If this were the 70s (John and I are watching The Bank Job and a favorite style blogger of mine—Amanda Brooks—is kind of obsessed with 70s style, so I suppose I am pining a little for the era I was born into and didn’t consciously get to inhabit), my CB handle would be Weathergirl. I write a lot about weather here, namely the greyness of Ohio, but I am struck every day by the earth’s atmospheric effect on me. Yesterday was all sunshine. The boys and I were out in it for several hours. I made sure to face the sun. All day I was playful, relaxed, unconcerned.
Today you can’t even tell there are clouds. The sky looks like it was created waxen, colorless. It’s impossible to name. If someone formulated a paint color to reproduce it, I’d name it Pallid, or Pasty. Maybe Wan. I am likeways situated. I feel lusterless, bleary-eyed. I look for color to rest my eyes from it.
Our church is bright—yellow walls, rich brocade-colored icons. The Mother of God looks kindly on me as I try not to lose it with my children. Her arms holding the baby Christ wrap around me, just as kind Lori manning the candle desk takes in Jonah toward the end of Liturgy because Gabriel is more than enough to handle. She gives him jobs to do and a pad of blank paper to draw on.
And then Gabriel, who has been all obstinance and mega-phone pronouncements, finally nestles into my lap and is still. The choir begins the communion hymn, and he (just as loudly) belts it out: “Receive the body of Christ / Taste the fountain of immortality.” The only word he has trouble with is immortality, but after a few repeats he’s got that too. And then the song is over and people are patting me on the back, congratulating me for having such a good little singer, such a good little boy. He, the holy terror of pew 9.
The boys drag me downstairs to see what treasures coffee hour has in store. I am sure they must have been reading over my shoulder last night:
Writers and other artists are sometimes prone to isolation, and in that isolation, we are likely to feel varying degrees of alienation from our communities—so much so, we may also feel justified in self-centeredness, even if it seems to us more like self-preservation or self-defense.
However it may feel or seem, and however we may justify it, this disconnect from those around us is not, in and of itself, a good thing—though it may, off and on, lead to a good thing…
I was nudged into seeing that my own habitual sense of isolation—duly considered—might take on a spiritual dimension; with the pairing of love and affliction. I was invited to think of my own discomfort as a discipline, even an ascetic discipline, and a means to an end—something, that is, that I might work through. Scott Cairns, The End of Suffering
“My own discomfort” amply describes the way I feel as the boys drag me to the basement for coffee hour. I am so not a joiner. But thinking about this mild sort of social anxiety as a discipline, well, that makes sense. It feels like a discipline, and practicing it would probably have a more beneficent effect on my person than keeping the fast or saying my prayers without fail.
The boys, of course, are just in it for the food and are disappointed to see only a small bowl of pretzel sticks, some red punch (that Jonah can’t drink—we avoid artificial colors) and some rather discarded-looking Raisinets. But the youth are selling bagels as a fundraiser (which I find amusing—Mmmmm! Have a plain bagel! Treat yourself! Support our youth! And don’t forget a cup of hot brown (I think it’s coffee…) liquid to wash it down!), and our spirits are revived. Jonah decides to go sit by Mary, the priest’s daughter, as he gobbles his half down, and I am introduced to Matushka Elizabeth’s mother. We start talking about Missouri (where she’s from) and then Kansas (where she’s worked), and then she’s talking about St. George in Wichita (my home parish). She’s seen how beautiful it is, and it’s like the sun to hear her talk about the place and the people there.
Yes, yes, we take the sun where we can get it. Trusting that it will appear is the work of it. “We may not choose our afflictions,” Cairns writes, “but we do choose what to make of them.” He gets more specific about “the dark heart of our trouble—namely, what keeps us separate, severed, and self-absorbed is a habitual disinclination to take seriously the suffering of others.”
…we seldom partake in the failing and suffering of our various members, and we therefore fail to realize the fullness, the reality, the appalling mystery of life as One Body. Simply put, I am now supposing that until we come to recognize everyone’s failure as a personal failure, we are unlikely to ever succeed as we must. Scott Cairns, The End of Suffering
There’s a thought to put a damper on my sweet little judgmental heart. But there’s comfort there too. As I wrestled my children through church—pinching them a little too hard to sit still, setting my stubborn will in combat against theirs (I’m looking at you G), practically storming out with both of them in tow so that I could get hold of my temper as much as let them free from that jail of a pew—my personal failure (I hope I hope) was taken on by this community I’ve set myself within. Lori saw. She gave Jonah a job to do. Lovely Emil behind me didn’t just pat me on the shoulder because Gabriel knew the words to that hymn. He was also saying, “See, he’ll be okay.”