Feasting on a Promise when Sorrow Starves our Souls
I’ve never felt fully at home in this world.
I was a melancholic little girl, and my appetite for beauty and meaning was insatiable. But one day my hungry little soul bit into something bitter and unsavory, and the nausea of doubt began to finger its way into my belly, paralyzing my longings with fear, and oppressing my joy with despair. Darkness, doubts, and an undiagnosed mental condition plagued my small heart – I was somehow afraid that I was cut off from the identity I sought – that the faint thread tying beauty to eternity was severed and I was left with the limp string dangling aimlessly in my hand.
“What if God doesn’t love me? What if I can’t please him? What if Satan gets me?”
These questions reverberated violently in my head, causing tremors that racked my soul.
Looking back, I often ask myself how my little soul came through it, but I’m never quite sure. But what I am sure of, is that I’ve always felt deeply called to life on this globe, and the bitterness it often fed me was not enough to break my intense attachment to it; for at times, when I tugged on the elusive thread, I felt as though a threadbare corner of a wispy curtain was lifted. And when it did, a sumptuousness arrested my senses as I caught a waft on the wind, an aroma of a feast cooking low and slow in a far-off kitchen…
To this day I remember – I can recall – the way these “wafts” always awakened a hunger in me that I could not express, and they stayed with me as I grew, convincing me that a future, satiating to my soul, was waiting somewhere, somehow…
I grew up. I got married. And I had two beautiful children. But ten strong years of marriage and five rewarding years of parenting later, my mother died. And those wafts on the wind of that mysterious feast began to feel imagined – silly, even. Trying to recall those scents felt like a vinegared sponge shoved against my lips, and I recoiled at their memory. All my homeward longing felt foolish. And I began to wonder, was the sumptuousness I had apprehended earlier merely a mirage?
My bereavement ushered in the all-too-stark reminder that my mother had been welcomed into a part of the journey I could not follow. In her absence I felt a displacement I’d never quite experienced:
Though I’d always known that my home here was temporary, I’d always believed that I still belonged; I had a sense of home – of calling, here. But when my mother died, I was caught between this world and the next, feeling left behind, tangled in a web like a fly flailing desperately to escape. I longed to be near her again. I didn’t know which way to turn – wanting to join her, yet wanting to call her back from that strange void and beg her to tarry here a little longer… I felt as if I were hovering on the margins of the book I was written into – still present in the pages of its story, yet not knowing how to resubmerge myself into its narrative.
Some months later, I was given the book Lament for a Son by Nicholas Wolterstorff, a man who lost his 25-year-old son in a climbing accident. I resonated with his words as he, too, began to doubt the sumptuous joys to which he felt he belonged:
“I remember delighting in [these joys] – trees, art, house, music, pink morning sky, work well done, flowers, books. I still delight in them. I’m still grateful. But the zest is gone. The passion is cooled, the striving quieted, the longing stilled…. Instead of rowing, I float…. What the world gives, I still accept. But what it promises, I no longer reach for. I’ve become an alien in the world, shyly touching it as if it’s not mine. I don’t belong anymore. When someone loved leaves home, home becomes a mere house.”
And I was no stranger to these feelings in the days and weeks that passed without my mother.
A large part of the grieving process, for me, meant that I had to slowly accept that my precious piece of ‘home’ had taken permanent residence in a place long-ago prepared for her. And that ‘home’ was still a part of me… yet removed from me. How could I go on? How could I redefine my home in a way that built her memory into the walls of my house? It was a confusing and painful process.
“She’s looking down on you,” they said. “She’s always with you,” said the others. But how? Was it true?
As the days passed painfully by, I understood that the relationship between her presence and absence was not so black and white… that somehow, in her death, I, too, was being welcomed into her new life – her new reality … I was being ushered a layer deeper into the journey to the far country to which she unreservedly belongs. A very firm “not yet,” was whispered, gentle as a kiss, and the brevity of time and frailty of my body became less of an obstacle and more of a mile-marker. I was nearer to my mom than I had realized…
It feels so counterintuitive, but it was only in my mother’s death that I heard the soft whisper,
“You too, little one, you are welcome here… but not yet. Stay, little one, stay. Not yet, little one. But you are close.”
In my encounter with death, I found life … my awareness of the eternal presence that lingers just beyond the borders of this world grew so much stronger, and my destination within those borders so much more certain.
Though tears of protest still fill my eyes, and I long for my mother’s arms around me in a tangible expression of belonging, those aromas on the wind are, indeed, irrefutable and real. I did not imagine them, and they are not silly.
“Take, eat, this is my body, given for you.”
The sacrifice of Christ is more than just symbolic – it is sustenance, it is life. And paired alongside the grief of losing my mother – losing a part of myself – was the realization that we are both inextricably and inexorably tied to the giving of flesh and blood, bread and wine, and lastly, life for life, all so that we might have life UNTO life.
To commune with and partake of the Creator… that is a feast worth living and dying for. My mother did both. And unlike hers, my journey to the Celestial City to join in that feast is only partly complete. But after she completed that journey, I knew it was time to make mine replete – full of the flavors of eternity and bursting with the ripeness of hope. And as I travel further and further along that road, my passion to remind others that the feast is real is becoming profoundly evident: God’s voice, speaking softly to me from behind that wispy curtain, convinces me that setting a table in my home that offers a foretaste of the harvest of heaven is a crucial piece of what I am called to do; I am not alone in this longing – I am not the only one to tug on an elusive string. I feel a piercing urgency to ‘plant a flag’ on my hearth, proclaiming, ‘this is hallowed ground; come, rest, eat, and grow strong, that you may go with God.’
I want my home to be a resting place along the road of the pilgrimage to the Holy City – a place where beauty soaks into care-crusted souls and washes weary feet, calloused and bruised from the gravelly road of life.
It’s not an easy task, this place-making for sojourning souls like my own. And I am not, and will not ever be, a perfect hostess. Those sweet aromas I sensed on the wind? Well, I catch their scent with a greater frequency now and know better, I think, how to imitate them in a small way at my table, in my home, and at my hearth. I want to invite my fellow pilgrims to catch the whiff on the breeze and to know that there is a King waiting to sup with His people beyond that invisible curtain. I want them to know that, in His country, they are His honored guests, and He set a place for them at His table.
But I also want to remember that in setting the table for my fellow-travelers I, too, am asked to eat. That same hungry little girl of years past is a woman now, and she wants nothing more than to eat of the goodness of God. The Great King is the Great Chef…
So, my friends, take, eat, and let us feast!
The featured image is courtesy of Steve Moon and used with his kind permission for Cultivating.
A founding member of The Cultivating Project, Christina has been fascinated by beauty her whole life and continues to marvel at the way it leads our hearts straight to our Creator. Christina pursues God’s goodness through a range of creative endeavors, from creating magical parties, crafting a fine-tuned sonnet, laboring devotedly to nurture a garden in the dismal soils of the Rocky Mountain foothills, deftly wrangling words into fine essays, and cultivating a palette for the good, true, and beautiful in her two little sprites. She and her husband Brian are the founders of the Anselm Society based in Colorado Springs, whose mission and calling is a renaissance of the Christian Imagination. She serves as the Director of the Anselm Society Arts Guild and her creative work can be found at LiveBeautiful.today and on IG.
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