Tag Archive - Faith

Pray in Me

When I wanted my children to listen to me…really listen to me…I would cup their little faces in my hands and gently turn them toward mine. When our eyes locked, I would begin. Sometimes morning prayers feel like that. Like God has taken my face in His hands and turned it towards His. So that I may see Him. Really see Him. So that I may hear. So that He can tell me who I am. The gaze lingers long after the sound of the words has faded…

Pray in me.

And yet, echoes of the words reverberate in my mind throughout the day. I find myself in a situation that is over my head. Floundering. Lost. And the words bubble up in me. Like breathing.

Pray in me.

And when I would like to fix the impossible. When I feel utterly helpless. When I do not know what to pray, I borrow the words from the morning. I appeal to One who speaks on my behalf with “groanings too deep for words.” (Romans 8:26)

Pray in me.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Glory to thee, our God, glory to thee.

O heavenly King, O Comforter, the Spirit of truth, who art in all places and fillest all things; Treasury of good things and Giver of life: Come and dwell in us and cleanse us from every stain, and save our souls, O gracious Lord.

Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal: have mercy on us. (Thrice)

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

All-holy Trinity, have mercy on us. Lord, cleanse us from our sins. Master, pardon our iniquities. Holy God, visit and heal our infirmities for thy Name’s sake.

Lord, have mercy. (Thrice)

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name; thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

Through the prayers of our holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.

~The Trisagion Prayers of the Orthodox Church


Lord, give me the strength to greet the coming day in peace. Help me in all things to rely on Your Holy will. Reveal Your will to me every hour of the day. Bless my dealings with all people. Teach me to treat all people who come to me throughout the day with peace of soul and with firm conviction that Your will governs all. In all my deeds and words guide my thoughts and feelings. In unexpected events, let me not forget that all are sent by You. Teach me to act firmly and wisely without embittering and embarrassing others. Give me the physical strength to bear the labors of this day. Direct my will. Teach me to pray. Pray in me.

~Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow

*Photograph by Joel Smith

For Jonah….

Those big brown eyes!
Liquid pools of mahogany
Have stolen my heart.
I search your face…
What is it I see there?
Hope…
Promise…
Little boy longings…

I wish I could tell you how your mommy’s face glows when she talks about you. How a place for you formed in her heart when she was very young. I wish you could know how hard she is working to get to you and your brother. To bring you home. How fierce is her love for you.

I wish you could know the solidness of your dad. How he walks through life with peace and gives that peace to others. How he thinks deeply. I wish you could know the safety and easiness of being his son.

I so want you to know your big brother, Fionn. His unbridled lust for life. His mischievous grin. The way he ponders things sometimes like an old man. The seriousness and solemnity with which he serves at the altar.

I wish you could know how eager your sister, Felicity, is to meet you. I wish for you one of her delicious hugs. I wish you could know the wrinkled look on her forehead when she is perplexed, and the way a smile illumines her whole body.

Dear one, I wish you knew how many people there are who have given their hearts to you already, even though they have not met you. How they pray for you daily. I wish you could know how deep and rich and wonderful your life will be. How glorious is the family in which you will grow up. How gently and sweetly you will come to know God.

More than anything, dearest Jonah, I wish you were home…

Our friends, Joel and Meg, are very close now to bringing Moses and Jonah to their forever home. It has been an arduous and unwieldy journey. Could I ask you to pray for them, just now, as their hearts yearn so to be with their boys? As the last details must work themselves out?

Also, I wonder if you might like to be part of their wonderful story; if you would be willing to help them meet the cost of their adoption. Meg explains HERE the complications that have resulted in an increase in the required funding. Or go directly HERE to give. This is an opportunity to do something with your money that has eternal significance. Something that matters a great deal.

*Meg and Joel have done us the great honor of asking us to be godparents to Jonah. While I pray daily for both boys, it is Jonah’s little face that plays in my dreams…that dances constantly before my eyes. Our hearts are inextricably bound. Already. So I write to my little godson the words I would speak to him if I could.

Surface and Symbol

To send light into the darkness of men’s hearts-such is the duty of the artist. ~Robert Schumann

When God has difficult truth to convey to David, he sends him a storyteller. Because he knows that stories carry truth to the deepest parts of us. The parts of us that most need healing. When He teaches Moses about worship, it is a multi-sensory affair with incense, gold, cedar, silk, candles, bells. Why? Because he would have us breathe him….stand inside him…know Him viscerally.

Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood. ~T.S. Eliot

Have you ever encountered a piece of music, a poem, a movie, that troubled you though you knew not why? That rankled your heart, your mind, for days? Or, perhaps, that somehow elevated and ennobled you, though you could not say how? Such is the power of art. Deep calling to deep. Soul to soul. In Ian Cron’s new memoir, he speaks of a literature professor known for his keen analytical abilities. He tells how sometimes this professor would read a passage to the students, close the book, and stand in silent reverie. “Sometimes it is wiser to reverence than to parse.”

I want to beg you to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. ~Letters to a Young Poet by Ranier Maria Rilke

So much of myself is unknown to me. Like a skilled surgeon, art probes these unknown places, revealing what lies within. It is not always pretty. I do not always want to know. And sometimes, it leads only to more questions. But this is how I grow. This is what frees me from disastrous choices made to appease hungers I do not even know I have.

All art is at once surface and symbol.
Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril.
Those who read the symbol do so at their peril.
It is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors.

~Oscar Wilde

An encounter with art is not for the faint of heart. It will always ask something of you. It will, if you let it, teach you about yourself. It will, if you let it, make you more than you are. I challenge you to pick up a classic work of literature, spend an afternoon in an art gallery, read a poem–out loud–letting the words wash over you, treat yourself to an artfully made film or an evening at the symphony. And listen….

Suggested Resources:

The American Film Institute’s Top 100 films– All American films, yes, but not a bad place to start.

Invitation to the Classics
or The Joy of Reading– If your education, like mine, was woefully spare on classic literature, these books will help you know what to read. Invitation to the Classics tells you why the work is significant and gives suggested translations/editions. The Joy of Reading has wonderful synopses and includes a ten-year reading plan.

Though my house is full of art books, I believe nothing compares with standing before the work itself. Include visits to great museums like The Metropolitan Museum of Art or MOMA in New York, The Smithsonian in Washington, or The Getty in Los Angeles as part of your travels. And frequent your local museums and art galleries, however humble.

A Child’s Introduction to Poetry is a beautiful book to share with young ones you love, and not a bad place to begin yourself if poetry is new to you. My copy of Good Poems, compiled by Garrison Keillor, is dog eared and worn from much love. You can also meet some of my own favorite bards in the post Thoughts That Breathe, Words That Burn.

There is nothing like sitting in a live music venue and letting the music wrap itself around you, pound in your chest and seep into your pores. True, here in Nashville we have more than our fair share of options. But wherever you live, it is there to be found if you search it out. If you live near a city of any size, I’ll be willing to wager your symphony will do something out of doors (and maybe free) this summer. Visit a writer’s night at a local cafe. Save your pennies, and take a road trip if necessary, to hear your favorite legendary rock band or Indy artist do their magic in person.

Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me

Home is not just a place; it’s a knowing in the soul, a vague premonition of a far-off country that we know exists but haven’t seen yet. Home is where we start and, whether we like it or not, our life is a race against time to come to terms with what it was or wasn’t.

Here begins one of the most riveting stories I have read in a long time. In fact, I read it twice. Ian Morgan Cron is a marvelous storyteller. He could weave the most mundane happening into an engaging narrative. But as it turns out, his life has been anything but mundane.

It seems too fantastic to be real. Movie stars, heads of state, life among the social elite and privileged, mysterious silences and questions that were not permitted, and the terrifying uncertainty of life with an alcoholic father. Cron whisked me into this world so unlike my own, and I found myself identifying with his longings, his hurts and needs, and his fugitive moments of transcendence.

Wounds formed early in our tender hearts by fathers who are absent to us send out tendrils that wrap themselves around everything that follows in life. Nothing is untainted. Unspoiled. Most of us can relate at some level. Questions about our worth. Am I loved? Do I deserve to be loved?

A boy needs a father to show him how to be in the world. He needs to be given swagger, taught how to read a map so that he can recognize the roads that lead to life and the paths that lead to death, how to know what love requires, and where to find steel in the heart when life makes demands on us that are greater than we think we can endure.

Ian’s life is laced with luminous moments. Eucharist. A sacred encounter with a young fawn in the wild. Even a university professor whose reveries over certain pieces of literature are “better than church.”

I never told anyone how fascinated I was by the Eucharist…the harmonic frequency that rings at the center of the heart of God made something vibrate in mine while all this was going on…He placed the Host on my tongue…and I fell into God.

He says that with his First Communion a tether was tied around his waist. Although he would test it sorely, it would never let him be completely lost. After years of being angry at a God who he had once loved purely, but who had done nothing to mitigate the tragic circumstances of his life, he finds himself back at the communion table again. And a lifetime of radiant moments are woven together into a glorious crescendo that leaves me sobbing.

I didn’t want to parse God–I wanted to be swept up in His glory. I didn’t want to understand the Holy One; I wanted to be consumed in his oceanic love.

The road from here will not be easy. So many broken places need healing. Cron is vulnerable and honest about just how much this costs.

My favorite chapter in the whole book is the next to last where he talks about his children. I have had the joy of meeting Cailey, Maddie, and Aidan, and they are wonderful. I have seen their father ruffle their hair and hug them long. I have seen the easy laughter and camaraderie between Anne, Ian, and their children. I had no idea how miraculous that was.

How can I give something to a son that I myself never received? I want my son to know how to be in the world; how to love himself; how not to settle for too little; how to walk with God with humility, compassion, and an inclusive heart; how to never hide his true self because he’s afraid.

In one magical story we see this coming into being. We learn the difference between falling and jumping. And we see the astonishing sweep of redemption…just how far it can go. I must confess, this chapter had me laughing hysterically. Just wait til you read it. You’ll see. 🙂 But as Ian poured his heart for his son onto the page and I saw a whole family who is FOR one another, I was undone. The beauty of what God has wrought is astonishing. Astonishing!

You probably already know Ian from his novel, Chasing Francis: a Pilgrim’s Tale. Official release date for Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me: A Memoir…of Sorts is June 7th. But you can get it now from Amazon. I cannot recommend it highly enough. An engaging story. Artful articulation. A miracle of healing and restoration.

Only He Who Sees…

Truth, so far, in my book;–the truth which draws
Through all things upwards; that a twofold world
Must go to a perfect cosmos.  Natural things
And spiritual
,–who separates those two
In art, in morals, or the social drift,
Tears up the bond of nature and brings death,
Paints futile pictures, writes unreal verse,
Leads vulgar days, deals ignorantly with men,
Is wrong, in short, at all points.  We divide
This apple of life, and cut it through the pips,–
The perfect round which fitted Venus’ hand
Has perished utterly as if we ate
Both halves.  Without the spiritual, observe,
The natural’s impossible;–no form,
No motion!  Without sensuous, spiritual
Is inappreciable;–no beauty or power!

And in this twofold sphere the twofold man
(And still the artist is intensely a man)
Holds firmly by the natural, to reach
The spiritual beyond it,–fixes still
The type with mortal vision, to pierce through,
With eyes immortal
, to the antetype
Some call the ideal,–better called the real,
And certain to be called so presently,
When things shall have their names.  Look long enough
On any peasant’s face here, coarse and lined.
You’ll catch Antinous somewhere in that clay,
As perfect-featured as he yearns at Rome
From marble pale with beauty; then persist,
And, if your apprehension’s competent,
You’ll find some fairer angel at his back,
As much exceeding him, as he the boor,
And pushing him with empyreal disdain
For ever out of sight.  Ay, Carrington
Is glad of such a creed! an artist must,
Who paints a tree, a leaf, a common stone
With just his hand, and finds it suddenly
A-piece with and conterminous to his soul.
Why else do these things move him, leaf or stone?
The bird’s not moved, that pecks at a spring-shoot;
Nor yet the horse, before a quarry, a-graze:
But man, the two-fold creature, apprehends
The two-fold manner, in and outwardly,
And nothing in the world comes single to him.
A mere itself,–cup, column, or candlestick,
All patterns of what shall be in the Mount;
The whole temporal show related royally,
And build up to eterne significance
Through the open arms of God.  ‘There’s nothing great
Nor small,’ has said a poet of our day,
(Whose voice will ring beyond the curfew of eve
And not be thrown out by the matin’s bell)
And truly, I reiterate, . . nothing’s small!
No lily-muffled hum of a summer-bee,
But finds some coupling with the spinning stars;
No pebble at your foot, but proves a sphere;
No chaffinch, but implies the cherubim:
And,–glancing on my own thin, veined wrist,–
In such a little tremour of the blood
The whole strong clamour of a vehement soul
Doth utter itself distinct.  Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God:
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes
,
The rest sit round it, and pluck blackberries,
And daub their natural faces unaware
More and more, from the first similitude.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Sonnet 86 from “Aurora Leigh”

Stone Soup

Provisions were so scarce in the little village following the war that everyone horded what meager supply he had. When one day a tired, haggard soldier wandered into town, he was advised to move on.

“We have nothing to share with you here.”

“Oh, that’s quite alright,” he answered. “I was just about to make stone soup to share with you.”

And with that, he removed a smooth stone from a velvet bag. He dropped it into a large pot which he filled with water and set over a fire. As the soup began to heat, he carefully tasted the broth and made signs of great satisfaction. The curious villagers gathered round him.

“You know what is even better than stone soup?” he asked. “Stone soup with cabbage. Now that’s a real treat.”

An old man stepped out of the circle and returned in a few moments with a cabbage from his carefully guarded stores.

“Now that we have the cabbage, I do wish there was a bit of salt pork. Salt pork does a great deal to flavor the broth.”

The butcher suddenly remembered that he had a scrap of salt pork in his shop. Soon, to this was added carrots, potatoes, onions, garlic, and herbs. When all was done, the soldier ladled the warm, fragrant soup into bowls and everyone ate his fill.

I loved this story as a child. It seemed to me a most wonderful trick to play on the unsuspecting villagers. The “magic” stone held no magic at all.

Or did it?

An intriguing convergence of events today made me think of the story.

Mike shared with me the curious account of how W* built a deck. He and a friend, equally unskilled in the carpentry arts, made a show of beginning. Perplexed. Confused. A neighbor, seeing their difficulty, brought his considerable expertise to the project. Before long, several carpenters had gathered to contribute to what turned out to be a splendid construction.

Stone soup.

He shared this while I was reading Steven Pressfield’s new book, Do The Work. I was in the middle of the section titled Start Before You’re Ready. Provocative. Disturbing. Convicting. Inviting? Terrifying. Starting is ALWAYS the hardest part for me. Perhaps not only for me.

“Babies are born in blood and chaos; stars and galaxies come into being amid the release of massive primordial cataclysms.” ~SP

There is a terror in not being able to see where you are going. But I know, from experience that once I can get past the first few words, the path begins to illumine itself. Just like the invisible bridge that conveys Indiana Jones across a chasm in The Last Crusade. Just like the path that opens for the Israelites along the bottom of the Jordan River AFTER the priests plop their toes into the water. Those bloody, chaotic, frantic, terrifying first steps unleash something bigger than you or me.

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance which no man could have dreamed would come his way…”

~W. H Murray

Stone soup.

Thank you, Steven Pressfield, for again giving me a much needed kick in the pants!

Dear reader, if you have ever had a dream, of any sort, I beg you to read BOTH Steven Pressfield’s the WAR of ART and Do the Work. The latter is available as a free Kindle download through May 20th. Simply click the title.

What dream terrifies you so much that you know you MUST follow it? What are you waiting for?

“Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.”
~Goethe

*Though my friend, W, will read this story with great good humor, I elect to preserve his anonymity. 🙂

Of Gods and Men

I said, “You are gods, And all of you are children of the Most High. But you shall die like men… ~Psalm 82: 6,7

It is a film made with an elegant reserve fitted to its subject. An abstract art that invites the viewer to participate in its creation. Wordless scenes. Gesture. Movement. Long, meaningful gazes. Men who have so long lived together that these are enough. A reprieve from our habitually unrestrained verbosity.

We hear the scuff of shoes against wood floors. Crunch of snow. Soft patter of rain. Bleat of sheep. Lap of lake. Earthy scrape of fork against soil. Unburdened with the din of voices. We see the slow work of filling jars with honey. Placing candles in stands. Driving sheep. Dropping seeds in earth.

Still, words have knit them together. And these words will become refuge. Psalms the brothers sing together will be peace and rest and courage when times grow excruciatingly perilous…

Eight Cistercian monks from France dwell in the mountains of Algeria. They and their Muslim neighbors live in and out of one another. Sharing bread, celebrating together, serving one another. Honor, respect, and love have grown up among them over years. When militant Muslim extremists begin a reign of terror, both are horrified. It is suggested, nearly demanded, by the authorities that the monks flee. It is not their war after all.

Or is it?

What does it mean to give your life away? Is it not enough to have given up family, position, possessions? How far is one called to go? Is it reckless to put oneself in harm’s way for another?

As each man, in community and alone, wrestles with these questions, their agony is my agony. Visible. Visceral. Violent.

They ponder the question with the village elders. “We are like birds on a branch. We don’t know if we’ll leave.” One Muslim woman answers, “We are the birds. You are the branch. If you go, we lose our footing.” And this is where, in the end, they will find their answer. They have been called to this place. To this people. You do not leave the people you love because loving them has become difficult.

It will be a costly decision.

Should it ever befall me, and it could happen today, to be a victim of the terrorism swallowing up all foreigners here, I would like my community, my church, my family, to remember that my life was given to God and to his country. That the Unique Master of all life was no stranger to this brutal departure. And that my death is the same as so many other violent ones, consigned to the apathy of oblivion. I’ve lived enough to know, I am complicit in the evil that, alas, prevails over the world and the evil that will smite me blindly. I could never desire such a death. I could never feel gladdened that these people I love be accused randomly of my murder. I know the contempt felt for the people here, indiscriminately. And I know how Islam is distorted by a certain Islamism. This country, and Islam, for me are something different. They’re a body and a soul. My death, of course, will quickly vindicate those who call me naïve or idealistic, but they must know that I will be freed of a burning curiosity and, God willing, will immerse my gaze in the Father’s and contemplate with him his children of Islam as he sees them. This thank you which encompasses my entire life includes you, of course, friends of yesterday and today, and you too, friend of last minute, who knew not what you were doing. Yes, to you as well I address this thank you and this farewell which you envisaged. May we meet again, happy thieves in Paradise, if it pleases God the Father of us both. Amen. Insha’Allah.

~Penned, in the film, by Christian, leader of the community

This is a remarkable film. I was completely undone by it. It is based on the tragic Tibhirine massacre that took place in Algeria in 1996. It is an heroic story, the sort of which we know far too few. I recommend it for all persons of faith and goodwill everywhere. If you live in Nashville, you can see it through Sunday at the Belcourt. It releases on DVD in July.

*Winner of the Grand Prix, Cannes Film Festival, 2010

And Life Reigns!

It is not the task of Christianity to provide easy answers to every question, but to make us progressively aware of the mystery. God is not so much the object of our knowledge as the cause of our wonder. ~Metropolitan Kallistos Ware

Mine was a weekend shrouded in the most delicious mystery. Mystery dread and strange. Mystery radiant and glorious. I was so undone by it that I have been thus far unwilling to attempt to write of it. Even now, I give you only the cheapest of postcards….

Friday Night, The Lament:

The funeral bier is the first thing I see. It sits in the middle of the room, lovingly bedecked with flowers. Candles burn at both ends. The room is very dark, lit mostly by candles. It is right. For the great Light has been extinguished. We stand with Joseph as he prepares the body of the Beloved. We see his tears. And together we sing songs of disbelief. Songs of lament.

Oh my sweet Lord Jesus,
My Salvation, my Light:
How art Thou now by a grave and its darkness held?
How unspeakable the mystery of Thy love.

A mother’s dirge:

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?

Then, as little girls scatter rose petals all around the bier and the priest douses all of us with holy water we sing:

Myrrh, the women sprinkled,
Stores of spices bringing
To grace Thy tomb ere dawning.

We process behind the bier. Out of doors. All the way round the church. When we re-enter, we walk under the bier. Covered, as it were. His blood be on us… I take off my shoes afterwards, with some of the little girls, to feel the rose petals under my feet. Wearing the story in my body. This night we leave him in the tomb. But not asleep. Oh no, not asleep…

Saturday Morning, The Harrowing of Hell:

We read the stories of Jonah, and of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, others who were hidden but not idle. I can almost feel the earth rumble under my feet as death begins working backwards…

Today hath Hades sighed, crying, “My power hath vanished because I received a dead Man as one of the dead, but could not hold Him completely. Rather, I lost with Him those who were under my reign. From the beginning of time I have held control over the dead. But this One raised all.”

The priest moves among us tossing rose petals and bay leaves while the children beat on the backs of the seats with sticks. And we are become part of the victorious march through hell. Liberating the captives. I pick up a rose petal and a bay leaf that have fallen on the music stand in front of me. I roll them around in my fingers, inhaling their scent. The scent of freedom.

The priest begins to prepare the Eucharist directly on the funeral bier. It is one of the most devastatingly gorgeous moments of all of Holy Week for me. It is almost more than I can stand. With the sound of hammering, and of lament still ringing in my ears, I stand before the funeral bier and receive the Body and the Blood.

Finally, the priest blesses the baskets of bread and wine we have brought to share. We gather for a meal of sustenance. Our journey is almost complete. The very air vibrates with whispers of Resurrection…

Saturday Night into Sunday Morning, Great and Holy Pascha:

We gather at 11:00 and sing hymns and prayers. Just before midnight, all lights are extinguished save the flame that burns continuously on the altar. We pray for a time in the darkness. The tension is almost unbearable. Anticipation causes my heart to pound. Then the lone voice of the priest sings…

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

The deacons take light from him. We take light from them. And the glow begins to spread across the room. We follow them out into the night. Soon a long ribbon of light wraps itself all around the building. We return to find the doors closed to us. We read of the myrrh bearing women who found an empty tomb. The priest sings prayers of praise to which we respond “Christ is risen from the dead trampling down death by death and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.” And as we sing we thrust our flames high into the air.

Then the priest pounds on the door. “Lift up your gates, O ye princes; and be lifted up, ye everlasting gates, and the King of Glory shall enter in.” A voice from inside calls back “Who is the King of Glory?” Ten year old Katy, who has come to stand with me, looks up and smiles. It is a marvelous moment. The priest answers “The Lord Strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in war.” Three times this happens before the doors are flung open and we enter a brightly lit church to begin the celebration.

The rest of the service is cacophony and blur and light and joy. At numerous intervals, the priests run up and down the aisle with the censor–the one with the delightful bells–and shout out “Christ is Risen!” to which we respond “He is risen indeed!” They do this in a host of different languages and it is fun to try to figure out how to answer them. Father Stephen delivers St. John Chrysostom’s marvelous Paschal homily. We receive the Body and Blood of the now-risen Christ. And our joy is made full.

Following the service, we feast together well into the morning hours. And the glory of the Resurrection fills our hearts and our stomachs. And Life reigns.

His Blood Be On Us and On Our Children

 

Lights are low as we gather. Tonight we read twelve passages from the gospels that treat of the voluntary death of the Saviour. We begin with John’s account of the final moments Jesus shared with His disciples. Pouring himself into them one last time. Preparing them for what was coming. The tender prayer. For them. For us.

We read of the betrayal. The arrest. The sham trial. The denial. Of Pilate’s cowardice as he washes his hands, magically absolving him of all responsibility. But the people own their choice. “His blood be on us and on our children!” Until this moment, I have never considered the irony in their words. They mean, of course, that they are not afraid of the consequences of their actions. They cannot know yet that this man’s blood will be life to them, and their children, should they choose to accept it.

After the reading of the fifth gospel, the lights are extinguished altogether, all but the candles flickering before the icons. An ominous portent. The priest comes from behind the iconastasis dragging the cross. In one motion, we all sink to the ground. Faces to the floor. And from beneath his dark burden, he sings…

Today He is suspended on a Tree who suspended the earth over the waters.
A crown of thorns was placed on the King of Angels.
He who wore a false purple robe, covered the heavens with clouds.
He was smitten who, in the Jordan, delivered Adam.
The Groom of the Church was fastened with nails, and the Son of the Virgin was pierced with a spear.
Thy sufferings we adore, O Christ.
Makes us to behold Thy glorious Resurrection.

In the dark stillness of this moment, I hear it. The pounding of the hammer. I feel each blow like a kick to the stomach. His blood be on me. I did this.

We read of the agonizing hours on the cross. The mocking. The ultimatums. The vinegar. The aloneness. The mother. The darkness. The veil. “It…is…finished.” The spear. Blood and Water. For the saving of the nations. His blood be on us.

*In Orthodox worship we “anticipate the day”. Therefore, last night’s service commemorated the Passion of Christ. This afternoon His body will be removed from the cross and laid upon a funeral bier covered in flowers. Tonight we gather to sing lamentations for the Beloved. It is important to linger here. To allow ourselves to sink into the grief of this moment. Only those who have tasted death fully appreciate the power of Resurrection.

His blood be on us and on our children!

Oil of Gladness

Last night I hit the wall.

All distance athletes have a healthy fear of “the wall”. For marathoners it usually comes around mile 18-20. An inscrutable boundary. Despite all the miles under your feet, you suddenly are convinced you can go no further. In 5 marathons, I have never hit the wall. Oh sure, I’ve hit my lactate threshold, where I feel like I have the flu: aches, chills, nausea. I’ve even had to let go of time goals and change strategy. But the dreaded DNF (did not finish) has never seemed an option. Last night it seemed like an option.

I sat in the parking lot at church and sobbed. Physically and emotionally spent. I had talked myself out of even coming more than once. But I knew this was the place where hope was. So I dragged myself out of the car, slogged through the rain, and stepped inside. I stopped to kiss the icon of the Bridegroom and held on to it for a moment. For dear life.

Just as the chanters and the priests began singing the service, a fierce, wild storm commenced out of doors. Ferocious claps of thunder made my body vibrate. Slashes of lightening hurled themselves at the windows. Something deep inside me exulted in this. Almost as if the turmoil inside me had been unleashed upon the elements.

And they sang on. The service of Holy Unction. Anointing. Seven Epistle passages. Seven from the Gospels. About those who were sick being made well. About those who were lost being found. About those who had been restored being sent out into the world to carry life, like bread, to others. One epistle in particular lasered itself to that profoundly weary place in me…

Brethren, we do not want you to be ignorant of the affliction we experienced in Asia; for we were so utterly, unbearably crushed that we despaired of life itself. Why, we felt we had received the sentence of death; but that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead; he delivered us from so deadly a peril, and he will deliver us; on him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us in answer to many prayers.  ~II Corinthians 1:8-11

When all seven candles had been lit and all seven passages read, the priest held the Gospel book over each of our heads and blessed us. Then we came forward to be anointed with oil.

The blessing of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ; for the healing of the soul and body of the servant of God (your name here) always, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

I kissed the Bridegroom again as I left. And again I lingered, this time with gratitude. Then I went out into the rain with the oil on my forehead and hands. Bandaged. Fed. Ready to run on…

We haven’t far to go, best beloveds. Keep running!

 

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