Last week Jonathan asked me to write about Sick Pilgrim’s mission and/or “charism.” The way I understand it, in church language charism means gift, or the way God gives gifts to the world through you. It’s really hard for me to think in such terms. I’m suspicious of ever trying to pin God down or describe how he’s working in my life, because I’m usually (always) wrong. I hope God works through me. I ask God to work through me. I believe God can and does work through whoever he wants in ways we least expect. But I feel like it’s not for me to describe the way God’s gifts manifest in the world. I feel like the most true thing I know about divine action is how little I understand it.
But here’s one promise I’ll make, and I hope that you’ll hold me to it: I will not portray myself as the hero of the stories I tell you.
Brokenness and authenticity are all the rage in popular theological self-help/memoir right now, and we at Sick Pilgrim do tend to ring that bell quite a lot too. But the trend has taken a weird turn-especially among women. Was it Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly that did us all in? Brown’s work paved over the gratitude trend with the new “vulnerability.” I put that in quotes because the trend isn’t really about vulnerability, it’s about overcoming vulnerability. Because we are American and we must improve everything, even the thing we just told you five minutes ago was so great. I have no problem with the hypothesis that vulnerability is a key to intimacy and the cultivation of resiliency. But I take issue with what seems like the cult of “rising strong.” Because now, we can’t just admit we failed, we have to fail better. We have to fail the best. We have to rise strong, overcome, do hard things, be badass brave and brokenhearted (the more alliteration, the better), warrior up and all the rest. God help us, but if you’re sick unto death of hearing about people who fail better or more prettily or more Christianly than you do, please sit next to me.
I pray to God and Jesus and all the saints and angels that when I tell stories about how I’ve failed–and I have failed very unprettily at a few things in the last few years, hence all that reading in the self-help section–that I don’t glorify it with some phony premature, phoenix-rising-from-the-ashes resurrection trope or Christian-warrior-goddess-with-no-time-for-shame bullshit.
Undeserved shame can be crushing and life-destroying. No doubt. I’ve been there. But there is such a thing as shame I deserve to feel, need to feel. Sometimes shame is healthy and protective, and good old fashioned Catholic guilt and embarrassment are signs that I haven’t become a total narcissist, convinced that even my faults and errors are gifts to the world. Sometimes the emotions we want to cast off as quickly as possible are the ones that are saving our souls, urging us to ask forgiveness–of God, of those we love, of ourselves–and to atone.
Atonement. Now there’s an unpopular Catholic word that won’t look good in a meme.
I’m worried that we’re all skipping to the end too fast.
So in addition to talking about ghosts, art, publishing, nature, church–and all the other stuff we love–I think the mission of Sick Pilgrim is to be a community for those who are struggling to live with unsavory emotions, not necessarily rising above them. If you do overcome them there are like a million blogs you can go to and celebrate your victory. But if you don’t grow a new set of wings, we won’t mind. This is a place you can come and be honest and open–yes, even vulnerable–about shame, anger, grief, confusion, depression, whatever, and none of us is going to tell you how to fix it. There can be tremendous relief in that. I know, because in my darkest moments what has saved me is accompaniment, friends who will just sit with me in the pain. Sometimes that’s what we need more than anything else. Because sometimes, there’s no fixing it. Not in this lifetime.
Let’s stop pretending we’re heroes and start helping each other to practice resurrection, not perfect it. If you can’t make it out of the tomb, we can sit there with you for a while.