Messy, Wildly Imperfect Love
Blessed are you
the light lives,
the brightness blazes—
an altar where
in the deepest night
can be seen
the fire that
shines forth in you
in unaccountable faith
in stubborn hope
in love that illumines
every broken thing
—Jan Richardson, "Blessed Are You Who Bear the Light"
If I were going to write a book about my life as a minister, there would definitely be a part about last Christmas Eve, when I lost my sermon. My sermon was about big things coming undone, like our country, and the theory that when everything is falling apart around us, something new and beautiful is likely trying to get itself born. I learned this idea from the writer Anne Lamott, and while I’m not certain it’s true, I really want it to be.
It turns out I had not lost my sermon. I had misplaced it by putting it carefully on the high pulpit. But I forgot. So as the service was happening I was searching frantically through my millions of papers in a state of escalating inner hysteria and humiliation, all while trying to appear calm and as though I were actually listening to the readings. When it was time to preach, I had to announce that my sermon was slightly missing and could the choir please go ahead and sing so I could keep looking.
By the end of the song, I figured out the sermon was already in the pulpit so I walked up there to preach it. The first words were, "Broken things have been on my mind lately.” The entire congregation started laughing, including me, and my shame slid free and disappeared into the laughter.
Every year on the Sunday before Christmas we have a Pageant in a Paper Bag. No rehearsal, and the only preparation is that we put the costumes in brown grocery bags, label them (“Camel, large, includes ears”) and line them up in the aisles. People come to church, choose a bag, and join the story. Over the years, kids have started improvising their own costumes so we never know who will show up. There have been jaguars and bumblebees. One year Darth Vader was there and another year two tiny dragons walked everyone down the aisle to Bethlehem. All are welcome at our stable, we like to say.
Every year I give the congregation the same directions. I tell them not to worry about mistakes because there aren’t any; there is only us, telling an old story about love getting born into this aching world. And love is messy and wildly imperfect and very beautiful. This is true for all of us: we are strong and fragile, broken and resilient, stunning and flawed. And somehow, improbably, love shines through us and illuminates every broken thing it touches. Even ministers who lose their sermons on Christmas Eve.
Love, shine through us. Help us to hold ourselves and one another in stubborn hope, in the fierce insistence that we are whole and wholly beautifully.