Blood and Silver

3605998863_b9ea37f5c6_zBy Caroline Langston

I stood in the security line at the Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans wondering if I was going to be detained, and taken for dangerous. Hell, I didn’t know, was this something for which I could be arrested? Maybe I should’ve let my brother talk me into sending the glossy, fitted wood box on ahead via mail—though that would have been exorbitant. Plus, I didn’t want to let it out of my hands.

I couldn’t have packed it in checked luggage because it might have been stolen. And who knows? It might have been even more illegal to bundle it away in a packed bag. But I didn’t know about checked bags, since it’s a point of honor going back to boarding school days for me to never have more luggage than I can carry onto the plane, which had led to the spare travel wardrobe of a Greek widow, a succession of black dresses.

I could even feel myself sweating a bit, as I watched the box disappear into the X-ray and I walked barefoot through the scanner. I imagined how the bulky square edges of the box would appear on the monitor, the metal inside in skeletal form.

But not a word from security. There was a small problem with the necklace I was wearing, but that was solved by swinging it behind my neck. I slipped back on my pewter Cole Haan wedges, grabbed my bags, and felt protectively for the heavy tray of sterling silver flatware at the bottom of my suitcase. [Read more...]

In Defense of Air Conditioning

95478259_bd71d6011f_zThe summer after my freshman year in college, I made the mistake of signing a lease without noticing that the place had no air conditioning. The lease was for a bedroom in an informal boardinghouse set up by the widowed owner of a large, falling-apart, turn-of-the-century house in Uptown New Orleans. (But of course!, you ’re  thinking, she is making this up for literary effect!)

If only I were making this up for literary effect.

I signed the lease because I was determined to live on my own that summer, and with my minimum wage job, I was sure that I could Do This Myself.

The landlady answered the phone, “Praise the Lord, it’s a beautiful day!” She slept on a sofa in the dining room with a shotgun next to her. Her oddly laconic, slightly creepy adult son didn’t live there, but often lurked in the yard.

But it was the lack of air conditioning that was really the problem. I didn’t realize that there wasn’t any until the day I moved in, and my bedroom’s giant windows—which were hung with ancient tulle sheers that once had been white, but which had grayed to the color of insect wings—had to be left perpetually open. [Read more...]

God Has Got to Be Real

God became man, so that man might become God. —St. Athanasius

What you find-ah / What you feel now / What you know-a / To be real —Cheryl Lynn

God is at home. It is we who have gone out for a walk. —Meister Eckhart

  4263672054_5944202e15_zBy Caroline Langston

How do you talk about God to people who don’t believe that he even exists?

The strategies of argument, of theodicy, would seem to have worn thin at this cultural juncture. The old C.S. Lewis argument about Jesus having to be a liar, a lunatic, or who he said he was rings fairly hollow in a world where everyone seems to have gone mad.

I am not much given to arguing, anyhow. I am grown weary by the low metaphysical ceilings of my Christian brothers and sisters, both conservatives and liberals: the punishing and endless quests toward notions of purity (on the Right) and social justice (on the Left)—as though these mediated theologies were nothing more than elaborated means of sorting and exclusion.

Which is not to say that I do not believe that we are somehow excused from repenting of Structural Sins, or that I think the country is just fine the way it is. But too often, there is plenty of posturing and in-group signaling—even around such fun Christian buzz-phrases as the recently popular avowal that “We are all broken.”

And yet I find God unexpectedly breaks through, nonetheless. Here, offered for your consideration, are three (true) stories, encounters (for who else are the members of God’s body, but us, even when we don’t yet know it?): [Read more...]

Learning to Pray

Go, sit in your cell, and your cell will teach you everything. —Abba Moses

The way up and the way down are one and the same. —Heraclitus


Trinity IconIt is six o’clock in the morning. I am on an overnight business trip to New York, alone in my hotel room. Weak streams of dawn light leak around the edges of the blackout shades on the window of my room in the Club Quarters Midtown. For the moment, I have silenced the frenetic squawking of local traffic and crime updates on New York One, because I am about to pray, and I am trying to figure out which way is East.

Part of me feels completely ridiculous, but I have committed to this, and though I have brought nary an icon with me, I stand in the middle of the hotel room floor and pray in the direction that seems to be towards Jerusalem: I cross myself and touch my fingertips to the floor, then pray the Trisagion prayers—the most rock-bottom-basic prayer in the Eastern Orthodox prayer book, called such, as the Internet notes, for its “triple invocation of God as holy”:

Glory to Thee, our God, Glory to Thee.
O Heavenly King, Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, Who art everywhere present and fillest all things, the Treasury of good things and Giver of life: Come, and abide in us, and cleanse us from every stain, and save our souls, O Good One.
Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal: have mercy on us. (3 times)
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.
All-Holy Trinity, have mercy on us. Lord, cleanse us from our sins. Master, pardon our iniquities. Holy God, visit and heal our infirmities for Thy name’s sake.
Lord, have mercy. (3 times)
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Even in prayer, the lay critic in me bubbles up: All those thrice-repeated phrases, how can they not be a subtle Trinitarian dig at the overwhelmingly singular focus of the Shema, the foundational Jewish prayer from Deuteronomy 6: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one…” But of course, I remember, we still believe that one too. [Read more...]

Sunday Morning at Wegmans, Prince George’s County, Maryland

7318387934_a5430df8a7_mIt is the Feast of Pentecost on the Eastern Orthodox calendar, the annual commemoration of the descent of the Holy Spirit on the assembled, expectant, and yet uncomprehending (read: totally clueless) Apostles. It is also the day after B.B. King’s funeral: “The Thrill is Gone” is going yet again, over and over, on the newscasts on the car radio.

And on this festival day, I am feeling once again my status as the Chief of Sinners, slipping out of the house with unwashed hair in a faded, above-the-knee, sleeveless, beach sundress. (So much for all my lurking on frum-clothing websites as of late and our family’s general decision to avoid any commerce on Sunday.) I’ve blown receiving Holy Communion today, having already drunk a lot of coffee in violation of the pre-Communion Fast. I do not feel okay about this, but I have to go to Confession anyway, so this is just another damned thing I can add to the list. [Read more...]