Originally Posted on September 21, 2011
This term “backlift” has been stuck in my head all morning. I looked it up, and it’s a cricket term, meaning when the batsman lifts the bat straight back (hence the name) in preparation to hit the ball coming in his direction. Now I’m not the biggest cricket fan (more of a football, meaning soccer, fan myself), but I think I know why that word has been running around my head all day.
I’m doing an awful lot of backlifting these days. Every time Seanie asks me a question about his mommy, I need to pause and prepare my response. I can’t just blurt the first thing that comes to mind. He’s asking the question because his soul needs to know. He will carry my answer with him for some time. Other questions will follow at later stages of his development. I must prepare.
I think the cricket image is useful too. Sometimes, you don’t have to hit for six. Mostly, you just want to protect your stumps (apologies to American friends who’ve not watched any cricket… maybe I’ll explain the game to you at a later date. Hang in there, I’ll throw in a US-friendly metaphor in a bit here!). So you don’t give it a big swing, because you could miss. I want to mostly stay in the game so that I can provide something for my children in terms of putting words to their grief. I think I hit a six with the happy wall. It’s going to open up all sorts of opportunities to talk, especially with Seanie. Sophie still needs to develop her conversational skills. She’ll get there soon enough.
The goal right now is to not get bowled out. I’m playing a decent short game on a day to day basis. When I see an opening, give it a big swing and hit it for six. But to do so, I need to be prepared. My stance must be good, my backlift must be straight, my follow through must be perfect.
Sorry to flog this metaphor so much, but everything right now really does seem to fit into it. I am doing the little things right now to prepare us for the rest of our lives. Getting wills in order, putting up the happy wall, redoing the house, taking Seanie to the grief counselor, writing this blog: it is all for the future. Laying the foundations of what will be coming on down the road. The will protects my children. The wall gives them a place to commune with Janie’s spirit and to ask questions. The blog gives me a place to put down my thoughts and emotions so that one day I might be able to show Seanie and Sophie how much their mother meant to me and all of us, and the impact one life can have on so many. They will grow up with the understanding that one life well lived impacts the world from even beyond the grave. Perhaps this is why they were born. If they carry that realization in their hearts from a young age then they will know to live their lives to fullest and without regrets. That is my prayer, anyway.
This is one of those torturous gifts from this whole event: the realization that this one life we’re given is so precious and important. We really cannot waste it. So the goal now is to set everything in order that these children grow up understanding that their lives are really not theirs to hoard.
That’s a good point right there, so I’m going to segway into it. There’s this one passage in the bible that goes something like this:
“Don’t store your treasures here on earth where things rot or are eaten by worms and moths, or they can be stolen. No, rather store up your treasures in heaven, because nothing will ever rot or be ruined or taken from there by anyone else. Remember, wherever you store your treasures, that’s where you’ll find your heart.”
That’s a very paraphrased version of what you’ll find in the book of Matthew, chapter 6:19-21. The best way to interpret those versions is in context, so if you have a bible, go and read the whole of chapter 6, or go here if you don’t.
This chapter is part of what Christians call the Sermon on the Mount (chapters 5-7 of Matthew). The whole thing is worth a read if you haven’t done so before.
Anyway, at the start of chapter 6, Jesus is speaking about certain behaviors that his followers and co-citizens in God’s kingdom are expected to do. He speaks about how to give to the needy (not a matter of if but when), praying (again, not if but when), fasting (not if but when), which then moves into the verses listed about and ends on topic of worry. An interesting progression.
I find it telling that Jesus puts the matter of giving to those in need before the matter of prayer. Much of the gripes people have with Christians is this matter of personal piety: Christians are big on the pious aspects of Christianity like a personal prayer life, a personal daily devotional time, a personal salvation, etc. But Jesus starts out more concerned with others. I think the order is important here, just as the order in the famed Lord’s Prayer (verses 9-13) is of absolute importance in ordering our conversations to God. We start out worshipping him, then move on to asking for his kingdom and will to be done on earth as a collective (which includes us but does not start there). Only then does it get into the matter of our needs. It is noteworthy to point out that only a single line is devoted to that subject. Then we get into matters of personal wrongdoing, but expiation is tied to our relationship to others.
The next part of the prayer I finally understand. “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” The Anglican Book of Common Prayer’s version of this line is “save us from the time of trial.” I like that version very much indeed. I am in a time of trial like no other in my life. I understand why we’d cry out to God to save us from situations such as these. This is the crushing. Jesus himself asked God to deliver him from the cross he had to bear (Luke 22:42). There’s no shame in asking God to keep us away from dreadfully trying times. God allows them, I think, because these are the things that build steel into our faith. These are the times that open up the word of God to you in ways you’d never see otherwise.
But I digress…
In verse 14, Jesus ties it back into the community at large: you wanna be forgiven? Well forgive then, already. Christians are obsessed with their own personal salvation. We pray a little prayer and everything is supposed to be taken care of after that. Well, guess what: you want to be forgiven? Forgive, then. It’s a tough one, because some people have done things to us that do not deserve ours or anyone else’s forgiveness. I get that. It’s a tough one. But the goal here is simple: travel light. I think God wants fleet footed and nimble followers, not folks burdened with bitterness and anger. It’s hard to run a marathon with a fridge strapped to your back.
And this faith business is a marathon. It will test your soul. I’m learning that one right now.
Fasting is up next, again, again not a matter of if but when. This is one of those “odd” pious behaviors that many of those on the other side of Christianity don’t really get. Why deprive yourself of food or anything? The simple answer is that there is other food out there, food for the soul and mind and spirit that cannot be taken in through the mouth. Cutting out the physical intake of food in order to devote oneself to prayer and meditation on God’s word is a powerful way to gain insight into his character and personality and our relationship to him. I’ve experienced this firsthand on a few occasions, and it’s a discipline that will open up new horizons in ones walk with God. It really is irreplaceable. Do I do it regularly? No. Would I profit if I did? Oh yes. It’s worth a thought…
Then comes the bit we’re dealing with, on placing your precious things in heaven. By heaven, I believe Jesus isn’t just talking about the place but in the realm of God’s care. This encompasses but is not limited to doing what some Christians call “kingdom business,” such as proselytizing, ordering one’s life in accordance to the demands of being a citizen of God’s kingdom, personal piety and so forth. But there is much, much more to it.
Jesus’ focus on others throughout this monologue is key to this whole understanding. Personal piety is part of the puzzle, but is not the whole picture in itself. We are to care for the needy because they are us. We are needy: we need God’s love and forgiveness. Their physical poverty is a visual reminder of our own spiritual impoverishment. We need to forgive others before we can expect forgiveness, because we are they. Jesus at every turn thrusts us back into the mob of humanity and forces us to look around. Who is your brother? Who is your sister? That Samaritan you loathe right next to you. That leper you skip away from in order to not soil your own ceremonial cleanliness. They are us and we are they. Our personal salvation is irrevocably tied to the community at large because God didn’t come to save individuals. He came to save the world.
This all ends in a homily on worrying. Basically, there’s no point in doing so. Worry strips us of our trust in God and places it on little, futile things that will all turn to dust anyway. Worry is also very “meistic.” What’s going to happen to me? What am I going to do? How am I going to afford to pay the bills this month? Are you worried about how you will fare? Go feed the poor. It’ll change your perspective.
God’s immutable character is to sustain his creation, and he does so for all the creatures of the air, land and sea. Who among us can add a single day to their lives by worrying? Again, travel light.
So how does this all tie in to the backlift metaphor? In my opinion, the proper backlift, the straight lifting of the bat to protect the stumps or score a run, the proper technique and training in a spiritual sense, is ordered in the ways listed above. If I am to answer Seanie’s questions in a way that brings life to his soul, then I need to remember that I am raising an outwardly-focused person who is a part of a series of circles of community, be it his family, his church, his school or humanity at large.
All answers must come from a place that presses him to progressively move away from a “why did this happen to me?” sort of focus to one that opens him up to see a broader perspective that encompasses everyone. Because this didn’t just happen to him. It happened to all of us, even if in differing degrees of intensity. Much like John Donne said:
“No man is an island, entire of itself; every
man is a piece of the continent, a part of the
main. If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory
were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or
of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes
me, because I am involved in mankind, and
therefore never send to know for whom the bells
tolls; it tolls for thee.”
We are involved in each other whether we like it or not. The question of why bad things happen to good people is irrelevant. Bad things happen to everyone, good or bad, as do good things. God being God, he wrings good out of bad situations. The question of “why did mommy die and leave me here without a mother?” is not the point. Sooner or later, mommy was going to die anyway. What did mommy mean to all of us? What did mommy’s life and death do for all of us? What has God done since mommy died to bring about good and show us his love?
Small circle left, small circle right.