An Altar – For Here I Have Wrestled with God and Lost

In the passing of a beating heart I was scalded by the awful ordinariness of the day-to-day desperation of this life.  A heart stops, and tens of hearts break, and the world goes on, hardly noticing that a voice of hope for it has expired.  A frantic milling of pedestrians right outside the window hurrying on to destinations so impossibly disconnected from this room. Do they not know our pain?  Surely these walls cannot contain it. Can they not see what is happening here?  A mere pane of glass separates their moment from our moment. The world I know is ending right inside this very room as this child is laid to die in her parents’ arms and Milwaukee hurtles past unaffected. A well-meaning believer in the Course in Miracles told me recently that death is no more than taking off a coat.  He told me this as though I did not understand, as if a new pair of glasses changes everything.  It didn’t help.

I was expecting a tangible visit from God in that ICU room.  I was expecting something profound from outside the excruciation of the death of a child so tender, so pure.  How fragile tenderness is.  How impossible it is to pass through this life with tenderness intact.  How impossible it is to be pure.  The bitterest of ironies is that this was the purest of truths, the purest of moments.  The brutality of that loss was like a blow to the soul from a baseball bat.  There was no poetry.  That came later in the half-choked words of a teacher who felt called to read at her funeral, her poem read in a voice filtered through shattered glass.  There was no poetry.  There was no poetry.  What a lie to say, “O death where is thy sting?”  I know its sting.  It isn’t a sting.  It is massive blunt trauma.

Ezekial once said, “Like a fly you set me down in the valley.”  I have spent my very breath trying to connect the world to the broken heart of God.  I have spoken of miracles.  I have seen miracles with my own eyes.  I have hoped deeply.  I have hoped as a vocation, a calling, a way of life.  But I know now the deepest meaning of that small Hebrew word “Zviv”, not even included in our English version of Ezekial’s prophecy.  I am as significant as a fly in the horror that is unfolding among the linoleum and steel and beeping monitors in this room.  I have recently prayed to be convicted because I felt the edges of insobriety creeping in.  Conviction and horror must be synonyms in some forgotten language.  In that ICU room I was convicted.  Had I known this meaning of my prayer I could not have mustered the courage to ask it.  Indeed, in the passing of her death sentence my name was etched on my soul like a black tattoo.  And my name shall be “fly”.  Of what significance or import is the hope of a fly?  That shall be my life’s question.

A child dies in this room, and some large part of two parents dies with her.  The grass will still grow.  There is no homage. The spider web fractures through which I see things dimly reach ever outward like wretched and icy fingers threatening to overcome even the periphery of my vision. Today, the dance of faith seems an absurdity.  And if we shall ever dance again, shall we dance because we are stupid about the nature of things?  Or shall ours be a defiant dance to the bittersweet song of God?  It seems to be the same steps either way.

By Max Ramsey (Copyright 2-25-05)


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