high ground…

So when you see the ‘abomination of desolation,’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing where it ought not (let the reader understand), “then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.

Mark 13:14

Liturgy is the mountain for me. It is the higher ground to the rising water of my everyday life. This quiet place, so heavily scented with incense that I can see it hanging there in the shafts of light from the high windows. I notice these things, when the sun comes from behind the cloud, the light streaming across the wood floors, the choir singing as my boys make gun noises from somewhere behind me. I give them the menacing glare I reserve for Liturgy and then climb, as quickly as I can, the craggy side of that mountain.

And then I feel guilty, for the disruption of my boys, then for the menacing glare because what does that do in the long run? I’m distracted by the push and pull of parenting loud people in a quiet place. “I’m bored” they tell me and I say, “Good. Being bored once a week is good for you.” But I don’t mean that really. I try to explain but it’s lost in the choir and the incense and the instructions to “be attentive” because I realize just then, in my glaring and my explanation that I am no longer attentive.

What I really mean, when I tell them I’m glad they’re bored is that there is so little stillness for us now…or ever. There is always something to distract us- technology, drama, sibling rivalry, school, growing, bedtime. What I really mean, when I say they should be bored is that for 90 minutes, once a week, their focus is here, in the meeting of the past, the present, the future. We’re time travelers once a week, standing at the crossroads and looking for the good path. I’m looking for the good path, squinting into the sun, grimacing at the argument behind me over the colored pencils and sketch books I bring every week for them. I’m looking for the good path, the responsible parent, the attentive worshipper, the polite community member. I’m working at it hard, trying to appear in control while inside my body wants only to fall to the floor, deep metania becoming full prostration but my limbs are stiff and resist me. My limbs know that if I give in to that impulse I just may never rise again.  I am not bored, I am tired and yet the climb up the craggy side of this mountain is never more attractive, never more compelling, never more difficult to explain to the casual observer.

When I turn away then, the menacing stare gone, the attention back to Iconostasis, then to the eyes of St Herman of Alaska who always stands to my left. I imagine him nodding to me then giving a little shrug as if to say, “They’re boys” and “You’re fine” and “Be here now.”

Liturgy is my mountain. It’s the reason I can venture back to the rising water day after day. It’s the only way I remember dry land, warm sun on my skin, divine mysteries on my lips.

2 comments:

  1. Beautiful words…..Encourage them (the boys) that learning how to be still and quiet in church will help them to know discipline…..all soldiers need discipline. They can be soldiers or warriors for God…..that is the best army anywhere…..it is the team that wins in the end. A worthy battle. Loved the post.

  2. Your St. Herman is wise. Listen to him.

    The struggle with attentiveness is embodied in the struggle with little children in church. Calling them back to attention, to some form of stillness is very much like the battle we wage when alone in church without children or alone before an icon or in prayer anywhere. Our thoughts run off like children, and our children run off like children. It’s hard to understand the simile without the reality, Mrs. Metaphor. It’s all good. “They’re boys” and “You’re fine”, and we call back our thoughts (and kids) as best we can, a little more each week, hopefully.

    The demons say two things to us (among many): before a sin they tell us, “It’s no big deal, God is merciful” and after a sin they tell us, “There’s no forgiveness for you”. Once a sin is past, it’s past. It shouldn’t be surprising we failed. In fact, I was once told that agitation over sin is proof of pride, i.e., we’re shocked and angry that someone as great and pious and smart and etc. as I am could sin at all, or sin habitually, or sin in the same boring, maddening ways. But God is merciful. He looks at us and says, “They’re kids, they’re fine, they’re trying.”

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