I’ve been a Christian for nearly 40 years. Most of the big sins have been chipped off my character: my tendency to pick the wrong friends, my tendency to judge people for things beyond their control, my desire for revenge, seething self-hatred, objectifying and reducing people to caricatures or tools. Mostly, these are gone, along with the hotheadedness that I used to think was “honesty.”
I get by most days by lighting candles and bowing towards the cross from afar as I rush past. I have tucked God into the corners of rooms beside my unfinished crochet projects and half-formed prayers.
I dance the sacred reel of laundry and cooking and stories and diapers and stories and cuddles and prayers, always with an eye on the lineup. I’m always waiting till it’s my turn with God in the dance.
Then the Saturday of Lazarus comes, and I find myself face to face with God. My best dress looks shabby in the light, and I wonder how I failed to see the patches and cheats through all those days doing laundry and diapers and setting tables and lighting candles and arranging my life around those tucked-in corners. How did I come through months of incense in my hair without noticing that my hem is half rolled, the sleeves unstitched?
My dress has suffered from lack of maintenance. I have fallen into maintenance sins: the slow unraveling of knitted things.
Some of the damage was done by foolish questions. How long did I hit my shins on the question of buying oil for my lamp? Why is it only now, in the dim of a Bridegroom service, that I feel the truth: the oil is a gift, THE gift of the Holy Spirit? My little jar of clay is a lamp. If I will be brave enough to accept mercy, I am the lamp filled with oil.
Most of the damage was done by despair. Why did it take me so long to understand that I needed the same mercy I had applied to others?
I rinse cups and think of my sins in the morning. I have taken too long to see that love cures me sideways. I can’t climb some ladders, but I can be lifted up them from the side. I can’t climb this ladder while holding my autistic children, but I can let the saints and angels lift us all. I can be one of the team, hoisting in rhythm to the common call: “holy, holy, holy.”
I have relied on some sins as stopgaps. They were the poor choices I made between knowing what was wrong and knowing how to do right. These I hope will be forgiven more easily, like we have to forgive ourselves for eating poorly on the road when good food is not available.
But there is still that unravelling.
I have not stopped the threads from slipping out of their channels. I knew better than to stop taking time for silence. I knew better than to succumb to the chaos of noise. I knew better than to treat myself as though I were worthless and an object to be used. I cannot forgive myself for these things, because I don’t really know better. I only know I’m wrong. I can see the garment unraveling and feel the threads pop and pull away beyond the reach of my fumbling hands.
My confessor is a tailor of souls.
I go and tell him all the troubling things I’ve discovered this Lent: the chaos of noise, the lostness and fear, the inability to navigate identity and calling – is this a dress or a shopping bag? He listens and mends the spots I show him, sewing with the thread of the Holy Spirit, turning my sow’s ears into silk purses.
I go through the laundry of confession and feel God “bleach the agony out of His clothes” (as Hildegard of Bingen so aptly described the Incarnation). I go away with a packet of needles and thread and buttons -sundries to keep me in the meantime.
That’s how I manage to not trip on my frayed edges when I kneel here in the sweetened air and lamp-lit night with the other vigil keepers. The song fills the chamber – Behold! The Bridegroom comes. I tremble in my madeover dress, and reach out my hands, this lamp I am, this cup of trembling.