I love my oratory. It’s so nice, so restful, so mine. Going there to pray every day (“going there;” it’s on the other side of my desk) just…shapes the whole day.
But it’s really playing hell with my blogging and the direction of the blog.
I mean, here’s my morning: I shower, get dressed, wrap the towel around my wet head (hey, it’s a handy headcoving!) and then go to my oratory. I light tea candles, one before each Icon, one before the Crucifix, one before my little pewter statues. I bow, gather my breviary and rosary, and settle onto the cushion with my typical lack of grace.
The dog, who likes the oratory too, comes and lays beside me, on her little rug.
I find my place in the breviary, and pray, “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will proclaim your praise,” and the first words after that (with another bow) are the Doxology: Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and every shall be; world without end, Amen.
What better first words, for any day?
Then the Office of Readings (what used to be called “Vigils” or “Matins”); this is real food for the day. The hymn, the long psalm with antiphons. Today, the psalm brought me to Jerusalem, and I felt connected to my Judaic roots, marveling at how few secular Jews understand that so many Christians are diving daily into these ancient, gorgeous prayers and rejoicing in their adopted heritage, grafted, as they are, onto the vine of the chosen:
The Lord builds up Jerusalem
and brings back Israel’s exiles,
he heals the broken-hearted,
he binds up all their wounds.
He fixes the number of the stars;
he calls each by its name.
What a wonderful, wondrous message: The Lord building up completeness, wholeness i.e., peace beyond all understanding! And how does he do that? He brings back the exiles who struggle with God. And who struggles with God? All of us. The atheists, the agnostics and the believers who daily tussle with their faulty selves, with ordinary weariness and occasional doubt. The ones who walk away because they cannot bear the hurt, the ones who draw near…because they cannot bear the pain. The ones who fear the love, the ones who run to the love, but too recklessly.
The Lord builds the place of completeness, and brings us back, all of us. He heals the broken; binds them up. Oh, love! Oh, mighty, implacable, trustworthy, abyss-sounding love! You are too good. You are all good; how can I dare approach, dare presume to ask? Dare to contemplate serving? Yours is more than mortal beauty; all of your words are full of grace. Amen, amen.
I am crouched prostrated, and yet consoled. If I am in the pit, I know there is no darkness so deep that Jesus is not deeper still. And he has created the Way clear, the Way free and full of Light.
The psalm prayer and two long lessons, one from scripture (this week it’s Daniel) one from an ancient voice in the church. This week, that is a homily from the second century, completely relevant to today:
“…we say one thing and do another. When they hear the words of God on our lips, unbelievers are amazed at their beauty and power, but when they see that those words have no effect in our lives, their admiration turns to scorn, and they dismiss such words as myths and fairy tales.
They listen, for example, when we tell them that God has said: It is no credit to you if you love those who love you, but only if you love your enemies, and those who hate you. They are full of admiration at such extraordinary virtue, but when they observe that we not only fail to love people who hate us, but even those who love us, they laugh us to scorn, and the Name is blasphemed.”
Gasp – my conscience is singed! I fail in love every day, no matter how much I try. Managing unconditional love for the people in my house, whom I like to think I would die for, is hard enough; my love is always imperfect and impatient, tsking and selfish. Loving everyone else? No wonder I give such scandal. And then, the blog; no matter how hard I try to observe politics with detachment, the mouth, the sarcasm, the ME still intrudes, every day, and my spiritual dismantling of myself (and, most abhorrently) of others, continues apace. God help me.
Then I consider that this is one of the beauties of Catholicism; we are an ancient church. If I am being chastised through the centuries by a spot-on homily, well I am also comforted to know that the people who lived in the second century, some of whom may have known Christ or his apostles, were struggling with these same human failings, were familiar with this human condition. Suddenly, we are all connected -reaching to each other through generations- and I relearn the lesson: we’re all in this together, and quite outside of time. It brings hope.
“…if we do the will of God the Father, we shall be members of the first spiritual Church that was created before the sun and the moon; but if we fail to do the will of the Lord, we shall be among those to whom it is said in scripture: My house has been made into a robber’s den. We must choose then, if we want to be saved, to be members of the Church of life.
You surely cannot be ignorant of the fact that the living Church is the Body of Christ; for Scripture says: Gad made man male and female. Now the male signifies Christ and the female signifies the Church, which, according to both Old and New Testaments, is no recent creation, but has existed from the beginning. . . . the body of the Church is a copy of the Spirit, and no one who defaces the copy can have any part in what the copy represents. In other words, brothers, you must preserve the honor of the body in order to share in the Spirit. For if we say that the body is the Church and the Spirit is Christ, it follows that anyone who dishonors his body, dishonors the Church.”
Geez, Louiiise, I fail in love of the spirit and I fail in love of the body! What a beating I am taking today! I put down the breviary and look at Jesus on the Crucifix, the eternal, all-ways embodiment of a Love that does not fail, cannot fail, will not fail. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, and I pour it all out to him, all of my failings, all of my fears -for the two are intimately connected- and I beg for the loving heart, the understanding heart, the open heart. The holy heart. I contemplate the wound in the side of Christ (oh, the crucifix is such a helpful, instructional gift), and remember that it was pierced, as mine is pierced with my remorse. But with Christ, “immediately, blood and water flowed…” and there is the redemption, the grace, the stuff on which to be nourished into renewal.
I want more. I want the nourishment of the Bread Made Holy. I want to feed on Christ, who conveniently signaled that I would, even at His infant-coming, when he was lain in a manger -the place where animals feed- food for the world. Bread for the life of the world. I’ve missed mass, but I hunger for communion. Lacking that, I remember a phrase from the Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus:
…of whose fullness we have all received,
Heart of Jesus, desire of the everlasting hills,
Heart of Jesus, patient and most merciful,
Then time for quiet contemplation -the time when I take everyone with me into prayer, by name, when I can. My privilege; the great gift of being able to pray for others, for priests, and persons and presidents and peace. And for all my loved ones, as well, of course.
Then the rosary. That’s where the stillpoint comes; heartbeat and breath are synchronized as the prayer deepens with each mystery contemplated; today is Thursday, so the Luminous Mysteries are all mine: The Baptism of Christ, the Wedding at Cana, the Exposition of the Kingdom of God (Christ’s ministry), the Transfiguration, the Institution of the Eucharist. Submerged as I am, I open my eyes and am greeted with the luminosity of the icons; bathed in candlelight, they are all aglow, images of those glorified, now alive in the place where there are no shadows.
The silence is so deep, it runs all through me, down into my very marrow; the buzz of the hive. It permeates the room. When I emerge from it, to continue, I notice the dog. She is silent and still, too. Her head rests upon her paws, and she watches.
Finally, morning prayer: “Oh Lord, come to my assistance; O God, make haste to help me.” Glory to the Father, and to the Son… three more psalms and antiphons, the lesson:
Creation was made subject to futility, not of its own accord, but by him who once subjected it; yet not without hope, because the world itself will be freed from its slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God.
The canticle: Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel. He has come to his people and set them free. He has raised up for us a savior, born of the House of his servant David…
It is all of a piece. Blessed be the Lord, the God with whom we struggle, for whom we struggle, who knows all of our struggles, and who has show us His Way.
Intercessory prayer. The Lord’s prayer. A closing prayer, and then: “May God bless us, protect us from all evil and bring us to everlasting life.”
A bit more silence and the prayer ends. The headcovering is removed, the candles extinguished, unless they are near the end, in which case I let them burn out. One more bow, and then to coffee, blessed coffee.
Well. It’s a bare-living, but it is my bare-living, and my privilege, too; it is so much better to write than to, for instance, deal with office politics. I am blessed to be able to do this; it is a gift for which I am truly grateful, just as I am grateful (and amazed) that I can drop these puny pearls and some of you will actually read them, and occasionally find something useful, too, if the Holy Spirit wills it.
So, I will try to do it better. I will try not to blaspheme the Name with my robust Irishness, or my flinty temper. On my honor, I will do my best…to try to remember that so much of what we see is illusory -including the divisions- and that we are all in this together, and quite outside of time.