I came across this, this morning:
I had no idea that the gate I would step through
to finally enter this world
would be the space my brother’s body made. He was
a little taller than me: a young man
but grown, himself by then,
done at twenty-eight, having folded every sheet,
rinsed every glass he would ever rinse under the cold
and running water.
This is what you have been waiting for, he used to say to me.
And I’d say, What?
And he’d say, This—holding up my cheese and mustard sandwich.
And I’d say, What?
And he’d say, This, sort of looking around.
“The Gate” is by Marie Howe, the State Poet of New York. Her brother died of AIDS at 28. I had the good fortune of hearing her talk about this poem, and her life, on the radio program On Being with Krista Tippet. I’m a fan of the program and its predecessor, Speaking of Faith. I used to listen to Speaking of Faith quite a lot on Sunday mornings, often while making pancakes before the kid(s) was/were up as Kirsten was on her way home from work. It was a ritual I enjoyed. The focus of the program has shifted over the years, and it’s not always explicitly Christian (as if a radio program could be) by any means, but I am, and “life in Christ is one whole cloth;” so that’s okay. Anyway, I really enjoyed the first half of this program today, which was all I heard. You can find the whole thing here.
I often wonder what exactly I’ve been waiting for. I’ve written about this before, I’m sure. So many of us are constantly striving, yearning for what’s next. As kids we want to grow up. We look forward to graduating high school, and then college, to getting a job/career and maybe getting married. We look forward to buying a house perhaps. All of this is true to varying degrees depending on how much we’ve been captivated by so-called “traditional” notions of the “American dream.”
Some of us have other aspirations, perhaps more related to how much we’ve been captivated not by the American dream but by some version of the Christian one, by notions of what it looks like to live in God’s kingdom and work on his dream for the world. Some of us, including and especially myself, yearn maybe to live in community, to share resources and free up time, energy, and space to better know, serve, and love my neighbors. Some of us long to make a difference in the lives of others, however small. We yearn to see our energy and talents expended in meaningful ways, ways that matter. This is a good dream, I believe. It begs questions, though.
Can such yearning for a “Christian” dream be reduced to a core that is just as self-centered as the pursuit of the American one? Is it still rooted in a drive for “success,” by another name? What would such “success” look like, after all? Thanks be to God, I do live in an “intentional community” now/again. Does this mean I’ve “arrived?” The question remains: What have I been waiting for? Perhaps I need a wise brother or sister to stop me, to really get my attention, to hold up a sandwich and cause me to shift my gaze to those around me so that I really see them as I yearn to, and then say to me, “THIS is what you’ve been waiting for.”
You’ve been waiting for these people. You’ve been waiting for the rituals and rhythms of this life- nightly prayer and reflection when everyone’s home, shared work to do, daily journeys to undertake together, words of encouragement to give, loving presence to offer when life remains hard- as it is wont to do.
No one is likely to burst through a secret door with streamers and balloons, thereby exposing the truth behind the life I live, and tell me that it’s all been for some great, deep purpose, that all my efforts have not been in vain, that I’ve somehow finally done it, I’ve “won.” I can, of course, hope- and certainly do- that when my life on this earth (in this way) is finally through, I will be greeted with the words, “Well done, thy good and faithful servant.” When that day comes, that will not mark the end of all my efforts here, it will mark the beginning of being much better able to answer the question of what it’s all for. I have some sense now, though (of what it’s all for), thanks be to God. I catch glimpses of God’s kingdom come, of the love that holds all creation together and which is holding me together (broken as I feel) even now.
I see it in a meal waiting at home for the boys and Sara and I after a long day’s work, lovingly prepared by Kirsten, my best friend, my soulmate and partner and constant companion all these many years.
I see it in the force of will exerted to make convictions more than mere words or thought, but a lived reality, as precious space and time is carved out of our day to really be together with one another and root our lives and our life together in our common pursuit of Jesus- our common turning to find him pursuing us- as we observe those afore-mentioned rituals of nightly prayer and reflection together.
I see it in the many hands gathered to do the things that hands do- to buckle and unbuckle car seats, to wash dishes, to fold laundry and feed animals, to cook and clean, to grasp pens and write notes of encouragement, to fold in prayer and reach out to hug, to rest at one’s side as we rest, together, offering our very selves as much as we offer anything that our selves can do.
In all these things I see God’s kingdom come(ing), and I know what I’ve been waiting for, though it bears constant reminding, because it is in fact too good to be true, too beautiful to be believed, but no more beautiful of course than the gospel itself, than the love that again holds all things together, the Jesus that holds all of life together. May we continue to remind ourselves, to proclaim this truth with our very lives.