Some week's ago I picked the scriptures for this week's worship. They are the story in Genesis 3 of Adam and Eve leaving the Garden; with a particular emphasis on Genesis 3:21: "And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife Garments of skins, and clothed them." And Galatians 3:27-28, "For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus." My thoughts about these passages have been heavily influenced by Lauren Winner's Wearing God, and I am grateful to her for her writing. Where I wind up is, of course, my own responsibility.
Recently, I agreed to do a workshop in October on suicide for the Annual Meeting of the DC Baptist Convention. In preparation for that I began reviewing clinical writing and talking to friends of mine at the Hyattsville Community Crisis Services who deal with this issue daily through the Hotline and other contacts. Thank you Jamie Brill, Bill Leary, and Tim Jansen for all taking the time to talk (over really good meals by the way) about this.
Frighteningly there is approximately 1 suicide attempt every 38 seconds and 121 successful suicides every day. High on the list for these attempts and deaths are veterans who have significant issues such as homelessness or less than honorable discharges; LGBT youth; those with untreated depression; and persons who have had childhood trauma. 9 out of 10 are linked to mental illness with a very high correlation to bi-polar disorders. What these all seem to have in common is a sense of being overwhelmed and a feeling of hopelessness.
Adam and Eve must have felt that way. There they are, they've been living in this blissful place, and suddenly they realize that they are "naked." That word, by the way, is used to refer to a city without fortifications. It is vulnerable. They were suddenly aware of their vulnerability in a way they were not equipped to handle. Things could hurt you! Bees could sting, animals that you frolicked with yesterday have teeth and claws, the river you splashed in could drown you, and plants could be poison.
Anyone who has ever known or worked with victims of childhood trauma will see reflections of this.
God saw everything that God had made, and behold, it was very good.
Even the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Then why can't they eat?
Because it's not time
It's too soon
You're not ready
God would have spread a picnic under that tree
And sliced the fruit for them God's Own Self
Who told you that you were naked? That you were vulnerable, that you could not trust the providence and loving protection of God?
The moment they ate
Their eyes flew open
Suddenly, they KNEW
Their tongues burned with the taste
of Good and Evil
The slashing agony of torture
the bitter tang of racism
the dark emptiness of hunger
the ripped openness of physical and sexual abuse
The stinging salt of lonely tears
The KNEW the fear, the terror
of experience and understanding
gained too soon.
And in their anxious, terrified state
The grabbed what they could
To hide their vulnerability.
To keep them from the Tree of Life
Might have been an act of compassion, lest they spend eternity in this terrified state.
Knowing that they must leave, God stayed up all night, hunched over God's sewing machine, making them clothes of skins to protect them in the world that they had to go out into. The agony and pathos of this moment is palpable; as is the tenderness of the moment when God gave them these gifts, wrapping these frightened, overwhelmed, hopeless feeling, childlike creatures in the product of God's labor of love.
To a later world struggling with it's feelings of hopelessness and powerlessness, Paul will say, "You have put on Christ like a warm coat" (my paraphrase). "See in this care and this love a reason to find Hope."
Interestingly enough, the next line does away with divisions that are/were often marked by clothing: male and female; slave and free; Jew and Gentile. They do not exist for Christians any more because, clothed in Christ Jesus, we are all wearing the "school uniform" of the Way, the Kingdom, of Jesus' family.
Roll back up to look at the things that raise suicidal risk. What if we took that list and now said, "We have put on Christ Jesus. Dressed in that love we not longer see a division between sane and mentally ill, between straight and LGBT, between traumatized and "normal", for we are all wrapped together in the warm blanket of God's love for us in Christ Jesus."
The third step in this picture is, of course, that you and I are called to be the Body of Christ. We are that warm blanket. Clothed in Christ, we are called to "cloth the naked" in whatever form that takes.
I don't remember whether I read it, or one of my friends said it to me this past week, but I was struck by the comment that "a caring person is the first line of referral." The first line of defense against suicide is our personal empathy for those who hurt, who feel overwhelmed, who feel that all hope is gone. We are called to embody that hope.
Another friend marked the end of Suicide Prevention week by thanking the friend who found them when they had cut their wrist and gotten them help. 47 years ago this person helped my friend. This friend helped me when my life was doing a crash and burn. It is as though we are passing around the blanket of God's love so that in it's warmth we may all find Hope and Trust to move forward.
If you read this, and are thinking of hurting yourself, please don't. We need you. There is Hope. There is help. And by continuing to live, you, like my friend, may one day save the life of another.