T minus 6 days (Has it started already?)
Well, some things have started already. Like what, you ask?
Well, I have to admit I’ve had short-timer’s disease since I finished Agape Vespers on Pascha. That’s pretty much normal for everybody. I’ve started no new projects and am busy trying to get many things, personal and pastoral, wrapped up so that I can leave with a clear conscience. That’s okay.
Then there’s the emotional part of getting ready to leave, which I’ve been able to step back a little and watch unfold. For example, I was angry for a few days last week. Not at anybody in particular; nobody had done anything to get me riled up; life had not been unfair. I simply woke up mad at the world, and I didn’t want to be around anybody (because I know how I am when seized by a mood). I think this is part of the emotional reaction to the sabbatical getting close. A big transition is near, and transitions are always tricky things to manage (which is why we surround them with taboos and mark them with ritual; think about the sacraments and all the other services connected with birth, marriage, and death, for example). Transitions require careful navigation, and it’s really easy to get thrown over if you don’t watch out. I’ll have to be on especially careful guard over the next week, keeping very carefully to my usual routines for normality’s sake, recognizing that I’m not my usual self and holding myself in closer check. (Forgive me now already if I don’t manage it.)
I remember when I was a child and my family was going on a trip my mother would always get furious over everything that wasn’t just right, and even over things that were just right, and she would yell at everybody and storm around the house in a fine lather, and my sisters and I would make ourselves scarce, which usually didn’t help the situation any, because we had things to do, but that’s how it was. I don’t want my leaving to be like that. (Ma, if you’re reading this, you know I love you. And if you’re not reading this, writing about you will make sure that you do read the blog from now on, ’cause there’s no telling what I might say…)
Someone told me that, in the Navy, sailors and their wives would very often have huge fights the night before the sailor went off to sea. Why? It’s easier to say goodbye when your angry. So that’s wisdom for me, and wisdom for you, too.
And then there’s the Major Catastrophes that always have to happen in the last week before something significant takes place. Leave aside for now what the Major Catastrophe(s) is/are. It’s enough to know that something always crops up, just to be sure I don’t have a moment’s peace until after I’m gone. So I have this major eruption of chaos in my life that ruffles all my feathers and paws my well-laid plans. Yes, yes,”man proposes, God disposes” and all that. I should know by now. But I’m not an Eeyore kind of guy, losing this moment’s happiness because I’m dreading what’s coming next.
So I’ve had this major dose of chaos. But, chaos is often indicative of a time of transition, of liminality (if you want the $10 word). So after I had a little pity party for myself, I began to consider the situation: I thought I was in control. I am not in control. My plans may be important to me, but the world really doesn’t give a damn. If there is chaos, loss of (ego) control, and humbling experiences, God must be in all of it somewhere. After all, I was going to all these monasteries to spend some time with God, so what if He didn’t get the memo that said we were starting next week, and He decided to show up this week instead.
Well, I’ve had arguments with God before and know how those all turn out. So I thought to ask, Where is God in all of this? My default response would be to fall back into humor: Did you check behind the couch? That’s where He was last time… But this is a serious stuff. I’m sure God is in here somewhere, but I don’t see Him. And He’d better be in control, because I’m sure not. But in the midst of this little cloudburst of chaos, I actually found my balance, and leaned upon the habits of prayer I’ve cultivated in good times and in bad, and maintained the disciplines I’ve established for myself, and you know what? I’m gonna get though this, and it’ll all be okay however things shake out, and in all of it, God be praised. (By the way, one of the secrets to good liminal space is firm containment; there is another secret, which I happen to know, but will not divulge to you in this blog, because y’all don’t get all of my hard-earned wisdom for nothin’.)
I’ve often told my congregation that it is a notable achievement to stand in Liturgy on Sunday morning, when you’re sick, out of work, worried, scared, or clawed by the demons of chaos or despair, and still be able to lift up your voice and sing, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy Name.” Well, I try hard not to be a hypocrite and preach about things I’ve no experience with. So chalk one up for me.