Rain, traffic, smells, and symbols….

St. John Chrysostom, Doctor and Father of the Church

Sometimes we are urged to do things that we really don’t want to do, and then, once we have done them, are so very glad we did.  That happened to me last night. I was asked to attend a Chrismation at our Byzantine parish for an entire family venturing over, onto the Eastern side of Catholicism.  And I loved it.  The harassment of driving in the pouring rain and 5 o’clock traffic was not something I had been looking forward to. I was taking my son to his CAP meeting anyway, and was asked to come back into the City for the Chrismation and retrieve my son later in the evening.  First of all, I am not a night owl. Okay, yes, I am, in many ways. I love to stay up, reading, long into the night.  But I don’t like being out particularly late or driving at 11 o’clock at night, in the rain, finding my way to new places and back again!  But I sure had some giggles along the way.  I was able to hook my son up with a home school family that also participates in the CAP program, and also attends the same Byzantine parish, and who we have common friends with. He had such a great time at their house (they have 12 kids and he loves the chaos and busi-ness of large families) and he is hoping to forge some friendships there.  So, I dropped him off at CAP and then headed back into the City.  I stopped and got myself a “venti-decaf-breve-latte-with-one-Splenda” for the drive (my second favorite is 3 pumps Hazelnut and 1 pump chocolate, no sugar, no whip, venti) and was so glad I did.  I did not have use of the carpool lane and it was pitch-black by 5:00pm, so finding my way was interesting. I did not know, when we moved here, how hilly Seattle really is.  It is much like San Francisco, only more treacherous at times because it is so wet here.  I came to a stop light while sitting at a 45-degree angle (okay, it felt like I was strapped into the Space Shuttle, waiting take-off!!) and then I had to proceed at the green. Thankfully there was no one behind me or next to me, as I swiveled my way up that hill and turned left at the intersection! I didn’t realize I wasn’t breathing until after I made the turn!  Ha-Ha!  I arrived at the parish a little before the Chrismation itself.  When I walked in, I was immediately overcome by the warmth and the smells of incense, and the prayerful tones being sung.  I almost wept with joy.  I stripped off my coat, wiped the steam from my glasses and quietly slipped into a pew.  I was back! It felt wonderful.  I am so glad I made the effort to attend.  I was able to reunite with some people I so enjoy.  It was delightful to sit and chat at the reception afterwards, too. I only wish I could have lingered.  I had to retrieve my son from these new friends he had made. Thanks be to God, my dear buddy offered to accompany me, because I never would have found it. It gave us a chance to gab and giggle…always a good thing.  I retrieved my son, dropped her back off at the reception, and headed off into the night. We got home a little after 11:00pm.  Late for me!!!

And I have been reflecting on some of the sights, sounds, and feelings the Divine Liturgy and Chrismation left with me. This morning, I caught the faint whiff of incense in my hair and it was wonderful.  Chrismation, in the Eastern tradition, is that time when you receive  the sacrament of Confirmation.  Normally, we baptize, confirm, and give First Holy Communion as infants.  This particular family were in various stages of sacramental readiness – a few received First Communion as well as Chrismation, but most of them received just the confirmation portion.  And I loved watching that and seeing their joyful faces; two parents and their six children.  It is a journey, to travel from West to East.  It assaults so much of what you think is the “norm” in life.  In my first eastern rite Divine Liturgy (otherwise known as Mass or Church services) when the Deacon intoned, “Sofia” (which means “wisdom”) in the Arabic-styled intonations of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, I was mentally and emotionally transported to the desert, to a tent, surrounded by worshipers.  I could feel the tradition of the Eastern church that has stood, untouched, for so many, many generations.  I felt like I belonged there.  The sights, smells, and movements during Divine Liturgy engage you on all levels – you do not witness a Divine Liturgy, you celebrate it and you fully participate in it.  (There is very little sitting and many eastern Churches don’t even have pews!)  And last night, among all the people there, and with all the tones and smells and movements of the Priest and the people, I felt I had come home.  What a great feeling.  In the spirit of St. Josaphat, east had met west, and all was well.  And this Chrismation occurred on the Feast of St. John Chrysostom, who gave us the Divine Liturgy we use.  He was an orator and “Doctor” of the Church and a gift from God to the Church worldwide.

“If there were no tribulation, there would be no rest; if there were no winter, there would be no summer.”  Saint John Chrysostom (c.345 – 407)

I believe we are in the winter of tribulation – here and abroad.  We are being assaulted by sexual inappropriateness in our leadership; it is on all the TV’s and in the papers, online and on Facebook.  We are being assaulted by news of a fiscal cliff that is now morphing itself into a cultural cliff.  States are petitioning for secession.  People are not happy with the State of the Union.  Yesterday I was determined to string Autumn out as long as possible. I am still determined to enjoy the Fall.  But I am not an Ostrich, able to stick my head in the sand and ignore the world around me.  Rockets launched in the Middle East; assassinations carried out successfully by Israel; Spain, Italy, Greece holding Austerity Days and the governments clashing with their people – we are in days of tribulation, to be sure. St. John spoke to the fact that without this winter, this tribulation, we would have no rest and no summer.  And I believe it is true.

I have been reading the Hunger Games trilogy and just finished the second installment.  In this particular book, the author provides some pretty good twists for her main character, Katniss.  One of the interesting things is that Katniss has no idea how much her entire country looks to her as a symbol of unity and peace…she is also the symbol of the uprising.  Her symbol is a pin she wore to the first Hunger Games, the Mockingjay.  This is a made-up hybrid of a mocking bird and a jay.  The loud, mimicking voice of the mocking bird, combined with the annoying chirps of a jay bird.  She wears this symbol and does not even realize that each time someone sees it, or sees her, she is giving them courage.  I often wonder about symbols in our lives.  I wear a cross every day.  I have a crucifix and will wear it on occasion.  I have a Byzantine cross, that I love, but most people confuse what it is and ask me what Chinese character I am wearing.  My usual cross is one my husband presented me on a wedding anniversary one year and is made of small diamonds.  I wear it pretty much daily.  I wonder what people think when they see it.  What symbol does it represent for them? What symbols do we have to cling to, as the people in the Hunger Games cling to the image of the Mockingjay?

As I hassled the rain and the traffic last night, I would often clutch my cross. I know it is always there, and it keeps me grounded.  I was really clutching it last night as I made my way through these small communities on the hills of Seattle!!  What is the symbol that we provide to others around us? Do we impart something that they can keep, and cling to?  If I am the only Jesus someone ever sees, what symbol do I leave for them, with them, to encourage them in their daily tribulations?

The hassle last night was so worth the sense of peace, safety, and “community” that I felt upon entering the Church.  It was like I had my own mini-tribulatory winter last night, and when I walked in and that blast of warm, incense-laced air hit me, I was at rest and sort of in my “summer” (it was certainly a lot warmer inside the Church than it was outside in the rain!). And I think we are all in a winter of tribulation.  Our country is in a mess; our American culture is sinking fast; our Christian culture has been beaten and stung and we are all hurting.  But I also think that hunkering down and fighting our way through this winter and all these tribulations, we will enter into rest and a beautiful summer.  The trick is not to let ourselves be dragged down by all of it, all around us.  The trick is to cling to what is true and right and just.  God is King, no matter who is President.  We cling to our faith, we cling to our communities, and we help one another weather this winter.  If we can all do that, what a glorious summer we will all share.

I expressed to a fellow blogger (well, he is so much better at this than I am and is so witty and is one of my internet-rocks and one of those who keeps me sane, that I hesitate at the comparison) how sad I am at what is continuing to take place. I am sad for my grandchildren.  Will we leave them an America I would recognize?  Will we leave them better off than we are now?  Will we burden them with a continual winter and endless tribulations?  It is up to each of us to ensure that future generations are proud of the roots we have left them, and are strong enough to carry on in the American tradition our forefathers left for us. We need our symbols…the cross, the flag, the many images of our heroes, our soldiers, our history.  We need to cling to them and believe in what they symbolize, to get us through our winter and into that promised summer.

“What the soul is in the body, let Christians be in the world.” – St. John Chrysostom


1 thought on “Rain, traffic, smells, and symbols….

  1. I wish I could write all that I felt reading this one. The joy of being Melkite. Learning to trust in all things. Please keep writing.

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