As I slowly drift off to sleep, her age-worn hair, experience-crushed eyes, and folded skin contorted and writhed rhythmically, her voice protruding from her like an anesthetic needle. Her clasped hands wrinkled with the softness of tenured comfort, creating valleys of sagging pallor. There were no fluctuations in her voice, a manifestation of a hot wind in the dry desert of her syllabus. Adventurous souls proffered answers in the midst of her inquiring pauses, the colorful voices shattering the approaching slumber. A ghastly smile breaks itself upon her visage, revealing grated tombstones sealed by exhausted lipstick. Her elbow stays leaned upon her wooden throne, and she is content to slump gently on it as she relays a sermon that might deaden the living. A lecture this riveting might prove to evaporate the ocean, leaving behind the salty skulls of her silent students. She begins to rub – scratch, perhaps – the center of her left palm with her right middle finger; is she onto me? Surely she couldn’t muster up the vigor to make such a crude gesture intentionally. She continues on her path, eyes ambling left and right, seeking to prey on any form of unsuspecting reciprocation. She laughs at the yet unspoken but formed thought in her mind, arousing the attention of the dust drifting in the air. I thirst for life, but I go now to experience, for the thousandth time, the overwhelming weight of listless sand falling on a bed of shells. Her vocal chords produce the flat, gratingly pleasant tone of an elderly grandmother speaking of experiences obsolete; the class stares everywhere except towards her. What a life she must lead. She holds her own syllabus close to her face, as if reading the exhaustive script for the very first time. Perhaps she finds delight in the tortured lack of sonic participation, savoring each page, each word, as if it were her first time. How young she was then, how full of fresh curiosity to further her field of study. Her eyes are now draped by eyelids that have seen one too many refills of the same coffee mug to get her through to the next day. Her gnarled hands, graced by rings on her index and middle fingers, gesture with the velocity of greased molasses, accompanying an equally soporific sentence. She rubs beneath her nose; perhaps she herself is unsure of her place among the living and the dead. She has finished elaborating her syllabus at length to an audience fully capable of perusing its contents. It is finished. There are yet two hours to pass.
As I reflected on the Lord’s Table at this past weekend’s young people’s meeting, I began to make ties to the current season of Easter. The matter of the blood being sufficient to overcome the ghastly feeling of sin that enslaves the soul identified itself to me, and all at once, I began to realize that as Christians, we are ourselves caught in the middle of an ongoing, spiritual warfare. Just as Paul defends his ministry in 2 Corinthians 10:3-4, saying, “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds” (ESV), so too must we adopt the attitude as we passionately seek to further Christ’s ministry on Earth. This matter of Easter, of Christ’s resurrection from the dead in particular, should not just be confined to a yearly acknowledgment of and rejoicing at Christ being risen – though that is a spiritual cornerstone that we all must take pains to remember in our daily lives. Christ’s resurrection is victory over all; Isaiah 25:8-9 says, “He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. It will be said on that day, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation” (ESV). When Christ’s blood was spilled, what was a fleshly defeat became a spiritual conquering of Satan, sin, and death. In this warfare, we align ourselves with a majestic King who gives us confidence in His victory, having foreknown it before the foundation of the world.
And how ought we respond, then, to this warfare deemed victorious? We have no other course before us to run aside from what Paul says in Ephesians 6:10-18: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints.” Our strength comes not of ourselves; it is the strength of His might. As we celebrate Christ’s resurrection, it is by the power of His resurrection that we gain His life – a life characterized by victory, righteousness, and hope. Our King reigns over all, making it possible for us, through the spilling of His own blood, to be His servants and work His will among men for His glory. And so, when we come to the Table, when we celebrate Easter, what we are doing is proclaiming the victory that has already taken place. Christ is risen, and death is defeated. Let us celebrate well, run well, and make His everlasting glory known to all nations; our King died not in vain, but to save us from certain demise at the hands of our sin.
Our King is calling – blow a trumpet in Zion; sound an alarm on [His] holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming; it is near. (Joel 2:1)
I’m not a great baker by any stretch of imagination; I don’t know how anyone could really stake such a claim when shows like “The Great British Baking Show” exist. (If you haven’t watched the show yet, you have something to do in your free time now – it’s fantastic!). However, when I do exercise my baking wits, I find that the most enjoyable part of baking above sampling my own creation, beyond taking pictures of the final product, is the solitude that comes with the effort. From my experience, it’s held true that people enjoy baking together; the camaraderie, the division of labor, the shared memories – something about it really brings people together, apparently. This is not to say that I prefer to be a baking hermit. I think that baking with friends, especially friends who are more experienced, always proves to be a tremendous learning opportunity as well as a time to have fellowship and literally break bread.
However, something about being alone when I’m preparing ingredients calms the inward storms I face. The way I prepare my butter to be mixed, how I keep my eyes level on the “one cup” line, and the various idiosyncrasies that come with a novice baker’s “feel” – all of these things thread themselves together in a composition of unrevealed artistry. While they might not be the best methods nor the most efficient, the connection that develops during the entire process of baking can only be summarized as catharsis. Depending on my mood, my thoughts, my experiences, it can feel as if the baking process takes years, or it can take minutes. The preparation of the ingredients allows me to gather my thoughts; it prepares me for the mixing of the ingredients. When I pour in the dry with the weight, I like to do it in thirds; how I feel at the beginning, middle, and end of whatever circumstances I’m going through. At the end of it all, I’ll think about how I want to deviate from the recipe. An odd pastime of mine developed from writing countless persuasive essays is finding skewed facets from which to view the world, and the same philosophy holds for my baking procedure. I never want to conform to what has been previously established because distinction engenders innovation. And whether or not the finished product is glass grade is besides the point; the point is that it’s art (thanks Pinkman). Whatever I’ve baked has been put in an oven with my sadness, my stress, and my pain. Yet how fitting is it that out of the bitterness comes something sweet? Life is just one prolonged bake, after all; we start raw, become mixed in with the chaos of this world, and are exposed to heat until we arrive where we need to be, and that’s all. And so, I bake to place my mind where my heart does not wish to be so that my tears might season the souls of all who taste and see.
What a life she’s led. Upon finding herself more comfortable in depression’s morbid embrace than she felt when in the middle of this swelling tangle of friendly arms, she breathed differently. Hope came for her in the form of waiting for an exhale – the exhale, one might say – and her eyes were wide shut in the expectation of a continuing night. At the end of it all, she had done her best, and this was the hand that was dealt her. It would not be swift, and it would not be without pain. So be it.
She gazed blankly beyond the family and friends huddled around her towards the door. An escape from it all perhaps? Or was it merely another entrance for calamity’s winsome smile to appear? When exhales turned to sighs and inhales became prequels to sighs, she knew it was time for her to leave. And so, she shuffled off the mortal flesh around her, and walked straight out the door, closing it softly behind her.
She walked, and then she walked some more. Unsure of how she felt, she laughed in hopes of raising spirits, but found she could only produce a dry cough. She attempted to muster up tears, but found a hollowness in her heart. Her eyes lacked focus, and her once sharp gaze shifted from doctor to doorway to bulletin board to wheelchair. She sat on the floor, embracing herself as she tucked in her knees, empty-sighted and drifting. She was lonely. In her mental incapacitation, she realized that this had always been so.
It was no one’s fault but her own. No one willingly invested in her; no, that would have been far too normal. Instead, she acted out various angles to befriend the people she had met, displacing her silent murmurs with affected cheer. Whom she loved, she lost; they would soon find her an insufferable person with the ability to no longer live the lie she had dwelled in. Her disease wasn’t a physical one, like the doctor posited; her disease was her surpassing loneliness. It preyed on her daily routine, convincing her at every corner that if she just changed one more thing about her life, then the world at large would be satisfied. In times of quiet, she didn’t know what to do because there was no one to cater to, no one to please, no one to tell her who to be. In the world’s play, she was found without a script because she never found her character. Instead, she was composed entirely of reactions, founding her identity on what strangers might think of her. In fact, she didn’t know what they thought at all.
Her loneliness buried her among a crowd. To be alone is cured with company; to be lonely denies the existence of it. In being surrounded by many, she found herself counting as less and less in a growing figure. One out of five. One out of ten. One out of twenty. Eventually, she became as close to nothing as she could manage, both satisfied with her invisibility and terrified of becoming just a memory. She wanted to reach out to the arms around her, but she found that she wilted upon contact. Eventually, she couldn’t hear her own whisper, and gave up speaking completely. Resignation was the headquarters of loneliness, acceptance its next-door neighbor.
“Are you okay?”
Startled, she turned. A young boy with a bandage wrapped around half his face asked as he peered at her with a single, bright blue eye. Where his left eye was, blood had made itself a watercolor against the white cloth backdrop. His hospital garments billowed around scrapes and bruises. Had he been abused? Was he in a bad car accident? What had happened to this kid, and why wasn’t he in a room? Of all the possible questions, none seemed appropriate to ask at the moment – the kid was waiting for a response.
She sighed and smiled at the boy; he smiled back. And with that, she told herself the lie that is echoed in denial of tragedy,