(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.

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(67) live well in the chaos

“All deaths were accidental, or none was, for disease was just as random an accident as injury, and all die. None died prematurely, for death battened on only the living, and all of those, at any age.

“It was all the same and predictable except in detail, whether a heart collapsed and seized in an old woman, or a runaway buggy crushed a growing boy: the people took the boy’s death harder, for they longed to have him with them longer, and to see him grown and fruitful. They were not ready for him to die, but they knew for a fact that death was ready. Death was ready to take people, of any size, always, and so was the broad earth ready to receive them. A child’s death was a heartbreak–but it was no outrage, no freak, nothing not in the contract, and not really early, just soon.”

(from The Living, by Annie Dillard)

 

I woke up Sunday morning to a Facebook post sharing that the baby daughter of an acquaintance had died Saturday night. She was only about 4 months old, I think. Her mama and daddy are both active duty Navy, which is how we know them. Grief for this tiny life, seemingly extinguished too early, was overwhelming all day Sunday. In church, I rocked and remembered their names. And I remembered the other children I know and have known who struggle so valiantly. Why do some live and others die? Annie’s words rang out in the confusion, “not really early, just soon.”

What really makes me crazy is the need to keep living, keep going, when I’m overwhelmed by the feeling that things are falling apart. How can I sit still and type nonsense when a child is gone and parents are empty? How can I focus on work that feels meaningless and continue to eat regular meals when, at any moment, grief will rip through the world again?

Where is Jesus in this painful, beautiful, bittersweet, piercingly captivating life that we are caught up in? Where are You? I know that if we could just catch hold of the hem of your clothing, we would be healed (Mk 5:28). And healing is what we so desperately need. Maybe not healed from the brokenness, but within it, because of it. Healing is what I need.

I want so much to figure things out. I want to know “how” to live well in what feels like chaos. But You aren’t giving me any how. (And I hate this, it infuriates me, but I sense You are holding on to me even when I’m wrestling with a question You don’t seem inclined to answer). The only how is  to love and keep loving even when I weep over a child I never knew. And to keep living faithful to you, even in ridiculous jobs. Maybe the healing is already here in the brokenness. That would be so like You, I think, to hide Yourself here in the middle of our mess.

(55) this strange gift

where are you God? where is the mercy in all of this?

my heart is too tired, too brittle to hold and carry and grieve again and again.

i am ashamed of my relief, embarrassed that, despite the repetitiveness of it all, i still cannot manage to maintain a simple level of gratitude for the ease and blessing and safety of my own life. none of this feels easy, although in retrospect it may someday seem to be. 

i am tied up in knots. i avoided a particular grocery store today because i couldn’t bear facing the homeless standing at each parking lot entrance and exit. i have only been reading the headlines of the news because i don’t have space for detail. instead of joy at a glimpse of his face on a computer screen, i only feel longing and sorrow at the tremendous distance that prevents me from reaching out to take his hand. i want to pray, but i have no words. i want to climb the mountain of Lent with persistence and delight, but i stumble on the question, “it is vegan, but is it Lenten?” i do not know what is in my heart.

i look at my niece’s face and am filled with joy. what boundless wonder! what endless possibility! how is this beauty woven into the same cloth along with such cruelty and unfathomable wrong? if life is a gift, then how can all of this be part of a whole, all part of the same gift?

this latest tragedy among tragedies is not about me. I am untouched, unscathed…once again. and the emotions I feel about this are so mixed, so confused, that I cannot even name them, even as they take on the form of tears. am I crying for those in Boston? or all the billions of others suffering around the world? or simply out of my own griefs and sorrows?

there are times when i have no answers, when most of the basic offerings of elementary Christian faith seem hollow. except that even when all else may be called into question, i do not seem to doubt that somehow my voice is heard, that my hoarse cries matter.

***

God, God!
Come and rescue us!
We are so screwed up,
so far beyond the reach of reason, of diplomacy,
so much in need of healing.
Please hurry!
Please rescue us.
Be merciful,
please God be merciful.

(50) half-mast

A Prowler jet in the VAQ-129 squadron based at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island crashed near Spokane yesterday on a training mission, killing all three pilots aboard.

And my heart is so heavy today with this news.

We all know that death is part of being alive. By living we risk dying on a daily basis. And yet, it feels so unnatural, so tragic, so terribly sad.

I feel closer to this tragedy because that was my home. My husband worked on that base, although in a much lower-risk job. If he had been working there yesterday, he would have been among the first to know that a plane wasn’t coming back into the tower pattern.  I may have met the families that heard the worst possible news yesterday, maybe even served them in the restaurant where I worked (didn’t we once cater a change of command party for this squadron?).

So the flags are flying at half-mast today, if not everywhere, then certainly on base and at home in Anacortes.

(photo by Alexander Knapp)

Lord, have mercy on us.

Lord have mercy on those who died yesterday. Lord have mercy on their families, friends, co-workers. Be comfort, help, support, peace, hope.

Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy.

Make me mindful of the precious gift of life you’ve given. Let me be a good steward of life and a good lover of others, leaving no wrong unconfessed or unforgiven.

I know that I will not always be so far removed from loss and grief. Give me grace and strength when those more difficult days come. But thank you that today my husband is safe, even though he is far away. Thank you that my family is alive and surrounding me with love and joy, sometimes in person and sometimes not, but still here, with me.

And in my joy and relief, let me be gracious and mourn with those who mourn, weep with those who weep. Steady their shaking hands, catch their tears today, Father.

Lord, have mercy on us.

(44) live everything

“And the point is, to live everything…” (Rainer Maria Wilke)

 

Stay here with me, dear one. Stay here with me in this moment.

Hold still for a moment and allow those rogue tears to escape.

I am here to catch the tears as they fall.

Choose to be present. Feel the deep sadness.

Don’t be afraid.

Don’t be afraid of the anger at events beyond your control.

Feel the anger and let it go. When things are beyond your control, they are still within mine.

Don’t be afraid of the sadness that looks like an inky well without hope.

Feel the sadness and weep. Say goodbye with integrity, with tears.

Don’t be afraid of the loneliness, of sleeping on your side of the bed with emptiness beside you.

Be bold, be strong! My name is Emmanuel. I am with you.

Don’t be afraid that the little ones won’t remember you.

The moments you shared with them matter. Let the sweet memories become prayers.

Don’t be afraid to live everything.

 

You want to be strong, sensible and brave. But be brave with a heart wide open, beloved daughter. Don’t confuse emotion with weakness, Dearheart. Open your heart wide to receive and to overflow and to grieve. Grieve bravely. Live everything.

(39) write anyway

sometimes there are no words. yet i feel compelled to write anyway. in all lowercase. in incomplete sentences. as if somehow this lack of “correct-ness” could capture the mixed up heart, the heaviness, i awoke with and to this morning.

to the mamas and daddies and brothers and sisters and children who have lost what must feel like everything: i am so deeply sorry. on behalf of the human race. as a member of a race who has perpetrated violence upon violence, wrong after wrong upon itself, upon its brothers and sisters and children and parents. i am so sorry that we have robbed you of your innocence, of your dearest treasures, of your lives. why do we as humans turn on our own?

even when i cannot expect these fellow humans, these brothers and sisters of mine to forgive quickly, i beg of you, God, forgiveness. forgive us for being “entertained” by the news media at their precious expense. forgive us for capitalizing on their pain for ratings and increased “viewership.” forgive us for remembering the name of the killer and not bothering to learn the names of the tiny ones who died. forgive us for seeking someone to blame, for desiring a scapegoat to escape our own responsibility and guilt. forgive us for seeking easy solutions in more robust laws rather than true healing of our broken hearts where wickedness hides so easily.

and forgive me, as i continue on with life-as-normal, making a cake for my mother-in-law’s birthday, agonizing over the endless messiness of my home, the piles of boxes, the piles of laundry, the piles of dishes. heal me, for i am impatient, wanting my husband to help with the dishes, forgetting my resolve to honor him even in my thoughts, to remember that each day with him could be the last day we share.

release me from my desire to understand why, why, why, and give me more faith. let me trust You on behalf of the suffering families who maybe cannot glimpse you through the painful fog. let me practice blessing Your name now, knowing i too will suffer someday. today my heart feels broken, not quite as if my own tiny one was lost, but perhaps something close. let me always live in that broken place. i am sure their hearts will heal, but never quite all the way. don’t let me forget and bounce back too quickly when i need to be in the brokenness and mourn with those who mourn. guard my mouth from explanations. sometimes suffering has no meaning and it is not good. but You did promise to bring good out of anything. and You are good. and You are With Us in the middle of it all.

***

I also recommend Sarah Bessey’s beautiful, honest response to the tragedy Friday (it does contain strong language, as seems appropriate given the circumstances).

Some of my thoughts were shaped by this article widely circulated around the Internet of unknown origin (it has been falsely attributed to actor Morgan Freeman, but is insightful regardless of its author).

(33) morning like evening

a damp morning [the view from inside]

A morning as dark as evening has dawned and I have awoken with it, to traffic rushing through the wet streets, to wind blowing rain through the few remaining leaves on trees, to the dampness, to the morning, to the dark.

Today should be interesting, with a restless night behind us on an air mattress that absolutely would not remain inflated, but the room was quiet, dark and finally in the early morning we climbed together into the twin-size guest bed, leaving the queen-size air mattress behind. I lay awake last night wondering if we could sell it on Craigslist.

Today should be interesting, it looks busy, but busy with good things, with many sweet people, people I’ve been longing to see. The rain pours harder and I breathe, ready to drive carefully on busy wet highways, following old familiar ways to familiar places.

And in the middle of all of this, I am looking for You, Jesus. When the sun breaks through the clouds to surprise us (as it did yesterday to our delight), I see you clearly. Seeing you in the rain is easier when I’m inside and warm with my coffee and favorite blanket and more challenging when it drenches my plans and fills my worn-out shoes with water. I’m picky, particular, situationally-challenged when it comes to seeing you, I guess. You feel close when I feel loved and connected to the people I love, when I’m in geographic states and states of being that I recognize and associate pleasant memories with.

It is still raining steadily over my parents’ backyard, but blue sky is opening up in the westward direction. Which makes me smile. And now the rain is letting up into a steady drip and the blue is spreading.

Let me recognize you today, Jesus, in your many disguises. Remind me to practice a deeply grateful heart, one moment after another.