Finding God in the Negative

I am used to the idea of “mountain-top” experiences, finding God in ecstasy and peace. But I often reject the downward experiences, despair and death, depression and disease (dis-ease, unease) as being anti-God, as being a sign of the devil’s work in this world.

And yet, didn’t God make us to experience the good and the bad, negative as well as positive emotions? Jesus prayed with something close to depression and despair in the Garden, Jesus called out to a God whom he could not feel close to him on the cross. Jesus was fully human as well as fully God, but he was without “original sin”. So those so-called negative emotions – Jesus’ feelings of depression and despair and desertion – are not just the result of “original sin” and the distortion of God’s good creation.

Doesn’t that means that I can find God in the negative as well as the positive? I can accept the negative as well as the positive. I do not have to find my way out of the negative to find God.

It was easy for me to recognize and treasure God’s presence at the time of my husband Gordon’s death. There was a timeliness even in the untimeliness; there were many, many small and large mercies; there was a peace that passes understanding, and there was gratitude for the life of a good man.

It was not easy for me to recognize and treasure God’s presence at the time of my unborn twin grandaughters’ death. And yet, when I read what I wrote at the time and later, when I consider what it has led me to become, to value, to release, to feel, then I know that God was there – not in any way that I wanted, but there.

God is there with me no less in my anger with Her than in my peace with Her. And I treasure that immensely.

So I love God for the peace that She blessed me with in Gordon’s life and death and I hate God for taking the twins from us before we had a chance to be blessed by their lives. I love Her for the Scripture and I hate Her for how messed up She is allowing this world to be. I love Her for all She has blessed me with and I hate Her for what She has withheld from me.

And, most of all, I love that She is OK with all of that. She does not ask me to have a peace that I don’t have. She doesn’t ask me to accept quietly Madeleine and Lorien’s deaths. She doesn’t ask me to stop fighting against Her. I don’t have to accept without questioning or rest quietly in Her peace. I don’t have to believe in order to teach, or have a faith that moves mountains in order to love Her Scripture and the fellowship of Her people. I don’t have to feel blessed and confident in troubles and problems and disease. I can be angry and resentful and I can yell at God just like I used to yell at Gordon when I was mad and frustrated, and God will keep on loving me just like Gordon kept on loving me. And, just like I kept on loving Gordon even when I was totally angry and frustrated with him, I can keep on loving God even when I am totally angry and frustrated with Her. It’s a mystery, but love and hate, peace and frustration, gratitude and anger are not incompatible opposites with God – at least not to me.

This, to me, is the most miraculous of all miracles – more miraculous than the creation, incarnation, resurrection, trinity – that I can find God’s love for me when I hate Her as much as when I love Her. “This is love, not that we love God, but that He [She] first loved us.”

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Sarah and Zacchaeus

[This short story combines two New Testament stories and characters, and the tradition of St. Veronica.]

I am Sarah, my husband is Zaccheaus. We are rich. We have money but that is not why we are rich. We have faith, we have the veil and I am Sarah and not savah. That is why we are rich. Others tell our story, but they mix up parts or leave parts out. I will tell you our true story.

It had been twelve years of struggle, then twelve years of something like happiness and then twelve years of shame when we met him and now again it is twelve years since he died and then was not dead. So it is time to tell our story.

But I don’t know where to start. With my childhood in my father’s Jericho home, learning to be a faithful Hebrew woman, learning the laws, waiting to be betrothed? With my betrothal to Zacchaeus, the man my father chose for me? My father said he was a fine young Hebrew man, faithful to God and the synagogue, not above himself. I thought he was very small, but he had kind eyes.

With my children? Four children in as many years. Three lived and became fine people, long gone from our house.

With Zacchaeus becoming a tax collector for the Romans? Oh, how my father raged, how my mother wept, how Zacchaeus’ own parents raged and wept. Our neighbors no longer trusted us. Zacchaeus stopped going to synagogue because no one would stand near him. The women looked on me with pity. Other children taunted our children. But we moved from our old neighborhood to a better one. We told ourselves, Zacchaeus and I, that the others were jealous, that we were doing what was right for our children. On market day, I was proud. I could buy the best fruits and vegetables, good cloth, new sandals every year for the children. I looked in my husband’s eyes and if I no longer saw kindness, I saw pride and I knew he saw his pride reflected in my eyes. Sometimes, it hurt that we were kadesh, cast out, shunned. Sometimes, I saw the sadness in Zacchaeus’ eyes and I knew he too felt kadesh. But we told each other often that we were lucky and we were happy and we were wealthy and we were good parents and we were good people before God. We were not kadesh to each other or to God.

I am a woman so every month when I was not with child, I was niddah for those days when I bled. Afterwards, each month, I went to the mikveh and cleansed myself, ignoring the looks from the other women. I held my head high, I would not let them see that their scorn hurt me. I was Zacchaeus’ wife and Zacchaeus was rich and our children had good clothes and good sandals.

Until that day when the bleeding did not stop. The day I became not just Sarah but savah, unclean. For one week, then two. Now I was kadesh from my husband and my household, for I was unclean. But we were rich and Jericho has the best doctors in Israel. Ah, the remedies, the prayers, the tears, the blood, always the blood. No man could touch me, of course, but the doctors did not need to touch me, did not need to come near me. The doctors knew which herbs I should prepare, which river I should wash in, which sacrifices Zacchaeus should make, which balm I should use. Zacchaeus could afford it all, even the balm of Gilead, even the pilgrimage to Jerusalem to sacrifice at the temple. But not even Gilead’s balm, nor the temple sacrifice, stopped the blood. Days became weeks, weeks became months, months became years. The children grew tall and strong. Bar mitzvahs and betrothals were celebrated – without me. Because still I bled. Zacchaeus collected taxes and spent a fortune on doctors. And still I bled.

My husband had tired eyes then, but he still had kindness for his family in him. We could not sit together, we could not eat together, we could not lie together, we could not be husband and wife together. But still he spoke with me, still he paid for every new doctor, still he sacrificed in the temple for me. And one day, twelve long years after the bleeding did not stop, he told me about a man. Not a doctor but a prophet and healer. A man who said strange things sometimes but who also healed lepers and drove out demons. A Nazarene named Yeshua who said he was the Son of God. A Nazarene! We might have laughed, twelve years before, we might have laughed at a Nazarene claiming he was the Son of God. But the laughter had stopped when the blood did not.

“I will go to him,” I said. “I will go to this healer in Nazareth.” But Zacchaeus said that was impossible. It would take me more than a week even on a donkey; even if I made the ridiculous journey, what would I do when I got there? This man, this healer, he was famous now, he would be surrounded by many people, many men. How could I hope to get near the healer without touching a man and making him unclean? I could not risk that further sin. I knew all of that, but I also knew I must go. So my kind Zacchaeus arranged it. I traveled to Nazareth.

My husband was right, there were many people. I heard people say that the man at the front of the crowd, talking with this Yeshua, was  Jairus, the leader of the synagogue. I heard that Jairus’ daughter was sick, dying, that Jairus had consulted all the doctors and none could help. I knew what that felt like. I heard them say that Jairus was desperate enough to ask this Nazarene for help. I knew what that, too, felt like.

No one knew me; no one knew I was savah as I pushed through the crowd. I heard someone say that they had seen him touch a paralyzed man and the man walked. Trembling, I pushed through the crowd. I heard a woman tell of how she heard those with him talk of how he had saved them from drowning by quieting a lake storm. Curious, I pushed through the crowd. I heard that Yeshua had healed a leper and that a rabbi had acknowledged the man was cleansed. Not daring to hope but hoping, I pushed through the crowd. I heard that he spoke of God with authority and I crept up behind him and reached out my hand and let my fingers graze the back of his cloak. And I knew, I knew, I knew, I felt it and I knew. I was Sarah and I was not savah. The blood stopped flowing, my strength returned. I stood still and closed my eyes as the crowd pushed past me. I just wanted to stand there and be well.

But Yeshua stopped too. He stopped just a few feet from me so that the crowd around me almost fell over themselves, almost knocked me down. And he asked, “Who touched me?” The men who were with him laughed at him and said, “Who touched you? Who touched you? Look around. There are people pressing in on us on every side. Many people have touched you. What are you talking about?” But Yeshua turned and looked at me and said, “Someone who needed healing touched me, for I felt the power go out from me.” And I fell to my knees for I knew, I knew that I had been healed and I had been saved and I was loved. I told him, I told him everything, even though I knew he already knew. And he smiled and he told me, but not really me because I already knew, he said so that everyone else would know, he said, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.” And I went home, home to Zacchaeus. Home to start the ritual cleansing. I went to a home that could now be a true home for my husband and me.

My Zacchaeus, he was filled with wonder at my news, at my joy and my strength. For I stood straight and proud, with no pain, for the first time in twelve long years. “I should have gone with you, Sarah. I wish I had seen this Nazarene, this prophet, this Yeshua for myself,” he said.

A few months later we heard that Yeshua was in Jericho. Zacchaeus went, as soon as he heard the news, just wanting to see him. But my Zacchaeus, he is so short and the crowd was so large, he couldn’t get even a glimpse of the prophet. So my resourceful, clever Zacchaeus climbed a tree! And then Yeshua looked up and saw him and spoke to him. But that is not all. Yeshua did not care what others thought of my Zacchaeus; Yeshua came to our house and broke bread, shared a meal with us. No one was pleased by this, except myself and my Zacchaeus. In his heart of heart, for his family, my husband had always been a good man. But that day, he became again a good man, a generous man, a true son of Abraham, for everyone. That day salvation came to our house.

That was in Kislev, mid winter, twelve years ago. By Nissan that year Yeshua was arrested in Jerusalem. We were there, Zacchaeus and I, for Pasech. We did not like to be separated now that we could again be husband and wife together, so I had gone with him to Jerusalem.

Even now, twelve years later, I cannot easily speak of the horror of that time. Even knowing the wonder that came after, the horror, the sadness never really leaves me. We watched, we listened, we cried, we tried to talk sense into others and we were almost stoned for our efforts. We followed him to Golgotha. We saw his shredded back, his bleeding head, the blood dripping down his face, into his eyes. We saw him fall and I could not help myself. I ran to him and used my veil to wipe his face. As once he had cleansed my blood, so I cleansed his. Once again, he looked at me and knew me. Even in his great pain, even there near the end, he knew me. Then the Roman soldiers pushed me back, back into Zacchaeus’ strong arms.

We saw him die. For two days we mourned, too stunned to even cry, too broken to even think about going home. Then we began to hear an incredible story. We began to hear that he lived. But we had seen him die. We spoke with Mary from Magdala, we spoke with Mary and Martha and Lazarus from Bethany, we spoke with Peter and John and Thomas. And, though we had not seen him ourselves, we understood. Our hearts understood what our heads had been too slow to know. Because our hearts knew Yeshua. We knew his heart and we knew that his love still lived.

We are old now, my Zacchaeus and I. Soon now we will die. I hear our stories told by others, some who knew Yeshua, some who only have learned of him from others. They tell our stories but sometimes they forget the whole story and just tell the parts. So here, before I die, I wanted to tell our own whole, true story. So that you can understand how very rich we are, my sweet Zacchaeus and I, and how we became so rich.

Babel: A Haibun on the Divine

In the beginning, the silence took form and became noise. Eons passed and noise became language. With language we babble our prison names to entrap the nameless silence, the noise creator. We speak…

Names for a maker: God, Goddess, Architect of the World, Fashioner, Designer, Carver, Molder, Hewer, Weaver, Creator, Creatrix.

Names calling forth greatness: Great Spirit, Alone the Great One, the One Who Sees All.

Sovereign names: Almighty King, Queen of Heaven, Highest of the Highest.

Names of strength: Mighty One, Sky Woman, Rock of the World, the Strong One, the Powerful One.

Parental names: Father, Great Mother, the One Who Gives Birth, Mother Bird, Mother Hen, Mother Bear.

Names of a comforter: Friend of the World, Searcher of Hearts, Lord of Consolations, the One Who Understands, the One Who Spoke, Greatest of Friends.

Names for a savior: Protector of the Poor, Guardian of Orphans, Watcher of Everything, Savior of All

Names whispered to a lover: Beloved, Heart of Israel, the One Who Loves.

Holiness names: the Holy One, Wisdom, Sophia, Justice of the World, Peace of the World, Merciful One.

Names for the eternal unknowable: the One Who Dwells in Hidden Places, the Shining One, the Unknown God, the One Who Does Not Die.

Our Babel tower rises, rises, name upon name, image upon image, word upon word, year upon year, people upon people. We climb our steep stairs to the divine, twisting, turning, breathless, determined. We climb through earth and wood, bones and leaves, iron and stone, steel and plastic. Step by step, name by name, we climb into our tall prison, searching, forgetting, until we step into nothingness and fall, flailing, screaming wordlessly into silence.

I dream of God who dreams me
Then, Now, Forevermore
Silence calls my dream God forth