One year ago today, my grandfather left this world.
We wept the way you weep for a good man. We wept like every old man hopes his family will weep for him. Pawpaw was special. Nearly ninety years old and gentle and kind and patient. He knew how to tell the best stories and how to fix anything. He was simple and came from simple people. He loved to sing the deep bass lines in hymns and bake the best loaves of bread you ever tasted. He smelled like yeast and chewing tobacco. His closest friends were from the P.O.W. club. He could whistle any tune and you’d recognize it. He knew how to work hard and how to rest. He was from a different time.
I’m in Texas these two weeks, visiting family and I ask Meemaw, Do you want to do something for the anniversary of Pawpaw’s death? I could plan a dinner? Or we could all just get together?
As soon as I say, Death, I wonder if it’s the right word. I don’t like “passing.” It sounds so sanitized. Death is what happened, what happens. But the word comes out lead heavy.
Her eyes fill. I don’t, know, Micha. Yes we should do something. Shouldn’t we? I don’t know.
I’ve been thinking about simplicity and faith. How my grandfather held both. How the two go hand in hand. How the more complicated I make things, the further away God begins to feel. It goes both ways, I’ve been thinking. In my hometown, where the Bible Belt is alive and well, my grown-up San Franciscan self is overwhelmed by the amount of crosses dotting billboards and “blessings” engraved on things for sell in boutiques. In the coffee shop, the watercolors framed on the walls seem nice enough and ordinary. But the artist’s bio displayed on the counter throws around every sort of cliché about Jesus. And glory to God. And ministry through art and on and on.
I wonder if she’s made it too complex, that artist. I wonder if God isn’t simply pleased by a woman who paints beautiful things just because God loves beautiful things. I wonder why we feel the need to prove that we glorify God. Do we need to say all these words to one another so we can insist on our personal commitment, our worth in God’s kingdom? Clichés never welcome those who speak any other language.
I see these things and I am full of judgment. I’m frustrated with a culture I left behind in favor of one in which faith seems rare and steady, in favor of a culture where faith was rejected so long ago that the when I speak of God, people grow wide eyed and mesmerized. Does anybody still believe that stuff? I prefer the miraculous power of finding another believer in a sea of post-Christian living. I’ve learned there to stare hard at words and try to speak Jesus in a new vocabulary. I want to learn to say how for every person, whether they speak Bible or not, there is a loud, clanging Love for them, charging through the world, chasing them. Healing kindness in the form of Spirit God.
Still, I know the truth about myself. My faith is not simple. I’m no different than the artist lady from the coffee shop. I’ve made it all so complicated. I speak my own language of belief. I want to prove myself thoughtful, insightful, compassionate. I want to prove myself beyond clichés.
The truth? My faith is braided right alongside uncertainty and guilt, emotion and memory. I doubt. I ask every question, second-guess every motive of the souls around me. I challenge the intentions of denominations and the small-thinking of theological stances. I scoff. I forget that God chases, that God is a clanging Love, begging us to stop our words, stop our minds, and notice.
When we notice, we see simplicity. Death and life. Love beyond height or depth and breadth. Love expanded into the universe, covering every part of us. Not words. Not words. Not words. Presence.
It’s all so complicated, I think. What we live our lives for. How we worship. Who and what we worship. There are so many unsaid things, so many reasons God becomes shadow, slips through our fingers.
In Pawpaw’s old workshop, on the afternoons he would pick me up from elementary school, I would sit on the edge of some wooden cabinet, my skinny hairy blond legs dangling. I’d watch him build a birdhouse or remake a broken violin. He’d whistle and I’d hum.
I think of that sometimes. What God most wants from me. Not my loud declarations of love. Not my complex mind games, my pursuit of correct theology or my hamster wheel of doubt, questions running round and round my mind.
God sets me on the cabinet and whistles and in those quiet moments, I remember God is good. And I hum and watch good hands make the wood. I notice. I’m grateful. I’m still for a moment in the Presence.
Photo Credit: Craig Sunter *Click-64* on Flickr