and we are His: a handwritten post.

So, it’s been a while since I’ve been here, friends. There are reasons and no reasons, at the same time. I didn’t plan on this post happening like this — unedited, untyped, profanity kept in. (is that enough of a warning?) But for now, it’s a start back, even if I seem to be circling old things still.

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Life: Unmasked

I’m linking up with the Life: Unmasked series, in which we are invited to bring Light to the nitty-gritty.

Would you like to join?

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.

Prayer is not a cell phone.

Here are my cards on the table: until the last few years, I have more or less treated prayer as something that happens to me—it is something that takes me by surprise, and at times, it is something that I am doing before I realize what is happening.

This may be good in moments, very good, in fact. But it is fair to say this is an inconstant sort of prayer life, one that is difficult to maintain, even two days in a row. And as I learned from Teresa of Avila this month, even saints experience “spiritual dryness” on a semi-regular basis.

Very simply, one thing has led to another, and I know it is important for me to do this praying thing on a regular basis. Even when I don’t feel like it, even when it feels like I have not a clue what I am actually doing, even when I wish I could say I did something more tangible, like make toothpaste tubes.

And sometimes, I feel a little lost.

I think I forget that He sees the struggle and the floundering, the myriad ways and days that I try to open my heart, to acknowledge Him rightly, to commune. That even on days when the field looks barren, the verses seem distant, the stirrings seem muddled, He knows that, too, sees that, too.

He knows. He sees.

It’s not like He’s waiting by the phone, wondering why it hasn’t rung as I drive through a tunnel or frantically shove the battery back in after I’ve dropped my cell for the tenth time that day.

Alright, so I might not actually think about it in quite those 21st-century/anthropomorphic terms, but perhaps that’s something of the sentiment, in effect. (This faulty metaphor may also have something to do with the countless phone troubles I’ve had lately.)

“O Lord, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down
and and are acquainted with all my ways.” Ps 139: 1-3

“So [Hagar] called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, ‘You are a God [who sees me].’”  Gen 16:13

“But the Lord was with Joseph…” Gen. 29:31

“And [Jesus] said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.’” Luke 8:48

He knows. He sees.

I think there is something the fumbling that can be blessed, too, and that my clumsiness doesn’t shoo Him away somehow. And, as Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “The categories in the Prayer Book,” for example, “are for sharpening my intention, not for winning God’s attention.”

To be clear, I think there are some types of prayers that are more faithful than others, and I’m not talking about written vs. spontaneous vs. intercessory vs. contemplative, and so on. Rather, at the core, there are thoughtless prayers and ones with the best kind of intentionality; there are those that seek and praise Who He Is, and those that, at best, express a self-referential love. There are those that acknowledge His holiness, and those that only make Him out to be my tame imaginary friend who tells me I’m pretty when I’m having a bad hair day.

And then there are motions and surprises and trips to the grocery store and laughter and brisket sandwiches and tears and songs that can fit these categories, that can be prayerful, too.

These things I do believe.

But in stubbornness or shortsightedness or even forgetfulness, I often neglect to bring even these things to Him. Perhaps it is because it seems to be a strange inversion—how do I begin to (as a friend put it this week) “pray about prayer?”

I think one of the most vivid pictures C. S. Lewis offers in Mere Christianity is on the question of what it means when we talk about God helping us:

When you teach a child writing, you hold its hand while it forms the letters: that is, it forms the letters because you are forming them. We love and reason because God loves and reasons and holds our hand while we do it.

Maybe there is something mysterious and trusting about asking Him to grip my hand a little tighter, because the letters I’m forming seem more jagged and wild and lost today or this month. And they still might not flow well, and I still might not get the answers I want.

Maybe there is grace in the request itself, and that is a good place to start.