Last year, around the time of an unfortunate magazine theft incident and a desperate prayer, I became a Christian writer. I'd started a novel called Restoration about a pair of first loves, then lost loves, who have the shocking experience of finding each other again, in a very unlikely place.
Two weeks from the time that I began that book, after a more than twenty year absence from my life, my own first love re-emerged, inflamming every heady feeling I ever had for him in the wake of our re-aquaintence. It was here, at this very blog, a year ago, that I wrote such raga classics as "I loved a Boy,"--my first blog entry, and many more about him, mainly because the situation was torturing me. I thought I'd die. I got up close and personal with that scripture that says, "The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately with it, who can know it?"
I couldn't finish that book last year, because my own heart had not found it's proper ending. Finally at peace, this year I started writing it again, wanting to be done with it, and put it to rest, finally, with the last remnants of Joe that still linger. But as I got back to writing, it was not Joe that shone brightly as my hero. It was Michael.
Michael is the novel hero's first name. It is also the name of my brother. He is the brother of my heart. Really, and I say this for lack of a better way to say it, he's my cousin--the child of my great aunt, but really, he's my brother, because I grew up with him, and love him fiercely like that.
In my novel, Michael is my heroine's first love, but he is also the brother of her heart. He is the boy that would buy her candy and make her laugh when she was little, and the boy who would protect her virtue by chasing less honorable boys away from her when she was a teen in full flower. As I wrote these characters, it occured to me that in writing you find the people you love most come together like a Frankenstein's monster, sitting on the page with you as a blind host, trying to drink and eat bread and say the word, "flower." Or was that "fire" he tried to say? My fictional Michael has the first love status Joe has, but he has a heart of my brother, the vivid brown/gold "tiger eyes" of my husband, and the drug addiction of both of them. My character overcame his addiction, just like my brother and husband.
My husband has been clean for three years; my brother, for 45 days. Last night, Michael called to tell us he got saved. It's been the best 9 days of his life he says, and his news brings tears to my eyes, because I've prayed for him for so long, and still do. And now, God is answering.
And I do mean "answering" not necessarily "has answered."
When it was my turn to talk to him, and he gave me his good news, the first thing that came to me was a somber warning. I told him that I was glad for him, but to realize it won't always be the best days. Or at least it won't always feel like it.
For the last week I've had a terrible virus. The second day, I was on my way home on the bus, and had my prayer beads with me. I was so ill, that I thought I wouldn't make it home without fainting, so I held my beads, praying Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy, until I'd Kyrie Eleisoned all the way home and collapsed on my bed. My own rule of prayer has been all struggle this week, where just weeks ago, I prayed with ease and great pleasure.
I've been thinking about my brother all night, wondering about my reaction, hoping with all that's in me his salvation will stick like he's wearing a velcro suit.
American spirituality can be so cheap. I've written about that before here. We sit with our head bowed and eyes closed, while the worship leader sings "Come to Jesus." We sheepishly raise our hand when prompted, then stand at the altar saying "the sinners prayer." We follow the "counselor" to the back room, where we get tracts, and fill out a "decision" card. We do this like it's an ancient practice. We are fortunate if we are ever discipled in the faith.
I'm learning to work out my salvation in fear and trembling, and it's not comfortable. I try not to sin and say a flip, "Sorry, Lord", thinking of the day soon, when I will be required to confess my sins, all of them, before my parish priest, and receive absolution (or not) according to how sorry I really am. If I don't do this, I will not be allowed to partake of the Eucharist. This is a faith that says, prove it. It's a faith worth dying for, as millions of martyrs can testify from heaven, and it's a faith worth living for.
God, how long has it been since I've lived for You?
This brand of salvation is not like anything I've experienced before. It's unsentimental and demanding. It forces me into community in a way that I've mostly avoided. I find myself saying morning and evening prayers that constantly reaffirm how unworthy I am, but it's not the self-absorbed, unhealty "unworthy" that is a psychologist's nightmare. It's an unworthiness that brings you to your knees at the foot of the cross, crying "save me", even though you've long made your decision, and your address on the card has long been changed, and the tract messages, have fallen somewhere on the soil or cracked pavement that is your heart.
About half hour from me, there is an Orthodox monastary, the home of a kindly, old man who was persecuted for the faith and spent years in jail for loving Jesus. I will meet him soon, and hear of the faith he was willing to be persecuted for. My friend Dean tells me that this man, has said that God persecutes the church because He loves it. He prays that God will love the church in America, and persecute her, too.
That's going leave a lot of us out when it happens, isn't it?
Michael, salvation isn't cheap at all; it will cost you everything. It isn't a one-time thing, but a process. You will keep being saved, or at least I pray that you will. I'm not only happy, but a little bit scared for you. I pray you find a faith with deep roots that will plant you firmly, and that you never will be moved.
I'll be praying for the rest of my life for your happy ending.
I love you,
your sister raga.