Sunday, April 23, 2006

He is Risen!

"Christ is risen!"

That's the Orthodox Pascha (Easter) Greeting.

Now. You say: "Truly He is risen!"

Tonight I celebrated my first Pascha Liturgy in the Holy Orthodox Church, and I must say that in true raga-d fashion it was a train wreck. We'd crammed most of us--that's six people, and not even all of us--into the P.T. Cruiser we'd rented so I could go to the Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College on Friday. I should have known by the cantankerous ride to church that things would not bode well for the Burney's, but what can I say, I'm a melacholic sanguine personality type. My optimism and despair peacefully--and paradoxically--coexist.

We got there just before 11:30 pm, and I was a little confused because I'd never done this liturgy, and we hadn't arrived early enough for me to ask about it. I wanted to know if we needed to have the liturgy books we usually follow, and our dear usher, Michael (Phil) said no. This was after I hugged his even more dear to me wife, Patty, who after she squeezed me told me the Holy Friday service last night, "lasted a year." I chuckled. The Orthodox really know how to make it, whatever "it" may be, a production. I got a bulletin from Michael, andreturned to my seat with six candles for us.

We began with a Lamentation service before Mations began at midnight. The church was completely dark. Let me tell you, 11:30 pm lamentations and chanting, small children, a teenaged daugter in a PMS rage in a darkened church do not make for a experience conducive to deep spiritual reflection. ZZ, my six-year-old had promptly fallen asleep on my lap, Nia looked bored, Abeje whispered (Loudly) "I'm bored. I don't want to sit here listening to this until twelve o'clock," and whatever Kamau and Ken were up to I missed because I was too far away from them--three people removed from them in the pew.

There was supposed to be a procession outside of the church, in which we were all given the light of Christ, however, it happened to be raining like it was monsoon season in Detroit, and so Father Leo, the deacons, and some of the choir all scrunched into the Nave, while the monks from the monasterybravely proceeded outside, putting us non-monastics to shame. My family survived the lamentations, the three minutes of silence, and the no-procession. Then the bathroom runs started--and I do mean RUNS!

Z.Z. first, who had risen like Christ, with the light. I knew it was going to be trouble when I had to take her back to the bathroom five minutes later. We were popping up like a tin of Jiffy Pop popcorn and before you knew it, I'd added a few extra kids on the runs (with the runs). Finally, after disrupting the service quite enough, I told Ken I thought we should get the kiddos home and in bed.

This precipitated a crying tantrum from Nia, who Ken threatened to spank, followed by a dear brother in Christ asking if he could help. I told him the kids were getting sick, and because Nia was wailing like one of the myrrh bearing women, he didn't question us. Nia, by the way, was the only one who wasn't sick. By the time we loaded up into the Cruiser, we were tired, cranky, hungry (we'd missed the feast), and ready to kill one another. We ushered in this most holy day of the year like a can of pissed off sardines who didn't care to be sitting in oil together.

Abeje went on a rant in the car about the fact that only club music (bumpa, bumpa, bumpa, bumpa) played on the radio. We really tried to please this child, but she hated every station. We tried to tell her we didn't control what came on the radio, to know avail--this was all our fault--a vast, right wing conspiracy to destroy her listening pleasure. In between Abby's crabbiness and Nia's deep grief borne out of the sorrow of missing the rest of the service, everyone got more irritated. Ken and Abeje started to argue about the radio. Abeje mouthed off about everything from her cramps, to country music. Finally, after trying diligengtly to be a good and holy, God fearing, Pascha celebrating Mom, as the bickering creshendoed I yelled at them all to shut the hell up. Because I don't swear at them, this was very effective.

We get home and needless to say I feel totally unspiritual. I think I'm slime. I think I will possibly burn in hell for saying bad things to my spouse and children on the way home from church the holiest night of the year. I think about how I sat in the bathroom at church and realized to my horror that I look like Jabba the Hut in a mint green Easter frock from the view of the full-lenght mirror. Nothing will strip you of piety faster than seeing copious amounts of unsightly butt and belly fat pooled in a chair.

But the fact is, Christ is risen. He is risen when we are at our worst. He is risen, in fact, because of our worst. And it's not me and how I observe it that makes Holy Saturday (and the blessed Pascha) holy. It is all the beauty of Jesus, his finished work on the cross, and his magnificent love that soothes and heals when we feel fat and disgusting, the kids are sick, the hubbyand teen are cranky, and we just can't catch a break to think on the things of God.

I'm glad for that. Jesus did it all.

Happy Pascha!

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Surely He Has Borne Our Griefs, and Carried Our Sorrows

I go to church in Detroit. That's a bit of a ways from Ann Arbor, and because I don't have a car sometimes I can't get there (I ride with my Godfather when I can--always Sunday mornings). I'll generally stay at home when I can't get a ride, but on ocassion I like to visit other churches.
I really had a hankering to go to church on (Western) Good Friday, but because of my ride situation, and because Good Friday isn't until next Friday in the Orthodox Church (not that I'd have a ride on a weekday, anyway), I went to a local Episcopalian church, St. Clare of Assisi's.

Now, I really like St. Clare, the woman. Named my baby girl after her when she was baptized. How can I go wrong at a church that uses her as their patron saint? I figured I'd enjoy going to an Episcopalian church. I like the Book of Common Prayer--I have Phyllis Tickle to thank for that. I'd never been to an Episcopalian church, but I was up for the adventure. This was after one of my insomniac nights. I didn't go to sleep until 5 am. But I forced myself up anyway. I knew St. Clare's was going to do something I'd always wanted to do. They were going to walk the stations of the cross.

I had read about the stations of the cross for the first time in The Ragamuffin Gospel. I didn't know much about Catholic practices prior to that. In my youth I was steeped in some rather hysterical anti-Catholic propaganda--thanks a lot Jack Chick! I'm afraid I was quite the Catholic basher, to my horror now. Sometimes I wonder why God didn't just lead me to convert to being Catholic instead of Orthodox. Honestly, it would have served me right, and I would have deserved every erroneous thought (and statement!)that my Protestant friends have thought (said) about me not being "saved" anymore, and/or worshipping Mary. But, back to the stations.

So, I go in and SURPRISE! I'm the only black person. There are a few other folks of color, Asian, and Hispanic, but the numbers are dismally small. So, I'm at this unfamiliar church to walk the stations of the cross--something unfamiliar. I'm twenty minutes late because not only did I rouse myself only after my sister called at 11 am, but I also had to catch a bus. I got there hot (temps were in the seventies) and looking crazy (it was a real bad hair day). And I missed a whopping five stations. I just jumped right in at station six, hovering somewhat cautiously in the back, though.

Station six: A woman wipes the face of Jesus.

Images of Jesus and his mother projected on a wall flicker in front of me. A boy--just a kid--is holding a burdensome cross made out of a tree. This thing was big, but no doubt, smaller than the one Jesus bore. There are readings at each station. In this one Jesus asks:Are you brave enough, beloved children, to wipe my face of pain? Where is my face you ask? At home when eyes fill with tears, on your street, and in the streets of the poor, the sick, the hungry, the oppressed peoples of the world. My face is there, and there I look for you to care--to reach out and wipe away the signs of suffering.

Tears spring to my eyes. All of this--the quiet room. The faces of Jesus in each face gathered here. The solemn, beautiful ceremony... I want to weep, loudly and freely, but uh, this is not a Pentecostal church. I can't just start wailing just because I'm inclined to. So, I choke back my tears, and press a little closer to the cross.The seventh station: Jesus falls a second time, beckons. I amble closer to the crowd and something wondrous occurs. These lily white people begin to sing a Negro spiritual so comfortable and familiar that I feel the barrier that says YOU ARE OTHER! YOU DON'T BELONG! disappear in the deep blues of the melody. They sing in the tune of "Were You There When They Crucified My Lord," the words: "Were you there when she soothed his tortured face." And suddenly we were one people, united by a cross. Man! I want to really weep!

We move slowly over to the seventh station, and the thought of Jesus falling under the burden is too much for me. I choke through the reading and response, wrestling with my need to lie prostrate on the floor and I hear the priest say something about us being welcome to take a piece of the cross with us. As bad as I need a piece of the cross! I take a kleenex from my purse and try to pull myself together a bit. I don't want to go get a piece of the cross with tears and snot pouring out. Having tried to right myself, I went toward the front to get a piece.

The kids went first. The pieces of the cross were glued to a big board. They were little colored crosses, and c'mon, how can a kid resist a little foam, colored cross. I waited until everyone who wanted a cross was served, and then, as everyone moved to station eight, I and a few other pilgrims were left to contemplate which little cross we would choose. It was then that I noticed that each cross had a different word for each color. There were "sin" crosses--I think those were red. "Anger" crosses. All kinds of stuff. I wondered which cross I should take--sin being the most reasonable choice, but then one captured my attention. Sorrow. Of course. My cross would be sorrow.

He was a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. I understood this if I knew nothing else about the Lord. I'm a woman of sorrows. I wish that I weren't, but I am, just as sure as I'm black, woman, and sinner, trying hard not to primal scream in a room full of restrained Episcopalians.

I make it to the eighth station: Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem. Now these women, according to the reading, bewailed and lamented him. Man, I really wanted to do some bewailing and lamenting. I mean, bewailing and lamenting is about ready to break out of me like I were Jeremiah the prophet. How ironic. Anyway, I survive this without imploding, or exploding only because I suddenly hear my favorite song in the Divine Liturgy: Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy and Immortal One, Have mercy upon us. Of course, this familiar refrain doesn't only comfort me deeply, and make me feel at home just as the Negro Spiritual did (God is so kind, isn't He?) But it makes me want to cry as it always does at my own church. Honest to God, I'm about to burst! But I clutch my little white cross, and I follow, and sing, and cry--quietly and dignified. And way in the back.

We go through 14 stations, one in which Jesus is nailed to the cross. And we are offered a piece of black paper to write on and nail whatever we want to the cross. Well, you know what I nailed, or rather who; the lone, black, queen of sorrows in the gathering, not only acquainted with grief, but grief's constant companion.

And did I ever want to cry!!! Not that dainty, nose and eye dabbing little... I don't even know what to call it. I wanted sackcloth and ashes.

Finally, we made it into the church, and absolutely nobody is crying--though I did hear one woman's voice crack dramatically during the last reading at station fourteen. In fact, now everybody looks pretty good. I'm encouraged, and I even put my kleenex away and try to enjoy this other part of the service with some decorum. That stations of the cross thing was rough!

I sat on the back pew, my little white cross beside me, and listened to the sermon. Soon, I slipped out. Glad to have experienced it, even if I couldn't cry like I wanted to. I looked forward to taking my little "sorrow" cross home and putting it with the other crosses I seem to be collecting. But when I got to the bus stop, I couldn't find it anywhere. It had disappeared. I was bummed, but I didn't think much of it. I'm a pretty big dofus. I lose everything. Once I lost a meal I was eating. I never found it.

But in the next few days, these words from Isa. 53:4-5 kept coming back to me.

"Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities, the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed."

The words, "surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows," resonated in me. Echoed. Seeped in corners. Pooled in quiet nooks. Watered parched places in my soul. I haven't cried since Friday. And His sweet Holy Spirit told me something: "Surely He has borne my grief. He has carried my sorrow."

A lifetime of depression is indeed a cross to bear, but it is not bigger than His cross. And while He has not removed this cross--this cup from my life, He does give me sweet respite, and the assurance of His presence, always. I think He sent me to that church where I couldn't cry freely to let me know I didn't have to be overcome with grief just because it's there. And I don't think He wanted me to take my little white sorrow cross home. I think He wanted to remind me that it was okay, to have it--to own it, even to choose it as I had when I picked it out of the crowd of other crosses on the board. But ultimately, He would be the one to carry my sorrows. He would be the one to carry all of our sorrows. All of our griefs.

Whether we are poor, or minority, or sinner, or lost, or addict, or tired frazzled mother, abusive man, upstanding church person wearing the thinnest mask of contentment to cover the most violent self-hatred and rage. Whatever it is that ails, He took with Him to the cross.

He took EVERYTHING to the cross.

Every big and little thing.

Happy Easter (all you Western Christians),

Check out this blog (thanks, renee!) to do a virtual walk of the stations of the cross (you'll have to scroll down to start at the beginning):

Love ya'll,

Monday, April 10, 2006

Beginnings of Paschaltide

Do you ever feel God calling you to a journey, and you want to go, but you've got too much stuff? That's how I've felt this whole Lenten season--burdened by my junk. I probably have, spiritually, about forty suitcases, twenty-five weekenders, thirteen carry-on bags, a couple of hundred backpacks, trunks stacked to the ceiling, a few dozen garment bags, more tote bags than I can count, and full pockets. Actually, let's face it, I've got more stuff than that. That's just all I can see from the position I'm in at the moment. The room is full of my things. Somewhere in a corner I sit on one of the trunks, and yell, "I'm ready, Lord!" But not only is it impossible for me to drag all that stuff with me, I find that I can't move from out of the corner.

"Lord," I say, clutching a leopard print garment bag full of suits someone gave me that don't suit me, "I want to go, but I've got all this stuff. I'm so sorry." I start crying because I really want to go, and I have no idea how to leave my baggage behind me I've had it so long. In some ways I actually believe my stuff is not just a part of me, but it is me. It defines me like my name does.

But He makes His way to me, my maze of bags no obstacle to His determination. He takes my hand and gives me that dazzling smile of His. He looks at me with those deep, brown eyes that I can just lose myself in--and often I have. He doesn't even call me to come, again. He just tugs at my hand. I realize in that moment, as in so many others strung together, shining like colored glass beads, that He is Love incarnate. So, I go.

Even though at first I tried to grab a rose brocade train case full of make-up.

Even though the sense that I've forgotten something important lingers in my tactile memory, and my hands feel weird--like they should be holding something more substantial than the wine soaked bit of communion bread I clutch in one of my palms that He gave me for later. For nourishment.

Even though when I'm with Him, I'm not always sure who I am.

Even though I don't know where He'll take me.

Even though I'm so tired He has to carry me for a while.

Still I go with Him, wearing the Passover blood of the Lamb to cover me. There is only myself, Him, and His other loves for company. My sole comfort is that He is with us, despite the burdens I (we) barely left behind. But this isn't about me and my failure. This is a Holy time. I am in a Holy space, simply because I took His hand, and He is with me.

Every Passover, I think of the words of Alla Renee Bozarth. I think of the journey God calls me to this very day--this very moment, and I give him my weak, small, and shaky hand once again. He always takes it. But of course He would. He asked for it in the first place.

May you be blessed by Alla's Passover Remembered below:

Pack nothing. Bring only your determination to serve and your willingness to be free. Don’t wait for the bread to rise. Take nourishment for the journey, but eat standing, be ready to move at a moment’s notice. Do not hesitate to leave your old ways behind fear, silence, submission. Only surrender to the need of the time to love justice and walk humbly with your God. Begin quickly, before you have time to sink back into old slavery. Set out in the dark. I will send fire to warm and encourage you. I will be with you in the fire and I will be with you in the cloud. I will give you dreams in the desert to guide you safely home to that place you have not yet seen….I am sending you into the wilderness to make a new way and to learn my ways more deeply. Some of you will be so changed by weathers and wanderings that even your closest friends will have to learn your features as though for the first time. Some of you will not change at all. Some will be abandoned by your dearest loves and misunderstood by those who have known you since birth and feel abandoned by you. Some will find new friendship in unlikely faces, and old friends as faithful, and true as the pillar of God’s flame. Sing songs as you go, and hold close together. You may at times grow confused and lose your way….touch each other and keep telling the stories….Make maps as you go, remembering the way back from before you were born…. So you will be only the first of many waves of deliverance on these desert seas. It is the first of many beginnings your Paschaltide. Remain true to this mystery. Pass on the whole story….Do not go back. I am with you now and I am waiting for you.

"Passover Remembered" by Alla Renee Bozarth