I wish I could say that I had planned to go, that last week I had dutifully checked my Church calendar, noticed that the Elevation of the Cross was right around the corner, and immediately made attending that festal Liturgy a priority. But here’s how it really went down: Thursday afternoon my husband said, “Tomorrow is Elevation of the Cross, would you like to go?”
“Is the service here in town?” I asked.
“No, but the parish in Merrillville is having Liturgy at 9:00 am.”
“H-m-m,” I stalled, because Merrillville was at least 40 minutes away. That would mean getting my older two onto the bus, getting myself (and our younger two) dressed for doing something besides swinging, and then hightailing it out of here to make it on time. I wouldn’t say that I jumped at the chance, but since I am trying to be a better listener, a more reflexive responder to the nudging of the Holy Spirit, I did eventually answer that question in the affirmative; we would go to the service - in Merrillville - in the morning.
It seemed like a rather innocuous choice, that spur of the moment decision to show up at Church. But with all the resistance I faced, beginning bright and early on Friday, you would have thought I had decided to sell all my possessions and donate the proceeds to the poor. I mean, really, I had begrudgingly shifted my priorities to make room for this special feast, and yet here I was being attacked on all sides, worn down to the nub until I almost called the whole thing off entirely. At 6:15 am all four of my children woke up simultaneously on the absolute worst side of their beds. This gave me zero alone time to pull myself together. Three out of six members of our family had no clean underwear. Toothbrushes were mysteriously out of place, tucked away in miscellaneous drawers and under bunk beds rife with dust bunnies. There were spills, missing tennis shoes, weepy accusations, and two lunches to be made in three minutes flat. This would have been hectic enough, on its own, but add to that an empty stomach and the fog of exhaustion stubbornly clouding my mood, grieving for its usual mug of coffee, and I start resembling the Dr. Jeckyl half of Mr. Hyde. If I were God, I thought (most inappropriately), buckling under the strain of my crabbiness, “I wouldn’t even want me in Church – not with this lousy attitude.”
But lo and behold, there I was one hour later in the parking lot of The Protection of the Virgin Mary Orthodox Church, pulling Benji’s dress pants over the bunched up waistband of his pajamas bottoms (Ben was, unfortunately, one of the unlucky family members whose undergarments still lay wet and mildewing in the washing machine). We filed in, picked a spot to set up camp, and waited for the service to begin. Even then, while actually present in the nave of this beautiful parish whose stained glass windows sparkled and shone from the sunlight gazing upon them, I had my doubts; my head was full of distractions and nagging concerns determined to keep me absent, if not physically, then mentally from all meditations on Christ. Silently, meekly, I prayed for attentiveness as the ringing of the bells invited all of us to come, to worship, to be uplifted by the power of the Cross. I sang with the choir. I bowed toward the censer. I participated, despite my chaotic circumstances, initial grumpiness, and the occasional need to reprimand four-year-old Ben and two-year-old Mary, and I was blessed.
Just give it a shot, I dare you, and you’ll know I am talking about. I am not suggesting something extreme, here - anything sacrificial of your time, for the sake of the Faith, will do: a commitment to saying the Lord’s Prayer before bed and upon rising, making it to a Saturday evening Vespers, cracking open the Bible; attempt to push yourself just a fraction beyond where you were yesterday and watch hell try its darndest to overwhelm you, to trip you up, to keep you sidetracked and tangled in the mayhem of earthly cares. Believe me, I’ve fallen for it at least 10,000 times. I’ve surrendered over and over again to the touchable, the knowable, the present reality that demands its own precedence - claming unlawful dibs on my heart, on my spirit, on my mind. God’s love is not hypnotic, luring me uncontrollably into His presence. God’s love is not interested in competing with money, comfortableness, or notoriety for a measly portion of my soul. God’s love will not shout over the noise, will not twist my arm into submission, will not reveal itself until I turn, ever so slightly, toward Him and then miraculously I feel it everywhere: in the voices of my singing children, in the phone call from a friend, in the light infused brilliance of a stained glass window within a Church I didn’t particularly want to visit, but am now so very grateful that I did.
On Saturday, I wake early enough to grab my grocery list and hit the Super Walmart before it fills like a sports bar on game night. It is a mundane task, one that I dread on a weekly basis and yet this Saturday the 15 minutes of drive time required to get from here to there becomes an unexpected moment of thanksgiving. A hymn from yesterday’s feast became embedded in my subconscious and now spontaneously pours from out my mouth in song: Before Thy Cross, we bow down in worship O Master, and Thy Holy Resurrection we glorify! And from behind the wheel of a ‘98 Subaru heading south on Highway 49 to Valparaiso, I see glimpses of Heaven peeking through the triviality of this run-of-the-mill errand and I become dangerously aware of my true purpose. I turn, just ever so slightly, towards the love of Christ Jesus and the resistance, binding my every good intention, unravels like a thread that’s been snipped – evaporates in the brightness of God’s mercy.
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