Sunday, July 29, 2012

vacancy wanted here

We sat down in the old Catholic church two blocks up the street.  Seven-thirty pm and candles lit up the dark room, a few handfuls of people speckled the pews.  The Father welcomed us to the service, reminded us that there would be ten minutes of silent meditation after we'd sung some songs and scriptures together.  I've loved Taize style worship ever since my college featured the community at a chapel service.  It's been a place of solace and healing, a pillar that I can return to regardless of how the winds have blown me.  My heart felt at home, my body relaxed, my mind even accepted the invitation to hush, kneel and drink.

It had been too long, and I knew it.

I don't think I could survive motherhood unless I knew deep down that it all matters, it's all holy, everything good and righteous and true will last into the new world coming.  While I grew up with strong 'sacred' and 'secular' labels on the activities of myself and (especially) others, they've nearly washed away these days.  Heaven and earth will one day be reconciled, along with all things in this very physical world.  The things I put my hands to, even wiping dirty faces and sweeping floors, when done in love is somehow building for God's kingdom, as N.T. Wright puts it.

This has changed me:  I hear psalms in the giggles shared between my two babes growing in love, prayers in my legs as we walk to the park nearby.  Forgiveness and re-birth fill the relationships that rub me like iron, that whisper in my ears; I glimpse eternity in the endless washing, hanging, collecting of nappies that wait to be washed again.  Every story I read to my children and every hour spent awake in the night-watch, it's all holy.   I know that everything's spiritual, it's all worship, nothing is in vain or lost or wasted.  "Holiness lies spread and borne over the surface of time and stuff like colour," Annie Dillard writes, and I see it, I see the colour even in the mess of my kitchen just as dinner's ready, stacks of clothes to be put in drawers, cups of tea with friends on our couch and conversations with folks in the neighbourhood.  My whole existence is a prayer, an offering, a sacrament.

But sitting in the church, in the dim, sacred and quiet - why was I so suddenly aware of my thirst?  Why did my eyes fill with tears when the Father spoke of silence, that we were free to come and light a candle before the cross?  I know to my very core that all of the rituals, all of the grind daily that fills my life to the full is sacred and holy - but where is that holy and sacred place in my life that isn't already filled by everything else?  Where is the place of empty, where I kneel with hands cupped in longing, expectancy, vacancy and need.

Henri Nouwen writes, "In the silence of prayer you can spread out your hands to embrace nature, God and your fellow human beings.  This acceptance means not only that you are ready to look at your own limitations, but that you expect the coming of something new."

I can make excuses until the sun sets again as to how I'm so busy, that much my children need me, how I feel stretch marks over my days and nights appearing more clearly than ever before.  But the life I found in the quiet, as I lit the wick of my candle and placed it at the cross - I need that.  I need that empty space to sharpen my eyes to the beauty and holiness and God's own essence in the things that fill the hours and hours; I need to receive in that peaceful place that I actually have something to give in the holy world that spins 'round.  I need silence to honestly and gracefully look at my limitations while still expecting the possibility of something new.

In the quiet of the church I lit a candle and knelt before the cross.  I lit a candle for my friend's baby, for the women and children in Syria, for the exploited women on my street.  And I lit a candle for myself, for that restless place in my soul longing to renew her vows of celibacy, and my empty hands cupped in need.  Vacancy wanted here.  I don't know how to carve out that empty space regularly, but the want for it has been passionately renewed.   


Sunday, July 15, 2012

a love letter: dear body of mine

linking in to the synchroblog:  A Love Letter to my Body
(you should write a love letter to your body and link in too!)


in a world that hates women's real bodies and implores us to do the same, this is a confession of my admiration and love, dear body of mine:

you have been so good to me, these thirty years and a few months of non-stop demands and little thanks, you've proved yourself so faithful and capable again and again.

your arms are strong:  you've pumped water, welcomed babies, hugged strangers, strummed melodies, cuddled children (but rarely animals), carried your home in a bag on your back for too many months.  i think you have big muscles even if no one else agrees.

you've walked the dusty red roads of Africa, crowded and colourful back alleys in India, sat happy in taxis and trains and subway cars full of covered women smiling at you.  you ate spicy curries with your hands three times a day  and your tummy loved it even the next time, you go with the place you're in, you are satisfied easy.

airport floors?  no big deal you sleep there just fine, you always make yourself comfortable
even on the hard and cold of foreign places at 2am
and the flight's delayed again, again -
that's why nursing the babies back to sleep is no
big deal (most of the time), when
i think you're empty you let more down, you always surprise me with your resourcefulness.

you've healed:  from colds and car accidents, typhoid and stomach bugs.  you remember some of it, you've forgotten most, your scars remind me to be thankful as I fall asleep.

and that voice - my husband is always amazed at how loud you are, at how you always create your own path through and can be heard in between the rest.  when he's embarrassed you sing louder, and i can hardly stop you.

three surprise pregnancies and i barely trust you for it but
i love you for it, and for them.  the two that are with us now
look like you, people always say.  i think they are beautiful and you care for them the best you can.
now the spinning never stops, they work you so hard but you laugh loud and often enough that i think you're okay.

i'm sorry i shaved your legs so early.

i'm sorry that i've said words ungrateful and untrue.

i'm sorry i've compared you to anyone, ever.

you are my earthen vessel, from way back then, right here now and into the new heavens and the new earth.

go ahead and have grey hair already.  you deserve it.

and i love that gap between your front teeth, too.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

refugee mothers (and my two year old giggles)

Sometimes I'm not sure what to write on my blog because it all seems like it doesn't really matter in light of the stuff that people are going through right now.  I could write about marriage, but this week I heard that a friend's husband left her.  I could write about my  sweet daughter loving her first swing ride, but another friend is in the middle of searching for a diagnosis for her baby girl's weak arms and legs.  Too many people we know are losing spouses and parents to cancer.    And the widows and children fleeing Syr-ia are on my mind.

I want to be part of a community, of family and friends and even a global community, which grieves with each other when things are wrong.  (and so so very many things are wrong).  And yet I have such beauty in my life daily, such joy in my children and husband and my friendships here and around the world.  I don't know how to ache with those who ache without counting the joy in my life as selfish and unimportant.

In college I was part of a group called 'Students for Justice in the Middle East' - we organized speakers to come and stir things up on campus, we participated in peaceful campaigns to raise awareness about what was happening on the ground in Palestine and Iraq.  I remember having a meeting in the spring of 2003 - we were talking about the impending invasion of Iraq by our country, organizing  prayer and fasting  in hope that the tide would change quickly, that no more blood would be spilled.  It was a heavy meeting and Beth was crying.  She was engaged to marry a boy that she loved and she was so happy.  And that joy brought such a guilt, she couldn't find the place for it in the shadows of such imminent destruction.  My wise professor said to her, "Beth, the women in Iraq would want for you to be happy.  They would want you to celebrate, to be married."

My heart doesn't find it difficult to be stretched by pain, to share in other people's sorrow.  But it does find it difficult to admit the beautiful and confess the good in my own life when others are suffering.  Maybe it's survivor's guilt still hanging around, maybe it's shame from being so privileged economically - but I know it's not how I'm meant to be.

I want to weep with those who weep and mourn.

I want to celebrate with those  are laughing, especially with my (almost) two year old.

I want to wait with those in the darkness when the light hasn't come.

I want to throw off guilt for what I have and use that energy and resource to be a blessing to others.

miriam teaching me survival skills

I sat next to Miriam as our campfire slowly burned itself down under the insanely starry Sudanese night sky.  She told stories of her life in a Ugandan refugee camp for twenty years, of the Lord's Resistance Army terrorizing and destabilizing, of having to run and hide in the bush for her life before her daughters had made it home from school that day, of tying her baby on her back and grabbing a bag of rice to carry on her head.  While she spoke her scars aloud she gently ran her fingers through my privileged, educated, rich, white hair.  Her touch was so loving and sincere that I knew - somehow God's heart is big enough for it all.

come be You in our weakness
come be You in our grief
come be You in our celebrations
come be You when we bleed
come be You in our expectancy.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

old friends

there's nothing quite like old friends, is there?  even when old friends have new spouses and new babes growing and playing and the words we share in these hours with the clock ticking tell of things we would have never dreamed when we were all young and free together long ago -

even when the years between then and now have been hard, very hard with so many tears and swear words and waiting and praying and starting again -  and those same years have been filled to the full with healing of bodies and hearts and the ways we think, full of green living things rising from ashes and spring secretly winning winter over from the death and black and barren cold -

a night and a day isn't enough when an old friend is in town.  but it's something to be grateful for.