I was the kid with her knees pressed firmly against the back of the booth, resting my chin on crossed arms while staring unflinchingly at the couple behind us as they ate their Bob Evans breakfast and pretended not to notice, until that is my mother shoved me downward by the shoulders, whispering, “Honestly, Molly, that is rude!” I was a sidetracked kind of child who too many times to count looked up in terror at the unrecognizable face belonging to the pant’s leg I mistakenly thought was my father’s. I was easily lost in shopping malls and grocery stores, left lingering in toy aisles as the rest of my family moved on to the check out line assuming I was there right beside them. Now here I am, twenty-five years later, a mother with a drifter of her own. “Look me in the eyes,” I tell him, positioning myself directly within his field of vision. “We are leaving in five minutes, please stop what you are doing and get ready to go.” It’s all hypocrisy for the most part, my telling him to pay attention when I am always living life with my head in the clouds, or in the murky puddles of mud pooling here and there and everywhere around me.
Left to my own devices, it is probable that I would float indefinitely from to whim-to-whim, losing time, confidence, and distance to the numerous stops and starts of my shifting ideologies and preoccupations. I’m not disciplined enough nor was I created to stay focused on salvation all by my lonesome. I am saved, being saved, aboard the Ark of the Orthodox Church within a body of Christians past and present sailing onward in unison toward the Kingdom of Heaven. What may appear to be repetitious and overly restrictive such as centuries old litanies, reoccurring fasts and feasts, and an ancient Liturgy unmodified, in reality caters mystically to our longing for stability in a world of rapid change and conflicting morals. What may seem to some like cold outdated Traditions are really, truly, miraculously, a most relevant source of enlightenment and spiritual healing.
It’s a sensible Faith as well as one of mystery. The thrice everything in Orthodoxy, for example, serves a very practical purpose for one such as myself whose thoughts start bucking like a bronco at the mere notion of being contained. By that last “Amen” or “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal,” I am usually able to reign in my mind and return to the work at hand of giving thanks to the Holy Trinity for the hope and untaintable purity of God’s perfect goodness. Just recently I was struck all over again by the usefulness of reiteration when I started joining my husband in his nightly rule of prayer. At first I didn’t understand what could possibly be so beneficial about forty recitations of “The Jesus Prayer” (Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Have mercy upon me a sinner) in front of icons of Christ and the Theotokos prior to going to bed; I was right to assume I didn’t naturally have the patience for it. For the first ten, I fidgeted; by the second ten, I was desperate to be anywhere besides standing in that skin crawling chasm of quiet. But during those last intercessions, by quite obviously the grace of God, I was able finally to make it through to other side of restlessness, finding peace in a moment of not doing, not telling, not asking, not trying but just being in the presence of Jesus.
On Friday, I was teary, overwhelmed and exhausted from attempting to be all things to all people. On Saturday, I was hyper: cleaning house, making more plans than I had energy, time, or skills for, and baking cupcakes for my eldest son’s birthday. On Sunday I was standing with my family for the Gospel reading when the parable of the Prodigal Son, a passage I know from experience (and our Church calendar) is but two short weeks from the beginning of Great Lent, mercifully grabbed hold of my antsy spirit with its vivid and poignant message of repentance. Left to my own devices, it is certain that I would flounder in the noise and rush of my fears and secular ambitions. Without a prescribed Fast, fleshed out generously by Lenten services and the fellowship of my brothers and sisters in Christ, it would be awfully, so very awfully difficult to carve out a period of time fully dedicated to the reordering of my priorities and the tidying of my dusty, cluttered soul. “Stop what you are doing,” says our Lord though His Church, “and start preparing yourself for my Resurrection.”
“Get in the car, please, get in the car, get in the car, get in the car,” I told five-year-old Benjamin just this afternoon.
“What did you say?” he asked me.
I got close to him, bent down on one knee and cupped his chin in the palm of my mittened hand. I repeated myself for the fifth time in the matter of a minute or two, and then he got it. As his mother I do my best to show love not by giving up on his ability to mature, not by revving up the minivan and leaving without him, but by recognizing his limitations, going to where he is and communicating with absolute clarity, “It is time now, sweetheart, to head home.”
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