For the first six years of my life, my childhood nickname was “Boo.”
The sound of the name implies that liked to scare people or be scared, like “Boo” in Monsters, Inc. The origin for my name, however, was entirely different – “Boo” was one of the most frequently spoken words in my vocabulary because I was so clumsy. I would come in from riding my bike, playing in the sandbox, or walking in grass and somehow have managed to hurt myself with an open wound. Once, I walked down the street straight into a Ruby Tuesday’s sign. It’s a miracle I have survived so many silly, clumsy falls.
My most memorable track race from the eighth grade also involves a not-so-shining moment of clumsiness. I was running the 400 meter sprint, one lap around the track, for our annual play day event. I remember being so nervous for the race that I tied my shoes three times. Yet, somehow, I still managed to trip. I think my feet were still learning how to work with the forces of gravity in turning the corner around the track. I scraped my knee on the black tar and could feel that I was bleeding profusely – but before I could see the blood, I got up and finished the race. I placed in the top of the eighth grade and went on to race in the county meet. The victory tasted sweeter knowing that I had to pick myself up in order to reach the end line.
This morning, I woke up expecting that today would be a marathon of a day. I had a sore throat and could barely speak a word, but I still put on my church dress and expected myself to power through eight hours of scheduled events. When I sat down for morning prayer, my thoughts were racing as I tried to mentally overview each moment to come. What was making me plan and run away from God in the present?
Once I stopped thinking about my day, I realized that I was trying to run from a pang of exhaustion and loneliness. I felt a discord of emptiness, a disconnection from God, that could not be fixed by a full schedule. No external connection could fill this inner void; the more jam-packed my schedule became, the more stressed and empty I felt.
At first, I thought to escape from the pain; I contemplated going to run in the woods and make it go away. I thought about drinking coffee or tea to feel more energized and revitalized. When those thoughts passed, I wanted to blame someone, mainly God or myself, for how I felt. God, why are you abandoning me to feel this lonely? Did I do something wrong to get this sore throat? I felt resentful without an explanation, some sort of justification for experiencing pain. I was left with silence.
In the time of silence, I remembered the words of the poem The Invitation:
“It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon. I want to know if you have touched the center of your own sorrow, if you have been opened by life’s betrayals or have become shriveled and closed from fear of further pain! I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own, without moving to hide it or fade it or fix it.” – Oriah Mountain Dreamer
Through times of difficulty, I really need to just sit and be. “Be still and know that I am God” is one of my mantras as it reminds me that God accompanies us in every moment, no matter how lonely we feel. Though I am young and privileged to have never experienced extreme violence, I trust that no pain is so unbearable that it separates us from God. No matter where we try to run, we remain in the heart of love. Once I let my guard down and just breathed in the sensations I was feeling, I felt a warm light filling the space that had been empty. All I needed was to slow down my pace, and turn my feet to God.
Today, I listened to a sermon by my dear mentor from Davidson College Presbyterian Church, Andrew, as he described the lifelong race that we join in to live out of our Christian faith. We face tremendous periods of doubt and grapple with the idea that God loves us. We doubt God’s justice when the world is filled with violence and destruction. In the words of the prophet Habakuk, we question, “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? Or cry to you ‘Violence!’ and you will not save?”
At any one moment in history, there are plenty of reasons to cry out to God. Just this weekend, I learned about poverty rates in Guatemalan indigenous communities, escalating rates of anxiety and depression in American society, and the racial profiling embedded in the incarceration system. We live in a world filled with questions of unresolved pain and suffering.
This morning, I realized that sometimes we just have to be patient to hear God answer us. When we are tempted to self-medicate, God asks us to be still and to wait. God has promised us that justice, love, and mercy will restore our broken communities, that the shadow of death cannot take hold of us, but we must bear trying times in faith. We live in faith that the yoke of Jesus’ compassion is stronger than any momentary affliction, for he experienced the utmost alienation and shame of the human race. As witnesses to the resurrection, we live with faith that love will lift us out of darkness. As God replies to Habakuk,
“Write the vision;
make it plain on tablets,
so that a runner may read it.
For there is still a vision for the appointed time;
it speaks of the end, and does not lie.
If it seems to tarry, wait for it;
it will surely come, it will not delay.
Look at the proud!
Their spirit is not right in them,
but the righteous live by their faith.”
To live in faith is to stand up when we stumble and scrape our knees, to wait for healing when we bleed from sores of violence and hurt. These moments are the times that define who we are, and whether we will close down in fear or continue to run in the race in love. The moments of loneliness open us to God as the source of our being. The trials of pain remind us what it feels like to be fully alive. Once we gently allow ourselves to feel, we are broken from isolation and we let love flow through us. This morning, I felt healed when I stepped out of the isolation of my white-wall dorm room and went to worship God with others, as part of one unified body. We all need to experience God’s love through community, and to sing together.
In Guatemala, a solidarity movement is emerging through groups such as Communities of the Earth to empower women who have experienced the shared pain of marginalization. Women are recovering their dreams as they share their stories of healing from the war and ongoing effects of machismo culture. When women’s stories of personal pain are shared, they become bridges to connect in meaningful and authentic bonds of solidarity. Communities of the Earth is working to equip women with economic and social mobility so that they can change the justice system. I feel inspired by these women who are finding their voices through speaking together.
As my anthropology professor reminds me, we are constantly creating the world that we live in through our voices. My sore throat felt healed in church this morning as I opened my vocal chords to sing with others. The throat is the center of our highest expression of creativity; it is our channel of speaking truth into being. When we sing hymns of both praise and lament, we are drawn back into the folds of God’s love. Through the entirety of our journey, God calls us to lift our voices through times of discord and harmony, to cry out in praise and in pain, and to always keep singing. (Listen to this song, a version of “How Can I Keep from Singing” by Enya for inspiration)
May your life be a line of harmony in this Divine symphony we are all instruments in singing.