it doesn’t need to be counted, and neither do you.

do me a favor, and let this song play as soundtrack, if you can.

In the precious space between the rains and the heat that rolls in like a plague, I find myself going down to the river to pray,

O sisters let’s go down
Let’s go down, come on down
O brothers let’s go down
Down in the river to pray

The Brazos river is not a pretty one, as anybody in these parts will tell you in a hot minute. You hear stories about what they pull out of it every so often, and when you fall in, you actually pray that only useful mutations will come as a result.

But for now it seems that I can only open my heart clean wide to the Creator in a wooden pew or on the concrete bank, and I’m a little lost everywhere in-between. The Brazos was named for the arms of God, anyway. That’s something. I take Bandit with me. He’s not the best companion for peace-seeking, I’ll admit. He’s all frenzy and no straight lines but also pants a crazed eagerness that makes me laugh without fail. He and I are kindred, I think.

These newborn ducklings are the small and beautiful gift that comes with staying in this Waco-town for the summer, a requisite I missed when I trekked away from here in the hot months past. They pattern the cloudy water like seeds scattered, but at the first sight of the wild-eyed but harmless dog who walks with me, mama ducks and papa ducks (with their bright white neckties) alike sound the alarm all the way down the bank, calling their babies to cluster together. It’s an ugly, angry, hilarious honking chorus and I told you that I go to the river to pray, but sometimes I go just to piss off the ducks.

I’ve been thinking a lot about a small scene from When Women Were Birds. The narrator, a bird-lover, sighted a rare albino robin as a child:

When I reported this finding to our local Audubon chapter as an eight-year-old bird-watcher, the president said that because of my age, he could not legitimately count it as a “credible sighting.”

My grandmother simply shook her head and said, “You know what you saw. The bird doesn’t need to be counted, and neither do you.”

what if we didn’t need to be counted?

—————————————————————-

I forget that I break bread with people I don’t agree with, all the time.

I’m not citing a virtue–it’s just how it is. That lady from work, the guy from church, not to mention your family–we share table space all the time with people who don’t share the same fine-tooth tenets, and heck, haven’t even given much thought to them anyway. As much as I love the internet, it’s a world in which words are all we got, baby. It allows us to cut the crap in some important ways, but plops us right into the middle of some crazy shit we wouldn’t be in otherwise.

Maybe it’s just that typically you don’t open in-person conversations with questions like”so…lady-pastors? What do you think?” or have the chance to creep someone’s about page.

But it’s more than that, I think.

It’s not that the dinner table can’t get ugly, because right now we are both imagining that one Thanksgiving when someone got too drunk, or refused to listen, or said something about “those people” that made you knock over your glass.

Maybe it’s the ooey gooey mystic in me, but there’s something about presence here that changes things. It’s easier to see Christ in a person than in an argument, I believe. We see both laugh- and worry-lines on one another’s faces, we know the truth of their grace and pain, and so we try to pause before we answer, we try to weight our words with love. It seems there’s less about proof and power here.

What if we didn’t need to be counted?

————————————————————————

I learned to like lipstick at the same time I realized I was learning to like myself.

So, the February day I got fired for my personality, I slapped bright fushia onto my lips as an act of personhood, as a message to the inner voice that started to believe the terrible untruths that had been flung my way, gifts suddenly called curse. There’s always something to apologize for, but not my very self. So, I wore loud lipstick, unapologetic for taking up space and sound.

But on days I anticipate the passing of the Bread and the Wine in a nave that bathes person and pew in jewel-tone stories beyond ourselves, I skip the lipstick. I know that among other things, the Cup we share brings us together, and doesn’t need the smudge of my individuality on the brim. I could intinct, but I want to drink full. So I wipe away that which has meant a great deal to me instead, sacrificing small and submitting to the person who kneels beside me.

Submission.

If you happen to be like me, that word makes you twitch a little. For the Christian egalitarians in the room, remember the phrase mutual submission,’ remember it’s the humility we’re all called to, married or not.

not erased, but increased.

Even to the point of personal pain.

what if we didn’t need to be counted?

——————————————————

I think I would be braver.

At Freshman Convocation, just days shy of my first college class, I addressed my classmates from the same stage we would walk across four years later. There was a lot of syrupy motivational stuff, but there’s a line that my 18-year-old self speaks to me even now, and I wonder if I’ll ever learn it:

Let us not be stunned by our own strength when we do, in fact, discover it. Let us not fear the possibilities of what we can do or how far we can go. Let us not become hushed for fear of being listened to, or become less visible for fear of being seen.

I would be braver with my gifts, my goodness.

I think too, about Fr. Chuck’s sermon from way back when:

We either get really self-important with our gifts, or just deny that we have any at all. What if we stopped worrying about them and simply submit them to the medium of God’s love, through which our gifts were put to work for the Kingdom? […] Besides, it was Love that gave them to you in the first place.

In the life of love, the self is not obliterated, it is both celebrated and protected, paradoxically participating in radical selflessness, and always submitting, giving more.

It is a brave and holy thing.

what if we didn’t need to be counted?

——————————————————

As I went down in the river to pray
Studying about that good ol’ way
And who shall wear the robe & crown?
Good Lord show me the way

What if we didn’t need to be counted?

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24 thoughts on “it doesn’t need to be counted, and neither do you.

  1. Some of us read blogs at noon on a Saturday =) and this is beautiful.
    “Maybe it’s the ooey gooey mystic in me, but there’s something about presence here that changes things.” I firmly believe that there is something sacred about sharing a table and I think you’re on to something here with presence. I got coffee with an old high school friend the other day and we wound up talking about a lot of the faith deconstructing I’ve done in the lady year. As we both grew up in the same conservative church, I expected him to balk at some of what I said. Instead he listened graciously and shared some of his own faith journey. We parted affirming the work that God is doing in us and the gifts that he’s given us. It was beautiful and unexpected and absolutely mystical.

    • Oh man. I love that story, Anna. That is the kind of grace and peace I hope for in story-sharing moments, especially with those from my past. I tend to expect defensiveness from both of us. Thanks for sharing, friend.

      (Also, “lady year?” 🙂 )

  2. That part about the cup we share not needing the smudge of my individuality on it? Just wow! I do indeed shudder at that word submission sometimes, because it was code for “shut up and take it” spiritual abuse. You’ve spoken redemptive truth back into that word. Thank you.
    I miss liturgical worship. I had finally found a home in the Reformed Episcopal church, but then got married and relocated. And now my family and I attend a different denom whose bless-their-hearts idea of liturgy is to sometimes read from the prayer book. But we remain, because the church is all the family we have where we live. Still, I have wistful memories of the worship that truly enveloped my being through all the senses.
    BTW, the song ran out too soon for me; I must be a slow reader. Or maybe I wanted to savor it because, well, you can preach!

    • To be sure, it’s a word to hold carefully. I just hope not to lose it completely. Prayers for you to feel at home as you worship; I so understand that journey and difficulty, though I’ve only had to navigate that on my own. (And I figured the song would run out, haha. It turned out to be a long post!)

  3. I feel like I could leave a comment for each section you’ve written here, Antonia. I’ve had this deepening need to be present with the people in my life, to have conversations around actual tables (even though I love and am so grateful for so many good/hard/beautiful conversations online). I have been writing less and I keep waiting for the pendulum to swing back, but it seems stuck over here. 🙂 So many good thoughts here (and I especially love the duckling references).

    • Annie, I’ve been wondering about you and your quiet. 🙂 I’m glad to know it’s been spent well. Just don’t leave forever, please! Heart-talks and ducklings to you, friend.

  4. As I read this… I wept for the little girl inside me who has always felt misunderstood… The frustrations of not fitting in… Always having to compromise who I am to ‘fit’ what someone else expects of me… However… My long journey has brought me to a place where I am surrounded by people who go to the river to pray… Who rejoice in others individuality and who strive to be FREE of world and society bondages… I’m vey proud to be a part of this crusade of “setting the captives FREE”…. Come join us.. It provides light at the end of the tunnel… ALL BY THE GRACE OF GOD!!

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  6. I am in love with this. Also, that song is one of my favorites. When I still lived at home, my mom and I sang at a homeless center in Center City Philadelphia. To wrap up the night, the band would sing an a capella rendition of this every time we went down.

  7. I just love everything about this. I was struck by how gentle it felt as I read through it, like a release of tension in shoulders. And goodness, I am ready for the gentle way.

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