Doors, Locked and Otherwise

florence-church-full_medDuring the Week of Guided Prayer, images of doors and houses came up every single day, which really isn’t all that shocking because I have a thing about doors, particularly closed, locked ones. One of the things that came up for discussion was a dream I had that was still haunting me. Two and a half years is a long time for a dream to stick with me. And it’s as real to me now as the night I dreamt it.

I was in the shadows across from a church door. A man came to the door and finding it locked, he began to beat on the door until his hands were bloodied and broken. He had his head against the door, crying as he pounded away in vain. I could smell the blood from where I was but could only watch, trapped and terrified in the shadows. I woke up still trying to scream and unable to.

I know this dream is something I need to work with, to explore in my writing. The imagery has become clearer and whatever was stopping me from moving closer is gone now. I learned the hard way writing The Gremlin and The Return of the Gremlin that sometimes my writing will not be under my control, at all, not even a little bit. This story of the man beating on the church door is one of those stories. It will not be writing. It will be more like watching and taking good notes. Knowing that, I started to doodle this morning and to piece out snatches of dialogue. Then I read today’s gospel. And what do I read? The man knocking on his friend’s door at midnight. Because, if nothing else, God is a stalker who likes to make sure He has my attention.

The obvious theme of that story is persistence. Keep knocking and the door will open. Keep asking and you will receive. And I realized that for most of my life, I’ve heard that story and pictured God on the other side of that closed, locked door, wishing I would go away and quit knocking. But what if this story is actually exactly what Jesus says it is: two ordinary people. And what if we look a little closer: there is a subtheme of indifference. A dialogue that could very well be something like this:

Knocker: Hey, I really need your help with this thing.

Knockee: It’s late. I’m tired. I worked all day. I’m in my pajamas, watching Netflix, and I literally just poured a glass of wine. Text me tomorrow.

See, it’s not the fact that the door is closed and locked. It’s the indifference, the active choice not to acknowledge that there is a problem that sets up the refusal to help. It’s a choice of the knockee to remain indifferent by making excuses that sound reasonably valid in hopes that the knocker will go away and figure out their issue on their own.

doorSo maybe the takeaway here is that the knocker isn’t pounding away on the door to get the thing, whether it’s a loaf of bread or money or advice in an emotional crisis. Maybe the knocker is pounding away at the door to knock down the indifference, to call attention to the excuses we make that only sound reasonable at midnight when you’re in your pajamas watching Man in the High Castle with a bowl of popcorn and a nice glass of Riesling. Would that same excuse sound as reasonable in the morning after your second of coffee? Or do you hear the knocker’s plea a little differently in the daylight?

There are an awful lot of people in this world knocking on doors that are closed and locked. Are we really listening to what they need or do we just want them to go away?

Writing The Weeks


Around Christmas, I stumbled across a Twitter post about an Anglican rosary-making society. And the first thought into my head was: Wait a minute – I thought the Catholics had an exclusive on that.  It should be said that I have never been a devotee of the Catholic rosary. The nuns tried but like the Act of Contrition and the Baltimore Catechism, the Catholic rosary just didn’t take hold for me. No matter how much I tried, it felt forced, awkward and confining. I envied those who found so much peace in the decades.

I was intrigued by the pictures the Anglican priest had posted and asked him for more information. He sent me a link, which led to another link and there I was, several links and an hour later, ordering myself an Anglican rosary. So if the Catholic rosary was never my thing, why would I even bother with reading about, much less buying, an Anglican rosary? Pure, relentless, incessant curiosity.

The Anglican rosary is far smaller than a Catholic rosary, only 33 beads rather than 59. There is a cross, an Invitatory bead, and then four sets of seven beads called The Weeks which are separated by four larger beads known as the Cruciforms. The prayers are variable, some are the prayers of saints, others are lines of scripture, most are no more than few lines long. As I started to explore, what I found was simplicity and a whole lot of open space. Six months later, I have found is that I adapt those prayers to fit where I am in life at the moment. Whether it’s a prayer for strength, trust, mercy, or stillness, I have found what I needed.

In the month leading up to the Week of Guided Prayer, I prayed for clarity. God gave me far more than I ever expected. And while, God gave me clarity, God also gave me homework. The lines of scripture that hit home for me over the past few days will become a part of my daily prayer. I spent my Sunday morning writing out the lines that will become the Weeks and the Cruciforms for me for the foreseeable future. That was easy part of my homework. I have lot more writing to do in the coming months. But I’ve found a way of praying has the meditative quality found in repetition and yet the open space I need to be at home in my own skin. That combination has been nothing short of a gift. I also found that while the Weeks and the Cruciforms have changed, the Invitatory prayer that has been my mainstay for the past month remains the same.

Christ be with me, Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me, Christ beside me, Christ to win me, Christ to comfort and restore me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ in quiet, Christ in danger, Christ in hearts of all that love me, Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

~Saint Patrick

Let Go

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So what happens when you put a perfectionist with no artistic talent whatsoever in a painting studio? Eye twitches. Eye twitches happen. And clenching of the jaw and a death grip on the paintbrush. But it’s okay because I’m in a private party with some of my longtime Catholic grammar school friends and we’re all hopeless perfectionists. We’ll leave the connection between Catholic grammar school and perfectionist tendencies for another post. For now, there’s food and there’s mimosas. There’s music from our younger days. It’s all good. Except I can’t paint creatively. I can paint a room, including the trim, and it will be gorgeous. But a beach? At sunset? With palm trees?

Ha ha ha! No.

For the next couple of hours, I reminded myself with every third stroke of the paintbrush to lighten up and let go. In the end, we all had a great time. We laughed ourselves silly and I came home with some great memories of friends that I love dearly and a painting of a beach at sunset – or the beginning of the apocalypse – with what could be either a sickly palm tree or a dead tarantula on it. But whatever, it’s hanging in my kitchen, conveniently covering the calendar, and, oddly enough, I’m rather fond of my apocalyptic tarantula.

I suppose my fondness for this painting has less to do with what it looks like and a lot more to do with what went into it. And I suppose maybe that applies to a lot of things in my life. I know where I’ve been and I know what it took for me to be where I am. The last few months got way more hectic than I can comfortably handle. So when I caught myself reading American history during what was supposed to be my prayer time at the beach in the morning, I knew something had to give. I need that time with God far more than I need an A in history. Yeah, I actually had to read that sentence out loud a few times until I could say it without my voice shaking.  I will most likely walk away from this summer class without an A, bringing an end to a two-year streak of perfect grades, and I am okay with that because I know what when into it was the best I had to give at this point in time. It seems like perfect timing that the Week of Guided Prayer starts this weekend just as one class ends and the next one starts. It’s the precisely the interruption I need. I’m not feeling like I’m on the most solid of footing, but that’s okay too because when I first attended the Week ten years ago, it was supposed to be a one-shot deal and yet, here I am again. I’ve been on more solid ground and I’ve been on shakier but it doesn’t matter because it’s all holy ground.

So, ultimately, what did my little foray into the arts teach me? That sometimes it’s okay to let go and when I find that things aren’t turning out quite the way I think they should, it’s completely cool – and actually rather helpful – to throw down the paintbrush, jump up and dance the YMCA with three other friends while the rest of the class paints on. Because in the end, it was never about the perfect beach painting. It was about the part of my soul that went into it. And you know, I think that’s pretty much what life is all about in the end. It’s not about what life looks like. It’s about how much soul goes into living it.