Strange Alliances

I tried to move the kids towards clearing the table, and brushing their teeth for bed, but no one moved. My voice rose in pitch, and it became unclear to whom I was speaking, so my husband sent me out for a walk, which I was more than happy to take.

I enjoy claiming the dusk hour as my own, necessary for recollection at the end of the day, though it’s hard to tell what hour I wouldn’t claim for my own if given a chance to claim them all. In any case, the hour was given, and I accepted, and made for the river with the dog.

The dog has required a ritual cleansing each night since he rolled in something dead Sunday afternoon, and necrotic odors still follow him wherever he goes. He can be an annoying dog, but he’s handsome, and when he trots into the river, and swims out to tread water against the oncoming current, I feel a comforting sense that at least one created being is doing exactly what he was meant to do. Being and vocation are united in him, and it’s a moment of encouragement, however brief.

Everyone and everything else are in flux. The water is high and fast in the Spring, calling to mind a Hebrew word my friend Karly taught me, “rishrush” for a rustling, sometimes associated with running water. The grass greens up, and the atmosphere closes in under the clouds, so that the burnt odor coming off the fiberglass factory recalls cookies baking in a damp kitchen. Venus and Jupiter have aligned in the night sky. Love and the Law, making a temporary alliance, moving further away from the earth as they set, and yet closer together as they go.

And the liturgical season offers some of the most memorable phrases of the year. “Now is a very acceptable time,” (2 Corinthians 6) though I often think the contrary. “Why is this night different from all other nights?”(–from the Passover Seder). And from Genesis (37:19-20), regarding Joseph, the beloved son: “Here comes the Master Dreamer!…Let’s kill him!” I wonder what it would have been like to live in a time when “master of dreams” was an insult.

Oh, Lent. It’s the season of the bitter herb, and of lamb’s blood, vinegar and salt water to taste. We are being led out of Egypt, freed from slavery. Yet the movement is a challenge, always towards liberation, never fully free–ritually cleansed, but still smelling of decay.

The kids, of course, are loving it. They spill out into the yard, pulling every item we’ve non-sensibly chosen to store in the shed, out onto the lawn to test its capabilities to serve as chariot or sword. The older boys have taken over the dolly–the wheeled cart for lifting heavy things– and the eldest has convinced the next to yoke himself to it, and pull him around the yard. There are drivers, and the driven, the Brain and the Body.

I tell the younger, “You don’t have to do what he tells you.”

“I want to though” he replies, trudging breathless out towards the fence line, with the Brain sitting magisterially behind him, noshing on Cheerios out of the box.

Still, it’s a better game plan than their winter one, when the Brain sat upstairs reconfiguring passwords on the Nook, while the Body was sent downstairs to fetch a credit card out of my wallet, so they could purchase 30 dollars worth of Star Wars books. Two little boys went to Confession that day, and received the opportunity to sponsor a poor child from the Third World rather than Legos for their birthdays.

My father had a similar friendship when he was a kid with a small, smart boy, who would arrange fights between my dad and the neighborhood bullies with the phrase, “Let’s you and him fight.” Driver–driven, Brain–body, and the body does for love what the brain does for gain. Venus and Jupiter, strangely paired. All of us in bondage.

Of course, it all comes together in Christ, somehow, though I can’t think how at the moment. My sister-in-law tells me never to go into a metaphor you don’t know your way out of, and I think I’ve managed to confuse myself with too many metaphors all together.

The brain must learn empathy, the body, discernment. Venus and Jupiter, love and the law, move closer to one another as they retreat from Earth and advance towards the Heavens. There is a body offered in my stead (let’s you and him fight), but it requires me to unite my own inevitable bodily suffering with that of the Slave, and be a willing slave too.

All I can say is hurry up, Lord. Lent seems interminable, and I’m impatient for the work to be accomplished.



(This post originally ran on my Betty Duffy blog in March 2012.)

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