this online thing [or why i am still here, with you].

We spread a leopard-print blanket across the table for the still-life art project Erica will teach the kids from the local mission later that afternoon. She asks me about the pinched forehead, what is wrong.

Oh, the internet, I say, dropping buzzwords from Impromptu Sex Week and the Superbowl Beyoncé Flare-up and so on. I’m not explaining well, I’m fumbling and frustrated and can’t decide how I feel about anything. My gut-reactions don’t translate to formulated thoughts until much later and sometimes I want the noise, inside and outside, to just stop.

You know, you don’t have to do this, she says, her eyes all honesty and looking to the deep like always.

The afternoon sun flecks through high windows above a wall with hand-me-down paint onto hand-me-down chairs that sit in this room that was handed down to Erica to make a bit of beauty and a bit of difference in a city whose poverty and violence is downright ugly and shocking. The context of her words isn’t lost on me.

I am standing in the middle of as-real-as-it-gets Waco, talking about what to most is only a virtual reality.

And I know what she means, at the heart of it–there is a danger in spending your life and love online completely. And maybe there is a temptation to construct an online reading and writing life as a venue to simply “make a lovely little speech to yourself,” as a beloved professor once quoted.

This I understand, struggle with some days. Do I talk a good talk and trample my neighbor? If I debate and spin poetry and retweet and  and have not love, caritas, agape, the kind of love that acts and habits and moves and shakes: sharing blessedness and wills the Good to my neighbor (both on- and offline), then I am only a gong or a cymbal; I am nothing, I gain nothing.

You don’t have to do this.

This online thing. I know.

—————————————————————–

But I do.

Because first of all, this isn’t virtual reality, a veneer, pontificating. The stuff I read and the stuff I hope to be writing is the stuff that composes your real life and mine, and it matters.

It matters.

Feminism, spiritual practices, abuse, relationships, parenting, growing up, sexual ethics, justice, racism, prayer and all of it. All of it affects and informs the way I live and love in that caritasagape way. It is the perhaps the matter itself of that living and loving.

Because here is another beautiful and difficult thing about this online business:

we come with our bad and good rhetoric as well as our bad and good stories;

with our tempers and with our grace;

with our education and experience and sometimes without it;

with numbered lists and paragraphs and randomly bolded words;

we come with our best theology and our deepest hang-ups;

with our passion and with our reason;

with typos and flare-ups and words we didn’t mean;

with a dash of sacred profanity and the temptation to make the sacred profane;

with our heresy and our holiness;

with our arbitrary semi-colons and run-on sentences like this one.

It’s kindof a mess but isn’t that how life is?

So that means it takes a bit of bravery to navigate these waters at times for one reason or another, and I’m not the only one who thinks about giving it up sometimes. But I guess I’ll just say I’m not altogether afraid to get my heart a little too involved with my patience, my prayers, my compass and the stars to guide me.

Because like I said, these things matter, and with the humility, tenderness, care, and whole-hearted truth-seeking I have witnessed in my blogroll, I think these things can matter and manifest in a holy and faithful way, to lead us to the good work that needs to be done.

On- and offline.

I’ve seen a bit of magic and a lot of Church here, and I want to join the effort to pass the peace with the person sitting in this pixelated pew with me.

—————————————————————–

when it all goes quiet behind my eyes, I see everything that made me flying around in invisible pieces.

–Beasts of the Southern Wild

The rest of the story is that I keep reading you people because there’s a whole mess of URLs  undeniably threaded into this growth-history and future of mine and a big part of why I brush my teeth every morning next to the same God.

[and sometimes, every once in a while, online friends are real friends, too.]

So, cheers, Deeper Story and Prodigal and She Loves and Sarah and Suzannah and Micha and Rachel and Emily M. and Emily W. and Joy  and Alise and Alece and Nish and Dianna and Leigh and Seth and Amber and Hilary  and Margaret and Annie and Amy and Elora  and Addie and Elizabeth and Alyssa and Shaney and Kiefer and of course Preston and the other lovely, ragged, brave, hollering, gentle, hella smart, pastoral, preachy, comforting ones that I haven’t named or known yet.

Thank you and keep going–keep changing my life.

to the girl who wants a boy for Christmas.

Oh, honey.

Let’s sit awhile. I’ll put on a pot for tea.

I know, I’m more of a coffee girl, too, but I think tea has something to teach us here, about this, right now–teaches us to steep, to bleed into the quiet peace of waiting. Coffee–how I love it!–is the violent caffeinated cacophony of force, and we need a little less of that for the moment. Tea it is.

I’ll cut you a fat piece of orange-cranberry-pecan bread, and between bites I’ll tell you I think next time I’ll ditch the crumble for the glaze and that I’ve been single for a lifetime.

For my whole life. All that time.

You’re startled that I’ve blurted this, but that’s how I do things. If we’re to be friends, you should know that. I’ll try to skip past the whys of self-deprecation; I’ll spare you the bad joke about being a tall order in short stature.

OK. Maybe I won’t skip all that, because maybe you need someone to squeeze your hand a little and admit that it’s hard sometimes, that yes, hurt is there.

Because it is hard being the excited friend all the time, feeling all sidelineish. You’re scared to admit that the fact that you are genuinely ridiculously overjoyed to get save-the-dates in the mail and to wedding-scheme with your friends and to walk before them down the aisle almost makes the way out a little more tricky.

If you found bitterness to wrap yourself in, or to paint over your skin (layer after layer of brittle, impermeable shell), eventually it would crack and I think you would have to deal with that pink exposed flesh all at once. BAM. No other way.

But here, where the joy is real? It’s lonely and it’s wonderful all at once.

And maybe if it was later in the evening, with wine instead of tea, I would look away and admit that there have been plenty of why not mes accompanied with my own composition of answers.

I’m telling you this so you know I get it. I do.

I understand that you want to be loved like that.

I understand that you have so much to give. That you want to love like that.

I understand that marriage is one big eschatological metaphor for union with the One who made us, in Whom we have our being, and you kindof want in on that.

I also understand that sometimes you really just want someone to kiss.

But honey. Dearest daughter.

It cannot be all you live for.

It cannot be the only thing you dream of.

You might not even think that is how you do things, so look again while you press your thumb into bits of that crumb topping in question. Examine the way you’ve planned in secret, the imagined wedding date you’ve charted the rest of your life around.

The I’ll-be-married-by-thens and the not-married-untils.

Because here is something hard: that boy of your dreams is no guarantee, and not on any timeline of yours.

We think the falsehood of the prosperity gospel is just about the nice cars and big houses, but it goes deeper still to hot wives and guitar-playing husbands to make us whole, and perfect life plans to give us purpose.

[Here’s something risky: marriage is not the only happy ending, the ultimate eucatastrophe.]

And I want it to be clear that I am not telling you this so you’ll be content dating Jesus or becoming marry-able and-then-he-will-give-you-the-desires-of-your-heart. While sometimes blessing comes just when we’re not hunting it down, I’m not so sure he’s a God of reverse psychology and rhetorical questions. It is not a cosmic dating formula or trick.

We are to be faithful because of who He is, because He’s worth all of it [whether we feel it or not], not to get what we want.

There is a God to know now, and we will participate in that eschatological metaphor whether there’s a ring on our finger or not, when it is more than comparison.

There are people to love now, to listen to, people to clothe, to care for, to feed.

There are even lepers to kiss.

[They are both your dearest friends and total strangers, both next-door neighbors and brothers and sisters across the sea.]

There are cups to pour, hands to get dirty and to hold. Another loaf of bread to bake.

And we circle back round here again, don’t we, love?

It is all grace anyway, the giving and the gift–grace, grace, grace.

We ask, and He always gives.

And gives.

Sometimes now, sometimes later. Sometimes the same, sometimes something different.

But always more.

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. 

————

————

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

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.

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.

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