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Creating Space…

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Breaking ground is not one of the sexier garden tasks. Pulling hunks of sod from the earth, beating them against the ground to free the valuable topsoil from the roots, spreading them out to dry. Then, I drive my shovel deep into the compacted earth. I lift and sift and crumble til the soil is fine and friendly for the plants. There will be the addition of compost, of course, necessary for nutrition and proper drainage. The process is long and exhausting, and the only immediate payoff will be aching muscles and probably a couple of blisters.

So why bother? Why not just leave all that grass alone?

Because I dream of something more. Of something beautiful and fragrant, teaming with life. I imagine my granddaughter watching butterflies and hummingbirds come and go. I dream of filling our home with lush blossoms.

But before there can be butterflies or blossoms, there has to be a space for them. Something that is good in its own way has to be removed so that there is room for something that is better.

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Even so, in me. If I wish to create art that is Incarnational, if I hope to carry within me the sweet aroma of Christ, if I wish to flourish and play my unique role in bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to earth, I must create space. I must sometimes intentionally cut away that which is good to make room for that which is better.

There are many practices which serve this effort. Fasting frees me from enslavement to the “unlawful tyranny of the flesh” (A. Schmemann). Contemplation frees me from enslavement to my mind. Silence and Solitude free me from enslavement to the frenetic chaos in which most of us are drowning. Worship frees me from enslavement to my pride. Confession and the relentless practice AND acceptance of Forgiveness free me from enslavement to my past.

As these practices ruthlessly tear up the hard places in my soul, tilling the soil until it is fine and rich, they create space in me to be generous and creative, to give to others out of my abundance.

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In the 13th chapter of Matthew, Jesus tells a story of a farmer who scattered some seed… “Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.

You and I can keep trying to pile the work of loving others, creating beautiful art, and telling good stories into a life that is already stretched too thin. A life that is crowded by things that are good perhaps, not best. But I fear that our offerings will be scorched and withered, or choked out altogether. Far better to do the hard work of letting go, of creating space, so that we might produce a worthy crop.

I would like to invite you to be a part of the Luminous Project, May 6-8 in Franklin, TN. Here you will have a chance to practice letting go. You will be invited into a space of stillness and surrender. Here the soil of you will be gently tilled and nourished, and the gnarled roots and rocks discarded, so that you might become a well watered vineyard whose yield is sweet and strengthening to those who partake of it.

This post was inspired by the Luminous Project. Luminous is a creative spiritual event in Nashville May 6-8, 2014. To find out more, check out luminousproject.com. You can use the promo code ‘BLOGtour14‘ to get 15% off the registration price. 50 spots available with code.

p.s. All flowers in the photos (including the one with our winged visitor) are the yield of our little backyard garden. The photo at top is a promise of things to come…

For This is God’s Will For You…

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Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. ~I Thessalonians 5:18

Last night we prayed one of my favorite services of the whole year, The Akathist Hymn “Glory to God For All Things“. The hymn was composed “by Protopresbyter Gregory Petrov shortly before his death in a prison camp in 1940. The title is from the words of Saint John Chrysostom as he was dying in exile. It is a song of praise from amidst the most terrible sufferings.”

Each year as these remarkable words wash over me, I am reminded that gratitude is possible wherever I may find myself, and that it is a potent and life giving link to the God who loves me. On this day of thanks giving, I share excerpts with you along with images that represent some of the ordinary, extraordinary gifts of this year.

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O Lord, how lovely it is to be Thy guest. Breeze full of scents; mountains reaching to the skies; waters like boundless mirrors, reflecting the sun’s golden rays and the scudding clouds. All nature murmurs mysteriously, breathing the depth of tenderness. Birds and beasts of the forest bear the imprint of Thy love. Blessed art thou, mother earth, in thy fleeting loveliness, which wakens our yearning for happiness that will last for ever, in the land where, amid beauty that grows not old, the cry rings out: Alleluia!

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Thou hast brought me into life as into an enchanted paradise. We have seen the sky like a chalice of deepest blue, where in the azure heights the birds are singing. We have listened to the soothing murmur of the forest and the melodious music of the streams. We have tasted fruit of fine flavour and the sweet-scented honey. We can live very well on Thine earth. It is a pleasure to be Thy guest.

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Glory to Thee for the Feast Day of life
Glory to Thee for the perfume of lilies and roses
Glory to Thee for each different taste of berry and fruit
Glory to Thee for the sparkling silver of early morning dew
Glory to Thee for the joy of dawn’s awakening
Glory to Thee for the new life each day brings
Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age

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How glorious art Thou in the springtime, when every creature awakes to new life and joyfully sings Thy praises with a thousand tongues. Thou art the Source of Life, the Destroyer of Death. By the light of the moon, nightingales sing, and the valleys and hills lie like wedding garments, white as snow. All the earth is Thy promised bride awaiting her spotless husband. If the grass of the field is like this, how gloriously shall we be transfigured in the Second Coming after the Resurrection! How splendid our bodies, how spotless our souls!

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When the sun is setting, when quietness falls like the peace of eternal sleep, and the silence of the spent day reigns, then in the splendour of its declining rays, filtering through the clouds, I see Thy dwelling-place: fiery and purple, gold and blue, they speak prophet-like of the ineffable beauty of Thy presence, and call to us in their majesty. We turn to the Father.

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The breath of Thine Holy Spirit inspires artists, poets and scientists. The power of Thy supreme knowledge makes them prophets and interpreters of Thy laws, who reveal the depths of Thy creative wisdom. Their works speak unwittingly of Thee. How great art Thou in Thy creation! How great art Thou in man!

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Blessed are they that will share in the King’s Banquet: but already on earth Thou givest me a foretaste of this blessedness. How many times with Thine own hand hast Thou held out to me Thy Body and Thy Blood, and I, though a miserable sinner, have received this Mystery, and have tasted Thy love, so ineffable, so heavenly.

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What sort of praise can I give Thee? I have never heard the song of the Cherubim, a joy reserved for the spirits above. But I know the praises that nature sings to Thee. In winter, I have beheld how silently in the moonlight the whole earth offers Thee prayer, clad in its white mantle of snow, sparkling like diamonds. I have seen how the rising sun rejoices in Thee, how the song of the birds is a chorus of praise to Thee. I have heard the mysterious mutterings of the forests about Thee, and the winds singing Thy praise as they stir the waters. I have understood how the choirs of stars proclaim Thy glory as they move forever in the depths of infinite space. What is my poor worship! All nature obeys Thee, I do not. Yet while I live, I see Thy love, I long to thank Thee, and call upon Thy name.

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*You may read the Akathist in its entirety HERE.

 

pity party. admit one.

i am doing my damnedest to find the silver lining, but all i see are clouds.

it started at 4:30 when i woke up from a nightmare about url renewal. for my blog. apparently i have to pay for that now. and i already pay monthly for a blog where i rarely write anything, and when i do only 3 or 4 people read it so what’s the point? and there was once this idea about being a writer. and what was that anyway? a calling? a gift? some wish to be immortal because my words might survive me?

so i do what any rational individual who is in the beginnings of a funk would do. i get on facebook. where i am reminded that i am nobody’s best friend. at best, i am 6th or 7th on pretty much anybody’s list. and i wonder what it would be like, just once, to be introduced as someone’s best friend. and the thing is, i have more intentional, more vulnerable relationships now than i ever have. but still, i am always somewhere down the line. why is that? what is wrong with me?

and i have these amazing kids.  most of the last 21 years of my life has been about growing them up. and i have never resented that or thought that anything was more important. and i am good with the fact that they are growing up, and i feel like i have done as much as i could to release them and speed them on their way. but sometimes, i wish my words counted for more in their lives. and i wonder what it is that i have really taught them anyway.

and it seems like so many people are counting on me for something, and sometimes i feel like i am letting all of them down. and i think i would like to run away. for a while. to some place where nobody needs anything and i can’t mess anything up and for a minute i would be enough. whatever that means.

i spend my morning cleaning up the kitchen. again. i look at the crumbs under the kitchen table and the dust on the furniture. i clean poop out of the bathtub and pee out of the rug and i wonder whose life this is i am living.

i broadcast my gloom to everyone. i write a tweet. i rewrite it. i look at it. i feel like i am in middle school. i think of rants that all of my children have had on facebook at one point or another, and about the fact that sometimes i was the object of the rant and how i wondered what they were after when they wrote it. and i wonder what i am after. do i want someone to validate me? do i want them to be sorry for me?

mostly, i think, i want to know that i am not invisible.

maybe that’s what they wanted too.

so i vomit all these words onto a page because that’s the only thing i know to do with them. and i send them out into the world because, after all, i am paying a pretty penny for that prerogative. and probably tomorrow, when i am sane, if i am sane, i will wish i could somehow get them back.

but it will be too late.

and maybe that’s just as well.

 

Grand Canyon: Rim to Rim

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If all you ever see is a photograph, you can’t help but sense something of its grandeur. You will understand it is unlike anything you have ever known. You will marvel at the colorful layers, at the jagged edges and curious shapes, at the blue of the sky.

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If you stand on its edge…well then. You will feel something in you grow larger to meet it. You will breathe deeper, stand taller, and your soul will begin to sing. Your eyes will try to fasten on something familiar; something to keep you from dancing off into the abyss. And the deep gladness you feel for the gift of being here, even once, will astonish you.

A breeze blows up from the canyon carrying silence. A silence that is ancient and raw and wide. You watch sunlight paint the stone in brilliant washes, while pockets of shade keep certain secrets to themselves. You strain to catch a glimpse of the river, but the cold, dark Colorado is elusive unless you walk the rim trail to the west. There you will see fragments of its sinewy form and, if the air is still, hear the thunder of its rapids.

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But if you dare to dip below the rim…then, my friend, you truly begin to know her. You feel the grit of her against the bottom of your boots. The deep plunge of her walls becomes a memory in your muscles. And the play of sun and shade are something you wear on your skin. You are becoming part of her; your footprints in her soil, her dust on your skin. As the rim recedes further and further into the distance, you are astounded that the river is still so far beneath you. And the enormity of her becomes a visceral, ponderous reality. You rattle around inside her like a bead in a washtub.

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She whispers secrets to you. She shows you stones of vermillion that break open to centers of verdigris. And you walk on the green dust. She startles you with clumps of yellow wildflowers, purple asters, piles of snow. You look up to see a bighorn sheep perched on an impossible ledge, and pass a rattlesnake curled against a stump. You feel the wind that blows up off the Colorado River. You hear the shimmer of the aspens.

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She will test you. She will ask questions of you. Questions about motivation and fortitude and what it means to truly love. You may taste pain and despair on her behalf. She will prove that there is more to you than you know. And she will provide companions on the journey. Companions who encourage and tell stories, commiserate and give advice. And if you manage to climb out on the other side, you will understand that a part of you is hers forever. That you are wed to this place, to this endeavor, to the blood and sweat and heartache of it, to the wild extravagance and the glory.

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On Saturday, October 12, the state of Arizona re-opened Grand Canyon National Park to the delight of a great many federal employees, and to visitors like us who poured across her threshold that very day. On Sunday, October 13, Mike and I hiked from the south rim to the north by way of the Kaibab trails. It is one of the hardest and most rewarding things either of us has ever done. Due to some unexpected health issues, we did not return to the south rim on foot as planned, but rode the last north-south shuttle of the season back along with 4 other rim to rim hikers.

The hospitality we received on both rims and the sweet companionship of fellow hikers on the trail were unforeseen gifts. The long, leisurely hikes we took along both rims on the days following will linger in my memory as golden morsels of grace. My gratitude for the health and strength to undertake such an audacious task is without bounds. And the knowledge that so many friends and family were following our story and cheering us on magnified our joy immeasurably. To all of you who provided kind words of encouragement, and especially to those who offered hospitality in our hour of need, thank you.

My heart is full.

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When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

~Mary Oliver, excerpted from “When Death Comes”

Man With Bicycle

I can’t stop thinking about the man with the bike. I passed him last night as I walked along the harbor in San Diego. He was not the first homeless man I had seen during the evening. There had been dozens. I suppose San Diego’s mild climate makes it a favorable place for those who must shelter out of doors. But it was the bicycle that arrested my attention.

Presumably, all that he possessed was contained there. Everything was thoughtfully arranged and strapped with great care. Flattened two liter bottles were pressed against the outside and I wondered if this was how he collected water. And where he found it. But, mostly I wondered, “How does he decide what goes on the bike?”

How would I?

I thought of homeless men I have sat at table with. Men who are part of the Room in the Inn program in Nashville. Of how ordinary they are. I recollected just how few things have to go wrong for someone to end up on the street. Why him? Why not me?

And if it were me, what would I try to keep with me?

If I could…

My grandmother’s quilt lovingly stitched during the cold months of winter? Photo albums that tell all our stories? They would be too heavy. I would have to pull the photos from their pages; maybe pack them in a plastic bag to protect them from the rain. What of the tiny clothes I sewed for my babies? They would be impractical. But how to give them away?

I did not speak to the man. It was late. I was alone. But I have not been able to stop thinking about him. Imagining him once swaddled and kissed by a happy mother, running with the carefree abandon of a little boy, dreaming dreams of the future. Maybe even as a young father cradling his newborn son. And now he sits, nodding, on a bench by the sea. All that is left to him makes two small bundles on a bicycle.

And I don’t know what to do with that.

Flight of Fancy…

The morning dawned cool and damp, like a renegade fall day. I knew it would not last. The atmosphere already strove to reclaim the cool along with the dew.

An accumulation of weeds had been tormenting me for days. Every time I crossed the porch or refilled the birdfeeders, they stared up at me with impudent faces, mocking me. I was glad to find an opportunity to attend to them, and even more glad that I could do it without being slathered in sweat.

hummingbird_butterfly_bushI buried the upper portion of myself inside the butterfly bush to get at a handful of offenders wedged between it and the iris. When I stood up to move to the other side, I found myself face to face with a Ruby-throated hummingbird. I immediately stopped breathing. I tried not to blink and even scolded my heart for beating too loudly. He was so close to me I could feel his wings beating the air. I don’t know what he asked me with his probing regard, but apparently he decided I was safe. He turned to a nearby panicle of blossoms and began sipping daintily from one tiny cup at a time.

My mind was racing like when you are in an accident or an almost accident and the whole of the world slows and your mind assesses the scene with surgical precision. I strained my eyes to see every precious detail of his beautiful body (which, incidentally, I took to be a female body at first for its lack of scarlet on the breast. I soon discovered I was mistaken.) I watched him move along the blossom like someone eating corn from a cob, a row at a time. Holiness hovered on his emerald wings and the heady scent of the blossoms might have been incense. I could feel the sacredness of this moment in my pores.

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Then I saw the other one.

He dived from the sky with a throb of wing and a pernicious squawk. The other rose to meet him and they hovered with their beaks only centimeters apart scolding, talking over one another. Neither was listening. One of them finally decided to retreat to the sunflowers, which seemed a reasonable and generous solution to me. But not to his aggressor. He pursued his enemy and they carried their dog fight higher and higher into the air until both of them fled.

And even this. Even the wild bravado of these young adolescent males establishing their territorial claims filled me with awe, and for a long time I could not stop looking into the sky at the very place where I saw them last.

I finally went back to my work, but there were a great many more visits from my winged friend, or friends, as the case may be. And this became just one more lowly, everyday experience shot through with the luminous. It happens all the time. Nothing is more common.

Be watching…

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*All photos (and the exquisite watercolor) harvested from other sources. I did eventually grab my phone to see if I might catch a shot, but the one time I tried, it frightened him away. I decided I would rather have his presence than his image. 🙂

The First 50 Years…

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Dearest Mom and Dad,

To live with the same person for 50 years is an extraordinary work of grace. Ask anyone who has been married more than a minute. To love long is also an extraordinary gift; to one another and to all those who love you. For this, I thank you.

As this auspicious day has drawn near, I have wondered: when you look back over 50 years, what is it you remember? When the film reel plays in your mind, what are the images you see?

Here is a little taste of what I remember.

Music. Before any of us kids were born, maybe even before you were married, you were the song leader and piano player. And as soon as we were old enough, each of us joined you singing in church. It was like a right of passage. We sang in the cornfield and in the car, and for whole evenings around the piano. Dad had Don Williams and Merle Haggard on 8 track and mom liked WEZK on the radio, and everywhere there was Southern Gospel and bluegrass. Now your grandchildren gather in your living room with guitar, dulcimer, mandolin, banjo, and piano and sing like we sang. And your legacy continues…

Faith. God and His Church were the axis upon which our whole life as a family was oriented. We fitted our week around it; leaving the garden or the field on Saturday afternoons to wash and dress for the evening service and consecrating Sunday as a day of worship and rest and family. And though all of us serve God in different places now, the thread of faith still binds us together wherever we are.

Travel. I suppose I owe my gypsy wanderlust to the two of you. We grew up camping in the mountains or on the river. So many trips to the beach with cousins. The Great Smoky Mountains, New Orleans, Washington D.C… As retirement has given you more time to travel, I find myself following you to places like the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone and Alaska. Thank you for stoking my curiosity.

Magic. In a thousand different shapes and forms. Birthday cakes you bought us from the bakery; Snow White on mine, horses on Marvin’s. Every year. Huffy trail bikes that made us masters of our world. Piling in the back of the truck on a hot day and heading for the river. Swimming til we were exhausted, then eating watermelon and peanut butter and crackers while the cool of the water still tingled in our skin. Catching lightening bugs on summer evenings. Walking barefoot in soft earth, still warm from the plow. Watching calves be born. So. Many. Stories. Tramping through the woods to find the perfect Christmas tree. The Raggedy Man. Snow sledding. Gathering wild Muscadines….

For Better or Worse. You had a fight once. On a Sunday afternoon. I don’t know if you remember it, but I do. I remember what it was about and even some of the exact things you said. Marvin and Monty and I sat out in the back yard deciding who we would go live with if the two of you split up. I mention this mostly because it was such a singular event. In all my growing up, it was the only time I ever thought, even for a minute, that I might be one of those kids shuttled between homes. Certainly you have disagreed and hurt one another from time to time, but I have always known you were in this for the long haul. It means more than you know.

For Richer or Poorer. The early years were lean. I know that now. I don’t think I thought much about it then. Dad worked extra jobs in the evening and mom made all our clothes. But in the process, Marvin learned the electrical trade he practices today and I learned to sew. Gifts. In the time of plenty, you have been generous with us and with others. Thank you for making the most of both.

In Sickness and in Health. When I was a kid, I thought adults never got sick. The two of you didn’t. In recent years, that has changed, of course. I have watched you love and care for one another through Mom’s battle with breast cancer and Dad’s open heart surgery. A team. I remember coming to help after Mom’s surgery and being a little hurt that she preferred Dad’s care to mine. But that is how it should be. And I am glad. You tended both your mothers with kindness and dignity as their health failed. And when little Tucker was born needing extra special care, you gave him your all. I know Monty will never forget that. None of us will.

Til Death… I sometimes wonder if the two of you are aging backwards. Yes, I know that your bodies don’t always cooperate like they used to, but your minds and your hearts seem to keep expanding. Your curiosity knows no bounds. Listening to you describe your trip to the Panama Canal this year was almost as good as being there. Mom is always adding some new flower to the garden and dad is always finding some new, old fruit tree. New grand babies and great grand babies keep coming who need to ride Papaw’s tractor and eat Mamaw’s chocolate gravy and biscuits. Life is full of so much possibility. I can’t wait to see what the next 50 years hold. 🙂

Happy Anniversary!!

I love you!

God grant you many, many more…

Great and Holy Pascha

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All of Holy Week has led to this moment. All of Lent. In fact, the whole life of the church orients itself around the Resurrection. We all feel the weight of it. And the joy. Barely contained, pressing against the borders, eager to erupt.

Elsewhere in the building each of us has left a basket of delights, indulgences we have not tasted since the beginning of Lent. We have salivated as we prepared them, tortured by the delectable scents. But all of this is ornament. A coda to what will happen among us in this sacred space tonight.

We begin with David’s confessional Psalm. “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy great mercy…” The washing. The making right. A worthy beginning. After several readings and prayers, the lights fade to black. The priest comes out of the altar with the lighted Paschal candle singing,

“Come ye, take light from the Light, that is never overtaken by night. Come, glorify Christ, risen from the dead.”

As we all join the song, deacons light their candles from the Paschal candle and we light our candles from theirs. Soon the temple glows and familiar faces are beatified by the glorious light and I wonder if this is how we always look to God.

We then commence the procession out of doors and around the church. We return to find the doors closed. Standing before the doors we hear the gospel reading from Mark that tells of the women who come to the tomb and find it empty. We pray. We sing the Paschal troparion “Christ is risen from the dead trampling down death by death and upon those in the tombs bestowing life,” vaulting our candles toward the night sky. Then the priest pounds on the closed door with the cross and says,

“Lift up your gates, O ye princes; and be ye lifted up, ye everlasting gates, and the King of glory shall enter in.”

To which a voice from within responds,

“Who is this King of glory?”

“The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in war!”

Three times this happens, and on the third the doors swing open and we enter in triumph. Then the celebration verily erupts. We sing songs of joy and remembrance and celebration. The priests run up and down the aisle carrying the Paschal candle and the censor with its beautiful bells and shouting “Christ is risen!” in multiple languages, to which we respond “He is risen indeed!”

This goes on for some time, yet no one is eager for it to end. Then we hear this wonderful benediction,

Today is the Day of Resurrection! Let us shine with the Feast! Let us embrace one another. Let us say, brethren! And because of the Resurrection, let us forgive all things to those who hate us, and in this wise exclaim: Christ is risen from the dead trampling down death by death and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.

And seamlessly, as easy as breathing, we move right into the Divine Liturgy. The same Divine Liturgy we pray every Sunday. And yet, the light of Resurrection is so radiant, and recent, and real, that everything is illuminated and vivified by it. The songs and prayers, the bread and wine; Body and Blood, the one-ing of Eucharist.

“Christ is risen, and life reigns!”

Then, while the world sleeps, we feast into the night. And the Resurrection becomes a breathable, taste-able, shareable reality as we break bread (and eggs, and cheese, and “flesh meats”) together, and laugh, and remember who we are.

*Photo courtesy of Chelsea Beazley who is also one of the designers responsible for the exquisite floral artistry you see. Thanks, Chelsea!

The Harrowing of Hell

The funeral bier still occupies the center of the room, but the body of Christ has been removed. He is in the tomb. And death begins to be undone. We read Old Testament passages about Jonah in the belly of the fish and the three Hebrew children in the fiery furnace. Pictures of death. Pictures of life after. We are reminded that those of us who have been baptized into Christ have been united with him in his death and will most certainly be united with him in his resurrection.

We begin to sing “Arise, O God, judge thou the earth…” and several things happen all at once. The priest scatters bay leaves and rose petals among the congregants. Children beat sticks against the backs of the chairs to symbolize the harrowing of Hell. And little girls exchange the purple cloths of lent for the white of Pascha. Almost there. Almost.

We begin our preparation for the Eucharist with this hymn…

Let all mortal flesh keep silence and in fear and trembling stand,
pondering nothing earthly minded.
For the King of kings and the Lord of lords
cometh forth to be slain and given as food to the faithful.
Before him go the ranks of angels,
with all the principalities and powers,
the Cherubim many-eyed and the six-winged Seraphim
covering their faces and chanting their hymn:
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

Then the priest and deacons set about the work of preparing and consecrating the Eucharist. On the funeral bier. The deep significance of this defies description. To receive the Body and Blood from the very funeral bier on which we have lately carried him is almost unbearable. And extraordinarily beautiful.

Near the end of the service, the priest blesses baskets of bread and wine assembled on the ambo. And we share them with one another afterward. A sweet time of communion and fortification for the last part of our journey toward Resurrection which will commence in the evening.

Lament

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You can’t miss the funeral bier. It rests in the center of the temple. Opulently decorated with flowers, it is the resting place for the body of Christ. For now. A tapestry depicting the sleeping Christ represents His body. Mourners gather, and as darkness begins to press in at the windows, we sing songs of adoration and lament.

O my sweet Lord Jesus,
My Salvation, my Light:
How art thou now by a grave and its darkness hid?
How unspeakable the mystery of thy love.

We hear his mother as she hymns the One to whom she gave birth…

Ah, my precious Springtime!
Ah, my Son beloved.
Ah, whither fades thy beauty?

Light more dear than seeing,
O my son most precious,
How in a grave dost hide thee?

As we sing of the myrrh bearing women who brought spices to the tomb at dawn, the priest sprinkles the bier and the mourners with rose water and little girls scatter baskets of rose petals. The scent of it all is heady. And fitting.

As thunder pounds and lightning flashes outside, we begin to sing the trisagion hymn in a setting used only for funerals. It is slow and deep and the very tones themselves speak of anguish. As we sing, bearers shoulder the bier and carry it out of doors and around the church followed by all the mourners. When they come back inside, they lift the bier high and all of us walk under it as we reenter, most of us reaching a hand up to touch it as we pass. It is a solemn and wondrous moment.

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Truly, we grieve, but not as those who have no hope. Laced all through the service are rumblings. Intimations of resurrection. None more dramatic than the reading of Ezekiel 37:1-14 in which God instructs Ezekiel to prophesy to the dry bones bringing them back to life. It does not hurt that Dan who delivers this passage to us inhales the words and marvelously vivifies them. My eyes leak, my heart pounds, and I believe that the dry, dead places in me can live again.

Before we leave, we are reminded that Jesus foretold that he would live again. We go out feeling spent, but hopeful. In a few hours we will return and follow Christ as He descends into Hades for the Harrowing of Hell.

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