Morning Rest

I have a few different notes and lists stuck up next to my bed. I’m a great lover of lists. One of them is titled “Goals,” and the first item on it says “Get better at mornings.” If you would like to know what I mean by this I’m not really sure myself, except that the first hour or so of my day, when I’m pulling myself out of sleep, is usually when I feel most frustrated, most frightened, and least rested. And I’d like it if that wasn’t always the case.

Rest, real rest, is hard, apparently. I remember discovering this way back in undergrad, but for all of us within the last year, the definition and attainment of real rest has gotten especially fuzzy. We’ve done much of our working, relaxing, escaping, talking, worrying, waiting, sleeping, playing, trying and then failing to love our neighbors, and checking the latest news all within the same confining walls. It’s hard to know what the boundaries are anymore. Everything we do starts to bleed together. And the ability to rest, already so difficult, falls deep into the cracks.

Thus I’ve set this entirely unmeasureable “get better” goal for myself and have made small, gentle amounts of progress towards it, towards occasionally being propelled into morning prayer by something other than a foul, anxious mood, but it’s been a real effort, a back and forth between numbing myself from feeling and a vigilant monitoring of my habits and thoughts. I’m striving for peace, but usually failing.

And then late Thursday morning, I took the bus into Regent for a library shift. A little over halfway there, around the time we passed Wallace Street, I realized that without deciding to I’d tipped my head against the window, a little sleepy, eyes half-closed. And as I leaned there I was thinking slow, wandering, insignificant thoughts about who-knows-what for the first time in a long, long while. Rest had come upon me unbidden, as gift, without me even choosing it. Trees and houses floated past and I sunk deeper, softer into my seat. I almost missed pulling the cord for my stop.

So here I am in the stillness of Holy Saturday, the enchanting effects of that rest from Thursday long gone, my own weary, cyclical strivings to be better at mornings (and all things) firmly back in play. Yet that moment on the bus stands as witness—as I find moments on the bus often do—that rest is a thing given, not attained, and it can come upon us wonderfully like surprise, like resurrection.

Practicing Resurrection

On Tuesday, I will finish my second semester of grad school and on Wednesday I will turn twenty-seven, which my sister and I used to joke was the age of perfection. It was a funny joke back then, and, frankly, is an even funnier joke now.

Last year on my birthday I wore a pink dress and it bucketed rain. It came down in a long morning deluge which made everyone grumpy. Then, in the afternoon, my fourth period students threw me a surprise party which I did not manage to be surprised by, complete with hats, a shiny balloon, and a cookie cake. My fifth period, not to be outdone, hastily ordered pizza. (My erstwhile birth functioned as an excellent excuse for all sorts of distractions.) I wanted to hug all of them, but I didn’t. I just smiled. It was an odd day and a good day.

The year and the ground which have passed under my feet in the interim have been dizzying. A few times in the last week in particular, as I have reflected, I have wanted to pinch myself—maybe I actually physically have pinched myself once or twice. (I can’t remember.) Is all this real? Did I really run away from home, and begin to do new things one after another in such rapid succession till it became habit? I want to check the mirror sometimes. Am I the same person? Are my eyes still brown, and when did the fear behind them stop running the show every day?

My rate of change over the last eight months has perhaps been privately alarming, but it is also much more than that. I found myself telling a friend the other day that being here, at Regent, in Vancouver, in a place which tastes different on my tongue and sounds different to my ears, something about it makes me actually want to heal. Not just make agreeable noises and blog entries, but take my hands away from the festering parts of myself which I’ve been covering, and say, “Alright, Lord. Come in at long last. Come in and perform the alchemy. Make me new, though for all my talk of Spring, I’m not even sure what that means.”

I’ve lived a fair number of Easter Sundays by now, have remembered the Resurrection over and over, but this one is softly special. I don’t just believe the promise of new life today—I want it.

Why do you seek the living among the dead?

Rise heart; thy Lord is risen.

Easter in the Fall

A few weeks ago I followed my dad out into my mom’s garden when he went to pick the remaining vegetables. Most of the plants were dark and bent and dead. The okra was half the height it had been, and the beans’ home-built trellis was tilting with mad exhaustion. The tomato vines curled blackly around their stakes and a few last over-ripe tomatoes, glowing orange-red, hung almost oozing off of them. Ever since then I have wanted to write this entry.

The changing of seasons always puts me in an Easter mood.  Each time the earth shifts humors in its cycle of yearly sinking down into somber sleep and rising up again, new and singing, I think of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ line: “There lives the dearest freshness deep down things.” This is both one of my God’s favorite party tricks and the grandest foundation of his character: he continually brings life out of death. Brown leaves rot and carpet the earth, so that fresh green life will leap out, nourished by death in its last decay. The withered hand is stretched out, whole again. Four-days-entombed Lazarus comes forth, trailing his grave clothes behind him.

And so for me, it is Easter weekend.  It is always Easter weekend. Christ died and rose to life, and so, in miniature, must we, along with the rest of his creation.  I am not saying something new. I’m saying something very old. Not only do we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, but we, with Christ, are baptized into death (Romans 6). But then, on the other side, (hear this,) then we come up out of those strange pathways and that dreadful river and look down to find our feet new-shod with the gospel of peace, fit to face the day.

The old self must crumble and rot, so that the new self can rise and grow. Death is the only way through to life.

Eventually, when we rise up out of death, clinging to our Savior’s hand, we will turn and see that the old dark valley and those rushing waters are gone and dissolved for good and all: that Donne spoke true and death has died. Our feet will no longer be new-shod, but new feet entire, whole and well, fit to face eternity.

Time

Time has become my ultimate enemy. Not the great hooded figure whom Shakespeare fears, standing and cradling his massive scythe, but instead his nasty, pockmarked little cousin who crouches on the floor and counts out the hours like currency. He carries a scythe too: it’s small and sharp and with it he kills sleep and he kills joy.

Okay. Well then. Now that that ponderous metaphor is out of my system, we can move along.

Really, though, I am staging a rebellion against minutes and deadlines and ticking second hands. Or trying to, at least. This semester has been too much for me in some ways. I was secretly triumphant last week when my alarm clock gave up the ghost and I blissfully slept an extra hour and a half.

I’ve just had a nice long car ride full of no obligations (i.e. a little computer that will no longer hold a charge) and friendly company, so in the spirit of my revolution against the pressure of the hours, I’d like to propose the following amendments to my own manifesto.

-Don’t antagonize sleep. When you go to bed in the wee hours and are still not able to rest, don’t pull out your computer again to do a little more. Be patient. Wait.

-When the number and scale of responsibilities frighten you, pray over your hours.

-Eat meals at the table. Try not to bring your work with you.

-Remember it’s only little old you and your little old worries. And God is very great.

-Take long baths.

-Place diligence over deadlines. Think of whatever your mother would say.

-Remember that you love to write and read and talk. Don’t let yourself twist God’s blessings into burdens.

-Wage war on the passive voice with courage. Go forth and do. Do the next thing.

The notes above are obviously intended for time immemorial, but it’s also worth pointing out that this is Holy Week. The hours of this week have great import for life and death and death-in-life and life-in-death. So I will pause, and worship, and remember Him who is eternal, who created time and came down to enter it Himself, who knows that it too may be redeemed.

 

White Nights

Hello, friend! My blog looks new today. Yesterday, I started going through my posts and giving them semi-helpful tags and then I had to find a new theme and then I had to mess with my menu and then just essentially go down the rabbit hole of the blogosphere, but I am back now, and writing to you.

It is Holy Week and I am home. Many of my readings from the Psalms this week have felt repetitive. In the midst of Jesus’ descent to hell, they have focused on suffering, distress, betrayal, and anguish. They have felt foreign to me. As I have read over old entries I’m realizing that it has been a long time since I have felt that way.

In high school I used to call the bad times “white nights.” I stole the term from the third book in L.M. Montgomery’s Emily series. I’m convinced that Montgomery must have been going through severe depression herself as she was writing it, because her Emily has a lot of white nights, and very few soft, dark, sleepy ones. White nights are the aching ones without rest, nights when everything and nothing is wrong, when it does not seem that “God’s in his heaven and all’s right with the world.”

I do not know what they look like for other people, but for me there’s a solitary light, maybe a pen and paper, always tears a plenty, and a mirror, all the better to facilitate what my parents call “navel-gazing.” I say that lightly, but there is something terrifying about the wilderness of one’s own mind. My friend Hopkins wrote, “O the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall / Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed. Hold them cheap / May who ne’er hung there.” At its most bleak, depression is a consuming beast, a lowering ceiling.

In my experience depression and anxiety are one part chemical (that’s the fact,) one part fear (that’s the temptation,) and one part narcissism (that’s the sin.) I say that not to discount the pain. Our God-given bodies are built out of chemicals, temptation can recolor our world, and sin rips and gnaws. I’ll give you Hopkins again for that. (He does know a great deal about it.)

I am gall, I am heartburn. God’s most deep decree

Bitter would have me taste: my taste was me;

Bones built in me, flesh filled, blood brimmed the curse.

Selfyeast of spirit a dull dough sours. I see

The lost are like this, and their scourge to be

As I am mine, their sweating selves; but worse.

But it has been a long time since my last true white night. Early last fall, perhaps? I seem to have come a long way since this time last year. I still get a sort of generalized anxiety, though.

A few weeks ago, I was anxious so I took a shower to calm down, which is my usual medicine if it is too dark or cold for a walk. I tried to remember the words to “Jesus Loves Me,” and I couldn’t do it. Through shaving my legs, shampooing, and conditioning, I could not remember the third line. I had to get out of the shower and look up “Jesus Loves Me” on the internet (oh, the shame.)

Jesus loves me—this I know,

For the Bible tells me so;

Little ones to Him belong—

They are weak, but He is strong.

I forgot belonging, I forgot that Christ’s perfect love means he is the Keeper of my soul, be it anguished or joyful. In fear, in gladness, in blindness, in sight, in the wilderness, and in Glory we are not our own.

We belong to One who was there first. Christ tasted bitter gall on the cross, and he had a white, sleepless night followed by an anguished, black noonday. He sweated blood. He suffered betrayal, mockery, and the only true loneliness man has ever known. His nail-pierced feet know well the paths of suffering.

He will light us out of the darkness of our sin-mired hearts, casting great stones aside that we may climb further up and further in to His new life.

Growing Up and Life Abundant

I have been home, and I’m not really sure what to say about this week, except that, for the most part, I was very grouchy. Mostly because I could be. I turned nineteen today, and I still have a lot of growing up to do. I’m very good at playing grown-up, for weeks on end sometimes, (especially in writing,) but that doesn’t mean I am. I still throw an all-out fit when my mama tells me to put on shoes for a walk. I guess I don’t know a whole lot about growing up, whatever it is. The few times I have done it have come and passed without my noticing till much later. I don’t know–maybe I matured seven years today, but who’s to know?

I’ll tell you something, though. I need to learn a lot of things about cheerfulness and patience and swallowing my words (including the thought process that led to them,) but today is Easter. Resurrection Sunday. A day for being new. A day of waking up for the first time to the Real World itself. A day, above all, for being ALIVE. Granted, I have not been very alive today. I been more than a little dead in my sins and trespasses. But the great thing about Easter is that , in a wonderful cheesy sort of way, it’s just Life Awareness Day. A day to be assaulted by the fact that Christ came out from death bearing life abundant for you and for me.

On facebook today someone posted the lyrics to an Andrew Peterson song that calls today “high noon in the valley of shadows.” I should not be sulking today. You know what I should do? I should go put on the pretty easter dress I took off a few hours ago out of stubbornness, and I should climb out the window onto my roof. I should scramble all the way up to the highest ridge pole like Anne of Green Gables and after teetering and giggling in the breeze for minute I should spread my arms wide and grinningly begin to scream, “Hey! It’s high noon! Christ is offering grace upon grace! COME AND GET IT, KIDS!!!” And then I should follow my own advice.