Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Wings, Roots, and Beginnings

You missed me didn't you? I don't even remember the last time I wrote. It seems like a long time ago. I missed you, too, but I've been busy. Want to know what I've been up to? Well, let me tell you.

Where do we begin?

I like to think my life with God began sometime in 1980 when I was fifteen and full of the kind of teen angst that made me write very bad poetry. One infamous line of great theological insight went: Look up above you. There's some one who loves you.

Wasn't I the literary prodigy? Ha!

It was just a few months later that, on a breezy April night, that "Someone" made Himself known to me at a revival. I'd encountered the fire of Pentecost. I was in love, and would never be the same.

But maybe my life with God begin when I was 8 years old. I was a pretty decent reader for a wee one. Someone gave me one of those Jack T. Chick tracts, "This Is Your Life". Does anyone remember those? They were black and white, cartoon tracts that could literally scare the hell out of you. I prayed the prayer of salvation on the back because God forbid I meet the same fate as they guy in the tract, though my sins were hardly as interesting. I did have sins was the point, and I figured saying that little prayer would make them go away.

Or maybe my life with God begin when I was ten months old and whisked away from my mother to the tame little suburb where I would grow up, away from my brothers and sisters and the turbulent Motor City. I was spared the awful poverty of my parents lot, at least for a little while. I was frail, and sickly. Maybe I wouldn't have fared well in a house with nine children and oppression as deadly as a carbon monoxide leak. I don't really know. I just know that God planted me somewhere else, though I grieved the loss of my family, especially my mother.

Do we begin with God when we are born? I came two months early, and weighed a whopping three pounds. Was God with me in the incubator as I struggled to get fat and sassy? Thanks, Lord, but You can stopping helping me gain weight now. I could live three years off of my fat.
But I digress.

Or do we begin at conception with God? In Heaven before conception? I don't know. I only know that the Lord keeps revealing Himself in surprising ways, letting me know He's been here all along.

So, now that I know I can't figure out the mystery of when my relationship with God began, it begs the question--not so much where will it end, but where am I going next?

Two weeks ago, I walked into a church, and Subdeacon Laike lit a candle and prayed for me, murmuring his suplication to God in soft tones with his melodic Ethiopian accent. He made the sign of the cross, and honored the icon before him, but I was nervous, and only midly appreciated the gesture.

We stepped inside, and I watched his family enter, and gently kiss the Icon before us. I didn't kiss the Icon of St. Raphael of Brooklyn. I've smooched a few photos--mostly baby pictures of the kids, but kissing saints was new, and I wasn't all together comfortable with it yet. We moved to the pews, and more icon kissing went on, and I felt a little like I should kiss the saints too, but I wasn't even sure who everybody was, and at least I should be able to identify them before we got that up close and personal.

The people of God greeted me kindly, and I sat, still nervous, and wondering what I got myself into.

Did this all start when I started praying the Divine Hours? That Phyllis Tickle. She said I'd be a woman of prayer, and now here I was in an Orthodox church, wondering about kissing icons.

Did Tony Jones start this? I read his book Soul Shaper, and ended up with a hunger for classic spiritual disciplines that it nearly left me breathless feeling bereft of a feast that others enjoyed in God.

Was it Jazz that started it. I'd resent it if it were. Jazz isn't a real person. He's a character in my novel, and while admittedly, I'm in love with him, I didn't expect him to convert me. I told Ken months ago, "I think I'm going to be Catholic." He ignored me, just like he did when I said I was going to beauty school, or when I announced I was going to be a tattoo artist. He figured it was just a crush. I had been reading a lot of Catholic stuff.

But it persisted, this desire for Divine Liturgy, and I didn't know what to do with my feelings. So one desperate night, I wrote to Frederica Mathewes-Green like she was my best friend. I felt somehow that Orthodoxy was my path, rather that the Roman Catholic church. I poured out my heart and soul, and she gently guided me to Dean, a man of God. I wasn't sure what to expect from Dean. I mean, where would I fit in the Orthodox church? I'm not Greek, or Russian, or even Ethiopian. Where do African American Orthodox people meet?

In record time, I ended up as St. Raphaels, in a pew surrounded by loving strangers. Icons of Jesus, The Virgin Mary, John the Baptist, and many others stood before me with shocking power and beauty. Divine Liturgy began, and I found myself stunned at this style of worship. It was a feast for the senses. The Icons bless the eyes. The incense blesses the nose, the chanting prayers and singing prayers are a celebration to the ears. There is Holy bread for me, and the Eucharist for the faithful, pefect in texture and taste for the mouth. And touch? I got kissed about 60 times, and that was by just 12 people!

I fumbled through, singing Lord Have Mercies terribly off key. I listened intently to the sermon, and longed to partake of the body and blood. Something in my soul flowered like the first pefect day of Spring. My heart became the feast, and I hungered no more.

Subdeacon Robert said--an African American man, said, "Welcome Home." I left with the smell of incense still clinging to my clothing, and the chants of the people still making music in my soul.

Yes, Lord. Welcome Home, indeed.

When did this begin? I don't know. Where will it end? I don't know that either, I only know that God knows all things, and in Him will I trust. Long ago, the Holy Spirit gave me wings. This time, I feel in this ancient, lovely church, He is giving me roots.

I'll keep you posted.


renee altson said...

I've had several friends who converted to the orthodox church. they all love it. blessings on your journey. love, renee

Larry said...

"When did this begin? I don't know. Where will it end? I don't know that either..."

Good question, Raga. I've wondered about the same thing.

I prayed the prayer in the Four Laws booklet in October of 1971, and then in desperation yelled for help in September of 2003. Which was the valid act?

Both, I think. I also believe the Holy Spirit was calling and guiding me from the get-go. Fortunate incidents, lucky breaks, fortuitous occurrences are all through my life, and they seem unlikely to be caused by random chance.

I've always had the feeling that there was more to life than what my family offered. A nice house, new cars and such. Physical stuff. I was more interested in, at leat, psychic kinds of things, perhaps even spiritual although I never thought much about that. To me, at the time, God was a distant, threatening cloud better left alone.

Since the big failure in 2003, though, God has walked beside me. Even carried me at times. I guess he just waited for me to be desperate enough to really cry out to him. Since then he has poured out his rain of blessing, steadily, steadfastly, beyond anything I ever thought could happen.

When did it start? Who knows? Where am I going? God knows better than I. I'm leaving my hand off the tiller because he's better at steering than I.

Connie said...

Dear Ragamuffin Diva,
Just bounced in via Stephanie.
Great post. I, like you, have been drawn to liturgical
worship, and I also think it is a progression of sorts...part of the pull of God on my heart from infancy through to age. Is there some sort of parallel process going on here? Maturing in faith. Symbols, the "incense clinging to (our) clothes" bypass the rational mind and leave us full of wonder, awe and grace. Do some born to liturgy work the opposite parallel and end up worshipping in house churches or The Little Chapel of the Thirteenth Apostle?

bobbie said...

oh girlfriend - roots are good - i'm so thrilled for you! my step-father-in-law is orthodox and we have a monastery close by that i love to visit.

nouwen has a wonderful booklet on praying with icons called 'behold the beauty of the lord' - i have no idea if it's still in print, but i picked my copy up years ago on ebay.

Paula said...

The journey is always into His heart, whatever it looks like . ..

Aola said...

Oh, you are so brave! Every time I read maggi dawn I hunger for the same deep rooted traditions. Scares the hell out of me though coming from a fundamentalist/charismatic background(even tho I have figured out that neither of them is for me). I almost went to a Presbyterian church the other Sunday but could not work up the courage.
Maybe reading your post will help me to be brave.

Heather Diane Tipton said...

Yes we missed you, or atleast I did. *g*

I only know that God knows all things, and in Him will I trust.

That is the only thing you can do.

I can kinda identify with what you are going through. I'm going back to church after 10 years of not going. (I know not quite the same as you, but I bet there are a lot of similar feeling going on.)

upwords said...

I can smell that incense, clinging to your clothes.

It smells good.

A Jesus breeze.


upwords said...

I can smell that incense, clinging to your clothes.

It smells good.

A Jesus breeze.