Icons, Part Four

image by Rebekah Choat

image by Rebekah Choat

I’m wearing my favorite sweater this morning. It isn’t fashionable. It isn’t in one of the season’s hottest colors. It doesn’t draw attention to me when I wear it.

This sweater has been in my wardrobe for what feels like forever. I’ve worn it during some of the pleasantest weather of my life, and through the roughest storms. It holds up well; even after all this time, it isn’t shrinking, fraying at the hem, wearing through at the elbows, or unraveling at the seams.

I wear it with premeditated intention some days. I wear it on days when I don’t know what to wear. Even when I’m not quite sure where I left it, I can find it by feel in the dark.

This sweater reminds me of a lifelong Friend whose love has never faltered, never fallen apart; One who walks with me through sun and shadow; One who is there, though I can’t see Him, even in the deep darkness.

Tuesday’s Word: blessing

God’s favor and protection

the acts or words of one who blesses

something promoting or contributing to happiness,
well-being, or prosperity; a boon

approbation, approval, encouragement

sanction or support

special favor, mercy, or benefit

The definitions of a blessing cover a broad range, but it seems to me that whichever way you look at it, a blessing is a gift outright. It comes from somewhere outside ourselves, beyond our reach to grasp. We can’t buy it with money or earn it with merit. We can only receive it open-heartedly, accepting it as pure grace.

Yet in the remarkable economy of God, we are somehow empowered to bestow blessings on others. Though we don’t possess the means to manufacture or ensure a boon for ourselves, we are mysteriously enabled to channel favor, mercy, and encouragement to those around us and to contribute to their happiness and well-being.

Icons, Part Two

image by Joel Brotzman-Gonzales

image by Joel Brotzman-Gonzales

As far back as I can hear in my memory, I have known the call of the mourning dove. From the time I was a tiny little girl sitting on the front porch while Grandma did the early-morning watering, to this morning forty-five years later, sitting on the back patio after doing the early-morning watering, that melancholy, infinitely soothing three-note trill has sounded in my ears, as familiar as my own heartbeat and sometimes as unnoticed, and as centering and reassuring when I listen for it. It is perhaps as close as I can imagine the voice of God, murmuring over and over, “I am here, I am here,” here in this world that is bent and broken but never abandoned; swollen with sorrow, swallowed up by joy poignant as grief.

Tuesday’s Word: ritual

ritual:  an established or prescribed procedure for a religious or other rite; observance of set forms in public worship

Ritual was anathema in the church of my childhood. I can’t recall ever having been instructed as to why it was wrong, but I came to the conclusion that it had something to do with substituting mechanical actions for real true belief; that following any formal ritual was a sort of religion-by-rote for those who had not prayed through to a genuine ecstatic experience of the living God. At the very least, conforming to ritual would surely be limiting, confining, Spirit-quenching.

Please understand that I am not discounting the sincerity of the exuberant saints among whom I grew up; many of them did indeed demonstrate faith that would move mountains and abiding joy in the face of great hardship.

For me, though, the anything-goes-as-long-as-you’re-enthusiastic style of church meeting was detrimental, to say the least. I – the preacher’s oldest kid, no less! – was expected to beam with the barely-veiled glory of God’s wonder-working hand on my life at all times. Good Christian girls didn’t let the devil steal their shine!

My choice: deceit (or at best exaggeration) followed by guilt, or honesty resulting in condemnation.

As I grow older and continue to work through many layers of deep-seated depression, I am learning that ritual, at its heart, is neither robotic nor repressive; it is, in fact, a healing balm for my soul, a means of saving grace. It is a great comfort to lean into time-honored practices when I have no strength to forge a new path, to repeat well-worn words when I can’t manage coherent composition, to relax into the kinship of common custom.

 …ritual and symbol are as necessary to human beings as air and water. They mark us as human and give us identity…Rituals bind a community together, and also bind individuals to a community. ~ Kathleen Norris

Tuesday’s Word: mystery

mystery:  something kept secret or remaining unexplained; something not understood or beyond understanding

 

Baby Girl the Second likes ‘mystery’ stories these days, which leads me to musing about the disparity between the common usage and the true meaning of the word. Of course, the problems presented to the small town backyard detectives whose adventures she follows are never for a minute intended to remain unexplained and invariably prove to be quite understandable to one who reads the clues carefully. No mystery will remain unsolved for more than five pages or a 24-minute television slot, not with Tyrone and Uniqua or Encyclopedia Brown and Sally on the case. In a few years, she’ll discover that Sherlock Holmes and Miss Marple are equally reliable in their somewhat lengthier settings.

I have nothing against a good whodunit, although I do wish the genre would be categorically renamed ‘detective’ literature. The problem I see is that we have reduced the – well, mystery of mystery, to the point of excluding any eventuality that remains beyond human understanding. We really believe that if we are observant and resourceful and analytical enough, we can solve any conundrum. When we do run up against something that we absolutely can’t explain, we tend to shrug our shoulders, say “It’s a mystery to me,” and turn and walk away, dismissing anything we can’t define and diagram neatly as not worthy of our attention.

During this Holy Week, this time of remembrance and meditation, I am conscious of both a desperate hunger for and a deep rest in a Presence far beyond my comprehending. God grant me the grace to open myself to the mystery of Christ:  Christ in us, Christ in me, in you, the hope of glory.