Reflection

a soul’s winter

Carolannie/Flickr creative commons

trees arching over creek: Carolannie/Flickr Creative Commons

Two weeks ago I visited a nearby park I’d only yet explored in winter. I knew it as a quiet path with full view of frozen streams, rocky beds, bare branches, and dry, pale plumes of grass. This time, it was new. Twisting tangles of leafy things now veiled swollen banks and birds of all colors and songs. It was a wild place, and alive.

I had been waiting and looking for spring, but spring surprised me. I hadn’t expected the world to erupt with life. I had forgotten about frogs and crickets and birds and all the noise they make. I didn’t yet know how velvety the spruce trees look in the morning sun when surrounded with the sharp green of a newly leafed forest. The texture and variety of green in spring tells me something about abundant life, about the way the Spirit calls forth glory from the dead.

My soul has been in winter for many months. I had been waiting for a change of seasons—from Lent to Eastertide—expecting that Resurrection Sunday would plunge me into a rush of resurrection joy, a swollen, bubbling stream of springtime mirth. But this year, as we passed through Holy Week into Eastertide, nothing changed. I was deeply disappointed.

I came to the cross this Holy Week a mess of unmet needs. I was exhausted and desperate and expecting God to make me whole. But I got hurt there instead—not by my beloved Jesus, but by someone presuming to hear from him. And what I actually received from the Lord was not healing but an even greater awareness of a particular need I have—it was ringing in my ears. I felt a tender sweetness bidding me (oh the dear presence), but I couldn’t linger feeling so raw. I left Holy Week wounded and empty, and winter raged on.

Week after week, I fought for spring. I felt that God would be there, if only I could find it, find him. I wore a smile and a laugh like a tree that holds on to its withered leaves for too long. What tree makes spring for itself?

Hours before I visited the park I was sitting in church, alone. I had been scheduled to serve Eucharist that morning, but I skipped out. I was too exhausted. I knew I must rest. That day in church, I admitted the futility of making spring for myself. There in the pew, I breathed in deep and let myself ache.

Jesus was there, breathing deep too. I felt him invite me into his rest. We could hibernate together for the winter, just him and me. We could breathe slow breaths together. He would be enough.

That day at the park, immersed in a green and growing world, I saw myself in the trees and I understood. If I would feel the glory of sunshine filtered through newly unfurled leaves, I must open my hands and let my withered, rattling leaves fall. I must let winter be winter. Here, in winter, I will cease my striving for abundant life. I will rest. For rest is what the Lord has been offering me all along.

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Reflection

thoughts on holy saturday

I walked away from the Good Friday service last night with a goofy grin on my face. It was the same kind of goofy grin I wore on the day after my wedding. The privilege of intimacy brings an uncontainable joy. This Good Friday, I received what I had been dreaming of all year, and maybe, in some way, all my life. I received the privilege of bowing before the cross.

The cross is the symbol God chose out of all things in the world to display his glory. I have fallen so short of the glory of God. These past few days, I have realized, predictably, that I am so much less like the woman who anointed Jesus than the disciples who fell away when things got tough. Holy Week is only a microcosm of the whole year, and of all of life; how can I be that dear woman now, when I have been those disciples all along? And on these, most holy of all days, I’ve felt the grumpiness of my soul, and my selfishness. When I arrived at church, on Thursday, and on Friday, I knew that I had nothing to give. No costly perfume, no tears. I’ve fallen so short of even a faithful human being, let alone the glory of the Faithful Human Being. But this is the very power of the cross.

It is God’s power in the cross by which that gap was bridged, is being bridged, and will (amen) finally be bridged. In the cross I find God’s power to restore me to himself. Only by his death on the cross, and my death there, will we finally be united in new, glorious life. So the cross is the very power of God.  At the cross, his blood and water anoint me, and I am accepted, called beautiful.

I understood this last night, and could hardly bear the wait for my turn to embrace the wood of the cross. I cried in my seat, just imagining it, yearning for it. And finally, after watching hundreds and hundreds kneel before the cross, they released my row. I ran down the steps, beaming, and joined the line, and I sang the songs a little too loudly. I made it to the cross, and I knelt there, and I took up too much room, because I pressed my face against it rather than just a hand, and I knelt there, and felt the presence of God. No words, no tears, no costly perfume, just me and the glory of God that I’ve so longed to meet again—his love, his joy, his peace—anointing me. The only, the best place on earth. And I kissed the wood at the foot of the cross, and walked back to my seat, overjoyed and triumphant. Yes, by his cross, I can be the dear woman who kissed his feet.

All my life, I thought that the day my knees would bow before Christ and confess him as Lord would come at some eschatological moment. But I did not dream that Christ is present, even now, and that I may bow before him, here. A real, physical bow before the living Christ. The cross is the window through which I behold the crucified God, and the place at which I kneel before him. I know that I must make it my practice to daily kneel before the cross, the glory of God. How else will I attain it?

And now, it’s Saturday, a day to rest, a day to reflect. Today we wait. But this waiting is unlike the first. We’ve already read the end of story, and we know how it ends (or, begins). We do not huddle together in a closed room out of fear. We wash our faces, and don clean clothes. We enjoy the sunshine and the warmth of this spring day. Our waiting is in anticipation, even joy, because we heard his words: It is finished. And we know, a new thing will begin.

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Reflection

come, let us adore him

Sacred: The Heart of Jesus, 2011
Charcoal on Paper, Stephen B. Whatley

Imagine you are the woman who anointed Jesus. You break open your jar of costly aromatic oil and tenderly pour it over his head. His head. You weep as you behold him. My Lord and my God! You fall on your knees. You cannot stop kissing his feet.

(Oh, to be in her place, to repeatedly kiss his feet! to come scandalously close to God!)

Hers was true worship, not some abstract awe at the theological idea of the Christ. This was worship from the depths of her person to the depths of his person. She knew him, Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee, and she worshiped him. All her excess of love— the potent aroma, her tears, her touch, and her uncovered hair—so exposed to the whole place, and yet, so tenderly accepted by Jesus, called beautiful. This is what Holy Week is like.

During Holy Week, more than ever, we enter into the Gospel story and cling as close as we can to Jesus. It takes both boldness and childlike humility, like that dear woman had, to enter into this story and really live it, to wave our palm branches and weep at the cross. If we have the courage, we can become the woman who anointed Jesus and who could not stop kissing his feet.

During Holy Week, we celebrate the Last Supper with Jesus, and we allow him to wash our feet. We watch and pray with him in the garden. We weep with the women who weep at the cross. We prepare his dead body with extravagant amounts of myrrh and aloe and tears and wrap it in fine linen, and lay it to rest in the tomb. We wait. We rise early, breathless, running, and meet the Gardener at the empty tomb, falling to our knees in joy and adoration. Will we be able to stop kissing his feet? Oh Jesus, how we adore you!

Holy Week is all about the adoration of Jesus, and all about coming as scandalously close to him as we can, until we can just taste resurrection, his body mingled with ours, his blood filling our veins. Come this Holy Week, and let us adore him. Let us be united with him in death, that we may be united with him in resurrection.

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Reflection

resurrection at resurrection

Christ Pantocrator by iconographer Dmitry Skholnik

Christ Pantocrator by iconographer Dmitry Skholnik

We held our breath. Our priest shouted: Christ is risen! Alleluia!

Joy erupted. We all shouted back: He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

And then, bells. Hundreds of bells, sets of car keys, pots and pans, all clamoring together. Shouts and whistles and cheering and clapping. That priest, like a child on Christmas morning, sprinting around the altar. The great noise! Can you imagine, being forbidden from speaking “alleluia” for the entire Lent? It was like joy rose from the grave.

Joy had risen from the grave. We received the Eucharist, and we went on singing and dancing. The whole church danced. Priests and deacons, children, and adults, held hands and danced around the aisles. Jesus rose from the grave and we welcomed his reign with shouts and dancing. It was joy at its most uninhibited. My Lord and my God!

Is Jesus real?

Easter confronts us with the Jesus who has all things under his feet. Easter tells us that he has already won. Jesus our Pantocrator has defeated sin and death, pain and suffering, and all evil forces. Nothing in this life remains to be feared.

When everyone around you  is suddenly enlivened by the resurrection,  it’s hard not to believe. But if it’s true, it’s not just true during those few hours of the Easter Vigil each year. If it’s true, I really have nothing to fear. Not poverty, disease, death, not even ridicule. I could give up everything and still have everything. I still win, because Jesus won.

Jesus (and everything he implies) was never so real as that night. But it hadn’t just been that night, or that week, as beautiful as they were. Some three years ago, during my days of deepest depression and despairing of God’s absence, I walked into Church of the Resurrection for the first time, and saw the joy on our rector’s face, and I believed in God. You can’t make joy up.

These moments of epiphany are powerful, but I am desperate for them to begin closing in on my everyday life. Most days, I cannot see God, and I forget. I forget who really won this world, and what my life means because of it. Jesus said, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Oh Lord, help my unbelief.

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Reflection

the cross

Good Friday at Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem  (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

Good Friday at Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

On Maundy Thursday, after washing each other’s feet and celebrating the Last Supper, we shrouded the cross, stripped down the altar of its adornments, and changed our robes to black. We processed, perhaps one hundred of us, down the dark streets of Wheaton, in utter silence. We bore the cross, that emblem of love, to our neighbors.

A few days earlier, a friend, a former Catholic, told me about the long Maundy Thursday night he spends praying in churches throughout the city. It seemed like a foreign kind of religiosity. I didn’t understand.

That night, I followed the cross for two miles, in the unseasonable cold. My lower back was stiff, as if my spine were made of rusty gears. The grating sound they made, turning, was the pain I felt. But I pushed my weak, weak body. I followed that cross with all the strength I had. Somehow, I was joining myself with Christ in his agony on the Mount of Olives. Christ’s passion was real, and near. I had never wanted to gaze too long into Christ’s passion before.

When we came back to the church, it was mostly empty, and so still. We sat (oh, sweet relief) around the baptismal font, the few of us left, and we were so quiet. We sat, and sat, some singing softly, some praying, one weeping. My heart was still. I did not pray. What would I pray? When someone you love suffers, you don’t say much. You sit up with them. Though I did not pray, my silence was filled with peace and comfort, and a longing to be near to Christ. But I still did not understand.

My strongest memory of Easter, before now, was from when I was about seven. My little brother Aaron was sick, so my mom stayed home with him. I sat in one of the pews of our fundamentalist Baptist church with just my dad, and endured the sermon. That Easter Sunday sermon, absurdly, was about the crucifixion, in vivid medical detail. My whole body squirmed in discomfort. My breath was shallow. The cross stood in judgment over me. The cross was my fault. And for many, many more years, this was what it meant to me.

This year I celebrated Good Friday, and the cross. For the first time in my life, when I saw the cross, I saw love. God had been preparing me for this. As I learned to share my suffering with Christ, and came to know Christ suffering with me, the suffering of the cross ceased to stand outside of me, to judge me. Instead, it drew me near, and I met Christ there. I met Christ there. His love, oh, his love.

Before that moment, Eddy’s love for me (what a beautiful, self-giving love) was the strongest love I knew. Eddy’s love was how I pictured God’s love, if I believed in God’s love at all. Afterward, I understood how women could be nuns, and I wept for the Parousia. Oh, Christ, give me one more vision of you.

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