Friday, May 27, 2005

The Seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit

I've spent this last week trying to recover from my fabulous life in Nashville. I almost got myself a cowboy hat it was so good. If you knew me, you'd know that's real good. I haven't gone cowboy since I wore that prairie outfit I was deflowered in. Darn it! Don't make me remember that.

Anyway, lets get on to holier things.

I've been trying to quiet my mind and consecrate myself this week. Yeah, I know it didn't work, but I tried. I think the Lord will give me a little mercy for the effort.

You see, this week I will confess my sins before a priest. This is a totally not in my previous life thing to do. I will confess my sins before my priest, with the high hopes that God will blot it from his memory immediately upon giving absolution. From the memory of my priest, that is, though I'd be so bold as to say that I hope God doesn't remember them either. They are quite a lengthy list. Thank God Father Leo didn't ask me to write them all down. I don't think I could afford all that paper.

Immediately following I will be Chrismated. I will be taken to the door of the church, where many solemn questions will be asked. Questions like:

Do you desire to be united to the holy orthodox Church of Christ?

And I will reply, "I desire it with all my heart."

And I will mean it, beloved, with all my heart.

Do you believe in one God, glorified and worshiped in the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and do you worship Him as King and God?

And I will say: I believe in one God, worshiped and glorified in Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and I worship him as King and as God.

And I will, beloved, I will, so help me God.

It's like getting married to God, white dress and everything.

Many more lovely things will be said, and truths will be proclaimed, and prayers will be prayed, and I will be anointed with the holy Chrism. Father Leo will anoint my eyes, nose, lips, both ears, breast, hands and feet, consecrating each of the senses to the Lord and saying with each blessed touch: the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit. And the faithful will say: Amen, or maybe they'll say: Seal!

On that fine day, this very Sunday, May 29, 2005, I will be invited as first of the faithful to the table to partake of the body and blood of my sweet Jesus. See, the Eucharist has been lost to protestant, independent me, and I've celebrated it as mere symbol, but it is mystery. Jesus said, "This is my body... This is my blood." Heady stuff. For the first time, I will take this mystery into myself, and I will partake of my Lord; He will be in me, and I in Him. Yes, this is great mystery. This is unspeakable grace.

So, pray for me. I feel like I've lived my whole life for this time. I would crawl on my hands and knees--I would crawl on my belly to taste and see that the Lord is good. (Don't worry. Laike has a lovely Ford Explorer, and that's how I plan to get to church. My white dress will be fine. Maybe a little oily...)

Here is my song to the Lord:

Anima Christi

Soul of Christ, sanctify me,
Body of Christ, save me,
Blood of Christ, refresh me,
Water from the side of Christ, wash me,
Passion of Christ, strengthen me,
O, good Jesus, hear me,
Within your wounds, hide me,
Let me never be separated from you,
From the powers of darkness, defend me,
In the hour of my death call me,
And bid me come with you,
That with your saints I may praise you
For ever, and ever. Amen.

-Brother Roger of Taize
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

I'm taking the name of my patron saint, St. Mary of Eygpt. This is why commentor S-P has been calling me Mair. It's a version of Mary. I'll tell you all about her when I return.
I'll be thinking of you. I'll let you know how it goes.

Mair, God's raga

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Adoramus te Domine

There are those experiences in life that catch you in that moment that is just between inhale and exhale. The quiet moment when your heart can hear with spirit ears. This space was opened wide for me tonight, in a gift of worship called Taize.

Just as prayer is a place, Taize is a place. It is in France, and people go there to find that inner mystery where we know God with the kind of intimacy reserved for the Beloved. The Only. The Lover of our souls. I didn't go to France, but here in Nashville, the experience was recreated in a stunning downtown church--an architech's dream.

Lori and I entered the Sacred Lovely in quiet, just before the service began. We took our seats, and someone handed us the music. We weren't sure what to expect. She knew there would be prayer, and I knew there would be singing, but my Lord, we were blessed to be able to sing our prayers. Augustine said, he who sings prays twice. We prayed twice tonight, and our souls grew twice as wide.

The music washes over you in waves. It was sung in Latin and in English tonight. I want you to imagine that for a moment, you are able to lift the most blessed part of you toward heaven, and feel heaven reach down to meet you half-way. In this space the angels--those same ones that sing Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord. Imagine them singing with you.

But first, the hum...
a holy moan, born of those who are passionately, deeply, in love unto death.
Imagine the sound that wordlessly says, I am Yours. I am only Yours.

Then...

A - do - ra- mus te Do - mi - ne.
We adore you, Lord Jesus Christ.

1. With the angels and arch - an - gels:

A - do - ra - mus te Do - mi - ne.
We adore you, Lord Jesus Christ.

2. With the pa-tri-archs and pro-phets:
3. With the Vir-gin Mar-y mother of God:
4. With the A - pos-tles and e - van-gel-ist:

A - do - ra - mus te Do - mi - ne.
We adore you, Lord Jesus Christ.

This is what I live for, saints. This is the Holy Spirit given worship I would die for.

In Love unto death,
raga

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

GodBroads Up Past Bedtime

Don't ever presume that you know God as much as you think you do. God is a trickster. He surprises us with His Very Godness, and does something we never would have thought of.

I've been caught up in a sort of busyness. There is the excitement of being around such good people, and the blessing of having workshops where the teaching heals, then hurts, then heals again. There is the running about town, in this city of guitars and cowboy hats, and Elvis Presley t-shirts everywhere. There is deliciously warm weather, in contrast to the still wintery midwest that I've just left. And there is the fellowship of the saints.

Last night I, after a long day, I got to hang out with a room full of women. There are things I'd love to tell you about this gathering, but I must say, with a good deal of irony, most of what happened last night is a matter of, "what happens in Nashville, stays in Nashville." It was that kind of fun.

These women are broads. Big, brassy, loud and sassy. Also, quiet and quick, sure, and yet soft and vulnerable. I was blessed to find myself sitting in their presence, soaking up stories, sipping more wine, laughing out loud. Oh, it was sweet fellowship.

I would have never thought in my holier than thou past that the company of such sisters would be a soothing balm. They are so very real. They remind me of people in the bible--people who loved God, but weren't afraid to be real about the holiness that they both seek, and lack. Why can't we all be that honest. We are the chief of sinners, each one of us, but some of us wear the mask of prideful "look how righteous I am" so much that we believe our own press. I am the worst offender in this regard.

Yes, God is a trickster. Some of these saints smoke cigarettes, and say 'shit', and tell colorful stories, but they love God enough to be here, seeking His face, stumbling toward Heaven, honest about the journey, and the pitfalls, and the perils. The people in this place--this bit of holy ground, they are poised to receive grace in spades.

Bring it on, O good God. Bid us to come.
raga

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

SCE 1 (Sister Chicks Emerging) Pass the Wine

I'm here.

Nashville.

From the penthouse suite I'm typing this in, I can see what looks like the whole city. I think I can see Ohio from here. The city lights pulsate with an energy that I miss in my beloved Ann Arbor. Lori and I are visiting with Mark, who makes me laugh like I've known him for ever.

We sip wine and smoke cigars, and have wonderful conversation. The world gets wider because I'm here. I am an unlikely presence. But I belong.

Another Mark here tells me that it is a poor, black, woman who will be the voice of Christ in this time. This is not a conversation that I have ever had with another human being. I feel strange and wonderful, uplifted and let the feeling that I really can change the world settle over me like a mantle passed by a man of God.

I belong here.

I find a community, in a pierced tattoed white male ministry president, and his quirky, funny cigar smoking sister, and a homeschooling neo hippie whose clothing are chosen by the Spirit. This is the smartest, most profound, deliciously funny group of people I've had the pleasure of sitting and kickin' it with in a long, long time.

Jesus is in our midst. I see Him in their faces. I hear him in their voices. I sense Him in their love and generosity.

He pours me more wine, and offers me chocolate. He restores my soul.

I belong here.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Sister Chicks Emerging

I'm off to Nashville, TN! Lori and I are hitting the road. We're off to the Emergent YS Convention. Thanks, Marko!

Weeeeeeeeeeee!!!!

So, tune in next week, 'cause this week I'll be computer free.

I'll tell you all about it when I get back. And hey, pray for traveling mercies for us.

Much love,
rags

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Naked and Ashamed

Sometimes, I don't trust my own words. My last blog entry left me feeling raw and exposed, and I've avoided coming back for fear that I've shown you too much of me.

Once, I had a baby. He was stillborn. Tiny enough to fit in the palm of my hand. When I first saw him, right out of the womb, I looked, then turned my face from him. He was so tiny. He was so undone. It was like I was seeing something that only God should see.

I felt like I told something only God should hear. Some of you have said that my story can set others free, but I have to wonder. Maybe women like me sit weaving their collective silences into a tapestry to keep us safe and warm. Maybe there's a reason that Jesus said, "Tell no one." Maybe telling raises the stakes too high, or brings them down too low.

A few days ago, my son came to me, the boy I wrote about. He said he read my blog at school, and for a moment, neither of us said anything. I waited for him to tell me how disappointed he was. How I revealed terrible family secrets. How I wrote about his father and he felt violated. But that's not what he said. He said, "You must have a great destiny. You've been through so much."

I don't feel like I have a great destiny. I feel as fragile as a christmas bulb. Drop me and I break into hundreds of tiny, yet colorful pieces, never to be whole again. Ever.

I don't know. I just feel like when I wrote that last entry, I left a safety zone I use to feel here, and I'm not sure how to fix it.

So what do I do, when I come here, feeling like Eve, banished from the Tree of Life, naked, and ashamed? How 'bout pray? And praying the psalms, even better.

Psalms 23

The Lord is my shepherd,
I shall not want;
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me besides still waters;
He restores my soul.
He leads me in the path of righteousness
for His names sake.
Even though I walk through
the valley of the shadow of death.
I fear no evil,
for Thou art with me,
Thy rod and Thy staff,
they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
Thou anointest my head with oil,
my cup runneth over,
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me,
all the days of my life;
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
forever.

Ah, now that feels better. Maybe I'll see you here again. Maybe not. We'll see, beloved. We'll see.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Two Things

I read my friend Lisa Samson's book Tiger Lillie tonight, and it was one of those books that affected me on so many levels. I kept crying. I mean, those oh-no-I-must-be-going-through-the-change-of-life crying things every 3o pages or so. She just kept breaking my heart, and piecing it back together with characters real enough to be my best friends, plenty of love, sour cream and paprika, and the color orange.

I sat here after I read, with my heart split in two, once again remembering those painful years of abuse. I never wanted to tell those stories, but when I hurt so, I can't keep them in. Maybe that's why it took me so long before I could seem to get a hold of a copy. Maybe God knew I wasn't ready.

So friends, let me tell you a story or two. Help me to cleanse and heal.

There are two things I'm remembering tonight. One is the day I left him. I was pregnant. New pregnant, about four months along. This was when I trusted my body to have a baby. I'd had one hospital birth, and one home birth, and I felt like I could have a baby with the ease and grace of a gazelle. It was the one thing about me that I felt was wild and uncomplicated, and that he couldn't control.

It was that damned book that set him off. Some awful thing, that made it sound like black women were evil incarnate. The author, if you can call him that, said that black men should abandon us. He himself had an Asain wife. I read that book (he required it), and I remember that I cried when I finished. I didn't understand that kind of unmasked hate. Written by a black man, it rivaled anything the KKK would come up with. He loved it.

By this time, it was near the end, and it didn't take much for him to start slapping me around. I don't even remember what I'd done. It didn't matter. Things had gone so far, that what I did was meaningless. What I was was the problem.

He got mad at me, and slapped me. And I said something. I don't know what now. He slapped me again, and he just kept slapping me, until I told him, with that dead seriousness, and I do mean dead, that if he hit me again, I would kill him. And I meant it.

Of course, he hit me, again.

And I picked up a butcher knife, ready to do what I had to do. I remember standing there calculating this. I cared nothing about going to jail. This is it, I thought. I've got one chance. I'd better make it good, because I don't injure the hell out of him or kill him dead in one stab, he will kill me. I will die today, or he will. That's it.

His hand slammed into my jaw again, and I got ready to kill or be killed, and for some reason, I don't know what, but I looked just briefly away, and I saw my babies, My sweet little boy of 4, and my little baby girl who couldn't even walk yet, and they were quiet with those wide terrified eyes, and I felt so damned tired and I was so very sorry that I threw that knife across the room, and told him I was sorry. I was sorry that I made him hit me. Pregnant me.

He had deadbolts on the door that used a key, and he locked us inside the house. I took 20 dollars or so that I had hidden, and wrapped it in plastic and inserted it in my body like a tampon. I put my social security card and my drivers license in the pocket of my dress. I had on the wine colored, Indonesian batik one, and a pair of thong sandals. I started my life over with that outfit, my two pieces of ID, and money hidden in my most secret place. I was sitting by the door when he got home, and I said, "I'm leaving. He kept the kids as hostages. When I walked away, after he'd frisked me, I heard him telling my babies, the only thing that kept me with him, that I didn't love them and that I was leaving them. I kept walking. I just kept walking.

I walked all over Mt. Ranier. I called the safe house and they didn't have any room for me. I called my family, and they found a way to get me home. Without my babies. I left them to save my life. I left my babies.

I lost the child I carried a week later.

The other story.

It was early in our relationship. My son was 10 months old, and my daugter, was still a twinkle in her mama's eyes. I worked with him. We were vendors. We did everything from set up on the street, to vending at little events on campuses, and festivals and fairs. We sold African stuff. And some Asain artifacts.

We were at George Mason University. I was working with a new guy he was training. I had fasted for 5 days. and I was nursing my son. I was tired, and let's face it, I'm no tiger lady. A young woman found a nice little way to steal from me. The police caught her. I didn't. But that was no colsolation to him. I should have seen, I should have known. He called me everything but 'daughter of God' on the way back to Maryland. He raged the entire night at me. He called all of his friends and told them about me. Finally, I told him I heard every awful thing he had to say five times over and I was going to bed. He said no I'm not.

I said yes I was.

He told me if I didn't sit down and listen to him he would kill our baby. I thought, I know he's crazy, but he wouldn't hurt the baby. I really believed it.

Do you want to know the exact moment that I died inside. It was just after he snatched my son out of my arms, and walked to the second story window, and told me him would drop him out of the window if I didn't sit down.

I didn't sit down.

I didn't sit down.

I didn't sit down until he dangled my son by his feet outside of the window and I FINALLY realized he would drop my child. My first born on his head, and then I sat. I didn't believe him at first. Honest to God I didn't.

And he gave my baby back to me.

AND I STILL DIDN'T LEAVE AFTER THAT.

I'm sorry. Oh, God. I'm sorry, and you know what. I didn't get those years back. I didn't get that moment back. I let my son down so profoundly, and it killed me. It killed me. It killed me.

I'm still waiting for the resurrection.

Please, please, please.

Forgive me.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Life Imitates Art and Versa Visa

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.