(You can read all of this week's stories of lament here.)
Jesus gave us a litany of last words as a Sufferer; we refer to them as the Seven Last Words of Christ. The deathbed words of the Suffering Servant provide a framework for the stories of lament I'll be sharing here this Holy Week.
I count it a high privilege to know -- at least in a small part -- the writers of the mourning stories I'll be sharing now through Holy Saturday. Their stories have helped form me in my understanding of suffering and I believe they could also encourage you too. Today's guest is a man Brian and I know from our days living and working in New York state. I first got to know Brett through his kind offer to share poetry with my art-starved self. It was like a cup of cold water - which is a fitting metaphor for the day we remember the parched and dying Christ.
It'd be silly to pretend that the form of suffering Brett so vulnerably shares with us today isn't among the most culturally vulnerable positions in our world today. His lament acknowledges a complexity of suffering that makes the majority of the world, and, sadly, the Church, too uncomfortable to acknowledge.
As we near the Feast of the Passover, I'm thinking a lot about our Israelite forebears being rescued from slavery in Egypt - dramatically freed from a backbreaking life that led to death by route of the stark, uncomfortable wildnerness. In this context Brett's question, Can we grieve the loss of an unholy life?, feels a bit like what the Jewish fathers and mothers might have meant when in their austere desert provision they found themselves remembering fondly the melons and cucumbers they were fed in Egypt. What might those longings have sounded like if they'd stopped short of building the golden calf as an idol to their faulty memory of the "good, old days"? I wonder if it might have sounded a bit like Brett's honest, thirsty lament.
Would you read Brett's story with me, and listen with an open heart for any words Christ might be speaking to you?
Grieving Our Vinegar Thirsts
by Brett Alan Dewing
Jesus’s call of thirst from Golgotha calls us all to examine the thirsts in our lives. Are they holy thirsts that bring us closer to who God calls us to be (thirsts for His blood in the Eucharist), or are they worldly cravings that bend us toward idolatry and consumerism (thirsts for the vinegar He was given)? There are times in our lives when two roads diverge in a foggy wood, and we, groping, take the wrong path. When we realize our error, what do we do? When we find ourselves back on the straight and narrow, what do we do with our time on the crooked and wide?
Sixteen years ago, God led me out of a gay identity into something much wilder and less contained: an identity in Him. For a dozen years, I thrilled in the experience of chasing God and His ways, but I didn’t know what to do with my time as a gay man. Were those times, those relationships, those drives to be all labeled not-good and thrown on the trash heap of the past?
In the last four years, my sexual identity has not been so sure. I have found myself again wrestling with my old desires – good desires like companionship and community and love that were twisted ever-so-slightly into unhealthy thirsts. And again I must ask, what do I do with the path I daily refuse to go down again.
Can we grieve the loss of an unholy life?
When we turn from our earthly desires toward Him, we all must leave things behind. For me, that meant leaving behind a life of seeking fulfillment in another man. That meant the very real possibility of never knowing someone sexually. That meant the loss of an identity that promised inclusion and the picking up of an identity that seems even today to lead to loneliness and Otherness.
But in my searching, wandering heart, I have found that it is holy and healthy to mourn those things that a gay identity promises, even though they are not things God wants for me. We all must mourn the paths we didn’t take, even if – no, even though – they are not the paths God would lead us down.
It is OK.
It is OK to cry out to Him in my loneliness, in my frustrated sexual being, in my uncertainty, to mourn the life He called me out of, even if I find myself desiring it once more. It is OK to weep for the loss of a broken life. We must, in fact, let go of every “if” or “might have been” to truly follow Him without reservation. Let them float away like balloons, in an array of tears, offerings to Him that set us on the good path. He knows what we gave (give) up, and He can take the tears of pain and anger as we grieve our vinegar thirsts.
Brett, I'm praying with hope for you and all of us the words of our sister Julian of Norwich who found herself enfolded so deeply in the love of Christ that her proclamation "all shall be well, all things shall be well" comforts our troubled hearts even today. May it be so. ~ Tamara)
Brett Alan Dewing is a poet, playwright, teacher, and critic living in Binghamton,
NY. He grew up in Warren Center, PA and was educated in Canada, where he earned
three BAs and an MFA. He has interned at Brookstone Performing Arts in Toronto
and studied under Canadian legends Iris Turcott and Judith Thompson. His play,
Requiem for a Broken God has been performed on both coasts, and his plays my first sex poem and One Is Silver were performed at Redeemer University College in
Hamilton, Ontario. He self-produced plays throughout high school but has yet to
enjoy his professional American premiere.
(You can read all of the Retrieve Lament stories from previous years here.)