A Poem by St. Symeon

We awaken in Christ’s body,
As Christ awakens our bodies
There I look down and my poor hand is Christ,
He enters my foot and is infinitely me.
I move my hand and wonderfully
My hand becomes Christ,
Becomes all of Him.
I move my foot and at once
He appears in a flash of lightning.
Do my words seem blasphemous to you?
—Then open your heart to him.
And let yourself receive the one
Who is opening to you so deeply.
For if we genuinely love Him,
We wake up inside Christ’s body
Where all our body all over,
Every most hidden part of it,
Is realized in joy as Him,
And He makes us utterly real.
And everything that is hurt, everything
That seemed to us dark, harsh, shameful,
Maimed, ugly, irreparably damaged
Is in Him transformed.
And in Him, recognized as whole, as lovely,
And radiant in His light,
We awaken as the beloved
In every last part of our body. 

When The Light Comes

Here’s a deep and mysterious thing that is utterly ridiculous… every time I start to do well in anything, I am petrified.

When I was 12, I wrote some essays in to Brio Magazine and was selected as one of 12 (out of thousands) to be a candidate for “Brio Girl.” I should have been proud. But I was so scared I had a melt down. That was the first time I ever went to a counselor.

A cold hand of fear around my heart closes fierce fingers when I begin to succeed. Even if I don’t put words to it in the moment, I find myself reacting to these sneaky thoughts: “They’ll find out you’re a joke.”

The fancy moms in the nice houses who drive the Bob strollers… they’ll know I’m not in their league.
The fit friends who have new running shoes and taught sports bras… they’ll find out I’m a closet geek who journals like a pre-teen.
The serious minded… they’ll laugh behind my back at my paltry attempts at depth.
The light hearted… they’ll roll their eyes at my stuttering humor and droning morass.
The husbands in expensive slacks will spot the marker stains on my old jeans.
The women who lead the world around me will put their finger on it… I’m not quite mature enough to walk beside them.

Why don’t these things come up when I’m in the shadows?

Somehow, when I’m in the lowest of the humble places, pinched small, there is nothing to do but make my peace there. But when I begin to step up toward the light… oh dear God… the light. The problem with light is that it reveals not only strengths but inadequacies.

There you are, Light. Shining on my holes. My lack. My double chin. My big pores. My baby belly. My cheap haircut. My low budget lifestyle. My wild man children. My Goodwill wardrobe. My lack of refinement.

There you are, Light… Shining right through me.

There you are… saying these words straight into me so that they penetrate every cell: “I cherish you. Not the Insta-fab you in the best filter that you falsely wish you were. I love The You In The Light that Reveals It All.”

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I think “the Narrow Way” we heard of long ago in Sunday School is a small gate that we have to enter through with our souls in our hands, stooping low in humility. Very low. We have to bend our heads, lay down our finest dreams of perfection, lay down our ambition to be adored by others… What a difficult narrow passage it is. How often I have scrapped and bruised my shoulders on this way as I’ve wrestled with the weight of letting my own pride go. But when we stand up. When we straighten our shoulders. When we raise our heads on the other side of that Bending To The Call Of Light’s Seeing Eyes, look, the way has opened into a great field of expectancy. Because we know very surely that we are loved as we are.

That’s all…

Loved as I am.

Brave with my bruises.

Just as thoroughly effused in hope’s essence in the middle of my Not-Enough as I would be if I had everything.

This is what we call “the Gospel.” The good news. That’s it. That you are So Loved. And whether we describe it with theology (as my Priest does) or with poetry (as I do), it is a narrow, difficult thing to believe. Yet, indeed, it is a beautiful, wide, free way of the heart to be liberated into.

Rest For The Weirdos – Advent 2.5

Tonight I took the kids out and paid $5 to play in fake snow. Because we live in the subtropics… but we’re Americans! We want what we want. A white Christmas, or so help me!

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That’s right, The Y brought in a massive snow blower machine that hosed wet, frozen slush onto the soccer fields. They even tried to build a fake hill apparatus under the fake snow for the kids to fake sled down. Unfortunately the slush didn’t stick… so it was mostly a wet plywood death trap designed exclusively to break legs. There isn’t enough health insurance in the world for me to let my kids climb that thing.

A few brave fathers were able to scratch miniature snowman blobs out of the hardening surface for their wee ones. One highly optimistic little girl scraped her arms and legs up and down on the ice for a good 10 minutes trying to make a snow angel. Her parents stood over her with cameras at the ready, encouraging her to dig her finger nails and heels in a bit more. Ah, Savannah children… they literally think snow comes out the back of a big truck and pelts you over the head like a water canon in the hands of riot police. I almost felt like we were protesting the DAPL. But there was hot cocoa.

There was also a fake santa. Most of the other mothers got their kids into his lap before the kids started screaming. That was my goal. I was hoping for that. All I wanted was a photo of my boys screaming in Santa’s lap. Because I’m sadistic? Ahh, but they are too wise for this madness. Crafty as serpents. They started screaming before we even got close to him. Forcing me to lock one boy under each elbow, sit MYSELF on Santa’s lap, and grin for a stranger to snap our Christmas Memory into eternity. As it should be.

Eames later had Santa rejection regret. I remember the feeling well. His tortured grief nearly drowned out the little Filipino father and his daughter singing, “Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree” behind us.

I love the absurd. I really do. It is the pinnacle of delight. And Christmas is pretty much the pinnacle of the absurd. But it’s perfect. People who are too serious about all the things miss out on the Big Truth… which is that 99% of the things are ridiculous, but the heart of the matter remains: We were together. We loved. We delighted. We were thankful. He was present. It was good.

We try too hard, sometimes, to make sense of it all. I really think we do. Instead, let’s allow the absurdity rest easy in our hands tonight. Let’s leave the weight of our little griefs in the hands of a bigger father and feel a lightness of surrendering the serious suffuse us. Delight is a spiritual discipline that too often we neglect. Let Advent call us back to “treasuring up in our hearts” and “marveling” as Mary did at all the weird goodness that pelts us over the head like a frozen water canon in a 75 degree November.

Steady Heart – Advent 2.4

“I can’t see what’s in front of me. Still I will trust you. Steady heart that keeps on going. Steady love that keeps on hoping… lead me on. Steady grace that keeps forgiving. Steady faith that keeps believing… lead me on.

Though the sky is dark, and the wind is wild. You’ll never leave me. Thought the night is long, there is a coming dawn. The light is breaking…”

Wait In Your Stronghold – Advent 2.3

It was a day without reflection. Without quiet. Without calm. I chugged water to stave off a headache, but it clung to me with as much tenacity as the toddler clinging to my leg. It was a hamster hustle day. A scurry scurry scurry around the wheel and not getting anywhere to speak of.

I’ve been struggling with some very real things recently… things I’m not ready to talk about yet. There were no break throughs today. There was no insight or progress. There was only this question burning in my mind, singing in my heart: “Where will you run, my soul? Where will you go when wells run dry?” Over and over. Around and around the hamster wheel.

When wells run dry…

Even crisis can keep us on our feet, sometimes. It can give us something to Reform. Something to work on. But Reformation has a way of exhausting itself. The old ways have a habit of creeping back in. The force is strong with them. And our resources to invest and fail, invest and fail begin to flag… We run out.

Where will you go when wells run dry?

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When the mundane has used up all the sparkle, the hope, the energy, the dreams… When our most cherished expectations have shriveled to nothing over a long series of years… When life narratives have taken weird turns and the inner flame is guttering in a pool of spilled apple sauce under the table… When you realize that This Is It. Where will you run, my soul? What will you do now? Here at the end of you.

A few days ago I sat at a red picnic table while the kids threw clots of dirt at each other shouting, “Canon Ball!!” This one thought was strong: Is it worth it? To be faithful to all the things I have been so faithful to forever? Is it worth the labor and delivery that never ceases? Is it worth it?

I kid you NOT… the flipping WIND blew my Bible open and my eye landed exactly and immediately on this verse: “Return to your stronghold, O prisoner of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double.” (Zechariah 9:12)

There are times you know the Lord is speaking to you. And you listen.

Over my spirit I could feel him, bending into me with the intensity and kindness of my middle school soccer coach, whistle hanging from his neck, hands on knees, face close to mine: “Get back in your stronghold, Blair. Run. Now. Hustle, girl. Your sprit wants to wander away from hope. I say, No. When your will is weak, you are my prisoner. You are mine. O prisoner of hope. Get back in there. Hunker down.”

A week later… I’m still hunkered. No answers. Just hunkered into hope. But rather than feel like a prison, it is beginning, just beginning, to feel like a home.

Where will you go when wells run dry?

Return to your stronghold. Hunker down in hope. Don’t let your heart stagger away…

“The Lord will fight for you. You need only be still.” Exodus 14:14

This is my Advent Waiting today: Be still in the stronghold of our ancient hope. Even so, come Lord Jesus.

 

We Wait In Our Bodies – Advent 2.2

What do you do when dark things break up from the deep inside of you, unpermitted and uninvited? When a deep need screams up raw from the buried places that you have done everything to quiet, tame, & ignore… how do you meet it? What do you do when all of your best strategies, your best knowledge, your very best try out of your very best motivations all falter, stuttering a little, flickering like a wax laden wick?

We try to be all mind and heart… but we are hands too. We are bodies. We are animals after all. Not above the fabric of nature. We are chemicals and cells and receptors and uptake and release. It’s the artistic material of Connection. It’s the medium of Communion. It’s the clay of the potter. Not ever, ever to be denied. The stuff we are made of matters. Isn’t that the massive, overwhelming, essential message of Advent and Christmas… that Matter Matters to God? That somehow entering into the physical experience is utterly essential to redeeming it?

 

 

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We nurse our young and it does real chemical connection things, bonding us. Lashing our substance into one another.

We press our eyes close to our mates, face to face, ridiculously close. An absurd act. Intimacy. It is absurd. But it does real physical things that make us One, defending us from the distractions of others, pressing our souls and bodies into one another. Protecting the unit.

We fellowship through story telling and laugher, song, shared experience, eating and drinking. We commune around the Table with pizza and beer… and while we look at each other and smile and cry, we integrate our bodily substance with the people around us and form tribes. United.

It is material stuff. It is nature unvarnished. And it is beautiful. Science. The tapestry of a Universal Master Weaver who has his hands intimately in the threads, binding and releasing. It is not to be shunned. Never to be rejected. It is to be marveled at and listened to. A beacon pointing us in the direction of the Maker’s heart. And broken though the beacon may be, the light is still shining through. If we’re looking carefully.

So when something screams up from the deep inside of our irrepressible and ever-human heart… we must listen. Because Body is woven forever into the fabric of soul. Material is mingled irrevocably with the substance of spirit.

Incarnate.

We are Incarnate. At some point we cannot deny it any more. And real magic happens there… because the gospel can only come fully to life In The Flesh.

Life is the bodily experience of my soul’s journey.

If my experience with Anxiety has taught me anything it is that we cannot separate our bodies from our spiritual experience. Denial of the Wholeness of our selves can only last so long before we break.

Maybe this is the core heart of Advent… the coming In The Flesh-ness. Maybe this is how we prepare our hearts to receive a coming Incarnate God… by sinking and settling into our bodies. By realizing that we are substance and soul mingled. By centering ourselves in the reality of our physical experience and what that reality means for the story. Listening to our own nature… and maybe hearing our nature is groaning. All is not well.

Then knowing this one wild, out of bounds thing: God will go right into our messy, integrated, woven, substance-soul experience to heal it. He will enter right in to make it whole. He will take it into his very being to renew. In the flesh.

 

Why the Wait? – Advent 5

8:30 am – Today we make ginger bread cookies.

‘Bake with your children,’ they said. ‘It will be fun,’ they said.

We roll and stamp. Scoop to sheets. Cook, cool, decorate. You’ve never seen so many sprinkles in your whole life. Like bird seed at a wedding. I probably have sprinkles in my underwear. Then every time I turn my back throughout the day some small person has climbed the counters and stuffed his mouth with the dense cinnamon brown goodies. A little dripping of icing running down his chin. Eyes wide and guilty.

The best things in life with kids come at a price. The price is Sanity. This time it was worth it. This time the crazy and the charm were balanced.

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But 10 hours later… the injustices of this day have mounted. I am not smiling at their little chaoses. They are not smiling at my firm rules. I am not smiling at the broken cookies. They are not smiling at the spaghetti dinner. I am not smiling at their bedtime antics. They are not smiling at my limited capacity for bedtime book reading.

7:20pm

Me: (Cradling the First Boy in my lap… wondering when he became all elbows and knees. He is spilling over the sides of me. His weight presses me into the shape I am: Mama)… “I’m sorry I lost my temper with you,” I confess my sins into the silky coarseness of his hair. Cut like a little man’s.

Eames: (Reaching up behind and over his head to pat both my cheeks… as if he will throw me back into bounds in this cosmic soccer game…) “It’s ok. I was angry to you and more angry to you and more angry to you again! And then you were angry back to me. Cause sometimes it happens when we’re angry to each other.”

Sometimes it happens when we’re angry to each other…

I think this is why we have been given The Waiting Time…

I think this is why this Earth Space matters so much…

I think this is why we’re here, waiting together… Because we have to press into each other and roll out the lumps. Like a rolling pin on ginger bread. We have to collide. And confess. And commune. We press hard. We break stuff. The breaking of the bread of life is something we do every day between us. We pull on the fabric of this life so hard we tear big old Sunday-panty-hose holes in it. Broken tempers. Broken hearts. Then… right there in the middle of the brokenness, God willing, we see what we’ve done. If we do, when we do, we sit down around the mess and it becomes the communion table. And all our sins become a chance to show each other mercy. And it rolls the broken spots right out of us.

 

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My boy. So recently my baby. He and I, we are rolling the lumps right out of each other.

I humble myself and confess my wrongs to him every day. When he leaves this house, he will not be perfect, but he will know he is in good company. We are not All Better people. We are not always right. We can never be that one thing. But we can always be humble. And it heals stuff.

It’s what we do while we’re here. I think it’s a huge Why of the Waiting.

Where Do The Daily Days Go? – Advent 4

Can’t sleep.
Just as well… I have a few minutes before the day ends… and no reflection posted.

But what if I have no reflection to give? It’s a scary thing to have nothing to give… and maybe the large looming reality of my very small life is that I don’t. I don’t have anything to give.

But then I re-think the simple words that are taped above my desk: “Love Gives Itself Away.” When all else fails, Love offers exactly and only what it has. It just does. It just gives it. Into empty space…

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So here… It was a very daily day. The dirt I swept in the morning is back on the floor. Muddy little tip toes and dried fall leaves, all tramped in. The dishes I washed from breakfast magically reappeared in the sink after dinner. The pillows I plumped are flattened. The toys I organized are scattered. When I wake up tomorrow, it will literally be the exactly same story again. As if nothing happened. As if the toiling was for nothing. As if the Groundhog Day Loop is in full repeat.

Sometimes in 24 hours we take one 24 hour sized step forward. And sometimes there is no better metaphor for where we are and what we’re doing than the one: Spinning Our Wheels. There just isn’t. Except maybe drowning. Because I might have actually gone backwards.

Sometimes there is this almost animal fear that tears up the back of my spine when Facebook reminds me, “4 Years Ago You Had This First Baby Of Yours.”

4 years of doing nothing but keeping small people alive and maintaining sanity?

4 whole years?

I practically have a master’s degree in Small Human Maintenance. 4 years!

It is so tempting to call them a waste. You know it is.

“Love gives itself away.”

All the way through the very daily days.

There are Bible verses for this stuff… There are encouragements that encourage… There are good words like, “Now, beloved brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” But sometimes I don’t know it at all. I don’t know if my long labor and delivery is in the Lord… I certainly don’t know that it isn’t in vain. How could mopping this dumb floor over and over NOT be in vain?

I don’t know. All I know right now is… Love gives itself away.
And as it gives itself it leaves barely visible traces… like jet streams traced across setting sun skies. Small smoke signals in a shadowy world: Love lives here.

At the end of the years… all of them… not just these wee 4… what if I haven’t got anything more than well mopped floors and well fed boys? Nothing scares me more. I want to leave more behind than endless days of mundane repetition. But… But… if those days leave smoke signals? If one day, as the sun dips below the horizon for the last time, shooting up its final orange flush against the heavens… and suddenly those long, winding, continuous, whisper thin streams of Love Given are illuminated! Turned into gold by the Light.

What a wonderful thing that would be.

Maybe. Maybe that’s the way that our long, wandering, repetitive, daily days… with very little to offer… become beauty beyond compare?