Maybe you’re one of the few persons I have not yet told of our recent remodeling effort. Let’s assume you are. We began simply enough, with innocent thoughts of new carpet in the master bedroom and closet. Something plush and clean (not threadbare and pet-stained) with a soft memory-foam liner to cushion our bare feet. This impulse led to new paint, new banisters, new bathroom fixtures and mirror, even a new bedroom windowsill. Also, out with the old: our couch that arrived a color of blue we never ordered, nor could ever fully name, was carried to the curb. It stuck out a thumb and was picked up within 30 minutes. Not so that comfy chair we bought 30 years ago for our first home in Salt Lake City, Utah--the one we found on clearance way in the back of the store, that we toted with care to other homes in Princeton, NJ, Oxford, MS, Annapolis, MD, and, finally, here to St. Louis, MO. It still sits sun-soaked at the curb, no takers on the third day.
Life goes on. A friend of mine asked yesterday if we were preparing to sell the house and move. I said, “Nope, just trying to stay alive right here.” One of my favorite poets, Christian Wiman, once wrote “that in the end we go to poetry for one reason, so that we might more fully inhabit our lives and the world in which we live them, and that if we more fully inhabit these things, we might be less apt to destroy both” (Ambition and Survival: Becoming a Poet 120). I’ve not found a better reason to read and write poetry. Everything about me wants to inhabit more fully this life and this world—not flee it, judge it, use it up from a distance. Everything about me wants to inhabit this world—not some ideal world, not some ideologically pure or politically correct world, not some virtual wannabe world, not some spiritualized pie-in-the-sky precinct beyond this world, but this world which wobbles and warms and yet somehow manages to keep turning. Every bone in my body wants to sop up this life like marrow, not some sanitized, cosmeticized, “made over” life, not some carefully controlled and contrived life, but this life where love deepens as losses mount, this beautiful, terrible one I’ve been given to love with “fear and trembling”: balding, cancer-marked, aging and arthritic, prone to Southern-accented fits of egoic whining and unkindness, apt even to fall spellbound to the siren call of the Home Depot Carpet Guy—this life rife with faithful family and friends, morning sunrise and evening moonglide, daily runs and walks with Maya the Wonder Dog, evenings spent with my wife recapitulating the day and missing our grown children, a life with more books than I can ever hope to read, ever pressed by the urgency of Word and words—this life, this world, this habitation. God comes, calling me to inhere lovingly all this wholiness.
My friend was onto something, however: getting new carpet is a lot like moving, but not. My wife and I seek to keep moving yet rooted, which means passing through occasional patches of havoc in order to let go and inhabit our home anew. Appliances wear out, rooms no longer occupied are anointed for new callings, you get caught up Feng Shui-ing your bedroom, you realize your library is fast becoming The Tomato That Ate Cleveland. And everything you remodel or box up for the Salvation Army is a nagging reminded of mortality and brokenness. We’re pruning our history, mucking around in memories that make this life our own, this world our home.
Alone one day, as I wrestled a mattress nicknamed The Incredible Hulk down the hall, I was fit to be tied. Then something common happened: in my haste and frustration I tugged too hard. That’s how I managed to bump the beautiful communion set gifted to my family when we left Broadneck Baptist Church in Annapolis, the summer of '94. Beautiful shards of pottery burst all over the living room floor, broken by the sheer desire to keep moving and stay alive.
I stood there, stilled and crestfallen. Eventually my shame gave way to sorrow. Then a tenderness best named as gratitude rose up from its resting place below. Faces and hands appeared, all opening wide before the cup and the host contained by this gift of clay, palm-shaped and baked in the kiln. 21 years of accrued Eucharistic joy, drawn near by the costly severance. Yes, we sometimes find ourselves at our worst, breaking all that’s best, that’s a fact; but God always ends up with the last word: extending yet one more invitation to stay alive by inhabiting the Unbreakable Love.
Lord, in all our striving to love and live fully within this world you’ve given us, to keep moving yet rooted deep, heal our havoc, honor with your wholiness even our sin, forgiving and restoring our tendencies, both willful and inadvertent, that break up and scatter this life and this world we’re called to inhabit more fully, to love. Amen.