Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Journey Continues

Today was our second time to attend Divine Liturgy (hey! I figured it out!) at Four Evangelists. We had the whole crowd along - including Adora and Little Man and the three wayfarers from last Sunday. We ended up being a few minutes late but even at that we were among the first ones there. We are still pondering this propensity for people to wander in very late - even up to the point where things are winding down. This time, though, we didn't really hesitate at the door. We piled up the coats on a table (that was a rather high pile) and shuffled everyone in, taking up the last three rows of seats. Tad suggested I sit in the aisle so I could see more of what goes on at the altar while he tried out standing next to the choir - I think he secretly wants to be part of them and is inching his way closer and closer. That's fine with me as long as he can still herd the masses while he sings.

We assigned Nathan to JT, mostly to give him something to do, while Ben was given a booklet and a seat next to Dad with the hopes that he would follow along in the liturgy. He's been our surliest dude in this church change. Philip and the little ones are just too durn clueless to even really notice we've changed venues, the girls are very excited about new opportunities to form relationships and JT has settled into the pattern of hating what is just another boring church in his little distorted mind which can't accept that people (not to mention GOD) may actually like him and want him there. Adora was on her own with Nehemiah. I knew she'd have her hands full keeping his electric charge down to a dull roar.

The liturgy is beginning to make more sense. I was able to pick out more similarities to things with which I'm already familiar. I actually managed to follow my way through the beginning, the two (yes, two - finally figured that out too!) readings and on into the sermon. Doing good. No major kidtastrophes yet either.

It didn't seem quite so long either. Fr. Greg made an interesting observation about that later. He had read the first entry about last week's experience and it struck him as odd that I would find the service long. He said he knows it's long but he just doesn't experience it that way. He compared it to being color blind. If someone says to a color blind person, this is blue, well that person would believe you but it just wouldn't be his experience of that thing. A very fitting analogy.

I think the long-ness of it all will grow on us. After all, it isn't any longer than a rip-roaring charismatic service, but it's not as...overtly dramatic either. It's more like a long stillness, a long meditative peace. It's tough to be still and peaceful - especially since we've spent the past ten years trying to manipulate the liturgy into "bringing us in" to the Holy Spirit. We speak in tongues, we lift up our hands, we bow, we dance, we sing endless choruses of Spirit-invoking songs and in the end we hope that we can but touch a bit of the "power of the Holy Spirit". But the orthodox way is so different. The Divine Liturgy *is* the Holy Spirit. All I have to do is step into the river and feel the water flow over me. If that makes me raise my hands up to the Lord or fall prostrate on my face (and the orthodox way is more of the heine in the air, forehead to the ground sort of prostration) I don't think a single person will notice. But most people won't be doing those things because it's just nice to float in a river and let the current carry you where it will. It's an interior joy...a simple peace. And I don't have to do a single thing except yield to it. In fact, the less I do in my own strength, the swifter the current carries me. (Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me a sinner.)

We moved into the next portion of the Divine Liturgy, approaching the Eucharist and I was feeling so confident I decided to give teaching the girls a whirl. Besides, Ruth was beginning to get very restless and bug Betsy so I needed a way to keep her focused and otherwise occupied. I stood between her and Betsy with the service booklet (all the while, keeping a foot firmly planted on Noah who was doing his best to throw books and sneak off down the aisle behind my back). I pointed out to them the musical notes and explained that reading music is just like doing the hand thing with Miss Catherine in choir (ok, they knew what that meant which is all that matters). They really enjoyed joining in with the singing, although I had to speak to Ruth about 1,008 times - I don't think I'm exaggerating - about having her dupa facing toward the altar. We were all able to pick out the Lord's Prayer and the Creed - and even Philip and Miriam were joining in at those points sans service booklet. So far, so good.

Then came time for everyone to go up and receive the Eucharist. By now, David had exited upstage with Dad quickly following (his) behind to the bathroom. He is still at that stage where saying he has to go is quickly followed by the actual act of going. This left me alone with all the others as Adora was, as predicted, running down Miah in all directions. I was perfectly content to sit and enjoy the moment when Pani Chris approached and instructed me to take the children up for a blessing. I shot her my best "you've got to be kidding" look but she countered with a definitive "I'll help you" . I stood up, hoisted Nathan onto my hip and grabbed Noah by the hand which got his best whining-plopping-his-fat-butt-on-the-floor-tantrum. A quick threat to the state of his backside and he was suddenly with the program. Nate was the first to be blessed and Fr. Greg did so by waving the silver spoon around in a vague sign of the cross in front of his face. At first I thought he misunderstood and was planning to commune the kid but then I realized this was a particularly orthodox form of torture. Nathan never did get that spoon to stop waving about in the air long enough for his lips to wrap about it's curves and the rest of us were blessed without quite so much turmoil. Then Pani Chris directed us to the basket of bread and encouraged everyone to partake. This confused the children since I hadn't explained the whole thing to them ahead of time but they were happy to be able to participate in a Food Event and I had happened to have come across the ingredients of the bread the day before so knew it was safe for all - well, except Philip, of course. David and Tad returned just in time to gather everyone together and herd them back to our spots.

Afterwards, the children were all ready to line up and kiss the crucifix at the end of the service and Fr. Greg did a stellar job introducing himself to the members of our household who had been absent last week. We made it through our second Divine Liturgy intact.

Again, it was nice to fellowship a bit afterwards. The younger children were engaged in a flannel board story of the Nativity while we chatted with various new friends, the most memorable of which, for me, was an older woman who intentionally pulled me aside. She herself is a convert to orthodoxy and I really don't know much about her past experience except that she was Roman Catholic and has a daughter roughly my husband's age who attended high school with him. She said she had been thinking about us and was glad to see us return. Then she said that when she had begun to come to Four Evangelists she was given the best advice ever. It had been suggested to her that she just be sure to make it to Divine Liturgy each week and eventually the liturgy itself would instruct her heart and her mind. She was so thrilled that she'd been blessed by following this advice and wanted me to know that the same could be true for us. I think the advice was two-fold - first of all, get to church every Sunday and second of all, let the Liturgy teach. The first is still a bit of a mystery to me. I think I can count on one hand the number of times since I was born that I've missed church on a Sunday morning and those I can remember distinctly because they all involved a crisis of some sort. It seems odd to me that one would need to be instructed to do this and it would be such a novel idea....But the second emphasis was a wonderful reminder and exactly describes our experience thus far. Each time we expose ourselves to the Divine Liturgy, it does indeed instruct our hearts and our minds all on its own. I am really looking forward to the coming weeks, months, years, as each Divine Liturgy builds upon another and seeps into who I am. So far, truly so good. Peace and Joy are close by.

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