Well on the Mend

Well, as you can see from this photo, the communion set I shattered last week is well on the mend. Clearly, it's not there yet. In fact, I'm not sure how much more can be repaired. Strangely, however, the chalices, carafe and paten are more holy to me now in their apparent unwholiness than they ever were before I broke them in my negligence. You'd expect me, I bet, to go straight to St. Paul's words about how we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so I will: "But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies" (II Corinthians 4:7-11 NRSV).


I LOVE this passage, how it affirms the brutal honesty of the many and varied hits we take, but also the even deeper "life of Jesus" mystery that grants us abiding resilience and resolve. It reminds me of another verse earlier in that same letter where Paul, struggling with his own weaknesses and sin, somehow hears the Lord say to him, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness" (II Corinthians 12:9). I can't tell you how many times I've gotten (and keep getting) this one wrong. My default position is to think and feel that power is made perfect in strength. Which is exactly why I find Paul's words so refreshing and utterly healing.

Today's the birthday of poet and novelist Robert Penn Warren. I love his work for its "witness," what some might call the "strange witness of unbelief." Warren was at best an agnostic, but he spoke so deeply to the human heart in a broken world. As I looked over The Poetry Foundation's extensive biography on Warren, I was reminded of how, in his book The Poetic Vision of Robert Penn Warren, Victor Strandberg underscores the passage from innocence to maturity that lies at the center of Warren's literary vision. Strandberg sees Warren as dividing his characters into two groups: "those who refuse passage into a polluted and compromised adult environment" (whom Strandberg refers to as the "Clean" people) and "those who accept passage into the world's stew" (the "Dirty" people). As Warren sees it, the Clean people see themselves as separate from the corrupted world, while the Dirty people are willing to face life as is in order to grow spiritually. In Warren's view, the Clean people can either be relatively harmless, reclusive fundamentalist types, or they can be almost psychopathic in their determination to purify the world and punish sinners (i.e., the Dirty People). I'm one of the Dirty people, I guess. I sense God drawing me more deeply into a kind of radical acceptance of the "world's stew." Not that I seek to make things worse, or believe that things can't be made better--but I'm convinced that I can best press forward via the acceptance of our shared brokenness.


Humpty Dumpty came to mind while trying to glue the communion set back together this week. What I wouldn't have given for "all the king's horses and all the king's men"! I thought of just how many times each day, in Christian communities all over God's good earth, and in countless other lives in other places, Christian or not, the Sacred Presence comes to folks doing their best to bear up beneath the broken day as it comes and goes, offering the invitation to renewed life, saying words that embody and echo "Take, eat, this is my body broken for you. Take, drink, this is my blood spilt for you."


Whatever this Communion is that we both serve and sever, over and over, at its center lives a Broken Heart that heals, that mends, that lifts us back up and offers us in love to a world that's glorious these spring days with robin-blue skies, greening lawns, bird chitter and squirrel chatter; yet horrid too, with a hateful hankering, as Paul put it, to crush, perplex, persecute and destroy.


I don't know if we have enough glue, or enough of a sense of jig-saw proportion or patience, to ever get this communion back together, but I celebrate the fact, all in all, that the Sacred Heart continues to beat, and to hold us all close in all those places where broken is blessed: we're well on the mend; we're well, on the mend.

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Comments: 5
  • #1

    Chuck Hussung (Saturday, 25 April 2015 16:57)

    I can certainly see both Clean and Dirty folks in Warren's "All the King's Men," which I have taught a number of times. The trickiest character to contemplate from Strandberg's angle is Jack Burden, whom no one, including himself, would call clean. His cynicism becomes a way of hiding himself from the complexities of life and thus assuming more dirtiness than there actually is and failing to notice some of the brave cleanliness that dirty men and women find a way of creating. // Thanks for the entry, Terry.

  • #2

    Terry Minchow-Proffitt (Saturday, 25 April 2015 17:30)

    Chuck, thanks so much for reading this week's blog. I had a hunch that the Robert Penn Warren observation would draw you in. I've already responded to your insightful observation about Jack Burden via email, but I've gotta say that tracing it out in contrast to Strandberg would make for a very interesting article. Get right on that, Chuck, in all your spare time! :)

  • #3

    Andrea Missey (Monday, 27 April 2015 10:01)

    I've read from this II Cor. in study and at bedside during pastoral visits many times. Thought I had all this figured out. But now I have a new perspective on weakness and God's grace filling all the vacant places. I wish I could count the number of times people told me that I am so strong or to be strong. In truth, I have never felt weaker in the past months, leaning not only on my abundance of loving relationships, but experiencing a blessing of God's grace like never before.

  • #4

    Terry Minchow-Proffitt (Monday, 27 April 2015 10:10)

    Andrea, your post exemplifies faith at its finest and its hardest. So beautiful the way God's Spirit is opening you up through your woundedness. I don't thank God for your suffering, but I'm grateful and inspired by how God has been present to you amidst your suffering. This, I believe, is the kind of strength Christ calls out in us.

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