Thursday, 28 May 2015

When there's not really anything to say

You might be surprised to hear that, sometimes, I feel like I don't know what to say.

I know, right?  You might not believe that because I seem to always have lots to say - too much even - or, at the very least, you might wonder, aren't pastors supposed to always know what to say?

Well, I might have to concede the first, I guess, but the second isn't at all accurate.  At least, I've always felt that it isn't so much a question of knowing what to say as knowing when there isn't anything to say.

It's been a week like that.

So today, I turned to the wall of bookshelves behind my office desk and I looked for my handy copy of "The Big Book of Things to Say When There's Not Really Anything to Say."  I looked hard for it, but didn't find it, of course.  That's way too big a title for the spine of a book and besides, if there really was such a thing I'd have to keep it open on my desk.

No, I didn't find it, but I noticed the title of one of Paul Wilson's books of sermons: Broken Words.  He means "broken words" in two senses, he says.  "First, they represent a breaking open of biblical texts in the hope that the Word may be plainly offered, and second, no matter how God chooses to employ these offerings, they are largely human constructs and are as deeply flawed as we are ourselves."

Broken, just like us.  So maybe there are moments when we should be less concerned with saying the right thing.  Maybe it's not always broken words that mend broken hearts.

The Bible tells many stories of Jesus with always just the right thing to say.  Well, of course, you might think, it's Jesus.  Yes, but don't you think that, for every time Jesus had something to say to someone, there was probably a time when Jesus knew there was nothing to say.  Perhaps it was just a moment to spend some time quietly with someone who just needed the company because no one else would be seen with them, or to cry with someone who just needed to share their tears, or to wonder at a sunset with someone who could see for the first time or even just to rest in green pastures or walk by still waters.

I often wondered why there weren't more stories like that, but then I realized that very ordinary, very human people wrote these stories down.  Of course the most meaningful would be the ones that provided those words of wisdom, that instruction on living they wanted people to know.

But Jesus isn't always about words.  Jesus does.  Jesus, I bet, would go to where people are grieving and cry with them.  He'd share lots of hugs and he'd encourage them to put up pictures on a wall and write their thoughts there, too, even if it was as simple as "I miss you."  He might do a sharing circle or share a meaningful tradition of his faith, like a smudge, if he'd been First Nations, or lift up some thoughts in prayer.  Or maybe plant some flowers or mow the lawn or do some things that would be helpful, without being asked.  Maybe he even made a casserole and dropped it off.

And maybe it wasn't just quiet time.  I bet Jesus was a good listener.  For all the teaching and the preaching and the words of wisdom, for all the acts of kindness and compassion, I think Jesus might have listened.  A lot.  I think people shared their stories with Jesus, their feelings and their thoughts, maybe even their wonder - and anger - at what God would do to them or wouldn't do for them.

I doubt Jesus told them to get over it or move on.  I doubt Jesus told people how they should feel and think.  And when they were angry at God, I think he said that's okay, God can take it and the anger will pass someday because you should know this: God loves you and is always with you.  God loves us so much that God doesn't control our journey, but God goes with us every step of the way, a companion to celebrate with and to cry with and to live with.  God loves all of us, in whatever way we know God or don't, and that, in the deepest, darkest hurt, can be the beginning of light.  In the coldest moment of loneliness it can be the hand that warms ours.  Life can be full of grief and joy, but there is always love.

Jesus teaches us to live that out.  When it's hardest to find the words, even broken ones, love calls first for our presence, love calls for us to listen and to respond with love.