Friday, April 29, 2011

Singing from the Rooftops (A Five Minute Post)

Lisa-Jo asks me tonight, as I sit in between warm blankets, what I would do if I knew I could... (blog with us for Five Minute Fridays?).

I would shower the world with words. I would sing them from the rooftops in Orvieto where my laundry would fly in the harsh morning light. I would whisper them into the coffee cups piled in my sink, those silent witnesses of love and laughter. I would shout LOVE across the Quad to the girls I don't know but I see walking dejectedly back to their dorms, burdened with work, with questions, with hope and desperation and doubt.

I would coax words out of my heart and out of other people's. I would write stories that used luminescence  and dazzle and flame as though they were the best words in the world and I couldn't wait to share them with someone.

I would pray the prayers that I don't let myself pray. The big ones full of hope and full of child certainty, the prayers that tell God I know who He is and what He can do. The prayers that ask for total healing and redemption and look into the face of the Healer, the Peacemaker, the Storm-Calmer, so sure that He is who He is that I ask the big box of prayers for the world. I would pray to become full of His love. I would pray to overflow with it. To be spent with it. To be exhausted from loving.

I would sing from the rooftops and I would laugh so hard that I doubled over and I would lift both hands to the sky in the kind of reckless gratitude that just might awaken my heart.


Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Why I Sing Sara Bareilles (A Continued Thank You to Gilead)

And it don't hurt
like anything I've ever felt before
This is no broken heart
no familiar scars
this territory goes uncharted... 

I have been singing this song constantly since I first heard it over the Easter weekend when my dear friend Liz burned me a CD (that included some fabulous French pop music...). I don't know what caught me first. Maybe it was the beat - the song sounds like a seven year old pounding down the sidewalk covered in popsicle juice and holding brightly colored chalk triumphantly.

Maybe it was her voice - she sounds like your fiery best friend who fights hard for you, splashes a martini in the face of the guy who stood you up, who picks you up when you've fallen into the cracks of the playground four square.

Maybe it was the laughter I can hear creeping into her voice - like the first giant wave that plows over your squealing and wriggling self on the first full day at the beach in summertime.

But whatever it is, I'm finding my heart a little fluttery these past few days. It dips and soars. And in reading Gilead, I'm learning that perhaps the fluttering heart is not something to solve, but something to live. Maybe the peace isn't driving storms from the horizons but just bearing them carefully.

When John Ames (the narrator in Marilynne's beautiful story) writes, I hear him bearing storms carefully, knowing that they're bigger than he knows. Knowing that they're somehow exquisite. That in the blink of an eye they can be turned into laughter. Because, as Ames reminds me, "It is an amazing thing to watch people laugh, the way it sort of takes them over..." (page 5)

(Photo: Hannah Cochran)
So I sing Sara Bareilles in the foggy afternoon driving home from the library with Gilead (Where did my copy go?). And because my heart weighed heavy with things, I drove on, past the left turn towards home, through the lights, into the drizzle, and sang loud because when we soften our hearts to the world, to its luminescence, we discover that in a moment, our storms become laughter. We bear them well.

As Gilead gently peels away at the layers of storminess in my heart, as it reminds me that there is so much of the world that flames with God. That we can smell beauty in the air. The daffodils aim their trumpets towards the sky and the tulips bend open, and the peonies with their ferocious pink centers and feathery petals paint the landscape. How could I have forgotten that the world is this good? 

And how good it is that we are sent reminders in songs and books and car drives in the rain. 

"I love the prairie! So often I have seen the dawn come and the light flood over the land and everything turn radiant at once, that word 'good' so profoundly affirmed in my soul that I am amazed I should be allowed to witness such a thing. There may have been a more wonderful first moment 'when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy,' but for all I know to the contrary, they still do sing and shout, and they certainly might well. Here on the prairie there is nothing to distract attention from the evening and the morning, nothing on the horizon to abbreviate or to delay. Mountains would seem an impertinence from that point of view." (page 246)

Love, from my still-softening, still-wondering heart, 
(Photo: Mandie Sodoma)

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

All the Heart Says (A Thank You to Gilead)

A confession: when I was a freshman in college, in the first year seminar class (then called "Christianity, Character and Culture"), we were assigned Gilead by Marilynne Robinson as our last major text of the year. This was the one book in CCC I did not read word for word, page after crisp page. This was the one book I skimmed right before class. 

I had never done that before. Even if it meant I stayed up late or got up early, I loved the work and I did the work and even when I didn't like it I always read it.

And I don't remember any reason I did not pour my heart into the pages of Gilead, let its rich words wash me clean of too much philosophy and too much theory. But I didn't. I walked into that class with the strange and uncomfortable attitude that, well, I was a pretty good student, and I could fake it well enough. I'd skimmed it, I had gotten the main part of the story and read what I thought were a few key passages.

But last night, I sat down and curled up tight in my blankets, because I had to read the book word for word, because the class I help teach is reading it for today, and I made the most beautiful discovery:

Gilead is the language of my heart. 

She writes what I wish I could write, what I imagine in the fury of clicking computer keys, I might be able to write someday when I have lingered long in wisdom and spent time loving what seems ordinary and flames into miracle right before us. She writes awakeness into her pages, a gentle coaxing out of laziness, into the wonderful unrepeatability of the world. She writes about all the moments I realize now I should have watched for. She writes about all the fleeting silences and dazzling sparks, the moon rising over a prairie, light dancing with water.

She teaches me to put words to the ache deep in my heart for England. Even when we do not want words, when we crave silence, thinking we are beyond words, beyond the ability to describe, craft images and analogies, beyond whatever words in their mess and beauty communicate. Perhaps we are not. Perhaps even our most tremulous moments are the moments for words. Perhaps our biggest feelings are the ones we should write into being. 

Some days I dream of being a writer, spending my lifetime cultivating a love for languages and the cadence of grammar. I dream of painting pictures like Marilynne Robinson, writing characters who breathe like John Steinbeck, a story that aches with reality. I dream of books who grow on their own, so that each time I go to write, the characters teach me what they are thinking, feeling, doing. That I would write to discover the ending. That I would write to make beauty. That, in writing, I would say all the heart says. 

Hear my favorite passage so far (I'm only on page 115):

"I can't tell you, though, how I felt, walking along beside him that night, along that rutted road, through that empty world - what a sweet strength I felt, in him, and in myself, and all around us. I am glad I didn't understand, because I have rarely felt joy like that, and assurance. It was like one of those dreams where you're filled with some extravagant feeling you might never have in life, it doesn't matter what it is, even guilt or dread, and you learn from it what an amazing instrument you are, so to speak, what a power you have to experience beyond anything you might ever actually need. Who would have thought that the moon could dazzle and flame like that?" (pages 48 - 49)

To write like her is all my heart wants today. I don't know how life might have been different if I had read Gilead with watchful eyes and humble spirit my freshman year. I don't know how that whole conversation would be different if I had let her words, and his words (for the main character, John Ames,  is as much my teacher as Marilynne), soften and clean and dazzle me. I don't know that the change would have been noticeable. 

But perhaps it is a good thing, because today, as I listen close to my own heart celebrating the Paschal mystery, and as I realize how good it is to listen to other people's hearts - today I am allowed to soften

Today, as you listen to your own heart, what do you dream of? What dazzles and flames in your life? What do you ache to become? 

Love, from my softening heart,

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Sweetest Word (For Pascha, Easter Sunday)

Alleluia. All Lent, we have hidden this word from our liturgy in the Anglican Church. We have thanked God, cried Hosanna, prayed for mercy and forgiveness. In the solemn devotions before the Cross on Good Friday, we weep with the women as we watch the body of our Lord laid in the tomb. 

We have hidden Alleluia in the grave clothes and placed Alleluia on the Cross. On Good Friday we prayed this collect:

 Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, we pray you to set
your passion, cross, and death between your judgment and
our souls, now and in the hour of our death. Give mercy and
grace to the living; pardon and rest to the dead; to your holy
Church peace and concord; and to us sinners everlasting life
and glory; for with the Father and the Holy Spirit you
live and reign, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

We pray that the Cross would stand between our soul and judgment, that we would be covered in His blood, that we would know mercy and grace and everlasting life. Our prayers have been clinging to the Cross, to the act of love and sacrifice, to the moment of light in darkness. And with Mary and the women, we have gone to the tomb without an Alleluia, without the exclamation of Easter hope. 

And this morning I stand with Mary at the tomb, distraught at the mystery. How devastating it must have been! All the promises of eternal life and all the hope of glorious Alleluias, and she can't stop crying, because she cannot find him. Where has God gone? The sun has risen and the tomb is empty. Where is Jesus? 

"Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”
   “They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
  He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”
   Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”
  Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
   She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”)."

(John 20. 11-16)

The sweetest word - Mary - is the moment of recognition. She must have fallen over, stumbled on the realization of the greater mystery. The Lord, who journeyed to the cross and into death, who collapsed into death so that we might live again - He stands before her, alive. And tenderly, He calls her name, Mary. Can you hear Him call your name too? Hilary, He says. And the sweetest word - Alleluia - can ring clear into the sunrise, into the new day. 

Today with Mary, we turn our weeping into the cry of recognition, into the cry of Easter praise. Because behold, it is Jesus! 

Sing the Alleluia with me in the bright beams of this morning. 


O God, who for our redemption didst give thine
only-begotten Son to the death of the cross, and by his
glorious resurrection hast delivered us from the power of
our enemy: Grant us so to die daily to sin, that we may
evermore live with him in the joy of his resurrection; through
Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth
with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Light of Christ (For The Great Vigil of Easter)

Tonight, after a day without Internet, without phone (I turned it off for the day to focus on the other things, the things that take a deeper concentration) - we gathered to shiver in the damp twilight. It was cloudy, the air heavy with the smell of water, and I stood next to my brothers as we waited. I could not see the fire lit, could not smell the sputtering smoke. 

And then I caught the first beautiful glimpse - flickering bright against the patchy darkness - we lit the Christ candle, the Paschal candle. And we followed it into the church, and the priest booms out in his loud voice to the world, "The light of Christ." And we repeat, straining forward, "Thanks be to God." 

What is it I am thankful for in the night before Easter? 

And the cantor stands there, his voice bearing to us the message of holiness. I listen close for the first time, my own voice somehow aching to sing with him: 

May the Morning Star which never sets
find this flame still burning:
Christ, that Morning Star,
who came back from the dead,
and shed his peaceful light on all mankind,
your Son, who lives and reigns for ever and ever.

I am thankful for the light that keeps burning even in the darkest hour, the Morning Star who burns still, the depth of the night, when it seems that all hope has been lost.  

It begins to become clear as we hear the baptismal vows and the mystery is whispered loud and glorious in the darkness. You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ's own forever. 

And I felt the tears come creeping into my eyes at that moment, because I realize that this is the thankfulness of waiting. I am marked and sealed. That water has been prayed and poured over my child-self, in a moment of bright mystery, and I do not understand but I breathe it. My feet quiver in their shoes. The night before Easter, I am thankful for the water of Baptism. The night before Easter, I am thankful for the light of Christ from that Paschal candle, lit all those many years ago, relit and relit at each moment of my growing up. The light of Christ. Thanks be to God. 

The lights burst forth at this moment in the service, and I can't seem to stop crying, because I see now the history of God's light that burns in the darkest hours and how He promised us light always. The people who have walked in darkness have seen a great light. I see it burning near the altar, I see it burning in the joyful organ and the choir of voices and the peal of the bells. And trembling in the holy night, I see the Paschal candle lit in my own heart, marked and sealed as Christ's own forever. 

The light of Christ. Thanks be to God. 

Grant, O Lord, that all who are baptized into the death
of Jesus Christ your Son may live in the power of his
resurrection and look for him to come again in glory; who
lives and reigns now and forever. Amen.

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Hard Love (A Five Minute Post, for Good Friday)

Lisa-Jo invites me to write about the hard love with her in just five minutes - and today, on Good Friday, I hope I can be quiet with you.

The hard love is the moment after the loud cry. He gives up his spirit and the world hands in suspension, wondering if another gasping breath can be breathed on that cross, wondering if another shuddering cry will  slip out of his collapsing lungs. And the hard love comes in wrenching, gut twisting sobs from the foot of the cross where Mary and the women weep. Because they've been watching the dying and they know, they know that he is gone.

And the Resurrection is never harder to believe than the moment of this Love that shivers on the Cross emptied and dying. When the thief whispers, Remember me, O Lord, in your Kingdom it feels like a forgotten, desperate cry because how will Jesus who is dying remember anything? What is memory after death? But I sit today in the muddle and mess of my own heart, and I am crying out to Jesus - Remember me, O Lord, in your Kingdom.

Because the hard love holds me tight in his outstretched arms, embraces my scarred and knotted up self, the self who can't manage to breathe calm or peace, the self who is frantic to finish the week, the self who asks questions she can't answer (can anyone answer the question how do I live hoping in Him?). 

His love today stretches him out and pins him to the rough wood and it crucifies. And then the last breath and we begin to weep. Because it is that love that now holds me.

Almighty God, we pray you graciously to behold this your
family, for whom our Lord Jesus Christ was willing to be
betrayed, and given into the hands of sinners, and to suffer
death upon the cross; who now lives and reigns with you and
the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Tenebrae (for Wednesday in Holy Week)

We weary ones on pilgrimage to Easter - tonight is a night of darkness. Tonight is the service of Tenebrae, which in Latin means "shadows." In it we think about the betrayal of Jesus by Judas, and the service sings the Lamentations of Jeremiah, and the Psalmody of Lauds and Matins.

After the second chant, there is this passage read responsively in the congregation:
Tristis est anima mea
My soul is very sorrowful, even to the point of death;
remain here and watch with me.
Now you shall see the crowd who will surround me;
you will flee, and I will go to be offered up for you.

V. Behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.
You will flee, and I will go to be offered up for you.

Behold, the hour is at hand. And then the words I hear as I contemplate the shadows that cover this week:
You will flee, and I will go to be offered up for you. 

When I was reading the passage in Matthew yesterday, after the disciples fall asleep, my eyes fastened onto the following verses (Matthew 26.47-56):

While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived. With him was a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him.” Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed him.
  Jesus replied, “Do what you came for, friend.”
   Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him. With that, one of Jesus’ companions reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear.
   “Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?  But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?”
  In that hour Jesus said to the crowd, “Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I sat in the temple courts teaching, and you did not arrest me. But this has all taken place that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.

They fled. In French, it reads: Alors tous les disciples l'abandonnèrent, et prirent la fuite. The disciples abandoned him and took flight. They are on the run - clasping their sides with the ache of adrenaline. They could not run fast enough from that garden.

When I was little, and one of my siblings said something mean, or I got into a scuffle about sweaters or hairbrushes, or Mom didn't have time to check my math homework...I ran. Behind our house there is a shed where we keep old bikes and broken lawn mowers and clothes we've outgrown. I ran as fast as my legs could carry me behind that shed. Hot tears slipping down my face, I gasped for air and hide behind the shed, my skirt wet from sitting on the damp ground, my fingers tracing shapes and letters in the grass as I waited for the crying to subside.
(Photo: Mandie Sodoma)
I ran from the fighting itself, from the disturbance of the peace, from the plan overturned. I ran from what surprised me. I ran from what scared me. I ran from what upset me. And now I am back, little Hilary in the garden next to Jesus, and he is sorrowful unto death. The shadows are long tonight, and the kiss rings loudly as chaos and terror and death sweep into the cool night. 

And the candles on the altar tonight are twelve, leading up to the Christ candle. The service begins and they are all lit. One by one, they are extinguished. And they deserted him and fled.

But hidden in the midst of the readings and prayers is an antiphon that gives me hope: "Now the women sitting at the tomb made lamentation, weeping for the Lord."

There were some, the women, who did not flee. Who stayed to make lamentation. Who wept. Could I become like them? Could I learn to stand on my feeble legs in this garden full of shadows and make lamentation, weeping for the Lord? Could I, by Grace, hold fast to him in the night of darkness?

Pray with me (from the Book of Occasional Services and the Book of Common Prayer):

Almighty God, we pray you graciously to behold this your family, for whom our Lord Jesus Christ was willing to be betrayed, and given into the hands of sinners, and to suffer death upon the cross.
O Lord God, whose blessed Son our Savior gave his back to
the smiters and hid not his face from shame: Give us grace
to take joyfully the sufferings of the present time, in full
assurance of the glory that shall be revealed; through the same
Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with
thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Glory in the Cross (For Tuesday in Holy Week)

(Photo: Hannah Cochran)
This morning I woke up early, to finish homework left undone from last night. My fingers meandered across the keyboard as the question - Who is man that thou art mindful of him? - and these words, imago Dei (image of God) echoed into the still room. As I typed, my toes wriggling a little from sleepy excitement for the topics in the paper (it really was fun to write, even that early), I heard a bird trill outside my window, startling me awake.

I cracked it open a little bit to let the birdsong and the sweet fresh air inside, and it was if I woke up from 100 years of sleeping, aching for the new day. The smell of rain and earth, the promise of spring, was beckoning and singing its way into my room. I was suddenly awake to the bigger moments of this week: the Resurrection and the Promises held in the darkness, the sky covered for those three hours.

I thought I was awake. I thought I was especially virtuous for being awake. But then these words dropped me to my knees.

"Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter." (Matthew 26.36-40) 

What a sleeper I have been these many weeks. He says, voice pouring out sorrow, Stay here and keep watch with me. He doesn't say die with me. He doesn't say run away with me. He doesn't say defend me or protect me. He says stay. He says keep watch with me.

And how often I sleep, waiting until the very late bloom of April is rushing into my window! How often I sleep, pretending I have all the time to join Him. How often I act as though He has asked the extraordinary, unbearable, unfathomable thing. As I preen my ruffled feathers, I hear myself saying, "How can God ask so much of me? He asks me to bear all this?" And then I sigh loud into the room and slump my shoulders and toss my mane of red-blond hair as if to say, "Well, then fine! I'll just do it all myself and see if I need YOU!" {have you ever said something like that to God?}

But what did He ask me, this week? Stay here and keep watch with me. Stay awake? Watch? And I have fallen asleep - asleep to His sorrow. Asleep to the moment when He is betrayed. Asleep to His prayers. Asleep to the glory He wins for us.

I hear Him ask me, stay awake. Do not wait until Easter morning to rise and make your way to the empty tomb. For it is the instrument of shameful death that is to us the means of everlasting life. Before the tomb is the Cross. And the glory is in the Cross.

May the Lord our God, in His merciful compassion, find us awake with Him this week.

Pray with me, from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer:

O God, by the passion of thy blessed Son didst make an 
instrument of shameful death to be unto us the means of life: 
Grant us so to glory in the cross of Christ, that we may gladly 
suffer shame and loss for the sake of thy Son our Savior Jesus 
Christ; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, 
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Monday, April 18, 2011

The Way of Life and Peace (for Monday in Holy Week)

The Cross, I know, is the way of life. At least, I tell myself I know this on the days when the daffodils bob their sun-speckled heads in the breeze, when the sky is a laughing blue, when my skirt rustles as I walk, reminding me that I am becoming a grownup, becoming a woman, becoming good things.

But can I say, The Cross is the way of Life on the bad days? The storm-cloud days, when my work looms larger than my mind seems capable of handling, when I snap at my siblings, judge my friends, sulk and mope at being "misunderstood", and when there is an ache running from the base of my skull through my shoulders I just can't shake? Are those the moments when I say, in the words of Marcus Aurelius, "To bear this worthily is good fortune."? When I remind myself, "He said pick up your cross and follow me. So let's go."

I'm learning to. Far more than Hilary in 2008, who ran to and from the Cross like a child who can't decide if she needs to hold tight to Mom's hand or if Mom is the opponent, the withholder. In 2009, I was slightly older, very slightly wiser, seeing the Cross for the first time as the place I went, not where "the family" went. In 2010 (last year), I was weak and knew it, tired from the weight of self-judgment, tired from the desire to achieve and prove myself... and I knew somehow that I had to take it to the Cross.

And now it is 2011. I've started trying to spend some time every day in "the quiet place." The one where all the critical lines of my face dissolve. The place where I leave the storm- crawl out from beneath my own fear and anguish, face flushed from the howling wind. Where my whole body listens. Where I am finally, utterly still. Where my heart beats out prayer. Where I meet Peace.

And so I know that the Cross is the way of life. But it is this year, with the sadnesses, large and small, and the departures, the joys and the laughter - this year that tells me, this is also the way of Peace. This is the road to the quiet place, is itself the quiet place.

I whisper "thank you" for reminding me that this week is the way of Peace. That an extra ten minutes in the good real words of the slim Manual of Occasional Prayers Julie gave my 2008 year old self is food for my hunger. That I can breathe the Jesus prayer: O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner like I breathe air.

For His hand at my back propelling me forward, even as I turn back and yearn for some stormy weather, yearn for a dramatic problem (you just won't believe what happened to me!), for attention, for reassurance, for the orbit of the world to collapse into me. It is 2011, years after the first few moments where I put my fingers on the trembling heartbeat of the world, put my hands in His side, all doubting and fearful... and behold, I recognize the way of life and peace. 

Now, I pray, O Lord, help me to walk in it.

Pray with me (from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer):

Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but
first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he 
was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way 
of the cross, may find it none other that the way of life and 
peace; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who 
liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, 
for ever and ever. Amen


Sunday, April 17, 2011

He Draws the Whole World to Himself (A Reflection on Palm Sunday)

Palm Sunday has always been among my very favorite Sundays in the liturgical calendar. The Church bleeds red cloth and banners, the congregation holds soft and fleshy green palm branches aloft as voices, in the shocking harmony of voices, sing Hosannas to the King of kings. And I, small in my paisley blue dress that I wore for high school graduation, shiver slightly from the reality of it all. That this, this, marks the beginning of the mighty acts in history that change the world forever.

This week I've been trying to wrap and warp my mind around the reality that Jesus Christ is crucified. I skim over this part of the story so that I can get to the glorious Resurrection and Ascension. I want to (in my usual Hilary way) skip the journey to get to the destination.

But I remember on this blog that during Advent I talked about how God loves to shatter paradox with truth. He makes the weakest the wisest. He makes an event empty of power the source of all life. He marries homesickness to joy. He makes a symbol of shame the symbol of victory.

And so I must not avoid paradoxes this week as the strong arms of Jesus pick me up and set my face with His toward Golgatha. That place is the place of paradox: where all my beautiful words and their neat definitions, all their merit, they fall down at the Word crucified.

The journey to the Cross in Lent this year means letting my skinned knees and aching soul lead me, instead of my mind, my logic, my rhetoric. It's weakness that will guide my feet, and heartache that will show me my place at the foot of the Cross.

And what is the meaning of all of this? I wonder as I listen to the priest pray fervently over the bread and the wine, pray for a transformation of those elements like the transformation of the whole world.

The priest prays, "Through Jesus Christ our Lord. For our sins he was lifted high upon the cross, that he might draw the whole world to himself, and, by his suffering and death, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who put their trust in him."

He draws the world to himself. There, in the place of abandonment. There, on the outskirts of the city. There, when with a great cry he gives up his spirit - there is the World, drawn to Him by the mystery of power made perfect in weakness.

He draws the world to himself. In the outstretched arms is the tightest embrace. In the heaving chest is the heartbeat of the world. In Him is the only life.

He draws the world to himself. This past Thursday I recited John 1.1-34 in French. The part that always catches in my throat reads like this: Elle était dans le monde, et le monde a été fait par elle, et le monde ne l'a point connue.

The French have two words for "know" - savoir and connaître. Much has been made in my language education about these two. You use "savoir" when you talk about facts, things that you know about something, idea. "Je le sais bien" (I know it well). But you "connaître" a person. Je ne le connais pas (I do not know them) is a phrase for not know the person themselves, the soul, the heart, the mind...

Le monde ne l'a point connue. The world did not know the Word. The world did not know Jesus. Not something about Jesus. Not facts. Not even concepts or ideas about who he was or what he was going to do. But they did not know him. He who draws the world to himself comes into the world and is not recognized. He is not known. Je ne le connais pas. He draws the world, who does not know him, into himself, the world who rejects him into the embrace of that Cross.

Today let us fix our eyes on the Cross, where Jesus draws the world to himself.

Let us pray (from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer for Palm Sunday):
Almighty and everliving God, who, of thy tender love
towards mankind, hast sent thy Son our Savior Jesus Christ
to take upon him our flesh, and to suffer death upon the
cross, that all mankind should follow the example of his
great humility: Mercifully grant that we may both follow the
example of his patience, and also be make partakers of his
resurrection; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who
liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God,
for ever and ever. Amen.


Friday, April 15, 2011

On Distance (A Five Minute Post)

Lisa-Jo asked me to write about distance in just five minutes.

It looms large in my peripheral vision, the word and its connotations. the mile count that racks up when I think about the time zones I need to transcend to be with, to be present, to love. I hear it wash softly over me when the words, I'm leaving enter the conversation and the finality of the distance creeps into my heart.

I remember England and the distance between me and that Hilary - her hair mussed by wind and English damp rain, her feet in rainboots and tramping their way through fields, believing in the power of that air to breathe God's love into her.

Distance promises challenge, a knuckle-to-knuckle fistfight of me with time and space, those limitations I want to overcome like a superhero in a cape. I want a big house in the country, maybe a farm bursting with the people I love just in one place together so we can live in the same air and drink the same life-giving water and sing the same psalms of praise in the morning and evening and teach each other the language of faces and hands and sighs and hearts and the million small things you have to feel and taste and touch and see in others.

I want that. Distance looks at me and dares me to believe it is yet possible. That yet a sunrise, yet a love beyond those limits, beyond the horizon lines I can see, beyond the practical. That yet, there is a glorious love that flows from us in grace waterfalls across Rocky Mountains and the Mason-Dixon and the Atlantic Ocean and between the states and the years.


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Come to Me (A Reflection on Falling Down in Lent)

I have described Lent as running towards the Cross, pulling on our running shoes in exuberance, dashing forward into the promises hidden at Calvary. I have thought out loud (if you can call blogging out loud) about how good it is to run towards Him. How good weary muscles feel as they fall into His arms, resting in the light of the Cross, the Resurrection.

I tripped this Lent. More than once. I seem to get my feet under me only to go sprawling headfirst onto the pavement, skinning my knees as I skid forward, scraping up my hands and my soul, getting little bits of gravel and tar in the cuts. And I sit there, on the ground, angry and mystified about why this running thing is not working the way I thought it would.

I thought running would be elegant, a canter towards Easter. I thought running would be closeness to God. I thought it would be full of the God-flamed living, where all is gratitude, and full of joy (and maturity) and all is beautiful. Instead, I'm here, five weeks in, sitting on the pavement with skinned knees and bruised rib bones, howling at the top of my lungs.

I fell down. I am impatient for the future, or impatient for a different present, one I imagine and understand, one I control. I tripped over my untied shoelaces.
(Thank you, Mandie Sodoma)
After work today I went for a drive. At first I prayed quietly, holding the slim white coffee cup with a bleak expression on my face. And then the hot, angry tears and the two year old voice:  Oh, I'm so mad at you! I can't believe all of this! Why are you doing this to me?

But then to my surprise, the heart-question was different. I wasn't wondering, why do you keep announcing the things I don't want? I wasn't wondering, why did you let me fall down and get this scraped up soul?

Do You love me? 

That is what I wanted to know. That all of the preparing of Lent, the hard self-knowing, the moments of being Martha, and Peter, and the prodigal son, and all the rest - do You love me? 

I drove the rest of the way back to campus silent. Had I really said that? Has that, in the end, been a part of the tripping? 

We say Lent is about weakness. But when we meet our own, it suddenly becomes real, what he meant by "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." Lent is not about a glamorous, beautiful run where we finish easily, shake our mane of goldeny-red hair behind our back as if we just walked around the block, and take a long drink of water {it sounds funny, but that's sort of how I pictured it}.

Lent is tripping and skinning our knees, yelling out the honesty inside us. Lent is about weakness, not the kind that we prettily acknowledge in moments of contentment (I'm not strong enough to make this decision between two beautiful and good things) but the kind we feel in the mess of heart in our ribcage, in our cracking bones, in our strained muscles. Lent is about weakness.

Hilary with her skinned knees bawls out to God: Do You love me? 

And God who is merciful to me replies, Come to Me. 

If you ever trip and fall during Lent, if you yell out honesty - have courage. 

(Photo: Mandie Sodoma)
There will yet be a sunrise.  


Monday, April 11, 2011

For The Day When You Need Poetry

When I got out of bed this morning, I was scowling and bleary-eyed. I threw on clothes and forced myself to head downstairs and face the grey clouds.

Why is it that today is so hard to live gratefully?

I have a list of failures always at the ready. The person I did not try hard enough to love, the spirit of ungratefulness I expressed, my failure to listen, study, learn, appreciate, care for, give to... my perpetual selfishness...

But let me tell you something that surprised ME today. I did not feel better going over that list. Usually it's enough to shut up my complaints and remind me that hey, I don't have it any more together than anyone else. And though today I tried to muster up, face it, deal with my own shortcomings... I needed to be wrapped up in beauty, spend a little time in the company of words that do not reprimand, that do not require, that do not even shed wisdom.

They are simply, irrevocably, utterly, beautiful. And that is reason enough to hear them. And these beautiful words, even if just for the moment they're spoken into the empty room, into the quiet, into this strange little corner I have wedged my heart into so that I can hop along through the week... the words sing and dazzle and promise. 

My English grandmother had a way with words. She was much more direct than I am, and she "proclaimed verities" with a certainty I rarely possess. But she was shrewd, observant, and able to draw from a deep well of words. It is Granny who taught me that word, lovely, that I hold onto. I can see these moments with her:

She is looking over her large spectacles at me, her mouth pursed in a sort of calculating, pondering way. Her feet are in their flannel plaid houseshoes, and she wears a tattered cardigan and a dark grey wool skirt. Her tights bag slightly at the knees. She is reading a dusty copy of The Wind in the Willows, my very favorite children's-book-I-read-every-year book. And I am in the opposite armchair, staring into the well of These Happy Golden Years, when Laura finally falls in love with Almanzo and they get married and move to the beautiful little farm. And she just says, that's lovely. 

Me, lovely. The book, lovely. Me, leaning into the well, drinking the good clear water of stories, lovely. The space between us and our books, the fire crackling, the tea brewing... it is all lovely. It is all poetry. 

I leave you with this Wendell Berry poem that reminds me how to live poetry, how to live lovely, and lovingly

How to Be a Poet

(to remind myself)
Make a place to sit down.   
Sit down. Be quiet.   
You must depend upon   
affection, reading, knowledge,   
skill—more of each   
than you have—inspiration,   
work, growing older, patience,   
for patience joins time   
to eternity. Any readers   
who like your poems,   
doubt their judgment.   
Breathe with unconditional breath   
the unconditioned air.   
Shun electric wire.   
Communicate slowly. Live   
a three-dimensioned life;   
stay away from screens.   
Stay away from anything   
that obscures the place it is in.   
There are no unsacred places;   
there are only sacred places   
and desecrated places.   
Accept what comes from silence.   
Make the best you can of it.   
Of the little words that come   
out of the silence, like prayers   
prayed back to the one who prays,   
make a poem that does not disturb   
the silence from which it came.


Sunday, April 10, 2011

Do You Believe This? (A Reflection on the Fifth Sunday of Lent)

Martha said to Jesus, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him." Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again." Martha said to him, "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day." Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?" (John 11.1-45)

What a question. Do you believe this? Can't you see Martha, squirming a little bit, casting worried glances at the place where she knows she has buried her brother? She knows somewhere that the answer is yes, but everything in her world shouts No! I don't believe you! I don't believe that this is the truth! Jesus, if you had been here, but she knows the answer, that he wasn't. Hasn't the question been answered? If you had been here, but you weren't and so now all is lost. It is over. 

The past week has delivered its fair share of the Lenten life: the death of my grandmother, who I am told holds a mirror to deep parts of my personality, difficulty with friends, the soon-arriving departures of cherished people into the next steps of their life, trying to be present in my schoolwork. And I confess, more than once this week (more than once every day) I have spoken defeat: Lord, if you had been here. In invisible parentheses I scrawl the words to end the story: (but you weren't and so she has died and I have hurt them or they have hurt me and so it is over)

That is where I meet Martha this week. I'm outside the tomb, waiting for the miraculous, disbelieving. And he asks her, Do you believe this? Do you believe ME? 

And Martha says to him, "Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world." 

Yes, Lord, I believe. The words taste good, even when my heart can't quite believe. We focus a lot on the heart in Christianity (and rightly so!). We say, it counts internally, it matters what your heart says about Jesus, if you believe in your heart. Evangelicals shy from ritual because they fear a repetition void of meaning. They look for spontaneous speech, prayer, and for unique declaration. I am glad we do - I need reminding. But in haste to protect from vain repetition, we forget how words spoken help fix the heart when it wanders. How belief is in our voice when our heart is too heavy to hold onto Him. How it is the tearful whisper in the dead of night under your comforters that, "Oh, Jesus, I believe. Help my unbelief." that drags our heart back into the brilliant light of the Resurrection. 

Martha, she says Yes, but her heart is still heavy. When Jesus goes to the tomb, we hear her doubt again. "Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days." She believes, and her heart is still doubtful. Her voice clings to the yes, and it is this yes that anchors the hope when the world has overturned us and our hearts mourn and wander and weep. 

I am reminded that words are good for our hearts today, as I unwillingly lay mine open to the Cross and hold out my hands, eyes cast desperately at the altar, to the skies, wondering how it is God is the one who brings resurrection (if you had been here...): and then we pray. And though my heart is heavy, my voice cries out yes. Do not be afraid if today it is just your voice that can sing of His promises. Do not be afraid if you see the valley of dry bones and you wonder if God can make life. Do not be afraid if you cannot light a flame of passion under your words. 

Do not be afraid, because behold the promise: "Thus says the Lord GOD: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act, says the Lord." (Ezekiel 37.12-14)

When he asks you to believe in the impossible, when he asks you to believe Him when every trace of Him seems to have disappeared, when he says to you, Martha - to believe that in Him no one ever dies - though your heart be heavy, trust the words He speaks to you and speak your own yes. 

Let us pray. 

Fifth Sunday in Lent
O Almighty God, who alone canst order the unruly wills and
affections of sinful men: Grant unto thy people that they may
love the thing which thou commandest, and desire that
which thou dost promise; that so, among the sundry and
manifold changes of the world, our hearts may surely there
be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus
Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the
Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Friday, April 8, 2011

Hello! (A Five Minute Post)

I'd be tottering until a pile of not yet read novels and political philosophy books, scarf dangling, Starbucks toffee nut latte in hand. I'd look around for you, a tentative smile on my face. And then I would recognize that you were the one I was meeting, sitting with your beautiful small smile and your cup of coffee (or maybe you're drinking hot chocolate, or you're holding your children on your lap or they're running all over the place because childhood makes room for that).

And I would want to run over and say, "Hello!" in a warm voice, warm like the smell of honey in Earl Grey tea, warm like feather comforters and sunshine in May. And I would sit down with all my piles of new loves - all the books I'd just checked out of the library, and I would ask too many questions, breathless and excited.

Because I would be awed. That you are you, and no other, that you hold inside yourself all of this wonderful creativity and thoughtfulness, that the lines of your hands and face and your smile (I love to make people smile, so maybe I would tell you a joke about hedgehogs or something, or tell you about the time I did something embarrassing, or just laugh with you)...

That you tell the story of you, and as I gesture wildly with my hands and throw my head back in laughter and let my eyes grow wide with surprise, and as the stories spin out of us like tops down a set of park steps - I want to add your story among all the miraculous ones I carry in my heart.


Thursday, April 7, 2011

The King of Love (some quiet words)

The King of Love, my Shepherd is, whose goodness, faileth never. I nothing lack, if I am his, and he is mine forever. 

I was thirteen when I heard this hymn for the first time. I was wearing dark red crushed velvet shoes that we had found on sale at Payless, and even though they pinched my toes I had insisted on wearing them. The hand-me-down black dress from my sister scratched my skin, and as we walked into the room I fidgeted inside it. 

It is the whirlwind I remember best. Telling my chorus director that I had to abandon the beautiful alto part in Sarah's arrangement of "Down to the River to Pray." Skipping the test on the New Testament we were taking in my 8th grade Humanities class (our theme was "Belonging" and so we were heavy in the midst of Jesus and his disciples). Packing the small red carryon suitcase two or three times because I couldn't remember what I had put in, and so I had to start all over. The cold drive to the airport. The colder, quieter plane ride. The arrival. Dad picking us up, not going to Greystones because Granny needed her space not to be crowded with people. The cramped motel next to the Q8 gas station where when we would get "peckish" late at night we'd fill our American stomachs with Walker's crisps and my favorite cans of Orangina or orange squash or Fresca. The picture of us all, me in braces and squinting, my youngest brother so very young, just a little guy. 

Where streams of living water flow,
My ransomed soul he leadeth
And, where the verdant pastures grow,
With food celestial feedeth.

The words of the hymn swallowed me up that day in December 2003. I clung to Jesus without really knowing how to do it {and now I am back to that kind of instinctual clinging, a koala bear in His arms}. 
Last night we got the news that my English grandmother, too, has died. And my first remembering is Granddad's funeral. The Boeing 707. The splashing tears. The quiet I wanted to be in. Grief has for me always demanded quiet. I am like W. H. Auden - 

"Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come."

The quiet has been harder to find in the chaotic noise of spring - papers to finish, edit, exams to study for, trips here and there. Granny died in the bursting of spring, and Granddad in the entrance of winter. The seasons, so long opposed, have embraced each other. Both now hold life and death, the journey of grief, and the joy of remembering. 

In death's dark vale, I fear no ill, 
with thee, dear Lord, beside me. 
Thy rod and staff, my comfort still, 
Thy cross before to guide me. 

Granny taught me to drink tea in fine china, to let it brew loose in the pot. She taught me to trace my fingers over the black and white keys of a piano. She taught me to feed chickens, and the difference between real cake and "whatever we Americans eat." She taught me the word lovely. She taught me how to read Laura Ingalls Wilder. 

When I crinkle my eyes into a smile, I see her smile peeking back at me. 
(photo from the lovely Mandie Sodoma)
And so tonight, in the quiet place with my quiet words, I whisper to remember: 

And so through all the length of days, 
thy goodness faileth never. 
Good Shepherd, may I sing thy praise, 
within thy house forever. 


Wednesday, April 6, 2011

A Word for Wednesday: Poem (A Series of Posts about Words)

My poetry teacher in high school used to make poem a verb. "You need to take these words, this idea, this image," he would say, energetically leaning forward in the green armchair around the fireplace where we had class (we had class in an old house that had once belonged to part of the Coolidge clan). "You need to take this image and poem it." He meant by that we needed to do the hard work of scalpel-to-the-page editing, where we sliced off the unnecessary words, the parts of the poem that cluttered the clean white and black pattern. Once he suggested I ruthlessly delete 20 lines of a poem, leaving only the last three.

Today our word is poem.
(Photo Credit: Mandie Sodoma)

Definition: A verbal or written composition, conveying images, sound, meaning to us through verse. It is lyrical, focuses on meter, metaphor, and rhythm. Poem is intense, carrying a story forward to us in everything that is not written as much as everything that is written.

In the spirit of poetry, today, friends, I'm going to restrict my definitions to just one line. Condense the words so that they breathe poem, into your day and mine.

Poem, verb. To make the world repeat its singing.

Poem, verb. To spin with oak seeds towards open soil.

Poem, noun. The gasping candle, sputtering flame.

Poem, noun. The crinkled hands at their piano, muscles remembering what the mind cannot - warming the concertos to her fingers.

Poem, noun. The chaos of fireflies.

Poem, verb. To lace your soul with words.

I leave you with this discovery - a poem by Edward Hirsch (one of my very favorites). 

The Widening Sky (Edward Hirsch)

I am so small walking on the beach 
at night under the widening sky. 
The wet sand quickens beneath my feet 
and the waves thunder against the shore. 

I am moving away from the boardwalk 
with its colorful streamers of people 
and the hotels with their blinking lights. 
The wind sighs for hundreds of miles. 

I am disappearing so far into the dark 
I have vanished from sight. 
I am a tiny seashell 
that has secretly drifted ashore 

and carries the sound of the ocean 
surging through its body. 
I am so small now no one can see me. 
How can I be filled with such a vast love?


Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Because Growing Can Be Hard

Today has the raw edge of spring. Today has the wind that blows away the winter. Today also has the hard things about spring - the painful growing, the spindly stalks of new plants, the fragile heart, the desire to continue hibernating because the sunlight of the truth can be harsh.

Today I found myself wanting, really, really wanting to return to hibernation. I love growing, but when I have to push up out of the ground, when I have to stand fast and not be bowled over by the winds of busy, of anxiety, of overachieving, of perfectionism... then the growing is painful. When the tests come, the ones that measure and reveal how the arable land, the fertile soil, the places where God is going to prune and fertilize and even yank up weeds... those tests hurt. There is no way around it.

Gardens do not become beautiful without the gardener's careful eyes and hands. And today I could feel Him moving. Amid my frustration, and my inability to see clearly, to see what is ahead, to manage my time, to understand, to ask the right and mature questions... I watched in a kind of tired amazement that He is still at work. When I have nothing left to give, no energy of my own, He is tirelessly growing me into His vine. Jesus whispers that the growing will be hard, that it will mean that many winds blow, and many storm clouds cross the sky, and it will rain. But then he says, as I quiver, as I look at Him, face heavy with fears and sadnesses, Behold. I am with you always, to the end of the age. 

Behold, friends. He is here in the midst of April 5 rain. He is here in the midst of windy spring. He is here in the midst of too many questions and never enough answers. Abiding in the vine was never promised to be easy. It was promised to be the meaning of life. Remaining in Jesus? It is not the comfort of this world, the comfort of less feeling, less demand, less responsibility. It is the comfort of Himself. It is the comfort of the Cross. We are being grafted every moment deeper into the true vine, into the One who gives life, and it is not easy. But behold - He is here, in the midst of the growing.

Rainer Maria Rilke wrote to Mr. Kappus about growing, about questions, and his words, though not to me, almost are to me (I copied them in Italian before):

"Here, where I am surrounded by an enormous landscape, which the winds move across as they come from the seas, here I feel that there is no one anywhere who can answer for you those questions and feelings which, in their depths, have a life of their own; for even the most articulate people are unable to help, since what words point to is so very delicate, is almost unsayable. 

But even so, I think that you will not have to remain without a solution if you trust in Things that are like the ones my eyes are now resting upon. If you trust in Nature, in what is simple in Nature, in the small Things that hardly anyone sees and that can so suddenly become huge, immeasurable; if you have this love for what is humble and try very simply, as someone who serves, to win the confidence of what seems poor: then everything will become easier for you, more coherent and somehow more reconciling, not in your conscious mind perhaps, which stays behind, astonished, but in your innermost awareness, awakeness, and knowledge. 

You are so young, so much before all beginning, and I would like to beg you, dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer."

May God grow you ever nearer to Him in these next days and weeks. 



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...