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“I haven’t written on the blog in so long,” I told my partner a few weeks ago. “I feel bad about it. But it just wasn’t coming to me–and lately, when the words come, I simply can’t get myself to sit still and write them. I don’t know what’s wrong with me!”
“No reason to feel bad about it,” he said, matter-a-factly. “Even God took a break.” Even God took a break.
Indeed, at the conclusion of the first creation narrative in Genesis 1, God takes a break–a seventh day sabbath. Surely, God’s break warrants my own respite from the creation process, right? This was consoling for a time…until the guilt began to encroach upon my psyche again. “God took a break after doing something,” I told myself. “I haven’t done any writing at all lately! And what’s more, God didn’t just create something. God created something ‘very good‘!” This logic only brings me right back to where I began.
This swirling mess of self-justification and degradation so often frames my daily reflection on life–not just my blogging life. If I’m not bemoaning my lazy writing practice, then it’s my inability to keep up with my growing email inbox or to-do lists, or my desire to work harder or fast or better, or harder and faster and better. The more I indulge this mindset, the more I find myself trapped in a world of insatiable demands. This cannot be the “very good” world that God created…right?
“I feel like I’m drowning,” I recently said this to someone on a particularly overwhelming day of tasks. It’s something I have said a hundred times before on a hundred other days like that one, but on that day the figurative image flashed before me: my arms flailing about, splashing water everywhere, grasping for air. Suddenly, I said to the drowning image of me, “Don’t you know that once you stop, you will float?”
It takes great courage to float–to believe that our survival does not depend on our own capacity to sustain ourselves. Such a risk stands in opposition to the myth of the self-made man that dominates the “American dream.” That is a dream of insatiable demands. But that’s not the “very good” world I want to live-into anyways.
The great Jewish thinker Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote, “The world was brought into being in the six days of creation, yet its survival depends upon the holiness of the seventh day.” I’m trying to live like this–to live out the belief that my creation, my own hard work, will not alone sustain my survival. Sometimes, we all need to rest–to float–until the gentle current pulls us into another space of creativity again.
When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed and in terrible suffering.” Jesus said to him, “I will go and heal him.” The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes… (Matthew 8:5-8)
There are many things about this section of scripture that make me squeamish. In principle, I dislike charges of absolute authority, even as they are ascribed to the human incarnation of an omnipotent God. I am especially uncomfortable with authority analogies related to the military, or any other institutions that employ violence as a means of enforcement, for that matter. There is something about the centurion’s claim of unworthiness that gets me, too. Perhaps I’ve seen too many well-intentioned Christians transform “humility” into unproductive guilt.
Despite all this, I cling to that declaration: But just say the word, and my servant will be healed.
This man knew the power of a word.
Jesus responded to the centurion, saying, “Go! It will be done just as you believed it would!” I’d like to believe that “Go” was the word with all that power. I want to believe that because it is often the smallest words that heal me. Last semester I took a seminar that required students to circulate written reflections on the assigned readings before class. While reading the first reflection paper of the semester, written by male student, I was touched by the care with which he employed one little word. “When one does this, she experiences that…” Every non-specific pronoun he utilized in the essay was gendered female—a stark contrast to the ubiquitous male-gendered pronouns that filled the theological texts we studied all semester. With that little word—“she”—this colleague extended a powerful message: language so often excludes people of your gender, and I am invested in changing that. This gesture brought a little bit of healing.
Big words and long phrases have power, too. I keep a stack of blank note cards next to my bed; you will find me frantically reaching for them while reading Nouwen, Teresa of Avila, and Foucault when I have come across a line or a paragraph too precious to forget. I scribble them down and pin them to the bulletin board hanging on my bedroom wall where they remind me that so many others out there share the truths that I have unearthed in this short life. These are healing words because they remind me that I am not alone in my search for sense and meaning in my strange encounter with this world.
When I think of being “Christlike,” I dream of bringing words that heal. This is how I make sense of a life of so many books and computer screens. I am searching for the Word. The Word that heals.