On Friday night, Joel and I had our first date in about a month. Any normal couple who has a small child and only gets out for dates sans kid every once in awhile would take this time to catch an R-rated movie, go to a fancy un-kid-friendly restaurant, or check out an art exhibit. Instead, we opted to drive 45 minutes away to sit in a pitch-dark room and chant and cry. That’s right, we rented a City Car Share car, on a Friday night, and drove out to Burlingame to the Mercy Center to get our contemplative prayer on. Romantic and edgy? Not so much. Amazing and interesting? Definitely.
We used to go to the Taize service quite often, but this was the first time in a few years that I had ventured out there to sing and meditate. The fact that this is not a normal date night activity was not lost on us. We just both felt like total messes and figured that the best use of our time together would be to have an experience with God. In the moments of silence, my prayers went pretty much like this, “I don’t know what I’m doing. I have no idea what I’m doing. What the hell am I doing, God? What the heck am I going to do?” Pretty redundant, but it did the trick. Luckily for me, repetition is the way it goes at a Taize service, and they provide you with much more fruitful mantras to repeat than what I was coming up with on my own.
If you’ve never been to a Taize service, it’s usually candlelit (in this instance there is almost no lighting at all), and the songs/chants are led by a group of musicians, most often with a lovely old nun creaking out the main verse for you to follow along. Sometimes in Latin, sometimes in English, sometimes a mix of both. At a certain point at this particular service, they put the cross down on the ground and people file up to lay their foreheads on it and pray. It’s all very mystical and beautiful and of course it gave me the most incredible anger. I knew going to this service was really the only thing I could do with myself that night, but I also knew I was going to have to sit with my feelings, which were incredibly intense and overwhelming. At first I was doing fine, bumping along through the preliminary emotions of fear and panic, praying the What-the-hell-is-going-on-dear-God-save-me prayer. But when I went up to put my forehead to the cross, it was like being burned with hot coals. Inwardly, I erupted at God, furious and self-righteous that all I want to do with my life is serve others and still have a family, and here I am, failing miserably at being able to do both sustainably. “Why have I been set up to fail at this, God?!” I got up from the cross and stormed past the revelers, to crouch in my pew and steam.
But repetition is a funny thing. The mantras go on for long enough that they start to get under your skin, to change your heart in spite of yourself. The one that touched me the most this time around went like this, “The will of your love, the will of your love, be done on earth, as it is in Heaven.” Following the will of LOVE, well, I could get down with that. Earlier that day I had finished Wallace Stegner‘s Crossing to Safety, which was a lovely novel that was difficult for me to get through because of all it brought up for me. There is an afterword, and then a bio of the man who wrote the afterword. It named off all of the things he did in his life, and then it said something like, “out of all of this, the thing he considered the greatest accomplishment in his life was his friendship with Wallace Stegner.” I teared up when I read this, thinking specifically of the friend that recommended this book to me, and how grateful I am for her. If I accomplish nothing in my life, if I quit my career and while away my time here in some low-level service sector job, if I never write a book or produce anything “lasting” — but if I can keep my closest friendships, I will consider my life a success. I have often thought that what I am on this earth to do is love, and specifically, to love my husband — that that is the reason I was born, to learn to love through this one person, as well as I can. Since having Olive, that has expanded my sense of purpose, and if I totally fail at all externals and live a penniless existence in clothes from K-Mart but our bonds with each other survive… I will consider this a well-lived life.
Thinking about the will of God’s love being real in my life reassured me. I realized I have really put a lot of my identity in what I do, rather than who I am becoming, and that is leading me to incredible anxiety when that is crashing down around me. So, Joel and I had a good conversation on the way back about all that happened internally for us during the service, and then we went home and drank some red while watching a show about outlaw bikers. Yeah, we’re not so precious afterall.
If this post seems a lot like the last one, that’s because my week has been a repetitive cycle — totally freak out, get all cursey and angry and crotchety, then find some sort of contemplative mantra to get me out of myself and save me from insanity. That’s pretty much the only way I know how to get through it. My only hope is to shorten the amount of time between psycho-freak-out-free-fall and mantra-ing my way through it. I’m sure life will give me plenty of opportunities to practice, practice, practice.