the habit of meeting together

Winter is not in my marrow this year and I am trying to figure out why it bothers me so. I like a snow that settles fast and deep like a feathery blanket, and then fades without a slush parade. The snow of this winter is just exactly the way I like it and today felt like April. But discomfort better suits the Lenten season; the chill in my marrow is its perfect pair.

O, Lent. Old, steady, dark, and stubborn friend.

This is the season of giving up and taking up and pressing in. I added that – the pressing in. My soul is weary of resolutions and restrictions. I hear Grover saying, “Neeeeeeeear” …….. “Faaaaaaaar,” and this is my Lent dance – searching for the Lord and pressing in, getting near, bending toward, listening.

And meeting.

I joked with some guests recently that we host 10-15 times a week. We laughed because there are seven days and that’s silly… but there are also mornings, noons, and nights. There are coffees and teas and stop bys. There are neighbors and strangers and friends. And there is this little human named Zella Ruth, always bending out of the hold on my hip to see who will open the door next.

She has a shoebox in the kitchen with jar lids, measuring spoons and a hot and sour soup container. She spends a lot of time with that shoebox because I spend a lot of time in the kitchen because Team Kolts is in the habit of meeting together. In the first months of our marriage, we struggled to agree on our definitions of “an open door.” One night, I was angrier than I ever remember being in my entire life – so angry I felt heat puffing out my ears and we called an emergency counseling session with our pastor the next day (silly story about a couch, not even really worth re-telling).

All these … months later, we weekly compare notes to see who we’ve invited over and daily check in about who might be stopping by. *I got a text while writing this and now a friend is staying with us for the weekend. Don’t worry – no hot ears.

Lent is pressing in.

And I am holding fast the confession of my hope without wavering. I’m praying for the unwavering part, actually. But there is something so irreplaceable about meeting together. I remember an exasperated mom at the dentist’s office asked my parents once, “How’d you get your five kids to turn out alright?” And my parents said something like, “It was the Lord… but we did go to church every Sunday.”

It was never about attendance. It was about the habit of meeting together and I think I am starting to feel the best weight of that.

Hebrews 10:24-25, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

I need this preached to me – I need to hear this good news that there is hope, the good news that God is faithful. And I need to preach the same.

Our pastor spoke recently about salvaging the word “preaching.” He said that we need to both hear and speak true words to each other, the good news that God says we matter and that what we do matters. We need to hear and speak the true words that the pain and hurt of this world needs to be reckoned with and has been already in the person of Jesus.

Sometimes I preach to Zella. Nose to nose, I sing into closed eyes and (sometimes) her open mouth wail, “…I’ll be satisfied as long, as I walk let me walk close to Thee.” If she can’t hear the good news in it, I do. “Thro’ this world of toil and snares, If I falter, Lord, who cares? Who with me my burden shares? None but Thee, dear Lord, none but Thee.”

After Will died, I needed preaching. I needed true words, simple words of hope and peace and kingdom come. I needed Jesus more and above anything else.

Lent is pressing in and I need the habit of meeting together to keep happening in my living room. I need friends who come looking for prayer and neighbors who accept invitations to dinner. I need conversations in kitchens and I need walks in the park. I need to be pressed farther up and further in, where the preaching is desperate because the siren song is too strong to stop.

Her eyelashes are like branches now, shading those sweet cheeks from winter skies gray. We ventured out on Ash Wednesday and Zella Ruth made irreverent babbles throughout the somber liturgy. She didn’t know Lent was pressing in, but I hope she felt something of the ash on her head and the silent exit from the meeting together.

I can’t seem to shake this Ash Wednesday prayer and especially that this liturgy assumes a gathering.

The Collect for Ash Wednesday

Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen

in the midst of my escaping

I’ve been listening to this song by Young Oceans, called The Gates. It makes me uncomfortable because in the middle, if I sing all the words, I am a liar. The music sounds more confident than I feel, but the words betray a heart that feels so many other things.

I wanna wake and feel Your glory
I wanna speak in tongues of angels for You Lord
I wanna sing a song eternal
I wanna trample on the curses of the earth
I wanna call upon Your healing
I wanna see the sick and weary be made new
I wanna swim inside the blessings
I wanna swim inside the blessings of the Lord

It’s all the things I want to want, but I’m too weak or frail or scared or lazy or tired or selfish. Or I am all those things.

The beauty of Christmas – Christ coming to earth – came wrapped inside wrapping inside wrapping inside wrapping this year. It came slow like the full nine months of labor pains, much deeper than I’ve ever anticipated this season before.

And when I shake with sobs in bed or pray for water hotter than my tears in the shower, I need Emmanuel. I need the truth of “God with us” on earth. When I wish I was 13 years old again or when I go to sleep to be hidden, I need Emmanuel.

I’m not proud of wanting to escape. But when life is hard, you just dream of it being easier I guess. Easier commute to work, easier free time, easier time management, easier professional life, easier marriage, easier living, easier. Not lazy, just better. I’m not proud of wanting easier.

Maybe that’s why I love liturgy so much. It makes me say the words I do not feel. And that’s why Scripture memory is a life vest these days. Even if those are the only words I repeat, the only ones I sing… even if I don’t feel them completely, I know there is a gift wrapped inside a gift wrapped inside a gift that is more inside than any thief of joy.

God with us. He is here, even when I am not wanting Him. He is here, when I want to be elsewhere. God with us, pursuing us in love.

Did You say, ‘seek, you will surely find’?
I am searching, Lord turn Your eyes to mine
But I’m weary, pacing at these gates
Jesus come, come now, don’t delay

Like a child, ever faithful may I be
This I ask, God of mercy hear my plea
I have wandered with a soul impure
For this scorn, Father, send a cure

Last week, I memorized from John 11:25-26, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die…”

It’s one of those verses that’s hard to say, but I stumble through. I speak and trust God will grant the belief I need to be moved by these words. He is good and true and He is holding me up in the midst of my escaping.


 

Find all the writings on grief at this link and join with us as we mourn in hope.

joy, the rhythm of God’s metronome

It is raining today – a thick, damp autumn drizzle that will try to keep the city folks from the farmer’s markets. Rain is settling the dust in the city and calming the rush of a long work week. We are all underneath the weight of it, all the living of us.

I am still alive today and the smell of thyme is filling my senses in our favorite neighborhood coffeeshop. I’m writing in the corner while a cozy crowd brunches Saturday morning into the afternoon. This is the rhythm of the weekend. We work all week so that we can wake up late for lazy brunch on a rainy Saturday. It’s a rhythm we wrote for ourselves and a rhythm we are resigned to keep like a metronome. Morning, work, night, sleep, busy, work, busy, weekend, play, rest, weekend. Repeat.

Consciously or subconsciously Christians have accepted the whole ethos of our joyless and business-minded culture. They believe that the only way to be taken “seriously” by the “serious” – that is, by modern man – is to be serious, and, therefore, to reduce to a symbolic “minimum” what in the past was so tremendously central in the life of the Church – the joy of the feast. – Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World (1963)

I really “get” what Alexander Schmemann is saying. Today is about the business-minded, serious, modern man with five and ten year plans. Weekends and scheduled holidays are available for joy and for feasting, unless you have stored up vacation time for something in between. Schmemann wrote “For the Life of the World,” in 1963 as a study guide for the National Student Christian Federation Conference in Athens, Ohio – several decades and states removed from my hipster life in Brooklyn in 2014. But, today is still about that same rhythm. I am resigned to the groove of that same calendar that tells us when to work, when to holiday, when to rest, and when to feast. I usually try to stand by the window…

In the weekday mornings, I join the coffee-perked rush on the Q train over the Manhattan Bridge.

In the weekday evenings, I join the long-faced rush on the Q train back over the same bridge in the opposite direction.

Schmemann’s book is about liturgy and the church calendar, but reading these chapters has felt a little like lighting a match. God keeps rhythm like a metronome. We hear it in the words at the close of the first day of Creation, “And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.” (Genesis 1). It keeps repeating, “There was evening and there was morning, the second day.” The third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh follow with that same rhythm. There was evening and there was morning, like a metronome.

The Israelites were all about God’s metronome. They ordered their lives around celebrations that anticipated the coming of the promised Messiah. People traveled from all over – long, dusty, and dangerous travels – so that they could dip into the barrels of celebration wine and break the bread of provision around long tables of neighbors, strangers, and friends. They didn’t always do it right, sure. But it seems like everyone agreed that gathering was important. And not just gathering, but gathering to anticipate the promises of God – to remind one another of the ways He provided in the past and to point toward His provision in the future.

We gather to celebrate birthdays and holidays and those days that come standard, pre-typed on our calendars. But in these, often (maybe), we let our joy get contained inside the event. Thanksgiving is coming. We will anticipate the meal, the guests, the full bellies in the afternoon. We anticipate joy on that day of gathering, but it will pass. Work will find us again on Friday or Monday at 9 am and we will slide into the same rhythm.

Schmemann writes, “The modern world has relegated joy to the category of “fun” and “relaxation.” It is justified and permissible on our “time off”; it is a concession, a compromise. And Christians have come to believe all this, or rather they have ceased to believe that the feast, the joy have something to do precisely with the “serious problems” of life itself, may even be the Christian answer to them.”

Yes, Schmemann, I believe it is. Joy is the Christian answer to the “serious problems” of life itself. But it can’t be faked or smashed into a day that looks in on itself. Joy cannot get celebrated when it is about a birthday or about a national holiday or about vacation time. Joy is the answer to the serious problems of life because it is always looking to Christ – back to the work of the cross that looks forward to our hope of eternity. Joy is our anticipation of what we taste but cannot grasp on this side of heaven.

Joy is the rhythm of God’s metronome.

I am in the middle of these thoughts about joy and feasting. They are not finished but they begged to be written out when they still felt awkward and gangly. This past month, in the middle of a very “serious problem of life” God offered a unique grace that allowed me to step into the joy of two different weddings. Feasting is hard to do when you are mourning. Joy is hard to do when you are sad. Dancing is hard to do when you are weeping. Strong is hard to do when you are weak. It almost feels wrong to smile, to dance, to laugh, to sing, to joy. It almost feels dishonest and disrespectful to be anything but depressed. Death is a serious problem of life.

But, these two weddings were feasts of joy that looked back on God’s provision in Christ and forward to the promises of abundance here and in eternity. I didn’t know what to do as joy wrestled the sorrow and everything got tangled. I didn’t know how to do either one well.

But joy is the rhythm of God’s metronome.

Joy swallows up sorrow, in the end. Right now, they wrestle it out in my heart – fighting for thoughts and emotions and words. But, in the end joy swallows up sorrow and that is what feasting and gathering is all about, this rhythm with a different beat.

Thanks for your patience in reading these very unfinished thoughts, friends. Is it okay that they don’t make sense? That they mix metaphors and jump around like a scatterplot graph?