I am keeping track of time, barely. Sweat drops and slices of fruit and sips from iced cold brew. Molasses and moonshine; slow, fast, strong, fragrant.
My fingers tickle the contours of her face. Feather soft eyebrows, a tender dip in the bridge of her nose, a jaw line that hides under squishy cheeks, and her little jut of a chin with a bumpy, brave scar. We started the tickle when she was tiny. Maybe it was one of those long car rides from Iowa to New York when I realized she loved all kinds of soft touch. Then it got bundled up with her night and nap routines and now she makes specific requests. “Tickle my hands, Mama.”
Most days, I count it a privilege and the tickle is sweet and slow and savored. Every once in a while, I wrestle the inner voices arguing about my being subject to the tickle whims of a two year old as images of ‘real work’ roll through my mind. And then the tickles are rushed and tired and phoned in.
One night, mind drifting to our guests on the other side of the door, I rolled my eyes as my fingers flicked past nose, ears and cheeks hoping for a fast sleepfall. Then, she reached out her pudgy fingers and started her own tracing. “Tickle Mama’s eyebowwwws.” I didn’t know my shoulders were tense until they relaxed completely at her touch. “Tickle Mama’s nooooohs.” I hid my surprise behind the early summer darkness and gloried in the generous mind of my girl. And so, she traced my face and I felt the sweet and savored slowness of a rightly executed tickle.
She fell asleep eventually. And we are still in Ordinary Time.
Ordinary Time – that long and feastless stretch following Advent and Pentecost on the church calendar where there is nothing to anchor or move us like the drama of the seasons before. I’ve been waking up for more of the ordinary minutes – the slower, silent ticks of the clock before the day feels fast forward. The sun reaches its bright, Eastern arms through our bedroom window at 5 and 6 am and my mind will not stay tucked in sleep.
C.S. Lewis and Martin Laird meet somewhere in my mind now, as I pick up the remains of coloring projects and a trail of books leading back to a disheveled bottom shelf. That passage from The Weight of Glory muddles into view:
War makes death real to us, and that would have been regarded as one of its blessings by most of the great Christians of the past. They thought it good for us to be always aware of our mortality. I am inclined to think they were right.
― C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory
When I first devoured these pages in college (oof, years ago), I felt lazy and disengaged in my slow moments. I prayed – Lord, please never find me inactive in the serious work of the Christian life. It is somber like war and I don’t want to be a mere civilian.
I wanted death to be real – all the awkward and cold angles of it – because I thought that meant I would do better at living.
Yesterday, I was bad at being alive. I transmorphed after those early, solitary moments of apartment sunshine into a turtle snail, a snurtle… or something that could escape inside itself without explanation. Except that I was in almost constant motion – in my mind and with my hands. I jostled household chores early and made plans for midday, but everything played like a private concert of dischord – all the notes were wrong and only I could hear the sound.
I guess that was death – the awkward and cold angles of it – keeping me aware of my mortality and making me a human I did not recognize.
Because “aware of my mortality” means sin and demons and a herd of wolves looking like sheep – and all of that buried deep in my chest where the discordant symphony played its miserable song. This is who you are, human – short-tempered, impulsive, ungrateful, cynical, distressed. Living aware of my mortality is the real pits.
I read “A Grief Observed” after my brother died. Yesterday marked three years since that terrible phone call collapsed me on our apartment floor. I crawled inside the broken tenderness of C.S. Lewis’s grieving heart that pushed against death and all its agony for the living. Confused, angered, depleted, desperate, tired… not exactly motivated to greater motion, greater purpose. Just paralyzed by an invisible, writhing pain monster I could sometimes see.
Your problem is, you don’t know who you are. Let me tell you who you are. You are a ray of God’s own light. You say you seek God, but a ray of light doesn’t seek the sun; it’s coming from the sun. You are a branch on the vine of God. A branch doesn’t seek the vine; it’s already part of the vine. A wave doesn’t look for the ocean; it’s already full of ocean.Martin Laird, Into the Silent Land
My eyes stung when I woke this morning, evidence of what I couldn’t keep inside yesterday. I am still wearing the shirt that was soaked in snot less than 12 hours ago. We read the morning Psalm together and prayed as directed, “In the depths of our isolation we cry to you, Lord God; give light in our darkness and bring us out of the prison of our despair through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.“
And this small, crawling motion. This, rhythm of entering the Lord’s presence with my fickle humanity and asking impossible things, is my mortal pace. I am trapped, bound in this body and darkness, but God – completely outside this constraint – shares His glory and shines His light.
Lord, I have called daily upon you;
I have stretched out my hands to you.
Do you work wonders for the dead?
Will the shades stand up and praise you?
Shall your loving-kindness be declared in the grave,
your faithfulness in the land of destruction?
Shall your wonders be known in the dark
or your righteous deeds in the land where all is forgotten?
But as for me, O Lord, I will cry to you;
early in the morning my prayer shall come before you.
I paused and read again Psalm 88 – about wonders and darkness and the forgotten land. I don’t have an exegesis hiding in my head, but I know my heart wonders often if the Light can reach all the dark – even the places I don’t understand, the places language fails and nothing is right. I am tempted to filter the verses with a simpler, safer tone in my reading with Zella. But God’s Word does not allow it. The darkness is too stark to be sweet, ever. And His light is too glorious to be anything less than complete.
My mortality is not going away, but neither is God’s eternity. And He has somehow mysteriously linked the two in the death of His Son. And that somehow mysteriously informs my identity – yesterday in my transmorphed paralysis and today in my Light-infused slow motion. And that all somehow makes sense in His economy.
I most hated that yesterday felt ordinary. I hated that oatmeal still cooked the same and the stroller was still cumbersome and the storm still changed plans. I hated forgetfulness and poorly timed naps and the innocence that was attached at my hip and in my belly. I hated the ordinary-ness so thoroughly I could not think of anything else.
Because death is not ordinary.
But, here we are – positioned still inside those dreadfully unimpressive words – Ordinary Time. Like the stretch of time after a dramatic Pentecost… the clock creeps on and the days stretch without celebration and I am mortal. But, God in His great mercy, reminds me I am His and He has conquered death and dark and despair in the kingdom come. He is Light and His mystery brings the morning sun that dried my puffy eyes in ordinary time.