On sacred writing

The slyest shift in perspective is to move from participating in life to talking about it from a remove. That kind of dissociation is easy when our conversations stretch over long distances and through media other than direct presence. Dissociation gets into our God talk, too, if we forget that God is always with us. What else is always with us?

            Our loves, our memories, the breath in our bodies, the patterns of who I am when I am with you or in a place. I am changed by the places I have walked. I have the forest in my mind long after its dust is washed from my feet and its sweet leaf mold scent from my hair. To address the truth, I have to participate in it. I have to be the person who stands in incense in church, the one who weeps before the presence of God, the one who sets up the paints in her classroom, the one who refills the soap dispensers by all the sinks and who folds the clothes to tuck into closets and drawers. Writing is a recollection. It’s gathering all of me together to talk with every person and place I have encountered, to tell the truth together with you and them. Most of all writing is a conversation with God who is with us.

            I get angry sometimes for stupid, selfish reasons, like wanting to go too fast on the highway while someone is driving more slowly. But lately I have had that other kind of anger, the one that’s warning rather than selfishness. The warning anger alerts me to the malign patterns in how we talk about God online. Where is the recollection and ingathering and sanctifying of one another? Where is the glory of God?

            I don’t see it in perfectionist posts that seek to control others through shame or exclusion. There is a trend in American religious discourse towards belittling women as though that could go any way at all towards mending the world (it doesn’t). Shining up the images of subservience doesn’t make them iconic. The march of holy abbesses, martyrs, queens, virgins, deaconesses, prophetesses, apostles along the walls of the cathedral of my mind and heart keep me from falling into the lies about women that authoritarians try to pass off as holy. Authoritarianism has no place for the Mother of God; she is not honored by belittling women or trying to reduce womanhood to roles instead of the sacred dignity that God endued us with when He made us to be women in His image.

            In theology we have a way of talking about how people become like God. We hold the truth that God became human so that humans can become God. This happens through participation in God through prayers, sacraments, and imitation of Christ and His Saints in practicing virtues. The reason why is called communicatio idiomatum, or the communication, the sharing, of characteristics. We take on God’s character when we participate in God, the way iron takes on the heat of the fire, until every part of the iron is glowing hot. While still iron, it is also filled with heat. While still human, we are filled with God, with the love of God. So, we become like God.

            But someone once was so close to God, so fully participating in God and loving totally God and her neighbors as herself, that God became like her. She is more honored than the cherubim and more glorious beyond compare than the seraphim. (Cherubim and seraphim are glorious ranks of angels that are in God’s presence, aflame with the love of God by their closeness.) From this woman who was totally filled with God’s love, God took flesh and became incarnate. She is our most holy Theotokos, the Mother of God, the Virgin Mary.

            I cannot write about faith as a woman without telling you that she is the highest theologian, the one who truly knows God. Moses climbed the mountain to see a glimpse of God, but she held God in her womb. She was the burning bush that Moses saw.

            What’s missing from influencer culture and every discourse that falls into the distance between our embodying conversation with God, is this honoring of God’s Mother. If you want to learn to be a good man or a good woman, you don’t need a high control celebrity fundamentalism. You need to seek the one who can actually show you the way to salvation, because her participation in God opened the way of salvation for all of us.

            Here is a challenge: Every time you find yourself feeling inadequate because of an influencer post or feeling angry because of a polemic post, pause and read the first two chapters of the Gospel of Luke. There you will see the highest born man besides Christ, John the Forerunner and Baptist, and the most blessed among women, Mary the Holy Mother of God. If you don’t have time to read, look at their holy icons. Ask them to show you how to be in this world, with everything you are, so that with them you can bring all your heart, soul, mind, and strength to God in love, and with yourself, to love your neighbors. They love you so much: there for you in your real world as you lean on the counter with its few spilled grains of sugar or salt, in the ache and stink of your tired feet in their workboots, in the exhaustion that attends early parenting, in the satisfaction at the end of a good story.

            We can learn to tell stories that are true and free, that shine with the character of God, with the light of God lighting our little iron lives. Listen to yourself. Listen for God. Listen for the Mother of God. Ask St. John the Forerunner to help you prepare the way to recollection in your life. Then, writing can be a kind of prayer, a conversation around a table to which everyone is called.  

If you enjoy my personal essays like this, please follow my SubStack, where I will post most of my personal reflections going forward. Here’s a link to this post over there.

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