Delicious Agony

I wish I could tell you how much I miss the bells. The censer the priest uses has bells. So while I watch the vapors rise heavenward with our prayers, and while I breathe the fragrance of God, I hear the joyous sparkle of bells. But bells are incongruous with Lent. So they are gone, for now. My, how I miss them!

There is this lament.  The priest begins it all alone from behind the altar. He brings it out to us, along with that solemn, silent censer. The melody is so tragic it would break your heart even without the words. But the words, oh the words…

O Lord of hosts be with us for we have none other help, none other help in times of sorrow. O Lord of hosts, have mercy on us.

The weight of this moment is almost unbearable.

So, why can’t I stop singing this song?

I even asked for a copy of the music so I could get the melody just right. The thing is, it is not a dismal cry of despair to me. There is something very warm and right about it. This made no sense to me. Until last night…

Last night a sweet friend poured out her heart before me like water. She was in that desperate place of barely breathing….very nearly out of hope. She asked me how I had learned to live in a place of joy, how my awareness of the sacred had become so keen. Mine is a story of extravagant grace. A grace that is willing to rend, so it can heal. Beauty grown in a furrow plowed by pain. It was an anguish I did not choose, but it was a result of my choices, all the same.

I told her of my persistent striving…

“…somewhere deep inside me I believed I had to be good enough, that I had to do enough, that I had to prove that I was ok for God to really love me. I would have told you that was not true. But I lived my life in terror of not measuring up. And as long as I put up a pretty good front, I could almost convince myself that if I worked a little harder, if I did a little more, I would finally get there.”

I told her that the devastation I thought would kill me turned out to be the beginning of freedom.

“Failing epically, seeing the depth of my own depravity, liberated me from this delusion. It became clear that I would NEVER, EVER be good enough…I have come to understand grace for the astonishing, extravagant miracle it is, in a way I never could when I thought I had bought part of it myself.”

So long as I was trying to attain God on my own the idea of being without resource, of being needy, was abhorrent to me. This song would have been to me a dirge. A pathetic whine from those too lazy to improve themselves. But now, it is to me truth and rest. A grief that is the birth pains of joy. A delicious agony. God IS my only hope. He is enough.

I wish all of you could stand with me, hearing and breathing it. I couldn’t find a recording. So, for those of you as musically nerdy as myself, here it is. A gift for your Lenten walk. From my heart to yours.