Practicing resurrection

We are back to it. Finally. After two (Surprise!) arctic days off were appended to the boys already substantial Christmas break, coats and boots were donned, breakfast shoveled in, and here I sit—a little stunned by the hubbub and its following silence.

All told, the boys had 18 straight days off. G counted them by sleeps:

“After this sleep do we have to go to school?” No. “After the next sleep do we have to go to school?” Nope. “After the next sleep?” Uh-uh. “After the next?” Nope. “And the next and the next and the next…”

Well, you get the idea. I had to start visualizing the calendar in my head so I could give him some sort of approximation. The game filled him with glee. As his birthday approached, his attention shifted there. Like Christmas, it’s the first time he really gets what it’s about (most theologies aside).

But that cold. The lowest windchill reading I saw was -33. Even Jonah—the boy impervious to cold—didn’t want to leave the house. I cringe to think what our heating bill will be. We have a few remaining leaded windows that are original to the house, all of which had frost on the inside panes:

frosted panes

Our back porch is (loosely) glassed in, and the hoar frost reminded me of something I read in Willa Cather’s Antonia. Or maybe it was Laura Ingalls’ Little House. The cold certainly brings it’s own sparkly, if shivering, beauty:

hoar frost

I have no revelations toward the new year, though I do have a new golden room cleared of toys and arranged for grownups.

golden corner
big chair yellow

As you can see, different times of day bring out the yellow’s moods. And that room has me thinking about what it is to keep going. I am partial to mule/plow songs in that sense. Though it may sound like drudgery, there’s an inherent hopefulness we humans do in our getting up to live our lives again and again. I read a quote this morning by Maira Kalman (described by some as “normal lady buddha”):

How are we all so brave as to take step after step? Day after day? How are we so optimistic, so careful not to trip and yet do trip, and then get up and say O.K. Why do I feel so sorry for everyone and so proud?

Wendell Berry says something akin to that in this piece of a poem:

Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it…
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion — put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts…
Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

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Quick and Dirty

We were in and out of the Christmas tree farm in less than thirty minutes, including the five seconds it took our bumbling tree guy to break the perfect point off the top of the tree as he tied it up to Ye ‘Ol Suburu. New record.

Granted, the sun was on its way down, and it was darn cold, which sped us on our way. I don’t think G felt we had sufficiently considered his opinion—or that we had given him any time at all to form an opinion—but once John put saw to trunk, he was satisfactorily convinced.

tree chopPredictably, it’s of the Charlie Brown sort. What does that make this? Charlie Brown 10.0? charlie brown treeg in lights

Gabriel is about all things Christmas. His delight in the tree (and its ornaments) is quite electric. He visits his guitar on a regular basis, and checks in with the various Santa ornaments. Once a day he opens the tree in the shape of a pear and laughs at the naked partridge therein.

This year we have been particularly considering just what to make of Christmas. We celebrated the real St. Nicholas on December 6th by attending a Vespers service the evening before, during which time J donned his altar robes and did his best not to fidget (“I had to pee the whole time mom!”). He also kept smelling his hands and wiping them on his robes (“My hands got all sweaty mom!):

altar j

The boys put out their boots on the eve of the feast. Predictably, Gabriel awoke around 4 a.m. to look and see what the Great Nick had put in his boot. I wrestled him in my bed for a good forty-five minutes to no avail; he’d caught a glimpse. It was all “Count Dooku” this (he got a Lego keychain) and “My own microphone!” that (walkie talkies). J awoke not much later, and the rest of the morning was spent trying to keep them asleep for a reasonable amount of time.

G is in a state of confusion about the multiple manifestations of Santa Claus. J is riding the fence as to whether he exists at all. And then there’s the question of gifts, of consumerism, of waste. And of course, money. It’s so fun to get; I’m as delighted as the next person to receive something I’ve really wanted or admired. That said, I have taken at least five trips to the used kids’ shop in the past year, selling back unused, forgotten toys and outgrown clothes.  

Yet Christmas is my favorite and my best. My name day (Ruth) comes right before (Sunday of the Genealogy). The familiar refrain of “God with us” resets me; the cold weather and skeleton trees invigorate and make the contemplative girl in me wake up.

But the way to “do” Christmas remains a question we test and wrestle with every year. Especially far from family and the established traditions we grew up with.

In weather-related news, today is crystalline cold. We bundle up periodically to get outside and get our crazies out, not that that works. Someone at church remarked to me Sunday, “At least they’ll conk out at night.” Not necessarily.

j unreal cold!

Still

If you want quiet, stay up past 10. In a rather sturdy, if creaky, old house that leaks cold air through windows and floorboards. Sometimes I think the mortar between the bricks is the cold’s secret accomplice. Because you see, after 10, anyone in their right mind (including the dogs, who are currently spooning on the dog bed under the front window) is deep down under a feather down duvet, dreaming away. Okay, the dogs don’t have a feather down duvet, but you get the point.

It’s cold. It’s been snowing for days, intermittently. Dumping down one day in wet, fat flakes. Swirling about in (can snow be?) dry, finely-constructed-almost-dust. All I can hear is the furnace kick on every so often and the steady breathing of Sophie, who knocked off about an hour ago. Lucy’s a little less settled. She still thinks there might be a chance I’ll go back down in the basement for something and forget to close the gate on the way up so she can sneak down and curl up on the crash pit for the night—the dog bed of all dog beds—but really just two sheets filled with scavenged upholstery foam and sewn up so that the boys (particularly J) can crash and roll and throw themselves about with relative, how shall we say, “safety.”

I can hardly keep my eyes open. I’m not one to prod myself into meeting the new year first thing. I don’t mind greeting her in the morning at a reasonable time. Say seven or so. But as I said, it’s quiet, and I not only long for the quiet, some days I whine for it. I hear myself complain, saying “I just need some time to myself or I’m going to lose it” (whatever “it” happens to be in that moment). Frankly, it’s annoying. Not that self-discernment isn’t helpful. But I guess it’s only helpful when it produces a change. Repentance you might say. Otherwise, I’m no better than G who won’t take “No” for an answer: “Can I have the iPad (spoken with the most perplexing Texan accent)?” No. “Can I have the iPad?” No. “Can I have the iPad?” No. “I want a lollipop.” No. “I want a lollipop.” No. “I want….”—you get the idea.

But see, I say I want the quiet, but when I’ve the chance to sit still in it, you’ll probably find me scrubbing the front of the oven. Or folding those towels that can’t sit in the laundry basket another day, “No sirreee!” (as J has been fond of saying). Now is the time for a walk. Must get those Christmas presents exchanged. Ah yes, another episode of Foyle’s War. And yikes, G’s fingernails!

Work needs to be done. It saves me every day, the work I do. But there is a time when work becomes the great escape. The tasks, and my sometimes need for—how did our friend put it?—radical order, can be addictive. The great dodge, from myself. As if I could give myself the slip.

In the (non-canonical, gnostic, and some consider heretical) Gospel of Thomas, Jesus says: “If you bring forth what is within you, what is within you will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what is within you will destroy you.” I came across that in Andrew Solomon’s Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity. It stunned me. Very Desert Fathers, stick-it-to-the-core sort of thing. Which is to say, it feels True.

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions, but every time I go to confession an explicit resolve is necessary. Would that I examined myself at the end of each day in that sort of way; but I don’t. I think doing so might make a real difference, if only to frankly recognize how many times I failed to love, to be kind and merciful, to be my brother’s keeper and not the one who judges him. As I sit here considering this day, my behavior at several moments throughout is cringeworthy. But what grieves me the most is my impotence. Not only my powerlessness to control my anger or attend to my thoughts, but the (great) number of times I didn’t even think to turn. To beg mercy. To say “help.” God. Help. Me.

But all this talk of failure isn’t all that helpful, is it? In her book, Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis, Lauren Winner writes,

It turns out the Christian story is a good story in which to learn to fail. As the ethicist Samuel Wells has written, some stories feature heroes and some stories feature saints and the difference between them matters: “Stories…told with…heroes at the centre of them…are told to laud the virtues of the heroes—for if the hero failed, all would be lost. By contrast, a saint can fail in a way that the hero can’t, because the failure of the saint reveals the forgiveness and the new possibilities made in God, and the saint is just a small character in a story that’s always fundamentally about God.” I am not a saint. I am, however, beginning to learn that I am a small character in a story that is always fundamentally about God.

Beyond the sin (and thank God there’s a beyond, always beyond), is the love of God. Don’t ask me to say what that means, except I sense it in the stillness. And in the stillness I’m a little terrified. Okay, maybe a lot. As Ryan Netzley frames it (lifted this from Winner’s Still as well): “Loving God, it turns out, is hard precisely because it does not promise the reassuring logic of accomplishment and failure” (Reading, Desire, and the Eucharist in Early Modern Religious Poetry). Taking failure not-quite-so-seriously might just be—if I were one to make resolutions, which I’m not—my resolution for this 2013.

2013. There’s something of the space-odyssey in the sound of that number, or rather, space cowboy. And look there, we’re forty minutes in, my eyes are still open, and I’ve once again managed to escape the stillness under the guise of sending these words out into the great nether-reaches of the world wide web.

Happy New Year! Happy Merry! (as Gabriel has taken to saying). Many Years! I raise a glass to failure, and stories, to saints and heroes and getting what’s within you out into the light of (even a winter grey Ohio) day.

[Click HERE for a greeting from J, G and I.]