I Am Just Here
My counselor holds classes the first Saturday of the month for whomever can and wants to join in. It seems a wise use of my time to sit still and receive for an hour or so. It’s a safe space where I feel like myself, where I know I am not alone and not crazy. Or at least I’m in the company of others who are the same kind of weird as me, and that works.
Nine of us sat on over-sized, black leather couches and chairs that formed a squared-off lounging area of a church meeting space. In between scrawling notes on borrowed paper, I sipped a mediocre cup of Morning Blend and pinched and nibbled pieces of a homemade breakfast bar.
Somewhere in the last 15 minutes or so of the class, something caught my attention. On the lower shelf of the coffee table, the spine of an over-sized bible faced me. Like those old, fused flashback scenes on Scooby Doo or a soap opera, when the camera closed in on the actor and blurred as that character went back in time, I found myself in a string of memories and standing on green shag carpet in the Cardinal Drive house.
The commemorative Bicentennial Bible, gifted to our family from my grandfather, sat atop an antique wooden table in the good living room. While Mom busied herself with chores and I was sure she was far enough away, I would sneak into that room to open the gigantic bible.
Interspersed throughout the volume of gold-gilded pages, between books and testaments, slick copies of famous biblical artwork illustrated the narrative of scripture. I turned the pages with great care, as quietly and carefully as I could.
Over time, I learned which pages I liked the most; I learned, too, which pages I wanted to peek at and avoid at the same time. Given that I was in the room that wasn’t for playing and that I was opening a scared and holy thing, I didn’t dilly dally on my mission. For more and more, my mission was to find the painting of the crucified Christ and try and look upon it. It frightened me and intrigued me.
A nearly naked Jesus, a paling and dying white Jesus. Streams of blood trickling down his sinewy body, blood coming from his feet and his hands. A strategically placed cloth around his man-parts. I would look upon the image as long as I could, until it freaked me out and I had to shut the book and go find something to play with, something else to do. I was four years old, maybe five some of those sneaking times.
And then, like that, I was back in a Colorado church, back on the comfy sofa with my pen in hand. My counselor was talking about a speech act, the declaration of I am. Not the God version, but the people one. “How often do we say this?” she asked. “I am afraid” or “I am incompetent,” “I am not enough” or “I am too much.” Can we learn to say, “I am just here”?
When the teaching and discussion wrapped up, and after I’d taken my 47-year old bladder to the bathroom, I made my way back to the couches, to the table in the middle. The bible was heavy, like I remembered, but not nearly so heavy in my grownup hands. It wasn’t hard to find the crucifixion painting in the mix of all the shiny artwork pages. I stared in wonder.
Jesus was barely bloody. Still white and pale, perhaps paler with death, but barely bruised or beaten. Not realistic, given the what the Gospels record of the abuse Jesus suffered. It didn’t scare me at all, and I furrowed my brow trying to remember how I’d seen it way back when.
My counselor and two other women saw me thumbing through the book as they talked. I felt strangely excited, like I was scraping the dust off some forgotten treasure. I was smiling, surprised and thrilled at the discovery of this fat bible at such an odd time, and I explained to the women what was happening.
One of the women said her family had had the same bible, that it was in a special location and not for reading so much as for display. I stood there, feeling the somewhat squishy nature of the padding underneath the cream pleather, and then I looked at the cover, taking in what it said underneath of the gold Holy Bible lettering. A shiny Liberty Bell, coppery like a penny, to the left and, to the right, coppery font for the dates 1776-1976. “That part is another story,” I said as I absorbed the marriage of that sacred manuscript with the complicated history of United States, the strands of my faith journey tangled with strands of my identity as an American. I put the clunky masterpiece back where I’d found it.
An interesting and grace-filled convergence happened that Saturday morning. I was just there, in that church building, as my 47-year old self on a March Saturday. And I was just there, in my old house looking at a cream-colored bible, as my 4-year old self.
I was just there. Looking down to see that old bible, and I was safe with the white, bleeding Jesus and not feeling afraid. Taking in the cover of the book, touching the smooth bronze Liberty Bell. Picking it up, knowing the weight of the thing—all six pounds of it and more. Holding that elaborate, decorative piece of American history—the Bicentennial Bible distributed by Jerry Falwell Ministries Aflame—and knowing the tensions in all the pages.
I was just there. In a room with others also sorting out their tough and glorious stuff, safe with the brown-skinned Jesus I am learning to follow in deeper, more difficult ways.