Sunday, April 3, 2011

Again and Again in Peace (A Reflection on the Fourth Sunday in Lent)

The incense curls upward through the shaft of sunlight. The sanctuary is full of candles, their light flickering on the faces in the icons, and as I slide into the pew, I remember the feel of the wood beneath my feet. The chorus of voices behind me scale upwards as they pray Lord, have mercy. I fold my hands in front of me and I look forward. 

I am visiting an Eastern Orthodox church this Sunday, with two dear friends and wise voices in my life, and as they step in after me, I realize that it is by the conversations, the space, and the patience they both have with my wanderings that I am here.

I explored Orthodoxy in my freshman year of college. I've described myself as impatient before on this blog, and Orthodoxy was as much a victim of my haste as anything else. I was hungry for the Liturgy, for the prayers and the soaring Kyrie Eleison, repeated over and over like the pulse in my wrist, throbbing with the real life of praying mercy. I was hungry to learn the words, to learn the ways, to know God in the new place.

And God asked me to be more patient than I was willing to be. I stirred up storms, anxious thoughts, doubts, a desire to be chrismated, a desire not to be christmated, questions... I didn't want to explore gently. I wanted to know this was what I was meant to do and do it. I did not want to journey. I wanted to arrive.

And now, two years and many tears later, I feel my pilgrim feet center their gravity. I inhale all the familiarity and the newness: the longer prayers of St. Basil, the Agios o Theos, Agios ischyros, Agios athanatos, eleison imas, the Trisagion Prayer my voice can remember without thinking. I  feel my jumping nerves (can I come back here? Did I make a mistake by not becoming Orthodox? Am I in the right place?) silenced by the invocation - Lord, our God, save Your people and bless Your inheritance; protect the whole body of Your Church; sanctify those who love the beauty of Your house; glorify them in return by Your divine power; and do not forsake us who hope in You.

I hear the words "again and again in peace let us pray to the Lord" and I realize this is the whole rhythm of the place, and that I am invited into it because it is God who invites. God who says, Hilary, again, and again in peace pray to Me.

In the Orthodox sanctuary I remember that Lent is caught up in prayer. Again, and again in peace let us pray to the Lord. Prayer is to center our orbit on Christ. Prayer strengthens the muscle memory of our soul, so that we breathe and live prayer.

In Lent, we pilgrim our way to the Cross, to the miracle of dark sky and ripped temple curtain, to the cry, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? That is where this is going, where all of life is going, for there is hidden the greater miracle, the greater glory. With the heaving cry, he gives up his spirit. With the heaving cry, it is done, and the victory rushes forward into history, into the very midst of us. 

And as I ponder this twenty year old pilgrim, messy hair French-braided as she stares hungrily forward, her voice rising out of its own desire - I am humbled by the gravity of His patience. 

He whispers into the crevices of my heart where I harbor the storm, seeing straight through me. And again, and again He comes with peace in His hands and the gift of His Son. And again, and again, when my haste in and out of Orthodoxy has left me in tears and crisis, when I have whimpered to Him about the confusion, when I have failed and fallen... 



In peace, He comes to give the gift of Easter. He comes to restore me. He comes to fill me with His good life. What else can I do, but cry out, feet anchoring me in His orbit, Lord our God, save Your people.

Again and again in peace, let us pray to the Lord:

Fourth Sunday in Lent

Gracious Father, whose blessed Son Jesus Christ came down
from heaven to be the true bread which giveth life to the
world: Evermore give us this bread, that he may live in us,
and we in him; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the
Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.



  1. This was so beautifully written and I enjoyed it immensely.

    "I wanted to know this was what I was meant to do and do it. I did not want to journey. I wanted to arrive." How many times in my life have I done this... forsaken the journey in favor of "arrival", when really... the arrival, without the journey, would have been utterly useless.

    Thank you for sharing this. <3

  2. Thank you, Cara - I still struggle to enjoy the journey sometimes, but it does make the arrival sweeter, and truer... you're so right about that.

    Have a wonderful day tomorrow!



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