Chaos and Disconnection

Missed Connections Communion Table

 

 

When I first completed this art piece, heck when I first envisioned the piece, the message behind the work was amorphous at best.

A few weeks before Lent Pastor Ginger, senior pastor at Foundry UMC in Washington D.C. approached  me with an idea. Her sermon series for Lent would explore the missed connections in life.

We are primarily a technology dependent society. People are more connected than ever before. Fast paced technologies allow us to communicate and be available to others 24/7. Yet, loneliness is “on the rise.” During the 2015 Lenten journey, we will explore issues that strain and threaten truly life-sustaining human connections – connections with others, ourselves, and God.

Ginger spoke to me about ribbons that would appear suspended in mid air, disconnected from the whole, as a way to visually represent all the missed moments.

I was drawn to the theme, but how to bring her message with the ribbons together was not clicking for me.

In my doodling I started drawing broken ribbons. Then, probably because I watched The Imitation Game over Christmas, I began to see morse code in the broken lines. A language that can seem chaotic and broken, unknown, with no idea of how to make sense of it all. And yet, the language can be deciphered and can begin to tell a story.Missed Connections

This is life to me. So many missed connections between each of us, a missed opportunity to share some light. And yet, God exists within the silence and the chaos.

My idea evolved into banners with ribbon woven in morse code (dot-dash) to spell out a message. The message, a verse chosen by Ginger Psalm 139: 13, “You knit me in my mother’s womb.”

At first, as the image emerged I envisioned the morse code revealing a pattern in life, a pattern connecting all the missed connections. But, how do we make sense of all the chaos, the broken relationships, the lost souls?

The first weekend of lent I attended the Foundry Women’s retreat where Denise Dombkowski Hopkins, professor at Wesley Theological Seminary, spoke about the Psalms and the laments. So often when someone yells out, “God, why?” we believe the person is requesting our answer. With this in mind we attempt, in a desire to connect and heal, to answer the questions or worse we chastise the questioner’s lack of faith. Denise’s suggestion was to think of the lament, “Why God?” not so much as a cry for information as a cry for companionship, for a shoulder, a mutual tear as you both wonder aloud about the chaos.

All this came together so that even as the banners hung in the sanctuary for three weeks a new message jumped out at me.

The ribbon in each banner is morse code. Morse code can seem chaotic and un decipherable, especially to us lay people. Just dots and dashes haphazardly placed in the universe. Life can often seem haphazard, a bunch of disconnected moments, people and events without any connecting thread. And yet, while we may not know why there’s chaos and disconnection in our world God weeps with us, and is in pain with us. God knit each of us, every single one. 

Even as life can seem clouded, what is clear is the miracle of creation happened in every single person. In these moments of chaos, our call is to remember this and connect with this miracle in each other. The call in the chaos, the pattern in the disconnection does not attempt to decipher why, it simply calls us to remember who, who we are, who we are called to be, and who God made us to be. 

Note: Many thanks to executive pastor Dawn Hand for helping make this a reality. A last minute drive on a snow day to Joann’s and some on the fly fabric and ribbon choices, along with finding a sewing machine, made this happen. 

Stumbling stones and tombs

Stones on the AltarThis Sunday, I noticed a dozen large river stones sitting on the altar. Its the first sunday of Lent and I was reminded of the stone moved from Jesus’ tomb. This started me thinking about stones, caves and tombs, about stumbling and resurrection. Stumbling brought other images into my mind including stumbling block, mental block, writers block, and then start blocks. Can the same block/stone that causes me to stumble also be used to help me push off for a new stronger beginning? What about the stone at the tomb? What does stumbling really look like, when does the stone become a new beginning versus the heavy seal on our tomb? Is the difference between stumbling and starting a matter of perspective?

I was reminded of three writers.

Theologian Father Richard Rohr wrote a book titled, Falling Upward.

The message of Falling Upward is straight forward and bracing: the spiritual life is not static. You will come to a crisis in your life, and after the crisis, if you are open to it, you will enter a space of spiritual refreshment, peace and compassion that you could not have imagined before.

Rohr does not offer a syrupy evasion of this crisis. But he does underline two crucial points. First, God has not abandoned you, even if you are sure that God has. (“All the books of the Bible seem to agree,” notes Rohr, “that somehow God is with us and we are not alone.”) Second, “We grow spiritually much more by doing it wrong than by doing it right.” That may be cold comfort during the crisis—when your house has flooded, who wants to think about spiritual growth? But later you will notice. You will wonder how you possibly could have come to where you are without that flood. –Read the full review on Christian Century

In Malcolm Gladwell’s new book David and Goliath, he outlines a question that arose for him as he wrote his previous book Outliers. He noticed that many of the people, thought of as exceptional, also had experienced a difficulty. He discovered people rarely felt they achieved in spite of their difficulty. They achieved because of the difficulty. The difficulty acted as a catalyst or reason for learning uncommon strengths.  As an example, he notes there is a high percentage of entrepreneurs who have Dyslexia.

The stumbling block becomes a seal on our tomb, not when we trip, but when we pick up the stone and continue to carry it with us. Trying to fashion a badge of honor, not realizing it has become a stone around our neck. Gather enough of these and we become buried in a tomb of our own making. A tomb defined by our failures and our misfortune. Why do we carry these around? When we recall the resurrection the tomb is empty, the stone is removed. The women leave the tomb. They leave the place where they experienced deep pain, as they buried their friend and teacher AND they leave the place where he was resurrected. 

Gladwell and Rohr are exploring the same depths as Brene Brown, revealing for us how we learn from our vulnerability, from our stumbles, and our difficulties. We learn more than just how not to trip, we learn our true strengths, we learn the depth of our communities, and sometimes gain clarity about our direction. When we look back we see the distance we have traveled. Gladwell, Rohr, and Brown do not shy away from the trauma these failures hold, they simply call us to remember all that we learn and gain, if we are open to that vulnerability.

Looking at the stones I also remembered the tradition where people leave stones to mark places they encountered God, gained an important spiritual insight, and as a guide in the wilderness. The stones act as reminders and as a ritual to mark a moment in time. A moment that may mean nothing to anyone else. Or may guide them through the same wilderness you traveled. When I look back on my life I hope to see many stones, many places where I encountered God and gained spiritual insight. Even though I now fully comprehend the tremendous amount of pain that may accompany those moments.

 

Read more about Brene Brown and Vulnerability in a previous post.