Writing blog posts, sermons, essays - all wonderful. Such a privilege. I never thought I'd be a published book author.
After the first book, I thought, "Well, that was probably a fluke."
Maybe it was a fluke.
But now I'm working on book 2, about all that horses have taught me about love and God, in their particular way. So I'm following the advice of another friend and published writer who suggested I offer the first part of the first chapter to see what you all think.
So, it's not complete (sort of like the ending of Empire Strikes Back), but thoughts and comments welcomed.
I wanted to say, “No, that’s not true.”
But I did that thing with my hands that gave the truth away. An old habit of weaving my fingers together in that, “Here’s the church, here’s the steeple, open it up and see all the people,” move so I can focus on something else instead of the clarity that sits in utter silence after the often unwelcome truth has been spoken.
His hands stayed wrapped around his beer bottle.
I nodded. I had several sentences ready to explain, but just shrugged my shoulders, realizing that the “whys” didn’t really matter. He wasn’t stating this truth, then asking how we can work around it. He was stating his truth and saying he couldn’t work around it.
Because he was right. He’d said it almost in passing in a conversation that ranged from awkward drivers license pictures to volleyball courts in bars. And then.“You’ll always love God and horses more.”
What he left unsaid, the “Than you could love me,” was the silent truth too deep for words.
I wanted to distinguish between loving God and loving the Church. I wanted to say that love doesn’t have a stringent ranking system. I wanted to say that we’d known each other for a few months, and God and horses had been in my life much longer and always was a long, long time. Surely there was an explanation, right? I wanted to say, “No, that’s not true,” and not have it be a lie. I wanted, honestly, not to be surprised by what he’d said.
Was he right? Did I love God and horses more than I could ever love him, or any man, for that matter?
My soul didn’t answer. Most of the big questions we ask about our life truths don’t have immediate answers. We, as the poet Rilke says, learn the way by walking. So I just sat quietly.
I sat there in that moment where my instinct and gut knew I would not see him again after this evening, but my brain still tried to logic its way through this impasse. He changed the subject in response to my silence and ordered another beer. I noticed it was creeping close to that morning hour where sleep would be foolish, so I would just take a shower, drink more coffee, and stay awake instead of going to bed. I wanted to sleep, so I remarked that we both had to work tomorrow. He placed his hand in the small of my back as we walked to our cars. We hugged goodbye. I lingered a bit, not wanting to say goodnight because I knew whatever priorities he thought settled in my soul would never be okay with him. My brain gave me the words when he said, “Let’s do this again,” and I managed to nod and whisper a, “Yes.” And my heart sighed deeply and knew I’d just lied to him and he’d just lied to me.
I spent the next few days with phone calls with friends who said all the cliches, “It’s better to find out who he really is early in the game rather than after years with a marriage and kids,” and even better things like, “Well, shit.” Tears and chocolate caramel gelato had their place in the grieving process. Equal parts of those do wonders for a broken heart. I cared for him. He was a good man, something I realized I’d said several times to him, perhaps trying to convince myself he was a good man for me.
Not good enough for me to love more than God and horses, apparently.
As an Episcopal priest, loving God is the looks good on paper number one slot. That’s the commandment Jesus holds up to his followers: to love God, love your neighbor, and love yourself.
Horses don’t get listed specifically, so maybe in the rationale of some literalists they don’t make that cut, at least in that section. Horses get some press in the book of Job as God is giving Job the what-for and in some of the psalms and proverbs. Then there are the legendary four horsemen of the apocalypse in the book of Revelation.
Maybe God isn’t in the number one slot of love and devotion for people of faith. God, I suspect, is in every slot, subtly in the foundation of all that we love, and even all that we hate. Love your children? God is present in them. Love your spouse or partner? Yep, God’s there. Love that moment in the morning before anyone is awake and you sip your coffee and watch the sun come up? God.
God is also in all you hate, but that’s not as much fun to write or read about. You wonderful child who suddenly became an insufferable teenager making all sorts of wrong life choices? God. That neighbor who is a class A jerk who had an affair with your spouse or partner? God there, too, somehow.
Granted, seeing God is the beauty and awesomeness of lovely people and events is far easier than seeing God in the wretched underbelly of life, but there you go. Somewhere in my mind, I hear us asking God, “So, on a scale from one to shitstorm, how hard is this love thing going to be?”
And God just raises a holy eyebrow.
So shitstorm it is.
The commandment to love God is not about a place on a long list of priorities as much as a statement of reality. You love God, and you don’t have any gods before me because the Great I Am is in everything. The real challenge is, can we see and acknowledge God in the things we love...and even the things we hate.
Loving horses more than a person?
That caught in my throat. Yes, I could joke about it, but it did not settle well in my gut. That did not look so pretty on paper. Horses were beautiful and mythic and yes, most little girls want a pony and a few lucky women get a horse. But I had images in my mind of receiving a phone call that my horse was sick and my husband was sick and choosing to be with my horse and how people would judge that feeling.
That, of course, was all my logical, intellectual self speaking. Intellect ranks love in slots and uses logic to support our decisions. Intellect is good, but it’s not a solo act. We need the dirt of our emotions to ground our thoughts into the deep adam of the instinctual, ancient, and even illogical emotional selves. Our emotion knows love exists in a murky, muddled mess within our selves and souls that cannot be neatly summarized in a step by step theory or even words of explanation on a Thursday night in a local bar.
In my emotions of sadness and grief at this truth of love that led to a goodbye, I pulled on my riding boots to go to my weekly riding lesson. The day in the office had ended earlier than usual, and since it was a perfect Kentucky summer day, I decided to go to the barn instead of staying inside with my broken heart.