As a kid I ran from brokenness. Whenever a fight broke out at school while some excitedly gravitated toward it I’d subtely turn tail and literally walk away in the opposite direction. I remember doing this often. Whenever I found myself in proximity to deep hurt, sickness, or wreckage my sensitive psyche wanted nothing to do with it so in my fear I’d flee.
I still feel that same compulsion and sensitivity now but at some point in the growing older I turned a corner and began moving toward the wreckage with an innocent and perhaps sometimes arrogant desire to rummage through it searching for redemption. Reactions to brokenness tend to vacillate between fight or flight feeling as if situations, relationships, and people are either fixable or beyond it.
This past weekend I had the opportunity to visit the people and places of Pine Ridge Lakota Reservation in South Dakota. This visit has been a long time coming. My desire started about four years ago as a friendship developed with a struggling homeless couple in Denver both of whom were born and raised on Pine Ridge.
As our friendship grew through conversations at diners and detention centers I found myself like the disciple Thomas knowing I wouldn't access clarity unless I leaned in closer and felt the wounds for myself. So, the intrigue, prayers, and friendships eventually led me to take up an invitation to spend this past weekend experiencing the people and places of Pine Ridge.
When I reached out to touch the brokenness I experienced both hells and heavens just inches apart from one another. I played with lively children, prayed prayers with wise elders while also listening to excruciatingly painful stories of rape, suicide, and addiction. Within these tear soaked stories I discovered both unfathomable trauma along with glimpses of deep beauty residing side by side.
After several conversations with local Lokatas I visited the site of Wounded Knee a place where Native men, women, and children were mercilessly eliminated by US soldiers. The emotion there knocked me to the dirt leaving me only with tears and mouthing a quiet, “Lord have mercy/Christ have mercy” prayer.
How could MY tribe of colonialist Christians entirely overlook the imago dei and resort to such anti-christ evil? And if they were capable of such insanity then in what ways have I been adopted into this systemic brokenness? How do I possibly respond to such violent wreckage, such trauma, and the ongoing massacres taking place there via gangs, suicides, and fetal alcohol syndrome?
Our brokenness is broadly corporate and yet very personal all at once.
Running away from all of it remains a compulsion for sure but it’s one I’ve found entirely unhelpful. And sometimes the compulsion to reactively fix is equally unhelpful – a narcisistic coping mechanism - a knee jerk reaction in the midst of unsightly suffering.
While this was a unique experience of mine while visiting the rez, often all of us are forced into these crucibles of tension with no way of resolving them. Isn't it the very contents of this crucible that Jesus speaks of when asking his friends, “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?”
I realize not all of us will be invited into the manner of intensity that I encountered there or that I see on the Denver streets here, but isn't this an accurate description of the tension occuring in us all at some level?
I believe this very tension is what Jesus is getting at through the communion meal also known as the eucharist and Lord's supper. It’s a most unusual meal in which Jesus invites us to see brokenness and eat it, to take it into ourselves.
While sitting among orphans in Romania, my friend, Scott Dewey wrote,
“This is precisely what Jesus asks us to believe is the meeting point of the divine and human – not simply to believe it, but to eat! When Jesus was torn open in flesh and exposed to public ridicule, he did not simply acknowledge our broken humanity as an observer. He absorbed brokenness into himself. He became the broken One.” (Meal From Below, 102)
Through the meal we are reminded of the posture we take as disciples pursuing incarnational ministry in the way of Jesus. We're reminded that it's neither a posture fight or flight, but of faithfully holding tension. Since God has joined the human experience in Christ, we’re invited to pause, not run or fix, but to pause and pull up to the table to share a meal. The body of Christ has been broken in order for us to fully ingest it that we might experience union and wholeness with God.
Within this meal, the cup has been spoken of in a similar manner. Again, it invites us to mindfully pause and trust the power-full implications as Henri Nouwen explains,
“In the midst of the sorrows is consolation, in the midst of darkness is light, in the midst of the despair is hope, in the midst of Babylon is a glimpse of Jerusalem, and in the midst of the army of demons is the consoling angel. The cup of sorrow, inconceivable as it seems, is also the cup of joy. Only when we discover this in our own life can we consider drinking it.” (Can You Drink the Cup, 38)
This past weekend I was at a loss for words. No resolutions. No answers. Just tension.
Again, I found myself wanting to subtly turn away and I also experienced anger desiring to quickly jump in and redeem brokenness through my own false sense of power.
But I’m reminded of the number one imperative in all the scriptures. “Do not fear.” It was the power of fear that created so much of the wreckage in the first place. It’s fear that makes me want to run away or overcompensate by fighting frantically to fix it all.
But the meal... The meal invites me to pause during this Lenten season and know that Christ entered in fully. He didn’t run away nor did he give in to the super hero temptations. Christ pulled up to the table and allowed the sacred bread to be broken, given, and ingested. And before he went away he left us with a tension as he mouthed the beautifully haunting invitation, “Follow me.”