Tag Archive - Faith

Shimmers…

In the ancient practice of lectio divina, one reads a passage of scripture until a word or phrase “shimmers”. The reader stops reading, and begins to meditate on the word or phrase, rolling it around and sucking all the nectar from it. Not studying, really. No outside sources. Just living with it and letting it seep deep inside.

My house is quiet today. All around me are echoes of Christmas. Shimmers. Vignettes that linger in my memory; inserting themselves over and over into my thoughts. Ordinary moments with threads of the extraordinary woven through them.

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“This is my very beautiful present,” Kenzie whispers in awe, clutching a foil wrapped copy of Where the Wild Things Are tight to her chest. She has chosen the blue bow. She runs her fingers over the shiny paper like it is silk. She does not know what is inside. It doesn’t matter.

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This.

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Christmas Eve. Expectation hovers in the air like incense. Candles, Nativity Icon draped in green, little girls turned out in smocked lawn and velvet. We read all the prophecies, all the Nativity passages. Father Stephen fairly sings the homily. It is too good to be true, this! Incarnation! God with us! The reality of it whirls around us like wind. During the Great Entrance, a whole warren of acolytes spills out of the altar. Father Stephen has told them they can all serve on this most auspicious night. Their faces glow. And God is with us, moving among us, in the Body and Blood. And we sing. We sing a truth that is deeper than we will ever fully understand.

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We named our farm after Tolkien’s mythical land because it was hilly and beautiful, and because we hoped it would always be a haven of hope and restoration to those who lived there, and to those who were our guests. We made the name part of a stone wall that framed the entrance to our long driveway. Five and a half years ago we bade farewell to Rivendell and moved back in to town.

A month ago, we learned that a neighbor had a seizure while driving and ran into the wall, leaving it in shambles. Without a word to any of us, our 16 year old drove out to the farm, knocked on the door, and asked the current owners if they were planning to re-use the stone that bore the name. When they said no, he asked if he could have it. He dug through the rubble to extricate the pieces and loaded them into his car. On Christmas morning he led us out into the garden where he had lain them the night before. And I cried.

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 Happy Birthday Jesus! Love, Kenzie. (Click HERE)

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We can hear the music leaking out the door before we cross the porch. My mom sits at the piano, and my dad, my brothers and their families, my 97 year old grandpa, and my aunt and uncle are singing their way through old church favorites which eventually give way to Christmas carols.  I am home.

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My mom has asked all the grandkids for Christmas suggestions, but has said nothing to my brothers and me. I wonder what is afoot. Each of us is presented with a lumpy, unwieldy package, variously corralled. In them, we find treasures. Quilts made by my grandmother (who is 20 Christmases gone from us, now). String quilts for one brother and myself–Mom, Dad, and Aunt Janice help us find fabrics in them we recognize and remember. A dress of granny’s, shirts for the boys, an apron… Many of them old flour sacks–And for my baby brother, a red and white Drunkard’s Path that my grandmother stitched the summer my mom was carrying him.

Amazing, all that gets accidentally sewn up into quilts. I hold it in my hands, and I hear the treadle of Grandma’s sewing machine. I am a little girl playing under her quilting frame, a legacy from her own grandmother, that hangs from the ceiling like a table, while she pushes the needle in and out with her thimble. One tiny stitch after another. I recall the smell of her: line dried laundry, coffee, Bruton snuff, Juicy Fruit.

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I am curious. What are the shimmery moments from your Christmas? The ones that make you smile every time you think about them. Please, share. 🙂

 

Wounded by Love

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I have run to the fragrance of your myrrh, O Christ God,
For I have been wounded by your love;
do not depart from me, O heavenly bridegroom.

I knew I was going to like Elder Porphyrios when Father Stephen told me he had said, “Whoever wants to become a Christian must first become a poet.” I bought the book, Wounded by Love, and poured over the account of his life and his wonderful words. I find him easy to connect to because he lived in times so very like my own. I admire his gentle humility and his ability to laugh at himself. His sense of wonder and his goodwill toward all living things, are beautiful. His accounts of divine eros and spiritual ecstasy make me hungry to know God like he knew God. But mostly I am drawn to the great expanse of his love.

On Wednesday of last week, Elder Porphyrios was elevated to sainthood. Today, on the 22nd anniversary of his death, he is commemorated by the church. On this occasion, I thought it fitting to share some personal favorites among his many challenging and lovely sayings. I hope they will invite you to come to know him yourself as a guide and friend.

On Divine Eros:

porphyrios2All ascetics long for this divine eros, this divine love. They are intoxicated with divine inebriation. With this divine intoxication the body may grow old and pass away, but the spirit becomes youthful and blossoms.

The soul of the Christian needs to be refined and sensitive, to have sensibility and wings, to be constantly in flight and to live in dreams, to fly through infinity, among the stars, amidst the greatness of God, amid silence.

On prayer:

If your soul repeats with worship and adoration the seven words, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me,” it can never have enough. They are insatiable words! Repeat them all your life. There is such life-giving sap within them!

On Spiritual Struggle:

Do not fight to expel darkness from the chamber of your soul. Open a tiny aperture for light to enter, and the darkness will disappear.

Attack your passion head on, and you’ll see how strongly it will entwine you and grip you and you won’t be able to do anything…Let all your strength be turned to love for God, worship of God, and adhesion to God. In this way your release from evil and from your weaknesses will happen in a mystical manner, without your being aware of it and without exertion.

A person can become a saint anywhere…Look on all things as opportunities to be sanctified.

On the Mystery of Repentance:

Every day I think that I sin, but I desire that whatever happens to me I turn it into prayer and I don’t keep it locked within me. Sin makes a person very confused psychologically…Only with the light of Christ does the confusion depart.

Despondency is the worst thing. It is a snare set by Satan to make a person lose his appetite for spiritual things and bring him to a state of despair, inactivity and negligence.

When a person makes confession, grace frees him from his psychological wounds…Don’t let’s turn back to sins we have confessed. The recollection of sins is harmful. Have we asked for forgiveness? Then the matter is closed.

On Love for One’s Neighbor:

Love toward one’s brother cultivates love towards God…No one can attain to God unless he first passes through his fellow men.

We, with our love, with our fervent desire for the love of God, will attract grace so that it washes over those around us and awakens them to divine love…What we are unable to do, His grace will achieve.

On Creation:

All things around us are droplets of the love of God…The beauties of nature are the little loves that lead us to the great Love that is Christ.

For a person to become a Christian he must have a poetic soul. He must become a poet. Christ does not wish insensitive souls in His company. A Christian, albeit only when he loves, is a poet and lives amid poetry. Poetic hearts embrace love and sense it deeply.

On Illness:

I thank God for granting me many illnesses…My illness is a special favor from God, who is inviting me to enter into the mystery of His love and try to respond with His own grace.

Whatever you want, my Lord, whatever your love desires; place me wherever your love wishes. I abandon myself to your love. If you wish to place me in hell, then do so, only don’t let me lose Your love.

On the Church:

When we set ourselves apart from others, we are not Christians. We are true Christians when we have a profound sense that we are members of the mystical body of Christ, of the Church, in an unbroken relationship of love…When Christ unites us, distances don’t exist. When I leave this life it will be better. I’ll be closer to you.

May it be so.

 

 

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.

 

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.

For the Healing of Soul and Body

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I can’t stop staring at my hands. At the crosses of oil traced on them by the priest. Words from the evening come flooding upon me in fragments.

From the seven epistle readings…

There confess your sins to one another and pray for one another that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man has great power…If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal…Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, love never ends…Brethren, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

From the seven Gospel passages…

That evening they brought to him many who were possessed with demons; and he cast out spirits without a word, and healed all who were sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah, “He took our infirmities and bore our diseases.”…”Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.'”

From the prayers…

O Master who lovest mankind…hearken to us, thine unworthy servants, and wheresoever we bring this oil in thy great Name, do thou send down thy gift of healing, and the remission of sins, and heal thy servants in the plentitude of thy mercy…We beseech thee, our God, that thou wilt direct thy mercy upon this oil and upon those who are anointed therewith in thy Name, that it may be to them for the healing of soul and body, for the cleansing and removal of every passion, and of every infirmity and wound, and every defilement of the flesh and spirit…For as is thy majesty, so also is thy mercy, and unto thee we ascribe glory…

I watch as my brothers and sisters come forward. As the Gospel book is placed on each person’s head. My godson who lives with a chronic illness, a friend who just lost a baby, older members who lean heavy into a cane. Yes Lord, Mercy. With the words of the epistles still washing over me, I am most especially aware of my own need for the healing of soul. I know I am not alone in this. Who can know the stories each of us carries inside us as we come forward, palms open, expectant?

As the priest paints the cross onto my forehead and each of my hands he prays,

The blessing of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ: for the healing of the soul and body of the servant of God, Kassiani (my saint name), always now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

And all of this.

The Mercy, the love for my dear brothers and sisters, our deep need to be made clean.

All in two painted crosses of oil on my hands.

*All quotes from the Lenten Triodian, service of Holy Unction.

Behold…The Bridegroom

I behold Thy Bridal Chamber richly adorned, O my Savior.
But I have no wedding garment to worthily enter.
Make radiant the garment of my soul,
O Giver of Life and save me.

It is, for me, one of the loveliest, most poignant services of the whole church year. Bridegroom Matins. And the Church is kind enough to give it to us on three evenings of Holy Week. My story is all tangled up in here. And I sometimes feel like God and I are curled up in an armchair looking through an old photo album as He gently whispers, Remember…..

On the third evening we ponder the stories of Judas the traitor and the fallen woman.

I am the arrogant Judas, frustrated that God does not act as I think He should. Willing to take matters into my own hands. Faithless. Disloyal. Greedy. As much as I abhor his choice, it is a choice with which I am all too familiar.

I am also the fallen woman. Desperate. Without resource. Without hope. Standing outside the bridal chamber, filthy and unclothed. So broken that I would risk humiliation to pour myself out at the feet of One…the only One…who can save me.

Why is one saved and the other hopelessly lost?

When the sinful woman was offering her spice, the sinful 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

Ah for the wretchedness of Judas! For, seeing the adulteress 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

I belong here. In the Bridal Chamber. Not because I have done the right thing. Not because I have proved myself worthy. But because I have thrown myself upon His mercy. Because He has clothed me in His own righteousness, of His good pleasure.

Near the close of the service is sung the Troparion of Kassiani. She is my patron saint, and it is this hymn, in part, that wed my soul to hers. She has given most exquisite expression to the groaning of my soul.

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 sigh 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 Saviour and the Deliverer of my soul
turn not away from Thy handmaiden
O Thou of boundless mercy”.

“May He who is going to His voluntary passion for our salvation, Christ our true God, have mercy on us and save us forasmuch as He is good and loveth mankind.”

*All unattributed quotes from the Lenten Triodion, Bridegroom Matins service. Hear the hymn of Kassiani HERE.

Early Will I Seek You

mistymorning

The sun climbs as I make my way through a world shrouded in mist. Sometimes I can see individual droplets dancing in the air on their lazy meander back to the sky. I pass an untended lot where bag shaped webs hang from last years dried grass. They capture bits of mist and sunlight and glow like lanterns on a summer evening.

I traverse this early morning wonderland to receive the Body and Blood. During this week of Passion, the Church gives us the gift of daily liturgy. We gather before work, before a day with children, errands, meetings, responsibility, to consider the cross. On this first morning, Jesus tenderly prepares His disciples for His coming death and for the suffering that awaits each of them. In the service, this is interwoven with the story of the Hebrew captivity under Pharaoh and Satan’s request to have his way with Job.

In the midst of all this, we pray. For the peace of the world, for forgiveness, for illumination. We are reminded that the voluntary Passion of Christ will “raise us who are dead in sin; for He is good and loves mankind.” Then, we are nourished with the Eucharist. The “medicine of immortality” St. John Chrysostom called it. And as I carry this mystical treasure about in me all day I cannot help but remember what it cost. And I am changed by it.

Flannery O’Connor and her mother began every day with liturgy. She carried the Body and Blood with her as she returned home to write. And I wonder how much that living quality, that indefinable something that makes her works breathe and meddle and transform, has to do with the fact that she housed that extraordinary gift inside her as she wrote.

morning

O God, you are my God: early will I seek you. My soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water. I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and glory. Because your love is better than life, my lips shall praise you.
~Psalm 63:1-3

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