life, unmasked: i am the older brother.

Last Thursday, I linked up with Sarah Bessey’s brilliant synchroblog, and wrote about what is saving my life right now. Or right then, rather. That week, it was New Mexico–everything from the earth to the sky and back again.

You know what else saved my life that week, later that very day?

My mom got a job. 

She’s been waiting, my family has been waiting, a cloud of beautiful witnesses we have filled our lives with has been waiting for three years.

[And here’s a little more about that story, if you’re interested.]

But can I tell you something else first?

Even with all the blessing, even with the open hand that has been this week, I have been the other brother.

You know the guy I mean– the older one in the parable, the one who cannot share in the joy when grace is extended to his prodigal sibling.

One of my favorite paintings. Rembrandt captures the moment of reconciliation between the prodigal son and his father, but also chooses to include the brother (on the right) in this particular scene. Notice the elder’s placement in the frame, his posture, his face.

There is a feast, a fatted calf, but the older brother cannot bring himself to come to the table. It is a grace too extravagant, it is just too much.

He doesn’t deserve it, the older one silently muses, positioning himself on a higher plane, as he imagines himself superior. He cannot bridge that space.

And that has been me this week, in more ways than one.

I have looked on the triumphs of others and begrudged, I have looked on these my own extravagant graces and named them burdens. 

I have chosen cynicism and unforgiveness.

I have clenched my grip on possessions this week, like a toddler yelling mine.

I have conveniently forgotten that I don’t deserve it, and none of it is really mine to hold.

I have not looked on with joy, and so I robbed my own.

And sure, these things are both the property of my fallenness and the condition of the broken world on any given day. The particular ugliness of my heart isn’t all that special.

But what of the long-awaited blessing, the miracle we began with, the grace of it all, so imminent?

It is all that darkness curled up with that much light that makes it hard to breathe.

Life: Unmasked

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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.

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.

this is not a poem [or, notes on disordered love].

For now, we see through a glass, darkly…

1 Corinthians 13:12


somewhere between the breeze and brisket,

the lime and the laughter,

mid-heartbeat,

i realized that there are moments in which

i speak of the Poet,

but i really mean the poetry.

i have some new words,

but the struggle is old.

now i can talk about things like

sacraments, sacramentals

–and even mean it–

the divine in the mundane,

the twitching tip of a finger when

grace is more than ordinary, when

i can hear the humming Song.

at their truest, they are a communion.

other times, it seems

i’ve learned to love

how bright it all is

without turning to the Light.




“We surely made too small a part for God in these things…”

–Aurora Leigh, Elizabeth Barrett Browning

my thing with Lent.

This post was supposed to be about my Lenten fast: what I am giving up and why, only because, well, I am giving up social media—Facebook and Twitter—so it will be quite obvious. I wanted to detail the reasons, how I got here, and the way I roll my eyes at such an obviously twenty-something type of fast and cringe at its publicity. But then, this happened, and maybe the rest is alright unexplained.

 

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday.

Growing up in a mode of faith that frowned upon anything resembling “works-based,” almost any discipline besides the vague, unguided imperative to “pray and read your Bible” bordered on working too hard for something that is gift. My concept of faithfulness was simply obedience to The Voice of God. When explanations were given for hearing The Voice of God, they were somewhat unhelpful or confusing: “it’s that thing in your gut that you don’t want to do,” “it is usually something embarrassing,” etc. (I had questions about the wide range of things that fit these criteria, but might not be the Voice of God.)

Despite these things, I still somehow knew people who fasted in some way for Lent–usually from sodas or candy or something they shouldn’t be doing too much of anyway. There was something about self-denial here, but it mostly sounded like a holier version of New Year’s resolutions to me.

As the years passed, my understanding broadened a little, possibilities peeked out of corners. I saw that maybe this could be more than earning, more than a secret way to lose 10 pounds in 40 days.

I could slowly see how fighting a habit, or starting a new one, with intention and faith could turn my fragmented, wayward self to the cross, to Him. It all still sounded abstract, but I like abstract things most days, so my heart tinkered with it quietly.

But then there is a second me, a second voice, that second-guesses my every motive. Sometimes, she’s helpful–she points out the selfishness and pride of my heart, and I can tell that she and the Holy Spirit have been talking when I wasn’t paying attention. Lots of other times, she sends me into a circular frenzy about my true intentions. It might be the kind of thing where you read the Beatitudes or something and try to mentally work through the causality of it all–“If I’m shooting for ‘poor in spirit’ to see God, am I actually being poor in spirit? How do you seek something like that without missing it entirely?” And so on. There is a bit of truth to this sort of thinking—saints don’t think they are saintly—but instead of putting one foot in front of the other, this sort of chicken-and-egg frenzy usually just paralyzes me.

Maybe you can see where I am going with all this, and why Lent has still never quite clicked for me, that I carry around these annoying hangups. I fear that doing something that feels so very against the grain as an unavoidably loud siren to spirituality will lead to arrogance, and I miss the point entirely. I will start feeling like I have done something very important, and self-denial will lost in the fray with everything else.

And this is what kept me from observing Lent last year especially. I stopped in my tracks, ignored what I think were holy nudges, and claimed the danger of my own heart over what I felt I was supposed to do. All of this was very silly anyway, because, in turn, I was secretly pleased that I had so astutely dodged the bullet of pride. That self-contradictory second voice again.

But even after last year’s Easter, my heart pricked when I thought of how deliberate I was in saying no. Every few months, I would find myself in a sort of Lent-countdown, knowing I would have to face it again. I wanted it to be different this time. But I think the final shift came with a conviction: “You only need a tiny scrap of time to move toward God,” from The Cloud of Unknowing, as quoted in Lauren Winner’s new book...which I have been quoting incessantly lately. And here, I will do it again, as Lauren describes the two-fold nature of these words:

The words slap. Busyness is not much of an excuse if it only takes a minute or two to move toward God.

But the Monk’s words console, too. For, of time and person, it seems that scraps are all I have to bring forward. That my ways of coming to God these days are all scraps.

The funny thing is that the latter part struck me as humbling, too–my efforts, my inconsistencies, my backward attempts to circumvent vices are but scrap and potsherds themselves. This shouldn’t be a surprise, as each inch I move feels like a floundering mystery anyway. But somehow, though my pride isn’t gone, and my heart still seeks to self-justify, in light of these words, the threat oddly seems less sharp.

I think I am learning, so very slowly—with Lent as well as a lot of other things—what it means to do the praxis without having to always dissect in theoria (or to know all of the Greek words, for that matter). I think I am learning what it means to put one foot in front of the other and still carry the questions around, as I learn their texture, feel their weight, and smooth them over with my thumb. I think I am learning what it means to pursue faithfulness despite fear, even if it is a fear of myself.

So this year, I will walk in Lent.