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Unmercenary….

He asks, “Mom, how do you fill your days now that we are all nearly grown and don’t really need you all the time?”

And I wonder…..

Does it matter? All this scrubbing of floors? All this cooking of meals? Dishes? Laundry? Homework? Preparation for auditions? The chauffeuring to this and that? The listening? To dreams? To fears? The long conversations?

I wonder…

Does it matter? This changing of diapers? This giving of baths? The feeding? The playing with blocks? The reading of books? The explore? Baby birds, ducks on the pond, playgrounds, flowers? If nobody notices, is it still real?

I wonder…

Does it matter? Dreams deferred? Put on hold. For now. For them? If they do not see? Why am i doing this? Really?

On Sunday, we commemorated the unmercenary healers. Medicine men who did not ply their skills for profit. I have struggled with this. I am an unmercenary. But, not by choice. Every day I do invisible deeds. No one says thank you. No one imagines what life would be like without them. I do not give this gift freely. Always. Sometimes I want desperately to be noticed. I am vain. I would like someone to say, “Thank you for washing my clothes. Thank you for supper. For a clean home.” It rarely happens.

And sometimes I think it would be better to be out in the world doing something that would last more than a few minutes. Something that might bring a salary. Something dignified and honorable.

Instead, I get up every day and do invisible deeds to launch my beloveds upon the world. And I wonder, does it matter?

Do I matter?

Do I?

 

Afterward Many are Strong…

“You might break your arm again, but you’ll never break it there.”

It happened on the last day of Mike’s ski trip with Jake. Toward the end of the day, Mike took a tumble and landed on his wrist. Broken. They patched him up temporarily at the resort clinic, gave him some good drugs, and told him to see an orthopedic surgeon as soon as he got home.

A rod and several screws later, he was good as new. Better, in fact, according to Dr. Cook. The only joint in his body that was invincible.

The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places. ~Ernest Hemingway

I know people like that. I’ll bet you do too. Heroes who have walked through hell, and come out the other side with souvenirs of grace. Stronger. More radiant. Gentle dispensers of the mercy they themselves have received.

A friend whose marriage, like ours, should have gone down in flames. But she and her husband slogged through the breathtaking pain of it, the humiliating and generous WORK of forgiveness, and are building a family that vibrates with the glory of God.

A friend who has seen the bowels of depression. Who knows what it is to be so lost and desperate you can’t even see the road out any more. This friend is now in school to be a counselor. To extend to others the help that was given to her. Beauty for ashes. The oil of gladness for mourning. A garment of praise instead of the spirit of despair.*

I have also seen those who define themselves by the great tragedy in their lives. Who refuse to  forgive. Who wear their woundedness like a badge of honor. Who play forever the role of victim or villain, unwilling that things should ever be other than they are.

What makes the difference?

I am no psychologist, counselor, or priest, but I have had my own experiences with brokenness, and I have walked it with friends. Here are some of the things I have observed.

1. Own the truth. Healing begins with recognizing my culpability in the situation. Blaming others, excusing my behavior, lying to myself are all barriers to my healing. I must invite people who know me to speak into my life. Even if I don’t like what they say. Perhaps, especially if I don’t like what they say. They are likely to see things more clearly than I can. If I cut off everyone who disagrees with me, I am cutting off my lifeline. Whether I realize it or not.

2. Ask for help. If my mind or my body betray me (ie. depression or illness)…if through no fault of my own tragedy befalls me (death or sickness of a child or spouse, job loss, bankruptcy…fill in the blank…), the problem is obviously bigger than me. Much bigger. I need friends to pray when I forget how. To get me to a hospital. To feed my family. To sit with me and share my grief. And to help me know when it is time to move forward.

3. What does this make possible? My friend Gail has asked me this question more than once. Nothing is wasted in life. But I must be willing to offer it with open hands.  There are people who need to hear my story (and yours). Maybe not everyone. But I usually seem to know. Sometimes the loss of one dream is a clean slate to dream new dreams. Like it or not, this is my new reality. What can I see/give/be/do from here that would have been impossible before?

The world breaks everyone. We have no choice about that. But we can choose to yield ourselves to the healing work that will make us stronger in the broken places.

In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. ~John 16:33

See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland. ~Isaiah 43:19

*Isaiah 61:3

Cottontail Conundrum

I gave my babies Beatrix Potter with their milk. Peter Rabbit, little Benjamin Bunny, these were our friends. When they were older, we read Rabbit Hill, a compelling story of wild creatures who hope the new owners of the farm will be generous cultivators instead of mean spirited slackers who let the garden grow up in weeds and set wicked animal traps. And we hoped with them.

Baby girl and I have watched the beautiful brown wonders as they bound through our yard. Comfortable with us. Our friends. It has seamed natural, this kinship with these beautiful creatures of God. And good.

The lettuces were the first to go. A fine stand of Arugula and Paris Market Mix Mesclun. One morning I walked out to the garden to find nubs where the tender leafy greens had been. Next was the Red Russian Kale. Not a single stem left standing. Yet I kept my sense of humor, thinking of the crusty Mr. McGregor; realizing with some measure of satisfaction that as the bunnies spoke of me in their cozy burrows at night, I was a hero. A friend.

Until they started on the tomatoes…

Black Krim is one of several heirloom varieties I am growing this year. The first fruit set on only a couple of weeks after I planted, despite an unexpected spell of cool weather. I watched with fascination as it swelled to 4 inches or so across and as the first blush of purply red began to spread over its skin. Then, one evening about dusk, I found this…

I wanted to throw up. Then, I began to wonder if there was a recipe on-line anywhere for that pie Mrs. McGregor put Peter’s father in. Because, after all, if I was going to be deprived of the vegetables I was working so hard to cultivate, I would need something to feed to my family.

I am not a violent person. As a rule.

Last night, while I was erecting a fence to save my tomatoes (and the lives of the furry little bandits), I made an interesting discovery. Four baby rabbits huddled in the oregano. Just outside their burrow, as it turns out. You can see two of them above.

I don’t mind telling you that my “peaceful by nature”, “lover of all things beautiful and wild” self is at war with my practical, farm girl self. Pray for me. And for the adorable little marauders. That we might find a way to live together.

The Soft Seduction of Silence…

Silence is an urgent necessity for us. ~Martin Laird

We all experience it, even if we do not know how to name it. The restless frenzy. The onerous availability…to everyone…all the time. The constant barrage…of NOIZE.

And inside it

our souls crave

stillness

silence

space

Perhaps we are aware. Many of us are not. But the need is there nonetheless. Unheeded, it drives us to medicate, to escape, to make horrible, selfish, destructive choices. And still, we hunger, our insides a jumble of confused nausea.

Today I offer you a deep breath. An invitation. To be still. To breathe slow. To listen. From voices more capable than mine. A poem, a proposition, and a portal. Do with them as you like.

Poem

The Moor

It was like a church to me.
I entered it on soft foot,
Breath held like a cap in the hand.
It was quiet.
What God was there made himself felt,
Not listened to, in clean colours
That brought a moistening of the eye,
In movement of the wind over grass.

There were no prayers said. But stillness
Of the heart’s passions — that was praise
Enough; and the mind’s cession
Of its kingdom. I walked on,
Simple and poor, while the air crumbled
And broke on me generously as bread.

~R. S. Thomas

Proposition

In the New York Times, of all places. An article from some months back. Pico Iyer, The Joy of Quiet. Compelling.

Portal

I am in my second reading of Martin Laird’s Into the Silent Land (Thanks, Ian). This time I am reading it with friends. And we sit around the table and groan as our hearts resonate with his words, and with those of the saints and mystics who populate the work.

He tells us we cannot manufacture interior silence and communion with God any more than a gardener can make plants grow. But, like a gardener creates receptivity to growth by tilling the soil, providing fertilizer and water, removing weeds and guarding against marauders, we can cultivate practices that welcome this silent communion. It is one of the most inviting and instructive books I have ever read on the subject. I commend it to your attention. Laird is a worthy guide.

Praying that stillness and silence find you (and me) today.

Shalom.

Reckless

It was such a desperate thing to do.

Reckless.

Extravagant.

She had probably bought the perfume for her own burial. How many times had she sold her body to earn the money?

I wonder how it felt to walk into the room. I suppose she had grown accustomed to the whispers. “Righteous” people leaning away so that she would not soil them by a brush of her garments. Little children throwing stones.

Where did she find the courage? How did she know He would understand?

It was such a desperate thing to do.

Reckless.

Indignant.

Fed up with forgiveness, peace, grace. Disillusioned.

He condemned the woman for her waste.

Then he sold his friend.

For the price of a slave.

I wonder how it felt to walk into the garden. I suppose he had grown accustomed to feeling important. Necessary. People making way for him. Following his cues.

Did the silver in his pockets suddenly make him feel heavy? And sick? And small?

When the sinful woman was offering her spice, the disciple was making a bargain with the transgressors of the law. The one rejoiced in pouring out the spice so great in price, while the other hastened to sell the Priceless One. The one knew the Master, the other was separated from the Lord. She was freed and Judas became a slave to the enemy. Indifference is evil, but great is repentance. The latter grant to us, O Savior, and redeem us…

Ah for the wretchedness of Judas! For, seeing the adultress kiss the traces of His feet, he was thinking with deceit of the kiss of betrayal. She loosed her braids, and he was bound with wrath, offering instead of spice, rotted evil; for envy knoweth not how to honor anything which is good. Woe to the wretchedness of Judas, and save from it our souls, O God.

I know Judas all too well. I know what it is to be critical and self-righteous, frustrated and confused. To defiantly seek my own way. To be so blinded by my own expectations and demands that I cannot see the gifts before me.

And I know the fallen woman. I know what it is to be broken, desperate, despised, wrecked. I know what it is to fall on my face and wail, “If you reject me, I am without hope! I am lost!” To recognize that the most beautiful parts of me are rubbish unless He makes them clean. Unless He makes me clean.

It is gift to be wrecked.

To be undone.

O Lord God, the woman who had fallen into many sins, having perceived Thy divinity, received the rank of ointment-bearer, offering Thee spices before Thy burial. Wailing and crying: Woe is me, for the love of adultery and sin hath given me a dark and lightless night. Accept the fountains of my tears, O Thou Who drawest the waters of the sea by the clouds. Incline Thou to the sighing of my heart. O Thou Who didst bend the heavens by Thine inapprehensible condescension; I will kiss Thy pure feet and I will wipe them with my tresses. I will kiss Thy feet Whose tread when it fell on the ears of Eve in Paradise dismayed her so that she did hide herself because of fear. Who then shall examine the multitude of my sin and the depth of Thy judgment? Wherefore, O my Savior and the Deliverer of my soul, turn not away from Thy handmaiden. O Thou of boundless mercy.

*All quotes in the post are from the Bridegroom Matins service of the Orthodox Church as sung on Tuesday evening of Holy Week. The passage immediately above is the Hymn of Kassiani. Kassiani was a poet, composer and hymn writer in 9th century Constantinople. She is the saint I received upon entering the Orthodox church. I liked her upon first encountering her, but it is this hymn that indelibly knit my heart to hers.

 

23

Wedding

Twenty-three years ago two children promised to love “until death…”  It was folly, really.  They were babies.  He was 22.  She was 20.  They had known one another 9 months.  What were they thinking? They had no idea what they were getting themselves into…

Twenty-three years.  Three babies.  Better or worse. Eight homes.  Thousands of miles traveled.  Richer or poorer. Hundreds of acquaintances.  A precious handful of really close friends.  Sickness and Health. Six dogs.  One cat.  An infinity of memories and moments…

I was the wide-eyed, innocent girl.  And that naively optimistic boy has loved me better than I deserve.  I owe him a thousand ‘thank you’s.  But today, I will offer him twenty-three.  Twenty-three thank yous for twenty three years.

1.  Thank you for loving me all the time, no matter what.  I know it hasn’t been easy.  And I don’t pretend to understand it.  But I am grateful, all the same.

2.  Thank you for being a fellow gypsy.  I have so many beautiful memories of our family, and of the two of us, in remarkable locales all over the world.  Thank you for watching all those Rick Steves videos with me and listening to me wag on incessantly about mind-numbing minutia.  You are a very good sport.

3.  Thank you for being the sane one.  I have never been qualified for the role.  It has been nice to know that while I flit about erratically, experiencing my ecstatic highs and my abysmal lows, that somewhere there is a tether of sanity that will never let me be completely lost.

4.  Thank you for providing for our family.  I don’t say it enough.  How do I tell you what it has meant to be home with our little ones as they grew up?  To witness the little miracles and discoveries.  To teach them.  To open the world for them.  To read and play.  I could never have done that without you.  It means more than I can say.

5.  Thank you for surrendering your suspicious nature with regard to food.  Does this sound familiar? “I don’t like that.”  “Really, how have you had it prepared?”  Oh, I’ve never eaten it, but I don’t like it.”  Or this?  “I just can’t eat squash.  I don’t like the name.”  🙂  Thank you for triumphing over your fear to become a fellow culinary explorer.  And thank you for understanding how much it means to me to eat artfully prepared food in a beautiful place.

6.  Thank you for being god of all things technological at our house.  Thank you for providing me the opportunity to remain blissfully ignorant and still have computers, phones, iPods, etc… that work.  🙂

7.  Thank you for our beautiful piano.  Thank you for buying it when we were so poor.  When we had nothing, you knew I needed a piano in my home.  So many hours of pleasure and therapy it has given me.  And, of course, as each of our children has grown up playing, the joy continues to multiply…exponentially.

8.  Thank you for being a godly man.  You haven’t done it for me.  But it does matter to me.  I respect and admire your integrity and your piety.

9.  Thank you for every art museum you have traipsed through with me.  I know sometimes you did it entirely as a gift to me.  But it seems to me that over the years you have developed your own affinity for them.  Sort of.  😉

10.  Thank you for all the made up words you sing to songs.  I would be lying if I said it didn’t bother me at first.  Being a neurotic first born who needs things to be right, and who happens to remember every lyric she has ever heard, I cringed at your inaccuracies.  But over the years, I have come to prefer your…ahem…creative take on things.  You make me laugh.

11.  Thanks for Pikes Peak.  I know you thought I was crazy at first.  But you were unwilling to let me be crazy all by myself.  Thanks for all those trail runs at the Warner Parks as we prepared.  For slanting rays of sunlight, wild flowers, chipmunks, deer, squirrels.  Those still comprise some of my very favorite running memories.

12.  Thank you for indulging my passion for books.  I am a pretty thrifty shopper with my Goodwill/clearance rack wardrobe, but I do go a little crazy with books.  Thank you for understanding how important they are to me and for not cutting up my credit card or exiling me from Amazon.

13.  Thank you for spending New Years Eve in Times Square with Kelsey.  What a glorious memory that will always be for her.  I know your bladder will probably never be the same, but thank you for giving her that gift.

14.  Thank you for snow boarding with Jake, and for dozens of cub scout camping trips with both of the boys.  Thank you for teaching them how to be men.

15.  Thank you for taking care of all things financial on behalf of our family.  Thank you that I never have to worry my pretty little head about that.  I trust you. I have complete confidence in your ability and your judgment.  That is a wonderful feeling.

16.  Thank you for opening your heart to Orthodoxy.  I know that each of us has walked our own road to the Orthodox faith, and that it means something distinctly different to each of us.  But I am delighted that we were able to go there together.  I look forward to uncovering the riches of our faith over years and years to come.

17.  Thank you for your generosity.  Thank you that, even when we had nothing, we gave to others.  I remember the first budget you drew up for us.  I remember that the first line item was our tithe.  It was never open for negotiation.  I also remember that it was your goal for us to increase, not just the amount of our giving to others, but the percentage of our giving each year.  This we have done.  I believe God has honored that, and I highly esteem you for it.

18.  Thank you for loving my family.  Thank you that I have never had to choose between them and you.

19.  Thank you for Bill Cosby, Himself.  I love the DVD.  But I have always loved watching you watch it even more.  When you start laughing so hard you can hardly breathe, it doesn’t really matter any more what he is saying.  It’s funny.

20  Thanks for being my partner in the delightful, magical, terrifying, difficult, bewildering, wonderful adventure of parenting.  It has been (and continues to be) the most challenging and most rewarding experience of my life.  You have been a worthy partner in crime.

21.  Thank you for forgiveness.  Seventy times seventy times seventy times seven times.  I wish I didn’t require it so often.  I hope there is still more where that came from.

22.  Thank you for memories.  Thanks for jokes only our family knows.  Thanks for the stories and experiences that have become so much a part of the warp and weft of who we are we don’t know where they begin and end.

23.  Thank you for loving me all the time, no matter what. I know I already said that.  But it is the most important thing.  You have astounded me with your relentless love for me.  I have fought it sometimes.  Sometimes I didn’t even want it.  And I know I don’t deserve it.  “And this is love, not that we loved God, but that He first loved us…” Thanks for showing me what that looks like.

I love you…always.

Family2

*Photo at the bottom of the post copyright Angela Davis.

The Martyrdom of Marriage

Corpsebride

Marriage is hell.

Sometimes.

I did not sign up for that.

I signed up for a husband who would understand me all the time.  He would anticipate needs without me speaking them so that I would never have to humble myself and ask for help.  He would be romantic and creative, regardless of the pressures of providing for a family, or responsibilities he might have to others.  But, more than anything, he would fill all the empty places in me.  He would make me feel beautiful, smart, and important.  Any unanswered questions I had…about me…about whether I mattered…he would answer.

My husband has failed me in this.

I imagine he had a list of expectations too.  And I can assure you, whatever was on that list, I have failed him.  More than he has failed me.

For a long time we limped along in our failings, too polite to say to the other how disappointed we were.  Too afraid to talk about the things that mattered.  Until all the resentment finally hit critical mass and exploded like a compromised container of toxic waste.  And the husband I had lived with peaceably, if not always passionately, for years, became an object of loathing to me.  I could no longer remember any of the things I loved about him.

And I made his life hell. I wanted to hurt him as much as I felt he had hurt me.  I was so angry at him for not being who I needed him to be.  Who I thought I needed him to be.

“The collapse of the family today, the rate of divorce–all this is due to the non-acceptance by man of marriage as martyria, and this means patience, endurance, travelling together along a difficult, yet ultimately glorious path.”

~Alexander Schmemann

For four years we have fought and scratched and clawed our way back to one another.  Our kind and able couselor taught us to be honest.  Generous friends loved us viciously and refused to let us give up–and I really wanted to give up.  And we learned to cling to God like a man lost in the desert clings to his last few drops of water.

Healing has come.  Is still coming.  And we have learned so much.  But perhaps the most important thing we have learned is to give one another permission to be who we are.  And to allow the other to fail us.  In those empty places where I miss him and he misses me, God is.  And we learn a little more about surrender.  And about the kind of love that gives without requiring response.  The love of a martyr.

martyr: a person who is put to death or endures great suffering on behalf of any belief, principle, or cause

Turns out, each of us was what the other needed all along.  And we are finding a rich, seasoned love that is worth every torturous step it took to get here.  If you find yourself in the hell season at present, PLEASE, don’t give up!!!  Ask for help.  Gather a band of brothers and sisters around you.  And ask God to meet you in the empty, broken places…and to teach you to love like He loves.

“…marriage, as life itself, is above all a journey, and its goal, as that of life itself, is the Kingdom of God…Then what will remain is true love, the one that overcomes death and gives us a taste of the Kingdom…It is this love that transforms through forgiveness, and so in the marriage, in this martyrdom,…we grow together as to constitute in the end the very image of that Divine Love between God and man.”

~Alexander Schmemann

Return…

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion…How can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land? If I forget you, Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill. May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you, if I do not consider Jerusalem my highest joy. Psalm 137: 1, 4-6

The Lenten season is one of the great good gifts of the Church….though it might not always feel like it. It is not punishment for all the bad things we have done the rest of the year. It is not an opportunity for us to prove our piety to God, or to one another. It is, more than anything, a return. A return to first things. To our most essential selves. A return home.

The way each of us go about getting there varies. Here is how it will look for me.

The Fast:

We do not fast because there is anything itself unclean about the act of eating and drinking. Food and drink are, on the contrary, God’s gift…We fast…so as to make ourselves aware that it is indeed a gift–so as to purify our eating and drinking, and to make them no longer a concession to greed, but a sacrament and means of communion with the Giver. ~Metropolitan Kallistos Ware

For Orthodox, the fast is prescribed. We will not eat meat, eggs, or dairy again until we celebrate the Resurrection. Wine, oil and fish are permitted only on Weekends. It will make me crotchety at times. It will reveal how accustomed I am to having what I want and indulging my cravings. I do not always like my fasting self. But it is important to bring that detritus to the surface. So it can be dealt with. It is important to learn to discipline my passions. It is much bigger than the food.

The Services:

I am grateful to spend much of this journey with my brothers and sisters. We need one another. It is impossible to do this alone. We began with Forgiveness vespers, one of the most powerful services of the whole year. It is important to begin this journey clean, unencumbered. This week the Canon of St. Andrew invites confession and looking inward. Each week we will receive sustenance from an extra liturgy on Wednesday. There are lots of prostrations. I can not tell you how powerful it is to wear your faith in your body. Hungry. Face to the floor. And during Holy Week, we will be there every day, sometimes twice, as the final week of Christ on this earth is re-membered in our presence.

The Books:

Don’t even act surprised. I am always reading. But during this season, I am especially purposeful in choosing literature that challenges, provokes, inspires, and nourishes. Here are some of the voices I have am inviting into my journey:

Great Lent: Journey to Pascha by Father Alexander Schmemann
The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Mother Gavrilia: The Ascetic of Love by Nun Gavrilia
The Lenten Triodion by Mother Maria and Bishop Kallistos Ware
The Golden Key by George MacDonald

The Beauty:

As the natural world around me springs back to life, it is filled with reminders that what looks like death may only be a time of gathering strength…that if I am willing to surrender my striving and just be still, God will adorn me with beauty for ashes. He will work Resurrection in me.

How about you? What will the Lenten journey look like in your life?

*The idea of Lent as return is not original with me. Father Stephen has been talking to us about it for several weeks. Alexander Schmemann also speaks of it in Great Lent. For this lovely image, I am in their debt.

Intrusions of Grace

Our age not only does not have a very sharp eye for the almost imperceptible intrusions of grace, it no longer has much feeling for the nature of the violences which precede and follow them.

A whole family shot to death by the side of the road. A little boy who hangs himself so he can be with his dead mother in the stars. A Bible salesman who steals a girl’s wooden leg.

Flannery O’Connor takes a hammer to any illusion that we are evolving.

Friends and I have been reading A Good Man is Hard to Find together. It has been tough going at times. O’Connor creates conundrums, then refuses to solve them. She exposes the dark underbelly but does not clean it up. She makes us uncomfortable. And leaves us that way. What is she up to? Is her view of life this bleak? This desperate?

Redemption is meaningless unless there is cause for it in the actual life we live, and for the last few centuries there has been operating in our culture the secular belief that there is no such cause.

O’Connor was convinced that we had come to think more highly of ourselves than we ought. And she understood that an arrogant, self-satisfied heart has no room for grace. Her stories show us that need. And here is the genius; we may find her characters grotesque, ignorant, prejudiced, cruel, yet we can’t help but identify with them. Their selfishness is our selfishness. Their pride our pride. Their cruelty helps us see that far too often we ourselves are cruel.

It is terribly uncomfortable.

It is terribly important.

Jesus told a story once of two men who came to the temple to pray. A Pharisee and a tax collector…

The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: “God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.”

But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. (Luke 18:11-14)

———————————————————————————————–

Mr. Head had never known before what mercy looked like because he had been too good to deserve any, but he felt he knew now…He stood appalled, judging himself with the thoroughness of God, while the action of mercy covered his pride like a flame and consumed it. ~Flannery O’Connor, A Good Man is Hard to Find

The art of Flannery O’Connor is sumptuous and grand. It is filled with luminous phrases and deliciously evocative descriptions.  But mostly, her works help us see ourselves aright. They create a space in us for almost imperceptible intrusions of grace.

*The two unattributed quotes at the top of the post are from the remarkable Mystery and Manners, a collection of her essays on writing, and on life.

**Photograph at the top by Marc Yankus.

Loving Humility: a Terrible Force

Loving humility is a terrible force: it is the strongest of all things, and there is nothing else like it.
~Fyodor Dostoevsky

The whole page is filled with underlines and little stars and notes to myself in the margins. I have read it over and over. It seems such a radical idea. “Loving humility is a terrible force…” Really?

…whenever we give up anything or suffer anything, not with a sense of rebellious bitterness, but willingly and out of love, this makes us not weaker but stronger.

It should not be so surprising to me. I have, after all, experienced it…

If you are a regular reader, you know that Mike and I have had our share of challenges. During the worst of it, one of the things I most despised about him was his humility. I told him he was weak. That he did not have enough self-worth to assert himself. I was horrible to him, yet he persisted in loving me. I could not understand this. It did not fit my picture of strength.

By loving or hating another, I cause the other in some measure to become that which I see in him or her. Not for myself alone, but for the lives of all around me, my love is creative, just as my hatred is destructive.

Mike’s love….which at times I did not even want…created a safe place for me to deal with my own demons. To learn to allow God to fill the empty places inside me, instead of demanding that of others. Though he could not fix me, his love WAS creative. His relentless faith in who I could be nourished me, even when I was unaware of it. For this, I am profoundly grateful.

[Christ’s] suffering love has a creative effect upon me, transforming my own heart and will, releasing me from bondage, making me whole, rendering it possible for me to love in a way that would lie altogether beyond my powers, had I not first been loved by him.

When I see my children, my family, my friends making destructive choices, I want to fix them. But this usually lies beyond my control, even if I knew what was best for them, which I often do not. So I will love them. Without arrogance. Without manipulation. Humbly and generously. As I have been loved. And I will trust in the creative power of love.

Love is strong as death…Many waters cannot quench love, rivers cannot wash it away. ~Song of Songs 8:6-7

*Unattributed quotes in the post are from Metropolitan Kallistos Ware in The Orthodox Way, page 82 (the page with the underlines and stars and notes and such…).

 

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