Today, the faithful will celebrate Pentecost. I just finished Lauren Winner's book, Girl Meets God, which I loved, loved, loved. Among other things, she helped me see the connections between Pentecost and the Jewish observance of Shavout. I would love to tell you about those connections, but I am currently operating on a very low level of brain power, not to mention that I am sick, self-pitying, and self-absorbed. It doesn't leave much room for that kind of discourse.
It's almost 2:30 in the morning, and as is normal when I am unwell, I don't sleep. My mind plays tricks on me, and I am morose and excessive. I eat more than my share until I feel bloated and even more sick. I want to fill an empty feeling. I don't think it is a true emptiness, because I am aware of the presence of the Holy Spirit within, but it feels empty.
I have been an Orthodox Christian for four weeks today. I have celebrated the Eucharist three times. Twice at home at St. Raphael's, and once at Dormition Monastery. I have gone to the Divine Supper without fail. If one thing has drawn me to Orthodoxy it is the Eucharist. If one thing will keep me, it will be the Eucharist. I believe this with all my heart.
But today, I feel lonely for the first time. This loneliness was familiar to me before, as a card carrying member of the church of the drop outs, the failures, and the fools, but I wasn't expecting to feel it at Home so soon. The truth is, I don't know what I'm doing. Orthodoxy is so big, and I feel so small. I tried to fast yesterday, and ended up attacking a piece of chicken or five, just before midnight. It was like chicken would save my life. I had to have it. Then I felt foolish and failed.
I wanted to call Laike, my sponsor, and tell him that I am a very bad Orthodox Christian, and that I can't fast, and my prayer rule has gone straight to hell, but I don't have the courage to. I don't call anybody that loves me, and were present at my Chrismation and know what I am going through, or are at least are willing to act like they know, and reassure me. I choose well-worn path of isolation. Then, I feel ashamed and afraid that I will fail completely at being Orthodox, and be alone forever.
So, I sleep too long, and still wake up sick and in pain. I stuff myself, eating an ungodly amount of ice cream, Greek feta cheese, and sweetened condensed milk with a spoon, right out of the can. I hope that I don't become suddenly, inexplicably lactose intolerant as punishment.
Lauren wrote of a Pentecost/Shavout in her life, "The tikku broke up before sunrise, but Randi and I were determined to stay up all night. We found a diner near the university and split a giant ice cream sunday, our version of the traditional Shavout meal, which is always heavy with dairy products. Randi raised a spoonful of Butter Brickle in a sort of toast." May the Torah be as mother's milk to you."
I can't stop thinking about her words.
The Torah, as mothers milk. The Word, my Jesus, as mothers milk. God giving Moses the Law. God giving us Himself as living Word. Two complex histories merging to tell one long, old story, a story I've enterd, with parts I don't understand, and some of it in a language I've never learned.
I did not stay up all night studying as Lauren and her friends did before Pentecost, but here I am, not having slept, full of of dairy. What do I do? In my mind, I lie my head on Jesus' chest as John, the discple Jesus loved, did. In my soul, I feel the steady thump of his heartbeat. I feel the warmth of his body, even through the garment He wears, and I hope He can feel some warmth from me, too. I hope I can give Him something.
I say, "I suck as an Orthodox Christian," and He says, "I know."
I say, "I want You to be like mother's milk to me, because I don't understand all this high church stuff, and I don't want to leave or run away, because I belong here."
And Jesus says, "I know."
I start crying and He rocks me, and tells me that He will never leave me or forsake me, and that I don't have to figure out thousands of years of doing church in a month.
We stay like that for a while.
Later, I lie down, my mind still a tornado, my heart still sore and wide open, but comforted by the descended "Comforter" Jesus sent, just as He promised.
"Thanks for being here, Holy Spirit," I say.
The Holy Spirit doesn't speak, but in that moment I crave more than ever the sweet Mother's milk that the Father sent, and that the Holy Spirit delivers right to my heart. I remember my favorite Orthodox prayer to the Holy Spirit:
"O heavenly King,
the Spirit of Truth,
who are in all places
and fill all things,
the treasury of good things
and giver of life: Come
and abide in us,
cleanse us from every stain,
and save our souls,
O Good One."
This is my prayer for Pentcost, and every day.
I am overcome with gratefulness that He did come. This Heavenly King, this elusive Third Person of the Trinity did come and abide in us, cleansing us from wondering if a life with a bipolar brain is worth living, and cleansing us from eating too much ice-cream, feta cheese and lamb, and cleansing us from faltering prayer rules, and every stain, every single stain, even the stains the blood of our suffering leaves behind.
"Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy," I pray, sounding like a good Orthodox Christian, but only because He's here, and gives me this grace to pray--this blessing of Pentecost in my own bed, even though pain shoots through my body, and my sad, sad heart.
I feel anxious to get to sleep, so I can wake up and attend the celebration. I've got the rest of my life to learn the right days of the church calender. I'll show up for what I need most: that space in time where I lay aside all earthly cares. That place where I pray, and repent, sing the Cherubim Hymn and feel sorry, truly sorry for my sins, longing for the sweetness of wine and bread placed in my mouth by holy hands.
Let the Holy Spirit come.
and hey, read Lauren's book.