Drowned In Living Waters

Nietzsche couldn’t understand; Hitler got it backwards; Marx forgot humanity; and the Modern Christian gets it all wrong without thinking at all.Going against the wisdom of this world, Christianity resembles more the survival of the weakest than the survival of the fittest – making foolish the prophets of our age. In his work, The Anti-Christ, Nietzsche said, “The weak and botched shall perish: the first principle of our charity”, but St. Paul maintains that, “when I am weak, then I am strong”. The German thinker claimed that “a [man or society] is corrupt when it loses its instincts, when it chooses, when it prefers, what is injurious to it” but the world’s Savior said “take up your cross and follow Me”. The morality of Modern Man declares virtue as “whatever augments the feeling of power, the will to power, power itself” while the Son of Man requires His followers to be “clothed in humility.” With condemnation Nietzsche wrote, “The fate of the Gospels was decided by death”, with acclamation the Patristics agree. Christians are insane, or at least they should be.Lent is the embodiment of the Christian life in a Season, and as such is a portrayal of good Christian lunacy. So, dear readers, accept for a moment (at least the duration of this article) that you must die to live.

The story of Lent is one that encompasses all the Covenants, both past and future. It is Joseph who lay bruised and beaten in the depth of a pit only to rise up and be clad in Pharaoh’s clothes. It is desert-exiled Moses, a reluctant shepherd, who led God’s people to the Promised Land. It is a very sore Abraham, cut in his old age, who would have descendents enumerating the hosts of the sky. It is a short kid named David who conquered his fear (he couldn’t have had that good of an arm) and received a Throne. It is a girl pregnant out of wedlock who denied all pride and became Theotokos. It was God in flesh, battered and crucified ascending into heaven. And it will be our eternal judgment and the eternal banquet of the faithful. Christians old and new live in a backward reality.

In this Lenten story, we have all become Adams, hiding from ourselves and God, forgetting (or trying to forget) that He sees all. And so Lent is the time when God walks through the Garden, calling our name and asking us what we have done. We wriggle and whinny ourselves in every direction, pointing fingers and passing blame as layer after layer reveals us as basely human. Once we are stripped, our nakedness in plain view, then God begins to sew clothes for us. That usually happens around Day 39.

Lent is my favorite Season (which many find quite strange). I have a devotion to Lent because it is the journey of Christ. I walk unreservedly with Him in the desert of hunger to face demons and find angels. He asks us to follow Him unconditionally as He treads upon the thorns of sin with hope, but no sight, of a rose. He gives strength to be crucified with Him, to go down into the depths of Hades with Him, to die with only rumors of a resurrection. Forty days to see my utter depravity. Do not think that it is morbidity that finds love in these things. It is thankfulness that our Lord Christ would walk this earth to kill death itself and then, having finished the race, grants us the Spirit to share with Him in His suffering. In Lent the Spirit reveals with utmost clarity who I am, and utterly disturbed by the sight, I run to Christ and cling to Him, seeking to be clothed in and with Him.

Lent is also the sequence of our baptism; in baptism, we are drowned. Our old man is left gulping down fonts of water and suffocating while our New Man is raised to the newness of life. In the depths, in the fires of hell, in the baseness of humanity we are held for forty days. One day a week we are allowed to grasp a short breath of air, a wisp of victory, then under we go again. We are left to stare up through the blurred current at the Light, and as the days pass the darkness grows darker, and yet somehow it seems that the rays of the sun penetrate clearer through the rivulet of rushing sins. We are drowned in Living Waters.

And then it’s Holy Week. Blackness and agony enfold me as the assigned Readings cast all thought of my weak faith aside in the looming greatness of the Cross and Passion. Someone thought it was a good idea to read through every account of Christ’s agony and bloody sweat – brave soul. By Holy Saturday my soul has nowhere to turn but to that Font from which it was born, and the words of St. Augustine ring through my being:
“Oh that I might find my rest and peace in you! Oh that you would come into my heart and so inebriate it that I would forget my own evils and embrace my one and only good, which is you! Oh, in the name of all your mercies, O Lord my God, tell me what you are to me! Say unto my soul; I am thy salvation. Speak so that I can hear. See, Lord, the ears of my heart are in front of you. Open them and say unto my soul: I am thy salvation. At these words I shall run and I shall take hold of you. Do not hide your face from me. Let me die, lest I should die indeed; only let me see your face.”

In Lent we have been drowned, buried, and burned – we have experienced the eternity of forty days. But then our shoulders are grasped by strong hands and we are raised “In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti.” We come out of the cleansing river and we breathe truly, for we have the Breath of Life restored in our lungs. We see truly, for we are blinded by the Light which casts out darkness. Easter has come, and we are not only raised with Christ, but we ascend with Him into the heavenlies. Here we are accepted to that Heavenly Banquet in the most unshrouded glory of the year – Christos Anesti! Nietzsche was wrong, Modern Man is a liar, Reality is not as we thought it. We have died to live.

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Falling Leaves in February

Where I’m from, the leaves fall in the Autumn. Colors bright, they cling to branches, adding texture to the sky.  Then the first snap of cold sucks the life out of them and they fall, browned, to the ground.  It’s predictable, it happens every year around September.

If you’d been spying in our backyard today, you would have seen two mowgli-children jumping in an enormous pile of brown leaves, making snow angels and disappearing in the glory of them as the hungry heap swallowed them whole.  It’s February, this is not when leaves should fall.  To be honest, they probably did most of their falling in January and have been napping for a few weeks untouched.  However, this does not change the oddity.  Did they have amnesia in September?  How long had they been orange and red and glorious?  Had I missed out because I hadn’t expected it, hadn’t opened my eyes to see it?

As I loaded black bags brimming, it struck me that seasons are rarely predictable.  Sometimes buds pop up through the snow, sometimes leaves fall in February.  We have been in a transitional season of life here and we keep saying, “next week should be quieter”, “next month we’ll find routine again”.  But today, today, while raking dead leaves rotting, I realized I had missed their moment of splendor.  I heard the words of an old friend, “spend the afternoon, you can’t take it with you” (A.Dillard).  No, we can’t take time with us.  How often will I need to learn this lesson?  How many days will I spend rushing through the busy-ness and miss the changing colors?  The train of my to-do list derailed, I jumped in the pile with my laughing, dirt-covered children, hands reaching for me as I stared up through the leaves at specs of light – giggles in the now.  “How we spend our days, is of course, how we spend our lives.”  (A.D.)

This, this living in the present, soaking in the waterfall of moments and noticing everything enough to give thanks for it, is not easy.  Discontent gnaws our soul and makes a whirlwind of our time.  Bitterness tamps our sin deep and hard, ready for a tiny spark to set off an explosion.  Worry steals our joy and leaves us thirsty.

God is the Divider of the firmament and He specializes in souls.  The fourth-day creation was good.  God spun light in the darkness, creating seasons and days and signs and years.  God, the Eternal Fountainhead of Wisdom, says time is good.  There is exactly the right amount of it and we are to let it mark our days, our seasons, our years, our worship.  Time is not busy, it is not rushing – I am the busy one rushing through it like a gorilla through a field of lilies.  When (or if) I stop and turn around, I wonder at the broken stems.  This is not embracing the gift of now nor being grateful at its goodness.

I confess the discontent, the bitterness, the worry that has climbed slowly like ivy up my heart, tendrils gripping their way into my soul.  And I receive the renewing streams of forgiveness that bring me to the ocean of the present.  These moments, this day bursting with life and light and color, this is the day which the Lord has made; I will rejoice and be glad in it.  In this rejoicing, I find that time is amplified, its presence sweeter, its memories deeper.  This is the right season, whatever falls or buds in it, and this life of grace is good.

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The Fragrance of Christ to God

Burn my soul, dear God above, that all dross this day may banished be. I offer here myself a sacrifice, blinded by the blemish that I have become. The sin which so easily entangles has done well its work in me, until from the depths I cry unto Thee, knowing full well that Thine is the only hand that can make me clean. Yet lingers a fear, a shame that downcasts my soul – have I the faith to touch Thy hem as a woman years ago had done? This is the fire of which I speak: a cleansing flame by Spirit driven that returns me to the dust from which I came. But in my dying I am raised, for spotless Christ proclaims, “She is in Me and I in her – My blood has made us one”. The fragrance now raised before the Throne is that of mingled flesh, as all sin, shame and spot are burned. My Husband has once again presented a spotless Bride to Thee.

Incense
Oh would that it did end there! But you, my whoring soul, are so like Israel, that day after after day this same must be done. How great is my desire to be true, faithful, and pure and yet how great my shame as once again you find me selling my soul to another. How well Thou knowest Hosea’s grief! I beg, therefore, that through judgement and patience Thou would teach me to be a Wife. I seek to be not a daughter of Eve but a daughter of Mary. Through the power of Christ, may the incense of this handmaiden’s faithful prayers be greater than the fragrance of my sacrificed sins. And in this may I be a pleasing aroma, the Fragrance of Christ to Thee.

God’s Grandeur

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.

It will flame out like shining from shook foil;

It gathers to a greatness like the ooze of oil

crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?

Generations have trod, have trod, have trod

And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;

And wears man’s smudge and bears man’s smell; the soil

Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;

There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;

And though the last lights off the black west went

Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs–

Because the Holy Ghost, over the bent

World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

-Gerard Hopkins

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We’re All Terminal

I wake.  I write, I write it all, I write it now because now is all I have.  The moment to come may bring a waking child, a mosquito vibrating around my ear, or a jack-hammer trying to break through the concrete and my reverie.  But now, now is silent.  Now is mine.  In the recent past (recent is, of course, relative to your sense of time; for here I will say recent is few years), I have not written for fear.  Fear of being too full to write.  Fear of starting in the wrong place and not having time (when did time become so precious?) to end where I wanted.  These are surface things.

I am not secretive. My thoughts are scarce my own before they’re shared. This is how I live, how I’ve always lived.  Open.  Flowers stay open under the right circumstances: water, sun, earth, chlorophyll and photosynthesis.  They take droplets of light and turn them into life.  During the span of time which I’ve called the recent past, there is a deeper reason I have not written.  It has something to do with nyctinasty, that mysterious lot of flowers that close at night.  The nyctinastics elude scientific explanation.  Some think that the petals grow at different rates of speed, so the top petals are forced to shut.  Maybe. Others say that the flower is protecting its powers of reproduction by closing at night, when the dew is the heaviest.  No one knows why they close, but scientists keep making up answers.  We will never know because flowers are not emotive nor, under most circumstances, talkative.

A butterfly cannot always be beautifully fluttering about.  We grew butterflies in our living room.  They started as specks and grew into caterpillars at an alarming rate.  Then, magic happened.  The greatest change occurred out of sight.  Somehow a speck grabbed a blanket, wrapped it close around itself with hot cocoa and came out a butterfly, fully equipped with the latest flying paraphernalia.  Magic.  I, too, closed up for the night.  Special blanket in tow, I plopped a marshmallow into my cocoa and cocooned myself for an indefinite length of minutes.  Or years.  Grace abounded. I’ve changed and been changed. Marriage changed me, changes me.  Motherhood transformed me, transforms me.  My wings may not have hardened yet, but they will soon.  I feel it coming and I will fly.

The first butterfly we released into the great outdoors burst out strongly.  She almost made it to the sidewalk when a mockingbird dove and tackled it, quite brutally, to the ground in front of my two-year-old daughter.  Life is bloody. Death is inevitable.  What would I write if it were my last day?  What would I write to you if it were yours?  We are all terminal.  I write again because now is all I have.

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Ashes, Ashes

The poignancy of Ash Wednesday struck with quite a blow this year. I had on one side my nearly 2-year-old girl and on the other my new baby boy. The rhythm of the liturgy Proceeded as usual, my sweet little girl chiming in with her hearty “amens” either just before or after the beat. “Come, all is made ready” rang the familiar call and papa with daughter and I with my freshly-born son stood to make the journey to the High Place. We supped with God and then the brutal truth blazed before us: ashes would today be our crown. We, as Adam, would be banished from the Garden. The striking part this year was in my arms. My son, a month old in this world, who has as far as I know, committed no volitional sin – he too bore a black cross, the symbol of his grave.

“From dust you are and to dust you shall return”. How can this be? This cherubic boy’s face marred with the mark of a sin-stained soul? I looked to my left, finding it quite easy to believe such guilt lay in my spirited and stubborn girl, easier still to know many sin-lived years in papa & I, but more difficult to see it in this helpless child asleep in my arms. Yes, even he needs ashes. His soul needs reminding of sinful mortality. He is as needful of a Savior as his papa, mama , and sister. Praise God from Whom all blessings flow, the Font of my son’s redemption. Thankful that my son has been cleansed by Christ, I descend the Hill with a new light shining to the depth of depravity.

Shadowlands

I have ventured out. I have traveled a very far distance of five floors. It seems a very far distance, at least, since my precious little girl is bound to room #558. But I’ve gone for a walk, taken deep breaths of outside air for the first time in five days, and now I sit alone in the “Family Resource Center”, here looking for some words. Thoughts bubble, not flowing together as they should, but bubbling as though from an underground spring, or maybe like a fountain shooting out of the earth not knowing where its droplets will land or if the earth will be receptive to its dew. It doesn’t care, and spouts away. That’s me. My girl is very sick. A week ago she was laughing and running and talking, always talking. In the course of hours she went to a shadowland all of her own, one I could not go with her to nor bring her back from. Flashbacks to a time and place of my past when life was understood to end in death at any age. The way I saw her sternum suck to her spine with each breath – this was a familiar sight when I was in a different land – but not here, not my little girl, how could she be struggling to breathe in the same way they had? Most of those babies from the past had skin as dark as the dirt I buried them in, not the blue eyes and blonde hair of the precious child in front of me. I have reached a new level of understanding, I have ascended the hill of the Lord by descending through the depths of despair. On this journey, I have learnt one thing: Sophia is not mine, nor would I wish her to be. No, she is covered by One so much greater than me, she rests protected in His hands and covered with His feathers. Our Lord has given angels gaurd over her to keep her in all her ways: this I could not pretend or imagine to do. I sit at her bedside, He dwells within her and surrounds her. I grasp her hand, He securely holds her soul. I stroke her face, His countenance rests upon her and grants her peace. She is His, as I am, and I am the steward whose heart floods over and drowns with love – the love that He has given me to have for her. I rest under the Shadow of the Almighty.

Love

I’ve been gone a while, maybe someone noticed, maybe not. You can never tell in this technological world we find ourselves in. The photo on the last post I had makes me smile. It feels like yesterday and at the same time a decade ago. I never have been very good at judging the passage of time. However, I do know what has filled the void of the past two and a half years: LOVE, baby! Oh, yes. Lots and lots of love. See:

               And see some more:

That’s a lot of love there, folks.

Fun in the snow…

Photos by the great Chris Linebarger:

Getting out some of my violent tendencies:

My dearling fiancé after he did some tree-hugging:

What a mystery it is when two people are knit together through the difficulties and the joys. Love has become a secret that I want to share with everyone and at the same time know that it is intimate enough that only Jason will understand our love, for each love is different. We have become witnesses to the others’ heart and soul. I am left simply thankful. The 55 days left til we get married are invaluable to us and I look forward to the click of the invisible knitting needles poking, bobbing, looping, and binding these two threads together.

The Not So Silent Cup

30 June 2009: Seriously consider canceling my upcoming trip to Dallas because of a bad attitude. For some reason, however, I had gotten an unreturnable ticket (I never do that!). Life would not be what it is now if I’d bought a refundable ticket.

08 July 2009: Dear Leslie picked me up from the airport (for those of you who don’t know her, she is my high-kickin’ mad-cookin’ wonderwoman of a friend) in the late afternoon. I was in Dallas for an annual Anglican conference. When she picked me up, we started chatting in the car. She happened to mention, among other things, that Jason Staniger was also staying with them for the conference;
“Who?”
“Jason Staniger, I’m sure you’ve heard about him”
“I don’t think so”
“Oh, well he’s kind of….unique” [laughter]

Obviously, my interest was peaked.

Standing by the wet bar of Chris & Leslie’s house, Chris walked in first and then what seemed like a handful of people all at once. We all started chatting about owls (a frequent topic of discussion with me) and about 5 minutes later the door opens again and in walks this tall, dark, and handsome man who seems to avoid my eye contact at all costs. Maybe he is unique in his bad attitude, I thought to myself.. Me being me, I stuck out my hand and introduced myself. It was the first time I saw his eyes, his countenance, his soul; gentle, this man is gentle. No time to linger, I was back on the owls.

The conference itself seemed inconsequential to me this year, but everything in the periphery was monumental. Leslie was asking a lot of questions. Questions about nursing school, questions about who I was and what I wanted to do. She asked about if I’d ever considered midwifery. Concurrently, because Jason was also staying with Chris & Les, we were talking. A lot. I was surprised, shocked, and at times confused as to why I was being so open with him.

My last evening in Dallas, Jason and I had offered to go get dinner rolls for Leslie. She sent a short list of items and told us where the nearest WalMart Grocery was (~2 miles away). But Jason had other plans, which I truly was ignorant to. We drove all around Dallas looking for Whole Foods because Jason won’t go into WalMart. He finally pulled into a WF and looked at the list we’d been given. There, next to “Cereal” were the clear instructions that we must “do a high kick in the cereal aisle” (you thought I was joking about Leslie being a high-kickin’ woman? Oh no, that’s VERY true). We laughingly did some pretty fantastic high kicks in the middle of the Store and proceeded home. How many hours had we been gone?!? There’s still discussion out on that, but it was somewhere around three hours.

16 July 2009: California. Work. Decisions to make about nursing school. Suffice it to say that the Lord flung doors open and shut them with more visible force than I’d ever seen before in my life. By Thursday, I knew that the decision had been made and confirmed ten times over for me to move to Dallas. My choice was to be faithful to the leading.

The fly-by: for the rest of the summer Jason & I were spending copious hours on the phone, I moved to Dallas in September, our official first date was to a U2 concert on 12 October, and were engaged on 12 January.


For those of you still with me, allow me a little more time to tell you about my fiancé, Jason Patrick Staniger:

He was born to two Croatian parents in Des Moines, though the ancestry seems to have been lost at Ellis Island. He thinks it’s strange and almost funny that that was my first sentence about him, but he shares an appreciation for history so he secretly likes that I introduce him as Croatian.

His countenance is filled with kindness but flushes with mischief when his jocular humor subtly seeps out, which often has that quality of dryness which leaves the listener unsure of the appropriate response.

He has a passion for the high liturgy and coffee (separately, of course). He loves hosting people in his home. He makes the best apple pie I’ve ever had, and makes a killer crust (which rates pretty highly in my book).

Given five adjectives for him, I would pick: Gentle, Sincere, Honest, Funny, and Eager. He makes me laugh, and amazingly, laughs at me. Which ends up equalling a lot of laughter.

He knows that some of the greatest music is on vinyl. He has the most carefully-chosen collection of films I’ve ever seen. He has an eye for cinematography and story that would weave the world into my favorite novel.

He takes his shirts to be professionally pressed because “no human can achieve the right amount of stiffness and shape” that he desires from his clothing. I find this quite amusing.

His aura is a mix of blueish-silver turning yellow-red. He thinks its ridiculous and kind of funny that I just mentioned his aura. He will also google those aura colors to figure out what I meant by them. With some amount of luck he might find a legitimate guide to read them by.

We are both pretty characteristic Geminis, so having done my research, here’s what our relationship looks like from astrology:

This relationship will never be boring and both partners will share an intellectual approach to life. Both will not only allow but also appreciate the freedom and variety of expression which is characteristic of Gemini. Both enjoy each other’s conversation and love to cultivate the art of discussion. Wit and curiosity make them a stunning and stimulating couple, entertaining each other and the people they socialize with. If they learn to cooperate, rather than compete, they will enjoy a happy relationship.

Whew! What a relief.

And that’s the beginning of who Jason is.

I am grateful to the faithful God for so ordering the lives of His people so that we might better serve Him. Every ounce of me looks forward to serving the Kingdom with Jason. I desire to follow him as He follows our Lord. I look forward to creating a home with him that is a haven for those in need.

I am thankful. I am in love.

(For his side of the story: The Cup of Silence)