singing catechisms

The cold blue sky hugged the red bricks of all the buildings in the neighborhood on a Saturday afternoon in February. Our Friday sleepover friends had just left and Zella Ruth was tucked away for a nap in her crib. 

Pat rolled the rocking chair back and forth, back and forth… with a hiccup where it caught the carpet. And I was there – curled up tight in his lap, with my head tucked under his chin and with my eyes weeping motherhood. I humiliated myself into a little cocoon on his chest, folding all my limbs as small as they would go. I had lost something, something very precious, at the laundromat and that hiccuping rock let me forget adulthood for a little bit.

I wanted to blame everything – the laundry ladies, the drudgery of schlepping overstuffed clothes bags on city streets, the baby strapped to my chest, the postpartum stuff I still don’t understand – but I didn’t have the energy. I wiped sad slobber all over one of his zip up sweaters and listened as he prayed, feeling very like a child.

That was months ago, before we sang the Heidelberg Catechism on Sundays for Eastertide and before the cherry blossoms peak bloomed and then swirled down like snow. It was before my bit of breakdown that happened in the hours stretching between endless walks and goo-gaw talks and failed attempts to get anything done except answering “present” when Zella Ruth gave roll call.

Heidelberg Catechism

I relax into that spot on the bathroom floor – the place where I sit as Z splashes wonder up from her little whale tub. I am slow. I sink into her gaze, round eyes and wet hair stuck to her little head – shining little bruises from little bonks. She splashes again for my reaction and I answer “present” to her roll call – mirroring her chin down, slow blinking face. She lingers. I take the soft, red measuring cup that doubles as bath toy and pour warm on her shoulders. She shudders with delight and follows the water to the breaking surface, slow blinking wet lashes while the warm trickles off her fingertips before looking up for more.

I hum around a few bath songs and settle on a catchy little tune her Papa made up. I sing it softly, touching her little wet features as if this is the only thing in life.

I love your nose, nose, nose
I love your nose
I love your lips, lips, lips
I love your lips
I love your eyes and your ears and your tiny, little tears
I love your nose

She pauses, lifting her nose up so my pointer can keep time on its tiny surface. She waits for the song to cycle again, letting the faint sounds of bath water fill the empty space. I start again, tapping on that nose and watching her open mouth grow into a half smile. There are other verses, of course. Endless verses.

It is Pentecost now and the liturgical season is green – for new life, for growth, for Jesus. The season is green because Jesus is the seed God threw to the earth to be planted in death and raised in new life. And this – this throwing down, dying, and raising is my only comfort in life and in death. It seems so singular – so exclusive and definitive – to say my only comfort at all, ever, always is that I belong to JesusIf that is so, I must belong in a way that isn’t attached to postpartum or marriage or geography or accomplishment or feelings. I must belong to Jesus so deeply that I am not my own anymore (and that is a comfort?).

It sounds messy and untrue because my gut says that comfort is when I am my own.

Sometimes, Z will cruise herself across a room, close enough for our foreheads to touch and then lean in between me and whatever has my attention to say, “Ah!” With raised eyebrows and an open mouth smile, she declares with one word, “Here I am, Mama! You must have forgotten about me, but it’s okay because I am here! And I am wonderful!”

The truth of it was more ethereal and less tactile before Z was born. (Not my own, uh sure. Yeah.) This tiny human sleeping a few feet from our marriage bed (and needing me in the most complete way I’ve ever been needed) made “not my own” less delicate and more… more desperately tangible.

I do the same thing I did in singleness: try to claim that I belong, body and soul, to me. My comfort is queen. But motherhood has been an especially physical response to that tendency – in its denial of what I want to do.

I cannot understand her words quite yet, but it sounds something like, “Be fully present, mama. Be completely here. Look at me long enough to notice the hair swooping over my eyes and the way I can make a bowl be a hat.”

God is most glorified in me when I am most satisfied in Him. It’s kind of an updated Westminster Catechism idea called Christian Hedonism and it’s what I think of when Zissou appears in front of me thinking she is the world (Sidenote: she is only 10 months, so I realize this analogy unravels really quickly – like in a month or so).

Zella is teaching me how to joyfully choose to not be my own, to be satisfied completely in the Lord. She is teaching me that there is comfort in being present for the banal moments of bath time and the tender night cries of teething because this is the way of the Father. He came all the way down to earth to be present with us.

He has fully paid for all my sins with His precious blood and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my father in heaven. In fact all things must work together for my salvation.

My truest and most enduring comfort is belonging to Jesus, the one who watches over me in all the ways I can’t watch over Zella. He is the one who watches over me when I lose laundry and when I can’t sing another made up song. He knows exactly what I need and then He gives it abundantly. He is the only one who can grant salvation with belonging.

You won’t find it anywhere in red letters, but I hear it in this season – I hear God saying, “Be fully present when I take roll call because I am here and I am wonderful!” There is absolutely nothing that is more precious or more important than being with the One who set you free, the One who made you so deeply belong that it is a comfort to say, “I am not my own.”

In the spirit of being present, this blog post took weeks with plenty of breaks for giggle parties on the bed, forts in the living room, catechism sing-a-longs, tongue cluck contests and sweet, singing walk dances in the park. My living room is currently in an impressive display of unkept and the bed is not made. Just keeping it real.

the good kind of dizzy – reflections on Pentecost

I knew the pews would creak to announce our tardiness into the sanctuary, but no one seemed to mind. The rows were old like the building, but not unfamiliar. Worshippers sat spaced out, in clusters and alone, and they all seemed to be taking a collective sabbath sigh as the liturgy began.

And we spoke together, slowly.

I sank into the collective sabbath sigh and let the quiet rest my soul. The pace inside the church did not match the streets outside; it savored the words and the melodies and the notes of praise coming from the ensemble in the corner. And somewhere in the standing and sitting and reading and singing and praying, the pastor preached on Pentecost in the present tense – the now of God’s Holy Spirit provision that we wouldn’t be orphans.

I mangled my notes with doodles and arrows and bold letters. The beauty of Jesus promising that even better things would be achieved in this provision than He achieved while on earth is astounding.

 But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you,sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. John 16:5-7

sermon notes

Though the air was quiet and my soul full of Sabbath rest, my mind rushed to gather insight from the Word. Bread for the soul is the best way to understand the way the Word nourishes our spiritual bones. And it is this hunger that spun my mind’s wheels on that creaky pew.

The Spirit lives (in the present tense) and gives (in the present tense) peace and fights (in the present tense) for my sanctification.

When Jesus left, we were not abandoned. In fact, the Holy Spirit expanded the reach of Jesus beyond a locality and beyond the limit of a lifetime. The Holy Spirit ensured my rescue from abandonment and God’s faithfulness to His promise to sanctify the chosen.

He is daily, joyfully, continuously, and graciously rescuing me from orphanhood. His promise-keeping secures my place in His family, forever.

I don’t mean to say there is a danger He would not, but the beauty of being awed by His doing so re-positions my worship. Hm. I can’t quite tame the wild realizations of my heart or find words to make sense of my joy. The moment I think I’ve grasped an intelligible way of relating these discoveries, I’ve lost it. But I know it was something wonderful because the surge in my soul was electric.

I am rescued from orphanhood and my rescue is present tense as much as it is past. At the end of the sermon while I was caught in my doodles, the pastor said something and I can’t tell you what it was. But while he said it I wrote this down,

“Our good works are the evidence of God’s promise-keeping.”

God sent the Spirit to be active in the present tense to reach beyond the locality and lifespan of Jesus and reach people like me. God is daily keeping His promise to be faithful, to provide, to delight, to redeem, to rescue, and to reveal His glory.

This powerfully translates into our completing the good works that were planned for us to do (Ephesians 2). When we are effective for the kingdom, it is not because we were faithful to answer the call or maintain the resolve or finish the race.

We are effective because He is faithful to keep His promises.

We are being made holy because He is faithful. We are humbled because He is faithful. We are successful because He is faithful. We mourn with the grieving because He is faithful. We live in community because He is faithful. We serve our neighbors because He is faithful. We love the downtrodden because He is faithful. We release the captive because He is faithful.

His promise-keeping enables us to do good works and those good works return glory to the One whose faithfulness empowered them.

Oh, what a mess. I’ve made no sense and much sense and many circles. Sometimes the circles spin my heart with delight and I give in. I don’t mind if delighting in the Lord makes me dizzy.

I got the good kind of dizzy on Sunday, spinning around in circles to understand the mysterious faithfulness of our gracious God.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

the glory of radiance – hidden and revealed

“It has seemed to me sometimes as though the Lord breathes on this poor gray ember of Creation and it turns to radiance – for a moment or a year or the span of a life. And then it sinks back into itself again, and to look at it no one would know it had anything to do with fire, or light.” from Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, p. 280

It is raining today, so describing Creation as a poor gray ember seems fitting. The rain brings the clouds into the streets and muddles the footsteps of the city. Robinson’s character John Ames preached the words above in a Pentecost sermon and remembers them in a letter to his son. He follows the quote by reflecting on his words,

“But the Lord is more constant and far more extravagant than it seems to imply. Wherever you turn your eyes the world can shine like transfiguration. You don’t have to bring a thing to it except a little willingness to see.”

In the middle of spitting and dreary rain it is hard to be hopeful. It is hard to see beyond the poor gray ember or believe it is capable of burning something bright. The way we slide into the gray and adjust to the dullness makes hope a very courageous endeavor. To believe God waits to blow radiance from gray embers is a crazy notion, a grace given to courageous eyes.

We do not believe hope into being true, but instead believe our eyes into seeing that hope is truth.

As Ames reflected on his pentecost words, he qualified his statement by saying God has given us grace to see the radiance that always shines. There is beauty in the mystery of glory hidden and beauty in the mystery of glory revealed. And the radiance always looks like the glory of God.

There is a radiance that always shines and God gives grace for us to open our eyes.