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.

color, cacophony, communion.

My colors are loud today.

At least, they seem so in the quiet of the chapel bathed in neutrals. In here, there is no stained glass to add to the banter, to wash everyone else in jewel tones, too.

I’ve already wiped off my coral lipstick as I made my way through the church. It’s the kind thing to do with a shared Cup, I think. But I cannot subdue the turquoise shoes, the canary clutch wallet. And then there’s the siren of a neon-orange manicure that I cannot hide as I pass the peace, or cup one palm in the other, waiting for bread.

And to think, I was just giving eucharisteo thanks for all those tones and shades.

Now, here, they are blaring. And I am being arrogantly self-conscious about it, but it feels like a sign of something else. I know I should instead drink in the grace in Amma Jo’s eyes as she meets mine, beginning in perfect meter, “the Body of Christ…” I know I should instead soak in our peace-passing as it become onomatopoeic, our soft “c’s” brushing against each other’s faces and echoing in this little place.

But I am tired of feeling loud and new and out of rhythm here. I want to skip all the steps of learning how to be in a place and with a people, how to “do” church. I am not willing to see the little things as they come as beginnings. I want the house to be built, but I do not want to build it. And mostly, I do not want to admit the fear.

I am impatient.

And here, at this midweek service, I am waiting for Eucharist to not only be communion with Him in mystery and beauty, but also an enactment of Faith and Life in community, unabstracted. I want to know names and stories, to know for whom this Body breaks, for whom this Blood pours out.

And really,  if I’m honest, I’m the one who wants to be known—well, at least by a different name than the girl with coral lipstick on the back of her hand. 

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two links about communion that are worth clicking:

* Holly Ordway’s wonderful podcast, weaving in truth and beauty of her own: “The Gift of Love: the Eucharist in Poetry by Malcolm Guite and George Herbert.”

and

* “Bread and Wine” by Josh Garrels, new to me. 

Life: Unmasked

i need you.

I don’t remember when she said it. We could have been skipping class to run for Thai food, or illustrating scripture with color pastels, surrounded by coffee mugs and books—it was our last year of high school, and that is all I know. But we were talking about the future and what it all would look like, and her voice got quiet. With eyes peering over my shoulder at some imaginary focal point, she mused,

I think I will have to learn what it means to do faith when it is just the two of us–God and I–sitting at the table.

[The funny part of this, of course, is that this came at a time before the word “table” would ring a little differently for both of us as we separately wandered a bit from our Charismatic home base, she to be confirmed in the Catholic church a few years later, and I to find a home in liturgy a few years after that.]

And it’s stuck with me all this time. I find myself examining, asking, if the table was set for two, would it be enough?

And it is an important question to ask. At some point, we all must wonder whether or not our faith utterly depends on our friends, our family, our favorite authors and speakers. At some point, it will come down to rock or shifting sand.

And there have been stretches where He and I just sit, after everyone has left, as I pass the time by pushing the peas around my plate, not lifting my eyes, not really knowing what to say. Slowly, I learned how to open my mouth.

But can I also say the simple, even trite thing?

I still need people. I need you.

I need you to tell me that you hear Him., that you weep uncontrollably during Mass, that you see that Christ plays in ten thousand places, that there is beauty in the broken moments, that you are surprised by the sacred in the everyday, but that you know it in the prayers and psalms as well.

And I need you to tell me you are angry with Him, that your fists and tears both meet the earth, that you can’t see past the injury, that you wish it was universalism but it isn’t, that you’re not always OK, that He seems far, you seem far, the stars seem meaningless.

And I do not need to hear these things simply for the sake of self-justification, so that I feel more “normal,” or even to keep loneliness at bay.

Well, maybe a little bit. I do need to know that it is all the same story, but it also helps me to flip between the pages. When you sing those things over me, I know that I will one day sing again, that joy comes with the morning. When you whisper them shakily in the dark, I know that we have fallen, that I will fall and fail again and again; so I pray Christ have mercy, and know that He carries us still.

It is good to learn how to sit with Him alone, but it is also good to extend the invitation, to know that the communion of the saints is here, that we can and should gather ‘round—to eat and to drink, to weep and love and sing.

yoga, soda, sharpies: a litany.

O Lord, open our minds to see ourselves as you see us, or even as others see us and we see others, and from all unwillingness to know our infirmities,

save us and help us, O Lord.

Winter break, and after long-awaited hugs around the neck I found myself attempting to explain how Eucharist, or communion, has changed for me–and has changed me–since I have started attending an Episcopal church in Waco. It is offered each week, and is the focal point of the service. These two factors alone require some explaining, not to mention what they mean. I stumbled over my words–as I often do when it comes to anything that matters–“I don’t know…er, Presence just means something different to me now.”

But this was not any kind of full answer, and there was no way to make sure the “P” was capitalized as it hung in the air between us; I simply wanted to say a reductionist version of all I meant and have it be enough, expecting the one I was talking with to instinctively take the leap with me.

Even then, how do I talk about such a mystery? So, I rushed. The loved one blinked back at me, pupils scanning my face.

If I’m honest about that moment, I will note the defensiveness in my voice, in the arch of my neck. The I knew it that buzzed behind my teeth. In the desperate instant of wanting to be known, I wanted to share, but I also wanted to prove.

Somehow, I also wanted to talk about yoga, about the moment at the end, after I have twisted and bent, when my instructor tells me to draw attention to my breath.

Suddenly, it feels like a surprise, a miracle, even though I have been breathing the whole time.

I wanted to say that the noticing changes everything. The quality, nature, and rhythm. I wanted to say that this oddly makes me think of the moment after Eucharist when my knees hit red vinyl and it seemed like the same kind of noticing.

But I was afraid of speaking Eucharist and yoga in the same sentence, and I’m not sure it would be the best kind of explanation anyway. So I let myself be stuck in between pride and passion, abruptly deserting the conversation–if you can call it that–altogether.

O Lord, give us nerve to overcome the shyness that fetters utterance, and ease for awkwardness of address; turn us from our sensitive consciousness of ourselves, that we may think with freedom of what is in our heart, and of the people with whom we are concerned.

save us and help us, O Lord.

A few months later, I’m standing to check out at the grocery store, my eyes wide and head shaking. She’s jokingly, flippantly made the sign of the cross.

“Not OK,” I retort.

“It doesn’t do anything, Antonia.”

“Listen, MOTIONS MATTER,” and this draws a little attention from the Dallas-suburb shoppers clad in track suits and designer bags, a meticulous nonchalance. She rolls her eyes a bit and presses her lips together, and I wonder if she is thinking, when will this phase be over?

I do not talk about how our bodies can be engaged in prayer, or about the strange infusion of symbol and meaning.

Instead, I huff and hoist cans of soda onto the conveyor belt.

From self-conceit and vanity and boasting, from delight in supposed success and superiority, raise us to the modesty and humility of true sense and taste and reality; and from all the harms and hindrances of offensive manners and self-assertion,

save us and help us, O Lord.

The last week of Lent, I comment on the premature Easter decorations around my residence hall. The person I’m walking with lightly remarks, “Just celebrating early, I guess.”

I whip my head around over my shoulder and nearly spit, “But you can’t just skip Lent. That’s like missing the whole point.”

Somehow, I can’t hear that I’ve missed the whole point.

And I don’t really talk about Lent or the things I’m learning or where my failures have brought me. None of that is in my voice. Instead, I feel like Lynne Truss of Eats, Shoots, and Leaves, walking around with a Sharpie pen, adding apostrophes and quotation marks everywhere. There are times when the mark may be right, and maybe even helpful, but I do not think it is the way of grace to walk around with the cap off.


From all hasty utterances of impatience, from the retort of irritation and the taunt of sarcasm; from all infirmity of temper in provoking or being provoked; from love of unkind gossip, and from all idle words that may do hurt,

save us and help us, O Lord.

I’m on my way home from a beautiful evening prayer service in Dallas on the day of Pentecost. At the stoplight, I try to look up the lyrics to the last hymn. I clumsily thumb “isaac watt hply spirit” into the search bar in the miniature browser when I’m interrupted by a phone call.

We chat, she asks me how church was, and I’m so ready to tell her. She hasn’t seen a church service in a while, and so a part of me gloats instead of glows. I even edge in a liturgical joke to demonstrate how “with” all of this I am. Somehow, I’m surprised and even a bit hurt when she doesn’t want to continue the conversation.

Tossing my phone to the passenger seat, I’m grieved by my idiocy. Tonight really was beautiful, and true, I think, but I certainly didn’t show it.

From all love of display; from the thought of ourselves in our ministrations, in forgetfulness of Thee in our worship, and of our people…hold our minds in spiritual reverence, that if we sing we may sing unto the Lord, and if we preach we may preach as of a gift that God giveth not for our glory, but for the edification of His people; and in all our words and works from all self-glorificaiton,

save us and help us, O Lord.

Amen.

Quotations are selections from a prayer written by George Ridding (1828-1904),

found in Give Us Grace.