By Carmen Acevedo Butcher

Mortal Cracks and Celestial Mortar

Why do we want to be perfect? That thought has come back to me over and again as I’ve done some concrete repair around our house. In my old, ripped, Pollock-esque-paint-splattered khakis and once-proud tan Gap short-sleeve shirt of the same condition minus the rips, I’ve sat and sometimes knelt on our front steps with my mixed up concrete patching compound and contemplated cracks.

Everything has more than one. Cracks are really beautiful in their own way. Each is unique, each tells a story of our steps’ interactions with nature’s changing seasons of rain and sun and snow and freezes and wind and leaves and acorns and rotten branches, and even though I’m filling them with cement, first I admire their individualistic zigzagging and meandering shapes and dips. Fissures have a beauty all their own.

And they are a part of life we can neither deny nor ignore. When cement is poured, cracks are common as it cures and later as it endures. When we are born, our flaws come out as we grow and mature.

At first, we fight them. But I have come to feel how much God loves me after a long time of living as if God were my Harshest Supervisor, believing God to be that once angry voice in my head barking constant derisory critiques of me and my every move.

The thirteenth-century Persian poet Rumi writes about our soul’s real condition, saying that “being human is a guest house” and that each morning there’s “a new arrival”—“[a] joy, a depression, a meanness, / some momentary awareness.” His advice? “Welcome and entertain them all!” He adds, “Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,... / still treat each guest honorably....The dark thought, the shame, the malice, / meet them at the door laughing, / and invite them in. / Be grateful for whoever comes.”

Psychiatrist Carl Jung saw these darker soul guests as part of our important, to-be-studied-understood-better-and-accepted “Shadow Self,” and Jesus also reminds us: “Love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44). This love of my own inner “enemies” (my cracks) is important.

Growing up, I tried to purge myself of all stressful, hostile, and unattractive weaknesses. I thought I was working hard to “[t]ake the plank out of [my] own eye...before removing the speck in [my] friend’s eye,” as Jesus recommends (Matthew 7:5).

It really wore me out, and I was missing the point that, as Jesus shows us many times, God is like a loving parent who runs toward us, catches up with us, then hugs and kisses us while we are “still far away” (Luke 15:20).

I tried unsuccessfully for several decades (and at great cost to my quality of life) to lock and barricade the door of my soul against all flaws, but it only blocked my heart from feeling thankful.

Years ago I heard a Lutheran minister preach quite gently that in his pastoral work he had noticed that people as they age either become grateful or bitter. Hearing that, I knew I was in the latter category already at 30, so I searched hard for ways to become more and more thankful. It became a conscious goal for me not to let myself become bitter, no matter what life threw my way or what difficulties my weaknesses created. It was not easy and who aside from God can say how I’m doing, but I came to understand that the struggle itself was one way to say, “Thanks, God, for my life!”

When I complained once to my rolfer Karen in California about my frustration with myself, she shot back: “You should invite your neuroses in to have tea with you!” That line stuck with me, and what a relief it was when I realized that God himself runs to me, too, catches up with me, hugs and kisses me, even though aspects of who I am are “still far away” from him.

Cracks happen. And God is in the middle of each one of them. And God is love, the best cement.

The indomitable Catherine of Siena thanks God for his “celestial cement”: “As lime mixed with water is wedged between stones to bind them securely together, You put the blood of Your only-begotten Son between us and Yourself. You made Your Son into mortar with the living lime of a burning love.”

This Thanksgiving, we can thank God for the cracks in our lives and offer them to him. We can be grateful, too, for this marvelously, mysteriously kind mortar.

 

Notes
  • Page 72 of The Illuminated Rumi, translations and commentary by Coleman Barks and illuminations by Michael Green (Broadway Books, 1997).
  • Pages 10 and 92 of A Little Daily Wisdom by Carmen Acevedo Butcher (Paraclete Press, 2008).
About the Author

Carmen Acevedo Butcher is a professor of English and scholar-in-residence at Shorter University in Rome, Georgia. She was the Carnegie Foundation professor of the year for Georgia in 2006, and during the 2004-2005 year she and her family lived and learned in Seoul, South Korea, while she taught as a Fulbright Senior Lecturer at Sogang University. She has written books on medieval women mystics and linguistics. More information can be found on these at her website. (Photo credit: Katherine Butcher.)

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