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Well hello, dear readers. It’s good to be back amongst you.
In December I asked for a two month break from writing as my house filled with boxes and my days filled with packing, anticipating a move to southern Ontario mid-January. Steve, in his infinite wisdom, gave me an additional two months, knowing, I’m sure, that the process of moving does not end when the last box is unpacked.
On January 11 I sat my very disgruntled cats on the front seat of a U-Haul truck and drove us from Grand Haven, Michigan to Kitchener, Ontario, to begin a post as Interim Pastor of Preaching and Pastoral Care. The months since then have been rather an emotional roller coaster. They’ve seen the grief of leaving a beloved community and job, the adjustment to different cultural expectations around Covid, the feelings of wrong-footedness that come with being new, the joy of being so much closer to my family and my boyfriend, the deep peace of being back in Canada, the anxiety of not knowing what’s next.
Unsurprisingly, this has been a season of introspection and reflection, and as one does during such seasons, I’ve turned to writers and podcasters and good question-askers to help steward my reflection.
And so a few weeks ago I was listening to that great curator of thought, Krista Tippett, as she interviewed the equally great children’s author, Kate DiCamillo, for an episode of OnBeing titled, “For the Eight-year-old in You.” Krista and Kate talked about the sacred task of writing children’s literature – acknowledging that children see and understand more of the world than we give them credit for — both its hope and its heartbreak — and thus the challenge for authors to tell the truth about the world and make that truth bearable.
Krista referenced the acceptance speech Kate gave in 2014 when she won her second Newbery Medal, in which Kate talked about the word “capacious.” “We have been given the sacred task,” Kate said, “of making hearts large through story. We are working to make hearts that are capable of containing much joy and much sorrow, hearts capacious enough to contain the complexities and mysteries. . .of ourselves and of each other.”
I’ve listened to this interview twice now – the first time wiping away tears as I looked back on the past few months and the joys and sorrows and complexities and mysteries of belonging and leaving. I listened again on Sunday, driving back from a pulpit supply visit, and it struck me that I would use almost identical language to describe the sacred task of preaching.
Perhaps there are some who view preaching as an endeavour towards clarity. Life is complicated and messy, and our task is to point people in the right direction and help them walk the straight and narrow path.
For better or worse, I’m not sure that’s not my goal when I step into a pulpit. I want people to understand the text, certainly. And I want them to know deep truths and see how they’re expressed in Scripture.
But I think ultimately my goal is to create capacious hearts, large enough to hold much joy and much sorrow, capable of being in a world that is complex and mysterious and messy and beautiful and to do so wholeheartedly. And to do this by telling a story, a story that holds much mystery, much sorrow, and much joy.
This Sunday is Palm Sunday, and if you follow the lectionary, we read this story from Luke’s Gospel this year. Which brings an interesting tension to the day as we gather our children together to wave palm branches and sing “hosanna,” because Luke’s telling involves no children, no palm branches, and no hosannas. Scott Hoezee, in his sermon starter on the text, says that Luke’s version strips all the trappings of the story away so all we see is Jesus. And if we look deep into his eyes, there we’ll see “the sadness behind the mirth, the deep pity that undergirds the larger celebration.”
Such tension in this story – the celebration and the sadness – is not an unfathomable paradox, but an invitation into capaciousness. “Despair and hope,” wrote Frederick Buechner in his sermon on this text. “They travel the road to Jerusalem together, as together they travel every road we take – despair at what in our madness we are bringing down on our heads and hope in him who travels the road with us and for us and who is the only one of us all who is not mad. Hope in the King who approaches every human heart like a city.”
In the OnBeing interview, Kate reads a letter she wrote to author Matt de La Peña about how to tell the truth about the world to children. She talks about Charlotte’s Web, a beloved story that holds great sadness and great beauty. She writes,
“I have tried for a long time to figure out how E.B. White did what he did, how he told the truth and made it bearable.
“And I think that you, with your beautiful book about love, won’t be surprised to learn that the only answer I could come up with was love. E. B. White loved the world. And in loving the world, he told the truth about it – its sorrow, its heartbreak, its devastating beauty. He trusted his readers enough to tell them the truth, and with that truth came comfort and a feeling that we were not alone.”
Sometimes we’re tempted to view “truth” as a destination we can reach, a safe haven from all the complexities and mysteries of life. But I think all the “truths” that we believe are couched in a greater truth – that the world is messy and complicated and holds much joy and much sorrow. And our task – as preachers and teachers and parents and neighbors and friends — is to tell that truth and make it bearable, to help people live in this world with capacious hearts, able to hold this joy and this sorrow together.
Because God holds all these things together.
For God so loved the world…