I never thought my greatest struggle in returning to Davidson would be to do schoolwork.
Ask my parents: I have always loved studying. Sit me in a library on a Saturday afternoon and I will be perfectly content: my eyes will soak in the titles of shining book covers with a lustful indulgence. I can sit with theological arguments, creative stories, or sacred texts without a hint of time passing. But this week, my brain took no such pleasure in the realm of words. The very thought of books gave me a headache.
So here I am, back in the swamp of academia, searching for energy without a headlamp. My body went under a hard recovery spell after travel and sleepless nights. When I went throughout my day like a normal routine, I felt that I had not truly seen anyone I was with. My thoughts were preoccupied with lists that would never be accomplished, and I felt a crushing weight of anxiety for having no time to process the experience of the past week. I felt alone in a whirlwind of fog.
Then, an unexpected encounter with light began to dispel the fog; day by day, I began to see the beauty around me. I saw the eyes of friends excited to share stories about our breaks, the blooming daffodils along the greenway trail, the poetry written in daily interactions. I saw that I am not alone in my search for significance. I saw again that God is also here, and not just in El Salvador. Everything is permeated by this light of goodness, this gratitude-inspiring and life-giving force that opens our eyes to truly see.
Through this experience, I realized that I unknowingly exercise control over my time rather than surrendering to being present. I pretend to follow the flow of my day when truly, I am wrapped in the past or the future. This is a) exhausting to ponder endlessly and b) the deepest root of sin, in my opinion, because it makes me pretend to be God. I pretend that I am not tired – who needs sleep in college, anyway? I pretend that I can predict my day and what I ‘should’ be doing ahead of time. I layer on pretendings until I no longer can tell who I am at the core. I become a manipulator of time, rather than an instrument of the Divine.
The great work of faith, then, is allowing ourselves to be held in an open hand beyond our control. This very hand shaped us in the womb, gives us breath in our lungs in each moment, and enters into our lives where we least expect love. This is the hand of the sacred – beyond the mind’s evaluation. This hand touches us with glimpses of grace until we are so deeply grateful, we realize we are never alone. To our fearful human hearts, this truth of unity is overwhelming. Yet we need to grapple with it, trust it deeply, until it becomes the center of our lives. Our search for security in the world will never yield answers until unity with God is placed at the center. This is the true treasure: living a journey that is not simply our own, we are opened to the depths of the human experience.
As I face these next three-or-so years in college, I realize my greatest temptation will be pretending to be someone other than who I am, where I am, in this moment. I will be tempted by an illusory ideal of achievement without realizing that I do nothing on my own. Yet I no longer want to exert imperial control over my human finitude; I do not want to pretend to be the center of my existence. I want to hunt for treasure in a restless search for the divine, true to the present moment. Even if this world judges me for not being successful, I know that I need human community, and rest, and sacred time apart from our commercialized world. I want a simple life directed by the grace of God.
With gratitude for the healing power of God’s hands, and with contrition for all the ways that I hide away, I pray that this week, Love will release all from the captivity of pretending. May all find the true treasure of God within each small, fragile heart.
“We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.” 2 Cor 4:7
Treasure in Clay Jars
My body is nothing more than a clay jar
formed in the womb by a tender Artisan.
I entered the world screaming
through a crack – the fragility
of my skin, sewn of dust, tells me my body
has been broken since the beginning.
I have cried out in hunger, this clay jar
wallowing in emptiness within.
I have been scarred, fallen off the world’s shelves
my spirit shattered on the ground.
alone, this clay jar has no security to be found.
nothing lasting, only a longing to be
rekindled by my Maker who strengthens me.
When the clay dwindles to dust, woe to he
who places his trust in clay jars like treasure chests,
to he who covers his scars with streaks of gold.
Woe to he who seeks mending by hardening
his hunger, to he who destroys the land of the living,
lusting for prosperity on Earth.
As broken clay pots, complicated by disease and desire,
we cannot let our faith retire
or else we harden clay to concrete towers
destined to destroy us.
We consume the very Source of our flesh.
Dust creatures of all shapes and sizes,
rise up to be rekindled with the inner justice of fire.
Let your heart be broken open to Christ’s heated touch.
Let your eyes be open witnesses to Beauty in our brokenness.
Let your hands be held through hunger to God’s Spirit working within.
For one day, this jar shall fall away
at dusk, returning to dust,
until all that remains is one body.
Let it be finished in beauty.
Let it be finished