Tuesday, April 28, 2009


The weather is in transition, so I've been in a bit of a headcovering transition, too. Plus, I'm taking a walk down memory lane. Jared had his first soccer game of the season last week, and as I walked on the field, I remembered the time last year when I wore a skirt to one of his games. I was testing out this whole feminine, modest dress crazy idea that had been floating around in my head for awhile. "Could I do this? Could I really wear a skirt all the time? Yes...I think I could." The breeze on the sidelines and the smell of the grass made me distinctly remember those thoughts and feelings. The searching. The insecurity. The unknown.

Headcovering came soon after, and I struggled all of that long, hot summer in the house we lived in at the time with no air conditioning. My hair was so short, I couldn't wear many scarf styles at all, since my hair would stick out from under the scarves in frustrating stubbornness. I ended up settling on kerchiefs and knee-length skirts. Slowly adding to my wardrobe over the months. As I unpacked the storage container with my spring and summer clothes last week, I chuckled a bit to myself. Almost all of my skirts of last summer will not be worn this year. Now, my standards are different, and they are far too short. The shirts also are too low-cut or tight. As each day goes by, I cover more and more. Not too long ago, though, I felt like such a rebel, covering up in those skirts and kerchiefs.

I chuckled at perspective. How fluid that concept is in life and spirit. Last year, I was just starting a journey. Now, it's still the same journey, but the scenery is so vastly different. I'm the same person when I look in the mirror. Yes, the hair is much longer, and I delight in my ponytail after a year without a haircut, but I'm basically the same. If I could find a mirror that would give me an image of my heart, though, I hope the difference would be striking.

I settled into a good wardrobe and headcovering groove at the end of this winter. I knew what I felt comfortable in and what was easy. I've been a bit thrown off now, though. The heavy scarves don't seem appealing in the morning, and I've found myself digging out my kerchiefs that have lain unused for months. I struggle with being a bit headcovering obsessed at times. In my mind, there should be the elusive ultimate headcovering...the one I can throw on with any outfit and have it be perfection. Thus, my drawers full of oblong scarves, square scarves, snoods, kerchiefs, etc. Thus, the wide variety in tying styles with each day a completely different scenario.

It came to me near the end of Lent that I had to let that dream die. There is no perfect headcovering for me. There is no one piece of fabric that will make it all click. That won't happen, because it's not about the covering. It's all about me. I'm not ready to be satisfied with my appearance. I'm not ready to truly let my vanity go.

Do I worry about headcovering constantly? No. Does it keep me from living my life? No. Once I decide on a covering for the day, I'm committed, and I go about my business without anymore thought. I just have moments when I'm deciding which scarf matches which skirt that often drag on far too long. I tie and re-tie, checking every angle in the mirror and frowning at the result. I surf the internet searching for more and more coverings or more and more tying styles. I have my moments...

Before I lapse into headcovering despair though, I try to embrace the ebb and flow of perspective. Life is not concrete. It is an ever-changing landscape of point of view. Each moment changes our view on the next moment. Headcovering is not the end all and be all. It is the tool that gives me perspective. As I am not saved in one moment, but am being saved as I work out my salvation, I am also only in the middle of the headcovering process. I know I'm past the beginning, but the end is somewhere I can't even focus. I just live in the jumbled in-between, where I fall down and get back up. Fall down and get back up. I want to gain humility with headcovering. I am not there yet. I want to gain gentleness of action and spirit with headcovering. I am not there yet. I want to have a joyful, obedient spirit with headcovering. I am not there yet.

BUT...I'm working out my issues with headcovering. The issues that are all about me. My vanity. My lust for power. My selfishness. Those passions die slowly, and they don't go down without a fight. Headcovering is a process. It is not a solution.

Yesterday, we went to the beach at the lake for the first time this season. Ridiculously warm and unseasonable weather. Even though the water temps of Lake Erie still register in the 40's, we wanted to sit by the shore, dig in the sand, and pretend it's summer. What on earth was I going to wear? Last year, I used lake visits as an excuse to dump the whole headcovering, modest dress experiment. I wore shorts and and a revealing tank top. No headcovering. I can't do that anymore. That whole perspective thing...

I settled on digging out one of those skirts that are just too short this year and one of my much-neglected kerchiefs. I made sure we didn't need to stop anywhere, even just to get gas, because I didn't want to go into a store that uncovered. I felt lost and confused. What was this all really about anyway? Could I still be me with my knees showing? Who was I if I didn't meet that long list of standards I've worked so hard to create? As I left the house, my choice of dress and covering had absolutely nothing to do with prayer and humility. It was 100% about me and my self-focus.

We arrived at the lake, and I was still wandering. Feeling a bit like a freakish, obsessed fanatic, I traced figures in the sand with my finger by the edge of the water. Suddenly, two young women appeared with their small children. I almost couldn't believe it, but they each had on knee-length denim skirts and kerchiefs covering their heads. I laughed out loud and praised God for His goodness and His sense of humor. I needed a little encouragement, and He knew just how to provide it.

Yes, I'm on a journey, and I have my standards for myself, but I have to keep it all in perspective. Every woman is on a journey. For most, headcovering doesn't even factor into their lives at all. This is my moment. This is where I travel. It's not about how much or how little fabric. It's not about whether my scarf matches my skirt. It's about me. And God. And perspective.

So, my prayer today is that I will cover for God. Not for myself. Knee length or ankle length. Oblong or square. God, help me to plant gentleness. To nurture humility. To cultivate obedience. One moment at a time. Covered...in your mercy.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Holy Week

We took a gazillion and one pictures of Holy Week. Partly to document the events for the parish website and partly to cement the images in my mind.

Looking back, though, I am having a difficult time wading through the pictures to find the definitive ones. The pictures that captured the exact feelings of the moments they were taken. On any given day, Orthodoxy is a buffet of stimulation for the senses. Sights, sounds and smells ooze from every moment. Maybe the pictures just don't capture that???

How can I shrink down the moment in the Paschal Vigil, where all the lights are put out. The oppressiveness of that darkness. The weight of the stone in front of my own tomb. Trapped by death, standing huddled in anticipation. Then there it is---the spark. The new fire. The light of Christ's Resurrection coming into the world and into the depths of my soul. No picture does that justice.

But I am glad for the moments I did record. The peace of the setting sun at Bridegroom Matins.

The tomb. By tradition, we cover the face and feet of Jesus. Some things are so awesome, they are impossible to fully behold. The fact that God became man and lay dead in a tomb...it's just too much to take in.

So, we don't see his face as we huddle around like the rest of the mourners in the icon. Kissing any bit of him we can reach.

Our priest kissing the feet of the crucified Christ on Holy Thursday, just moments after we literally nailed his lifesize icon to the cross. The ringing of the rock on the nails echoes in my ears. No picture captures the realization that Jesus died...and it's all my fault.

This icon actually hangs year round in our church. It sits over in the corner, and if Vespers is timed just right, the light shines on his face in a glowing sweetness. Too often though, it's just the last icon in the line to venerate before you're out the church and into the hall for that long-awaited cup of coffee after Liturgy. Too easily an afterthought. I liked seeing it moved into the center of the church and my consciousness. Now and until Ascension, the cross remains in its original corner, but there is no icon on it. My eye keeps drifting there. My brain knows there's something wrong...something missing. I smiled at the knowledge of the joyous reason that cross is empty and will never be needed again.

The candles around the tomb as we took our shift keeping vigil in the wee hours of the night on Saturday, continuously reading the Psalms in the darkness.

Hearing my son chant in his sweet, clear voice. Not a hint of a voice change yet. Shhhh! Don't tell him I said that. :)

After the Lamentations service on Friday, a group from our parish went "tomb hopping". We traveled around to six different local parishes. We smiled at our unity in the faith, thinking of all the Orthodox Christians around the world doing the exact same thing at the exact same moment. We prostrated in front of each tomb with the same reverence. He was still dead at each one. The night was still dark.
And finally, the joy of Pascha. When all the lights are turned on, the doors are opened, and the tomb is empty. Gone.

Hilary was obsessed with this dress. She's been waiting for weeks for Pascha. The main event was getting to wear the dress. The whole Resurrection thing was just a subplot.

Her three year old mind keeps struggling to grasp the week's events. She talks about how Jesus died. Him on the cross fascinates her. She keeps asking, "Why did he die?" Because He loves you, we respond over and over. Because He loves you. That seems to make her happy.

I guess the main reason the pictures don't seem to be enough is because my mind keeps being filled with images of Jerusalem. A garden. A mob. An earthquake. A tomb. So much more than what I see outside my window.

Holy Week makes me feel like I'm actually there. Won't let me focus on myself. Won't let me forget. Yes, I'm one the women weeping at the tomb, but I'm also denying him like Peter and shouting "Crucify him!" with the crowd. I hang my head in shame and repentence.

And now it's over. Back to "normal" life where we aren't attending three services a day and real honest to goodness meat fills our plates again. I'll miss the fast, though. I know I need it. I don't ever want to forget what happened and what I do everyday that made it necessary.

Christ is risen! Indeed He is risen!