Reflections on loving God, being Catholic, being a woman, being ill, loving life and anything else that comes to mind.

Friday, November 29, 2013

A Heart Of Flesh

"I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies." (Romans 8:18-23)

My pet betta fish, Sushi, died last night. Nearly two years ago, he was a Christmas gift. So many things went into his death: my ignorance, the ignorance at my local fish shop (they're great but not knowledgeable about bettas), a lack of proper care while I was away this summer, perhaps even his age (though two isn't old for a betta that receives proper care).  No matter what I did, and I did everything I could, I couldn't save him.

That hurts. It hurt to bury him beneath the tree given to me by the same family who gave me Sushi. It hurts to know he is gone and won't be sulking, or trying to grab food from my fingers, or constantly begging for food, or engaging in his morning stare, or fighting himself in the mirror, or whisking away to hide when I put my face close so I can see how he's doing (I'm terribly near-sighted), or engaging in any of the other mundane and silly things he used to do. He was the first pet who was mine, whom no one else took from me, whose care I was (mostly) able to direct. He was just a fish but the more I tried to return him to health, the more I came to realize how much I cared about him. Caring for a living creature changes the heart. Parents speak about that change. Spouses do too. Certainly, I've cared for adults and children but I've always been able to keep a big piece of my heart detached and protected. I protected myself even when loving the little boy I cared for and was willing to adopt. I didn't let myself experience the passionate desire to be his mother that churned within me. When his mother took him away, I mostly shrugged it off. But now, I understand, a little better the desire that a creature totally dependent on me flourish. Live. Be.

Right now, I'm writing a book about the wounds from my childhood, my search for healing, and how healing has been and is being given to me. It's a painful task, even daunting. It's hard to write about what was done to me, about what I lost, without shielding myself from the pain. I can't avoid all the pain but I can hide my heart within a layer of stone so that much less pain can get through. I thought the stoniness was mostly gone. I was wrong. More must be chiseled away because to write the truth, I must open my heart as fully as possible to the pain of what I experienced. Unless I write truthfully of my wounds, I shan't be able to write truthfully of being healed. I must suffer. And suffering requires a heart of flesh without the hard, stony shell.

Over the past three years, God has been breaking my heart and revealing treasure hidden therein. First, there was an experience of betrayal that showed me a spark of innocence when I thought my innocence utterly destroyed. Then, there was an injury that ripped my soul to shreds. Ultimately, it sent me fleeing into a new apartment where I put together the first real home I've had since my parents sent me away. I need home in order to write. And I took charge of my health, asked for the help I needed, insisted we stop the meds that were making me sleepy and unable to think. There was a trip back East and realizing that I'm different with old friends than with new ones in Houston. In the months since my return, I've taken more risks and exposed more of myself, but much of me is still, appropriately, in hiding. This book is now the place for me to reveal myself. And now, Sushi dies and I'm not able to protect my heart behind a wall of stone. It hurts and I find myself thinking about what my parents must have felt sending me away: the helplessness, the desire for me to flourish, the trust that God would care for me and keep me safe.

A dear friend's beloved dog died not long ago. (I loved him too.) Romans 8:18-23 was part of the following Sunday's Mass readings. As I listened to those verses, her dog came to mind. I found myself flirting with creation as something more than the accoutrements of this earth. With Sushi's death, I'm no longer just flirting. Sushi too is part of creation and my desire to step back and say, 'He was just a fish' is suddenly foolish because God made him and will bring him to perfection with all the rest of creation. I hurt because I loved Sushi, because I desire that he be perfected and see that creation still groans in eager longing; I also groan. And even though I don't know what perfected creation means, I know I will see it. Already, God is using Sushi's life, illness and death to break away more of my protective stone and reveal a beating heart of living flesh. God is fulfilling His promises made in Ezekiel. His faithfulness continues. He will not stop being faithful.

I have no idea what I will be when all the stone is gone. I think there will be great joy, such as I experience when I'm walking down the street singing pleni sunt coeli et terra in gloria tua to the tune that God gave me one day. I think a heart of flesh is free and rich and abundant and overflowing but still thoughtful and considerate and definitely not always on guard, trying to protect itself from pain. We shall see. I am grateful for Sushi. I'm even grateful for the experience of frantically caring for him while he was ill, even grateful for burying him myself. Gratitude amidst tears, that too must be part of having a heart of flesh.