(95) restless

This is quite a time, is it not? This is the intersection between what could be said, what needs to be said, and all the things that are simply and not so simply lived.

These are days when I may not deserve to reach the end of my rope, but I still do. When I have to step away from a conversation that I just don’t want to take part in and maybe that’s okay. And maybe it isn’t.

These are the days when the smallest member of the family feels the unsettledness of transition most keenly and wails her angst without ceasing. Life is changing, everything is changing, nothing is changing, and she knows it.

One season ends and another begins. I still expect him to leave and not come back for a while, in a way. Yet, I’m never surprised to see him come into a room. I am needlessly impatient with him, as I always have been. And I am more deeply grateful for him, more than I was before.

Ah yes, and then there was that little thing of a weekend together. It was big, actually, and I may write more with pictures later. We went through water together and were blessed with a weighty grace again and again. And at the end, when our feet were numb from standing for hours and we were flooded with hugs and congratulations, I felt differently toward him, more tender, more bonded, more interwoven.

It’s the middle of the night and I’m the last one up. The neighbor’s sprinklers are on. The living room is a wild collision of 2 households coming and going and no surface left unemployed.

You know what is perhaps strangest of all? Of the five people involved in all this moving and reorganizing and transitioning weekend, my life changes the least. I’m basically staying put. But I still feel unsettled and restless. I am caught up in the surge of this transition and change is inevitable, as always.

So, here’s to a new season! May it be blessed.

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(94) anticipating reunion

Today I called the number that’s saved in my Contacts as your “home” phone number and listened to the familiar recording: “This is the _____ Air Force Base multifunction switch. All attendants are busy. Please remain on the line until an attendant becomes available or try again later…This is the…” And then she repeats the message. Lately I haven’t had to wait very long. Once I waited maybe 7 minutes.

“Operator 34, how may I help you?”

“Hi, I’d like to place a morale call to a DSN please.”

“What’s the number?”

And then I read off the number. I always read it — it’s saved in my phone — even though you would think I’d have it memorized after calling several times a week for over a year.

Today the call dropped twice, but on the third try we got to talk for a nice long time without any more problems.

I will sure be glad to be able to talk with you without going through this process. It will be nice to not have to worry about the call dropping, when I can just call around the corner or sit with you on the couch. When we live together again.

Can you believe we made it through this?

You’re probably reading this and shaking your head at me a little right now. I know, I always analyze everything to pieces.

But it’s amazing, it really is.

How do we measure the time that has passed?

Maybe in birthdays (2 of mine, 1 of yours) or anniversaries (#2) spent apart? Maybe in the personhood development of our niece, who was a squirmy infant when I moved in (3 months old) and who is now a bright and mobile toddler who knows when she’d rather eat yogurt than an egg (18 months old)? Maybe in how long my hair has gotten? Or in that I think I’ve forgotten most of your favorite foods?

Maybe nothing has changed. Maybe a lot has changed. Probably somewhere in between.

I guess I’ll find out soon what it feels like to really be on the other end of this strange journey and launching into whatever comes next.

I hope I remember how much I wanted you sleeping beside me on so many nights. I hope I remember what a gift it is to just say what is coming to mind without waiting for a time when we’re both free to talk. I hope I remember looking at the lawn and wishing you were here to edge it properly. I hope I remember to enjoy the convenience of being in the same time zone with you. I hope I remember all the times I stood in church, praying for you, and looking forward to one day being there with you.

It’s easy to take people, even the ones we really love, for granted. I hope that this time apart has cured me of that where you are concerned, at least for a little while. And when I forget, well, you can point me back to this little bit of writing.

(93) rumblings

Like the roaring of a waterfall you can hear from a half mile away, the joy of Pascha (Easter) is rumbling  somewhere deep already.

Anything I’ve accomplished this Lent seems tiny compared to that roaring.

In the midst of those final days of Lent last week, this Holy Week,  it feels like my whole life is being shaken up and thrown haphazardly into the air. Even the event I’ve looked forward to for so long – he’ll be back in a month – feels unbelievably life-shaking. Maybe it’s an appropriate time to throw plans to the wind and then intermittently beg desperately and hope confidently for some kind of new plan to take shape.

The questions surfacing are way too big for these final days – aren’t we supposed to figure everything out before the grace of Pascha rains down on us?

But no, no, that isn’t the way. As one abbess puts it, the grace of God is always raining down on us and all we must do is turn up our hands to catch it, to receive. Or as my brother-in-law explained, the whole struggle of Lent, in the end, is our struggle to just turn around, to just turn toward God. He travels all the distance between us, He removes all the obstacles, and in truth, He even helps us turn toward Him. The struggle is important, the struggle is soul-shaping, life-blooming, but it is always such a small effort, a child-like effort, in response to the Big Gift. Or as I’ve heard elsewhere, we are like children who want to buy a $10 gift for our parent and have saved up a glorious 25 cents, but must ask our parent for the lacking $9.75 to make up the difference, to buy their own gift.

Do you see? Do you see the beauty hidden here?

And the big questions, the ones surfacing, well, they are the same as always. Who am I? Maybe a plan-changer, one who plans ahead, plans to not change her plans when tired, yet does it anyway. Maybe a wave-maker, who thinks she’d rather live quietly, gently, unnoticed, but actually  can’t seem to live a year without splashing tremendously and sending out echoing ripples. Maybe a homemaking wanderer, who loves being home, but who has many homes and who can’t seem to really ever move back home.

O God, be gracious and let the seeds of love be sown and flourish in the wandering, the plan-changing, the wave-making, the joy-rumbling, the sorrow, the struggling, in the grace-raining. Help me to turn toward You, to turn up my hands.

(92) unfinished {3}

(More scattered, simple reflections at the just-past-mid-point of Orthodox Lent)

Unless you become like a little child…”

What is funny is that, in the end, the joy of Pascha/Easter along with the many joys of life, are all freely-given gifts. This is easy for me to say, but much harder to practice. Yet, I know it’s true. No matter how diligently I fast, pray, root out sin, etc., I will never be “worthy” of the grace of Pascha. I will probably always be learning how to live in this extraordinary tension and gift of the overwhelming grace and “enough-ness” of God and the daily practice of taking action, working out salvation, and following Christ in tangible ways.

I came across this story in an amazing book called Everyday Saints and Other Stories by Archimandrite Tikhon Shevkunov (trans. Julian Henry Lowenfeld, Pokrov Publications, 2012, p. 209). I think somehow the simplicity of this peasant’s offering to God captures the goal and essence of our childlike approach to Him and I hope the image of his bowl of milk and the little fox stays with me through these last days of Lent.

The Tale of the Prayer and the Little Fox

In Egypt, in whose ancient Christian past there had once been many grand monasteries, there once lived a monk who befriended an uneducated and simple peasant farmer. One day this peasant said to the monk, “I too respect God who created this world! Every evening I pour out a bowl of goat’s milk and leave it under a palm tree. In the evening God comes and drinks up my milk! He is very fond of it! There’s never once been a time when even a drop of milk is left in the bowl.”

Hearing these words, the monk could not help smiling. He kindly and logically explained to his friend that God doesn’t need a bowl of goat’s milk. But the peasant so stubbornly insisted that he was right that the monk then suggested that the next night they secretly watch to see what happened after the bowl of milk was left under the palm tree.

No sooner said than done. When night fell, the monk and the peasant hid themselves some distance from the tree, and soon in the moonlight they saw how a little fox crept up to the bowl and lapped up all the milk till the bowl was empty.

“Indeed!” the peasant sighed disappointedly. “Now I can see that it wasn’t God!”

The monk tried to comfort the peasant and explained that God is a spirit, that God is something completely beyond our poor ability to comprehend in our world, and that people comprehend His presence each in their own unique way. But the peasant merely stood hanging his head sadly. Then he wept and went back home to his hovel.

The monk also went back to his cell, but when he got there he was amazed to see an angel blocking his path. Utterly terrified, the monk fell to his knees, but the angel said to him:

“That simple fellow had neither education nor wisdom nor book-learning enough to be able to comprehend God otherwise. Then you with your wisdom and book learning took away what little he had! You will say that doubtless you reasoned correctly. But there’s one thing that you don’t know, oh learned man: God, seeing the sincerity and true heart of this good peasant, every night sent the little fox to that palm tree to comfort him and accept his sacrifice.” 

(91) unfinished {2}

(More scattered, simple reflections at the just-past-mid-point of Orthodox Lent)

Venerable Ephraim the Syrian

There is something about knitting together words and physical movement that makes these words enter into my life more deeply. They are part of a prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian that we repeat often during Lent, usually punctuated by deep bows or full prostrations (knees, hands, forehead on the ground). I didn’t really bow to other people or before God very much before I began this journey into Orthodoxy, but I kind of like it. For me, it takes this theoretical concept and transforms it into something tangible as my body engages too. On Forgiveness Sunday, we have the opportunity to bow deeply before the others in our community and ask their forgiveness. And then throughout Lent, we fall to the ground again and again asking God for help: “O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, despair, lust of power and idle talk. But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to Your servant. O Lord and King! Grant me to see my own sins and not to judge my brother, for blessed are You unto ages of ages. Amen.”

“Grant me to see my own sins…” But isn’t this the main point, after all? In the Enneagram, awareness is the first step toward transformation. And yet, how often am I completely anxious or simply reluctant to take a step toward self-awareness? (Still. Even after talking about this and writing about it for what feels like so long, even knowing that it’s important, I’m still scared. Yep, I am.) Maybe this is why, even as we try to push ourselves from one direction with a little fasting, a little more praying, a little more church-going, we boldly, grittily, repeatedly, come to take hold of Jesus’ feet, clamoring for His help from the inside out.

If the Church is the hospital, sin is soul-sickness, and Christ is the Great Physician, then maybe Lent is elective exploratory surgery to really find out what’s going on, along with the initiation of the necessary treatments.

(90) unfinished

Scattered, simple reflections at the just-past-mid-point of Orthodox Lent (part 1)

“Stand at the brink of the abyss of despair, and when you see that you cannot bear it anymore, draw back a little and have a cup of tea.”
(Elder Sophrony of Essex)

 

That quote that our priest always mentions took on practical meaning last week. On Saturday, I felt like I had reached the edge of the abyss and Chinese takeout was the unexpected proverbial back-breaking straw. I was done, done with Lent, overwhelmed, definitely beyond my ability to carry forward.

It’s a miraculous thing, really. What am I doing other than avoiding meat and dairy products? Life carries on as normal in so many ways – we still eat, work, play, pay bills. But maybe because this season has a name and because the Church is explicit in articulating the purpose and focus of this season, life’s intensity is heightened. Circumstances don’t change, but we make choices to try and eliminate distractions and to focus more precisely on our issues, our struggles, our sins, and opportunities to grow. It seems that once you say to God that you’d like to grow, that you’re open to changing, to becoming more like Him, then He floods life with opportunities for growth. Unexpectedly, these opportunities take many forms, from the sublime to the ridiculousness of shrimp fried with their heads on (true story).

Now that Pascha is glowing on the ever-nearer horizon and the overwhelming power of Holy Week is tangibly close, I am holding these two paradoxical realities in my hands: I have grown, thank God, and I see that maybe those few times when I took a few breaths instead of responding in anger, when I caught myself in the act of judging and tried to choose compassion instead demonstrate that little budding of Love. And in the same breath, I’m floored by these stories I’m reading of remarkable Christ-followers who were clairvoyant, healed people, survived tremendous difficult with great joy and I am convinced that I’m still a beginner, that I’m barely getting started in this journey toward becoming like Christ, and certain that I’ll need Lent again next year to shake me awake again to all of this.

 

(89) on feeling uninspired

(a 5 minute free write on the wordlessness of the last month)

The thing is that the last post I wrote felt so beautiful to me and I want to match it. But sometimes the writing flows in a certain moment, sometimes the ideas are bright and fresh and drunk, spilling over with words, nouns, verbs, adjectives, prepositions, all meaningful and exciting and perfect for expressing the thoughts and feelings within the words and behind them.

And then when life is ordinary and mundane and full of normalcy, the only place the words manifest is in trying to fumble through whatever I might be wondering about or wrestling with in conversation with another person. Yet even then, sometimes the conversation is stilted. I can say exactly what is true, but it’s in black and white, it’s as hard-edged as a file cabinet and just as organized, but not bursting with meaning and truth.

In the gap between returning from New Mexico and this moment, he and I parted ways again and I sank back into my normal life again for a moment before diving headfirst into the season of Lent, with all its challenge and intensity.

***

It’s odd, my five minutes ends and the words crash to a halt, vanish.