Tag Archive - Grace

Toward Something Grand…

Grand-Canyon

Two weeks from today I will wake on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Mike and I will rise before the sun, eat a hurried and simple breakfast, make one last check of our packs, board the 5:30 hiker’s shuttle to the North Kaibab trailhead, and commence our descent into the canyon. Over the course of 7 miles of switchbacks and twists and turns we will drop almost 6,000 vertical feet. Another 7 miles across the canyon floor will bring us to the Bright Angel trail where we begin our long climb out of the canyon.

This is the second day. A return to the South Rim where our adventure began two days, and 47 miles, before.

But the journey began even earlier than this…

We have dreamed of doing a rim to rim to rim hike of the Grand Canyon for several years. We began researching and planning in earnest just over a year ago, reading blogs and websites of the crazies who have done this before and lived to tell about it. We made reservations 13 months out, the earliest opportunity, and began training 6 months ago.

Training has looked like this: Long hikes with packs once a week, increasing in length to a total of 23 miles and one back-to-back hike in the Great Smoky Mountains of 28 total miles. Lots of cross-training, running, walking, yoga in between. A major focus on nutrition, particularly during these final weeks. Scrupulous attention to packing to make sure we have everything we need and not one ounce more. Testing out foods and hydration on the trail to see what works and what doesn’t.

Everything that goes in my pack is in a stack in my closet. Nuun tablets to add to my water for electrolyte replacement. This I will alternate with a combination of chia seeds (which help with hydration and supply protein and Omegas) and peppermint oil (which helps oxygenate the blood). Pistachios, almonds, dark chocolate m&ms, dried cherries, sesame crackers, and rice crispy treats for fuel. (Add to this boxed lunches we will pick up at Phantom Ranch both days.) Gloves, hat, ear band, and fleece for the below freezing start. These I will bail by the time we get to the canyon floor which can be as much as 30 degrees warmer. Lavender oil for skin irritations, disinfection, sleep, etc… Sunscreen, bug repellent wipes, flashlight, moleskin, wet wipes, hand sanitizer, water purifier, Chacos, extra socks, bandanas (multi purpose), rain gear, and my phone. Almost half the weight of our packs will be water; 100 ounces, roughly 6 pounds.

grand canyon leavesThe leaves are coloring on both rims. The beauty will be staggering when we go. This, along with the cooler temperatures, is the reason we chose to go in the fall.

That decision, as it turns out, may have been costly.

Because today Grand Canyon National Park, along with all our national parks, will close. An early and unfortunate consequence of the government shut down. Compared to federal employees who will be trying to figure out how to feed their families, while our illustrious leaders posture and dig in their heels and refuse to compromise, our loss seems small.

But right now it feels really big.

The North Rim Lodge and most of the North Rim facilities close for the season on October 16th because snow will soon make the road into the park impassable. If we do not go on time, we do not go at all.

So this morning, I remind myself of all the beauty we have seen this summer on the trail. Of birds and bears, of snakes and squirrels, of an extravagance of wildflowers. Of unplanned adventure. Of long conversations with my husband. Of the dreaming, which for me is always half the fun. And though I still hope Congress will astonish all of us and figure something out quickly and we can proceed as planned, I am learning all over again that sometimes the journey itself is the end.

It is good to have an end to journey toward, but it is the journey that matters, in the end.~Ursula K. LeGuin

 

Man With Bicycle

I can’t stop thinking about the man with the bike. I passed him last night as I walked along the harbor in San Diego. He was not the first homeless man I had seen during the evening. There had been dozens. I suppose San Diego’s mild climate makes it a favorable place for those who must shelter out of doors. But it was the bicycle that arrested my attention.

Presumably, all that he possessed was contained there. Everything was thoughtfully arranged and strapped with great care. Flattened two liter bottles were pressed against the outside and I wondered if this was how he collected water. And where he found it. But, mostly I wondered, “How does he decide what goes on the bike?”

How would I?

I thought of homeless men I have sat at table with. Men who are part of the Room in the Inn program in Nashville. Of how ordinary they are. I recollected just how few things have to go wrong for someone to end up on the street. Why him? Why not me?

And if it were me, what would I try to keep with me?

If I could…

My grandmother’s quilt lovingly stitched during the cold months of winter? Photo albums that tell all our stories? They would be too heavy. I would have to pull the photos from their pages; maybe pack them in a plastic bag to protect them from the rain. What of the tiny clothes I sewed for my babies? They would be impractical. But how to give them away?

I did not speak to the man. It was late. I was alone. But I have not been able to stop thinking about him. Imagining him once swaddled and kissed by a happy mother, running with the carefree abandon of a little boy, dreaming dreams of the future. Maybe even as a young father cradling his newborn son. And now he sits, nodding, on a bench by the sea. All that is left to him makes two small bundles on a bicycle.

And I don’t know what to do with that.

Be Kind

It is like a weight in the chest. Pressing in. Threatening to steal the breath. And you carry it with you everywhere; to work, to the grocery store, even to church. No one may ever know it is there. You wish you could forget it, lay it down for a moment. The grief is so deep. Sometimes you wonder if it will kill you.

You seem to be late everywhere you go. And you forget things. And you know people are frustrated with you and you wish you could think clearly but there are so many things to remember, so many decisions to make, so much that could go wrong, and a precious shortage of solutions. And you are tired. So tired. But sleep does not come. Will life ever be better than this? Will it ever be “normal” again?

I know this feeling. Intimately.

I can’t tell you how many conversations I have had in the past couple of weeks with friends who are up against something so big that it threatens to undo them. My heart hurts for them. Yet they get up every morning, get dressed, feed their children, and go back at it again. Their courage inspires me. And as I watch them walk in the world like the most ordinary heroes, I wonder how many of the people I encounter every day are carrying burdens like these…

She is making excruciating decisions to insure the compassionate and competent care of her mother who can no longer care for herself. Her mother doesn’t understand. She is furious.

She and her husband have completely reordered their lives to accommodate the unique needs of their precious son who they love more than life. It is a choice they make willingly. But it comes at a heavy price.

She wonders if the divorce was a mistake. But he has already remarried. And her children adore their new stepmother. She has never felt more alone.

Earlier this week, my friend Laura related this story:

This morning I mentioned to a check-out clerk at a local business how happy I was to see her back at work (she had been gone the last few times I had stopped in and I had missed her). As her eyes brimmed with tears, she shared that her daughter had died unexpectedly and she was just getting back after receiving custody of her grandchildren. We talked a few minutes longer until the next customer came to the register and she thanked me for asking about her a couple times. I would have missed such a blessing and an opportunity to share love with this sweet lady had I hurried in and out this morning like I sometimes do – a powerful lesson I won’t soon forget!

Today you and I will live our lives among people who are hurting, whether we know it or not. We have the opportunity to be dispensers of grace and generosity.

Let us be kind.

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. ~Philo of Alexandria

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…

50

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…

North To Alaska, Part the Second

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24 May: And then there were three. Last night we put our 19 year old on a plane in Anchorage, and this morning he is home in Franklin. Meanwhile, Mike, Josh and I begin the drive to Seward. Astonishing vistas meet us round every turn in the road, and I am enchanted by mountains straddling sea and sky.

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A pallet of blues and grays prevails with only the occasional intrusion.  A world where shadows are blue. Some conspiracy of sky and snow. We pass Dall sheep grazing, snowmobilers plying the high passes still drenched in snow, and mountain lakes of icy green. Finally, we plunge seaward to meet our ship in Seward.

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25 May: How is it that I never knew a glacier is blue? The ice and snow are compressed so densely that they only reflect blue light. It is like a great wall of topaz with millions of dazzling facets. We grip cameras and binoculars in gloved hands, crowding the railings. This place palpitates with glory and we all feel the need to be near it.

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Hubbard Glacier (on the right) extends about 76 miles from its source. The ice at its base is approximately 400 years old. It regularly “calves”, dropping icebergs into the sea that can be as large as a building. It’s smaller neighbor on the left is Turner  Glacier. I love how the feathery clouds have arranged themselves as if to  say, “Tah dah!”

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A final look back as we pull away from the glacier. Icebergs, cottony clouds, and jagged clots of snow appear to be cut of the same cloth, scattered indiscriminately across a gray/blue ground.

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26 May: We gather to pray with believers in Juneau. The prayers and hymns are familiar. And it is good to be so far away and so at home. We stay for coffee and swap stories with dear brothers and sisters.

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After church, we board a small boat to go see us some whales. We watch a mother humpback teaching her baby to “spy hop” (lifting the head out of the water to have a look around). She demos, then he practices. We watch the graceful curve of their backs as they dive for food. Flip of the tail, sometimes for propulsion, sometimes for fun. 🙂 We also visit a colony of sea lions sunning themselves on rocks. My, how I wish you could hear them! There must have been a hundred of them. I don’t have great pictures of either, (or of the porpoises), but here are a few sea lions who came out to play with us.

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27 May: Skagway was a departure point for many starry-eyed dreamers looking for gold. Today we follow their treacherous path on the White Pass Yukon Route Railway. I feel a little like I’m in an old Western film. Keeping an eye out for train robbers. 🙂

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We pass waterfalls, deep ravines, rickety old bridges that look like they belong in a Wile E. Coyote cartoon, and the tragic “dead horse gulch” (named for the many horses who died while attempting to carry prospectors’ supplies up over the pass).

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There is a glacial lake at the top of the pass, mostly frozen still. Sometimes we travel through a great corridor of snow, tall as the cars in places, carved out for our sakes.

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I spend most of the return trip out on the porch of the car breathing the clean scent of evergreen and snow, catching the spray of waterfalls in my hands and on my face, and trying, once again, to get inside this landscape. To get it inside me.

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We spend the afternoon doing what most of our friends at home are doing on this Memorial Day, sitting out by the pool. It is 70 degrees, after all. The view from my deck chair….

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28 May: If I lived in Alaska my whole life, I would never get over seeing a bald eagle in flight. We see them every day of the cruise; sitting on buildings, in the woods, or in their tree top nest in Hoonah. But the best is to see them soaring overhead. And I have to stop and watch. My eyes fill with tears, and my heart pounds from the sheer majesty of it. (In fact I couldn’t write this without tears.) My gratitude is so deep.

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In Hoonah, we sit for a long time with a store owner who talks to us about her life in Alaska. This is an unexpected gift. She tells us about a group of Tlingit artists who are crafting totem poles and panels for the new visitor center for Glacier Bay National Park using traditional tools and stories. They welcome us into their workshop and tell us about their work. We are honored to be drawn into this tradition.

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29 May: We are only ever rained on twice in Alaska. One of these days, appropriately, is in Ketchikan–purportedly  the rainiest city in North America, as well as the king salmon capital of the world.

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Creek Street is the former red light district. (Prostitution was legal here until 1953.) It is a charming clutter of buildings sitting on stilts which today house galleries, jewelry stores, and souvenir shops.

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30 May: Our last day on the ship is spent entirely at sea. It is the coldest day of the trip with intermittent rain, but the rain brings gifts of its own. Shafts of light stab through gray clouds, while slender columns of steam rise tenuously skyward to rejoin their fellows.

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And then this. I take it all in in greedy, grateful gulps.

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Tomorrow, we will wake in Vancouver, and all around will be city, and noise, and hurry. But tonight, during dinner, this is outside our window. This is Alaska as I will remember her. Wild. Unfettered. Unpredictable. And utterly wondrous…

Great and Holy Pascha

Pascha-Chelsea

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.

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