On Mondays, we’ve been considering Jesus’ question, “Can you drink the cup…?” using the cup as a metaphor for life.
An evangelist came to our county fair the summer I turned 11 years old. At the crusade, I sat one row in front of my mom. I was quiet but not paying attention when my mom tapped me on the shoulder and asked, “Do you want to go up there and give your life to Jesus?”
I awoke from my daydream, saw a few people standing and walking into the aisle, and nodded, thinking, Yeah, sure. Who wouldn’t? So, I went forward and “gave my life to Jesus.”
A few days later school started, and we were all trying to fit in. Meredith, a girl I knew only from a 2nd grade birthday party, didn’t fit in. She had just returned to our town from living five years in England. She had an accent. My girlfriends were making fun of her–something I would have readily done a year before. But this year, I paused, weighing my newly-acquired Christian teachings against my previous pattern of being cliquey in order to remain in the popular crowd. I asked myself a question: Do I want to be popular, or do I want to follow Jesus?
The Yeah, sure, I said when devoting myself to Jesus was easier at the crusade.
That’s what it was like for James and John when Jesus asked them if they could drink the cup that he was about to drink. After the initial, easy yes comes many harder yeses. Sometimes it’s an excruciating, “Only if I have to.” In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus struggled with saying yes right before dying on the cross.
I think what we’re really saying yes to is, “Can I trust God?” Author Henri Nouwen says about this trusting:
“It breaks through all human calculations and expectations. It defies all our wishes to be sure in advance. It turns our hope for a predictable future upside down and pulls down our self-invented safety devices” ( Can You Drink the Cup? p 107).
In 6th grade, I said yes again to Jesus, declining risking the scorn of my friends, choosing to be kind not cliquey. The Holy Spirit helped me then. He has helped me many times since. And he’s helping me today to hold, lift, and drink the cup.
This is Jadell Forman’s final blog post for The Neighborhood Café. She has said yes to an opportunity to return to the acreage where she grew up raising sheep, and to write her book Good Shepherd, Guide Me: Field Notes from a Shepherdess.
On Mondays, we’ve been looking at the Eucharist cup as a metaphor for life, following priest and author Henri Nouwen’s book, Can You Drink the Cup?
Growing up, when I used to waitress at The Happy Chef, the wait staff also cleared the tables. Often, the coffee cups on a vacated table had a bit of coffee left in the bottom. I didn’t understand why until recently.
As a latecomer to the coffee crowd (I began drinking coffee this past December), it’s been just within the past few months that I’ve been doing what all those coffee-drinking customers had been doing: leaving the final swallow of coffee in the bottom of the cup.
On Mondays at The Neighborhood Café, the foundational question we’re considering is Jesus’ question, “Can you drink the cup I am about to drink?” If we answer yes, a question that naturally follows is, “How?”
“To the bottom,” answers Nouwen.
But, as I’ve recently realized, the stuff on the bottom–whether in a glass of wine or grape juice, or a cup of coffee or tea–doesn’t taste good. Who’s ever going to drink it?
He asked his Heavenly Father for another option, but there wasn’t one. Jesus eventually accepted that he was born to drink to the bottom humanity’s bitter cup. In fulfilling his call, he absorbed the curse of death and instead offers us the cup of everlasting life.
These days, whenever I see that stuff at the bottom of my cup, it reminds me that Jesus drank his cup to the bitter bottom. Graciously, I don’t have to experience spiritual death, and I always have a place at the Father’s table, and I always hold a cup of everlasting life.
Still, the cup I hold, lift, and drink has bitter stuff at the bottom.
“Can you drink the cup I am about to drink?” Jesus asked two of his disciples. Maybe he was asking, Can you drink the cup of life that contains both sweet and bitter?
“Yeah, sure,” they responded. The answer came when their mother set out to secure, from Jesus, the best of life for her sons. Maybe we need to bitter stuff in order to recognize the sweet stuff. And maybe the best of life includes the wisdom to appreciate both positive and negative experiences.
During those waitressing years of high school, I was on our town’s gymnastic team. During one practice, I had a heckuva time doing whatever I tried to do. Despondent, I went to the locker room. My teammate, Susie, followed me. She listened to me voice my frustrations through tears, and consoled me, saying, “If we didn’t have bad days, we wouldn’t know what a good day is.”
Susie was right. The frustrating day was rare, a small portion of a largely satisfying sports year and career, just as the stuff at the bottom of the cup is a small portion of the cup. Likewise, the day I swallowed the bitterness of disappointment, I also swallowed a dose of wisdom: there’s more good than bad, and the bad comes with the good. God redeemed my frustration by teaching me a lesson I remember all these years later.
Because Christ swallowed my ultimate bitterness–and your ultimate bitterness–those bitter bits in our cup of life don’t leave us with just a bad taste in our mouth, but a taste of redemption.
Jadell M. Forman writes for The Neighborhood Café on Mondays, looking for redemption at the bottom of the cup.
On Mondays, I’ve been leading our discussion, using the Eucharist cup as a metaphor for life.
When some of my friends drive across Kansas, Nebraska, or the Dakotas, they see “nothing.” With the best of intentions, they warn me before my solo road trips to be prepared to be bored as I drive through hundreds of miles of “empty” landscape.
My experience, however, proves to be quite different from theirs. Instead of being bored, I’m energized, looking for signs of life to my right and left. The signs of life are not stereo-typical: neon lights, moving traffic, bustling people. Rather, I’m seeing invisible rhythms of farm and ranch life. Wherever I see a fence, I look for livestock. Wherever I see a meandering tree line, I look for a stream. Wherever I see a grove, I look for barns, houses, equipment.
Not only do I see what’s there, I imagine what came before and what is to come: all the activity that goes into a planting and harvest season, the task of fixing a winter-damaged fence in preparation for the antsy livestock that have been confined in smaller places. I see these things because I’ve had first-hand experience with them.
Likewise, whenever I read “The Cup of Salvation” (a chapter in Henri Nouwen’s book, Can You Drink the Cup?), I see rhythms unapparent to the many people who, like me, read and enjoy this Christian classic. My perspective comes from first-hand experience with the depths of this chapter through a graduate-level discourse analysis.
Tacitly, upon my first reading over a decade ago, I knew there was something different about Nouwen’s small but profound book. As a writer, I looked for clues in the patterns and methods of his writing. Although I didn’t find much with my common tools of observation, I remained convinced that the short chapters were as rich in layer and luxury as Enya’s short songs.
My graduate-level class in advanced grammar and study of modern English provided me the tools I needed to locate and uncover, quantify and qualify the originality and rhythms in this book. In addition to analyzing grammar (e.g., gerunds, pronouns, etc.), I analyzed and graphed sentence patterns and sentence lengths, where the rhythm aspect I’d tacitly sensed became academically visible.
It’s providential that, in a chapter on salvation, what I’d sensed tacitly, I came to know tangibly. Why? The same thing is happening to me personally: what I sense tacitly about God’s ongoing salvation, I desire to see tangibly. In other words, I believe God saves all the time, but I don’t readily see it.
The belief is especially close-at-hand when those plains, pastures, and fields of my road trips look even more uniform under a layer of snow, like a black-and-white photo. Even when the landscape looks frozen and barren, I can imagine the full-color version of what exists under that snow, and what life comes from the land. I appreciate this picture as part of the rhythm.
So it is with salvation. I still don’t readily see God’s ongoing salvation in the barren and cold landscape of our world’s history. But neither did the psalmists, crying, “How long…?” and “Why…?” As Eugene Peterson puts it:
Questions and protests regarding God’s absence are not marginal to salvation. The psalmists are neither shy nor apologetic in giving us license to pray our complaints about the way this whole salvation business is being conducted” (Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, p 154).
Still, I believe, and pray to drink in this cup of salvation, just as I drink in the rural landscapes.
Jadell M. Forman writes for The Neighborhood Café on Mondays, and drinks in a rural landscape as often as possible.
On Mondays at The Neighborhood Café, we’ve been looking at Jesus’ question, Can you drink the cup?, using the cup as a metaphor for life. Today, we look at what comes after holding and lifting the cup: Drinking.
This past January, upon opening our look at the cup of life, you read this short but profound quote by Henri Nouwen:
At worst, drinking together is saying, “We trust each other enough that we don’t want to poison each other.” At best, it is saying, “I want to get close to you and celebrate life with you.” (Can You Drink the Cup? p 80)
Nouwen is talking about those times when we meet someone for a cup of coffee or tea, invite friends over for a glass of wine or a bottle of beer, or offer a guest or thirsty stranger a glass of water. Any degree of acceptance shows a measure of trust.
Friends trust each other. But enemies distrust each other, trying to measuring motives, uncover tactics, and employ counter strategies.
In the movie, The Princess Bride, two enemies meet. An impatient, pompous, pretentious villain who has captured the soon-to-be Princess Buttercup faces off with a masked pirate. Dread Pirate Roberts has tracked Vizzini, in order to take Buttercup. But the masked man finds himself, possibly, at “an impasse?”
Vizzini: I’m afraid so. I can’t compete with you physically, and you’re no match for my brains.
Dread Pirate Roberts: You’re that smart?
Vizzini: Let me put it this way: have you ever heard of Plato, Aristotle, Socrates?
Dread Pirate Roberts: Yes.
Dread Pirate Roberts: Really. [pause] In that case, I challenge you to a battle of wits.
Vizzini: For the princess? < Pirate nods > To the death? < Pirate nods > I accept.
Dread Pirate Roberts: Good. Then pour the wine. [Roberts pulls out a small vial, and uncorks it] Inhale this, but do not touch.
Vizzini: I smell nothing.
Dread Pirate Roberts: What you do not smell is called Iocane powder. It is odorless, tasteless, dissolves instantly in liquid, and is among the more deadly poisons known to man.
Dread Pirate Roberts: < turns away from Vizzini with the goblets, and pours the poison in. Goblets replaced on the table, one in front of each. >
All right. Where is the poison? The battle of wits has begun. It ends when you decide and we both drink, and find out who is right…and who is dead.
Vizzini: But it’s so simple. All I have to do is divine from what I know of you: are you the sort of man who would put the poison into his own goblet or his enemy’s? Now, a clever man would put the poison into his own goblet, because he would know that only a great fool would reach for what he was given. I am not a great fool, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you. But you must have known I was not a great fool, you would have counted on it, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me.
Dread Pirate Roberts: You’ve made your decision then?
Vizzini: Not remotely. Because iocane comes from Australia, as everyone knows, and Australia is entirely peopled with criminals, and criminals are used to having people not trust them, as you are not trusted by me, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you.
Dread Pirate Roberts: Truly, you have a dizzying intellect.
Vizzini: WAIT TILL I GET GOING! Where was I?
Dread Pirate Roberts: Australia.
Vizzini: Yes, Australia. And you must have suspected I would have known the powder’s origin, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me.
Dread Pirate Roberts: You’re just stalling now.
Vizzini: You’d like to think that, wouldn’t you? You’ve beaten my giant, which means you’re exceptionally strong, so you could’ve put the poison in your own goblet, trusting on your strength to save you, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you. But, you’ve also bested my Spaniard, which means you must have studied, and in studying you must have learned that man is mortal, so you would have put the poison as far from yourself as possible, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me.
Dread Pirate Roberts: You’re trying to trick me into giving away something. It won’t work.
Vizzini: IT HAS WORKED! YOU’VE GIVEN EVERYTHING AWAY! I KNOW WHERE THE POISON IS!
Dread Pirate Roberts: Then make your choice.
Vizzini: I will, and I choose– What in the world can that be? [Vizzini gestures up and away from the table. Roberts looks]
Dread Pirate Roberts: What? Where? I don’t see anything.
Vizzini: Well, I- I could have sworn I saw something. No matter.
Dread Pirate Roberts:
What’s so funny?
Vizzini: I’ll tell you in a minute. First, let’s drink. Me from my glass, and you from yours. < they drink >
Dread Pirate Roberts: You guessed wrong.
Vizzini: You only think I guessed wrong! That’s what’s so funny! I switched glasses when your back was turned! Ha ha! You fool! You fell victim to one of the classic blunders! The most famous is never get involved in a land war in Asia, but only slightly less well-known is this: never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line!! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!! Ha ha ha–[Vizzini stops suddenly, and falls dead to the right]
Buttercup: Who are you?
Dread Pirate Roberts: I’m no one to be trifled with. That is all you ever need know.
Buttercup: And to think, all that time it was your cup that was poisoned.
Dread Pirate Roberts: They were both poisoned. I spent the last few years building up an immunity to iocane powder.
Buttercup, free from the now-dead Vizzini, finds herself in the hands of Dread Pirate Roberts. Her current captor is her future deliverer and once true-love Wesley who had mysteriously disappeared some time ago. But she doesn’t know that yet. Clarity comes in time.
For years, I played the role of Vizzini in life, trying to figure out how to drink the cup without being poisoned. In my mind, the Dread Pirate Roberts role was intermittently played by God, Satan, a friend, a stranger, or myself, depending on my mood, perspective, and momentary digestive health.
These days, I’m more often the blindfolded Buttercup, in the dark and waiting around to see how things shake out. I’ve read enough of God’s story to be logically aware that things will shake out in my favor, but my emotions often betray me. And I see many of us who “know better,” often betrayed by our emotions of fear, anger, frustration, depression, shame. We get edgy when life doesn’t unfold the way we want or think it should. It’s at times like this that we think we’re losing the duel and drinking the poison.
Even so, this mysterious True-Love-Deliverer ultimately wins the battle, my heart, and my life, just as Wesley eventually rescues Buttercup and wins her heart, and everyone (except Vizzini) lives happily ever after.
God’s rescue and love for all who trust him will turn out according to the script he wrote long ago in a land far away. When the credits roll, and the blindfolds are removed, we’ll drink new wine with the True-Love-Deliverer at our soon-to-be wedding feast.
Jadell M. Forman writes for The Neighborhood Café on Mondays.
On Mondays, we’re looking at a cup of wine as a metaphor for life, based on author Henri Nouwen’s look at Jesus’ question, Can you drink the cup I am about to drink?
Last week, I posted a link to a Wall Street Journal story featuring the Amish approach to, and recent divergence from, community. I like this story because, between the lines, the writer shows the blessedness of interdependence and the affliction of extreme independence. In his book, Can You Drink the Cup?, deceased author and priest Henri Nouwen puts it this way:
The enormous individualism of our society, in which so much emphasis is on “doing it yourself,” prevents us from living our lives for each other. But each time we dare to step beyond our fear, to be vulnerable and lift our cup, our own and other people’s lives will blossom in unexpected ways (p 75).
In chapter 6, “To Life,” Nouwen tells the story of Bill who came to Daybreak (a community for people with physical and mental disabilities) without a past, because he had chosen to forget his first 16 years that had been full of abuse and devoid of consistent love and safety. After 25 years at Daybreak, Bill had a different story. A three-ring binder (each resident had one) full of photographs, stories, drawings, newspaper clippings recounted Bill’s activities, hobbies, friendships, and accomplishments, along with his losses, suffering, and pain. Bill and his friends and Daybreak staff had compiled his Life Story Book.
Nouwen recounts the celebration in which the group presented to Bill his book:
Then we blessed the book and Bill, who held it. I prayed that this book might help Bill let many people know what a beautiful man he is and what a good life he was living. I also prayed that Bill would remember all the moments of his life–his joys as well as his sorrows–with a grateful heart (p 73).
Bill wept on Nouwen’s shoulder while the others in the circle looked on “with deep understanding of what was happening. Bill’s life had had been lifted up for all to see, and he had been able to say it was a life to be grateful for.”
In Jesus Christ, we see a life lifted up–first, suffering on the cross; then, redeemed through the resurrection. When compiled into a story, the pain and the glory, the suffering and the joy, reveal God’s redemption and salvation.
Christian community helps us see redemption in Christ and in each other. The people at Daybreak and the people in an Amish community, when they celebrate the births and deaths, joys and sorrows, they show us how to celebrate each other’s story that is full of life and part of Christ’s story of redemption.
The Bible says there was nothing on the outside that drew people to Jesus. The Bible tells us that, as a boy, King David looked like someone to overlook. We can’t judge a story by it’s cover anymore than we can judge a person by his or her public persona. A cursory glance at the outside never reveals the inside.
Often the outside of our life is not the interesting part. The inside story is the interesting part, the part where God’s grace turns our story into something better and other than any human effort can compile.
The motto at the Neighborhood Church is Live a Better Story. By that we don’t mean, “Let’s muster up the determination, will-power, and heroism required to make our dreams come true and/or fix what’s wrong in our lives and our world.” Rather, we mean, “Let’s let God redeem our life and the lives of those around us by allowing him to transform our lives into something better and other than we could ever do on our own.”
I’m grateful to have compiled something akin to Bill’s Life Story Book, and to have helped several people from our church do the same over a weekend retreat. Eugene and I turned his doctoral dissertation on story into a presentation, “Living Your Story: Discovering God’s Purpose in Your Story.” In the development process, I discovered God’s purpose in my story. And it changed my life.
My story is about my voice: having my voice silenced (by others and by self), having God always speak for me, and now letting God use my voice, and helping others do the same. As I looked at my story, looked into the cup God gave me, I saw God’s presence throughout the joyful and sorrowful parts of using my voice. Now, through God’s redemption, part of my story is helping others tell their story, use their voice, and lift up their life as a gift for others.
I pray you would receive God’s redemption into your story, allowing him to transform it into a cup of life lifted among a life-sharing community.
Jadell M. Forman writes for The Neighborhood Café on Mondays.
On Mondays at The Neighborhood Café, we’ve been considering Jesus’ question, “Can you drink the cup?” using a glass of wine as a metaphor for life, and taking our cues from chapters in Can You Drink the Cup? by Henri Nouwen.
I have for years enjoyed the front-page, below-the-fold personal interest stories of the Wall Street Journal. One in particular is apropos in our discussion of community.
During the USA’s financially prosperous years, some Amish people became so well off that they incrementally pulled away from their Amish community where collaboration and interdependence are tenets and a way of life. Then when the national economy’s house of cards recently crumbled, their independence fell along with it. They re-discovered the blessedness of community.
In Can You Drink the Cup?, priest and author Henri Nouwen says that we drink from God’s cup of blessing when we share our lives in community. “When we lift the cup of our life and share with one another our sufferings and joys in mutual vulnerability, the new covenant can become visible among us” (p 69).
What are your thoughts about this Nouwen quote and the WSJ story in regards to the blessing of Christian community?
Jadell M. Forman writes for The Neighborhood Café on Mondays.
On Mondays at The Neighborhood Café, we’ve been considering Jesus’ question, “Can you drink the cup?” using a glass of wine as a metaphor for life.
When I waitressed at The Happy Chef in my hometown, one of our regular customers was a person, I’ll call Donald (because I don’t remember his real name), with intellectual challenges/disabilities. He was about 5’8”, slender, and in his 30s or 40s. If I remember correctly, he lived on his own and didn’t appear to have any disabilities. Until he spoke.
Usually having a pleasant temperament, he liked to chat, and ordered the same thing, which made it easy to take his order despite his unclear speech. Our manager Kim set a tone of respect, treating him well and teaching each of us how to listen to him, and giving us an example of how to comfortably interact with someone different from our other customers. But not everyone treated him respectfully.
One day, on the streets of our small town, I found myself walking about 10 yards behind Donald. I saw a group of boys younger than I was approach and harass him, calling him stupid and saying other things. Donald didn’t seem to react or respond.
But I had had enough interaction with him in the restaurant to have seen a variety of his emotions–frustration, anger, sadness, happiness, confidence. So, I empathized and imagined at this moment, he felt hurt. Or maybe I was projecting onto him my own hurt of seeing such meanness in our community.
In Henri Nouwen’s book, Can You Drink the Cup? Nouwen shares his thoughts on community. He likens the lifting of our cup, as we do after a toast among friends, to sharing our lives. Or it can be like Donald lifting his coffee cup for a refill at our community restaurant. But sharing our lives isn’t always easy. Nouwen writes:
Nothing is sweet or easy about community. Community is a fellowship of people who do not hide either joys and sorrows but make them visible to each other in a gesture of hope. In community we say: “Life is full of gains and losses, joys and sorrows, ups and downs–but we do not have to live it alone. We want to drink our cup together and thus celebrate the truth that the wounds of our individual lives, which seem intolerable when lived alone, become sources of healing when we live them as part of a fellowship of mutual care” (p 57).
To me, the scariest parts of living in community occurs when harassing bullies misinterpret my or another person’s mercy as stupidity or weakness. Donald seemed to ignore or be oblivious to his harassers. Mercy can look like that.
For whatever reason, the bullies walked away from Donald after fifteen seconds of not getting a response from him. And, sadly for them, they walked away with less of life, not more.
My friend Cristi–the one who helped me discover my favorite wine glasses–is an occupational therapist who has helped me understand more than the value of stemware. She has helped me understand that people who bully people with disabilities are ignorant of what people like Donald can teach us: for example, how to walk down the street without demeaning others.
Nouwen invites us to ask an “important question”: “Do we have a circle of trustworthy friends where we feel safe enough to be intimately known and called to an always greater maturity?” That is an important question, I agree. And I offer another: Do we let Christ embrace our friends and community bullies when they’re unfriendly, knowing that he ultimately holds us safe within his care?
It seems the call to greater maturity is most difficult to answer when someone has ripped our cup of life from our hands and dashed it onto the street. When someone breaks our glass–our favorite one we were delighted to find and call our own–he breaks community-sacred relationship: first, with God; then, with us.
As retired pastor and author Eugene Peterson explains:
…[S]in is basically a depersonalized word or act. It is not, in essence, breaking a rule, but breaking a relationship….Sin is a refused relationship with God that spills over into a wrong relationship with others (Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, p 316).
The bully’s wrong relationship with God has spilled over onto us, and we’re left with shards of glass. And a choice. Such a hard choice: to turn or not to turn the other cheek.
The world outside Christian community says, “Retaliate! Rip his glass away and dash it onto the street. Just like he did to you! Let him know how it feels.”
Christ wants the bully and us to feel something else: the giving and receiving of mercy. In contrast to vindictive, violent voices that place personal pride above communal connection, Christ says, something different and other.
Christ says, “Instead of breaking your brother, stand beside him, and help him lift his cup.”
Jadell M. Forman writes on Mondays for The Neighborhood Café.
On Mondays at The Neighborhood Café, I’ve been leading our look at Jesus’ question, “Can you drink the cup?” using a glass of wine as a metaphor for life. Last week, we considered the sorrow in our cup; this week, how our sorrow also contains joy.
On the first day of kindergarten, my classmates and I, awaiting our teacher, sat cross-legged and quiet on the carpeted square in the middle of Mrs. Nordby’s classroom.
I sat in the back row, trying to muffle my homesick sobs. My best friend Tracy sat next to me with her best-friend arm around my shoulders.
The next-door teacher Mrs. Woodcock, dressed up–appropriately–as a woodcock, noticed the crying kindergartner, entered the room, and asked what was wrong.
While I continued crying, Tracy answered for me, “She misses her mom.”
Mrs. Woodcock tried to say something consoling, something about it being all right, and then took off, with her flowy, bobbing feathers. Mrs. Nordby soon arrived, and proved to be an near-idyllic teacher.
Early in the school year, over a weekend, I broke my arm. This somehow merited me the high honor of moving my desk face-to-face with Mrs. Nordby’s. I got to bring a friend. So, Tracy brought her desk next to mine. The honors didn’t stop there. Mrs. Nordby had, setting on her desk, an Avon canister shaped like a school house. She showed us, and even dabbed some of the perfume onto Tracy’s and my wrists! We girls gasped. Our teacher smiled. Thanks to Mrs. Nordby, the sorrow of having a broken arm was truly swallowed up in these simple joys.
Tracy moved out of town, then back, then out of state. We stayed in touch.
Occasionally, we stayed at each other’s house. When we were about 16 years old, she came to my house for a visit. As we sat on the living room couch, I told her about something very sad I saw happen to someone I love very much. I started to weep. Tracy put both arms around me as I cried. I accidentally snorted. Tracy’s cheek, pressed next to mine, balled up into a smile, and her body started to silently shake. She was laughing! Just as I had tried to muffle my sobs in kindergarten class, she now tried to muffle her laughter in the living room. I gave her points for effort, resigned this chance to have another good cry with her, and instead joined her in laughter.
We still laugh about that moment when deep sorrow turned into rollicking laughter. Even today, Tracy has a gift, like no one else I’ve been around, to share sorrow, and to lighten the burden without making light of the pain. For that reason–and many others–sharing not only my sorrows but life with Tracy is a joy.
In Henri Nouwen’s book, Can You Drink the Cup?, the Catholic priest recounts his own years of sharing both sorrows and joys, while living in a community of people with disabilities:
My own life in this community has been immensely joyful, even though I had never suffered so much, cried so much, and anguished so much as at Daybreak. Nowhere am I as well known as in this little community…I have never experienced so deeply that the true nature of priesthood is a compassionate-being-with (p 45).
Tracy has the gift of a “compassionate-being-with.” Like Jesus.
Nouwen describes Jesus’ priesthood “as one of solidarity with human suffering,” and hears a challenge “just to connect my own vulnerability with the vulnerability of those I live with.” He continues: “And what a joy that is! The joy of belonging, of being part of, of not being different.”
Without even trying, it seems, Tracy calls forth vulnerability. And although, this can be a dangerous call to answer, she has never hurt or betrayed my vulnerability but instead shared hers. What a joy to have a friend like this.
In recent years, Tracy has acquired a disability of her own. She’s in some sort of pain always. And the medications cause further physical problems. Still her ability to listen is intact.
“Do you get mad at God?” I asked her a few years ago.
“No. He has helped me so much!”
“Why are you mad at God?”
Just the fact that she wasn’t tracking with me was a relief, I guess, because I knew she was the same Tracy who lives joyfully despite her own sorrow. This revelation drowned out my anger (often related to sorrow).
I fell asleep thinking and praying about Tracy’s suffering that had become my sorrow. As I recounted her words and God’s promises, God showed up and showed me his grace in her life: being able to hold a cup of sorrow and–without dismissing the sorrow–see a cup of joy.
As Nouwen writes: “If joys could not be where sorrows are, the cup of life would never be drinkable. This is why we have to hold the cup in our hands and look carefully to see the joys hidden in our sorrow” (p 47).
Let it be so with us, that we’re able to help each other hold the cup of sorrow and receive the cup of joy.
Next week, we go from holding our cup to lifting (celebrating) our cup of life.
Jadell Forman writes for The Neighborhood Café on Mondays.
(This is part of a series posted each Monday at The Neighborhood Café.)
Sometimes when I look into the cup in my hands, as I reflect upon the life I hold, I see sorrow. Sorrow within my own heart and throughout the entire world. It’s too much. If I look too long, it’s overwhelming.
All around my neighborhood and our world I see political corruption, social oppression, environmental destruction working its evil in political captives, impoverished children, and littered streets. In addition to those distant sorrows, people close to me experience sickness, loneliness, hopelessness, anguish.
When Jesus looked into his cup, he saw an overwhelming amount of sorrow, his and ours:
Jesus‘ cup is the cup of sorrow, not just his own sorrow but the sorrow of the whole human race. It is a cup full of physical, mental, and spiritual anguish. It is the cup of starvation, torture, loneliness, rejection, abandonment, and immense anguish (Can You Drink the Cup? by Henri Nouwen, p. 35).
Often when I’m upset, all I really want is someone to look into my cup with me and say, “Yes, that is upsetting, isn’t it?”
Christians mourn with those who mourn. Jesus mourns with those who mourn. And in the midst of the sorrow, he brings blessing. Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted. By whom? By Christ, and by Christians who have themselves received Christ’s comfort.
For our sake, Christ held his cup (and our cup) of sorrow, saw the immense anguish, and said a loving yes to God’s call to drink the cup.
Jesus didn’t throw the cup away in despair. No, he kept it in his hands, willing to drink it to the dregs. This was not a show of willpower, staunch determination, or great heroism. This was a deep yes to Abba, the lover of his wounded heart (p. 37).
Christians know that no amount of our willpower, determination, or heroism will eliminate the cup of sorrow. We won’t eliminate sorrow when we can get the right people into government office, the latest education model into our schools, and a better flowchart into our businesses. Governments, education, and organization are tools God gave us to solve some, even many, of our world’s problems but never empty the cup of sorrow.
No. Christians share in Christ’s suffering, including sorrow. Even so, sharing that cup with him and with other Christians is also, oddly, the cup of joy.
Next Monday: Holding the Cup, Part 3: The Cup of Joy
Years ago, my friend Cristi and I were in Dallas, outlet shopping. She wanted to go to Mikasa for “stemware.” I didn’t really know what stemware was, but obliged her so that I wouldn’t feel bad when she obliged me by going to a store that didn’t interest her.
As we strolled down the aisle, she was on a mission. I was on a ferry, merely moving along as an obligatory part of the trip. Suddenly, I stopped mid-stream and gasped. She looked at me as I looked at a display of stemware. I reached for and held the coolest wine glass I’ve ever seen. I had no idea so much creativity could go into a wine glass. I turned it and admired it–the square lip and curved sides, the simple elegance and understated uniqueness…all the while, being utterly surprised by my interest in “stemware.”
Cristi drifted away at some point of my love-at-first-sight moment. The store noises and movements bobbed on the far shores of my awareness…until the sound of an approaching shopping cart grew increasingly loud and stopped right behind me. I turned abruptly. It was Cristi…with a cart.
“What’s that for?” I asked.
“Your stemware,” she said. I smiled gratefully, she enthusiastically. And I bought stemware–something I had no prior intention of doing, and would not have done had Cristi not recognized and embraced what was going on within me.
What was going on within me? I was delighted with a new discovery. Upon entering that store, I had no interest in stemware. In reality, I didn’t know how to appreciate stemware. And I still really don’t care to know the intricacies of wine glasses and iced beverage glasses, or whatever they’re called. I just know that I will never, ever see stemware that I prefer over what I now have.
What if in the same way I appreciate my stemware, I knew how to appreciate my life? What if I held my cup and at some point gasped at the surprising simple elegance and uniqueness of this life within my hands, even if I don’t understand much of what’s going on?
Some of us know how to appreciate wine or coffee. How would we live if we knew to do the same with life? Holding, noticing, questioning the angles, curves, simplicity, elegance, uniqueness?
Holding the cup is a hard discipline. We are thirsty people who like to start drinking at once. But we need to restrain our impulse to drink, put both hands around the cup, and ask ourselves, “What am I given to drink? What is in my cup? Is it safe to drink? Is it good for me? Will it bring me health?…[J]ust living life is not enough. We must know what we are living. A life that is not reflected upon isn’t worth living.” – Henri Nowen, Can You Drink the Cup?, pp 27-28, 26.
Last year our online community read through the Bible in a year. If you’re interested in reading through the Bible again (or for the first time), you’re welcome to dig through our archives. Last year’s calendar is located below.
This year we’re taking a slightly different focus as we explore the intersection of faith and life. So pull up a chair, pour yourself a cup of coffee, and join the conversation.