Tag Archive - God

I Wish You…

Dearest boy of mine,

How is it that you have come to be so grown? With ideas and dreams and thoughts all your own, with your own questions and wrestlings and hurts. From whence comes this voice to speak truth into the world, to help it see something it has never seen before? I am in awe of the young man you are becoming.

I know that today is your day for wishing, but if I were the one blowing out the birthday candles, here are some of the things I would wish for you…

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I wish you beauty. It has always been so important to you. From artful presentations of your food, to decorating the house for holidays and events, to the constant reconfiguring of your bedroom, you must make things lovely. And now you are finding beauty on the other side of a lens. Your photographs are exquisite and help me see the world anew. You are a weaver of words and a maker of music. Your creativity is without bounds. I wish you a world brimming with loveliness and the eyes to always see it.

I wish you wisdom. Acquiring it can be costly as it often comes by way of mistakes. But I pray that you will pursue it with all your heart. I pray that truth will be dear to you and that you will value it more than popularity or wealth or even what many would perceive as success.

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I wish you a lifetime of explores. Your curiosity is one of my favorite things about you. It has always been fun to watch you rummage through a hotel room, uncovering its secrets. You are the one who detours from the trail, climbing something or seeing where that little side path goes. You are not intimidated by new technology or by finding your way in unfamiliar terrain. Sometimes it takes a great deal of courage to follow untrodden paths. Bon courage, my love!

I wish you faith. I wish you a faith that is vibrant and living, strengthening and emboldening. It is a daring thing, to stake your life on something bigger than you. But you have always had a heart for God. I pray that your love for Him will only grow with your years. It has been so for me, even though there have been difficult and confusing seasons when I thought I was ready to chuck the whole thing. You too will probably have seasons of wrestling and doubt. Persevere, my love. Keep your heart open to God. His will always be open to you.

joshstageI wish you a voice. Yes, I know that your vocal skills are already dazzling. 🙂 That’s not exactly what I mean here, though it is part of it. There are treasures inside you that the world needs. Stories that only you can tell. I pray you will always find a way to tell them, whether through poetry, song, stories, photographs, plays or some medium you have not yet explored. I wish for you joy in the making of them, regardless of whether they ever bring you money or fame. The important thing is that you tell them. For you. And for us.

But

above

all

this…

I Wish You Love.

And I hope life, will treat you kind
And I hope that you have all
That you ever dreamed of
Oh, I do wish you joy
And I wish you happiness
But above all this
I wish you love

More than anything, my darling boy, I hope that you will always know that you are dearly loved. Unconditionally. All the time, no matter what. By God, by your family, by friends. I pray that your life overflows with people who pour themselves out for you, who pursue you relentlessly, who are willing to ask difficult questions and challenge you. And I pray that you will do the same for them. I pray that your relationships are characterized by grace and truth. And by much joy.

Happy Seventeenth Birthday, my love!! May God grant you many, many years!

*Song excerpt from “I Will Always Love You” by Dolly Parton

*Photo credits: The photo at top was taken by the birthday boy, the photo at bottom by Lauren Gill Photography.

Letting Go

I realize I am holding my breath as I make the cut. Red leaves are just unfurling on the tips of the limbs, full of promise. And I am lopping them off. It hurts my heart a little, and I feel like I owe my roses an apology. But I hold my breath again and make the next cut.

Because I love them.

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Roses need air. When their limbs become all tangled, they suffocate. They stop blooming. They become vulnerable to disease. Even death.

So every spring I choose a sunny day (to strengthen my heart), I give myself a little pep talk, and I ruthlessly cut away the excess. I gather up bundles of limbs with their tender new leaves, and it’s all I can do to not cry.

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It is an inescapable irony that all this cutting away happens smack dab in the middle of Lent, when I myself am feeling the slice of the pruning shears. And I wonder if my Father has tears in His eyes as He cuts away at my excess, giving me room to breathe. Strengthening. Restoring me to health.

Instead of freedom from possessions, O Savior, I have pursued a life in love with material things, and now I wear a heavy yoke…I have discolored with the passions the first beauty of the image, O Savior. But seek me, as once Thou sought the lost coin, and find me.

Have mercy upon me, O God, have mercy upon me.

~The Lenten Triodion, Canon of St. Andrew

As I feel hunger in my belly; as I make prostrations; as I borrow words of deep repentance from those wiser than I; I wear this letting go, this cutting away, inside my body. And sometimes it hurts. I see my own tender leaves fall to the earth, and I am too much attached to them, sure that I cannot be me without them. But I hold my breath, and stretch my arms out to the Gardener as He makes the next cut.

Because He loves me.

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Jesus said, “I am the true Vine, and My Father is the Vinedresser. Every branch of Mine that bears no fruit, He takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit….” ~John 15:1-2

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Forgive Me

The temperature has plummeted 25 degrees since morning. A gray sky oozes raindrops, on their way to becoming ice. But inside, it is warm. Clouds of incense hang in the air making it sweet. And holy. Flames flicker before the icons, and soft, buttery light bathes the images of saints, of Christ and His Mother. The room is crowded with people I love. We have come here to commence the Lenten journey together. We want to begin clean; to rid ourselves of anything that might impede us along the way.

Last fall, when Mike and I hiked the Grand Canyon rim to rim, we learned the importance of traveling light. We agonized over every single item we placed in our packs. In the end, we still took too much. And we felt it every step of the way. We resolved that next time we would be more ruthless. We would carry less.

Similarly, we want to commence our Lenten journey unencumbered. So we have gathered for the beautiful Forgiveness Vespers. We pray together words about the coming fast and ask God to purify both body and soul. Then, the priest bows before each member of the clergy and says these words, “Forgive me, a sinner.” Each of them replies, “God forgives. Forgive me, a sinner.” Then the priest responds, “God forgives,” and they embrace one another.

After this, they form a line at the front of the church and, one at a time, we pass before them and have the same exchange, adding ourselves to the end of the line. So that, by the end of the evening, each of us has bowed before every other person and asked for, given, and received forgiveness. It is a deeply moving experience.

Obviously, some of us know one another better than others. Our stories are more involved. There is my wise and gentle friend and hero who teaches me, by her example, what it looks like to purposefully pursue relationship. There is the friend who knows all the worst about me and chooses to love me anyway. There are friends who have generously poured themselves out on my behalf more times than I can count. There are so many who have inextricably wound themselves around my heart, and it is an honor to bow before them and ask for forgiveness. We exchange words of love, and our embrace says all the things we do not know how to say.

There are also those who challenge me; who sometimes rub me the wrong way. And I can only imagine how many people feel like that when they see me coming. But each of us is choosing to let God use the other in our lives to refine us and make us more like Him–There is more than one way for iron to sharpen iron–And this act of humbling ourselves before one another, of forgiving and embracing one another, is a crucial part of that.

All the while, the chanters have been quietly singing the hymns of resurrection. A glimpse of what awaits us on the other side of this journey. An important reminder of where we are headed. Fragments come to me over the voices of the many penitents. “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death.” “Dance now and be glad O Zion.” “Glory to thy Holy Resurrection, O Lord!”

As the evening ends, my heart is full. And I walk out into the night as light as a feather.

We are begun.

Forgive me.

Let us set out with joy upon the season of the Fast, and prepare ourselves for spiritual combat. Let us purify our soul and cleanse our flesh; and as we fast from food, let us abstain also from every passion. Rejoicing in the virtues of the Spirit, may we persevere with love, and so be counted worthy to see the solemn Passion of Christ our God, and with great spiritual gladness to behold His holy Passover.
~from the Lenten Triodion, Forgiveness Vespers

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…

thanks

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!

sunset

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.

 

Flight of Fancy…

The morning dawned cool and damp, like a renegade fall day. I knew it would not last. The atmosphere already strove to reclaim the cool along with the dew.

An accumulation of weeds had been tormenting me for days. Every time I crossed the porch or refilled the birdfeeders, they stared up at me with impudent faces, mocking me. I was glad to find an opportunity to attend to them, and even more glad that I could do it without being slathered in sweat.

hummingbird_butterfly_bushI buried the upper portion of myself inside the butterfly bush to get at a handful of offenders wedged between it and the iris. When I stood up to move to the other side, I found myself face to face with a Ruby-throated hummingbird. I immediately stopped breathing. I tried not to blink and even scolded my heart for beating too loudly. He was so close to me I could feel his wings beating the air. I don’t know what he asked me with his probing regard, but apparently he decided I was safe. He turned to a nearby panicle of blossoms and began sipping daintily from one tiny cup at a time.

My mind was racing like when you are in an accident or an almost accident and the whole of the world slows and your mind assesses the scene with surgical precision. I strained my eyes to see every precious detail of his beautiful body (which, incidentally, I took to be a female body at first for its lack of scarlet on the breast. I soon discovered I was mistaken.) I watched him move along the blossom like someone eating corn from a cob, a row at a time. Holiness hovered on his emerald wings and the heady scent of the blossoms might have been incense. I could feel the sacredness of this moment in my pores.

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Then I saw the other one.

He dived from the sky with a throb of wing and a pernicious squawk. The other rose to meet him and they hovered with their beaks only centimeters apart scolding, talking over one another. Neither was listening. One of them finally decided to retreat to the sunflowers, which seemed a reasonable and generous solution to me. But not to his aggressor. He pursued his enemy and they carried their dog fight higher and higher into the air until both of them fled.

And even this. Even the wild bravado of these young adolescent males establishing their territorial claims filled me with awe, and for a long time I could not stop looking into the sky at the very place where I saw them last.

I finally went back to my work, but there were a great many more visits from my winged friend, or friends, as the case may be. And this became just one more lowly, everyday experience shot through with the luminous. It happens all the time. Nothing is more common.

Be watching…

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*All photos (and the exquisite watercolor) harvested from other sources. I did eventually grab my phone to see if I might catch a shot, but the one time I tried, it frightened him away. I decided I would rather have his presence than his image. 🙂

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.

funeralbier

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.

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