Summertime has obviously come to schools all around. Summertime is made known in school breaks, in warmer temperatures, and in the chlorine smell of pools that are being treated so people won't get sick from germs. As I've gotten older, summertime has changed for me. I no longer throw water balloons at people on the last day of school. I don't ride my bike around town like a little weirdo filled to the brim with excitement. And mostly, I don't look around and say, "Weehaw! 3 months of no responsibilities!"
While I have fewer responsibilities during the summer, they're not gone completely. Right now, I have few things I "have" to do. I'm going to work for a friend next week. I'll be tooling around in the yard, and doing some work on the shed with her. I'm really looking forward to it. That sort of thing makes me feel useful. And I need to feel useful. I miss the manual labor that I am "spared" by living in a dormitory where there is a grounds crew to do all that stuff. I miss fixing the doorframe on the old back porch after a good hard rain soaks into it and pulls the nails out of it and the wood that holds it in place. I miss sitting out on the deck steps, wearing my paint and grass-stained, slightly holey, tools in the pockets to make my work more efficient, carpenter jeans, cutting up pieces of orange plastic to put into my weedwhacker. And I miss having someone to do these things for, knowing that they taught me the work ethic by example, but who was too old and didn't quite understand the technology to do the work for herself.
So, while my friend is far from incapable of doing these things for herself, I am incredibly grateful that she is giving me this opportunity to work, to get my hands dirty, and to feel like a useful person again.
But don't get me wrong-I know I am a useful person of more worth than many sparrows. I know that I have gifts and talents and proclivities that make me valuable and treasured in the eyes of many. Sometimes it's just nice to have a reminder that is made tangible by sore muscles and a sunburned neck; by the smell of gasoline and fresh cut weeds and grass.
It's an interesting thing to think about; this whole question of what makes us feel useful. One of the last times I saw my advisor this past semester (she likes to see us once a month to check in on life, seminary, and whatever else), she asked me, "What makes your spirit sing?" I was somewhat taken aback by the question, and so my quick answer was, "laughing." I've been thinking some about that question, and I've come to recognize that one reason I have a difficult time answering it is because I don't like the way it's phrased. It's seems so foundationally based on emotion that I just think it a bit too flighty to give any credence to it. But it's not well enough to rephrase the question into, "What makes you happy?" Because happy is an emotion too, and not a very thorough one. Sometimes I am happy, and sometimes I'm not, but I always have joy. So, while this is a rough translation of the question, "What makes your spirit sing?" into "Trish-ese," I would like to put it out there... Perhaps I could do more searching for the answer if the question were phrased, "What makes you feel valuable?"
Earlier I mentioned that manual labor makes me feel valuable. However, it's more than just using mind and muscle together to accomplish a task. The draw for me, I think, comes from acting in service to others; even if indirectly. I was at my house a few weeks ago (not "home," but the place I lived for 24 years), and I found a book I read several years back. I thought that it might make for an interesting re-read, considering everything I've learned the last couple of years, and the last year and a half in particular. The book is called, "The Rapture of Canaan," and is about this fundamentalist Christian group with a very stern leader. Sometimes the book had me laughing because of the ridiculousness of what was being said, sometimes it made me angry because things like that probably happen places in even our own society, and sometimes it just made me think about life. The book did a good job of drawing me in to the story, and I even have found myself slipping into talking like a country bumpkin lately.
Reading "The Rapture of Canaan" has made me feel valuable. Not just because it's a good story, but because I read it for me. College really did a good job of stomping my love of reading right out of me. Some of the stuff at Seminary is much more interesting, but the fact that it is assigned reading is my problem. But, now that it is summertime, I can read for me again. The neat thing is, though, that despite the VAST differences in theology between the people in the book I just finished reading again and me, is that it reinforced some of my own beliefs and starkly put some ideas out there for me to ponder. One of the most important lines in the whole book, in my opinion states,
"Sorrow is a silent place."
That's something to think about, isn't it? The main character, Ninah, had been out with her grandma, Nanna, looking for her grandpa, who was the leader of the community and church. Grandpa had had a stroke, but was still able to move about. Somedays he was more confused than others, but Nanna just kept watching over him, even when he was violent. The day Grandpa went off, the whole community went out looking for him, but Ninah and Nanna went secretly because the community was treating Nanna the way our society has a tendency of treating older folks in the face of stress or fear: like an invalid. So, Nanna was sad when they couldn't find him, obviously, but Ninah didn't say anything because she realized, "Sorrow's a silent place."
How true, and how scarcely followed is this thought. I'm guilty of it myself. When there's sadness in someone's life, I try to say something of comfort. Not something like, "Oh, he's in a better place," but something else. I try not to dismiss their pain because pain is a very real part of human existence. But I think I might do well to remember that silence can be just as comforting. Sometimes, the presence of someone I love is enough to make me feel better, and I think if they tried talking, it would take away from that. Absolute silence isn't necessary, but I'm going to try not to just spout off words for the sake of breaking the silence.
I remember at the end of my first full-time semester here at Seminary, I got some bad news regarding Ma. I meandered downstairs to one of my friends' rooms and she was with another good friend. And I told them and sat on her bed for a spell. They talked some, but were also silent a good lick of the time. And that was so valuable. I appreciated their care and concern, and I appreciate them.
Many of my friends have gone off to Clinical Pastoral Education this summer. Most of them are in hospital settings where they have an assigned floor, but are required to do trauma visits and what not as well. Because I've already done CPE, I am still here, able to plan out my summer as I wish. It is my hope and prayer for them that their experiences in their clinical settings will be fruitful for them; that they will learn the power of their voices to bring the hope of Christ into the midst of pain. But I hope even more that they will learn the power of silence; not silence that speaks of apathy or confusion, but silence that conveys presence and grace. Because despite all of my own feelings, worth does not come from doing any particular set of tasks or anything. Worth comes from God and God's claim on our lives as beloved people for whom Jesus lived, died, and resurrected. We are all the valued people of God. Our mere presence is valuable and respecting the "simple" presence of the "other" is valuable because God is at work through all of creation-even silence. And for this, I give thanks.