Dear People of Immanuel Lutheran Church:
A poem came into my life this week and struck a deep chord within me. It’s by Mary Karr, with the fun title “For a Dying Tomcat Who’s Relinquished his Former Hissing and Predatory Nature.”
I remember the long orange carp you once scooped
from the neighbor’s pond, bounding beyond
her swung broom, across summer lawns
to lay the fish on my stoop. Thanks
for that. I’m not one to whom offerings
often get made. You let me feel
how Christ might when I kneel,
weeping in the dark
over the usual maladies: love and its lack.
Only in tears do I speak
directly to him and with such
conviction. And only once you grew frail
did you finally slacken into me,
dozing against my ribs like a child.
You gave up the predatory flinch
that snapped the necks of so many
birds and slow-moving rodents.
Now your once powerful jaw
is malformed by black malignancies.
It hurts to eat. So you surrender in the way
I pray for: Lord, before my own death,
let me learn from this animal’s deep release
into my arms. Let me cease to fear
the embrace that seeks to still me.
It recalls for me my beloved Sejanus, gone nearly two years now. He was an indoor cat, so he didn’t hunt birds or rodents, but I got him from a friend who reported that after he left, her other cats blossomed. His predatory nature was for felines, so I didn’t get him a companion; I was his person, as he was my companion. We went through so many moves together. I miss him still.
The end of the poem takes my breath away, and makes me think of my spiritual director, who always encourages me to spend more time in silence, to listen for God’s voice as much as I pray to God. Why do we fear God’s embrace? Hasn’t God always kept God’s promises? Do we think God is going to ask us to do something we cannot do? Or do we simply have trouble letting go control? Perhaps it’s the difference between the intellectual understanding that God has forgiven us and offered us new life through our savior Jesus Christ, and the deep visceral knowing that God loves us more than life itself.
I’ve been thinking about forgiveness. I was a senior in college when I wrote to a friend, forgiveness isn’t something you do once. It’s a choice you make, day after day after day. Then I was talking about a boyfriend who had dumped me harshly. Now I know that the hardest thing to forgive is ourselves, our blunders and bad choices, our hard-heartedness and fears. God wants nothing more than to nestle us in a divine embrace of love. So often we hold ourselves apart, certain that we don’t deserve it, that if God really knew us…. But of course God knows us. I think of that great verse from John’s gospel, the story of the woman at the well: “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done.” Jesus knows, and calls to us to join him in this life of love and faith.
May this family at Immanuel be your embrace, may we hold one another as we follow Jesus Christ.
Peace and Joy,
Pastor Julie Winklepleck
Today at the Y I stayed after class, to which I had been late, to do some deep water work and get myself up to 45 minutes of exercise for the day. They have these cool hand barbells that are buoys, so they hold me up while I bicycle or do whatever with my legs to keep up my heart rate. At the end I floated on my back a bit, I don’t normally do this because I want to keep my hair out of the chlorine, but it was great. It silenced the happy noise of kids’ swimming lessons in the shallow end; all I could hear was my breathing. I was thinking about how much I’m loving the reading I’m doing for my sermon series on Old Testament women, how I need to schedule regular reading days at a retreat center. When Margaret and I go to St Francis for our Lent retreat, I get a lot of reading done, I feel so in tune with the Spirit. It’s like my epiphany about music: since I know that this is a prime way God reaches me, why aren’t I doing more of it? I shivered as I realized that I haven’t been practicing piano lately. What am I resisting? I keep thinking and saying that I need a new job, but I am actively not doing certain things that might lead me to a new place. Apparently I’m more afraid of verbatims (regular written reports one does as part of chaplain work) than I am of staying at Immanuel.
Later today I’m going to see my spiritual director. I’m looking forward to what she’ll make of this. The simultaneous desire for and resistance of God. First, my piano lesson. Then some sermon reading. Then some active seeking of God’s embrace.