In the Christian tradition, today is Palm, or Passion Sunday. Around the world, churches will be proclaiming Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, which will, by the end of the week, turn into a nightmare of failure and death. We need look no further than this week in Jesus’ life to witness the reality of unjust suffering, the fickle nature of social approval, and the tyranny of a threatened power structure.
During this Holy Week of Lent, I will be offering poems from Ranier Marie Rilke. His poetry is a reflection of his deep faith and his deep wrestling with that faith. His God is not just found in churches and sacraments, but in every inch of matter, animate and inanimate, in animals as well as humans, in hearts and heads and bodies. Much of his poetry echoes the famous insight of St. Augustine: Our hearts are restless until they rest in thee.
Rilke’s poetry reminds me that our faith is poorer for only reading scripture in services on Sundays. There are so many holy words left unspoken that could change our lives.
“God Speaks to Each of Us”
God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.
These are the words we dimly hear:
You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Flare up like flame
and make big shadows I can move in.
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.
Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.
Give me your hand.
I chose this poem for Palm Sunday, for if “God speaks to each of us,” then Jesus’ experience of God was no different than ours. He was simply the one who listened best. From the beauty of Palm Sunday to the terror of Good Friday, Jesus must have clung to his Beloved’s reminder: “Just keep going. No feeling is final./ Don’t let yourself lose me.”
This morning, I watched my sixteen-year-old get in a friend’s car and drive to school, in her Catholic school uniform with her hair a freshly-died, espresso black and her lips painted purple. A few minutes later, I dropped the Lad off for his first day of high school, watching him walk on to campus, looking just like my brothers did at his age, all skinny legs and freckles and big ears. I came home to pack lunch for my baby starting her first day of middle school, where she will sit shoulder to shoulder with boys who can grow mustaches and girls who shave their legs. And then I came home and sat in awe at the passage of time.
I won’t say that time travels fast. That’s too simplistic and it doesn’t always ring true. Sometimes, time travels slowly. There were years and years when it didn’t feel like anything ever changed. There was the almost six year season of pregnancy and breastfeeding, one baby after another. And I’ll never forget the era of bodily functions – almost ten solid years of changing diapers and wiping bottoms. It’s been over fifteen years of the same dinner and bedtime prayers and the kiss and hug goodnight before turning out the light. Keara ushers in a new era and Molly brings it to its conclusion.
But the epoch of having a young family is coming to its natural end. I generally talk a good game about looking forward to what’s coming up ahead, but today I was faced with reality. Despite my sadness at the passage of time, I believe I will love my adult children with the same passion I loved them as babies. I am endlessly fascinated by who they are becoming and what makes them tick. I watch the little decisions they make and the comments they let fly and I smile, praying that I have done enough to earn a place in their life when they become adults and have the ability to chose who they want to spend time with. I have several more years to work on that, of course; I know its not over, but still, there is something significant about this year. Instead of a family made up of two adults and three kids, we are now a family of five: two adults, two young adults and one pre-teen, who is somewhere in the middle. There are no chubby cheeks left to kiss goodbye and no hands begging to be held. There are hand waves, high fives and quick hugs and I am grateful for every one of them.
I was doing fine today, leaving Molly at De Portola Middle School, a little nostalgic perhaps, but nothing that was going to slow me down, that is, until I got in the car and turned on the radio. Coming out at me from across the airwaves was Lionel Richie’s “Easy Like a Sunday Morning” and I had to pull over, because I started to cry.
It isn’t the lyrics; it isn’t the tune; it isn’t even Richie’s velvet voice that brings me to tears.
It’s just that that song holds the essence of longing to me, the finality of goodbye.
Twenty-two years ago this month, I said good-bye and left my first-born daughter at Mercy Hospital in the arms of a social worker, who would place her in the arms of her parents the next day. The nurse took me out in a wheel chair and I got in my mother’s car. I purposely turned on the radio, knowing that the song playing would forever be linked to that moment for me and I heard Lionel Richie sing,
“I know it sounds funny but I just can’t stand the pain.
Girl, I’m leaving you tomorrow.
Seems to me girl you know I’ve done all I can.
You see I’ve begged, stole and I borrowed,
That’s why I’m easy, easy like a Sunday morning.”
The song went on that day and it went on today as well and I let it wash over me. I let my heart feel what it wanted to feel, before I let my head get involved and clean up the mess.
Maybe the timing of the two songs, decades apart, was a coincidence, but maybe it was an invitation from the universe, then and now, to say goodbye. I never experienced with Sarah the first era, the one I am saying farewell to now with the three children I am privileged to raise. Time never went slowly with her; our day together was gone in the blink of an eye, but I cherished every moment of it, so maybe today I was given a reminder to be grateful for the long slow crawl through poopy diapers and messy art projects, as well as the one I am embarking on now of intellectual and moral questioning and challenges.
Coincidence, or fate, I am thankful that song came on, bringing me back to myself, to my life and my choices, my past and future. It reminded to not cling to what was, nor insist on what has not yet unfolded. It centered me in the Now, the day before me with my family, friends and work.
I hope yours is as good one as mine is surely turning out to be.