hope springs purple.

The sun streaks long and lean over the back lot where I take the dog for a small run before returning him to the apartment probably too small for him.

I press in to the solar flare, to the wind that comes to bless us in the spring before it flies elsewhere and leaves us with the stagnancy of summer. [Texas summer, a season all its own.] This kind of thing has me thinking about the Ascension.

Why do you stand there looking to the sky?

I want to scream at that line I find so beautiful sometimes, like a child,

BECAUSE HE…HE SAID HE WOULD ALWAYS BE HERE. or. or maybe I dreamed that part. did he say that? where? where is He?

[by the way, I think I agree with my priest when he said that we live in the days between the Ascension and the Day of Pentecost, though I tend to say that about every church season.]

I’m sorry, I was pressing into the sun, the wind a moment ago. Let’s go back to that. [Thought if you ask me to tell you exactly what that image, means, I’ll just give you a look. I don’t believe you don’t understand, even though sometimes I just say things.]

I press into them because I’m trying to press out of my anxiety, trying to lift myself into the sky where I first learned how to pray. Maybe it’ll take me back.

I’m also trying not to think too hard about the way I casually wrote the word anxiety a moment ago, or how I might be using it to cover other words like depression and acedia, or how I can’t bring myself to finish Kathleen’s book on both of those words.

But also, I’m taking it all in deeply and slowly because I’m thinking about those things precisely, because sometimes they are healed bit by simple bit.

Though three hundred things have changed and blossomed since then, I feel like I am wearing a giraffe bathing suit in my kitchen and crying into my cupcake all over again.

It feels like a thousand things, all of them having to do with the simple act of living and changing, are out to get me, and even as I say that I realize I sound like a character on Girls I would normally yell at, but the truth is that it seems like walking through a cloud. It’s Eastertide, and has been, but I keep smelling smoke in my clothes.

I yell for the dog and he races ahead of me, eyes wild and tongue flapping, to the house. I laugh and follow, glad he’ll be my roommate for the summer, the fleeting months that mean something completely different now that I’m not an undergrad student anymore. It’s still a space between, but more of the same. In this between, I want to abide in Love and Grace and Peace. I want to read Flannery O’Connor’s anthology of letters, but mostly I want to not be afraid of reading Scripture anymore. Or, at least, to only be afraid in the ways you’re supposed to be. I want to sit at the foot of the tower of stones I once stood on firmly, study them, see if they tell me something new.

I want to pray all of these wants, but I might have forgotten how.

Inside, I spot my name on the most loving list of prayer requests. I am undone without really knowing why.

I collapse on the couch and the damn dog wants to play and I want to scream at him but then I am arrested by a swatch of medium lilac acrylic in a painting by a friend I have seen a thousand times and suddenly the cry is a healing one.

I meditate on the purple. Somewhere in the transport, I know, shakily, there is Enough.

detail of “Four Songs for Scripture” by Preston Yancey.

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a hiatus and a hopeful start.

All nerves and a trying-too-hard accent scarf, I lock my eyes on the question in my lap: “What life experiences or crises have shaped or changed the way you read the Bible?” as I blurt with a tongue prompted oddly by Spirit, “Well, right now.” I tuck my legs more firmly into the chair and sit on my hands, like a small child.

This is not normally an issue for me–the talking in front of people, the new faces. I am a people-person, an extrovert, a charmer.

But somehow, that’s not how it works today. Today, I fought the feeling that I need to go, that this showing up may be a part of my staying to follow. I got in my car, turned the key, and half-sped to the church parking lot, still arriving late. Maybe it’s the lateness that makes me overly aware of how loud I am breathing, the tempo of my speech, the flush of my ears. Maybe.

In the circle, I babble about the gap year, the discernment, the listening, the faithfulness question, the staying, all in halted piecemeal, without the grace of hyperlink or draft. I just say it’s happening, the changing of approach. The heart I bring to scripture is different than it was even a few months ago. When I bring it at all, I add silently.

Part of the shaping I am fighting of late is the feet-dragging.

The first time I really confessed this aloud was under a taco stand awning a few weeks ago, after he made a passing half-joke about his “quiet time with Jesus.”  [It’s a phrase we’ve both heard a lot. It needs changing, I think.] He nodded, knowing this means something to me. For a long time I actively avoided reading the Bible on a regular basis because I had heard one too many sermons on turning devotion into a checklist. Not me, I had said, in favor of total spontaneity, which at the time sounded like the most loving way. Last spring, that changed. Some strange combination of class and books and friends and Holy Ghost helped me realize that there was something missing, and it was scripture.

Ignorance of scripture is ignorance of Christ Himself, I read somewhere.

I think the Incarnation means that this is not the end of it, that there are manifold ways He reveals Himself [ten thousand places, even]. But finally I knew that there was something about the words on the page to teach me about the Word, something about the stories that would teach me about who He is. Go figure.

That said, I haven’t touched the stuff in weeks.

Except on Sundays when someone says, The word of the Lord, and I respond with the rest, thanks be to God. 

Some thanks.

In a letter from a beloved longtime friend this week, she writes about a recent revelation: that her perpetual busy-ness is a method of avoidance. What am I avoiding? she asks, guessing at Confession, wondering at more. Reading this, I smiled with love, because it’s been true for a long while now. Stopping, I consider, But it’s never been true for me. Until now.

The whats of avoidance I have a guess at. It’s finding out the whys that terrify me.

If I had to guess, it’s something to do with trust, with fear, with a wounded spirit.

And in the midst of transitional uncertainty, I find that approaching a Book of which I know so little daunting to say the least. I’m not sure what I will find.

Now I’ve trailed off at the end of what has turned into Sharing Time, and I find the young priest beside me nodding, along with some of the older students in the room.

“The Bible can be hard to turn to when you are trying to listen. After all, it’s full of people hearing things they don’t want to hear.”

That too. 

She glances around the room, and says, “Well, maybe this is a good place to live some of that story together.”

That may be.

When it comes time to pray, I find out, with terror, that we are supposed to pray our requests aloud, around the circle.

Friends can tell you I have a hard time with praying in front of people anyway. (I hope it’s something I get over some day, much like my former issues with talking on the phone.) Not to mention that “prayer request time” has always looked way different to me.

But praying for myself, my world, with everyone listening? Goodness.

Of course I’m up first.

Embedded in the halted, shaky litany was one of the most honest things I’ve prayed in a while: Help me to follow You instead of my own rebellious heart. 

We say our Ah-mens, and the young priest rushes out to process in Rite I.

I pick up my “Book of Mark Bible Study” packet, thinking, maybe beginning again doesn’t have to be so hard.

a dark sunday.

Actually, lights streams through the blinds to wake me up on Sunday morning with an inordinately strong need for cinnamon rolls, several hours before I have to be anywhere or do anything.

Church, in other words.

It takes me a bit of time to do something about it. Instead I scan the wall opposite, the one filled with pictures of my tribe, my places, my colors. Yesterday I added two angels to the throng: each plaqued, one Italian, one Spanish, both old. Finally I settle on watching the seconds tic until I can’t stand it anymore, as per my morning habit of late, stubbornly in place of prayer.

For days, I have counted tics more than I have counted graces, letting the tiny sound replace the silence, instead of true rest, true quiet, true stillness.

So today I continue to watch and listen to the clock only, until the cinnamon bun thing is stronger than the bed’s magnetism. Somehow, I propel myself all the way to the grocery.

My cashier tells me her teenage daughter is pregnant. I listen, she tells me the hypocrisy is the lowest blow. She’s not sure how they’ll move on.

I tell her I’m sorry, that she’ll be in my prayers this morning. It’s quick, just as she’s saying, “It’ll all turn out alright.”

I’m at my car before I realize I might’ve said a true thing.

As I’m icing the pastries, I think of the old practice of fasting before receiving Eucharist that I fell into without knowing it several months ago. The idea is that the small fast reminds us for Whom we are truly hungry.

I lick my fingers and polish off two warm, overdone rolls before getting dressed.

——-

Slipping into the fifth row from the back at St. Paul’s, I juggle with the hymnal to jump in on the last line of the first song. I’m late, the cross has passed. We begin the Gloria, and I notice the mascara stain on the tips of my fingers. Somehow, I knew, looking into the mirror half an hour ago, that it wouldn’t be worth it. And I was right–the eye makeup didn’t make the car ride.

It’s been a low week.

But I think one nice thing about an Episcopal church is that you don’t have to be decent, not really, ’til halfway through the service. You can afford to be a total mess through the songs, the scripture readings, and even the sermon. It’s a long way to the Passing of the Peace. And anyway, if I lost it during all that peace-passing? Here, I think it would probably  be alright.

And that’s good, I guess, because I choke through the psalm–

Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O LORD of hosts, my King and my God…

Amma Jo happens to address the psalm reading at length during her sermon. She talks about Kingdom in terms of home–the one we wait for, the one we cultivate now, the table we lay with Christ.

She tells us in her endearing audiobook lilt,

“The irony of a life with God is that home is not for us a static place. Rather our home is a journey–the psalmist calls it ‘the pilgrim’s way’…Our home is a walk that will take us through desolate valleys and up mountains. But always, God, Who is our Home, will walk that way with us.”

The peace of this waits to wash over me until Jo says nearly the same thing when she prays over the parish’s children starting school:

May they know that wherever they journey is never far from You.

Oddly, these two small moments address the little heresy that crept into my head in the form of a question earlier in the week, on another tic-counting, bed-staying morning:

Is it the same God? The same One Who met me in the glorious desert as on the staircase of the English building, as on that creaking, coffee-stained back porch? Who sat at the foot of my bed that morning?

Is He the same God? My childish heart whispered to the turquoise clock.

In church, I lift my eyes up to the stained glass at the altar. I gasp small, realizing for the first time ever that the descending dove set in a cross with arms of equal length almost exactly mirrors the pendant given to me when I was baptized years ago. The one I just found again in my dresser drawer, the one I’ve thumbed over a fifty times this week. I can’t breathe for the overlap.

Remember your baptism.

I realize the symbol is old, and not altogether rare. [I mean, I have a wallful of crosses with doves in the middle, collected over the years–a story for another time.]

But I needed the reminder–the reminders–that He completes the circle always, that He is the same God who sits at the foot of my bed even when I have trouble leaving it, that He really is the one for Whom I hunger on the journey, the journey Home.

water, saints, and kayaks.

Chuck talks to me about water as I look over his shoulder at a leaning drawing of Jesus laughing, a drawing I’ll admit I don’t really like all that much.

He tells me about a life of faithfulness that he calls the deep part of the river, as opposed to the whitewater, the fray, the froth on the edges that falls as quickly as it rises.

This deep, this middle? It is slower. It is less exciting, and often less emotional than the “spiritual highs” we were instructed to cling to at the end of a week at church camp, the ones we still think we should be riding even now.

It is not the stuff we like to write about, and especially not talk about–the humdrum, the rhythms that some days seem lifeless, the spaces between each extraordinary revelation, the labors of love instead of the throes.

But it is the strongest part, he says, It is the current–what moves everything else along. 

The giant fish plaqued on his wall tells me he knows something about rivers, and the grace in his eyes tells me he knows something about faith. Well, maybe the priest’s collar does that, too. I pay attention.

Saints get this, he says, and they have for a long time. He lists a few, and I nod, eyes wide, when he names Teresa of Avila. I have been reading her. It is the deep part of the river that carries us through what she would call “spiritual dryness,” which everyone, everyone, experiences from time to time. I think that is maybe why I like her so much.

She, whom we call saint, tells us that the life of faith, prayer in particular, is hard work. It is mostly toting water back and forth from the well, building aqueducts rather than drinking from natural springs. After a while, the distance to the well feels shorter, and some days you might find a natural fountain of fresh water at your feet. But often, even for mystics, this is not the case.

Instead, much of our time is spent slowly carving a small trench from well to doorstep by foot, much like the literal path that scientists tell us new habits etch in our brains.

____________

I’m on a kayak midday, months later, with these wet images ricocheting around my head, as I take a break from paddling, Texas sun blazing.

I love Teresa, I think, but she is one chica with mixed metaphors. And I’m not helping much with this river business.

But it is the river I’m on that made me think of Chuck, then Teresa.  It is the fact that I am leaning back in my little boat, moved only by that current, thinking of the One who forms the water in the first place.

Suddenly I realize we’ve been out in the sun for hours now. I’m really, really thirsty, and I decide to announce this, loudly, to anyone who will listen.





Sometimes you find that you have essentially written the same post twice.

Ok, I don’t actually know if that is normal, but that is basically what happened to me today.

Pardon my repetition, but check out this post from March. Perhaps in the cracks between the overlap of scatterbrained prose, you’ll find something new. 

the stones i stood on firmly.

It happened in an instant.

One minute, the Isrealites are crossing the river, the next, half a glass of Merlot has spilled all over the open lectionary pages of the prayer book. Deep pigment rolls across the scripture references and finally settles in deep. In an odd irrational moment of panic at the potential ruin, I don’t know whether to cry, to Instagram, or to whisper the words that bubble to the surface: “This is my blood of the New Covenant, shed for you and for many…”

Soon, the laughter takes over, especially as I consider how Past Self might react to this little scene. I reach for towels as the reality of the light brown carpet takes over. Carefully separating and drying the pages, something occurs to me. It was during Ordinary Time, wasn’t it? July, even.

I check my app purchases for proof—one of many ways we perform personal archaeology in this age—and discover I’m mostly right. Just over a year ago, I downloaded a Morning and Evening Prayer iPad application.

That summer, I had read a blogpost or two about the Church calendar, maybe a blurb from Phyllis Tickle about Ordinary Time. A strand of something about the Daily Office. So I found Lauren Winner’s Girl Meets God in the wrong section of the bookstore and bought it because it was structured around the liturgical year. I downloaded that app.

The summer before that, I scrawled somewhere, who knew reading these saint guys could soften my heart again? after walking through a bit of Bonaventure by recommendation.

Now, I’m soaking up wine from a second-hand prayer book at 11 pm, trying to remember it all, thinking of that line of narration from Beasts of the Southern Wild: I see everything that made me, flying around in invisible pieces. These pieces that conspired in grace to bring me to this moment, carrying my footsteps to places I didn’t even know I was venturing, destinations I did not plan.

Quietly, I also realize that this means it might not always be quite this way.

Yes, somewhere in the midst of the now and forever, Amens, the apportioned readings, and the liturgy, the Holy Spirit made these dry bones breathe and live and know Him as Lord again. Somehow these rhythms of worship feel like a heartbeat, new to me though they may be.

But the honest truth is that I don’t know how long I’ll be here. Many parts of my life are shifting, and so I’m reminded that someday it could mean this bit, too. Depending on where I am and what I am doing, my worship may need to change, my habits alter. I am not sure what it will all look like. When I jump the gun and think about The Rest of My Life, I wonder if I am laying brick or pitching a tent.

I finish the Old Testament reading for the almost-finished day as the wet book flutters under a fan. The LORD commands that stones be taken “from the midst of the Jordan, from where the priest’s feet stood firmly,” that they may build a memorial, a sign of His hand that held the waters of the Jordan so His people could pass through.

 And he said to the people of Israel, “When your children ask their fathers in times to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’  then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel passed over this Jordan on dry ground.’

I think of the books and blogposts and blurbs I mentioned before, the pieces that brought me here. I think of the prayers and the saints, the liturgy and the hymns.

These are the stones, I think, these are the stones I have stood on firmly.

And so in times to come, if I approach another river, wherever that may be, I pray that I am able to look at these stones and know what they mean: that there was once dry ground and once a Mighty Hand to hold the waters back, so I could and will pass through.

a phone call, the cupcakes, & something about grace.

She answers the phone as I’m clumsily pulling out the muffin tin from the oven. I’m not very good at this anyway, and my injured hand makes my movements even more awkward than usual. So, it takes me a moment to discover the safe way of juggling phone, tin, and mitt as I’m standing in my giraffe-print swimsuit in a tiny kitchen with zero counter space, and I’ve forgotten why I’ve called my mother to begin with.

“Oh! Right. So I’m making the cupcake version of the “Best Ever Chocolate Cake” from that one cookbook, Mom.” [Apparently, other people refer to it as “Texas Sheet Cake,” but I grew up simply calling it my birthday cake, because that is when I requested it, and that is when my mother conceded to making anything with that much butter and that much confectioner’s sugar.]

“Anyway,” I begin as I try to swallow my missing her, “I just realized that you’re not here to drink the rest of the buttermilk.”

I hate buttermilk. She knows this. She tells me to make homemade ranch dressing, because “that’s how they used to make it, you know,” and then hands the phone to my grandmother as she handles a potato salad crisis. It’s Independence Day, after all. I explain the buttermilk thing to my grandmother, who advises me to make homemade ranch dressing, because,

“…that’s how they used to make it, I know,” I laugh. I spread the rich, nutty mixture atop each cupcake as we talk about the party they’re throwing and our family’s inability to keep anything just red, white, and blue. We talk church and desert, friends and blessing. Eventually, the frosting sets, and they have guests to greet.

I climb the stairs to my bedroom, triumphant with my cupcake and glass of milk, not caring much if crumbs get in the bed as I eat there. What I am not so prepared for is the total sensory rush of the past, of feeling so much like a child as I take the first bite. It’s a recipe that I’ve only made myself once before and I am suddenly alone and very small and lost.

And I’m almost instantly angry.

I’m furious that this is the dozenth time this week that I have felt this way, that it’s cupcakes and bill paying and can openers and grocery shopping and mail keys and gas caps that make me want to scream whatamIdoing and hope to heaven that I’m in the right place. I’m mad that I just cannot seem to cope with the change of the past few months, that I am just not yet fully at peace with the diaspora of my friends and family.

Why can’t I get over all this? I say into my pillow, half-eaten cupcake now abandoned on the nightstand.

And I feel foolish for wanting to lay this before Him, for somehow thinking I can align my passing angst with the psalmist’s “deliver me, O God.” I turned away from the image of a personalized Jesus, right? From a Holy Spirit who only consoled and never corrected, from a Father whose love always looked like what I wanted.

And I have fallen into a tradition of faith (at least for now) that beautifully pushes me out of the way—ordered worship in pursuit of ordered love. No room for me and all my fickleness.

Despite my protests He said, in grace, as I lie there with batter and frosting and powdered sugar all over me—yes, even here, even now.

As in, even here, He meets me, even now, He knows. Yes, He is Other, beyond. But He is also “closer than my skin” (a lyric I will always love). Both center and circumference, and everywhere in-between.

I wonder if this is something I will ever stop learning. Sometimes it is easier to remember in instants when the veil is very thin between here and glory, when He is known in raindrops, in chords, in hue.

“The Divine in the mundane,” we can say. Somehow more near in all that Beauty.

But what about the mundane of the mundane? If He is God of the small moments, then surely it must be all the moments. Even the parts that do not feel like gift, the frustrations and the melancholy, the somewhat silly parts that I don’t want to call sacramental. The parts that make me angry at myself.

My struggle now is admitting them enough to meet Him there. To sigh that yes, these little things are my undoing, to hold them up to the Light and see what can be done.

And maybe that is where I will start to be remade, again and again, in Grace.

a wedding and a funeral.

It’s Saturday, and I’m up early before I’m due at the Earle Harrison House in Waco to rehearse the wedding ceremony of my dear friend Jenni and her groom, Colten. The coffee brews, and I’m overwhelmed by the weight of glory in this day, one to celebrate two lives and their union, to stand with friends at an outdoor altar and bear witness to such beauty. I consider the loyalty and love of us sitting together during hard months, of sticking it out through different paths. I weep joyfully, I pray over their life together as the morning sun makes its way through the blinds.

Sunday morning Caroline and I sit in the quiet of my newly decorated house. We are recovering from the happy exhaustion of the day before, hearts still full with congratulations and soul-stirring poolside conversations lasting deep into the night. We talk church and journey, Caroline mentions Kant and I roll my eyes and shrug, as I always do when the graduates from my program go somewhere intellectually where I can’t follow. Preston calls. He doesn’t know I don’t know yet.

Monday, I tell my mom the news–that a beloved professor has died from the same cancer my father battled in 2006. I weep as I walk into campus for work, hoping my sunglasses will keep me decent. I cry because of the mark she impressed on me in my small time of knowing her, for the grace and beauty of her life, for the untimeliness of her death, for the young family that survives her, for the drawn and sad faces of her colleagues, for the cruelty of cancer, for the brokenness of this world, the gash in the fabric that sends the melody askew. It seems I cry for three days straight.

On Wednesday morning, I make my way into a little baptist church that was not made to fit this many friends and strangers, and certainly not this much grief. We remember her. We sing of the life we have in Christ, of future glory, of life everlasting.

Everything is gift, she said that day in class, palm held upward, eyes searching around the table, everything is gift.

The ones who speak address my professor’s widowed husband, and I think of another wedding day, one I did not attend. I think of the one I just stood in (only four days ago?), imprints of soulful embraces and celebration still fresh. And I know that one informs the other, that marriage describes again and again the sort of holy union we will one day share with our Creator and Lord, and every tear will be wiped away.

Maybe it’s too easy of an answer, a cheap eschatological bandage against a present, bleeding wound. In my moments of hurt and anger, my heart pricks at how throwaway this sounds, however true. In both the light of day and shadow of night, the unabstracted tragedy catches the words in my throat.

But if it is a simple answer, it is a difficult practice. To live in light of the Resurrection, with a hope both for the present and the future, requires a courage that I am not always sure I contain, a shield of faith I do not always hold well.

It strikes me suddenly, that both my friend and my teacher have, in their own ways, shown me how to live in such a manner, to do that very thing I feel I cannot do.

And so in this moment, though all is not reconciled and the tears are streaming, I am grateful for the communion of the saints, and the life of the world to come.