by Lisa Wiens-Heinsohn
Lisa is my older sister, and my oldest friend. I have been begging her to do a guest post for me for about a million years, and she finally relented. It’s beautiful, brilliant, and reflects her deep heart for God and for people. Enjoy!
I love the fact that the Christian tradition is a narrative tradition. Much of our scripture is expressed in story. Jesus himself often taught in parables—freestanding stories that can’t be imprisoned within a narrow repertoire of meanings or interpretations. They, and all the stories of scripture, are free to transform us in wild, unpredictable ways, for those who have the curiosity and imagination to engage with them.
Intellectually, I have known this since I was a child. But I experienced it in a potent way several years ago. I had had three miscarriages, and—thank God!—one living child, our beautiful daughter Carly, who is now six years old. My husband Jeff and I decided to try one more time for another child. I was in my early forties, he in his early fifties, and our time was running out. So one day in fall of that year, when I saw two lines on the pregnancy testing stick, I was filled with hope—but also with fear, dread, and the impulse to suppress all my emotions and just see what happened—not to get my hopes up, not yet.
We made it to Thanksgiving, and I was still pregnant. November turned into December, and we were in Advent—that time of waiting and yearning. And then I began to miscarry, for the fourth time. I felt numb, and sick, like the part of me that knew how to hope was also dying. I didn’t think I could stand coming to church to hear all about pregnant Mary. I knew that everywhere I turned, the songs, the readings, the liturgy would be big with child, even as my own body was in the reverse process.
I decided to come to church anyway. It was hard, like I expected. But then something in the sermon made me realize that Mary’s pregnancy was no baby-shower-inspiring-event. It was not the perfect-timing pregnancy of a young bride and her husband in their house with a white picket fence. It was an illegitimate pregnancy accompanied by shame and social difficulty and the near-abandonment of her fiancée Joseph. I began to soften. And then, my eyes fell on the station of the cross that hangs on the wall right beside the place I always sit at church. There was Mary, weeping, holding her dead son in her arms. I saw how greatly she had suffered—far more than I, who never knew my babies, never saw them grow, didn’t have the depth and bond with them that would have made their deaths so much worse. Everything in the art and the music and the liturgy began to seem like a huge container, like a fortress of rock against which the ocean could crash without toppling it. My grief could crash against the stories of our tradition and be held by them.
Then we had Eucharist, the Great Thanksgiving—and I made my way into the side chapel to ask for healing prayer. I don’t remember if I even named what I was experiencing in that moment, just that Marcia Roepke gave me a huge hug afterward. My story had interacted with the Great Story. I had been deeply moved by the encounter, and I dare to think that God was profoundly moved, too.
Moments like this can’t be manufactured or forced. But since that encounter, I have dared to approach the biblical stories with imagination and honesty and even empathy. To allow my inner spaces to be affected by the drama and beauty and pain of the great Judeo-Christian narrative.
I don’t know where or how you encounter the disturbing and hopeful and sometimes impossibly distant stories of our tradition. For a moment, though, I invite you to imagine that these stories are meant to encounter you: not even so much to teach you a principle, as to draw you into them and become part of you, and transform you from within. The next time you read or hear a story from the Bible, I invite you to go ahead and engage it: imagine yourself one of the characters and have a conversation with the other characters, or see where God really is in the story, or delve into the details until you can see, taste, hear and smell everything that is happening. Go ahead and fight what you see that disturbs you, and let yourself laugh and weep and yell. Then ask: what about this is good news, to me, today?