Over the weekend, I was hugged no less than fifty times by the thirty-some in-laws who had gathered with us in Rockford, IL to celebrate Thanksgiving. It was a joyous occasion to be sure, one in which the expressing of affection and gratitude was as delicious and abundant as the Thanksgiving meal itself. “It’s so great to see you,” we said to one another, but also we embraced, both upon arriving and leaving. We communicated physically what was etched there on our hearts: this family is a cherished source of comfort and support. We are blessed.
When my youngest daughter Mary woke us up at 1:00 am on Friday morning by vomiting on the floor, I empathized with her suffering by stroking her hair and kissing her forehead.
Saturday night, I watched, for the fourth time, the movie Lars and the Real Girl and, for the fourth time, was moved so profoundly tears welled up in my eyes and dripped down my cheeks.
If I get anxious at night, I’ll pull the arm of my sleeping husband up over my shoulders and melt into the warmth of his chest.
The smell of spearmint Certs makes me nostalgic for my grandfather.
Hearing Rod Stewart’s 1988 hit, “Forever Young” brings back overwhelmingly vibrant memories of my first high school dance.
When St. Veronica, the woman with the issue of blood, was desperate for healing, she wrestled her way through a crowd and reached out to touch the hem of Jesus’ garment.
As human beings, we are dependent on our senses for interpreting and responding to our highs and lows, to love and loss, to the sacredness and banality that surrounds us.
In the Orthodox Church, we worship God not just with our souls but with our bodies. An Orthodox service might look (and feel and sound and smell) a little strange at first to those not used to such a sensory rich expression of faith; I will never, ever forget my initial shock at the incense, the icons, the brightly colored vestments, the lilting hymns, woven together throughout the liturgies and vigils I attended as a nervous inquirer into Orthodoxy. On the other side of that unfamiliarity, however, I discovered a treasure, a feast. The Kingdom of Heaven, once an airbrushed, streets of gold themed, vague idea, became a fiery, holy, mystical reality via the sacramental and unearthly experience of engaging my whole being in the timeless and communal veneration, alongside my fellow Orthodox Christians and “the great cloud of witnesses” mentioned in Hebrews 12, of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
“Take, Eat, this is my body which is broken for you,” said Christ at the Last Supper, mercifully becoming for His feeling, hearing, seeing, hungry children consumable food. And thus we use our arms to make the sign of the cross, we light candles, we sing, we kiss, we inhale the ancient aroma of incense (“Let my prayer be set forth before you as incense” wrote David in the Psalms), we wear a cross around our necks, we sometimes even fall down on our knees – face to the floor, and, beyond all comprehension, we open our feeble mouths and partake of Christ, our Savior, through the Eucharist. We participate, using everything we have, including our minds, our souls, our flesh, our resources in the lifelong pursuit of salvation.
“We Orthodox would say, make some prostrations when you pray,” said Father Thomas Hopko regarding number six of his fifty-five maxims for spiritual living, “ Kneel down, bend over, bow down, use your body. As Saint Ephraim said, ‘if your body is not praying when you’re praying, you’re not really praying.’ Prayer is not just an activity of the mind and heart. It’s an activity of the whole person.” Well, doesn’t that just change everything? I mean, if worship encompasses more than merely our invisible inner parts, our spirits, our thoughts – if even our skin, our bones and muscles, our stomachs and tongues can become prayer, than our opportunities for serving and praising Christ increase exponentially. No longer need we view the drive to work, the preparing of meals, the ironing of clothes, holding hands with our spouse, cradling our weepy children in our laps, using our ears to listen, as but trivial exploits. Oh how reassuring and convicting to realize prayer is a verb, an action. And how compassionate a God we have to consider our very real need for a tangible means of interacting and communing with Him and receiving, through His Church and each other, the strength and courage we long for to help us press on toward the finish line.
After five days away visiting with loved ones, my house is FULL of chances to pray physically. I am off to unpack and clean. Maybe today, I will keep the radio turned off and my mind more engaged in the process of loving, of praising God, through manual labor. A blessed Monday to you!