Towers of Our Lives
By Rev. Andrena Ingram
September 11, 2012
Praise God! I have been clean from crack cocaine and alcohol for 24 years! I remember being 5 years into my recovery, walking down the street and seeing the little vials (with different colored caps) which the crack came in, on the street, and my stomach "flipped," sending a (Lost In Space) trigger through me: "Danger!, Danger!"
I am also a survivor of domestic violence. There was a time when my first husband would blast Donna Summer's recordings of "I Feel Love" and "McArthur Park" and would beat me unmercifully, so the neighbors could not hear. Whenever I heard those songs for years afterward, my "stomach would flip."
How does one explain a stomach flip? You've all had them:
A person you are insanely "crushing on" walks in the room.
Your stomach flips.
You have fear of speaking in public and are about to stand in front of an audience and give a speech.
Your stomach flips.
You are in the presence of a public figure whom you have "intense respect and love" for.
Your stomach flips.
(Would you believe my stomach still flips in the presence of Gordon Lathrop and Stephen Bouman? Mysterium fascinans.)
The feeling can best be explained with these terms (from Wikipedia): Mysterium tremendum. This is described in The Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley in the following terms:
"The literature of religious experience abounds in references to the pains and terrors overwhelming those who have come, too suddenly, face to face with some manifestation of the mysterium tremendum. In theological language, this fear is due to the incompatibility between man's egotism and the divine purity, between man's self-aggravated separateness and the infinity of God."
I also found this: "mysterium tremendum, which is the tendency to invoke fear and trembling; and mysterium fascinans, the tendency to attract, fascinate and compel."
I suppose most of my experiences, have had the mysterium tremendum effect: the tendency to invoke fear and trembling.
Sunsets or sunrises, bubbling brooks or sunflowers, newborns, being in the presence of one who has transitioned into eternal life, or your favorite professor -- these are a few of the "mysterium fascinans: the fascination, the attracting and compelling nature of God manifest in humankind.
Many years (or "a day at a time," if you will), the vials have been replaced with little tiny baggies, I see them and for a millisecond remember, with no physical effects. I still recognize the danger, but it is of no consequence to me, as long as I do what I need to do, a day at a time, following the 12 Steps.
When Donna Summer died, I listened to most of her songs on YouTube. Apprehensively, I played "I Feel Love" and "McArthur Park" -- and enjoyed them! A millisecond remembrance, but no mysterium tremendum. No stomach flipping. Just a bittersweet memory of two people who had a profound effect in my life, through different lenses.
And yet, 11 years later from 9/11, when I see images of the Twin Towers standing, my "stomach still flips." Whenever I travel to NY via NJ Path train, and we approach New York -- even though I know they are not there, I STILL look for those towers.
THAT was an event of MYSTERIUM TREMENDUM, beyond the nth degree! And strangely enough, it was also an event MYSTERIUM FASCINANS: fascinating, hard to turn away, compelling even, as you see something unfolding that your mind just cannot comprehend, like watching the Hindenburg go up in flames, the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the atomic bomb, visiting the Dachau concentration camp in Germany, The Atlantic Crossing of my ancestors, the ravages of the pandemic of AIDS here and in third world countries ... the events go on and on. "Oh, the Humanity!"
All mysterium tremendum and all mysterium fascinans ...
Everything I have experienced in my short time on earth, everything I have been through, during this temporary sojourn, has not had the effect on me and mine as 9/11 has. And while I lost no-one "personally" in New York, I feel I have lost everyone who perished, and everything which perished.
For are we not ALL connected? From New York to Germany, from Japan to our beginnings in the Motherland of Africa; we are all connected in the mysterium tremendum and mysterium fascinans of our God.
I am a faithful servant of the Lord, and I am still recovering from the terror of 9/11, indeed, I am still recovering from humanity's acts upon humanity.
There should be a universal 12-step program. Not only for alcoholics and addicts and gamblers and persons dealing with destructive behavioral problems. There should be a universal 12-step program for "humanity."
I suppose our first step would be simply:
"We confess that we are in bondage to sin, and cannot free ourselves. We have sinned against you in thought, word and deed. By what we have done and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. For the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us. Forgive us, renew us, and lead us, so that we may delight in your will and walk in your ways, to the glory of your holy name. Amen."
And God responds to us:
"In the mercy of almighty God, Jesus Christ was given to die for you, and for his sake God forgives us all our sins. To those who believe in Jesus Christ, he gives the power to become the children of God and bestows on them the Holy Spirit. Amen."
We are flawed creatures, who sometimes inflict fear and live in fear, but God is able to do away with that fear, and move us into a place of safety and unimaginable grace and mercy. If we just trust in God's word, and lean on our faith, we will find that fear has no place in our hearts:
"For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline." (2 Timothy 1:7)
And: "So we can say with confidence, 'The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?'" (Hebrews 13:6)
And: "Do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand. (Isaiah 41:10)
And: "Be strong and bold; have no fear or dread of them, because it is the Lord your God who goes with you; he will not fail you or forsake you." (Deuteronomy 31:6)
And my favorite -- Psalm 121:
I lift up my eyes to the hills --
It is God who keeps us. And it God who gives us strength to keep one another. We are all a part of this community called humanity.
God keeps our life in the palm of God's hand, yet God gave up God's only Son to give up his life for us on the cross at Calvary.
In our humanity, we may be fearful creatures, but trusting in God, and remembering Christ's death and resurrection, we enter into the mysterum fidei: The mystery of faith!
We follow the same God and faith of our ancestors, who also experienced fear and terror. God called our ancestors to escape their oppression in Egypt and into the wilderness to find the promised land. It was a calling which demanded their faith.
Their calling is our same calling. Can you hear it?
God calls us out of our fear and terror, into a place of trust and confidence. God, calls us out of ourselves into the wilderness, and into public square -- onto the streets to proclaim God's mystery. It is a message of forgiveness for the unforgivable, a message of grace and mercy to the undeserving, a message of love over fear, life over death, justice over oppression, freedom from slavery.
As I write this, I am acutely aware that I am at this moment, in a state of mysterium tremendum and mysterium fascinans. My stomach is flipping -- for I tremble in awe and fear of our God, I am fascinated by our God, who has cared for me, cares for me, and will continue to care for me. For I certainly deserve none of it ... do you?
Flip on, stomach! Flip on! Praise God!
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Is the Ribbon Enough?
Rev. Andrena Ingram
Reverend Andrena Ingram (also known as "Pastor Andrena" or "Pastor Ingram") has become a strong advocate for those living in the margins, as she once was. She is an activist in the HIV/AIDS arena, herself living openly and unabashedly with the HIV virus for over 22+ years.
Raised in South Jamaica, New York, Reverend Ingram served seven years of active duty in the U.S. Army. She would later move to the South Bronx, where she attended Transfiguration Lutheran Church with Pastor Heidi Neumark as her pastor and mentor -- empowering her to rise up out of herself and her life challenges, which seemed to her, at the time, insurmountable.
Reverend Ingram is a graduate of the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, with a Master of Divinity. She has been the pastor of St. Michael's Lutheran Church on Germantown Avenue, Philadelphia, Pa., for the past four years.
Reverend Ingram can frequently be found speaking about HIV/AIDS, encouraging everyone "to know your status, get tested, and be informed." Silence = Death.
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