Until We Rest on Thee

I have felt very lost this summer.

The summer began in the wake of a shooting that left my friends and school family lost in time and space, floating in a nightmare. The sudden realization of what a bullet can do to a person, family, and community has made watching the news (read: going on Facebook or Twitter) all the more jarring. With the horrors of Israel and Palestine, Iraq, and Ferguson, two feelings have left me paralyzed: the (1) outrage of knowing that while the hurt I’ve had since June 5th is indeed painful and the result of a needless and senseless act of violence, it is what many around the world are experiencing as day-to-day life due to their religion or skin color, and the (2) utter disbelief that such things can and do happen so frequently.

The violation of the shooting and the frustration of not being able to find a summer job in Seattle sent me flying home to Caledonia for the summer. Everything seemed impossible in Seattle. Bussing an hour both ways to Capitol Hill for Latin lessons (with an admittedly wonderful woman), being so close to campus, taking the short bus ride to the church I love, buying groceries, and cooking alone for a second summer—all of these things felt like islands that my body had the impossible task of bridging, connecting into one life. The constancy and familiarity of suburban Western Michigan beckoned mercifully, and I came running.

In Michigan I began a summer job and Latin lessons with a man who can speak the dead language nearly fluently. These two things fell into place before I even left Seattle, for which I am very grateful. I am also grateful for my parents. Earning a paycheck will make you appreciate the generosity of the people who raised you.

My parents went to Austria for a week and a half early in the summer. My dad had a conference to attend there, so he and my mom took some days afterwards to travel around Vienna, where my mother once lived. It was a well-deserved and long-overdue vacation for them. Being twenty-one, I was hoping that I would be fine home alone, but I went to bed every night for the first few days convinced that someone was hiding in my house, waiting for the perfect moment to shoot me.

I was hoping that I could return to my hometown without increased depression, paranoia, and anxiety about my sexuality, but the conversation about homosexuality is just starting in the Christian circles here. While I am grateful that that discussion is being had, it comes with a cost to those involved. When my sexuality and my future are daily being debated around me it is hard to think of anything else. I am so frustrated that I am stuck in ruts I thought I had long since left behind. I left my summer job early when I became incapable of focusing on my work due to such thoughts.

I have felt very lost this summer, which makes me wonder what it would mean for me to feel found—to be found.

When the shooting and murder of a student left my school lost we were found in prayer. “We were found” means three things here: that (1) were you to walk through campus during those days you would have seen SPUers in prayer circles on Tiffany Loop, in First Free Methodist Church worshiping and lamenting, and outside Otto Miller Hall, stopping to offer prayers and flowers, that (2) we were unified by the act of praying together—we were found by each other, which means we were not alone—and that (3) we were found in Christ. Because we came together not only as a family but as a worshiping community we were, I believe, members of a community of believers that transcends time and space—a community that ultimately cannot be separated by death because it is a community that shares in eternal life with Christ.

Although people say Seattle is the most Godless city in the country, it is where I have known most fully what it means to be Christian, to pray with others, and to walk amidst the company of saints. Separated from those people I have had a difficult time keeping my prayer practices and discerning the presence of God. With two weeks left before I return to England, I’m going to renew my effort to observe Morning and Evening Prayer. I have been lost enough times to know that I am found in Christ—a consummation of seeking and being sought.

Lord, may we rest on Thee.

 

Repeat

The summer after freshman year was when I started to write with any regularity. Mind you, a writer of any amount of discipline would laugh at what I here refer to as “regular”—outside of journaling I write once a week at most, even less frequently at college—but I stand by my word choice. I think that the increase in output can be chalked up to a serious increase of feelings. For people who try their hands at anything creative, feelings, like yogurt, can produce movement and… regularity.

Around this same time the way I pray changed. I began to pray that God would use me—a fairly open-ended prayer that always feels like a cop out until I remember the opening line of the Prayer of St. Francis: “Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace.” Petitioning God with specific requests is something that I still do, but less frequently. Part of this is has been realizing that, in many times and places, I am unable to see clearly enough to find an outcome worth praying for. So, Thy will be done—in the world, in this city, in my life, and in my writing.

Flannery O’Connor’s prayer journal was recently published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. It contains her prayers from January 1946 to September 1947, when she was twenty and twenty-one years old, attending writing workshops in Iowa City. Only a few pages in, the prayers are earnest, clunky, and occasionally luminescent. The passage quoted on the back is also from the prayer most frequently quoted in any of the recent writing I’ve seen pertaining to the slim volume. Continue reading

Scotland, For I [Part II]

I may not know much about alcohol, but I do know that morning drinking on the train from Edinburgh to Aberdeen will get you a few odd looks—although probably not as many as you’d expect most other places. The man with the food cart came down the aisle at ten fifteen and asked if I wanted anything. “What beer d’ya have?” I asked him. He looked at his watch with a little concern before hesitantly naming a few labels. I’d never had any of them before, so I employed a tactic that I’ve mastered recently. “Foster’s, please,” I said, nearly cutting him off. I may not know much about alcohol, but other people don’t need to know that, so I play connoisseur as well as the next American twenty-year-old.

“Shake It Out” by Florence & the Machine came onto my iPod and I enjoyed a few moments of victory before the train filled up with Scots. A surly young woman sat next to me. “Don’t judge me,” I told her. “I’ve never drunk on a train before and I wanted my first time to be in Scotland. I swear this isn’t sad.” “No, seems reasonable,” she muttered. I put my earbuds back in.

I wrote in my journal a lot on these train rides. An excerpt written while flying past little Scottish towns:

The steeples on the churches here are dark and bleak. If the Christopher Wrens in London inspire awe and wonder and glory, those here seem to say that there is hard, unglamorous work to do before we can get to where they’re pointing. Protestant work ethic and whatnot.”

The next nine pages of my journal are spent on the metaphor of Christ and his Bride. After that, two pages of quotes from Christian Wiman’s My Bright Abyss, including the following:

Faith cannot save you from the claims of reason, except insofar as it preserves and protects that wonderful, terrible time when reason, if only for a moment, lost its claim on you.” (7)

On falling in love with his wife:

…it was human love that reawakened divine love. Put another way, it was pure contingency that caught fire in our lives, and it was Christ whom we found—together, and his presence dependent upon our being together—burning there.” (22-23)

I didn’t understand the brogue of the taxi driver who took me from the train station in Elgin to Pluscarden Abbey, the home of the Benedictine community I was to stay with for the week. I did, however, understand the posh and articulate to the point of theatrical Oxbridge accent of the man who greeted me upon arrival—a young visiting dom, ranked somewhere between priest and monk. “Oh, you’re an Oxford man. Oh, so sorry. I’m a Cambridge man of course, which, as I’m sure you know, is better than Oxford for most things. What college? Wycliffe Hall? OH, so so sorry.” I was surprised and smugly pleased to learn a few days later that the dom was, in fact, a mere New Yorker born and bred who did his undergrad at Cambridge, changed his voice, converted from Episcopalianism, and joined an order.

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settle down

“After diving two weeks deep into summer I have emerged for a breath.”

I found the above sentence earlier today when I opened my laptop. Chrome had kindly saved the tabs that were open before I closed it last, including the one in which I now type. “After diving two weeks deep into summer I have emerged for a breath.” There it is, a reminder of my inability to sit down and write without being distracted by the internet or sleep. It’s also a reminder that 48 hours ago I was able to pause for prayer and  introspection during what I am realizing will be the most frantic summer of my life.

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Something that I have tried to do recently is to be aware of the presence of God. People go about this in different ways, but for me I think I need routine. I am generally able to stay on top of Phyllis Tickle’s Divine Hours, which consists of different prayers and Scripture readings for each part of the day, but I’m not the best at keeping up with my church’s Bible reading plan. I’ve also begun to carry around Anglican prayer beads in my pocket. My mother bought me a set four years ago. After a few months of fervent devotion they fell cold from my hands. Since then, they have been one of those small things that I pack to take with me whenever I fly back and forth between Seattle and Grand Rapids but never actually use. Now when I’m walking around campus I’ll do a lap on the beads if I remember.

Perhaps the simplest thing I’ve begun to do is to keep a candle lit in my bedroom—a small, white, tea candle. I remember going to mass at my Roman Catholic elementary school in New Hampshire and seeing the little candle dangling in red glass next to the tabernacle. It is kept lit to honor Christ and to remind people of his presence. At the end of freshman year someone gave me a box filled completely with tea candles, so I have enough presence to last me at least until the end of the summer. It is a good practice for me because once it is lit, I don’t need to remember to do anything, I just see it and the little postcard next to it of Christ Pantocrator from St. Catherine’s Monastery.

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Back to the most frantic summer of my life. I’m working full time for my school and interning with Image Journal. Continue reading

holy rollers for love

Ask anyone on campus how they are doing and the response will inevitably involve something to do about death, hell, or research papers. It is the week before finals at SPU. Third quarter finals—the final finals. I have certainly been feeling the Pull these past couple of weeks. The Pull is the raw gravitational force that constantly tugs at the corners of your mind saying Go to bed. Just go to bed! Wake up in a week. Finals will be done and it will be summer. Oh it will be summer! But the Pull is a lie. Last night I got a solid seven and a half hours of sleep and still I awoke feeling as if God, going for the extra point after a touchdown, had kicked me intending to fly me victoriously through the goal posts but in fact sending me on a beautiful arc ending in the unforgiving track that surrounds the football field. The crowd stops cheering and sits down knowing that their team will lose because of that one lost point.

Tonight I went to a coffee shop that closes at 1:00 am in Capital Hill with some friends to finish off an assignment due tomorrow. Due to the craziness of the day and the week—read the chapters, write the reflection, map out your fourteen-page paper on the Brothers Karamazov that’s due in less than a week, get to a Post Office to drop off the form that was due a week ago, rush back to speak at an admissions panel, go to the Hall council meeting, and try to polish off the 3rd movement of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto—I was bordering on an embarrassing meltdown while attempting to read about China’s economic turnaround in the late 20th century.

I unfairly hoped that someone would interrupt me.

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