One of the gifts of Facebook is its ability to give us continued glimpses and insights into the lives of people whose paths cross oursfor only a brief moment. A few years ago, I attended a conference on Bowen Island in British Columbia. There, I met a young woman, Liz Tichenor, with her lovely and musically gifted husband, and delicious little girl. In the years following that brief encounter, Liz has lost her mother to suicide and her infant son, Fritz, to SIDS. She is a strong and true priest in San Francisco, and she continues to build a beautiful life for herself and her family. Yesterday, she shared a poem that isn’t an easy read, but is full of the kind of harsh and beautiful grace that’s always made my own life more meaningful.
A Brief for the Defense
by Jack Gilbert
Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. If babies
are not starving someplace, they are starving
somewhere else. With flies in their nostrils.
But we enjoy our lives because that’s what God wants.
Otherwise the mornings before summer dawn would not
be made so fine. The Bengal tiger would not
be fashioned so miraculously well. The poor women
at the fountain are laughing together between
the suffering they have known and the awfulness
in their future, smiling and laughing while somebody
in the village is very sick. There is laughter
every day in the terrible streets of Calcutta,
and the women laugh in the cages of Bombay.
If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction,
we lessen the importance of their deprivation.
We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world. To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.
If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down,
we should give thanks that the end had magnitude.
We must admit there will be music despite everything.
We stand at the prow again of a small ship
anchored late at night in the tiny port
looking over to the sleeping island: the waterfront
is three shuttered cafés and one naked light burning.
To hear the faint sound of oars in the silence as a rowboat
comes slowly out and then goes back is truly worth
all the years of sorrow that are to come.
At Collegeville, I met some pretty extraordinary people. Two of them are theologians, well respected university professors, both of them dealing with the realities of Stage IV cancer, still intent on living full, productive, creative, remarkable lives. One is Kate Bowler, who is a professor at Duke and is world-renowned for her research on the Gospel of Prosperity. You should read her essay that appeared on Valentine’s Day in the New York Times; it is called Death, the Prosperity Gospel, and Me. Deanna Thompson is a professor of religion at Hamline College in Minnesota, and you can read more about her on her blog, Hoping for More. This fall, she is also publishing a book that explores how websites like CaringBridge in a sense become the ‘mystical body of Christ’ in those strange, inexplicable moments when life as you knew it is snatched out from under you because of serious, life threatening illness.
All three of them are so young. Beautiful, strong and brave. And I am so grateful that thanks to Facebook and their blogs, the light that shines through their lives continues to illuminate mine.