THE COMMON YEAR – BEAUTY IN TENSION
I sat in bed cross-legged, Bible resting on my lap, and tears streaming down my face — a release of sorts — simultaneously anger, confusion, and even relief.
I was reading about a group of young men out at sea that found themselves in the middle of a massive storm. Waves crashing into the boat, ready to envelop them at any moment. Fear palpable, I’m sure of it. Out of desperation, they wake their one friend who somehow managed to sleep through this traumatic chaos. “Don’t you care that we’re going to drown?” they cry out in raw desperation.
Drown. That’s what was happening. Surely, I was about to drown. “Don’t you care that I’m going to drown?” In a season that scripture seemed incapable of sticking in my mind, these words, in contrast, struck something deep within me. These men, Jesus’ disciples, gave words to the inner turmoil I’d been wrestling with. Not only were they terrified but they felt abandoned by The One whom they trusted.
This season of my life was repeatedly marked by wondering if I too had been abandoned by The One I trusted. Lonely, confused, and consumed with the tension within me — a wondering, yet urged to persist and trust. Hearing the word “tension” evokes images of wood beams bent to cracks and splinters. We often feel this same fracturing in our hearts and souls. At this time, I’d been surrounded by circumstances contributing to painful and uncomfortable tension — affecting my inner self, just like those wood beams, to the almost-breaking-point. Tension within a relationship, a circumstance, or any other form tends to make us squirm, and this is only amplified when we read and hear about a God who is “supposed” to offer joy and peace.
As a believer in Jesus, I’ve come to find that faith is filled with far more tension than I’m typically comfortable with. It’s almost never black and white but some shade of gray, which often makes us uneasy. Jesus, on the other hand, seemed very comfortable with this in-between tension. He was at ease enough to sleep in the midst of a fierce storm, one that created immense tension for his friends around him. When the hemorrhaging woman broke laws to experience his healing touch, Jesus actually drew more attention to this tension, calling out this woman for what she had done in front of a crowd. And maybe the most extreme moment of tension is when Jesus prayed in the garden, in such distress that he sweat droplets of blood, begging his Father to save him from this tragic death he was soon to face. Yet in his pleading, he sat in this unbearable place of desperately wanting one outcome, yet fully submitting to another that he was dreading to his core. All moments that seemed black and white to his community, he viewed as gray.
Another way we regularly experience “tension” is when we encounter an artistic work — we see opposing elements coming together to create a single piece. This beautiful art form is made possible only through opposing forces at work. We see this idea of tension in music, design, story-telling, and other creative outlets. Consider The Greatest Showman (and if you haven’t seen this movie yet, stop right now and go watch it). Without the turmoil Barnum experiences regarding fame, his friends’ self-acceptance wouldn’t have been solidified to the same degree. Without this tension, it may hold beauty, but we’re able to experience it to greater depths from the tension created by opposing forces. And not unlike this counter-intuitive perspective, something strangely beautiful is created when Jesus willingly enters into tension, as he readily chooses to do every time. The waves and wind that induced crippling fear are replaced with calmness that inevitably evokes awe. The broken, forgotten woman experiences not only physical but wholistic healing, being reinstated into her community. And the hopeless death on a cross Jesus faced was transformed into unimaginable hope for the whole of humanity.
I know I’m not alone in experiencing this gut-wrenching tension. Mine was rooted in fear of being abandoned by the God I trusted, against the promise of his presence. Without this storm and the overwhelming fear it produced, I would’ve missed the beauty and awe that came once the storm was calmed. Our years, seasons, and moments of tension may not play out how we expect them. But I trust that as Jesus stepped into some of the messiest stories in his lifetime, he continues to enter into our internal and external tensions. Through the confusion, hurt, and weariness, he is weaving together something wonderful; therefore, without tension, we’d miss the beautiful work he solidifies through it.
I live in the tension of loving food and hating to cook Because of this, I’m obsessed with the convenience and delicious meals prepared in my Instapot. Quick, simple, and always delicious, it eases my dislike of cooking every time. My favorite is chicken tortilla(less) soup: http://40aprons.com/whole30-instant-pot-chicken-tortilla-less-soup-paleo/.
A Prayer, Kings Kaleidoscope — includes some explicit language, but tackles the tension of deeply seeded fear and truth in a vulnerable and honest way.
Apophatic prayer — an ancient style of contemplative prayer that breaks down our limited understanding of God, beautifully expressing tensions within both language and faith.
The Liturgists lead listeners through an apophatic prayer: https://open.spotify.com/track/0pcLKAZlOWmUBoCNJBn1AM?si=64Mx7RmHRGWVFUfcHFsoKw.
Like most spiritual practices, apophatic prayer on its own is insufficient and can be frustrating — it’s unlike many forms of prayer! Yet I challenge us to humbly and open-handedly approach this prayer, trusting what the Holy Spirit wants to do through it.
Acknowledge areas of tension in your life currently. Write them down, go for a walk, share them with a confidant — simply give yourself space to fully bring them to light. Naming something is inexplicably powerful. It won’t fix it, but fear starts to lose its grip when we call it by name.