When I was in the process of discernment, even before that, during an intense several weeks of confirmation class (I know every diocese does this differently, to learn more about how my diocese does it click here), I heard a quote that sort of brought all these falling snowflakes of ideas and beliefs and what should I dos together. Like a gigantic icicle hanging from the roof I suddenly knew what I was to do, what I was made for and called to, it became infinitely clear to me, as clear as the way that huge icicle would sparkle in the sun, full of a million tiny droplets of water.
I meditated on this idea, not in a lotus position breathing out oohhhmmmm, but I poured it out of its can and put it in a pot and covered the pot, and I just sort of turned the heat on real low under the pot and I walked away from it. I was conscious that it was there and heating, conscious of bubbles that would rise to the surface and pop every now and again, but I sort of left it alone, do you see what I mean?
I don’t know how else to explain what discernment is and was for me, there aren’t words that I could say that would make sense. It is all rather magical, and I believe in magical things but know that so many in the world do not.
I thought about one time coming out of the sacristy and being robed, carrying the precious prayers of the people and a microphone, carrying a pencil so that I could add in any other petitions or thanksgivings that came to me. There is a floor vent right there by that door, and the wind wooshed my robes up around me, rattled my paper, as I headed back to my seat in the choir loft.
I thought about how the curve of the grand piano feels when I lean into it and sing, how I can feel the vibrations as each hammer strikes a chord right to my core, how I can feel the vibration of what I used to think were awfully high notes as they bend and wave and bounce off the roof of my open mouth and out across an empty nave.
There is this long L shaped hallway downstairs, and I can see the back of my own self hurrying along, turning off lights, checking to make sure the doors are locked, having been in the building for several hours and being bone tired and footsore, ready for home.
What I am wondering is if the deep gladness in my heart is a place that is so far down.
I am wondering if the joyful and light things bob to the surface, weightless and bouyant as joyful things should be. I wonder if a deeper gladness is to be found in the places where my heart breaks. I noted the other night that I think when our hearts break we become present with, commune and sit with misery, be it our own or the misery of the world.
When we truly place ourselves into situations we can hardly imagine, and we feel those cracks forming we can know that soon a light will shine forth, for we cannot always live broken, we cannot always live in the dark, we do not stay in misery; we fight our way out of it.
Maybe the deep gladness in our hearts is always and only found in desolation, but the low hum of joy that accompanies the somehow bright and minor chords as they play this soundtrack that we all live inside of, maybe that low hum of joy is the realization that we have come out of ourselves and into the world, the realization that we are needed.
I read a poem the other day and it said, “Now is the time to understand that all of your ideas of right and wrong were just a child’s training wheels, to be laid aside when you can finally live with veracity and love.”
Maybe now is the time to see that when something we read or hear breaks our hearts, that our heart pings back a note of joy, because finally we know what moves us, what we care about, finally we know what to do with this ridiculous and grace filled gift.
I wonder if Mary found her deep gladness in this way. I doubt that when she said, to me be as it please the Lord, she was really excited about this baby she was said to be pregnant with. She didn’t get a baby shower and she didn’t get a family that was excited and scared all at once for all the things that can happen in a nine month time span. Its not like she came out of the bathroom and held up a little stick she had peed on and Joseph whooped and twirled her around their kitchen.
It didn’t happen that way, because that wouldn’t be the deep heart gladness I am speaking of.
I think it happened over the long months and the sickness and clumsiness, over getting to know this man who’d married her but was not the father of her child. In learning to hold her chin up even when the whole world thought badly of her. In the knowing that she would bear this child, and the later realization that she would watch him, son of God though he was, he was still her little boy, she would watch him die a horrible death and not really understand what it was all for. Maybe sometimes she wished he would just sit down and shut up, like all mothers do, at some point or another. Maybe she wished he would choose an easier road for himself, that he wouldn’t anger so many and ask so many questions. Maybe.
We still talk about, speculate on what that death was for, and we have all sorts of different ideas and that is ok.
But Mary’s deep gladness came from stroking the curls on her child’s head as she held him at her breast that night so long ago, when magical things like skies full of the rush of angel wings and choirs made up of stars sang a lullaby maybe happened. Her deep gladness came as Simeon pronounced both a blessing and curse that day in the temple, when she finally knew that the price she would pay would be so high as to be almost unthinkable. Her deep gladness came when the stone was rolled away and her son walked the earth again.
I don’t think those joyful and happy major notes are the ones we hear when we are experiencing the kind of deep heart feelings I am thinking of, they are notes that sometimes clash and climb on top of one another up a scale. They are the sadness in watching Hospice Dog leap like he couldn’t before because of the steroids that are slowly returning him to all that waits beyond this life. They are the notes that accompany the last time your child sings in the high school choir, the last time they wear a certain dress.
Ave wore a dress to school today that is red velvet and trimmed with white fur, she chose striped tights and black high heels, and then finally settled on fleece lined leggings and pink tennis shoes. Kaia wore that dress too, and Mina or Margo before her. Ave talked about how next year she wouldn’t have gym on the same day of her Christmas party and so could wear her high heels instead with the same dress.
The same dress that is a little short in the sleeves, a little snug across the chest, a dress she won’t wear next year, if indeed she ever wears it again. And looking at her cheeks, still faintly freckled from the summer sun, and pink tennis shoes and her big eyes my heart hummed in a moment that I will never have again.
The brokenness that I discovered, the dark places that hurt so badly I couldn’t bear to let any light in, those places are the places that resonate and hum with what the world needs, what it is hungry for. And my heart strikes a matching chord, and then the magic happens, and I am shown how to be the hands and feet of the baby who will be born soon, the man who will become a rabbi and argue in the temple, the one who welcomed us all in to a radical and painful grace.
The time is almost here, just a week to go. The bells will ring at St. John’s, and the choir will sing and we will proclaim again the deep joy and deep sadness that is knowing a man who will die for us again, in not very many more weeks.
Enter the magic, feel the hum and the pain as it laps at the edges of the sore places in your heart. Be with little Aylan on the beach, with his father and his mother in her last moments, be present with the families of the little children massacred at Sandy Hook as they hang ornaments those children made on their Christmas trees and notice for the millionth time the ring of that child’s laughter missing. Be with a woman making an impossible claim, to be bearing the savior who was promised as she labors in these final weeks, as she searches for a safe place to be.
This time I am not asking you to act, not asking you to do. Lord knows you need to rest, I do too. I am just asking you to be, and to experience and to feel. To hum in deep gladness as the day approaches where man and God are made one.
That hum, even in the midst of deep sadness is that rarest and most delicate of flowers, it is hope.
I love you still, even when you don’t understand.