Baystate Medical Center
July 28, 2014
These books on the altar represent the chapel services I did not give and will not have a chance to give:
- God Got a Dog – about our opportunity and responsibility to embody divine love
- Song and Dance Man – one of my learning goals was to give a chapel service on something I learned from my work with elders at the nursing home
- In God’s Name – a beautiful story of the many names we call God, reflecting our needs and our experience of divine response
- Henry Works – a bear inspired by the life of Henry David Thoreau, a Transcendentalist which is one of the historical streams of Unitarian Universalism
- Moody Cow Meditates – a book I have joyfully used as a part of worship to talk about meditation and strong feelings
- In the beginning there was Joy – a wonderful rhyming journey into the cosmos of Original Blessing by the Christian theologian Matthew Fox
It seems important to bring them here as my way of acknowledging all that we have done together and all that is left undone. Of course, I am not talking just about sermons and chapel services here. In 11 weeks, there is only so much one person can do. Even as a full-time staff chaplain, there is always something ~ someone ~ left undone.
We CPE students are leaving. Though we have our rituals and our reflections, our ceremonies and our good-byes, there is so much that has been opened and so much left undone, so much come to be known, and so much left to reside in the territory of uncertainty.
Instead of something new, I want to return to what I preached on at my first chapel service earlier this summer. Cracks. If you were here, you might remember I quoted from Leonard Cohen:
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
Over this summer, I learned of the existence of a Japanese form of art, originating in the 15th century, called kintsugi. This is the process of repairing broken ceramics by mending them with a clear lacquer resin that is mixed with gold powder (or other powdered metals). In filling these cracks, these places were we encounter the broken aspects of the pot or the jar, the cup or the bowl, we see beauty and a new kind of wholeness that draws us to it, some might even say more attractive than the original. I even read that some of the so-called damaged pieces fetched higher prices – were more valued – than their so-called flawless counterparts.
I know this will not surprise most of you, but in college I was an ardent feminist. Another not surprise: I still am. Back in college, I collected and hung on my door images and quotes that I found powerful. I remember a postcard of a woman, I believe it was Deena Metzger. In the photo she is outside, a wide sky the background. Her arms are spread wide, her face turned upward toward the sun, an expression of exaltation and contentment. Oh, one other thing: she was completely naked. One breast fully visible, as was the tattoo that covered the scar where her other breast had once been.
Her tattoo was not made of resin and powdered gold, but like kintsugi it brought out a beauty that she shared with others who might not have been able to perceive the beauty of that missing breast, that symbol of disease. With this photograph, she was not preaching from her scar, but was creating art from it, literally and symbolically, and thus, contributing to humanity’s capacity to turn towards the broken places, not away.
It reminds me of the poem by Jane Hirshfield, For What Binds Us, excerpted here:
And see how the flesh grows back
across a wound, with a great vehemence,
than the simple, untested surface before.
There’s a name for it on horses,
when it comes back darker and raised: proud flesh,
as all flesh
is proud of its wounds, wears them
as honors given out after battle,
small triumphs pinned to the chest —
And when two people have loved each other
see how it is like a
scar between their bodies,
stronger, darker, and proud;
how the black cord makes of them a single fabric
that nothing can tear or mend.
Who volunteers to have their heart broken? Who chooses this, on purpose, over and over again? Yes: chaplains. We do. We not only speak of that Great Divine Love which name God, we embody it. We are walking works of love. Or at least we try our best.
I don’t know about you, but I can’t tell you how many times I fell in love in the past eleven weeks – basically every time I knocked on a door and was invited in. And like the quote from Carl Jung that shared with us last week, in meeting each person, in risking this possible love, sometimes it caused a reaction, and I have been transformed.
It is like what that Wendell Berry poem from this morning told us:
No, no, there is no going back.
Less and less you are
that possibility you were.
More and more you have become
those lives and deaths
that have belonged to you.
Since I don’t know exactly how many times I fell in love, I can’t tell you how many times my heart broke. That is the risk of love: offering it, embodying it, holding it out in invitation, holding onto the possibility of it (in this mad, mad world). Broken-heartedness.
Over and over again my heart has broken. So has yours. And yet, here at the end of this internship, I shine. I glow. So do you. There is gold in these cracks, in these broken places. Let us hear their message:
you have less reason
to give yourself away.
Amen. Blessed be.