It appears we have another interesting summer on our hands. So much has happened already, and you can read all the updates here, at our medical fund page. I try to remember to come here and post Handbook entries, but even that hasn’t happened. You can always see those over on Instagram. I keep trying to do them even in the midst of it all; it helps calm and center me, helps me keep my peace.
All fear is a paper tiger, my dear friends. All of it. If something you fear is drawing near you, some suffering, pain, or torment- if it’s coming to you like a ghost across the water- know it is our perfect, All-Knowing and All- Loving Lord that can lead us to a higher path.
We’ve had a stretch of weeks that have been difficult, to say the least. They just are what they are. The circumstances underlying why they’ve been hard won’t change any time soon. We all face seasons like this, some of us longer than others, some deeper than others. All you can do, essentially, is to continue to live. To put one foot in front of the other, to take one breath after another, to string one prayer after another. Fear tends to stop us in our tracks. I think I’ve gotten stuck more times than not in the last two years, holding my breath.
My dear friend, mentor, and chrismating priest, Father Stephen Mathewes, gave a homily on fear this past Sunday. Tuning in with my children on Monday morning as we began our school day on a very rough morning, we all sat quietly and listened to the broadcast as part of our morning’s school work in religious studies. We tend to draw or color quietly (all of us, even me!) as we listen to his homilies. As Fr. Steve joked with the congregation at the opening, we all laughed along, noting with glee the laughter of a dear friend in the background, as this church family was our own for nearly two years before we moved. Father Steve began into his homily and the children kept scribbling furiously at their drawings. I, however, found my hand dropping from my sketch as I leaned in to catch every word. Eventually my pencil rolled on the floor.
I’ve been having a lot of arguments with myself about fear over the last month or so, and I was rather shocked to hear that Fr. Steve had apparently been listening in on my inner dialogue. His answers were pretty bang on the money, my friends. Funny how that works. (It’s a good quick listen if you have ten minutes or so!)
Given what I’ve gone through in the last two years, I realize that so often fear has overtaken me quicker than I can recognize it coming, and it’s not till I’m in over my head that I sort of gasp for air and let go of the breath I’ve been holding. I wondered about this as I listened to Father speak. What sort of radar might I have, what sort of an early warning system could I put in place? A “you need to pray NOW” blazing sign, if one could be had? It puzzled me.
Picking up my pencil off the floor as Father finished his remarks, the answer was quite literally staring me in the face. Little delicate flowers stared up at me from the page.
There’s reams and reams of commentary in the world about creating and fear- about how fear and perfectionism block us from getting to the page. I absolutely agree with them. But also ask any creator, and they’ll tell you that they create because they can’t not create. It’s like ants in their pants.
I know the feeling well.
I also know how destitute my life has been of creating in the last two years.
It’s no mistake that within the last month and a half I’ve sketched, painted, collaged, and scrapbooked more pages than nearly the last five years combined. While our life is still quite difficult, the children’s health has finally stabilized, giving us all more time to think, to sleep, to dream, to just be. Fear has a much harder foothold to find now.
It’s my giant neon sign: if I’m not creating for days, weeks on end, I’m holding my breath. If I’m holding my breath, I am not abiding in Christ, and fear has stopped me in my tracks. Creating helps me push back the darkness and take a deep breath. I won’t ever starve myself of it again, if I can help it.
Dear friend, you may not be wired as I am, but I’d bet you’ve got a early warning system you might not have considered yet. Maybe you love to read but there just hasn’t been time. Maybe your brain fog clears when you’ve taken a long hike, but it’s been months since you’ve strapped on your boots. I’m not sure what it might be, but I think you’ll be able to identify it by how starved you feel when you don’t have it. If it’s missing, if you’re starving, your PRAY NOW sign is blinking a bright, startling red. It’s your sign to remember Who is holding you, to take a deep breath, and to shred that paper tiger that’s got you all wrapped up. Ask me how I know.
A few nights ago I could tell by the light through the trees that the sunset was going to be achingly beautiful that night, so we made our way down to the river to capture it.
One of my favorite prayers from our Great Vespers service (which happens every Saturday night in preparation for Divine Liturgy the following morning) is when we chant Psalm 140. Here’s the first verse and a lovely recording:
Lord, I cry unto thee: make haste unto me; give ear unto my voice, when I cry unto thee.
Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense; and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.
Towards the end of the service, we sing O Gladsome Light.
O Gladsome Light of the holy glory of the Immortal Father,
heavenly, holy, blessed Jesus Christ.
Now we have come to the setting of the sun
and behold the light of evening.
We praise God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
For it is right at all times to worship Thee
with voices of praise, O Son of God and Giver of Life,
therefore all the world glorifies Thee.
So often now when I see the sunset, these prayers are echoing in my mind and heart. They bring deep and abiding comfort, and remind me to always look for the light.
On Sunday, after Liturgy, we trekked to the beach (about a mile from the church) and participated in the Blessing of the Waters- in this case, the Atlantic Ocean. This blessing happens as close to Theophany as possible. Theophany is celebrated on January 6- when we celebrate the Feast of the baptism of Christ and the blessing of the Holy Trinity is revealed. After the prayers are read, the cross is thrown into the water. Some intrepid soul or souls will dive after it and receive a blessing. My children could not believe that someone would actually go in- the temperature that day was only forty degrees. They really didn’t believe me that in colder climes like Russia and Canada, they actually cut holes in the ice to bless the water and dive for the cross!
Advent is this way of holding space for a coming not yet fulfilled. We are called to put on wonder and hope. What comes so simply for children becomes increasingly difficult for us as we grow older. We look out on a very weary, weary world; we have known sorrow; we are acquainted with grief. And somewhere along the way, we forget that the very babe we hope and pray for is the very Emmanuel, the God-with-us, that suffers sorrow unto death for us, who knows deep hurt, deep sorrow, deep pain, far more than we could ever fathom. The lines get crossed somehow. This is what Advent does- what Lent does- (and Advent is often referred to in the Church as ‘little Lent’ with good reason)- it circles round and opens a space of peace where we remember. We connect the dots. We put on joy, peace, hope, and love through grief, remembrance, and sorrow.
I keep thinking of this as I hear the news headlines. There is deep, deep pain right now. Crying out in the streets. So much hurt. So many voices wiser than I are speaking into these issues, but above all, I have felt so deeply in these moments that this is where we were meant to walk. We were and are supposed to be the Advent people, the Easter people, the people who know how to hold space for peace. I’m not sure how this looks all the time. Sometimes, it is giving voice for those who have no voice. Sometimes it is holding silence, because there are no words. It is always prayer, unceasing prayer. Sometimes it is caressing a child’s face, making cookies, and holding peace in our homes when the world outside storms. It is all these things and so much more. Rarely does deep and complex pain have easy answers, and it above all takes time. and space. Can we hold space for peace in a world desperately in need of safe places? What does that look like? These are the thoughts that have been circling my head of late as I watch my children in their wonder at Advent-tide.