Friday, October 28, 2005

The House of Hospitality

Through a series of graces, Ken and I found ourselves in Cleveland, Ohio yesterday. One of the Readers at my church was having car trouble and mentioned it to a priest, Father John Henry at St. Herman's Monastery. Father John told Andew that he had a car and that Andrew could have it as a gift. Then, Andrew didn't have car trouble any more, and he had an Ah Ha moment. "Ah Ha!" he said, "Claudia needs a car." And that is how we ended up in Cleveland yesterday.

It was an interesting trip. Andrew's car doesn't have any heat, and of course, it was wicked cold. All of us were bundled up, and I sat in the back seat, scruched up as much as can be acheived belted in the back of a 10 year old Escort. You all know that this is not my season, so there I was, curled into myself, certain that I would not survive the three and a half hours it would take to get there. Somehow, during my pondering freezing to death, I mercifully fell asleep, and when I woke up, we were there.

It was a big, Victorian house. It had a chapel inside. It was freakishly like the book I'm working on, only my book's Victorian house with the chapel inside is a community primarily for addicts. This one was for the homeless. It is an amazing place, and if you are ever in Cleveland, look up St. Herman's Monastery and House of Hospitality and give a little something for the work of the ministry. It is sustained by God's providence. They accept no government grant money.

We had to wait around a little while for Father John Henry to return with the car, and everyone, the residents and all, were so very gracious. They kept offering us coffee and food, and there was such a peaceful spirit in the place. Andrew took us to the chapel and we prayed from my prayer book, and later, when Father John Henry returned we sang some prayers and he anointed us with oil. We even got a mini homily. I was so moved.

They gave us a full tank of gas, and paid for the transfer of the car. Andrew followed us back until we got to Toledo, and then he gave us his cell number in case we had any problems. He would take care of our towing if we did. Subdeacon Robert helped us with the insurance. It was so much grace. Jesus at work through his people.

How does God's kingdom come? When we help each other.

It's a really nice car, too. And it has heat. Poor Andrew! :-( I'm sure my brother will be blessed for his loving sacrifice.

God is good. Isn't He? Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord!

On wheels,
Mair

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Waiting

I've never watched for the Advent. I'm not even sure if that's the right way to say it. Does one celebrate the Advent? Does one "do" the Advent? I don't know. I only know that I need to participate this year. I need to get an early start of it, too. I should have started today, when I longed for my pajamas at 4:00 pm, even though I didn't wake up until 2:00pm, wondering how I'll survive another winter. Or I can start right now, post chocolate binge, feeling bloated and ashamed. And the Orthodox Church doesn't even observe (?) Advent!

I read a lovely 15th century poem that appears in the book "Watch for the Light. Readings for Advent and Christmas." It's a great anthology, if you can find a copy. Here's the poem:

Lo, in the silent night
A child to God is born
And all is brought again
That ere was lost or lorn

Could but thy soul, O man,
Become a silent night!
God would be born in thee
And set all things aright.


I don't know about you, but my night seems very silent. As silent and dark and cold as that night so long ago when a teenaged girl gave birth to God. I don't hear angels singing though, not in my silent night. I don't draw shepherds or wise men bearing gifts, I just seem to be sitting here in the frigid dark, stuffing Hostess Ho Hos in my mouth. Hey that's ironic. No Santa, but I still get the ho ho hos.

But I digress.

In this moment, I'm out of chocolate. Most of the family is asleep, and I'm in my room alone typing. I sit here thinking of the poem, and silent nights without the calm and bright. How I am, as the poem says, both lost and lorn.

It's good to take a second, have a good, deep prayer infused breath, and remember the Child Begotten, not made of God. To cast my eyes toward Bethleham and sing my own song, softly, watching my breath pierce the black air with puffs of white moisture.

Breathing. In and out.

Waiting. Praying for patience.

Watching. For Sweet Jesus.

Looking for the sign.
A Child. A manger. A Star. A Savior born.
Born in me.
Setting all things wrong, aright.

Aright.

In this quiet, still and black night.

Mair

Friday, October 14, 2005

The Big Hunger

Yesterday I read something about the Sand People of the Kalahari. In their cosmology there is something called the Big Hunger. The Big Hunger is far larger than the little hunger that tells us it's time to eat. It lies deeper than the stomach. I think we all have the Big Hunger.

I have this hunger. Sometimes the Big Hunger is a very Big Hunger, clenching my insides, driving me to God. Sometimes I actually go to God. But, sometimes I don't, and I stay hungry and wanting, and dying for God's presence.

I believe that if we hunger and thirst after righteousness we will be filled. I'm thankful that I see the fruits of righteousness in my life. My kids can be so good sometimes. They make me so proud of them, and people say to me things like, "I can't believe how good they were in church this morning". I think of those kind words are a gift. A grace, really. In those moments I feel a sense of being filled. But, it doesn't eradicate the Big Hunger. That stays around, insistent and daring me to even try to act like I'm content.

I think David, the psalmist, knew the Big Hunger. I think when he said he panted for the courts of the Lord that is what he was talking about. I've been thinking of that Big Hunger all day. I seem to be so hungry, and I keep trying to eat, but nothing seems to satisfy me. Crunchy, salty, sweet, fatty, it doesn't matter. I have all these tastes, but they don't fill. They fill my belly alright, but apparently I'm experiencing the Big Hunger in a Big Way. And I can't eat my way out of it.

Maybe, it's the fall. The season when the depression hits like a force of nature, and all the worst of my habits are magnified. I don't sleep at night. I eat too much. I have no energy. My mind races, or slows to a dull hum as if all my thoughts were reduced to being background noise.

Yesterday, was one of those days that I wished that I were in Heaven. I wished that I could spend a few minutes with Jesus, face to face, and not have to worry about the troubles of this world.

But, as loneliness for God goes, I've got it pretty good. Isn't that what the Eucharist is all about? There is that part of the Divine Liturgy that almost always makes me cry. We sing, "Lay aside all earthly things," and I can hear the haunting voices of my brothers and sisters, even now, as I think of it. Lay aside all earthly things, for in a moment, we will be transported, and the Holy Spirit will do this amazing thing, and suddenly, in the chalise, will be Christ. And we will partake of Him.

And for a while, He will fill us. Until we find ourselves back to our lives, working and playing and toiling and sleeping, and somehow we get through the week, until Friday night, when the Big Hunger stuns us with it's intensity.

Oh, Lord Jesus. Just a minute of your time. I'm so hungry, Jesus. I'm so very sad.

Mair

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Fill Us.

I'm gaining weight.

Not a couple of pounds of water retention weight. I'm talking blueberry girl on Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory weight.

The other night, I had a real love fest going on with food. I think I ate everything edible in the house. I may have consumed a few inedibles as well. I don't talk about this much, but many years ago I was bulimic. I don't even want to get into how very sick that is. It's still a sore spot in my soul. When I stopped purging, I became what is called a compulsive eater. I could eat myself sick seeking some sense of fullness that eluded me otherwise. Food was my drug of choice, and without the purge part of the vicious cycle my weight ballooned.

I'm thinking of these things this morning, before I've taken my first bite of food. When I first became Orthodox I struggled to keep the regular fast days; Wednesday, Friday, and before the sacrament of Holy Communion. I haven't fasted for months, and I don't even know what happened. I just seemed to stop thinking about it, and then stopped doing it, but I miss it. It's good to say no to your body on a regular basis. You never know when you will need the strength of saying no at another more crucial time.

Do you ever think about the language we use to describe the things of God? We say we are filled with the Holy Spirit, but not FULL of the Holy Spirit. Do you think it means the same thing being filled and being full? It seems different, doesn't it. When I think of being filled, it seems like it's a process, but being full seems a little more final to me. I don't know about you, but I'll take either, however, if I had a choice in the matter, I think I'd rather be FULL of the Holy Spirit.

Full means I don't need food to eradicate feeling sad, or lonely. Full means I don't have to fret over money or my future. Full means I just write, and proposals fly right out of my head and onto my word processor. Full means no more empty. No more places were God's presence seems AWOL.

I don't feel Full, and it's good to be honest about that.

So, what's a girl to do when she doesn't feel full, and she wants to stop medicating the sad and the scared with the bread of this world, instead of the Bread of Life? One obvious choice is to partake of the Holy Supper. If I had to choose one thing, and one thing alone as the reason that I am Orthodox, it would be the Eucharist. Yes, Lord, to eat of your flesh and drink of your blood. The mystery that is unspeakable. I will stay Orthodox for that alone. But I don't partake of Him everyday, and what of Monday? What of the other days of the week, stretching out before me, seeming endless and empty?

That is when I wish I were Full: when I don't hear Father Leo's big booming tenor, or the sweet harmonies of our choir serving up the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom every Sunday morning.

Maybe God doesn't really want us to be Full this side of Heaven. Maybe, it's best that we are being filled, so that we continue to abide in the Vine. So that we keep our empty tin cups that are our bodies before him. I don't know.

Just fill us, Lord. Not with food or drink or drug, but fill us with Your Spirit. Your Precious Spirit that is God. We are hungry, Lord. We are thirsty. You promised that if we hungered and thirsted for righteousness you would fill us.

Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee,
God of glory, Lord of love;
Hearts unfold like flow'rs before Thee,
Op'ning to the sun above.
Melt the clouds of sin and sadness;
Drive the dark of doubt away;
Giver of immortal gladness,
Fill us with the light of day.

Amen,
Mair

Sunday, October 09, 2005

The Void

Tonight I'm thinking about what I heard a writer call "the void." He was talking about spiritual matters, and "the void" was a spiritual thing. Think of it as a deep, cavernous empty space, but I'll get back to that.

I thought about Mother Theresa. Did you know that when she first got the call to go to India she was ecstatic. Never was her relationship with God more blissful. I think of Mother, singing a praise song to God that nearly rivals the Magnificat. Yeah. It was good like that.

She went to India to work with the suffering Christ in all His distressing disguises, and do you know what happened next?

C'mon, take a guess. She is on the mountaintop, hearing from God to do this great work. She obeys with joy and then...

Well, it was then that God went silent, and she didn't his feel His presence like that for 50 years.

That's a long time to go without the warm fuzzies of the faith.

Sometimes, I ask myself if I could endure that. Fifty years! God is so good. He gives me a whole lot of warm fuzzies. Maybe, it's because I was (still am, truth be told) Pentecostal. I needed a God I could feel. I came to Christ in a Pentecostal church. I think God knew that would be a good jumping off point for me. So, warm fuzzies, a little shout, arms lifted, hands raised, palms up--these are the things that I used to draw closer to the God who drew close to me. And sometimes, when I'm in church feeling His presence, it's like the Holy Spirit is hugging me. It's a blessed, blessed thing when He comes like that.

Maybe He reveals Himself to me like that because I'm so immature spiritually that He has to show up, sprinkling glory like tiny squares of golden glitter on me. I don't know. What I do know is that I'm loved, in sun and rain, darkness and light. I don't always act like I know, but I do. I wouldn't be here if I didn't.

Lately, God has been quiet. I don't feel spiritual butterflies, or get warm Holy Spirit fuzzies. I try to go on about my business, doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with my God. I miss it, though. I miss feeling the Spirit.

Which brings me back to the void. Some of us live in the void. Some sincere, loving, amazing Christians never get a warm fuzzy in their entire life. They never feel any tangible presence of God, and yet, they are assured He is with them. Maybe it's like a pregnant woman and her unborn. The child is within the mother, nourished by her, tasting what she tastes, the spices, the sweetness, the sour, and the salt. What the mother has, is given also to the baby. What our Father God has, He gives to us. Isn't that a comforting thought, that we are nourished and sustained by a Holy Spirit umbilical cord to the Father (Julian of Norwich believed Jesus to be in some ways our Mother God). I know, that's some interesting family dynamics, but I'd gladly take Jesus any way He wants to give Himself.

But back to the void. I would be lying if I said that I'm always up. By no means do I live on the mountain top, but it's rare that I don't think God is with me. I have my doubtful moments. I've had voids so black and empty that it was a strain for me to want to keep on living. But here's the thing I read in that book: Love is in the center of the void. We are not without God. He is always around, even when we cannot sense him with either physical or spiritual sensors. What we think of as a void, maybe just the thing God will speak to in, just like in Genesis. His "Let there be light" can come anytime, and when He does speak, we emerge from the void brand new.

Now, isn't that grand?

Mair

Monday, October 03, 2005

Miracles

I came to the faith during what I like to think of as the last of the Big Healing Crusade ministries. I cut my spritual teeth doing two things: obsessing about Bible tracts--my favorites were Jack T. Chick's and Faith, Prayer and Tract Leagues! But, I also watched the healing ministries of Peter Popoff, V.W. Grant, Oral Roberts, and Jimmy Swaggert.

I remember those first days of knowing Jesus, when the wind of the Holy Spirit blew mightily, and God could do anything. Anything! No doubts. I believed every thrown down cane or pair of crutches. I made pilgrimages to downtown Detroit with Rita and her grandmother, and we used to go to tapings of the local show, Faith for Miracles, and to Liberty Temple. There were stacks of canes and crutches in the corner at Liberty, a testimony of God's healing power. I had stacks of W.V. Grant's booklets. The masses were being healed.

Right?

Well, lets just say that some of these ministries were challenged not too long after I became a Christian. There was the news stories of Robert Tilton and Peter Popoff exposing their frauds and lavish lifestyles. Jim Bakker's affair and imprisonment. Jimmy Swaggerts dirty little secrets, and Oral Roberts telling us God would kill him if we didn't send him millions. I watched my illusions fade just as I was coming into womanhood, and even now, it saddens me when I see what Robert Tilton has become. There he is, older now, grayer, with the same old spiel for money. And then he speaks in tongues and it sounds like, "homina, homina, homina". And I changed the channel.

I've had enough time to think about these things. It's not 1980 any more. I'm older, too. Grayer, and while my spiel has changed, it hasn't changed that much. I woke up the other day, and I could hear that the television in the living room had Peter Popoff on. My 27 year old son and my 32 year old nephew were watching, and nephew was spitting venom, and I was annoyed. He was criticizing the people supporting Popoff, and apparently there was an old woman being "healed." "There it is," I could hear Popoff proclaim. And then my nephew's proclaimations about what a crock that was. "She probably could walk like that anyway". And I lie in my bed, imagining this old. black woman, crippled with arthritis, tossing her walker, and praising the Lord. She'd probably need that walker later. It made me sad.

I stood in a lot of healing lines trying to get rid of Asthma and bad eyesight. In the eighties, in the Word of Faith movement, you were supposed to claim everything, like God was a demanding accountant, and you'd really miss out if you didn't claim everything on your taxes. I still have 20/300 vision, but the Asthma isn't so bad. Fibromyalgia and migraines were a very unpleasant surprise that came later. Don't even make me talk about bipolar disorder.

Anyway, I still ask God for help, but I don't toss my specs. I believe God heals people, and certainly He's always "able", but it's pretty clear that he doesn't do it right away all the time.

I started this blog when I was in the beginnnings of an emotional affair with my first love. That was last Spring. It's been more than a year, and I don't have any contact with Joe anymore. None! But I had this dream about him tonight. We were at my house. I don't know why Ken wasn't in the dream, but he wasn't. And Joe put his arms around me and said, "Let's just be in love here." It was a bad dream.

When I wrote the first blog entry here, it was about Joe. By the fourth entry, I was crying my eyes out as Jesus walked me through a painful incident between us, and I felt so sure I'd been healed. I threw my love for Joe crutches away, and they were stacked in God's corner. I'd never feel any forbidden feelings for him again.

But it wasn't so.

Still, I dream of him. I have asked God to take away any feelings that I have, but they persist. I love my husband, and my life with him, and I wish all thoughts of Joe would disappate. He doesn't deserve the attention I've given him, but he doesn't disappear. I still have him like I have bad eyes and still get asthma attacks if it rains too much. In truth, God did heal me that day, but it was like phase I of the healing. I didn't know I'd still be in spiritual surgery over this more than a year later.

Sometimes, I wonder if God doesn't instantly heal me because I keep going back to Him when I hurt. Or maybe, He sees all the layers of me, and wants me to see for myselves how complicated I am. How truly fearfully and wonderfully made I am. Maybe, He wants to show me that He is there when I awaken and feel terrible, like my heart and brain have betrayed me. Maybe He wants to show me that He will deal with tricky subconscious mind games with the same love in which He cradles me when I wrap my fingers around my inhaler, take a few puffs, breathe, and my lungs begin to expand again. I'm not just breathing albuterol, I'm breathing in grace, and a good measure of healing from God, too.

Sometimes, we get a big miracle. The blind see. The deaf hear. Sometimes the dead rise. Other times, we just walk with God. He soothes us when we ache, catches us when we fall, and lets us know that when we have bad dreams, we'll be okay, and that whatever is happening is not outside of His care and provision. And then we rest, knowing God is with us, God is with us, God is with us. That is healing. It may not be whole--it's healing. The miracle is that God is actually in a relationship with us, and cares.

God cares for us.

I'll take it.

Mair

Saturday, October 01, 2005

if you're interested...

Lately I've been feeling like I've gotten away from what I originally started blogging for, and it grieves my soul. I've been doing book reviews and talking about things in my writing career, when this isn't really about that. I came here to deal with my pilgrim journey--the journey of a ragamuffin diva: struggler, sinner, shameless lover of Jesus. I stuck with that mostly, but I do feel I've veered off the course. So, I've decided to start another blog. God help me!

The new blog is for me as a writer. It's ragawritergirl.blogspot.com. You can find a link to it right on my profile here. If you're interested in writerly newsy things, book reviews, and writer interviews, you'll find it there. Here, I'm going back to what I did best at ragamuffin diva: share my journey, and point the way to Jesus. Look for my dot coms soon, for both raga-d and writer girl.

Again, for now the writer blog is: http://ragawritergirl.blogspot.com

Thanks for your patience with me.

Your ragamuffin diva,
Mair

Cement

Sometimes, it's easy for me to try to trap God inside my head. There He is, having this running (and constant) dialogue with me. Well, sometimes, it's a monologue, because I have those times in which I grow silent and sullen on Him.

I long for taking Him out of the inside of me, and putting Him on my altar. I'd like to be able to make and keep a rule of prayer. I'd like for Him to stand present in my icons, and sit at the table with me when I have a meal. Yes, I know He really is with me, playing in thousands of places, being magnificently omnipresent, and yet, there are times when I feel so lonely for Him, as if He's not there at all.

I read this prayer:

Let there be no gap between Christ and us.
If there is any gap, immediately we perish...

(I feel like I perish several times a day, but back to the prayer.)

For the building stands because it is cemented together.
Let us not then merely keep hold of Christ,
but let us be cemented to Him.
Let us cleave to Him by our work.
He is the Head, we are the body.
He is the Foundation. We are the building.
He is the Vine. We are the branches.
He is the Bridegroom. We the bride.
He is the Shepherd. We are the sheep.
He is the Way. We walk in it.
Again, we are the temple. He the indweller.
He is the Only Begotten. We the brothers and sisters.
He is the Heir. We the heirs together with Him.
He is the Life. We the living.
He is the Resurrection. We those who rise again.
He is the Light. We, the enlightened.

Yeah. Imagine that; we the enlightened. That's good stuff. That's St. John Crysostom, a 4th century Father. I think Chrysostom knew this Christ as everpresent, but even coming from him it seems like work. I don't think it feels that way because Christ is so ready to pack up and leave us. A cursory glance at the Psalms is a testimony to God loving us when we are often at our worst. I think it is just that we are so very human, and He is so Very God. We forget how loved we are, how lovely and winsome this Christ is, and how tenaciously He clings to us. He makes it easy to cement. If we would only remember His ever and comfort giving presence.

Thank you, Holy Spirit. You have a big job in being our comforter. I'm glad you're a big God. Thanks for your constancy, even we I am unfaithful.

Looking for evidence of cement,
Mair