Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Celery and Onions, and Thanksgiving

Isn't it funny how smells can be so evocative? There are smells I'll always remember--the smell of Ken wearing Aspen when we first fell in love, and he didn't have money for better cologne. My father's leather jacket. Each of my children as newborn babies, and breast milk on their breath.

Every Thanksgiving brings my mother, now gone to be with Jesus, back to my house. I am transported to the big metal 50's style kitchen table we had. I sit, a little girl, chopping celery and onions for the stuffing. The air is warm from cooking, and full of expectancy. Cornbread from scratch bakes in the oven. A pot of greens boils on the stove. It is always the night before Thanksgiving.

Each year I sit at the table and I think of her. I still chop the celery while the cornbread bakes, but I make my dear husband chop the onions! I remember all those Thanksgiving dinners when I was a child. I remember how that day and Christmas, rooted us in tradition. We had so few roots back then. We had so little happiness, but there was never unhappiness at Thanksgiving.

I saw a picture of Mama hanging in my little girls room. My sister is here, temporarily. That picture, taken so many years ago, belongs to her. Me, I've lost all kinds of pictures, moving, evictions, instability. I don't have a picture of her. So, I stood there staring at her image. This beautiful woman, with the sun gold fair skin, and the high cheekbones that hint at her Cherokee ancestry. Her hair waving down the sides of her face--the hair I used to comb when she could be bothered with me fussing with her hair. How I miss her in my own house now, with my own little girls--the house smelling of celery and onions. Of mustard and turnip greens, and of cornbread made from scratch.

Today, I wrote a friend and wish her a happy holiday, but she wasn't doing well. I had to apologize because I didn't think of how holidays are so hard for some of us. So, I am thankful, that all of my thanksgivings for the past few years have been blessed. I am thankful that even though my home is not perfect, there is great love to smooth all that ails. I am thankful that my sister is here this year, and that I could see my mama's picture. I am thankful for the first snow storm today, and for memories of jumping in 12 inches of snow in my red, white and blue snowsuit one day before thanksgiving, so many years ago.

I am grateful for sappy movies and television specials, for Christmas music, and my desire to put up the tree. I am grateful for kids I can be proud of, friends that love without reservation, a husband who is crazy about me, and for a parish that has accepted and adores us, and gave us two, count 'em, two turkeys! With all the trimmings! I am thankful the Archbishop lets us break the Nativity fast to celebrate Thanksgiving. I am thankful to God, watching over us all. I am grateful for everything, the gains, the losses, the triumphs and failures, because we are never, ever, alone. The Lord goes with us. And we must go with God.

I am thankful for YOU!

Now, go! And have a great holiday.

Love,
Mair

Sunday, November 20, 2005

My Friend, My Gift

I want to tell you about my friend. I met her when I was good and pregnant with Nia Grace. These were dark days. It wasn't long after my last suicide attempt, and it was during the time when Ken's drug use was raging. I'd also given birth to a stillborn baby less than a year previously. I was caring for my mother who had Alzheimers disease. I was one sad woman.

I had the children in tow, and my mother. We'd starting going to this large, wonderful church, but it was predominately white. We were, at that time, one of two African American families, and I didn't know the other family. I didn't really know anyone but Pastor Rob, who had helped me right after I'd had the stillborn baby. The love of Christ in him drew me to that church.

Evette spotted me at some fellowship function, and God told her to go and talk to me. I will always be grateful to God for telling her that, and grateful to Evette for obeying. You see, Evette's friendship has blessed me far more than mine has blessed her. Evette is grace in a 4'11 package.

Me, I'm a loner, with a bonifide diagnosis with a social phobia. I don't have many friends, and I don't visit with girlfriends much. I am not even that social here at home. You can often find me in my bedroom, and it takes a lot to draw me out of my own dreamy world. But Evette can. She's always been that way.

Lately, she's been tired. I wrote this because I wanted her to know something, and I think it is from God: if there were a gift of friendship, Evette possesses it in spades. God uses her to draw people like me out of our hard, selfish shells. She engages me in a way that few people have, and I treasure her.

Evette, don't change. Take your weariness to Jesus--the God man of easy yoke and light burden. The grace you give quite naturally is a light to us spiritual cave dwellers. Without you, and the gift of friendship you offer, my life would have turned out very differently. What a difference you made. You are from God, and I love you.

I am not the friend you are. You teach me. You show me the way. I don't deserve you, but somehow, you hang in there with me. You were the one birthday card I got many years. You were the weekend phone call, even though you were hundreds of miles away. You were the first at the hospital after babies were born. The one who gave me a sugar bear, and your mother's pearl earrings. You were the one to call when he'd stayed out all night, or was gone for two days with the car. You were the crazy woman with the racy jokes, the one who in the milk aisle in the grocery store, when I said I use both lactaid and cow's milk, you said, LOUD, "So you go both ways?" You were the one who on a day full of dreams, let me by my first set of bedroom furniture with your credit card. You were the friend who didn't let money stand in the way when I didn't pay you until a year after I was supposed to. You were unexpected Christmas gifts, and the glass casserole dish I still cook in. You were Baskin Robbins ice cream (but now you are Starbucks in the summertime). You are the one who I can't write a poem about, because my meager words don't do justice describing that kind of love.

Thank you, gift from the Father, wonderful mother, Godmother to the baby girls, friend that sticks closer than a sister. Thank you for loving me for nine whole years. Thanks you for teaching me through your unmerited favor, how Jesus is. I believe you will have many rewards for what you are to people, but hopefully, you'll get some way before heaven. This is such a small offering, to such a big-hearted friend, but accept it anyway. I know you will, that's the kind of woman you are.

And yes, honey, I'm crying, too! ;-)
I'll always love you.
your friend,
Claudia

Saturday, November 19, 2005

The Baptism

"If you mold her (your child) completely in ths way, you will save not only her, but also the husband who will marry her, not only the husband but the children, not only the children but also the grandchildren. For when the root becomes good, the shoots are outstretched toward what is better, and for all these you will receive the reward. Therefore, let us do all things so as to help not one soul alone, but many through the one."

St. John Chrysostom

I don't think we could have been more excited if we were going to Disney World today. Oh, the devil didn't like it. We had trouble with the brakes on the car, and a few of us seemed cranky and argumentive, but I kept trusting God, saying, let's just stay positive and enjoy the blessings of this day. We made it to Detroit in one piece, and everyone was surprised that we'd gotten there so early.

First, a meeting with Father Leo, and then to the bathroom to put the children's white Robes of Gladness and Righteousness on--bathing suits underneath. You should have seen them with their little white robes, especially Clare Bella. They looked like they'd just stepped out of heaven. Little monks! With white cords tied at their waists. So, cute. I just wanted to kiss them! But we had work to do.

They stood at the door of the church, just as I did when I was Chrismated. It's symbolic for being outside of the church, and then, after they had rejected Satan, spit on him, yes, they had to spit! I love that, spitting on that worm, and joined themselves to Christ, declared him King and God, and worshipped the Trinity, One in essence and undivided, they came inside.

This was unlike any baptism I've ever seen. It was so beautiful. Many prayers were said over them, as we who witness did the work of Liturgy. We sang, we prayed, we worshiped. They were censed with incense, they were marched around the baptismal pool. And then, in the name of the Father, Pachuump, and in the name of the Son, Pachuump, and in the name of the Holy Spirit, Pachuump, they died with Christ, and were raised with him as in the resurrection.

More prayers, lovely prayers, and worship, and then my babies received the greatest of mysteries, the blood and the body of Christ.

Such grace in the room, such a sweet presence of God. After that, more prayers, and then Father Leo tenderly took them, one by one, by the hand, and showed them the icons of Jesus, and John the Baptist (I LOVE him) and The Mother of God with baby Jesus, and St. Raphael, the patron saint of the church.

I am crying as I write this, remembering. This was by far, next to my wedding, and being received into the church myself, the best thing I've ever experienced. I don't even have the words to describe the rich beauty of this rite. You had to be there. Like Jesus, it was altogether lovely.

After that they were presented as the newest members of our church. Ken and I were so proud. And Father Leo thought they did a great job. Their Godparents, subdeacon Robert, and Patricia, our dear deacon's wife gave them all crosses. Dr. Jane gave them gorgeous icons of the Theotokos, and they also got their own little prayer books. Pat gave me a copy of a book by one of my favorite Orthodox writers, Anthony Coniaris--this was a book I've been wanting for weeks. In my prayer book, was a little icon card of St. Sophia and her three daughters Faith, Hope and Love. Because three of my daughters were baptized, this was especially meaningful. I was so moved by this icon, that had I gotten it earlier, their Christian names would have been Faith, Hope, and Love. I kid you not! Already Nia Grace has Faith as one of her middle names.

We had vegetarian chili, humus and taboule and a cake with all their Christian names on it. We broke bread together, and celebrated. I'm so happy. Not even the car breaking down as soon as we got home could shake my joy.

Thank you Lori R., Gina, Allison and Maggie, Alton and Dr. Jane for coming to share the day with us. Thank you Evette, Lori P. and Marilynn, Heather and Bonnie for your prayers and comments. And thank all of you lurkers for listening to my ramblings here. God bless you all.

Much love,
Mair

Friday, November 18, 2005

Pachuump! Pachuump! Pachuump!

We sat in Father Leo's office for the meeting the children would have with him before they would receive the holy sacrament of baptism. I approached this meeting with something like fear and trembling. I didn't know what to expect. I certainly didn't feel like I'd done a great job in preparing them. They know the basics. They love Jesus. They can make the sign of the cross. They make it through the Divine Liturgy Sunday after Sunday without much protest, and I always get compliments for how well behaved they are. They even stop to venerate the icons.

So, there we are, in Father Leo's office, and I have no idea what he's going to ask or tell them. All that nervousness was for nothing, however. Father Leo is a delighful man, and he has a way with not just kids, but everybody. He told them that baptism was a grace. We don't have to earn the right to be baptised. That blessed me. He talked with them about where they would begin--at the door of the church. He told them what they'd wear, and that he'd gotten a big tub just for them. And then came the fun part.

Abeje, my 14 year old incredibly particular daughter, had the misfortune of being seated right next to Father Leo. I should tell you that he is an amazing, loving man. The Avis priest is what he calls himself, and his motto: I try harder. He loves to hug and touch you when you chat. He's just a love bug like that, but my Abbie. She doesn't like to hug. Do not touch her. Stay out of her room. So, Abbie is next to him, and he's just loving on her, and everyone in my family is thinking about how much Abbie hates to be touched--unless she invites you to. But the child is poise and grace, and a really good sport. Finally, Father Leo tells them that they will be triple immersed.

One for the Father, and he takes Abbie's head and dips it down toward the table. Trust me, this was hilarious for us. With that dip he said, "Pachuump!"

And one for the Son, (head dip)
Pachuump!

And one for the Holy Spirit (one more head dip, poor Abbie!)
Pachuump!

All week long when we practised the questions they'll be asked in the rite, such as, "Do you reject Satan, and all his works, and all his servants, and all his pride? And their answering, "I do reject him!" We always ended up once all the questions were asked and answered with:

Pachuump!
Pachuump!
Pachuump!
And then we laugh like crazy.

The service is Saturday. If you remember us, say a prayer for my children using their new Christian baptismal names:
Abbie is Maria, her patron saint, the Theotokos
Kamau is Gabriel, his patron saint, Gabriel the Archangel
Nia Grace is Frances, her patron saint, Francis of Assisi
and Aziza is Clare Bella, her patron saint, Clare of Assisi.

Pachump! Pachuump! Pachuump!
Have a great weekend. :-)

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Death of a Blonde: A Sacramental Hair Tale

I met her near the end of the summer when we still had those long, languid August days that stretch out and yawn 'til almost 10 pm. I needed her. I needed her sunshine hair to keep winter away. That's when I fold into myself. That's when the frost covers my soul. Every winter season that passes a little bit more of me dies. She was a welcome diversion.

Time soldiered on and I turned 41 on the day September was born. She still delighted me then. She kept me awake and fighting, and I called her blondilocks. That September, blondes really did have more fun. I can testify to that.

By October the darkness crept closer. Her roots sprung up, black as earth, reminding her of fallow ground, of death, and of burial. I knew it wouldn't be long, but I didn't want to let her go.

Yesterday, I found myself in the coolest place. It was an art gallery, bookstore, natural hair salon, boutique, and bath and body shop. It was all in one building, and it didn't even have walls to separate the business. You can see all around, and the women who run the place, all dreadlocked and fine, conducted their businesses like a well-oiled machine. It was cooperative, affirming, and beautiful. It smelled good, too. A place like that inspires a woman to take care of herself. I'd have stayed for hours, but I had all my girls with me, and Aziza and Abeje were getting restless. Nia wanted to sit outside and watch the pigeons. She said "They have human immunity." I still have no idea what she meant. I pulled them all together, and finally we got out of there. But I wished to go back as soon as I hustled them out the door. Something good and winsome hovers there, and I wanted to be a part of it.

By the time I got home, I knew it was time to say goodbye. So, I made some reSOULutions and worked up my courage. It wouldn't be long.

Today, I got to meet the Archbishop Nathaniel of the Detroit and Romanian Orthodox Episcopate. It was such an honor. What a kind and holy man. We had attended a lovely reception in his honor. Ken was with me, and it was a rare time for us to be alone. As we were leaving, I went into the mirror and looked at my reflection. The blond hair seemed so odd and out of place. It almost felt obscene, and I wondered what happened to me. This woman I saw was not authentically me.

I'm no longer the woman clutching summer by any means necessary. I've changed. I 've grown. I'm brand new. I wanted to look beautiful and natural for a very special event that will take place on Saturday. So, when I returned home I took a pair of scissors and said goodbye to blondilocks. I snipped them one by one, lifting handfuls of fuzzy blond dreadlocks off of the sink. It felt good. It felt like it did last year, when Eric said, "Do you want to keep your hair," and I said, "I won't be taking it with me." Not on the journey I've begun, even if I just started today.

I feel light, and natural, and free. The dreadlocks that took me all year to grow are gone, as are the crinkly curls that had not quite become locks yet. All that hair, that brash, blond hair that kept me from disappearing into winter before my time is gone. I see my face, clearly. I see the soft cap of black with a touch of gray waves covering my head. I see me more clearly, and I see God more clearly. Who can ask for more than that?

Sometimes, a girl just have to simplify, cut out what she's outgrown or outrun, and open her heart to God.

I'm just a simple ragamuffin who loves the Lord. The hair was just another way to be afraid. Shorning my hair almost always gives me a boost. Begin again, walk easy, be natural, love without reservations. Be authentic.

Okay. I'm listening God. Speak to me.

So, here I am, shorn and worn, but lighter. More peaceful. You can see me, and not my hair screaming look at me! All of these things I'm experiencing are the fruit of one simple sacrament: the letting go of hair.

Goodnight, beloved.
Mair

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Andrew Greely's Honest Prayers

I've been reading a book by Andrew Greely. I think he writes mysteries, but this book wasn't a mystery. It was a prayer journal, called Love Affair, A Prayer Journal.

I found it at the Ann Arbor District Library book sale. They have the sale ongoing for part of the year, on Saturdays and Sundays, I think. I'd already found a stack of really cool books, but I had this thought to take one more look at the religious section. I think it was a Holy Spirit nudge. That's when I found it.

I got it home and curled up in bed with it. Wow. These were prayers that he wrote in a year's time. That year he experienced the deaths of several friends. He got very sick himself, and he was very busy writing novels, traveling, speaking. I was moved by his generosity in praying for others. What amazed me, was the tenderness in these prayers. His journal prayers were written to My Love. He talked to God as he would a woman lover. It is a wonderful book. One interesting thing I saw was that some of the prayers were made for a novel, and others were his own journals, and the novel prayers moved him to create the journal prayers.

Greely is a priest, so there are a lot of honest prayers that are critical of the leadership in the Catholic church. I was moved by his struggle with doubts and fears. His prayers were so personal. So intimate. He took everything to God. Everything. He loved God. He also suffered a major depression that had a seasonal component. I so related to that. Here is one of the prayers for the novel, but it was sooo good for me:

PRAYER ON THE LAST SUNDAY IN OCTOBER

O God, who brings us both light and darkness, I mourn the loss of light, and accept the coming of darkness. Grant that as darkness grows stronger, and light weaker in the days and weeks to come, my faith in Your triumph over sin and death may be as certain as the eventual return of light. I ask this in the name of Jesus, the light of the world.
Amen.

Amen, indeed.

Keep watching for the Light that is Christ.
Mair

Monday, November 07, 2005

Apology

I'm sorry I haven't updated much. This time of year my brain chemistry tends to crash and burn, and it takes almost everything I have to find a stable, quiet place.

I'm seeking that place, and yes, it's in God. That's one thing I've learned after all these years. I'm safe in God, and when my own fragile mind fails me, I can dig deeper, to a place of the heart that has bypassed the minds darkened window. It is in finding that heart space, and taking refuge there, that prepares me for the biggest surprise at all.

What is it, you ask? Why it's having the mind of Christ. The mind of Christ becomes accessible, when my own mind gives way to it. So, that I can glory in nothing but the fact that in some small way, in this time, I am decreasing, so that He can increase.

If you don't see me, know that I am safe with the Beloved, and He, like love, never fails.

Mair

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Listening

Today I'm thinking about listening. Notice I said I'm thinking about it. I'm not actually listening. I want to listen, but something in me resists, and today I don't seem to be strong enough to beat it back so I can hear.

My mind wants to chatter away. I think in story, and I talk to myself, too. I have whole, stimulating, intelligent conversations with me, and most of the time, I'm good company. But that's not listening. Not at all.

Most of my head is like Martha. I fluff and puff my cerebral pillows, straighten the pictures, vacuum the dirt off the floors of my brain. I try to clean up my thoughts real nice, so that Jesus won't think I'm a slob. To Martha me, that's what it's all about. Making the environment right for Jesus. Making sure He's given hospitality. I don't want the rugs to be dusty, or for there to be fingerprints on the walls. I don't want a pile of dirty dishes stinking, and attracting gnats. I just want things to be nice for Him, and what's wrong with that? We all need nice things don't we? We all need a clean place to live, so that Jesus won't condemn us when He comes.

And then there's Mary. Mary is like this tiny space in my spirit that just wants to sit at Jesus' feet and listen to him. My Mary spirit doesn't have an agenda. It knows that I can't clean up for the Master. Even those little roses my Martha head made out of radishes aren't that impressive to Jesus, though in fairness, He does appreciate the effort. It's just that Jesus knows what the Best is, and my Mary mind wants what is Best. Not a comparitive best, but an ABSOLUTE BEST. A there-is-no-other BEST. Oh, to be quiet. To sit at Jesus' feet. To hear.

Jesus said that Mary chose the BEST part. That's what I want. That best part. That space between the words God says to me, and my mental manipulation of those truths. He speaks, and I process. He says, and I accept or decline. I want that space before I think anything. Before I do anything. I want that wordless, wondrous place where there is just God and the purest essence of myself. So that my mind can't ruin things, again.

Let me be quiet, because You, God, are in that quiet. You are not in the clamour of my ability, or in my guilt for my inability. You are somewhere sacred and between the words, loving the me You made, while I am still, and silent, and smitten with Your love, listening for the silence of Your voice.

Thanks for that, Lord. Thanks with all my heart.
Mair