I think I’ve mentioned before that I totally get where Jonah was coming from. Or going to. Or not going to, to be specific. I connect with his reluctance to tackle a job he doesn’t especially want. Or to work with people he doesn’t particularly like. Or maybe Jonah is loathe to go there because he doesn’t like who he becomes (self-righteous, angry, vindictive) in that hostile, foreign place, and the only way through the situation requires humility, creativity, flexibility and a willingness to change – not just the Ninevites – but himself, which is infinitely less fun. And super stinking hot.
I’m sitting on a hard, cold bench in a wide, noisy hallway downtown, and I’m really, really trying to pray that I will be exactly where God needs me, but I don’t want to be here. It’s my sacred Tuesday, and I want to be curled up in a cozy chair, wearing jeans and a favorite sweater, with a hot cup of tea at my side and a new book (or two) in my lap, the dogs at my feet. I would enjoy a little rain outside, especially if it’s not my day to drive carpool. I would settle for tennis shoes and running gear, even if the morning’s tasks require picking up the puppy prizes, paying bills and answering emails.
Neither of these scenarios, however, appears to be where God wants me today.
I’ve been summoned for jury duty. In the criminal courthouse. On a domestic ugliness charge. There will be testimony from a dentist. It’s not going to be pretty. I’m honestly, truly trying to bloom where I’m planted, and to be attentive, optimistic, and whole-hearted, but I’m already sick to my stomach. The judge then informs us that the defendant will be representing himself, which, of course, he is entitled to do. Apparently his experience having been convicted of two prior felonies has provided him with the confidence to act as his own counsel. My intellect and my instinct are wrestling, each struggling to be the first through the closest exit.
I do believe in due process, but it’s never convenient. I’ve appeared more than a few times and even served on a couple juries, and when the system works, it’s enormously satisfying. It restores my faith in our countrymen. When the system fails, it makes me think we should seriously consider a system of professional jurors, because the defendant’s peers are wholly unqualified to tell the time (evidenced by their consistent tardiness), let alone make a rational judgment on the matter of guilt.
It is not always easy for me to surrender to where I’m supposed to be. Sometimes I don’t want to bring the best version of myself to the table. I want to bring the sloppy, grouchy version so she will be excused early and sent home to read her book, and let everybody else sort out the mess. But I know what a bad day looks like, and it’s not jury duty. Not even on a Tuesday.
Surrendering was an entirely different matter as a newly-widow. I don’t believe in a God who plans every single detail of our lives. I bristle at the words “God’s plan.” After Sam’s suicide, well-meaning, faithful people often uttered their belief in life and God’s plan, but I got stuck on that phrase, God’s plan. God planned this? I have more than a few thoughts on God’s so-called plan. Honestly. I am not in charge, but maybe I should be. I can think of hundreds of better plans than pushing a kind and caring husband and father off the top of a four-story structure. This is His divine commission for Sam? For me?
No, thank you.
I don’t believe in a God who plans tragedy, but I do believe in a God who is present with us in the muddle. I believe in the One who holds us firmly and safely while we wage our internal struggle to come to terms with the gap between what we wish was and what in fact is. I trust the God who loves each one of us for who we are – our flawed, reluctant, beautiful selves. I pray to the God who gently catches the man who, in his pain and illness and despair, commits a terribly tragic act, leaving his wife and two little boys abandoned, confused and devastated. And I have come to know the God who scoops up those little boys and their mother and holds their broken hearts together in the palm of His hand.
Jury service should be comparatively easy.
Two blocks from the criminal courthouse is the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. I have been there a couple times, and each time I am arrested by the stunning tapestries displayed along the walls of the sanctuary. Saints, regular old people and young people, line the walls, all of them radiant and focused. Each person an original. A reminder of the saints living among us, and the living saints we are, not because of our perfection, but by virtue of our participation.
When the judge releases us for lunch, I dash up the hill to the cathedral, hoping to catch the daily 12:10 mass and a sense of peace and clarity. The priest is young, with a heavy accent, and it is clear that, while English is his second (or third or fourth, more likely) language, he has invested a lot of time preparing for this service. The Gospel reading covers one of the many times that Jesus disagreed with the lawyers on a point of law. The priest’s homily was about four sentences long, with the simple message that lovingkindness is more important than legalism, which thoroughly amuses me because you can see the courthouse steps from the cathedral steps. But the most profound truth the priest uttered was at the very beginning of the service, when he smiled and opened his arms wide, in a gesture of greeting and inclusion. He said: “Welcome to this holy mess.”
It is a mess. God may not have planned every sordid detail ahead of time, He might not control all the particulars, but He is here with us in the mix, and we need all hands on deck. Like all the individual saints lined up on the tapestries, heading in the same direction, united in purpose, each wearing a unique style of shoe. We need each other’s differences, perspectives and skills. We will not see eye to eye on every issue. Probably not on most issues. But when you look at the eyes of the saints on the tapestries, their eyes are not on each other. All eyes are forward, looking toward Jesus. Looking toward the light.
I can do that.
I take my most authentic self to the place where I am. Today, that’s a criminal courtroom downtown. I bring a smile, an open mind, attentive ears and a book. Because chances are good that my patience will be tried in this holy mess.
Wishing you light and strength on today’s path. Welcome to this holy mess.