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)

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Chasing deer and Forgiveness Sunday.

Helo and I failed our second attempt at an area search certification back in December. He chased a deer. It’s an awful powerful distraction to work through, particularly when you (the dog) are yards away from your handler, already in a hunting mode (looking for a human) and a deer pops up out of the underbrush right in front of you.

It’s an awful powerful frustration to work through, if you’re the rookie handler and your dog just disappears, the little ringing of the bell on his collar fading to nothing. You call out and pray his loyalty to you and commitment to a recall is strong enough to overcome the lure of the escaping prey.

It was. But neither of us recovered. He came back to me looking like a crack addict, pupils dilated and crazy, his brain done for the day in a flood of adrenaline. For my part, I felt like I was losing a fight in the end of the last round. Punching wildly, I sent him back out to search. He found his next “victim” but instead of barking, sat down next to him and gave him a kiss. He then trotted back to me, looked up at me with his intense amber eyes. “I was supposed to do something differently there, wasn’t I.”

We were done. Back to the drawing board…which for us is not my search strategy or building his alert, but overcoming very understandable and natural desires to do what we do: to hunt and to fight/defend.

Today is Forgiveness Sunday in the Orthodox Church, where we gather together as parish families and seek the forgiveness of each other while we sing the hymns of Lent and the Resurrection. If I were closer to church, and not over-committed in my day, I’d be there. Sometimes though I feel like I’ve had so few interactions with my parish family that, apart from being offensive in my absence, I pretty much need to seek forgiveness from everyone else.

I chase deer all the time, my eyes glaze over as I relentlessly pursue being right or having a fight. I am easy to anger, very quick to speak, to flash hot with indignation or defense. I use a particular word, the “duct tape” of the human language, frequently as a subject, a noun, or a descriptor, in some sentences all three.

I never really understood the Orthodox idea of the “passions” until that Saturday afternoon in the woods near Camp Atterbury. These things I do are often justified, certainly in my mind, by reasonable needs, desires or wants. I am right, ergo it is OK for me to throw a fit to prove how right I am. Or you are wrong and it is hurting people, therefore it is perfectly fine for me to lose my cool and my mind. It’s not unusual for a dog to chase a deer. It’s not even a bad thing, under most circumstances.

But we’re not in most circumstances. We have a very specific job to do, and that job, finding lost people, requires us to put aside what we would rather be doing, or even could be doing. I have to ride his fuzzy little ass now to keep that hunting instinct in check, or better yet, channeled to the proper quarry for him now: humans.

My life isn’t actually most circumstances either. It’s a world populated with people with their own critical needs, hurts, fears, and losses. It’s a world that doesn’t need me losing control, even if understandable or justifiable. It’s a world that needs me to be what I am called to be: a little Christ, a person who loves well and fully, without regard for my own position. I don’t believe that means I am a pushover, but it probably means I can’t tell my bosses their ideas are %&$^# moronic. Probably, at least, not.

So for all those here in the digital world, or in my flesh-and-blood world I have offended, hurt, irritated or just generally treated badly: Forgive me, my brothers and sisters.

Emmanuel

So it’s Christmas.

For most of my life, I hated this time of year. I know I’m not alone either. If you have any “thing” at all, this time of year, this season of “festive family fun” is a tablespoon of lemon juice on whatever open abrasion is on your heart. If you’re like I was, it begins somewhere after Halloween and by the time you get to Christmas Eve, you’re an anxiety-ridden depressive, clinging to your sanity like a cat to a screen door. And who would blame you?

When I was 21, it was a particularly rough Christmas season. One night that year, in my friend’s car, after she peeled me off the emotional ceiling, she handed me a tiny little ring, one made for infants. Inside, in even tinier script, it read “Emmanuel.”

God with us.

That ring. That idea. That notion that Someone from the great Out There was intimately concerned with where I found myself, it was not a new idea to me. I heard it growing up in the fundamentalist church. I heard it at the Evangelical college.

But it meant nothing to me, in that context of grief and despair, until right that minute. It found me. There. In the front seat of her Chevy Lumina, somewhere around two in the morning.

That night began my journey to Orthodoxy, I know that now. That night, that ring, that idea, cast a thin thread of light into a very dark place.

God, my God, the Triune Creator of the Universe, the One who Is and Is to come, that One, is not distant. He is the One who seeks out. He searches until He finds us wherever we may be, in the sharp and jagged rubble piles of our lives, trapped by our own guilt, or the shame others have put on us, frozen by pain and anger and grief. In the Nativity, we have this idea, this promise kept. “I am coming to get you out.”

He uses us to do it. It’s really the most efficient way. We’re here. Now.

Even if you are not a person who believes in the God whom I worship, even if you believe in no God at all, you have to admit: there’s something about this time of year, this promise of something connecting us to each other, to something in the beyond pulling us up and pulling us in. It’s the kind gestures, the love of friends, the warmth of an embrace of one who comes alongside. It’s wine at the table and kind words between family. 

It’s grace.

In Orthodoxy, we recognize that as the energy of God. We cannot know Him in His essence, but we can know Him by what He does, for us and in us. And since we are in His image, we can do that thing too. We can reach out to others, connecting them to that thing beyond themselves. We can love, and hug, and cry with, and slip little gold rings, like life preservers, on fingers that say “you are not in this alone.”

It’s been nearly 20 years since that night. Twenty years makes just about all the difference. I’m not stupid, though.  I know that, as a human being full of frailties and vulnerable to my core, it would take very little to put me in another bad spot. 

But I know that if I am ever lost and trapped again, the God Who Keeps His Word will be Emmanuel.

With me.

With us.

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.

My song of Ascent

Psalm 119 (or 126 to you Western types)

To the Lord in my affliction I cried out, and He heard me.

O Lord, deliver my soul from unjust lips, And from a deceitful tongue…

Woe is me! My sojourning was prolonged; I dwelt with the tents of Kedar.

My soul sojourned a long time as a resident alien.

With those who hate peace, I was peaceful; When I spoke to them, they made war against me without cause.

The first rule of faith, or so says Gaius Baltar in that inspired work, Battlestar Galactica, is that this is not all that we are. So say we all!

Last night was the first Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, which outside of Holy Week and Pascha, is my very favorite service. I can’t get enough of them and if it weren’t for their presence as a mid-week anchor point, I am darn sure I wouldn’t get through Lent, i.e. check out in the first week (Steak, please!)

There’s something so otherworldly about them –all dark and mysterious, minor tones, incense, lots of kneeling. And I rush to them, often barely getting there on time, fresh from some joy in the newsroom or courthouse. So it’s like going through some kind of portal into another place, another time, or really another dimension.

I could NOT engage with it last night–I tapped my feet, twiddled my thumbs, watched the candlelight dance around my diamond ring (it’s pretty). I stared at the windows, gazed at the icons and just generally tried to not get up and walk around.

Until Fr. Andrew started talking about the Psalm. About how we don’t belong here, and how this whole place is like being lost somewhere or worse, stuck somewhere. About how this Lenten journey is about trying to work our way out of that place, about getting free from the war-ravaged tents of Kedar. About how we know this, and how it is probably what keeps us up at night, or should, and how we always feel out of touch, out of step and out of place.

I know I talk about this a lot, but tell me you don’t feel it too. Tell me it does not feel like this is not your home. How can we possibly belong here–this place with the 99% and the 1%, the abortion and the death penalty? How could this be what He meant us for, this land of the constant-conflict and the nuclear weapons programs? How can this be what He meant us for?

Well, I’m getting out. It’s going to take me a whole lot longer than just the next 35 days (what’s left of Lent), but I’m going. I can’t take it anymore–the grief, the suffering, the nonsense and the mundane. I’m going to take that pill, every week at Holy Communion. I’m going to stare at the icons till I learn what it is they want to show me. I’m going to try really, really hard to not be such a raging bitch most of the time.

I’m telling you right now, I’m not going to be any good at it at all. I’m too far gone, too comfortable, too much like the trolls in the stable in C.S. Lewis’ The Last Battle. But by God’s grace, I’m going to try. I’m going to do what Lucy did, and I’m going to follow Aslan “further up and further in.”

I’m going home.

Sin eater

On how a kinda-cheesy Christian novel prepared the way for Orthodoxy…and Salvation

I promised a blog post tonight via my Facebook page, so here it is, though the thoughts running through my head when I promised the blog post have been pushed aside by new, less-important or less-pressing thought-lets. (baby, useless thoughts).

When I was thinking about blogging, I was listening to a local music show on NPR and a wonderful musician was playing a song she has yet to record called “These Sin-Eating Eyes.” It was perfect, perfect, perfect for me today and everyday.

I have always felt like a sin eater, in my home growing up and certainly in my profession now. Maybe not a sin eater in the classic Welsh and Appalachian way, but a sin eater none the less. (For those unfamiliar with the term, a “sin eater” is a person who was designated by the village to, via food and drink, take on the sins of the dying so they could pass from life to death peacefully.) It’s certainly not a Christian term or theological idea, but in the imagery one would be blind not to see a shadow of the Eucharist.

I spent all night last night dreaming about my father; dreams so evocative, so real, that when I woke up I forgot it had been nearly 10 years since we last spoke. It’s the time of year when thoughts of him and me and all that transpired between us are ever-present and sometimes heavy. I couldn’t right this minute tell you what my dream was about, but it may have been important. I’ve had a few of those lately. Don’t laugh, I know it’s weird, but that’s how I roll.

That book about the sin eater meant so much to me when I read it — this idea of being condemned to absorb the darkness around you on behalf of another. When I read the book, in my early 20s, I was just starting to dig at the meaning of my family, and how it molded me and shaped my understanding of God and a relationship to Him. I felt so helpless back then, burdened by a sense of obligation to take it all in, to deal with it, to fix it, to carry it so that those around me could have peace. I wanted a way out, any way out, because I knew it was destroying me.

This time of year that part of me bubbles up a bit to the surface. I feel a pull to the despair, to the anxiety, to the ridiculous sense of obligation for that which I cannot control. I am grateful, always, of the tools of my faith which provide me concrete ways through and around those ghosts of the past. But, like I’ve said countless times before here, often in relationship to what I see and do in the course of my work, you can’t unsee or unknow that which you now see and know.

Those sins, I’ve already consumed them. That darkness I have already taken into my soul. And like it is for everyone here, you my reader, regardless of your experience, that weight will be with you for awhile. But, taste and see that the Lord, He is good. His mercies are new, every single morning whether you are ready or desire it or not. For those who live their faith outside of the safety of the Sacramental life of the Traditional Church, know there is great peace and security here, where we receive the Body and Blood of Christ, where we taste the fount of Immortality.

We take in Life. And it wipes away our sins.

Ed. note: I highly suspect that this is one of at least a couple posts on this particular topic, since I clearly remembered what I was going to blog about.

Five Guys and the baby Jesus

Ed. note: As of 9 a.m. 11/15/2011, the murder trial was continued. Thank God for small favors.

Tomorrow starts the Nativity Fast.

This is going to be a long 40 days and I am in absolutely no frame of mind for it. The Penn State thing is driving me to complete distraction, but only because it makes me impatient for similar accountability of a legal variety for ABWE. My workplace has become completely crazy.  And there’s a murder trial this week, so game on.

Somewhere in here, I’m supposed to prepare my heart and my soul for the birth of Christ. I’m supposed to clean out the manger of my soul, right? Sweep out the cobwebs. Dust the furniture. Etc.

The fast is supposed to help with this. I’m supposed to pay attention to the little things, the basic activities like what I eat and how much time I spend in prayer, to tune everything up for the celebration of His birth. Great Lent is so much easier. Everyone in Christian culture is doing something to get ready for Easter. But the Nativity Fast, that’s all us in Orthodoxy. Like Wednesdays and Fridays, but everyday. While all of our culture is participating in an orgy of consumerism and fine dining, I’ll be learning a new way to cook shrimp (You know you’re Orthodox when you don’t think of shrimp as something special.) or rekindling my passion for peanut butter. It’s the anti-everything-about-the Christmas-season season

I prepared a bit, I guess, this evening. After working into darkness, and being continually frustrated by what was going on around me in the newsroom, I left with low blood sugar and high blood pressure. After the grocery store (don’t shop hungry, by the way), I stopped off at home and picked up the dog. She and I went to dinner tonight, driving back across town about 15 minutes just to eat a Five Guys bacon cheeseburger and a bag of fries. (I shared with Sunshine. She likes them.)

I guess that’s a start, right? Saying goodbye to bacon and hamburger for a few weeks, maybe that will help me get the rest of my house in order. I don’t know. If this nonsense keeps up at the office, they’re going to need to take my sharps away, or my stapler, or laptop… All the bad stuff, the Penn States, the ABWEs, the drama in my own communities, these things will be ever-present as well, making my soul tired and longing for the comfort of a pepperoni pizza.

Lord, have mercy on me and help me get through this season. All I want for Christmas, though, aside from salvation, is a really good cut of beef.