After much patience-testing lenteness, Holy Week is finally upon us. We spent Saturday cleaning our parish in preparation. I think I needed that physical challenge of dusting pews, cleaning glass, wiping down tables to help get my head and my heart in the game so to...Read More
- Annie Dillard
Descending Theology: Christ Human
by Mary Karr
Such a short voyage for a god,
and you arrived in animal form so as not
to scorch us with your glory.
Your mask was an infant’s head on a limp stalk,
sticky eyes smeared blind,
limbs rendered useless in swaddle.
You came among beasts
as one, came into our care or its lack, came crying
as we all do, because the human frame
is a crucifix, each skeletos borne a lifetime.
Any wanting soul lain
prostrate on a floor to receive a pouring of sunlight
might—if still enough,
feel your cross buried in the flesh.
One has only to surrender,
you preached, open both arms to the inner,
the ever-present hold,
out-reaching every want. It’s in the form
embedded, love adamant as bone.
In a breath, we can bloom and almost be you
When I empty my head of opinions and hypotheses, of assumptions and prejudices, deliberately ousting the urge to put my own words in God’s mouth or to make sense of heaven and hell, then Jesus Christ explodes from the palatable, blue-eyed, honey-haired caricature of a god-man we’ve tried to encase Him in, to define Him by, becoming Fire engulfing everything, everyone, even the drunks, the jerks, the harlots, the overly-confident. And when His white hot mercy rains down impartially upon the rich and poor, the wise and foolish, the disciplined and forgetful, the selfish and selfless, the seeing and blind, mystifying us poor, feeble minded human beings with its fierce boundlessness and seemingly impossible demands, I can submissively accept it, even welcome it sometimes, if I’m still enough, if I’m present enough, if want it more than comfort or admiration.
Every Sunday, I battle against tiredness, grumpiness, hunger, idle thoughts and countless distractions in a far from perfect effort to empty myself of vanity, anxiousness, bias, slothfulness that I might ever more fully taste of eternity and be renewed by it. I lean into the Liturgy for strength and guidance. Then like the thief, all broken and unworthy, I confess Christ as God and draw near to receive Him, His body and blood. Isn’t that crazy? Crazy hard? Crazy irrational? Crazy inconvenient? Yes, and yes, and yes, and yet on the other side of faith and sacrifice lies unconditional love for my fellow man unsullied by judgement or jealousy. And within that Love is all peace, hope, truth, purpose, courage, joy, everything I need to defy despair and death. This mysterious Love alone is what I live and long for.
“Let us go forth in peace” is the last commandment of the Liturgy. What does it mean? It means, surely, that the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy is not an end but a beginning. Those words, “Let us go forth in peace,” are not merely a comforting epilogue. They are a call to serve and bear witness. In effect, those words, “Let us go forth in peace,” mean the Liturgy is over, the liturgy after the Liturgy is about to begin.
This, then, is the aim of the Liturgy: that we should return to the world with the doors of our perceptions cleansed. We should return to the world after the Liturgy, seeing Christ in every human person, especially in those who suffer. In the words of Father Alexander Schmemann, the Christian is the one who wherever he or she looks, everywhere sees Christ and rejoices in him. We are to go out, then, from the Liturgy and see Christ everywhere.”
—Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia
“Youth can not know how age thinks and feels. But old men are guilty if they forget what it was to be young.”
― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
My brother teaches Sunday school to my three oldest kids. Yesterday, he was trying to get through his lesson but my youngest boy was feeling squirrely, and ornery. Every few minutes, Ben would interrupt with what I’m sure was an absolutely hysterical one liner, until finally, after half a dozen warnings, my brother had to ask him to leave the room. That part of the story is not all that shocking, quite frankly; few things are as challenging to a ten-year-old boy as having to keep his comic genius all to himself. It’s what my brother told me happened next that totally surprised me.
After Ben left in tears, Priscilla and Elijah instinctively rallied to his defense. Priscilla, especially, became indignant, refusing to answer any more class related questions. Elijah, when he did answer a question correctly, promptly gave his token “squinkie” prize to Benjamin, who could see what was happening but was not allowed to participate. Since my kids bicker and nitpick at each other, seemingly all. the. time., I didn’t expect a primal urge to protect their own to rear its head in the face of a perceived “attack”. And though I know there are all sorts of things wrong with this situation, including disrespect for an adult and a general lack of self-control, all of which were addressed by yours truly once everything had settled down, as it always does, I am secretly beaming on the inside.
Of course we’re going to drive each other crazy and make a million, billion, mistakes, but familial love, I’ve told my kids over and over and over again, should and must be resilient, loyal, tough as nails. “Are you still upset about this morning?” my brother asked Benjamin when they were over for dinner last night. “No way,” he answered cheerfully, “I don’t hold grudges that long. You wanna see the comic I drew this afternoon?” Just like that, all was forgiven and forgotten. And so it goes on, a lifetime of stumbling, getting up again and moving forward hand in hand.Read More
“What can you do to promote world peace?
Go home and love your family.”
― Mother Teresa
I am certainly not immune to pangs of “wanting something more-ness”. Just yesterday I filled out a medical form and found myself relieved to be able to write “photographer” under “occupation” instead of stay-at-home mom. And then, of course, I made a mountain of an existential crisis out of an administrative molehill.
It’s not that I feel guilty about having my own interests, hobbies and vocational aspirations. Pursuing photography, scratching my creative itches, has only energized me, which is a positive thing for my family. No, what’s eating at my conscience is my knee-jerk discomfort with being labeled as a mother first and foremost. Where’s the glamour in that, the respect, the “Well, that’s so interesting” response reserved for careers that don’t involve minvans and juice boxes? Desiring to be admired is a slippery slope for me, ending far more often than not in a lingering dissatisfaction with the many, many...many thankless aspects of motherhood – the very aspects that instill a rooted sense of security in my children.
“Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.”
― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
I know it’s cliche to bring up death beds and last regrets when speaking of ordering one’s priorities, and yet it’s so heart piercingly true that in the end nothing will matter but the love I gave and received from day-to-day throughout my life. Logistically, it changes little if I mentally and emotionally embrace my role as “homemaker,” “house manager,” “domestic engineer,” what have you; I’d never cease to feed and clothe my kids or let our home become a condemnable trash pit. Inwardly, however, it matters a great deal if I care more about the opinions of others than the inner calm (or lack thereof) of my own flesh and blood. The power I have as a mother to either build up, tear down or neglect the souls of my family members is nothing to toy with.
“Perpetual devotion to what a man calls his business, is only to be sustained by perpetual neglect of many other things.”
― Robert Louis Stevenson
I guess its vanity I need to uproot that I might find joy in the here and now, eternal significance in the mundane, and the wherewithal to avoid the trap of comparing myself to my neighbors instead of sincerely rejoicing with them when they rejoice and weeping with them when they weep – no matter how much we may differ, or how much more together they seem to be than me. That right there, in dying to selfish pride and insecurity, is where contentment flourishes.
“Rats and roaches live by competition under the laws of supply and demand; it is the privilege of human beings to live under the laws of justice and mercy.”
― Wendell Berry
Here’s where I’ve been planted. Here is everything I need to bloom and grow.Read More
“Boys are beyond the range of anybody’s sure understanding, at least when they are between the ages of 18 months and 90 years.”
― James Thurber
From the moment he entered this world, all bruised up, after an excruciating labor, I’ve prayed extra hard for Ben. He’s always been a little more drawn to adventure than his siblings, and a little…O.K…. alot less inhibited by things like logic and gravity. Ben acts first and thinks later. He’s both my sunshine and tornado.
Yesterday, I received a call from the school nurse. Ben had taken a nasty tumble on the playground. He’d been swinging by his legs from the climbing bars and slipped, falling squarely on his face and forehead. There were possible signs of a concussion so it was suggested I get him checked out by a doctor. On the drive to pick him up, my mind wandered, as it’s wont to do, to frightening worst case scenarios. All of the logistical family and business managing details that had been swirling around in my thoughts, stressing me out, scattered in a heartbeat. Praise God, Ben is fine, but still I’m shaken some by the powerful reminder that life can change in an instant. Today I’m more alert than usual to the temptations meant to distract me, by sweating the small stuff, from living purposefully and peacefully, with gratitude.
Years ago, I’d try to wake extra early in the morning to procure some peace and quiet before the busyness of the day could set in. But I had tiny ones then who’d hear me tip toe across the rug even from the depths of their heavy slumber. “Mama?” they’d call out to me, and I’d nearly weep from the disappointment of having forsaken my warm blankets and extra twenty-five minutes of sleep, all for naught. That was a different kind of season requiring every bit of rest I could beg, borrow or steal. So I tucked away for a little while, for the sake of my sanity, that elusive “me time” ideal robbing my present circumstances of contentment.
Recently, however, I uncovered once again my old yearning for breathing in stillness, prior to pacing myself through the mayhem of getting four kids off to school by 8:00 am. And now that my nights are no longer interrupted by hungry or lonely babies, and now that my children sleep through practically any and everything – especially on weekdays, it’s become more realistic to pursue that “me time” desire I’d put on hold till life evolved some.
I’ve been setting my alarm, Monday through Friday, for 5:30 am. Of course I wince initially when the buzzing jolts me from my dreams, but I’m getting better at willing my eyes open. In the dark, I slip into the clogs and cardigan sweater I keep on the floor next to our bed, and fumble through the hallway, then down the stairs, to the coffee maker. Once it brews, and my mug is full, I sit in the arm chair by the fireplace and drink my coffee hot, till its gone, and watch the sun rise out the sliding glass door.
Not only has this new habit proven to be peaceful, but surprisingly prayerful as well. It turns out my soul listens better in the early morning, and my perspectives are more easily renewed. After thirty minutes of just being, and preparing my heart and mind for the chaos ahead, I can better greet my groggy sons and daughters with patience and cheerfulness as they emerge from their rooms, instead of with agitation. Then those fleeting, holy moments of togetherness are made the most of, instead of squandered.
Read MoreIn the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.- Khalil Gibran
It is not the strength of the body that counts, but the strength of the spirit.
- J.R.R Tolkien
My eleven-year-old daughter, Priscilla, and I watched Les Miserables together on Saturday. I knew it would be intense for her, her tender soul being so spongey and all, but I felt driven to expose her to a real love story, minus suave vampires and plot lines centered on prom.
The both of us cried through the sufferings and sacrifices of Fantine and Jean Valjean. We marveled at the courage of Eponine who fought through to the other side of her broken heart and chose selflessness instead of resentment. Over and over again, mercy trumped justice and fairness and logic, miraculously begetting healing out of death and despair.
“Have courage for the great sorrows of life and patience for the small ones; and when you have laboriously accomplished your daily task, go to sleep in peace. God is awake.”
― Victor Hugo
Priscilla stood as the credits rolled, the crumpled up tissues on her lap fell to the floor. She had fire in her eyes and a head filled with powerful examples of bravery and compassion. “That was amazing!” she said. And now we cannot stop singing “I Dreamed a Dream” and “One Day More.”
“You who suffer because you love, love still more. To die of love, is to live by it.”
― Victor Hugo
Sunday we went to Liturgy where the Gospel reading was Mark 2:1-12, about the paralytic man brought to Jesus through a hole in the roof by four devoted friends. Seeing their faith, He said, “Son, your sins are forgiven you,” then later, “Arise, take up your bed and walk.” Again, I was hit hard by this example of salvific love in action – of lives being changed not by picketing and arguing, taking a stand, but rather by someone quietly, humbly, simply, entering into the suffering of another human being and putting their needs ahead of his or her own.
“Love has no middle term; either it destroys, or it saves. All human destiny is this dilemma. This dilemma, destruction or salvation, no fate proposes more inexorably than love. Love is life, if it is not death. Cradle; coffin, too. The same sentiment says yes and no in the human heart. Of all the things God has made, the human heart is the one that sheds most light, and alas! most night.”
― Victor Hugo, Les Miserables
It’s a complicated world, my darling, Priscilla. Sweeping statements and assumptions only undermine our ability to see the image of Christ in everyone. Let God be the judge and we but instruments of His peace. Be tenacious in your faith until the end.Read More
“Obedience, fasting, and prayer are laughed at, yet only through them lies the way to real true freedom. I cut off my superfluous and unnecessary desires, I subdue my proud and wanton will and chastise it with obedience, and with God’s help I attain freedom of spirit and with it spiritual joy.” ― Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov
Our old unsightly mini-van is dead again this morning. What I thought I’d do today I cannot do. This too is part of fasting: refraining from gorging on, stopping my ears and covering my eyes with frustration. Thy Will Be Done, Thy Will Be Done, Thy Will Be Done, even in the smallest of matters.
Spiritual attentiveness is very difficult for me, as is surrendering my time and self-centered will. But I know deep beneath the chaos of earthly concerns, lusts and ambitions lies a heavenly, unshakeable, oasis of calm for those willing, in faith, to work hard with the help of the Church at pursuing it. Stillness is required – as is lots and lots and lots of constant prayer. Then there’s loving and serving others of course, until it hurts – infringing on my best laid plans, my finances, my hardened pride and ego.
Oh, but I’m not strong enough! I can’t imagine enduring that much fasting, stillness, praying, serving, self-denial, for even another hour, much less forty days. Thinking ahead, and trying to will upon myself discipline I simply do not possess, is not an option.
I am proceeding this frigid Tuesday but one minute at a time, fully aware of my desperate need for continuous aid, forgiveness and direction from Christ. It’s scary to let go of my perceived semblance of control, and yet also mysteriously, paradoxically, freeing.
LordhavemercyLordhavemercyLordhavemercyLordhavemercy, before I open my mouth, begin a new task, feed a negative thought, and upon tasting either joy or disappointment.
Lenten Prayer of St. Ephraim
O Lord and Master of my life,
Grant not unto me a spirit of idleness,
of lust for power,
and of vain speaking.
But bestow upon me, Thy servant,
the spirit of chastity,
and of love.
Yea, O Lord and King,
grant that I may perceive
my own transgressions,
and judge not my brother,
for blessed art Thou
unto ages of ages.