The beach ball of Holy Week

DSC_0809I love Holy Week. I love Pascha and the longer I’m Orthodox, the more I like Lent (or grow to appreciate what it does for me).

Some years, I’ve been able to unplug from life during Holy Week, coming into a rhythm that allows the week to almost seamlessly merge into the celebration of Great and Holy Saturday and Pascha. Those years I’m usually with my sister, godson and their family at Holy Assumption Orthodox Church in Canton, and I’ve taken days off and am plugged into only the cycle of services and my family there.

This year is not that year. A new job and new responsibilities means less time off. Teaching made for a Lent without one Presanctified Liturgy (one of my favorite services). And life backed up into Holy Week this year, putting me in places other than the pews on days I would normally be in church.

I had a sneaking feeling this would happen. I usually care A LOT and my frustration of missed expectation causes an anxiety and frustration that are the exact opposite of the mindset I tried to cultivate during the Lenten season. I tried to do better this year, and it helped.

I finally got to church tonight, for Holy Unction. I missed the Bridegroom matins services earlier in the week (though I subjected Huntington University’s CO342 to a video of the hymns. My class, my rules.)

As I stood before Fr. Andrew, my palms open to receive the holy oil, I almost felt as if time closed in around me. The feelings I battled all week, like trying to keep a beach ball under the water while sitting on it, dissipated and nothing else seemed to exist.

I never wanted to leave.

Those who know me, know how much anxiety the current political situation is causing me. You know that, for someone committed to truth-telling, the constant lying, gaslighting and nonsense is beyond a challenge. I have not done a good job of keeping what matters in the foreground. I surrendered Lent in some very real ways to that which I cannot control. Another beach ball: something too big to keep under wraps, and too buoyant to keep under control.

I have three more days of services left in this journey: the Liturgy of St. James with the marathon service of Holy Thursday (the 12 Passion Gospels) that takes us to the Cross, and the Lamentations service of Holy Friday leading us up to the Feast of the Resurrection, Pascha.

There will be some work in there, a rubble pile, weather to complain about and distractions aplenty. If you’re thinking of it, I’d welcome your prayers for continued growth and focus during the remainder of this journey.

The beauty of the weeks leading up to Pascha–the Sunday of Mary of Egypt, Lazarus Saturday, Palm Sunday, etc.–is that I am constantly reminded that it is never too late, I am never so far gone that I cannot welcome the King.

After Fr. Andrew anointed my head, my throat and my palms with the oil, I kissed the Gospel book, the icon of the Theotokos and Christ, and I slowly left the santuary.

The journey of Holy Week continues.

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A massive rescue operation

It’s Great and Holy Friday. Christ hangs on the cross in the center of the church. I will go later today to sign hymns of Lamentations, to mourn alongside His mother and disciples. Tonight we will bury Him. Tomorrow night we will await His Glorious Resurrection.

In light of all this, I want to make sure you know something. I knew it, but I forget it all the time, because I live here, in the West, where Christianity is all about a God who is so angry at us being us that He had to sacrifice His own Son to appease Himself. (Ridiculous, isn’t it.)

This was never about that.

Fr. Andrew reminded me of this no less than four times this week, in a couple of homilies and in confession. And he didn’t use these words, exactly, but it’s how my brain is wired these days, so I’m using them.

THIS WAS ALWAYS ABOUT RESCUE.

Always. From the absolute moment we decided to do what we did, and every moment of every day that we do what we do, this has been about that.

It has been about Love. And Sacrifice. About Healing. And Wholeness. It is about Death, but it is, oh boy is it, about Life.

It’s about a Divine Hand, two actually, outstretched and reaching. It’s about moving heaven, earth and the gates of hell to free us from the rubble of our own brokenness, our own hurts, our pain, our shame, our loneliness and vulnerability. It’s about pushing the broken pieces of our lives aside to get us out.

I have a lot of friends who do not believe what I believe. And that is OK with me. I love them and I love the way they challenge me and walk alongside of me and talk with me about these things, regardless of our differences.

But if you do not believe what I believe, because you have distinctly chosen to reject the god of “substitutionary atonement” (doesn’t that sound lovely), the god who “hates F#%$” and leaves tracts in restaurants in lieu of tips, the god who worries more about what people do than what people are (icons, made in His image), it’s OK. I rejected him too. I had to. That other “faith” was killing me.

And this God came for me. He showed up on a commuter train in Washington D.C. when I was on the edge, in the words of a new friend. He carefully and methodically moved aside those broken pieces in my own heart, freed me from the traps I made and is gradually putting me back together. We’re not done yet, but this isn’t a simple process. It’s always been about healing. It’s never, ever, ever been about hell.

God is Love. He kept saying that. I choose to believe Him.    The Icon of Christ the Bridegroom (Ο Νυμφίος)

Are we there yet?

In which I try not to step in it anymore

“The wise thief didst thou make worthy of paradise in a single moment. By the wood of Thy cross, illumine me as well. And save me.”

I will sing this hymn late next week as we move closer to Pascha. I have never needed to sing this hymn more than I need to sing it now. Lent is always hard. ALWAYS. You try to turn your brain more inward, make it function alongside your soul, make yourself one being: Mind/Spirit/Body. You try to clean up, clear out and make a firmer move toward holiness, toward becoming deified. You mean it.

And I meant it this year. I always do. But things are getting so damn complicated anymore. The Job That Doesn’t Pay takes up a good 12 hours a week, on average. Add that to the Job That (barely) Pays and it’s 40+ and the 6.5 hours of commute time to get to that one…sigh. I’ve been a bit busy. And recent events and ridiculousness are leaving my faith frayed to dangerous extremes.

I do guilt extremely well. It’s an aggravating holdover from my Western Christian days, the days obsessed with legal standing and paying debts and all that other crap. So I feel really really guilty about missing Lenten church services (for TJTDP) to get my stuff together for a search, and for missing last weekend for a 48-hour training. There’s going to be Lazarus Saturday skipped for more training.

The corrective to that guilt, though, was the live rescue of a missing person by a K9 on our team. This work with TJTDP is necessary and I need to do it. My dog’s good at it and it’s a skill we can share. So we’re getting over that right quick.

In the middle of all this, the actual obligations, my home state decided to wade into controversy up to its eyeballs. I tried very hard to hide under a rock and ignore it, but I found it discussed everywhere, by everybody. It was as inescapable as the wind in an open field, even in places I felt were safe. It’s personal to me because I know the people behind the bill, and I know their care and concern for the “least of these” extends only to those who are adult white males, married to women. They advised my old churches on how to hide child abuse. They lobby to keep states from cracking down on abuse in religious schools, colleges and mission organizations. They are getting fitted for their millstones. (And no, I am not sorry I said that.) They miss, of course, that the Golden Rule (and pretty much all the teachings of all the Gospel) is best distilled down to “Don’t Be an Asshole.” I know, it’s hard.

I found out one of my favorite humans in all the universe suffered a terrible loss. My heart broke for her.

So I hid this week, flat out. Skipped a Wednesday liturgy, where I knew the controversy would be hanging out at the potluck. I took my pup and went to a rubble pile. Nothing makes you “present” like trying not to fall into a jagged piece of concrete, rebar sticking out everywhere, looming up where you want to put your foot.

I guess I just found my analogy. This Lent has been an absolute disaster. And I have misstepped, over-stepped and caused landslides of anger in my own heart. I find myself now, as the thief, in the last minute, the midnight hour, trying to get it right. I am reaching out and reaching up. If you read this, and you are so inclined, I ask for your prayers over the next nine days as I approach the Feast of Pascha. Pray I might find a quiet place inside my soul to retreat, even when all around me seems to be going all to hell.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a very obvious sinner.

A new way

I know everyone says this, but I really don’t like change. I wish things could stay the same. Actually, no. What I wish is I could have new good things along with all the comfortable old things. I believe that is what is colloquially referred to as “having’s one’s cake…”

But whatever. Change gets my knickers in a bunch. Feeling a pull of two competing obligations makes me completely crazy and renders me totally incapable of enjoying anything. That means that, for example, if I am at a Holy Week service by myself, and my husband is at home eating a frozen meal (having an affair with Marie Callender), I will be feeling guilty for not being there. Or, conversely, if I am at home, eating a Lenten dinner of mixed bean salad, after having cooked him some chicken dish, I will feel guilty about not being at Church.

What’s a girl to do?

She’s to relax, and calm the heck down, that’s what.

Welcome to my first Lent, my first Pascha and my first four months as a married person. It’s also the first time I’ve not lived within a super-convenient 15 minutes from church. I’m 40 minutes from everything now, and while I just smiled a second ago when the rooster crowed down the road, I was struggling last night to keep the car on the highway as I wandered home from the late-night Lamentations service.

In 12 hours, we’ll be at Pascha. My poor husband, who had never seen or heard of Orthodoxy till he met me, will be experiencing his first Pascha — in which the church will be filled with about 70% of people we’ve never seen there before. There will be all kinds of “ritual” as he calls it that could not be more different from the country church he grew up in if you plunked him down on Mars. He’s quite the trooper. He had an Orthodox wedding in January, and in a week, we’ll be the godparents at the baptism of my nephew (a baby).

But for me, this has been this completely frustrating 50 days or so of trying to balance what I used to do with what I need to do. I told Fr. Andrew in confession the other day I wished I had fully enjoyed my single-life when I had it, spiritually-discipline-wise. I wasted so much time because I had it to waste. Now, I’d kill to have more time. (And be married…there’s that whole cake saving-eating problem again).

Fr. Andrew, because he’s smart like that, reminded me that this marriage is a sacrament. Being married works for my salvation, and A’s, as we figure out how to live together, build a life together, etc. Being a wife, a partner, one joined to another sacramentally works for my salvation, and A’s. I should not knock it, or feel guilty about it. I should, and am trying, to embrace this new thing, and all that it will bring me and us.

But it sure is different (good-different, in case you think I am griping. I am not).

So tonight, I’ll process around the Church and my hubby, who is so non-demonstrative, will help the men set up the inside of the Church for the Pascal liturgy. He will plug in in his way, while I do my thing. And then, together, we will say the portions of the service that he says every week–the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, etc. And afterward we’ll gather with our church family in the hall to eat, laugh, drink and celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord.

We will do so as a family — this new family, this sacramental unit known legally as the Knights.e367d08cb41911e282a322000a1f9709_7

To all, have a blessed and peaceful Pascha.

On trying not to be the white rabbit

Vanity are all the works and quests of man, and they have no being after death has come.

“There’s still time for a Mary moment.”

Monday night, after absolutely being a raging jackass ALL day long (don’t believe me? I have phone numbers for people you can call to confirm), I walked into church and straight to confession. I did not even put my purse down.

After I confessed, I told Fr. Andrew I was still struggling with the over-business, the inability to quiet my soul and my penchant for behaving like a really grumpy Martha in this Lenten season. (see earlier post)

There’s still time, he said.

Still time.

Because I took Holy Wednesday through Bright Monday off (more time, more church), I was able to do something yesterday I have never done before.

I sang in a funeral. The choir was small, so I volunteered to pitch in and tried not to hit too many sour notes while we committed the woman’s soul to God. She died after a two-year battle with cancer and a lifelong battle with mental illness. And through it all, she loved God.

In the text of the funeral hymns, there is this gem. “Vanity are all the works and quests of man, and they have no being after death has come.”

I don’t know, maybe reading it in a different form than on a bumper sticker like “he who dies with the most toys still dies,” but for some reason it stuck with me and has been bouncing around in my head for 24 hours now. It stood in direct opposition to my sense of busy, my over-competitive way of being at the newsroom, and a reminder of how this whole thing is a paradox. Maybe a tautology, I don’t know.

We have time left to do what we should, but it may not be as much as we want.

A few weeks ago, we received news in our family that a dear friend is very sick, also with cancer. She is the closest thing I have to an aunt, and it is impossible to overestimate her and her husband’s importance to us. The fiance drove me up to my mom’s after we received the news, so I could hold my new niece and give my mom a hug. On the way back, he let me blather on about memories of times with this woman and her family. And we talked about how you always think you have more time –to introduce the fiance, to return a phone call, to drop by to have a cup of coffee.

So with that in the back of my mind, my chronic busy feeling, the wrinkles developing around my eyes and my increasing need to go to bed earlier and earlier, I stood at the funeral and I sang.

Vanity are all the works and quests of man, and they have no being after death has come.

I hope that that which I have busied myself has had some value further on from here. I hope that I make better choices about how I live in the moments I have. I hope that as I go to another funeral this week, this one for the Son of God as we take His most precious body down from the Cross and spend time in mourning, awaiting His most glorious Resurrection, I remember that there is still time for the Mary moment–to find myself at the feet of Him who loved me so much He became man, rose from the dead and promises me that I will one day rise as well.

I hope I remember this paradox and find a way to live within it.

Behold, the Bridegroom cometh in the middle of the night, and blessed is that servant whom He shall find watching; and again unworthy is he whom He shall find heedless. Beware, therefore, O my soul, lest thou be overcome with sleep, lest thou be given up to death, and be shut out from the Kingdom. But rouse thyself and cry: Holy, Holy, Holy art Thou, O God, through the Mother of God, have mercy on us.

On missing Holy Week

I’m having a tough time disengaging from my Paschal party and the preceding Holy Week journey.

Even right now, during Bright Week for pity’s sake, I am listening to the Lamentations of Holy Week because I just love it so much. I miss the singing, the reflection, the knowledge of all that seemed lost then was found in Christ’s redemptive work.

I miss the mourning. I miss the soulful singing as we wait and watch. I miss the sadness turning into joy. I miss hearing the birds awake as we left the little parish hall at 4 a.m. Sunday. I miss my brothers and sisters, whom I rarely see but with whom I have shared this great Thing now two years in a row. I miss hearing Subdeacon Eusebius’ voice reading the Scriptures. I miss watching Elena direct the choir with such joy. I miss seeing Fr. Stacey grin from ear to ear as he blesses the parishioners with showers of holy water. I miss singing alongside my sister. I miss the darkness with candlelight peaking through as we leave the church for the procession.

I miss it all. I love it all, what it brings to me, what it does to me and where it takes me. I love that when I leave on Pascha, I feel like a bright, new penny. I love that throughout Bright Week I don’t worry about what I’m eating, then laugh when I notice that I’m not worrying about what I’m eating. I love that all I want to do is be back at Church and NO one at work can make that happen.

But I love that this Sunday, like every Sunday, we will again celebrate the Resurrection, for every Sunday in Orthodoxy is a mini-Pascha. And this week we’ll get to sing “The Angel Cried.” And Fr. Andrew will say “Christ is Risen” in English, Greek, Slavonic and probably Ukrainian. And we will answer him in English, Greek, Slavonic and probably Ukrainian. The Ethiopians will do that thing that they do when they hear “Christ is Risen” that can’t be translated into words. And I will smile because of the universal-ness of God’s love for us because He came for us, died for us, arose for us and saves us in any language.

I miss Holy Week. I miss Pascha. But I love missing it. And I can’t wait for next year.

Christ is risen, everybody! Christ is Risen!!

Behold, the Bridegroom comes (part II)

At last night’s service, Fr. Andrew talked about the need to be aware for Christ’s coming. I had some unwelcome flashbacks to my childhood in a denomination obsessed with the Rapture, but other than that it was a good thing to hear. But I guess I’ll contrast the Orthodox idea of watchfulness with the modern Evangelical idea of Rapture and all that it brings.

As a child, I often wandered into my parents’ room and watched my mother sleep. I was so worried she’d been Raptured away while I was sleeping and I was fairly certain I wasn’t going to be taken because I never seemed to feel saved. So during many sleepless nights, I trotted upstairs in a panic and watched her snore, figuring, I guess, I could somehow go with her if I was close to her. That fear never left until I became Orthodox. The services of my childhood were fraught with the reminders of how you did not want to be left behind. We watched “The Thief in the Night” and the sight of that electric razor clattering around in the sink still gives me chills to think about. (I’ve mentioned it before on this blog.) We had revival services that talked about it. We read the news with an eye for prophesied goings-on. And then, in the 90’s and early 00’s, Tim LaHaye decided to  puke the Left Behind books on American culture.

This is not the Orthodox understanding of the end of days. And it is not the point of what Fr. Andrew said last night. We are to be watchful. We are not to be slothful. We are to be aware. The services give us the example of the foolish virgins who sleep and the scripture reading puts the whole discussion into context (Matthew 24:36-26:2), But we don’t just talk about one-taken, one-not (and the warning not to try to figure it out). We include the parable of the talents and the sheep/goats. We are to be watchful, not just for the end, but also for when He comes to us daily — in the opportunities to serve Him, to meet Him in those in need.

The Christian walk is not just about avoiding the “Great Tribulation” or getting your “fire insurance.” It is about being ready for Christ and serving Him with our whole hearts and focusing on that. It’s not about being “left behind,” it’s about living in such a way that we are not shut out of the Kingdom.

Behold, the Bridegroom cometh in the middle of the night, and blessed is that servant whom He shall find watching; and again unworthy is he whom He shall find heedless. Beware, therefore, O my soul, lest thou be overcome with sleep, lest thou be given up to death, and be shut out from the Kingdom. But rouse thyself and cry: Holy, Holy, Holy art Thou, O God, through the Mother of God, have mercy on us.–Bridegroom Troparion