sacred the power, being, or realm understood by religious persons to be at the core of existence and to have a transformative effect on their lives and destinies.
threshold any place or point of entering or beginning…
I probably should not write this at all. I know I will not say it well. For every breath I help you breathe with me, there will be a thousand others unbreathed. And yet, words brought me here. I wonder how many of those who shared their words with me thought they did not say it well? For every fragrance, every whisper of wonder, of holiness, on a page or across a table…how many others were left locked up in their hearts? So I write. I treat of that which defies explanation. I invite you to peer with me inside a mystery…
Sometimes life takes the most unexpected turns. A couple of years ago I came to a place of crisis with God. I felt I had pursued Him all my life, and that He had eluded me. And I was angry. Perhaps I had approached Him badly, in error, but it was not for lack of trying. Funny how sometimes the very road we try to take to God is the one that perpetually leads us away from Him. I felt compelled to prove myself to God, as though I must earn His love. I would have told you I did not believe this was true. But I lived my life every day as though it were.
I came to a place of devastation when it became clear to me that I was incapable of being good enough…when I could truly see the blackness inside me. I was in deep despair. I felt that if I were to surrender my endless, futile attempts to find worth in myself that I would simply cease to exist. It felt like death!
It was the best thing that ever happened to me.
“When we are nothing, we are in a fine position to receive everything from God.” ~Richard Rohr God began to woo me. I know He has done it all my life, but much of the time I was too busy doing things ‘for Him’ to take notice. He met me on runs and in early, quiet hours when everyone was still asleep. He met me in novels, in poetry, and in His Word. I saw Him in His creation and in great works of art. He spoke His healing words to me through friends. You know who you are. There will never be enough words to say to you how important you have been to me. I love you more than I can say.
Then came the most unexpected gift of all. Up until about three years ago, I had never known anyone personally who was Orthodox. My only encounter with Orthodoxy was purely historical. But all of a sudden, I was ambushed. Blessed Ambush! A friend, then several aquaintances, then a circle of beautiful, wise women, and finally a family. Books, podcasts, music…I couldn’t get enough. And worship! That was the most compelling of all. Orthodox believe that in the Divine Liturgy we literally enter the Kingdom of God. I believe it. I believed it the very first time. There is a blessed otherness…such a profound sense of holiness. Sometimes I can hardly breathe for the weight of it.
Today, on Saint Nicholas Day, I crossed a threshold. Today I became part of the Orthodox Church. Mike and I have walked most of this last year with the congregation at St. Ignatius. We have fasted together, celebrated together, struggled and learned together, and entered the Presence together. My soul has been nourished in ways I could never have imagined. And I am learning to live in God…to revel in His Presence…to come to Him honestly with all the best AND worst things about me, and to experience His joy in me.
God knew my heart so much better than I did. He knew how to help me find Him. My friend, Monte, tells me that when a lifeguard goes to help someone in distress, he will not engage the swimmer until he stops struggling, otherwise the distressed swimmer can drown them both. But once the swimmer has exhausted himself, then he can be saved. Once I was thoroughly exhausted, God helped me find the means whereby I could finally know Him.
Yesterday, I made my first confession in preparation for today. I began with a written prayer, then shared those things with the priest that weighed most heavily on my heart and those that present persistent challenge. It was a solemn and weighty experience. He spoke words to me that Christ would have spoken had he been there. After this, I knelt and Father Stephen placed his stole over my head. He told me that just as the stole covered my head, Christ’s blood had covered my sins. Hot tears flowed down my face as his words planted themselves deeply within me and forgiveness became a palpable reality.
This morning, after affirming that we accept and submit to the essential tenets of the Orthodox faith, we were anointed with Holy Chrism (oil). As Father Stephen made crosses with the oil on our foreheads, eyes, nose, ears, chest, hands and feet, he said “the seal of the Holy Spirit” and the whole congregation cried out “SEAL!!” I felt like my chest was a great ball of fire. I could not stop the tears. That God would be so kind to bring me to this place where I could breathe Him and wear Him when I had been so ready to walk away from Him is too much for me. Receiving the Body and Blood for the first time with my dear sisters and brothers was a completely transcendent experience. Heart pounding, knees trembling, filled with wonder. May it ever be so.
At lunch today my dear friend, Gail, said to my fellow celebrants, Giorgio and Mike, and to me that today we only lifted the lid to the treasure box. She assured us that there are enough treasures inside to last us a lifetime. I believe her.
“You do not resolve the God question in your head…it is resolved in you when you agree to bear the mystery of God.” ~Rohr
Photographs in the post courtesy of our friend Joel Smith. At the top of the post, Mike and I with Father Stephen. Above, with Mike and Gail Hyatt, dear friends who have been such an important part of our journey and today stood with us as our sponsors/godparents. Also, Keith Coley and Giorgio Kemp. Beautiful irony: Giorgio was in my third grade choir. His mother Rhonda was my homeschooling mentor. We have danced in and out of one another’s lives for years. What a blessed gift to be Chrismated on the same day. Many years, dear friend!