Delivering Hannah

Hannah DeliveredI don’t understand how anyone, myself included, can create a dynamic story. Stories have a life all their own—their own wisdom, their own flaws, their own power. Today is launch day for Hannah, Delivered, and to celebrate I want to kneel down before the mystery that is story.

As you can imagine, I’ve been riding an emotional rollercoaster as I prepare to put a decade’s worth of effort into the public eye. One reader weeps, she’s so moved by the novel, and I’m elated. Another reader is furious about a mistake in the book, and I feel miserable. And so it goes, up and down, until I’m driving my family berserk.

When I’m having labor pains like this, my partner Emily sometimes asks me, “What would Hannah do?” The question makes me laugh, but it’s right on. Really she’s saying, “Consult something other than your mercurial feelings. What does the story say?” (more…)

Going Virtual, Staying Real

origin_2435823037In case you’re wondering, I’m writing this (at least the first draft) by hand, in a spiral notebook with a fountain pen. My laptop makes a great lap desk. I like the new paper against the back of my hand and the ink easing from my pen tip. Writing can be a calming, sensory delight.

These days I’m spending more of my day than ever before on the computer—on the internet, even, where privacy doesn’t exist and stimulation is the rule. (more…)

Penny Friend

penniesAnnie, my neighbor one block over, bends down to the curved rut running the length of the alley and scrapes a penny out of the sand. She brushes its scratched surface against her blue-jeans, then presses it into my palm. “You’re the lucky one today,” she says.

I slip the rough penny into my pants’ pocket, laughing at our odd ritual. It’s not strange that Annie bothers to pick up a penny; she is Buddhist and a poet, a woman who treasures details and is as frugal with resources as she is with words. Even one cent, tarnished and of little value, gains significance by our attention. (more…)

Church: The Third Parent

I regularly dream about the church where I grew up:  A soaring Protestant-plain structure built in the early 1800’s with a handful of parishioners clustered in the first few pews.  I doubt more than twenty people have attended a Sunday service in the last three decades.  The congregation was vibrant when I was eight but then got hit by a parade of inept and at times unethical pastors.  By the time I was in high school, the church probably should have shut its doors.

That congregation loved me and raised me in the faith.  They were my first community—adults who winked at me during the service and attended my piano concerts and taught me about the Bible, youth who dared one another to explore the endless basement or climb up onto the roof, a family broader and stranger than my immediate family but just as reliable.  I see the same thing happening for Gwyn, who at five helps the usher light the candles and converses with grown-ups at coffee hour.  Church throws a wide blanket of people around my daughter.  She may someday stop attending or reject its teachings, but she’ll never not know this family.

I once had a therapist say that, for those raised in the church, the church is like a third parent with all of the psychological and emotional baggage of any dysfunctional family.  I worked through most of my unhealthy relational patterns with my own parents decades ago, but the church?  The church still haunts my dreams, triggers inexplicable emotions, and won’t let me go.  As infuriated as the institutional church and the messy local church make me, I can’t leave.  Church is in my blood.  I’m glad enough for it that I’m inflicting it on my daughter—and gracing her with it.  When she grows up, like it or not, she’ll have this foundation.

Last night, I dreamt that the church of my childhood was full of a great diversity of people.  The pastor led a processional; there were huge palm trees and singing.  In the dying church of my psyche, something new is happening.  I hope to God it’s life-giving and fruitful.

–Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew

Leaning Into God

In the days after a fire destroyed a six-bay garage at the ARC Retreat Center as well as three cars, two years’ supply of firewood, and all my belongings, I was numb; I wandered around wearing other people’s clothes trying to remember who I was and what I believed.  Had God abandoned me?  The ring of towering Norwegian pines surrounding the garage had been scorched; I put my hands in their blackened, seeping wounds.  For the first time I understood the significance of Jesus’ wounds after the crucifixion.  God is with us; God hurts with us, and God is far bigger than our hurt.

When I think back on the crises and tragedies of my life—that fire, the death of my nephew, my father’s two kidney transplants, and Emily’s two bouts with cancer—I’m struck by how formative and transformative they are.  The times when I’m most broken by grief are also the times when God reaches into my heart and profoundly reshapes it.  I’m grateful for who I’ve become as a result.  It’s strange; I wouldn’t wish these hardships on anyone, and yet the greatest gifts of my life have emerged from them.

Crises make us vulnerable, and when we’re vulnerable God is better able to work in us.  In the midst of hardship, this isn’t always comforting.  The devastation I felt as I touched those sappy, scorched wounds in the trees seemed to double when I sensed God crying with me.  But afterward I took in the significance.  Afterward we can recognize that creative force working on a scale and in a dimension we can’t glimpse otherwise.  Something new has emerged.  We’re forever changed.

I think about this as we walk into the mounting ramifications of climate change.  We will feel vulnerable.  We will recognize our weaknesses.  We will feel guilty.  We will grieve the loss of species and stable weather.  But these are opportunities to lean into God, to invite God’s bigger, transforming presence into our hearts and communities.  A mighty shift is possible, if only we’re willing.

–Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew


Our Light Burden

My friend Michael Bischoff gave a talk recently in which he publicly declared his participation in the “cult of personal development.”  Like so many of us, Michael strives to be a better person, a better leader, and to help make the world a better place.  What could be wrong with that?

Of course, a lot of good springs from the effort to be good.  But Michael illuminated some of its shadows:  When we’re working hard to improve our selves or world, we don’t appreciate what is.  As Michael’s daughter said, “Dad, you always try to change other people’s personalities.”  Ouch, Michael responded.  His daughter is perfect, and he knows it.  Striving also traps us; there’s no end-point at which we’re finally good enough.  When we try to address social ills through the lens of personal development, we address on our personal relationship to the problem rather than the problem itself.  When we seek out spiritual communities through the lens of personal development, we ask what the community can do for us rather than what we can do for the community, or whether being community is valuable in and of itself.

I believe it’s possible to live at the center of this paradox—to rest, knowing ourselves good within a good world, at the same time that we work like hell to change things.  The Serenity Prayer helps us enter this paradox, asking God for the grace to accept “the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things which should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish one from the other.”  But we can go further, practicing humility and acceptance and gratitude in the midst of our efforts to bring about change.  Michael can thoroughly, peaceably appreciate his daughter and also challenge her to grow.

We can open ourselves to a powerful source of love that makes living in this paradox possible.  This, in fact, is the particular skill people of faith bring to the movement against climate change.  “My yoke is easy,” Jesus comforts us from the middle of this paradox, “and my burden is light.”

–Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew