Standing Babas And The One Where Our Ceiling Leaks

The ceiling in our bathroom started leaking during the wee hours of the morning this week. This was surprising because we live in a recently renovated apartment complex. Nonetheless, in the middle of the night I was stirred by a steady tap tap tap of water dripping like a metronome keeping time on our bathroom floor.

Standing Babas are Hindu monks who have taken a vow never to sit or lay down. They sleep and rest in structures that hang from the ceiling and support them so that even in an unconscious state they will not break their vow. Over time their limbs become bloated, appearing inhuman and unrecognizable, covered in boils. They are in constant, sometimes unbearable pain. Yet they do not sit. I cannot comprehend what it is that makes people seek such immense discomfort in a world that is littered with it already. I suppose this is unfair of me to ask, coming as I do from a lineage of saints that sought solitude and fasting in the desert and faced martyrdom for their faith. I suppose it also reveals a sense of ignorance and hypocrisy within me; “take up your cross and follow me” my Savior says and I cannot wait to scorn those who find their own so simply.

I emailed the organization in charge of our building and informed them of the issue. I hate doing this because I feel like a pest; “You call yourself a man?” I picture them saying, “get out the toolbox and fix it yourself.” They didn’t say that but sent someone to check it out instead. He quickly concluded that the leak had to be coming from the apartment directly above ours. He went to check on the room and said the single gentleman who lived there wasn’t home. But he reported to me that the bathroom was a mess and the floor soaked. He said he would leave the tenant a note to fix the issue. He promised to follow up with them to ensure they had or else there’d be consequences. He said to let him know if there was anymore leaking.

Afterwards I felt irreparably guilty like playground brat who went around telling the teacher when another kid was taking too long on the swings. The man had said part of the reason the floor was so wet was because he didn’t have a shower curtain; this seemed ludicrous and sloppy until I considered that maybe he couldn’t afford one. Maybe he just lost his job. Maybe he was paying off hospital bills from an illness that’d prevented him from working. Or maybe he’d just been dumped and was depressed. And now his neighbor below, who’s never even taken the time to introduce himself, has gone and told the landlord that he was pouring water all over the bathroom floor and tiny bit of it was leaking into his precious apartment below. And what is it you want to be? A pastor? Yea, real Christ-like buddy.

But I never meant to get him in trouble. Honest to God. I just wanted my ceiling fixed. Still the road to hell is paved with good intentions, selfish motivations light the way. And off beside it is a sign that reads: “Adopt a Highway” with my name written underneath.

I can run myself into the ground worrying over these hypothetical sins. Come back to me when you have something real to confess, Martin Luther’s mentor told him, when he was tired of all his over-thinking. Perhaps he was imagining gluttony or a little sexual rendezvous? This was before, of course, the ninety-five theses and subsequent schism of Rome. I often wonder if afterwards he would have said the same thing.

And so I cannot decide if I believe there to be scales of justice in the world that are somehow balanced out, if Christ’s sacrifice broke the scale or they even existed to begin with. I cannot decide if a group of Hindu monks who swear themselves to remain standing are devote or just insanely masochistic. If I’m being honest with myself, I cannot decide the same thing about my Savior, wondering if he was thrice the masochist for wanting to die for a plot of land called “earth”, one where neighbors tattle on each other, albeit unintentionally.

I can’t decide. But I think the point of the cross was the message: “you can’t decide, so I’m doing it for you. I’m coming to you. And yes, it hurts.”

So lately as I go to bed at night I listen for the leak. And when I don’t hear it, I lie down and I fall asleep without it’s melodic tapping. Instead I drift off with a prayer of thanksgiving that I’m not standing. Thanksgiving because I’m not standing and I don’t need too.

Even if I could.

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The Grace Of Being

New Years celebrations never consist of much for me. Last year, my fiancé and I rang in the occasion with my parents and little sister, the young couple equivalent of cheap wine and a couchful of cats. We were all so pathetically tired that we put in a movie in an attempt to keep us occupied and awake until the ball dropped. This worked too well and we actually missed the ball dropping by two minutes after which we collectively said “screw it” to the whole ordeal, gulped some champagne, and slouched off to bed. Live to cheer another day.

This year wasn’t much more lively seeing as my fiancé came down with what I can only assume is food poisoning this past weekend. What startled me was how quickly she went from happily watching a movie with me to puking her sweet little guts out. Since we don’t live together, I’m not normally at her place very late and thus spent a sleepless night on the floor next to her bed. I suppose any couple on the verge of marriage should have to endure at least one of those types of nights before they sign their vows. It’s up on the list with family squabbles and untimely car trouble.

I’ve been reading a novel that grapples with the issues of climate change. The book fascinates me on several levels but it also scares me. It scares me because of how easily I’m prone to not care about things like climate change, how quickly I roll my eyes and shrug it off as a political issue, one that the church shouldn’t deal with, how rapidly I just disappear into the mountains and forests well out of the ear shot of any highways and reminders of the human footprint.

But sometimes I can’t ignore it. Sometimes I’m forced to look out my front door at a world that’s being burned, land-filled and plowed to death.

And yet we march on. It can’t be that big of a deal; another year has passed and we’re still here. It may be a bad now but my fiancé will get over this food poisoning eventually.

Humans are in love with the idea or our persisting, Barbara Kingsolver says, we fetishize it really. So I find myself looking around on New Year’s Eve wanting to yell at everyone: “what the hell are you cheering for? What on earth have we accomplished? And what’s with this confetti? Don’t you know pigeons can choke on this? Are you just totally heartless?” It’s like a general standing in front of dying soldiers and cheering: “By golly…another great day at the office, eh?”

I note this with certain hypocrisy. Hanging on the cross, Christ was able to forgive the men being tortured next to him, as well as those who drove in the nails. Me? I enjoy looking around at a New Years party and wondering which of those sinning bastards has the biggest carbon footprint. I really am the worst of these.

After a few hours my fiancé was able to fall asleep and in the morning she seemed to be feeling better though weak. Sometimes there is not an answer. As C.S. Lewis said: sometimes the complaint is the answer. The complaint is the answer for the heart of the cynic.

Because sometimes I help my weak fiancé down to the couch and I make sure she’s okay. Sometimes afterwards I take a walk outside, to get some fresh air to clear my head. And sometimes when I’m walking, when all these thoughts muddle my head and the weight of it all seems entirely suffocating, I look around at the old snow, clinching to it’s frozen territory on the ground. Then I glance at the shoes on my feet, my hands in my pockets and somehow, for just a moment, I am able to be content with that answer: the answer of my being, my being as a grace. Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorant words? I say nothing in response; I just look at the ground.

But my complaint is an answer and my ability to make it is proof that grace is sufficient. Global warming, survival, food poisoning and New Years aside…for just a moment sometimes I can take being as a grace.

With another year underway people across the globe raised glasses, swapped kisses, picked confetti out of their hair and cheered humanity’s accomplishment of making it through another round. In the midst of it all, I stood with cynical hands in my pockets and eyes of hypocrisy cast toward my feet upon the ground. And for the briefest of moments I pondered the grace of being.

For one as cynical as me, that was something wonderful and worth celebrating.

Sunday Quotes: John Chrysostom

“We who are disciples of Christ claim that our purpose one earth is to lay up treasures in heaven. But our actions often belie our words. Many Christians build for themselves fine houses, lay out splendid gardens, construct bathhouses and buy fields. It is small wonder, then, that many pagans refuse to believe what we say. ‘If their eyes are set on mansions in heaven,’ they ask, ‘why are they building mansions on earth? If they put their words into practice, they would give their riches and live in simple huts.’ So these pagans conclude that we do not sincerely believe in the religion we profess; and as a result they refuse to take this religion seriously. You may say that the words of Christ on these matters are too hard for you to follow; and that while your spirit is willing , your flesh is weak. My answer is that the judgement of pagans about you is more accurate than your judgement of yourself.”

 

-John Chrysostom; writing to the church of Constantinople in approximately 400 AD