to you on the brink of things [a handwritten exhortation.]

Today, another handwritten post, written to a past version of myself, perhaps. [Perhaps to a future one as well.]

Some of this is particular to, say, a graduating senior, but I hope you find something for yourself here, too.

I suspect this might go better for you if you click through each image.

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i cannot write about sandy hook.

Because what would I tell you?

I guess I can tell you that true to form, it took three days for the grief to hit. That it wasn’t until I stood with my congregation to say the Nicene Creed that I realized I was weeping, because I had to fight my way through it, because I meant all the I believes. I could tell you about the woman who had to stop in the middle of the prayers of the people because her own tears had taken over, that phrases like the congress and the courts and those in trouble, sorrow, sickness, need, or any other adversity were punctuation in themselves. We passed peace around as a prayer. I received the Eucharist in desperation, thinking of the Sacrifice in and out of time, of Pascal writing Christ will be in agony until the end of the world.

God with us.

We sang,

He comes, the broken heart to bind,

the bleeding soul to cure…

It all brings into sharp focus the fact that sometimes I need that I need to stand in the words of others to make my prayers more true, to mouth words alongside while all my heart can say is yes.

So. I am offering the words of others to you today, who have written in response to the tragedy of last Friday. Some I know, some I don’t, all I think you should read in light of your questions and heartbreak. And in light of the fact that you don’t know how to respond.

  • An Advent Response to Newtown, Connecticut: “And the most honest – the most faithful — utterance in your soul is, “No way.”  There’s no way this can be right.  There’s no way this is true.  There’s no way we can keep nodding along while children die. That is the real moment of your conversion.” [Thank you, Craig Nash, for sharing this.]
  • God Can’t Be Kept Out, by Rachel Held Evans; calling bullshit and breathing such hope in the same post: “If the incarnation tells us anything, it’s that God can’t be kept out.”
  • Tonight I’m Praying, by Emily Maynard: “I pray especially for the [weird] kids who are picked out because someone can link them in some cruel way to the kid who destroyed so many lives on Friday.”
  • when i am a slow prophet, by Preston Yancey; weaving poetry, prayers, and wisdom: “I am thinking of mother arms. I am thinking of empty mother arms. Christ, our Lord.”
  • a short, but necessary post about the way we’ve been talking about mental illness in the wake of all this: “When we talk about “the mentally ill” in a way that takes for granted the connection between illness and violence, we actually contribute to the systemic problems that prevent people from getting adequate mental health care.” [Thank you, Dianna Anderson, for sharing].

added 12/20:

  • Anger and Advent, by Kristin Tennant: “Facing tragedy in the midst of Advent highlights that conflict. I can’t express both joy and sadness at once. I don’t know how to feel both defeated and triumphant. I can’t seem to marry anger and peace. So I am left feeling numb. Nothing.”
  • Immanuel, by Alise Wright: “When we who claim belief in this story say that God is beholden to our laws regarding teacher-led prayer (because let’s not kid ourselves into believing the lie that God has been completely banned from the public school), we cheapen his presence”

Christ have mercy.

If I find more posts/resources around the web that I think should be included here, I will add them.

If you have read any especially helpful posts/articles, feel free to add them in the comments below.

absorption.

It’s Saturday and raining–the first true Sabbath I’ve had for a while. With a few jobs, a few friends, and a few classes I’ve picked up, It’s been more than  little difficult to rest, to just be still.

[I feel like this is something we are always saying these days, but it might be a while before it stops being true, before our desperation explodes.]

True, the weekend before I had not been working. I visited my dear, longtime friend Alia in her tiny blue cave-house on the south side of Dallas within walking distance of fascinating people and vegan diners. This is indeed a kind of soul rest. We sprawled like cats across the periwinkle duvet, drinking in each other’s stories, bursting with them, content to listen, to ebb and flow.  We have both changed so much over the years, and even in some important ways. But this? It stays the same. It is easy. And I am always so pleased to step into her life in the briefest of moments, whether it is trading English and Farsi curse words with her family or talking late into the night with her ragtag tribe of troubadours, artists, and 9-to-5-ers.

[On Sunday I watch her fry the eggs. I, charged with toast, load my knife with butter and marvel at the fact that I have been given close friends who make verbs out of words like home and host and harbour and haven, with a practiced ease.]

But this weekend takes on a peace in a different hue. I have cloistered away from retweets and comments and mentions, and it feels just right. I’m practicing absorption. I read Dante’s Purgatorio slowly, word by word, note by note, swallowing them rich like chocolate. I’m not sure how much time goes by. The Commedia is about a journey–arguably our own–and I laugh to think of how we’ve taken that word and run with it. Journey. I sympathize with Dante’s distraction along the way, and catch my breath when I read certain lines:

And I, who understood what he intended,

raised my tear-stained cheeks

and he restored the color

Hell had obscured in me.

He speaks in terms of color, of song, of walking, and these are things I understand.

[And Cato’s chastening at their pause to listen to the lesser song? This was enough to cut to the quick, but then professor told us that it was one of Dante’s own poems, that here was a reflected rebuke about loving his own words. Mercy, I sigh.]

I remember my cappuccino beside me and the Rilke in my bag. I’m reading his letters.

Therefore, dear sir, love your solitude and bear with sweet-sounding lamentation the suffering it causes you.

This is not the kind of thing I grew up with. Maybe I once thought that Jesus came so we wouldn’t hurt any more. Maybe instead He came because we hurt.

[Later, I will cry through this poem of Rilke’s. I realize that I want the “she” to be me.]

I call Alia [one of a small band that has been trying to get me to read him for years], pacing in the rain, running my mouth about Rilke and his loneliness, how sometimes he makes it sound like we are utterly alone at the root of it all. This worries me for me, but also for him. I want to know if he ever had a true friend in this life. She’s not sure. I tell her something I read after my professor’s memorial service, something she once wrote about loneliness as analogous to fasting, when you lean into it. You find your truest Dependency.  You are without for a while to see more clearly Whom you always have, Who always has you. See what the loneliness has for you, Lauren Winner wrote.

[I ask, am I lonely? Is that the word for it?]

I’m playing the new Mumford album [along with everyone else].

Though I may speak some tongue of old
Or even spit out some holy word
I have no strength from which to speak
When you sit me down, and see I’m weak

We will run and scream
You will dance with me
They’ll fulfill our dreams and we’ll be free

And we will be who we are
And they’ll heal our scars
Sadness will be far away…

Do not let my fickle flesh go to waste
As it keeps my heart and soul in its place
And I will love with urgency but not with haste

 

[I wonder, softly, why it seems easier to pray with Dante, Rilke, and Marcus Mumford these days.]

The rain is loud enough to allow a beating heart and nothing more, to make a quiet soul.

because sometimes joy is a fight.

It’s an old Sunday-school lesson on joy– maybe you’ve heard it.

I think it goes something like,

Happiness is a changing emotion that is dependent on circumstances; alternatively, joy is both a wellspring and a fruit of the Spirit, a state that is a byproduct of the love of Christ. We are to have joy instead of happiness, so that we may be rooted in it, despite our present condition.

And I think mostly, in the bare bones, this are fine, maybe even good definitions. I often wonder if the feeling, the sensation of joy versus happiness can be described. [Unfortunately, I think I could do this better with different kinds of sadness.] And I have questions about what it means to simply “have joy.” Somehow, to my mind, this is in the same category of oddity as when a photographer instructs you to “be candid.” I’m not really sure it works that way.

And sometimes, joy feels like a fight.

For one reason or another–and some days perhaps even no tangible reason at all–for me, this joy thing doesn’t always feel so natural, so automatic. Sometimes it’s a season or a day, sometimes in the throes of an empathy crisis or just in the spiraling weight of self.

It came into focus towards the end of the first hymn on Sunday, one I hadn’t been really paying attention to, one whose rhythm wasn’t in step with my emotions of the morning.

Suddenly, sharp and clear:

Still lift your standard high,
still march in firm array,
as warriors through the darkness toil,
till dawns the golden day.
Rejoice! Rejoice!
Rejoice, give thanks, and sing.

As warriors through the darkness toil: Rejoice!

Here and elsewhere in the song, rejoice is both a banner and the battle, both the means and the ends. It is toil, it is marching. It is not always easy and all-of-a-sudden.

It’s a battle cry.

What’s more is the twofold meaning of the word rejoice. The first, that we may know better, is an expression of something that already is, in some way. an outpouring of an emotion we already have.

But the other, old meaning is to bring joy to. In gift, in cultivation, in the fight–to bring joy to places where there seems to be none, even if it is my own core.

Re-joy, if you’ll forgive the terribly crude wordplay.

I’ll admit that it’s still hard to know where to begin. What are my implements in this fight against a settled darkness, against anxiety, against a whirlwind of sorrows?

I’m not entirely sure. For me, right now, I think it might be in returning to those things that gave me joy once before (the stones I stood on firmly), in counting the gifts, in talking it over with people I trust to sit with me when I need to just sit, in realizing that the fight itself is worth it.

And maybe even just asking, asking the One who can rejoice my heart.

Pinned Image

joining, again, with Life: Unmasked. Won’t you read along?

Life: Unmasked

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.

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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.

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 pass the peace.

may the peace of the Lord be always with you.

and with thy spirit.

greet each other with the peace of Christ. 

it’s more like passing the salt

and less like passing by–

                     peace of Christ. 

though i cut my neighbor, brother , sister

–and love only those i already love–

                    peace.

because we are one in Christ

though i would kill you  for a piece of bread–

                    peace of the Lord.

but i give it because it isn’t mine to give.

so when I have no peace left, i pass

                   God’s peace.