Imported from Instagram (@ruthie.buescher)
January 29, 2021
I’d like to be able to cry and sing at the same time. I don’t mind crying—it’s clear to me at this point that tears are an integral part of my being—but there are times I would like to be able to sing without my throat constricting with emotion.
I’m reading “The Supper of the Lamb,” which was first brought to my attention by @thomasvitoaiuto and lovingly gifted to us by @allisonvvosicky . It boasts endless insightful quotes such as: “Food is the daily sacrament of unnecessary goodness, ordained for a continual remembrance that the world will always be more delicious than it is useful,” along with plenty of cheeky nuggets such as: “Economy is not one of the necessary principles of the universe; it is one of the jokes which God indulges in precisely because he can afford it.” I love the way Robert Farrar Capon uses the art of cooking to illustrate that the world is full of wonder, and it is our province and privilege to enjoy it as its creator does.
Perhaps it was because feasting has been on my mind that I found myself muted by tears at the end of the service last Sunday, as the congregation began to sing the song “We Will Feast in the House of Zion.” Masked, separated, the room filled only to 30% capacity, the promise of that feast seems both so distant and so poignant. But it was more, even; that song always reminds me of the other congregations with which I’ve sung it, and the saints I love so deeply with whom I won’t have the chance to sing again until that distant feast day.
I sang barely a word, letting the tears run down into my mask (there’d have been no point in trying to stop them anyway.) What I always wish people understood about my tears is that they represent not sorrow, but great emotion, and often a very sweet and piercing joy. After the service I was approached by our bishop, and to my chagrin he thanked me for my tears—but I could see on his face that he understood. He was familiar with the flood of emotion, the complex blend of joy and pain, loss and surety. And it struck me how good that surety is: we WILL feast in the house of Zion, the song promises. We will.
Feasted and full, perhaps then I will be able to sing and cry at the same time.
January 12, 2021
Grief is strange. Seven years ago my Grandpa Stanley died, and thoughts of him have been encircling me these past weeks, much stronger than right after his death. I suppose it isn’t uncommon for grief to surface years later, presenting itself as something unresolved, buried in the body until the time is right.
I had moved to New York four months earlier. He understood my move in ways even I didn’t; he’d always encouraged me to write, to create. He wanted to be a writer, and saw in me the ability he didn’t have. He possessed a studied contentment; after he came home from WWII he was determined to be content with the simplicities of family and work, and he was.
The last time I spoke to him was from inside my closet, pressing my ear to the phone to hear his words more clearly. My roommates at the time had a baby that was napping, and I didn’t want to wake it. I ran my fingers over the crack of light creeping into my darkness and cried, listening to my grandpa crying along with me. We knew. He told me I was his favorite, which was no secret. I’d never heard him say it out loud, though.
I remember feeling surprised, in the year after he died, that his loss didn’t affect me more. I worked and studied and walked and ate, then moved on to Boston where I taught and fell in love and planned adventures. But grief is a time-bider, adventing when it wants to. It has found me. “Some things you just can’t speak about,” @taylorswift writes, lyrics that describe exactly how my grandpa felt about his wartime experience, as well as my current feelings about his loss.
My grandpa and I shared a birthday, and sometime around the age of sixteen I realized that there was a limit to the number of birthdays we had left together. I started using my candle wish as a prayer that next year he would still be sitting next to me. Twenty-four was the last year that wish came true. It seemed old at the time, and it seems so young now. Not quite a quarter of a century, but enough life to leave pieces of him everywhere.
He was a photographer, a romantic. He told me racy stories when no one else was in the room. He brought pain and he made joy. Stanley Russell Carroll. How I miss you.
January 7, 2021
No one captures the complex relationship between loving his country and understanding that it is not his true home better than Rich Mullins. 27 years ago he bookended his best album with two songs about America, the sum of which encapsulate my feelings about this beautiful and tragic country.
Yesterday was the celebration of Epiphany, a day that is meant to remind us, among other things, that the Herods of this world will fall, and the kingdoms of men will not stand against the great swell of the glorious love and justice of God. The events of yesterday are a stark reminder of that truth, and yet I am still left in grief and anger.
There is a lot I don’t know, and don’t have words for. But here are a few things I do know.
The actions of the protestors yesterday were in direct opposition to the message of the cross, and the fact that they used the Christian flag and Christian signs, particularly in conjunction with the confederate flag, is heinous. I cannot in good conscience stay silent about it.
The lack of repercussions (as of now) and what appeared to be a lack of action on the part of law enforcement marked a stark contrast to the protests this summer. Whether it is intentional or not, the message being received is that the actions of white Americans will not be as severely punished as the actions of brown or black Americans, and that is shameful and unlawful. This is not news, but it should continue to shock us so that we will stand up and change it.
While we deserve to be shocked and appalled at yesterday’s events, to feel embarrassed that such a thing could happen in America reveals our own false superiority. Americans are no less sinful and selfish than humans in any other part of the globe, and to believe that we are incapable of descending into the chaos we witnessed yesterday is both naive and prideful. Our systems and history are not enough to save us.
This is the land of our sojourn. It is not our true home, and in the words of Psalm 2, as Rich Mullins put it, “The Lord in heaven laughs—he knows what is to come.” There is no road forward but through him, for his kingdom enables us to both act courageously and take refuge wholeheartedly.
November 13, 2020
Christians believe that if God stopped upholding the world for even a second, it would cease to exist. This is the doctrine of aseity, which holds that God is sufficient within himself to exist, but that we are not. Rather than creating the world and then sitting passively back, God is actively keeping it running from moment to moment, and were he to blink, were he to turn away for an instant, we would disappear.
A few years ago I was reading “On the Incarnation” by Athanasius (an Egyptian bishop who lived in the fourth century) and came across these words: “...the renewal of creation has been wrought by the Self-same Word who made it in the beginning.” Like a lighting bolt, what must have been clear to scores of Christians throughout the ages became suddenly clear to me: the same Word that is spoken of in John 1, the Word who is Jesus Christ, is the same Word through which the world was created in the beginning. When Genesis 1 recounts God speaking into the void, it is Jesus who is the Word being spoken, through whom everything is not only created, but upheld. He formed the dust clouds, the molecules, the caterpillar that stung me on Tuesday. Christ did not just create the world, he is in every part of it—in the air and in the roots and in the fabric of nature—because it has no existence outside of him. The Word continues to sustain us as he upholds our very breath.
For a long time I struggled to understand how Christ’s death could have the power to cleanse us. I understood it intellectually, but I wanted to know practically how it worked, on a physical and not just spiritual level. With the clarity Athanasius brought to me, it all clicked into place. If Jesus is the one who created us and who upholds every moment, then we are more deeply connected to him than we can ever know. Tied as we are to him through the deepness of this mystery, how could his death and the blood that poured from him not irrevocably change us? Like a current, his redemption was transferred to us through the same tangible, earthy channels by which we are already intertwined.
In other news, @bruce.buescher is selling prints of some of his paintings, and this is one of my favorites 😊
November 6, 2020
“We do not have life in ourselves,” @davidtaylor_theologian writes in his book Open and Unafraid. “Life comes to us as a gift, and death shows us our creatureliness: from dust to dust.”
The profoundness of this touches me deeply. To be inanimate, without life, a piece of clay that is suddenly given spirit and breath. Of course this is what I’ve been taught since birth, dust to dust, but to consider it this way—life brushed onto us as a gift from the one who is endlessly alive and has no need of his own gift—it feels new. I’ve been walking around feeling like an imposter in my skin, this skin that is only animated because of the gift I’ve been given, and which could be taken away at any moment.
This year—this week—has brought a lot of people to the point of questioning their belief that humans are, at their core, mostly good, and I know that feels like death too. But contemplating death has always felt like life to me, along with coming face to face with the terror of my own (and other humans’) souls. I’ve found true rest in facing the evil down, but only when that understanding of death is punched through with the brightness of the one who has brushed us with life.
I come back to the words of Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” What can that possibly mean?? To be dead but yet alive in Christ. Christ alive, but through me—in my unique being. It is the best mystery I’ve ever contemplated, and I am delighted that there is no immediate answer, no comprehensive understanding available to me. It means I can continue to ponder it until I die, and the waters will only grow deeper. Deeper and more delicious.
October 30, 2020
Recently it occurred to me that I often act as if I’m starving and I don’t know where my next meal will come from. As if the Lord hasn’t repeatedly feasted me. With each new season in my life I assume that if things don’t happen immediately, I have no assurance that they will ever happen. It’s more than impatience—it’s a chronic mistrust that there will be enough for me. Perhaps a leftover mindset from being the middle child. In any case, it’s completely inconsistent with the bounty of my actual history.
I got an email from my friend @thomasvitoaiuto this week informing me that #thewelcomewagon released a new song. It’s lovely, and it inspired me to go back to my favorite of their albums, “Light Up the Stairs.” If you haven’t spent time with that album, please do. The song “In the Garden” in particular has been running through my mind as I’ve been reflecting on my starvation mindset. I don’t know how they’re connected, but I suppose somehow they are.
I’ve also been thinking about the mystics I wrote about last fall (in my mind, affectionately called “my ladies.”) Last year at this time I was furiously writing, deep in the middle of the script. I ended the play with the words of Julian of Norwich, who won my heart with her piercing insight into Christ’s tender care for us, comparing him to a mother gently ministering to her children. As the lights fade on her at the end of the play, Julian speaks the following words, and I like to think that years from now, as the lights fade on me, perhaps I will also be repeating these mighty and soulful thoughts:
“‘You shall not be overcome,’ my Lord said full clearly and full mightily. He said not: you shall not be tempted, you shall not be travailed, you shall not be afflicted; but he said: you shall not be overcome. For he loves and enjoys us, and so wills that we love and enjoy him and mightily trust in him; all shall be well, and all shall be well. And all manner of things shall be well.”
October 14, 2020
There is a deep greenness to San Antonio, which is only partly due to the fact that it’s still 90 degrees half way through October. She’s a slow lady, hiding secrets in the folds of her skirt.
It doesn’t usually take me long to make a city my home; I love uncovering favorite haunts and making them part of my routine. But this is the first time I’ve set my mind to loving a place not for the opportunity I need from her, but for the sake of the city herself. Making a home because it’s home; setting my mind to putting down roots.
Luckily, this gentle place doesn’t make it hard. I can sense that here, change is slow to come, but part of me thinks that it’s because she doesn’t need to change. In some ways, San Antonio feels like a place that has never cared to interfere too much—do it your way, and do it slow. Deep and green.
October 4, 2020
It’s tempting to see the rules of the Christian life as arbitrary dos and don’ts, put in place for no clear reason. Another better, but still not quite accurate view of the matter is that the Bible’s many rules enable us to live a truly purposeful and meaningful life, aligned with something bigger than just our own desires.
I have been meditating on what scripture actually tell us about God’s law, however, which is this: God desires us to live in a certain way because he wants to be near to us, and the way of life he sets out in scripture enables us to draw close to him. The God revealed in scripture is all light, all purity, all good. There is no evil in him, and evil cannot draw near to him. To be with him means we must be like him, living in righteousness, which of course we cannot do on our own (and this is where Jesus comes in.)
When it comes to the Christian life, living according to the rules laid out in scripture IS loving God, because it is communicating that I want to be near him. I don’t live according to the law because I believe it will save me to do so, but because the law is a reflection of who God is, and I long to be like him and want to be near him. And in the unfolding process of becoming sanctified, the Spirit enables me through Christ to be near to God even while I continually fail at perfectly living into the law.
The law is not suffocating; it is not a series of arbitrary rules laid out by God for no reason. By living according to scripture we are learning who God is and drawing nearer and nearer to him. In his grace he has revealed his character and constantly pulls us to himself through the means of his law.
That’s pretty beautiful, I think.
September 23, 2020
Prayer has always been hard for me, and I didn’t realize until recently that a large part of that is my own feeling of deep inauthenticity when it comes to speaking to God. I’ve always felt much more comfortable using other people’s words—the emotional prayers of the puritans found in “The Valley of Vision” or the reverent beauty of the “Book of Common Prayer.” Speaking these prayers as my own feels much more authentic than speaking my words, because trying to pray on my own just reveals my own absurdity.
It was with great relief that I came across the words of Henri Nouwen last year in his book “The Way of the Heart,” in which he talks about the prayer of the heart, and how instead of using words, it presents a constant plumb line connecting our hearts with God. I have felt since I was young that I am essentially always praying—or at least that prayer is never far from my heart, and though it’s very difficult for me to put words to my own prayers, when I read someone else’s words, their prayer pulls up some of the words that have been there all along and gives them shape. Nouwen’s perspective frees us from the temptation to think of prayer as achieving something—as if, if we can only say something intelligent enough, God will hear us. As if he did not already know what was in our hearts and minds. The fact that I have always had an unshakable understanding that he does already know what is on my heart is part of what makes words feel inauthentic and useless to me, like trying to describe a brilliant sunset to someone who is standing right beside me and can see it with their own eyes.
In his book “Open and Unafraid,” David Taylor describes the Psalms as a series of prayers through which we learn how to pray. He speaks of God as one “who is near yet who is experienced as absent.” I feel this deeply, and I am sure that many others do too. If, like me, you struggle with your own words, look to the words of the Psalms or the words of saints who came before. Look to those who speak from other denominations and cultures. I am grateful to those from the past whose words I’ve used, and to those who will put words to the prayers we need right now and in the future.
August 28, 2020
East Texas pine and soil, transplanted to south Texas
The coolest time of day is in the morning. But mornings are when I job hunt and clean and do errands, so it’s usually not until mid afternoon that I get myself together enough to go out. Today had a heat index of 109. I sat and read outside for close to three hours. I don’t share this because other people aren’t capable of it, but rather because I didn’t think I was capable of it. While visiting Austin in the summer of 2018 @bruce.buescher and I went to Barton Springs on a day that was 106 and I cried because I was so hot. Today I sat and thought about how glad I was that my body was capable of doing what it was supposed to: sweating to cool me down. Adapting to the heat. Allowing me to enjoy the turtles and squirrels who also moved slow in the late afternoon haze.
Then I started thinking about bodies. Mine doesn’t always do what it’s supposed to; in fact it often doesn’t. My life has been a pattern of odd and confusing physical quirks that (so far) have added up to nothing but annoyances and things to keep an eye on. But though my body frustrates me, it’s also integral to how I see and feel the world. Last night I kept hugging Bruce, trying to communicate my feelings through the act of squeeze. How can this not be the way you communicate? I asked him. How can this not be the way you also love?
I love you through my mind, he said. A very valid answer, but not something I will ever understand. The only way I know to love something, or someone, is through my presence and my skin. That’s the only way I know how to love a city, too. But then, it’s not very hard to do when the water is this green.
July 31, 2020
It’s been a quiet month here in San Antonio. While @bruce.buescher has been enjoying his new job I’ve been hunting for work of my own and reading “The Color of Compromise,” “The Snow Child,” and “Things Fall Apart.” I’ve been watching trashy TV and cooking new recipes, and discovering outdoor haunts. It’s 100 degrees here every day, but I’m building my heat tolerance and uncovering the beauty of letting myself sweat in the shade.
I’m working on patience: my life-long journey. I feel assured that God brought us here. The unfolding of a life, even mine, is endlessly fascinating. Some days it feels like the last year was a hurry-up-only-to-wait, and some days I sense how lucky I am. Molasses hours to set my own pace and fill with growth and contemplation (and trashy TV.)
Bruce’s dad has a tradition of giving his children a sack of marbles when they’re young—one for every year of life. The intention is to place a marble somewhere each year: a meaningful memorial to the person you are at that moment in time. I asked him for a sack of my own when I turned 30, and with all the moving around we’ve done since March, I forgot to place my marble this year until today. It feels right to have waited for the fertile soil of San Antonio.
A fire ant climbed onto my foot as I was typing this and gave me a bite. Sometimes Texas is like that. The slow heat drew the prick out almost immediately: the soil is rich.