Our Bending-Low Jesus


Our Bending-Low Jesus

My mother has been gone for just over three years now. Her physical departure was a time of both grief and relief, for I had been losing her, bit by bit, over the previous decade. My father’s death in 2005, followed by my youngest brother’s sudden death four years after my dad’s, left my small mom exhausted, slightly paranoid and very, very confused. The long slow slide into dementia began in her late 80’s, and ended with her death in 2017, a few months before she would have turned 96.

During the in-between years, when confusion was spiraling but her physical health remained good, she lived independently and came to visit us from her retirement community, which was located about three hours south of our home in Santa Barbara. She rode the train and I picked her up, taking her to our home for several days at a time.

I remember the inescapable exhaustion of that season; I was weary with worry all the time. During those days before the dementia forced us to move her into a memory loss unit, whenever she was with us, I was careful to give her the thrice-a-day medicines, I made sure she ate and drank enough for sustenance, and I did her small amount of laundry.

I also remember that when she came to us, she liked to walk out to our side yard, to the spot where we had buried my brother’s ashes. I always watched from a polite distance, as the grass was bumpy, and her feet, unsteady. I watched as she bent low, holding her knees, speaking with words I could not hear, touching the metal angel I had placed there, to mark the spot. That simple movement was one of the most achingly sad things I have ever watched. Mothers should not have to bury their children. Yet so many do.

At the end of each day of her visit, when she was safely settled for the night, I would head outside and walk, spreading all the worry, all the regret, all the ugliness inside me out there on our driveway. I would pace circles in the deepening dark and rue the words just behind my teeth, the ones that didn’t come out but wanted to. Each night, I offered them up, and I begged for grace. Every minute of our time together, my spirit railed within me at the unfairness of the pain she bore, the depth of it. The psalmist’s cry of, “How long, O Lord,” rang in my head and the physical need for lament was real and deep. I knew there were no answers to those soul-deep cries, no answers that would suffice, that would ease the ache and fill the emptiness. 

Yet, I was struck then — and am struck now — by how easily I forget our powerful story, our remarkable story. This story we say we believe, about a God-man, who showed us how to live, both in the good times and in the terrible times. I remember that I spent a lot of time in those days reflecting on the majestic, mind-boggling image of the Cosmic Christ. 

But what I needed those evenings, as I made my rounds in the dark, was a different picture — an image in sharp contrast to the Cosmic, that Big Idea that speaks of grandeur, and Beyond-My-Ken, and Ground-of-Being Hugeness. What I needed each and every night I spent caring for my mama was the picture we see of Jesus in the pages of our gospels. 

Jesus, the one who bows down in the dirt and writes grace with his fingertips. Jesus, who spits on that dirt and packs it into blind eyes. Jesus, who gets hungry, and shows impatience with the ravages of sin, and wonders if his friends will ever get it. Jesus, the tender one, the ordinary, every-day one. 

Jesus. Who bends low.

On one particular night, as I walked, praying, crying, begging, filled with frustration at my own inadequacies, I was brought up short by that powerful but oh-so-every-day image, that picture of the Son of the Most High God, bending down into the dirt from which we are made. As I made one of the turns in my repetitive circular path, I saw him: Our bending-low Jesus, leaning down, working quietly in the dirt beneath our oak tree. Scarcely daring to breathe, I watched as he carefully and lovingly wrote my name, adding these beautiful, life-changing, hope-filled words: forgiven, forgotten.

And I was bent low.

Oh, may we all be bent low in these days of searing re-discovery, of paying attention to the centuries of pain carried in the bodies of our Black, Brown, Indigenous and Asian sisters and brothers. And may we never forget the Savior who willingly chose to bend low for ALL our sakes.