Sunday, October 30, 2011

What babies teach us about gifts

I have known her since before she was born - felt her squirm inside her mom over Family Night Dinners on 8th St, NE, and talked long over Starbucks lattes about the joys of being a daughter, and having one, to a woman who had only had boys before this.

But I just met her, over Subway sandwiches and haircuts, as she slept in the back of our rented car as we drove to the Relevant blogging conference, and her mom and I told stories about writing, and feeling anonymous, and boys (many stories about boys), and the desires that our hearts hold unfulfilled. I kept sneaking glances at her, this seven month old girl, and thinking about what it would be like to have one, what it would be like to become a mother myself, years and seasons ahead of the time I'm in.

And as the days wore on and I got to know her deep blue eyes and the way you can tell she is about to laugh by the way she crinkles the corners of her eyelids, as I rocked her to "Winter Song" on repeat and the weight of her sank into my bones and into my heart... I began to clamor and complain to God. "Why don't I have this, already?" I asked him staring at the ceiling while she slept. "Why don't I have this kind of joy, this particular gift, this calling, this identity?"

The questions flash flooded into my brain, along with their twins: what if.. I never have this, I never get married, I never have children, what if I am not really a blogger, what if I'm not a writer, what if, what if...

Then she stirred, and opened her eyes, and looked at me. And there was the answer: be where you are.
(photo: jessica fairchild)
Babies teach us the hard lesson of simplicity. They only want a few things, and their joy at finding them bubbles over into their squeals of delight. This baby, and her happy sounds, rocking in her stroller completely in love with a plastic water cup, knows how to be where she is. She does not live in fear of what if. She does not complain that she does not have things she sees others having.

So I spent time with this baby this week and her handprints cover my face, and her laughter at my Glee music rings in my ears. Be where you are. 

Be where you are. Let the longings be longings, and hold them in your hands and ponder them. Let the questions be questions, and ask them. Let the laughter be laughter, and the love be the most blessed beautiful love.

Her name means life and grace - and she taught me the way to live them.

"We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. May your unfailing love rest upon us, O Lord, even as we put our hope in you." (Psalm 33.20-22)

All my love,

Friday, October 28, 2011

Relevant (a five minute post)

This week I'm spending time at the Relevant Conference with none other than Lisa-Jo, the Gypsy Mama! She named the topic this week relevant, and seeing as I'm here, with her, soaking in all of the beautiful chatter and connecting and blogging, I thought I would link up, too! Won't you come along, and let your words fly free?


Some days it's the last thing I feel - relevant. I know the music only after it's become famous and the trends whoosh by me faster than cars on a freeway. I feel like the questions I want to ask come from some other non-relevant place - because I long to know if Flannery O'Connor's vision of God matches mine, how to tell a good story, how to weave beautiful words for the people I love. I want to know how to learn and grow and fight for the things that matter, and so often those questions quake and shiver under the looming, "Is it relevant?" question.

But here, in this hotel room as the hairdryer hums and the baby squeals, as I feel the weight of rocking that baby to sleep last night in my left shoulder blade, and wonder about all of the hidden secret things of being a mother, I don't measure a question by its relevance to next year or next week or even the dreaded, "what will you do after college?" Instead I measure my questions by their joy and light and life - by how deeply I long for their answers, how long I will journey out on a limb just for the enjoyment of it.

I want to know the way to Him from a thousand angles, I want to know how to fight with Him and feel His grace, I want to know how to treasure up all these things and ponder them in my heart while I listen to the people around me. I long for the beautiful, irrelevant answers that are the only relevant answers: the ones about Him.


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Because sometimes home is not a street address

The engine grinds to a halt and we wheel across the tarmac. The lights wink at me from behind the thick plane window and my stomach does a running roundoff cartwheel like the ones my sister and I used to do in the backyard.

I have come home.
(photo: hannah byrnes)
It's not where I grew up.

It's not where I live now.

It's not where the letters come and go, or where I curl up in sweaters as October slowly fades into November and it's not where I drink tea late at night while dreaming story ideas and whispering questions.

Washington, DC is the city where I spent four months and found my heart. It's the place where I held out my hands, opened from seasons of exhaustion and uncertainty, and suddenly, God filled them with love and friendship and joy. It's the city where I learned that sometimes, all that He wants for you to do is turn to Him and say, "It's marvelous!"

There are always these places, even for those of us who wander in and out of homes and down empty alleys and across marshes full of mud. There are always places where the wind picks up and the air changes to smell like harvest and we are suddenly full to overflowing, suddenly bright and beaming.

I hold this place tight in my chest, and as we drive past the Capitol Building glowing against the black sky, something inside me shouts out - "Welcome back, Hilary!"

We never leave the places we love - we carry them with us. We carry them in our heart. 

I have come home to the place I found Him.

Sometimes, home is not a street address.
(photo: mandie sodoma)


Monday, October 24, 2011

Dear Hilary, Love Hilary: The Awful Obedient Things

I tried this experiment way back when, writing advice columns to myself, finding a voice and a space in this blog to record the words that I wish I could hear in my own mind... the words that carry the wisdom of my mentors and my friends and the bits and pieces of Rainer and Mary Oliver and Pablo and others. This week I want to write about a lesson that a very wise person I know and love taught me.

Dear Hilary,

I have to do something I don't want to do. I have to have a conversation I don't want to have, put words in the air that change things, speak honesty where I've been avoiding it. I really don't want to. I keep convincing myself that God couldn't want me to do something I'm afraid of, that God couldn't possibly really be asking me to do that, right? Because well, you know, isn't there a way around it? If I just give it enough time, or space, if I let the words percolate for another few months or so, won't it there be an easier and better time for it? Or maybe I won't have to, at all? Hilary, how do we do this?

Not Wanting To

Dear Not Wanting To,

It was the winter of my freshman year of college. December, I think, just after Christmas in that strange in-between time when all the chaos has mostly subsided and everyone is picking stray ribbons off their sweaters and lugging one more cardboard mountain to the curb. I was sitting on my couch, in my living room, about to go visit one of my favorite high school mentors, and after that, well, I had these plans to "hang out" with a guy I'd had an on-again-off-most-of-the-time-so-really-it-was-never-on... thing with. I knew exactly what "hanging out" with him meant. I wanted to. As I was waiting for my dad to get ready to leave, I whispered this really quick prayer, not even really a prayer. "Jesus, be with me today." That's all. A sentence. And then I trudged through the snow to the car and we drove to my high school.

I'll keep this story short, Not Wanting To, because the point is somewhere about three hundred paragraphs of thoughts down the road, and I want to get there a bit faster. I had this moment as I was meeting with my high school mentor, as I was drinking Earl Grey tea and watching the steady drip of melting ice out the window - when I heard this voice in my head. You can't have both, Hilary. You can't have Me with you and have him. You have to choose. The voice spoke with such clarity that I about jumped out of my chair and spilled scalding tea on my lap. But there it was: the truth, shining like the unrepentant neon signs on the freeway: You have to choose. 

I ended the meeting and I called my mentor, this very wise person who defies words, really, for the place she has had in my life. And I told her, "I just made a level 6 decision." We'd been talking about decision making for a while, and about how we do obedient things, how we choose what is difficult but right. Level 6 is when you decide because it's right: you know it is scary beyond belief and maybe hard and almost always against what your heart and mind want in that moment, but searing through it all is that clear voice, that bright beam of neon truth that says, "This is what I have to do."

This mentor taught me to believe in level 6. To believe that despite how hard we think it's going to hurt, or how long we think the road ahead is, or how very much we wish God was telling us to take it easy on this one... we can choose what is right. We begin slowly, Not Wanting To, and by honestly examining that impulse. Ask yourself: why don't I want to do that? Answer honestly: because it sucks, because it's hard, because shouldn't I just get to do what I want anyway like everyone else, because if I want to hang out with a guy that actually doesn't like me and make out with him then shouldn't I just be able to??? 

But listen to that voice next to the smaller, quieter one. The one that doesn't push its way to the front, but that just says, "You can't have both." That small voice is the bright beam of neon truth. That voice is the level 6 voice. That voice is the way we do this.

We all face the awful obedient things, Not Wanting To, whether we are 21 or 57 or 98. We all face the choices that we would rather not face: have a tough conversation or clean the sink for the 99th time, or revise one more powerpoint, or say no to "hanging out". But on the other side of the awful obedient things lies the wisdom and the joy. On the other side you will find a different kind of fullness. On the other side of that awful obedience is the truth. 


Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Extraordinary Life (I feel restless)

"Well, of course Aunt March prefers Amy over me. Why shouldn't she? I'm ugly and awkward and I always say the wrong things. I fly around throwing away perfectly good marriage proposals. I love our home, but I'm just so fitful and I can't stand being here! I'm sorry, I'm sorry Marmee. There's just something really wrong with me. I want to change, but I - I can't. And I just know I'll never fit in anywhere."

"Oh, Jo. Jo, you have so many extraordinary gifts; how can you expect to lead an ordinary life? You're ready to go out and - and find a good use for your talent. Tho' I don't know what I shall do without my Jo. Go, and embrace your liberty. And see what wonderful things come of it." - Jo and Mrs March, Little Women (the film) 

I've been having a Jo weekend. My heart feels like it's battering at the walls of this space, wondering if it's time to go, tired of rerunning the same questions and fears and conversations, wanting to spread wings towards the future and step into the unknown. I was eating lunch with a good friend today and suddenly I heard Jo March in my own voice. "I'm just so fitful that I can't stand being here!" I yelled to the bright sun and crisp October wind as we walked back to the artist studio where we were having our Saturday class. 
(photo: mandie sodoma, sindisiwe photography)
I wonder sometimes what to do with these strange feelings of restlessness. I've always been a homebody; homesick for days my first time away from my family in France, always ready to settle in by the fire at my house rather than go out dancing in Boston. I've always thought of myself as a rooted, grounded person. 

So this Jo March restlessness has me running around in circles. I want to plunge into some new space, learn its nooks and crannies, meet its beautiful and extraordinary people. Yet I'm afraid of that gut wrenching moment of yes, of being alone, of never finding answers to my questions, or not finding the answers I expect. I think of the way that Jo paces up and down in her mother's room, tossing her hands in the air the same way that I do when I'm frustrated. I feel her question to her mother more deeply than ever before. What if I don't fit in anywhere? What am I doing here? How will I find the life I'm craving?

And there is something miraculous about Marmee's answer to her daughter, because I hear in it the answers I'm desperate for. "Jo, Jo, you have so many extraordinary gifts; how can you expect to lead an ordinary life? Go, and embrace your liberty. And see what wonderful things come of it." 

I don't know what is around the next bend. I don't know where my wings ache to take me. I don't know how to set my heart free to dream the widest dreams without tripping and stumbling over fear and expectation and my own disappointment with how difficult it is. 

But, like Jo, and Anne of Green Gables, and all my literary counterparts, I suspect the answers lie in just this: believe with your whole heart in the extraordinary life, and trust that wonderful things will come of living it. 

Hilary (and her Jo March heart)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

I try to write a poem (and learn about silence)

The thing about rain

The thing about rain
is its shape: streaking window panes
in the wet cold

a pair of headlights beam back to me

a drop sails towards me on the wind
only to crash against glass, splintering itself
into one thousand small stars

the thing about rain is its sadness
quiet like the seventh month,
when the sympathy has dried up
and the people in their cold black coats
scurry along the platform home
forgetting the ache inside you

it grew roots while you weren't watching
this rain, and your love - so tender once -
is stubborn and does not bend.

the thing about rain is how it promises
holding your face in its rough hands
that even the love that aches
becomes one thousand small stars, too.


My pen crashes onto the page. I don't know how to write poems anymore, I whisper to my journal as I sit in the Public Garden on Saturday afternoon. I'm watching couples walk by, categorizing them by their shoes - a pair of Toms next to a pair of Adidas, two pairs of clogs side by side, high heels clattering and squealing next to loafers. I keep wanting a poem to appear to me. To find me sitting in the mist just after the rain, to creep up behind me and slip into my heart. I scribble down the only words I know, a prayer for writing, for the words...

The water hums, a plucked string. Lord, where did the words go? How did they leave, out the window, or that leaky hole in the ceiling of my heart? The poem and I sit next to each other, legs crossed, parallel lines. We will not speak, the poem and I, but for a moment the silence holds our selves. The bench is cold. We stare at the water, awaiting. I long to write like Mary Oliver, poems of how ducks skid to a halt in the garden, wings flapping. I want to write that here, the wind knocks at our bodies and laughs when we shiver.

I forgot how impatient I can be with writing, how unwilling I can be to open myself to the un-poetic days and weeks and seasons. I forgot how there are days when the words aren't enough, when they aren't present. I forgot that in those days the best thing is just to draw near the silence and listen.

Some days we won't have the words we long for.

Draw near the silence with me, and maybe we can help each other listen?


Monday, October 17, 2011

Making Out Isn't a Date (a guest post for the Good Women Project)

Somehow, in this small corner of the blogging world, between posts about singleness and posts about beauty, between hoping beyond hope that I can reach my wonderful readers, and tell you the joy and wonder and brightness and extraordinariness that you are... I found the Good Women Project. 

And sometimes I get to blog for them! This month, the topic was "Dating Mistakes I Made." And I thought, well, I've never dated... but I have a few mistakes to talk about, too. 

You can head over to read the post here, and check out the Project here (and while you're at it, check out Lauren Dubinsky's wonderful blog, too!). 

Making Out Isn't a Date

Of course it is! I told at my reflection in the mirror after returning from a hours-long, super-romantic, sitting-on-the-beach-where-the-stars-feel-aligned night in early August before college. It has to be!

I told my friends I was dating that guy. The one with the hair that flopped on his forehead, who met me at Starbucks three times, who made out with me more than that, who whispered in my ear that he thought I was sexy {and who doesn’t swoon over that?}. I told myself that it was just growing into a relationship, that the making out, the suggestive text messaging, the thrill of the unknown… it was on its way to dating. It was basically there. Isn’t kissing someone in your car essentially asking them out? Wasn’t his desire to lock lips just another way of saying, “I think you are beautiful and smart and interesting and funny. Can I take you on a date”?

My dating mistake? Calling a lot of things with guys dates that aren’t.

To keep reading, click on over here.


Saturday, October 15, 2011

Who Run the World (a post about dancing)

Who run the world? (Girls, Girls!)
Who run the world? (Girls, Girls!)
Who run the world? (Girls, Girls!)
Who run the world? (Girls, Girls!)

Picture this: Exuberant, somewhat exhausted, laughing-like-crazy Hilary, dressed in her yoga shorts and an old T-shirt, dancing like she is auditioning for Dancing with the Stars (without the hand-eye coordination needed...) to BeyoncĂ©'s "Run the World (Girls)" blasting from her computer, singing along.

I have been taking some time this weekend to dance around in my bedroom. For so much of the time, I wear neat pencil skirts and put my hair in a bun. I look both ways before I cross the street (though I do sometimes forget to look down at potentially hazardous stray bricks). I keep my music to a low volume, return my library books on time.

And I love being that person - most of the time. But there are these moments, when my feet start to move to every beat within a fifty mile radius. I catch a few notes of a blaring stereo on the Newbury St and immediately my hands want to fly above my head and I want to spin around in circles. I want to let my mane of reddish hair down around my shoulders and watch it twist in the air behind me. I want to kick off my shoes and have a dance party in the office, or on the street, or in my bedroom. No shame, no sense of what is "proper" or "perfect" - just jumping around like there is nothing in the world to do except dance.
(photo: Hannah Byrnes)

When I dance, I remember that joy is unselfconscious. It doesn't look at itself, or measure itself, or compare itself to others. When I jump around like an enthusiastic lemur, or try (unsuccessfully) to learn a salsa routine to Pitbull, I live the joy and I can feel it radiate out of me.

Sometimes I dream of starring in Step Up. I imagine that I'm the heroine who only knows classical ballet, and that a boy with an attitude but some killer dance moves teaches me to chase after freedom, and I teach him to love discipline. I imagine that I can pull off the leaps and twists, and that when I step in front of the audience, there is nothing except for me and that moment and that routine. I want to be the girl from Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights when they give their first performance and she shocks her parents with her routine. I want to be that daring, free spirit.

I think God wants us to be free, too. I think He wants us to be free of all our impatient ideas about who the "perfect" self is, and what she can and can't do. To be free from guilt, free from despair, free from the voice that tells me I'm not good enough, pretty enough, smart enough...

So I turn on the pump up music and start to dance. I sing loudly to Beyoncé. I practice my salsa steps, and trip and laugh and start over. I imagine I'm Nora, or Katey, or any of those other characters who dance their way to a free heart.

And for those fleeting moments, I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror, and I think - I'm dancing my way to a free heart, too. 

(photo: Mandie Sodoma)

Monday, October 10, 2011

How things change (an old, and a new, post)

This time last year, I lurked in the bookshelves of a large church in DC, reading titles about being single and how not to screw up your next relationship (yes, indeed, they exist).

I wrote in a flurry of words sitting at my kitchen table, with the smell of pumpkin chocolate chip cookies, and fresh clean air, and wind, and sunshine wafting through the apartment. A year ago, I wrote...

Oh yeah. A book that you can buy from for a whopping $3.99. That's right folks, for a measly $3.99 you can solve your screwy relationship or find untold intimacies in the goldfish bowl of your single life.

I have to laugh when I hear this. Why do we say this stuff? Why do we publish books that analogize (that is not a real word, is it?) our lives to that of a cold-blooded, scaly orange sea creature with a memory of less than 30 seconds, who lives on smelly fish pellets and dies within three months' of living in your dorm room? Why do we promise that in a few short pages your intimacy will be found, your mistakes will be solved, in a word, that you will be the perfect relationship guru? If you're going to make promises, I vote you bring out the big guns. Here are some of the titles of books I'D write if I was in the business of relationship advice.

#1 From Lamezoid to Lucky: How to Manipulate Random Chance to get the Spouse of Your Dreams

#2 If Mother Teresa Was Single, Why Can't You Be?

#3 Single and Lonely? Stop Complaining! (And Other Forms of Tuff Luv)

#4 Dirty Martini, No Olive: What Your Single-Ready-To-Mingle Go-To Bar Order Says About You (and Your Dateability)

#5 Ring By the 15th of April: The REAL Timeline for Christian Dating (And When To Max Out Your Credit Card for the Ring She Doesn't Think You Know She Wants)

#6 Woe Is Me, I Got "Juliet" On A Facebook Quiz and Now I Think I'm Doomed to a Life of Young, Tragic Love (A Memoir about My Twenties, Taylor Swift, and Life in America)

#7 A 2 Page Guide to Finding Your Soulmate (You Thought You Needed to Read a BOOK?)

#8 Church Shopping When You're Single: How to Tell The Cutie from the Desperate from the 'Taken'"

#9 How (Not To) Lose a Guy in 10 Years: What You Can Learn from Sappy Teen Romance Movies About Making A Relationship Work

#10 You're How Old? The Age When You Should Start to Worry About Being Single Could Be Just Around the Corner

I think if I went to the gum chewing, cigar smoking publisher with these snappy titles, I would be a billionaire before you could say "Pat Robinson" or "Jerry Falwell!". In all seriousness, though, I want to know the purpose behind these books that seem designed SOLELY for the purpose to broadcasting to the world that you are, in fact, single. It might be easier to tattoo to your forehead - "Single. Stop Staring." Maybe we write the books because we feel like it's "not so bad" if we are addressing the problem. If we read the book and follow the steps, pray the right cycle of prayers, mingle with the right small groups and social events, make our hair wavy one day and straight the next and buy our clothes at the cute boutiques on M St. that scream, "I'm super trendy but also cute but also very sexy but also eco-friendly and caring towards the environment!" - if we do all that, the magic formula will work and we will no longer be single.


How much has changed, I think as I reread my words, filled with impatience and unrest and indignation. And yes, I am still often impatient and restless and indignant that I do not have a boyfriend, that being chosen and pursued by someone hasn't appeared in my life. I spill a lot of ink still wondering why we insist on keeping this wound raw, on reminding each other through our expectations and our vague comforting words.

But God has been quieting my heart about this, too. In slow, small steps, in trembling forward, I have begun to find a voice for the hope that lives in my heart. I have begun to put words to this new question, how do I hold a desire unfulfilled in my heart? 

How things change in just a year of wandering and stumbling, tripping and racing forward. How things change when we begin to hand over the small jigsaw pieces of our selves to Him. How things change when we let the loud voices of hurt and discontent and frustration go silent... and let the quiet voice of peace begin to speak.
Laugh with me, won't you? That in the landscape of a year He has taken my chaos and begun to make calm? That between a guest post here, and there, and prayers flung up to Heaven and grace rained back down, the peace has begun to make a home in me? 

All my love, from all this messy growing heart,

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Dear Reader, You are Bright.

Not long ago, I wrote you a letter. I'm a letter-writer by nature, you know, and I was struggling to find the words on this blog and so I wrote to you, and told you that you are extraordinary.

And today I wanted to continue that letter, and tell you another true thing about you. I mean you, sitting there at your laptop or on your iPhone, reading between sips of coffee (I hope it's a toffee nut latte) or maybe on a fifteen minute break from a project you keep hoping will finish itself. You, with the three beautiful kids who are wrestling and fussing and laughing and screaming. You, who are clinging to a warm mug of tea, or pushing your glasses up onto your forehead to read this (yes, you, I remember that you always did that when you were going to read me the wise words of St. Theophan or St. Mary of Egypt or John Woolman...).

Dear Reader,

Some days make us doubt the point of it all, of working so hard, of giving so much. Some days are pounding rain days where your whole head gets soaked trying to lock your front door so the cat and dog don't get out into the rain days. The sky looks like a wet watercolor painting, and the air whistles and sighs alongside you. There are those days.

I have to tell you, I have had my fair share of those days this semester. It's been hard, the kind of hard that aches in your heart, and doesn't let go, and tugs you along. I have to tell you that there have been days where I have doubted the point of it all. When the sky seemed to promise nothing but rain, and grey, and question after question.

But then, you wouldn't believe this, but I got sick. My body gave up, its resources drained and tired, and I crawled into bed on Sunday and spent the next 24 hours in between naps and cups of tea and tissues and cough drops, and I woke up to stretch and read and then go back to sleep.

And you wouldn't believe how much of a difference it made. When I woke up, the sun was out, and the sky was turning the colors of fall, and the wind seemed to laugh with me. And it is so beautiful here, the air feels almost golden and so clean, and reader? There is more beauty than you'd ever believe. 

I sense that maybe you've been having one of those days, one of those hard, long, days. I sense that maybe in the midst of all that is wonderful your heart is a little weary, a little sad?

I just wanted to tell you that you are bright. You illuminate the world. You illuminate my life. You jumped onto my bed on Thursday night and with your big brown eyes and your patient smile and your thoughtful words you reminded me that not all questions have answers immediately. You wrapped your arms around me when I found you outside Terminal B and I felt so safe, so taken care of. You prayed over me, sitting on a bench by a path on campus, for delight and peace and behold, it arrived, and you rejoiced with your laugh and your smile. You leaned across miles and miles of megabytes and offered time with you and baby Zoe and bloggers, just when I needed it, and teach me just how much the Father knows us. You drink tea in our apartment and throw your hands in the air when the idea hits you and you smile your mischievous smile and I watch all of the lights twinkle in your mind. You hold my heart in your heart. You hold so many people's hearts in your heart. You teach the world to be kind and thoughtful. You bring home bundles of ideas and build cardboard fireplaces in our apartment amid earnest discussions of world religions. You laugh with me so freely that the pictures we captured at your wedding don't even begin to capture the joy you create in the world. You drive with me late into the night with the sounds of Zoe Keating and Ludovico and your own beautiful voice sounding through the stereo and the music feeds our souls.

You are bright.

You shine, even in the midst of the weariness and the sadness and the questions that pile up like a hundred thousand leaves.

You have a radiance I don't have words for, but I watch with awe and amazement. I long for you to see it as clearly as I do, reader, see it the way I see your words on my screen or your handwritten scrawl in my mailbox or when I see you, walking across the Quad or down the street or when I think of you - how radiant you are.

Thank you for sharing your light with me, for calling out across the waters of time and distance and space, one lighthouse to another, blinking love and care and peace. If you haven't had someone in your day, tell you how glad they are that you are you, here is my small attempt: Thank you for the luminescence of you.

All my love to you, 

Monday, October 3, 2011

Kyrie Eleison (on my journey with Orthodoxy)

I close my eyes. Kyrie, ele-e-e-e-ison. We begin the repetition: Lord, have mercy. Our voices move up the scale, and we hold the last note long, letting it reverberate through our bodies. My sneakers feel the creaking wood of the floor and my hands clutch the smooth leather of the liturgy book. My head hurts, I have a sore throat, and everything feels tired. But then, the choir begins to pray, to help me pray, to help us all pray the thing we always need and never ask: Lord, have mercy.
(photo: mandie sodoma, sindisiwe photography)
Kyrie, eleison. 

The Orthodox Church teaches me to ask for mercy: to begin and end with this prayer to the Lord, the repetition that sounds through the sanctuary and echoes even when all has become still and dark. Because though we are forgiven, and found, and becoming whole - we are also still fallen, still faltering, still troubled. We beg mercy because we need His voice to calm the storms in our lives. We pray mercy because we need His patience to live with the unanswered questions. We need mercy to see where He is leading us.

Kyrie eleison. 

My eyes fly open as the priest faces the altar, his hands raised, and says, "Lord, our God, whose power is beyond compare, and glory is beyond understanding; whose mercy is boundless, and love for us is ineffable; look upon us and upon this holy house in Your compassion. Grant to us and to those who pray with us Your abundant mercy."

And as I look at the priest, his hands raised in prayer, I find Mary, the Theotokos, her own hands raised. This is the icon of the Platyteria - Mary who is "more spacious than the Heavens". She holds her hands open in prayer and at the center of the icon is the Christ child, making the sign of blessing. She looks at me. I can almost hear her ask me, "Hilary, have you asked my Son for mercy? Hilary, have you held your hands out in prayer and asked that He fill you?"
(photo: mandie sodoma, sindisiwe photography)
Ky-ri-e, e-e-lei-son. 

I know so little about this world. I peer in the window of Orthodoxy on my tiptoes, and find myself drawn back again, and again, to the hands raised in prayer and the same prayer for mercy. I am drawn back to the richness of this mystery, that in our repetitions new life emerges, that in mirroring Mary I am drawn nearer to Christ, that in whispered Greek words my heart finds a language it longs for.

And may God grant to us and to those who pray with us His abundant mercy.



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