Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Failing Lent

In the church calender we are right in the midst of observing our most solemn season, Great Lent. This is a holy time of penence, where our gaze is on the Passion of our dear Savior, and we stand in the shadow of the cross looming high and terrible before us.

Many people give up something during Lent. The Orthodox faithful give up all animal products. So, for weeks now, I should have been eating vegan. But I haven't been.

I start, but by dinner I end up eating whatever the rest of my family eats--my hubby is not Orthodox and is not observing the fast. The kids have trouble with it because they want to eat what Ken eats, too. There's also the foodstamps issue. It's already hard to feed my large family, and we can't really afford to buy two kinds of food. And to prepare both, if I had both, seems too hard for the chronic fatigue I feel. But these are just excuses really. I think if I really had the chuzpa, I could do it.

I'm not famous for pushing back the plate at this time in my life, and I feel horrible about my failure in this holy time. Just before the fast, the first week of the Lenten Triodian (three weeks before Great Lent begins), I sat in church and listened to Father Leo's homily about the publican and the sinner. (Okay, he didn't read from the Message, but you know me. I can't resist that book.)

Luke 18: 10-14

10"Two men went up to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a tax man. 11The Pharisee posed and prayed like this: "Oh, God, I thank you that I am not like other people--robbers, crooks, adulterers, or, heaven forbid, like this tax man. 12I fast twice a week and tithe on all my income.'

13"Meanwhile the tax man, slumped in the shadows, his face in his hands, not daring to look up, said, "God, give mercy. Forgive me, a sinner.'"

14Jesus commented, "This tax man, not the other, went home made right with God. If you walk around with your nose in the air, you're going to end up flat on your face, but if you're content to be simply yourself, you will become more than yourself." The Message

I'm failing lent, and I feel just like that sinner, slumped in shadows, hiding my face from God. And yet I need Him so badly that I just keep saying, 'forgive me' like its a mantra or a ceasless prayer. That seems to be my only contribution to Great Lent.

Last week I went to confession. It's recommended that one confess and receive absolution at least every few months, but a lot of people don't. I hadn't in a while because my car doesn't work and riding with someone I couldn't get there in time, but last week we were a wee bit early, and I was able to catch a few minutes with Father Leo.

Confession is a very different experience with a priest than when you confess just to God. It's humbling to say the least. Almost as soon as I began I just wept and wept. I always feel so unworthy. I don't really want to lose that feeling. I don't want to say how good I am--though I've been guilty of that, too. I just want to keep--must keep--asking for mercy.

I take comfort in the fact that the penitent went home made right with God, and again, I pray, Lord, have mercy on me a sinner. I'm glad that sweet Jesus, accepts my meager sacrifice because He is so good, and I am so needy.

I still have hope, however. Maybe I can still jump in and fast, and maybe all this has taught me to be humble when I do so. I don't know. I just want to do what's right, even though I can't do it, really. That's why I need mercy. May God give it.

Mair, the sinner.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Devils and Demons and Evil...Oh my!

Lately I've been doing a lot of research on exorcism. It's for a book I'm proposing called the Exorsistah. That's a funny title, isn't it? And Emme Vaughn is a funny character, but let me tell you, demon possession is sooooo not funny.

Tonight I watched The Exorcism of Emily Rose, a movie that stunned me in more ways than one. First of all, I expected it to be stupid, and it wasn't. I didn't think it would have any redemptive qualities, and was surprised that it did indeed. All this, and the research I'm doing, has me feeling a bit unsettled and in a weird place--a Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz lions and tigers and bears Oh my! kind of place.

But God is here. I don't care what kind of awful thing lurks in the darkness, God never goes away.

Psalm 139:7-12

I can never escape from your spirit! I can never get away from your presence! If I go up to heaven, you are there; if I go down to the place of the dead, you are there. If I ride the wings of the morning, if I dwell by the farthest oceans, even there your hand will guide me, and your strength will support me. I could ask the darkness to hide me and the light around me to become night-- but even in darkness I cannot hide from you. To you the night shines as bright as day. Darkness and light are both alike to you.

I don't know about you, but I take great comfort in this passage. I'm glad that the great God of all is my guide, and light, strength and support. I'm very glad that darkness and light are both alike to him. Nothing in the shadows, is more fearful than God. And God loves me.

I must admit, though, even with the assurances of scripture, this is all a bit scary. And it seems to be something of a shadow time for me right now anyway. We are all, in this Lenten season, beneath the shadow of the cross looming high and terrible before us. In not many days we will all stand on that Hill, on that awful Friday, looking up at his broken body, and saying as the ground shakes beneath us, surely this must be the Son of God. Things are scary in the shadows, even the bad Friday we know that God will make good. So, I look up, see his wounds, and ask this Jesus, willing to die for me, for His protection.

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 to You,
That with your saints I may praise you
Forever and ever. Amen.

That just takes the sting out of everything.

I read this story in the compline last night in the Divine Hours. It said:

"The brethren asked Abba Agathon: "Amongst all our different activities, father, which is the virtue that requires the greatest effort? He answered: "Forgive me, but I think there is no labor greater than praying to God. For every time a man whats to pray, his enemies the demons try to prevent him; for they know that nothing obstructs them so much as prayer to God. In everything else that a man undertakes, if he preserveres, he will attain rest, but in order to pray a man must struggle to his last breath."

So, we'll just keep on praying, you and me.

And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.


Sunday, March 05, 2006

Let Nothing Trouble Me

Late night.

I should be in bed, but I can't sleep. All day long I've thought about the things I've written here in the last few posts. I kicked those writing books out of my bed. I've written a chapter and most of a synopsis for a new series, and the people who mean the most to me in my work all seem to like it. My agent likes it. His name is Don Pape, and honestly, he's the best agent in the world. (He made me say that.) Ha! No, he didn't.

A really big publishing house has shown some interest in my work--a house that would mean I could probably give the state of Michigan their food stamp card back if I landed there. And there is all this pressure I feel to come up with something that will please them.

How do you please the big boys? How do you give them something that could change your life?

Did you ever wonder if God would really give you something--something you thought you needed? Wondered in a way that left room for the awful possibility that He wouldn't give it to you at all? And then you wondered if He really loves you--enough to give you something that maybe you don't need. You just want it?

Sometimes, I think I will always be broke. Will I always get food stamps, which always seem to run out before the month is out? Then we scramble to eat...beans and smoked turkey wings... beans without smoked turkey meat... we skip breakfast...we skip breakfast and lunch (thank God for free breakfast and lunch at the kids school)...we eat lots of ramen noodles. Broken down car in the drive way, shut off notices on this and that. Taking my husband to surgery on the city bus. Coming home from surgery on the city bus. Sometimes, it feels unrelenting. Knowing that I'm about fifty cents away from disaster, getting toys for Christmas at the Salvation Army charity. It wears me out just to think about it. And it's not even poor like third-world poor. It's good old American poor. But I still hate it. Still feel like I lack.

I get my medication at Target, and I go through the store, passing the children's clothing. I look at the little girl clothes and I think, I wonder if one day I can dress Nia and Z.Z. like that all the time? And then it feels so incredibly shallow. Then, I realize there are people, right in the store with me, who dress their kids like that all the time. I will never be one of them. Not me. Then I wonder if I even want to be.

Jesus said, "Blessed are the poor." But I don't always feel blessed. But the truth is, I am. Somehow, He always seems to stretch the beans, and we never truly have a hungry day. I may get a letter in the mail with a check for a hundred dollars. Or my homegirl decides to surprise me and pay for the groceries. When my spirits are lowest, and I'm feeling so not good about me, sometimes I find a new dress at Walmart for three dollars.

You know that footprints in the sand thing? Where it says, "Lord, I only saw one set of footprints?" I'm so dense sometimes I'd probably look at them and think, "Wow, I have really big feet." But God is good. He never leaves me alone, and He gently reminds me that those are His prints, and yes (don't groan) He carries me in those aching, throbbing times.

So, you read it right here. I'm giving my fear of my future to God. Those cares of this world things are especially meaningful to Him. I'm just going to write the best stories I can. That's all He asks of me. I can't please everybody. I can't write because the big boys are looking, or because I'm afraid I'll never be able to feed us without the state's help. I write for love. It's an offering to God, and if God gives back, as He did with my own generous publishing house, Praise His name. The big boys, like me, are in God's hands. He'll see to it that the books I write go where He wants them to. I don't want any more than that. Big publishing house, small publishing house, give me God's publishing house. At least, give me the one God wants for me.

I pray that I remember Teresa of Avila's poem, and know that God will not keep from me anything that is truly mine. I'm thankful for what is mine. I really am. Despite the problems I have, He's really generous to me. I want to let nothing trouble me.

Let nothing trouble you.

Let nothing scare you.

All is fleeting.

God alone is unchanging.


Everything obtains.

Who possesses God

Nothing wants.

God alone suffices.

Amen, Teresa of Avila.
Thank you Jesus, for being enough.