When I was working on my undergrad, I stumbled by chance onto a play by Beth Henley. I (shamefully) can’t remember exactly which of her plays I read first, but I directed a scene from the play for my senior directing class as a final project. I then performed a scene from Am I Blue as a reader’s theatre piece for a forensics competition and, by that time, Henley was listed high among my favorite playwrights, a place she has occupied since.
I recently found a copy of four of her more famous plays on Amazon, and knew immediately I had to purchase the book. Somewhat fitting to the fact that I recently lost my grandmother, the first play in the collection is The Wake of Jamey Foster, a play revolving around the tragedy of losing a loved one and the dark comedy that tends to play out within the context of the morbid. What stood out to me as I read the play was each character grasping for something beyond the death by which they are surrounded, grasping for the Divine (in imagery that is at times unmistakable), but succeeding only in adding to the darkness of their circumstance. They are existing in a dark moment, but they are inhabiting it fully, clinging to whatever life they can in an effort to maintain a pulse.
I can relate in an offbeat way in the surrealism of grandmother’s funeral, now a few weeks in the past, during which everything seemed to be so detached from me that I couldn’t feel anything until over a week later. I think it was because I was holding back from it, not inhabiting the moment completely, not engaging the life that was persevering despite the observance of her passing.
I earnestly believe that the shift from immanence to transcendence was an unfortunate move in theological thought, because the rift that we place between ourselves and God is, at least in my mind, false. We’re forever grasping for Him “up there” during these times, when He is fact very present, standing with us in our grief, our pain, our joy. I think He wants us to find the life that, like Henley’s characters, we are desperately reaching for.
I missed it when I finally grieved. I lapsed into anger at myself for all of the things I didn’t do and say with my grandmother and would now never have the chance. When my grief finally set in, it was very real, but very ugly. I was reaching for that life, but all I could find in that moment was pain. Perhaps I was reaching past God as He was sitting there with me, just as I turned my face away from Karen as she attempted to be there for me. At least, though, I was finally inhabiting the moment, finally experiencing the reality as everything that it was and is. Until that point, I was only using evasive maneuvers, and, in doing so, I evaded God as well.
Among the lessons I’ve learned from my grandmother’s passing, one of them has been to recognize the truth that God is immanently in the situation with me, not relegated to being “up there” looking down. I think, also, that He much prefers that I engage, even if it is messy, because not moving forward, be it because of uncertainty or numbness, is stagnation. And stagnation, if we are honest, is not living at all.