I’ve spent most of the first week of this new year yelling at God. The air around me was blue with the expletives I used. My throat was raw with the pain I was feeling and expressing. Some moments, I stomped around the house. Other moments, I sat numbly in front of the television screen watching the holiday fire log, weeping copiously in grief and pain.
What a way to begin a new year. I am normally a person who trusts that the heart of the universe bends toward justice and compassion and love. But this week I wondered whether the universe gave a damn or not. I wondered whether God cared at all.
So I yelled at God. I swore. I dropped f–bombs. I gave full voice to my frustration and anger and pain. I had reached a breaking point, and my body and soul felt as if they were being torn apart. I was broken.
What brought this on?
Well, to be honest, all kinds of things. Like many of us, I’m feeling as if I am at my wit’s end. The pandemic drags on and on. Hatred and hostility continue to be spouted by one side against the other. Politicians are more concerned with pointing fingers at each other and casting aspersions and blaming than they are with finding ways to help the people manage their way through this challenging time. A personal hero of mine, Desmond Tutu, died. In 2021, we identified graves of indigenous children who were treated as if they were less than nothing. We had to deal with the fires of this summer and the floods of this fall. A friend of mine lost her home in Lytton and escaped with only seconds to spare before the fire destroyed everything.
Life has been turned on its head, with difficulty piling upon difficulty. Things have been so hard in these last two years. It’s been made harder by people who refuse to care about anyone but themselves, who refuse to do something so simple as wearing a mask or getting a vaccine. Like many of you, I’m just tired and fed up and worn out.
But there was also a particular catalyst for my pain which caused me to wonder for a few days if there was any purpose in life.
A very close friend was found dead in his home. Jeff was a young man, only 57 years old. He lived alone and was found by a friend and neighbour who noticed that they hadn’t seen him for a few days. Jeff was a gentle man with the soul of an artist. He trusted deeply in God. He reached out in grace and hope to touch so many people throughout his life. He was an Anglican priest, and he had a vision of life in which people of all faiths and no faith could live together in a joyful and beloved community.
Now, as a priest, I am no stranger to death. I have faced both life and death. I have sat with people who were dying as they lay in their beds at home or in a hospital room. I have talked with people about medical assistance in death. I have held the hands and frail bodies of friends who were near death, and I have prayed with them. Over the course of my life and my ministry, I have learned to be present with death in the midst of life. I have wept with parents who gave birth to their stillborn child. I have hugged children who didn’t know where to turn when their parents died. I have wept with grandchildren who missed their grandma or grandpa. I have buried my own wife after watching her fade away with a brain tumour.
I know what it means to be in the presence of life and death. I know the power of life. I also know the fragility of life. I know what it feels like to have a light snuffed out, to watch as the promise of life comes to a sudden end.
And this time it hit home. Hard.
I reached out to friends. To my community. We wept on the phone. We wondered what … and how … and why … There are no answers, of course. And so I yelled. Loudly. Using language I had learned many years ago while working at a lumber mill.
I yelled at God.
Why? Not because God caused this. Not because God is responsible for this kind of meaningless death. Not because God could have changed this. I don’t believe in that kind of God.
I yelled at God because there is space in the heart of God for that kind of honesty in our relationship. I needed to lament because lament has the power to set us free. My heart was being torn apart, and I gave voice to it. I gave voice to the pain which was making me numb. I gave voice to my despair so that I can begin to dare once again to hope.
Some Christians will chastise me for my foul language. They will say that I can’t yell at God, that I must come to God humbly and penitently and with deep respect.
But the God with whom I am in relationship is bigger than that. God can take my anger. God can take my cursing. Indeed, I will say that God welcomes me and holds me as I give voice to my anger and pain and cursing.
God knows my pain. God knows that sometimes life is so unbearably painful, so unutterably difficult, so dreadfully hard.
This week, I am broken.
So I yelled.
So I cursed.
So I wept.
So I lamented.
And though I didn’t know it, though I couldn’t feel it for a while, my heart was held by that compassion and love and grace which we find at the centre of the universe.
Yme Woensdregt is a retired Anglican priest living in Cranbrook