Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Risk of Delight

The Rev. Dr. Stephanie Nagley
There’s a deer staring at us from the woods as the dogs and I walk down the path into Rock Creek Park. It’s one of those amazingly quiet and peaceful moments until Maggie, the cairn terrier, draws on all her eighteen pounds and starts barking. The doe looks at Jackson, the golden retriever, as if to say, “I feel your pain” and then smirks at Maggie before bounding away. The peace is breached by a terrier’s fury and I remember the lines of a poem: “We must risk delight. We must have the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of this world” (“A Brief Defense” by Jack Gilbert). 

We are so vulnerable. Life has a way of taking us where it will and often to places we don’t want to go. This past week a young friend was diagnosed with terminal cancer as another friend became a grandmother for the third time. I suspect God inhabits the anarchy created in the convergence of lives ending too soon and babies born right on time but it’s not where I want to go, so I straighten the bookcase, scratch down a grocery list and fold the laundry. I carry out a liturgy of household chores, as if straightening and folding and making a list will order the chaos of a world that both violates and caresses. 

My colleague, Jessica, sent me a message Sunday morning from the cathedral in Jerusalem. She wrote: “Sounds of children are part of the service and the kids get up a lot…the acolytes light the candles with a BBQ lighter…the priest forgets an important announcement or three and people are confused about how to go up and receive communion…there’s traffic noise during the service…and we break bread so that we who are many are one body in Christ…not that different, aside from the fact girls can’t celebrate Eucharist.”

Later that same Sunday I look out at the church gathered in Bethesda. Not so different except for the BBQ lighters and the girls. I think about how we carefully orchestrate worship and then, if we’re lucky or touched by grace, it all falls apart. The acolytes can’t sit still, the altar candle tilts a little and the priest forgets her lines. In those moments I imagine God chuckling and saying: “Thank, Myself! They’re human after all, just the way I made them. Perfectly imperfect.”

When things fall apart, something breaks open. Something of God wanders through. I look out and see my young friend with cancer and my friend who is a new grandmother surrounded by the body of Christ; perfectly imperfect creatures holding each other up in the ruthless furnace of this world, revealing God with their stubborn acceptance of gladness and willingness to risk delight. 

The Rev. Dr. Stephanie Nagley is the rector of St. Luke's, Bethesda.