Like the Amish. I hadn’t known that. Interesting. Some Brethren churches I know of would have a severe problem with that. A deacon hovers close, holding the silver cup. The pastor dips his hand and waves it over an applicant’s bowed head. Drops of water trickle down. Solemnly he intones:

“I BAPTIZE YOU…..” (Who are these young people and what will their futures hold? What will they know and feel? Joy, right now. Pressure, maybe, from their parents or peers. Sorrow. Happiness. And pain, obviously, we all live with that. How much? How deep? Will they cause more pain to others than they themselves will be forced to bear? And what else? What makes them unique from the 250 million other people in this country, the 6 billion across the whole world? Nothing, probably. Except their souls.)

“…..IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER…..,” (Do they really know what they are doing, what they are promising, do they really grasp it? I suppose so. Enough to comprehend the significance of it, anyway. To know they are entering a new phase, a spiritual birth, a new beginning.)

“……IN THE NAME OF THE SON……,” (But they are also entering young adulthood and they will be savaged by the storms of life. They will betray. Be betrayed. They will bleed. They will cry out into the lonely canyons of the night and not be heard.)

“……AND IN THE NAME OF THE HOLY GHOST……, AMEN.” (They are now a part of the visible catholic (small “c” for you testy types) church, the family of God. Despite human frailties, they believe. They will stumble. They will fail. Spectacularly, even, some of them. But they have faith. And in the end, when death calls them, that will be enough.)

The pastor ambles back to the pulpit and begins his sermon. Today, to initiate the new members, they will have communion. The pastor’s sermon is entitled, “Communion Table Manners.” His message includes instructions on how to prepare one’s heart for the Lord’s table. His sermon is short. He concludes. The choir strikes up a pre-communion hymn. The ushers glide forward to distribute the bread and wine. I’ve decided not to stay. The wasteland beckons. I walk out.

For many years I have believed that, regardless of one’s surrounding circumstances, life is beautiful. Always. Easy to say, hard to live. But I hold onto and believe that more than ever. Even now. Especially now. Even in the wasteland.



(No Comments)

  1. Ira, as the only one of the family here in Pa, feel free to stop by anytime for a meal, whatever. You do not need to call.

    Comment by Bro Steve & Wilma — June 8, 2007 @ 6:25 pm

  2. Ira,

    You speak well to the humanness of the disappointments of life. Yet you strike a silver chord which intones above the rest of the dreary symphony: FAITH, which is enough. There is that side, that REALITY – an objective reality of the unseen spiritual, more real and more lasting than the passing subjectivities that we take for “life.”

    There is LIFE, even in the midst of the disappointments, hardships, and hurts.

    This is becoming part of my Confession, more as I trudge along, slog it out, bounce down the road of disrepair …


    Comment by LeRoy Whitman — June 8, 2007 @ 7:08 pm

  3. Ira, my heart goes out to you. I have no promises, no fancy words. You must know that I care. Several years ago we went through a very dark tunnel. I remember a nugget that really helped. To thine own self be true. And we all must be, regardless of our circumstances. Love, Rachel

    Comment by rachel — June 9, 2007 @ 6:56 pm

  4. 280

    I felt a funeral in my Brain,
    And Mourners to and fro
    Kept treading-treading-till it seemed
    That Sense was breaking through-

    And when they all were seated,
    A Service, like a Drum-
    Kept beating-beating-till I thought
    My Mind was going numb-

    And then I heard them lift a Box
    And creak across my Soul
    With those same Boots of Lead, again,
    Then Space-began to toll,

    As all the Heavens were a Bell,
    And Being, but an Ear,
    And I, and Silence, some strange Race
    Wrecked, solitary, here-

    And then a Plank in Reason, broke,
    And I dropped down, and down-
    And hit a World, at every plunge,
    And Finished knowing-then-

    -Emily Dickinson, 1896

    Comment by Margaret — June 9, 2007 @ 10:39 pm

  5. I read your latest blog post. And I care.

    I know that sounds trite. I know we tend to think “but this person doesn’t even know me so how shallow”.

    But guess what? Pain, the slog, the swamp, the wasteland… whatever you call it… when you have walked through the dark depths of it yourself… you cannot pass by another walking the same path without stopping to say… “I care.”

    Yeah, like I said, it sounds trite and shallow. But this time at least, it comes from a heart that has bled until it seemed the blood of life was gone. From a heart that is saying… “I have no fancy words or pat answers. I recognize that such only hurts more, even if it is well intended. But strangely, because my heart has bled so much, I deeply care about my fellow traveler’s pain, even if they are a stranger. So I will say all I know to say. I care.”


    Comment by Anonymous — June 11, 2007 @ 3:48 pm

  6. Comment by Anonymous — June 11, 2007 @ 3:48 pm

    That was me. Thought I had signed in.

    Comment by RagPicker — July 2, 2007 @ 5:54 pm

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