24 August 2011

Canyon Places

We've been waiting and waiting, these last months, for the phone to ring. He's applied so many times, so many places, so many different jobs. People tell us over and over again that the market sucks, like we don't know that or it's supposed to be comforting. It's not us, nothing personal, and we don't take it that way. But you can only go so long staring at a silent phone when all you want it to do is ring before you start to wonder if you got the rules wrong, somehow, or if you're playing a different game than the rest.

And then it rings, and again and again. Three interviews in two weeks, and we were out of town for one of those. A job we really want, a job we kind-of want, and one that we'll take with joy if the others fall through. Three different industries, three different types of experience. But it's all backwards, with notifications coming in the order opposite of what would be helpful and us wondering if we're going to have to close the door on something sure because we hope for what we don't yet know. We're not sure if we can do it, if it comes to that. Not even sure we should, with two littles in the mix now and the need for at least a semblance of stability.

Sometimes I feel like I'm a player in a game that I don't understand, like if I could have the view of the chess player rather than the pawn, then it would all make sense. From where I stand, it feels backwards and inside out (or, in the words of my daughter's book, "Inside, Outside, Upside Down"). We've waited so long for any opportunity, and now we have three. Rejoice! On the other hand, we may end up choosing one that's not what we really want because we can't wait any longer to hear back from the one that's most ideal. Bah! 

It's a twisty thing, this path of life, and somewhat easier, I think, if we accept that most of what we'll do is wander. There aren't many vistas, here, not many places where the clouds part and the rocks move and we get to see where we've been and how it leads to where we're going. Most of the time, I think we're in a relatively narrow canyon with high walls. It's beautiful, there, with a stream running through and trees and flowers and all the layers and layers of rock stacked to remind us that others have been by, millions and millions of times. It's beautiful, but we can't see.

This doesn't bother some people nearly as much as it bothers me. I've always wanted to see, always strived to understand more, to gain a bigger perspective. I think it's the the way my mind works, the way I was made, if you will. I don't like having pieces without a whole, don't like sifting them through my fingers without some sort of overarching reason or premise behind it all. 

I want us to make the right choice, to not choose out of fear but out of wisdom. I want the pieces to fall into place, so that I know. But without the bigger perspective, I don't know if that's possible. And I wonder why he doesn't tell us more, doesn't give us what we need to know to make the right choice. 

"Trust," comes to mind, and I work on that. Yet he's trusted me with so much, and it kills me to think I might not be able to make the right choice here. He'll still be there if we don't; I know that. But I don't know how much more of this wandering I can endure. Funny, that. I've always been a wandering heart. But now I want roots, a place to settle, a place and a routine that feels like home.

10 August 2011

Musings on Liturgy: Seeking Him

Call: Who is it that you seek?
Response: We seek the Lord our God.
Call: Do you seek Him with all your heart?
Response: Amen. Lord, have mercy.
Call: Do you seek Him with all your soul?
Response: Amen. Lord, have mercy.
Call: Do you seek Him with all your mind?
Response: Amen. Lord, have mercy.
Call: Do you seek Him with all your strength?
Response: Amen. Christ, have mercy. 

I first came to this part of the liturgy with responses very similar to the ones I had at the last part: Do I believe this? Can I really speak these words with any sort of honesty? Is my heart so focused on one thing that He is all I seek?

Then, I noticed the response. "Amen," means (loosely translated) "Let it be." Not in the Beatles sense, though sometimes I like to think of it that way when I'm praying about things I need to let go of. No, it means "Let it be," in the sense of, "May this be true. May reality match the words I've just spoken." And in that sense, I can pray these words all day long.

But that's just the first part. The second, "Lord, have mercy . . . Christ, have mercy," is the ages-old kyrie. Mercy, mercy, we all need mercy. Every minute of every day, we only live because mercy falls from heaven. It's no different when the acts that need mercy are all of the times, each day, when I seek something other than Him with some part of my being. 

And so the caller asks questions that very few people, if anyone, can truly say "Yes," to. But we can all say, "May that be true of me, and may the Lord have mercy on me when it is not." 

There's an image that often comes to mind when I speak these words. There's a door (and in case you have a vivid imagination like I do, it's to a cave that looks something like Obi Wan's from Star Wars), and I'm standing outside of it. I start the liturgy in God's name, announcing, even if only to myself, my intentions to enter that place and find Jesus. Then I speak the "One Thing" words, which are my way of knocking, of announcing my presence to those who guard the door. 

When someone answers the door, they welcome me into a sparse stone vestibule and begin to question. "Who do you seek?" they ask, and I tell them. The questions, while I suppose they would weed out those who had truly come to the wrong place, are more like serious reminders of where I am and what I am doing there. "Are you here," they ask, "because you seek God, or are you looking for shelter from the rain?" Both might be valid reasons to come in, but they will each require different things from me as I journey on. 

In some ways, I suppose they are a screening process. Am I a pilgrim, looking for the Risen One, a Seeker not sure of Him for whom I search, or am I an Outsider, welcome but not yet understanding everything that goes on here? As I answer, I feel the welcome come. I'm not a Saint, not one who can say that I seek Him as I ought, but I am one who knows how He should be sought. 

Some days, that's the best I can do - I can continue to seek, and to seek how to seek. When I pray these words each morning, that's what I pledge to do.

03 August 2011

Musings on Liturgy: One Thing

One thing I have asked of the Lord,
this is what I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life;
to behold the beauty of the Lord
and to seek Him in His temple. 

Beautiful words, these. And their sentiment is one I would echo with my whole heart . . . if I could. When I first came to this prayer, I almost stopped. "I can't say that," I thought. "Because I ask God for a lot of things, and seek more than just dwelling with Him."

This is a problem that I often have with liturgy - the words are beautifully written and over the centuries they've been tweaked to truly say those things that the human heart most needs to say to God, and to do it in language that is a deep as it is wide. But so many times, my heart is in a different place. I want to mean the things that the spectacular words say (or at least I want to want to, but don't get me started on second-order desires), but I don't. Or I don't know if I do.

In fact, when I really thought about it, the truth was even worse than that. Not only did I feel, in the moment of my prayer, that I didn't mean the words I was saying, but I also I didn't know if the things this prayer asks for would truly satisfy me. If all I ever had was another glimpse of God, would that be okay? What if Dave never got a job and our kids got sick and we had to live with my parents forever? Would I still be okay because I'd be gazing at God's beauty?

There is one time in my life where I know I experienced God. Many, many other times, I think I've experienced him or I hope I've experienced him, but there's only one time when I know, absolutely, positively, hands down, that I experienced God. Maybe that's unusual for a Christian, but it's my experience.

I went to Confession exactly once while I attended an Episcopal church. I love the way they do it there, with the priest sitting beside you, a present observer, one who hears the sins but not the one to whom they are confessed. And then he offers absolution, saying a few words and making the sign of the cross on the penitent's forehead. I don't know what you think about absolution, but there was definite relief in my heart and my life to hear someone actually speak words of forgiveness and reconciliation with authority. 

And when he touched me, I experienced God. Love unlike I'd ever experienced it before flooded through his fingers and into me. I didn't know if it would crush me or make me fly, but such was the power that I felt like I had to let it do one of those two things. It was exquisite, overwhelming, powerful . . . and more. I cannot describe it, and that's part of how I know it was God. 

As soon as he stopped touching me, the feeling left, too. A few seconds, but I'll carry their memory forever. I'd followed God for a long time, but he became real to me in a new way, that day. He became real because he became other, not something I could make up nor feelings that I could drum up, but a being entirely other, to be loved and grappled with and understood and not understood.

When I think about that day, I feel like there's a chance that I could mean those words. If I was really living in the presence of God everyday, seeing his beauty and seeking the love that could destroy but instead chooses not to, I would be satisfied. I could not help but be so. 

I've noticed, though, that experiencing God like I did that day doesn't happen very often. Once, for me, in thirty-two years and a few months. Maybe more for some, but not a lot more. And so I'm left in a quandry - I could mean the words I see in the liturgy, but I don't think it's possible (or at least probable) that I'm ever going to be able to experience God like that in every moment. So do I pray the words as a wish, or do I refuse them because I know I have to live as me, in my world.

What I experienced that day was an unusual, powerful, and intensely personal demonstration of God's love. I can't get to that everyday. For one thing, I don't think God offers himself to me in that way everyday. Maybe knowing him that way would destroy me. Maybe it would make me superhuman. I don't know. But I do know this: it would take me out of my world. 

There have been a few who have walked that way. Dame Julian and St. Therese, to name just a couple. But more often, God gives his love in everyday circumstances. He doesn't make us all mystics, but instead calls us to seek and behold in our everyday lives. I don't think that means living with a moment-by-moment awareness of the kind of love I experienced that day. 

The truth is, I do dwell in His house every day. It's all His house: our cluttered desk, the dirty clothes on the floor, the teething baby, all of it. And while it's nice to behold his beauty in a more straightforward way, at least every once in a while, I can choose to see and seek Him everyday. 

It's hard, this finding-God-in-daily-life. Some do it through gratitude, some choose to look back and see where He's been in the past, and some pray the hours. I'm not good at it yet. But I have come to see that, if I could live that way, my life would be full. Or, rather, the empty spots wouldn't matter so much anymore. 

There are still days where I come to these words and pause, days when I don't really want to put in the effort to see Him in everyday life, where I wish he'd either reveal himself more vividly or leave me to my life. But I say the words because they're right and true, and because they're the call of my heart even when my heart doesn't know it.