when I choose the economy of God

“So, I guess you’re going to have to figure out three things.”

This is my husband, in the still, dark room where we sit and write with the rain outside and the quiet inside. He’s talking about gratitude, something I’m resisting, and I don’t have a good reason, I should tell you that right now.

Actually, I should tell you that I have some bad reasons.

In the economy of an anxious heart, your minus columns are always outlasting your positive ones. In the economy of a perfectionist heart, a minor dip in expected performance is the 1929 crash of Wall Street. A lower grade than you expected of yourself or a missed opportunity to make friends with someone or some nice thing you can’t quite put your finger on but you’re sure you failed to do. You name it for yourself and suddenly it is another thing you’ve forgotten, and you work and live on an ever steepening incline of failure, and somewhere along the way you’re also drowning in your own misunderstanding of yourself, and you’ve mixed your metaphors together so you are a drowning person climbing a mountain with a top you can’t reach, pushing a rock maybe, like Sisyphus, or maybe just pushing yourself, hauling yourself up and up and up and already you are sure you have been defeated.

That’s me sometimes. I don’t know if it’s ever you, but it is me. It is me when the grades and the papers and the research ideas come back with critique or comment or areas for improvement. It is me in the quiet fights and the loud ones. It is me lying in bed on a random Saturday morning cataloguing the friends I haven’t caught up with lately or the places I have not brought peace or the way I should have and could have and would have been a better me.

The economy of God looks nothing like the economy of my anxious heart.

The economy of God is God coming towards us, promising abundant generosity for the laborers who work an hour and those who work a full day. It is a strange, terrifying generosity, the kind that makes my neat columns of deserving and undeserving and the weight and sift of my measurements look foolish. The kind that puts us to shame in our race to merit and earn, but rescues us in the midst of it too. God laughs, I imagine, and sets us free.

Once my counselor asked me what the big bad was that would happen if I didn’t win. If I didn’t get perfect grades or perfect GRE scores or a perfect record of performances. I still don’t know the answer to that question. I think that was her point.

I want the economy of God. I want the economy of generosity, the economy of grace. I want the rescue from drowning my way up a mountain I can’t ever finish climbing, the setting free. I want the economy that will force me to give up my pride in making each and every thing perfect, my disappointment at myself when things aren’t just as I would like them. I want Jesus, in the end, whatever it might cost me and my well-worn anxious heartbeat.

And so I do have to figure out three things, write a story that is full of the richness of a generosity I didn’t earn, full of receiving blessing where I can’t say my goodness or my rightness is the reason, but the only reason is the sufficient reason is that God loves. That’s the new story. God loves, and the richness of the story is there. I’m caught up into it, and set free by it, and this is the better story.

Preston asked me for three things. I won’t tell you what they are, but I’m thinking I might keep a journal somewhere, and start writing them down.

And so in a little way, widen my welcome of the most wondrous love.

Love,
hilary

dear hilary: if the impossible is true

Dear Hilary,

I’m learning a lot about probabilities right now, and how to apply them. I’m learning that there are high probabilities for some things and low ones for others, based on evidence, based on prior ideas or beliefs, based on… you name it.

What if there is no probability for something? What if there is no probability that God is real, the way you talk about God? Is trusting in something that isn’t really trustworthy is a bad idea?

Love,
Probably

Dear Probably,

I have a high probability for believing that I am sitting in my apartment typing this to you. I have a low probability for believing I am a brain in a vat, or secretly a monkey typing on a typewriter into infinity. I suppose lots of things are possible, but they have low probability.

Honestly, though, what a curious idea – that you would measure belief by something like probability, up and weigh and judge things by how rational they are and seem. It’s not a bad way of going on for some things, but it isn’t the only way we measure belief. It isn’t the only way we measure familiarity or trustworthiness.

So maybe I wonder whether the probability of me being a brain in a vat or being a monkey typing on a typewriter to achieve Shakespeare’s Hamlet is really in the end the best way to think about your questions about God.

The Incarnation kind of messes around with all our probability.

What is that line, from the L’Engle poem? Had Mary been filled with reason, there’d have been no room for the Child.

Probability is a way of filling the room, the paper, the equation, with reason. And sometimes, when you’re filled up with reason, there is no room for the Child. There is no room for the Incarnation in its particular, improbable, unyieldingly unlikely way, to live in your heart.

I’m just now learning a lot about probability and probability calculus. I’m learning about how much we trust something based on what appears to us to be true or on what an authority says versus what we see, or think we see…

There is a beauty to what it can show you about how you think. There is a goodness and a truth to it, too. But there is this resistant, stubborn part of my heart, or maybe the whole of my heart, that says even when it is good and helpful, it’s not everything.

The improbable is sometimes remarkably true. And our measure of believing in that improbable truth can’t be contained in the neat lines of a pencil on a calculus problem on graph paper.

Had Mary been filled with reason. Maybe this is a post about reasonable-ness, that elusive thing we so often want to defend us. We want to be justified in being angry and hurt and confused when something happens, or being elated and grateful and full of joy. We want reasonableness to keep us on the straight and narrow, give us the right opinions, protect us from being fools or from being in error. We want a hedge of protection around the happenings of the world.

There’d had been no room for the Child.

And isn’t it the Child, after all, that we should stretch enough to make room for?

And isn’t it the Child, after all, that makes room for us?

I want to tell you, young philosopher in the making, you who seek the probability, the justified and justifiable reasons, and even you, who might be reading this, who think that the best thing is the most probable thing -

Welcome the wonder of the impossible: the Lord, come among us as a child.

Let us make room.

Love,
hilary

Jesus is journeying toward us

It’s hard to believe it’s already the second week of Advent, isn’t it?

Hard to believe that we’re already such a ways along in the journey towards Bethlehem, towards Jesus.

This year I realized something new: Jesus is coming for me. Jesus, the King, is coming into the world, into the mess and beauty and hope of the world, for me. For my heart, for my always anxious always joyful heart, for my whole self. Jesus is coming towards me.

We spend a lot of time in Advent talking about our journey to the manger. We’re like the wise men following a star, we’re like the shepherds following the words of an angel, we’re like Mary and Joseph, even, riding on the back of a donkey and walking beside it, when the whole land is to be registered.

But have we forgotten, in our Advent calendars and moving wooden animals and counting down days and lighting candles that it is Jesus who is coming to us?

I so often want to cast myself in the role of the person in the story who climbed up the tree to get a better look, who declared allegiance well before it was popular or easy, who stayed faithful to the end, who went out looking for the Savior and who found him.

But the truth is, most of the time, I am standing still, and it is God who comes out looking for me. It is God who leaves behind everything to catch everything back up into Himself. It is God who promises salvation and then comes to us bringing it. One of my favorite eucharistic hymns – and with blessing in his hands, Christ our God to earth, descendeth, our full homage to demand. 

We cry out, Come, Lord Jesus but sometimes we are so anxious to be seen as the ones running towards him that we forget our helplessness, our wandering in darkness, our on us light has shined. Not our own light, not light we went out and found and sought and made for ourselves, but the light that comes from beyond us is the light that is coming. That is the light that we have been gifted this Advent.

I am standing still, in the thousand thousand winds of God’s coming, and I wish I was one of the angels one of the shepherds one of the wise men one of the righteous one of the wisest one of the enlightened. I wish to be the one who recognizes the movement in the air and who goes after God running.

But I couldn’t, and the stories should be told no less honestly than this: when I could not move at all, Jesus came. 

When I couldn’t take off running for God, Jesus came running for me.

And when even my bones did not know how to cry out, yet even then did God say, behold my Son. 

And even in those moments when I get out of the boat, when I see Jesus, when I whisper and hope and pray – then I fear I am sinking, and even then, Jesus immediately – immediately – reaches out to catch me and whispers, you of little faith, why did you doubt? 

This Advent, can we remember together, the wonder that God is coming for us? That we are the receivers of the light, of the hope, of the great news, that the angels and shepherds and wise men and the sheep and oxen and calves and goats and everything that is in heaven and on earth leaps together in rejoicing -

because Jesus is journeying toward us.

Love,
hilary

when I find dirt on my wedding shoes

I had a plan for my wedding shoes, even before Preston proposed to me. I’d seen them in a magazine the previous Christmas and in so many wedding Pinterest pictures. They were the perfect color pink – ballet pink, the kind that’s gentle but strong and not too flashy but not too pale – made of what look like satin ribbons, flat but elegant. I’ve wanted to be graceful like a ballerina for a long time (far longer than I actually studied ballet, I should admit), and these were the shoes I imagined wearing.

They fit perfectly, and I kept them in their box without ever touching them or wearing them. I would show them off in hushed whispers, the tissue paper crinkling, slip them on for no more than ten minutes and always inside. I couldn’t imagine ever wearing them anywhere – they were the thing I thought would make me beautiful.

photo by Ebersole Photography
photo by Ebersole Photography

And today I was cleaning our closet on a whim listening to the rain outside and I tried on my wedding shoes again, just to see. I don’t know if any of us are very far from thinking beautiful things are magic, and so I stood amid the dust and the old scarves and the sweaters and I slipped them on.

They fit perfectly.

They’re covered in dirt.

I began a lament, half-formed the words on my tongue and half whispered them to the mirror, looking up and down and wondering where all this dirt had come from, if I should put them somewhere safer than in the midst of all my other ordinary shoes, as if they should be kept safe from my ordinary life, from my growing self.

But I couldn’t stop looking, noticing, and then I realized: the dirt makes them beautiful.

The dirt is the witness to the growing of a young marriage, the beginning, the glorious running through the world and the slowing down, the catching each other, the catching ourselves, the being constantly caught up in God. They’re bearing the marks of marriage: the almost five months, the honeymoon where we got tattoos and the wandering through the grounds of my high school where we got married, the scuffs of grass from down by the river where we walked in the haze of a Texas summer. I can squint and see the mystery green pen marks I tried to erase with a Tide pen now permanently etched at their edges. They’re wearing history now, a bit of rainwater, worn from being stamped in frustration or impatience. And they wear the history of love, how different and the same it is, how easy it is to forget that love is always moving in wild uncontrollable circles, bringing more people in, bringing you closer to the one you love, sealing the ark and the ache of marriage with every click of the lock and every first peek of sun too early in the morning.

We tell ourselves to make memories because time goes too fast, to take pictures, to Skype every detail back home lest we lose sight of who we are or were or could become.

But perhaps our lives are already bearing witness to it. Perhaps it is we who are too worried to notice that the rest of our ordinary is holding and bearing to us the story of us, of our marriage and jobs and moves and fights and triumphs. Perhaps our shoes, even those we were so afraid to touch, are beautiful when we let them wear and retell our stories.

Perhaps the dirt on my wedding shoes is a better storyteller of this hallowed beginning than I can hope to be.

And perhaps, I should stand still in the perfect pink shoes now flecked grey and brown and that funny hint of green in my closet on a Saturday and listen.

Photo by Ebersole Photography
Photo by Ebersole Photography

The story they tell is so beautiful.

Love,
hilary

dear hilary: when strength is hard-fought

Dear Hilary,

He hurts. I hurt. We play the game of who cares less: He is winning because I care too much, invest my heart too quickly. Still I do not tell a soul. I wrestle with sexuality, faith, self-respect – aware that this is unhealthy. I cannot fix him, I know. And I too walk through a season of brokenness and loneliness – I am not strong enough. 

Tonight I ache and before I know it, I have spilled my tears and confusion and fear all over the passenger seat of my friends car. He pieces the story together and asks me if I want his advice. I nod and he tells me that I need to get out of this relationship, that I am too good for him, that he does not want to me get more hurt than I already am – that my no will hurt him, anger him, alter the relationship, but in the end, he will respect me for it. 

Alone in my room, I absorb his honest words. I think about what it means to respect self, declare that you are worth more than being used. I think about how it is foolish to expect that I can fix other people or be their saviour, and I know they cannot be mine either. Because the broken cannot fix the broken as the blind cannot lead the blind.

Yet still I think of his arms around me. I fear that I am not strong enough to respect myself.

Love,
sexuality, emotions & other dangerous things

Dear Dangerous Things,

I was in France my freshman year of high school when I learned the word for wound in French: blessure. We were talking about the Normandy Beaches, about D-Day. When I think about things that hurt, when I think about things that ache, for some reason I go right back to the hallway just by the gift shop in some small museum in Normandy where my teacher taught us the word for wound. Une blessure. 

I’ve since looked it up, and in the Oxford English Dictionary, one of the entry for the word “bless” is this idea – to wound or to hurt. It’s from the Old French and the French. I don’t know how often we use it, or if anyone uses it at all these days. But it is there, in its quiet catalogued home, and when I read your letter for some reason I went back and looked at it again.

You have been blessed in just this way – injured. And your letter speaks that out and it is worth attending to. I am not anxious to speak the other meaning of the same word – the meaning that has to do with abundance, with gift, with praise, with being given a blessing. I think perhaps there will be a moment when this one blessing becomes the other, but that’s not for me to say.

It’s just for me to say that your strength does not depend on not having been wounded. Your strength does not depend on you being in top shape all the time. Strength is a mysterious thing. You have it by clinging to it. You have it by insisting on it, daily, in the small ways. You have it not by already having it, not by being without une blessure or even more than one, but by the taking of those things into yourself.

I encourage you think deeply about the conversation you had with your friend. I encourage you to attend to the parts of it that perhaps feel most wounding: that your friend has said you should alter the relationship. That your friend has said you will be more hurt by continuing. That your friend, whatever else has happened, whatever wounds live there, is telling you to go.

That conversation hurts, but I think it is its hurting, its clear-sighted pain, is the strength. Because you will not have strength to go before you go, and there will be no magical moment where you wake up and the wounds have disappeared.

So do not wait. Strength to go will follow your leaving. The healing will follow your binding up of the wounds.

I can’t know how or when or even if this wound, this blessing, will become the other kind. But I know that you will have strength to go by going, I know that you will find that in the first steps you take out from the space where you are hurting, out from attending to it, clear-sighted, there strength will meet you.

For I believe that God’s gesture to us is one of constant coming near. Nadia Bolz-Weber writes that in her book Pastrix - I remember underlining it over and over and over. “God is always coming near us.”

God is always coming near you. Constantly. In this, in the first step away, in the before-you-have-strength, in the strengthening, in the aftermath. In the blessing, and the blessing.

Love,
hilary

when I am keeping a quieter vigil

I have a thousand stories that I haven’t told.

It’s snippets of moments of remembering, the way that our hearts remembering, outside of time, bending it back and forth hoping that the truth of it will illuminate in the quiet, heartfelt, wondering places. Last year I wrote some of the stories down, a flood of remembering, in the way that when something changes you want to put it back together, make it a new story so that you can understand why and how and if it even was the way you thought it would be.

I have stories of high school, stories of college and the first floodlit after-years. I have stories about midnight drives through the towns of my childhood and ones about walking the dog on a marsh field with my mother in the cold before winter, thinking about how I never imagined being able to grow up, only to turn around and find that it was happening all along.

I have stories about the poems I used to write and the ones I write now, how my poetry is a scattered collection of skeletons, ideas that I love because they show me who I was not so long ago.

When I think about blogging (and, dear friends, it’s been such a long time since I’ve written over here), I think of all the stories I’ve been telling: stories of confirmation and falling in love, stories of Easter vigils and long car rides home, stories of missing my grandmother and letters to others about how to be unafraid of the beautiful monsters in our closets.

But today, as I sit in the sunlit corner of the building where I do most of my reading and writing these days, I realize that I am keeping a quieter vigil. These are the days of collecting stories, gathering them around me like echoes of the Psalms, stories to rage and stories to pray, stories of God’s wonder and God’s silent watchfulness, stories of me, learning and unlearning the world. These are the days when the world lights and darkens, when I watch the fan above the bed in the early morning, when winter is coming, when the seasons gather us on their unrelenting way.

I wonder if we are too quick to think all the stories are for the telling of them, and not our own hearing. I wonder if I am too quick to worry that I have been quiet on my blog, that so much has happened in these last few months and I’ve said so little, my space gathering a bit of gentle dust.

And then I wonder if the stories won’t be better, when they are told, for having been kept a little longer in a quieter vigil?

So, perhaps it is not so terrible that I am gathering the stories in, that I’m out on the plains of my life caught up in the work and worry and awe of living, and perhaps it is, even, a great and mysterious thing to be silent and watch it unfold, so that when I find words for the stories, find movement in my heart to tell them, there will be a richness that might not have been otherwise.

In my quieter vigil, I might write here or there, and I’m collecting the stories in notebooks and napkins, and oh, how good it will be to bring them forward in the time that is right. Vigil-keeping, it is a practice, a work, but we are the better for it.

I will leave you with this, a bit of what I’m pondering in the back of my notebook, in scribbles and half finished thoughts:

The goodness is sitting on a swinging bench. The goodness is next to us, near us in from of us and so why do we cry out except because we hope for more than an intangible idea we hope for a weighty glory of sunlight and dirt and squirrels climbing trees. I am along on this bench writing in my journal which is really a supposedly philosophical notebook and my pen keeps smudging as I go I remember the freewrites and how they must have been more about freedom than writing more about light and air touched and sensed and the scratching pen and distant frisbee thrower and how here in Texas the sky is a different color blue. Here the trees have grateful roots in dry ground, rain is a surprise and so always remains a gift like the freedom in writing. How can we know the world without knowing its beauty? 

Love,
hilary

when no one else can believe it for me

We were back at a church we love this past Sunday. I’m a long-road Anglican, winding my way along a path from childhood and pink dresses at First Communion to that St. Michael and All Angels confirmation, a swirl of the Spirit descending and those words, this is a new anointing, my daughter. This particular church, where the light spills in across the altar, where the choir and the electric organ sing bold to hymn and spiritual alike, where there sits this beautiful banner I stare at every time I go in – yellow, gold, that proclaims: Yours is the glory, Risen Conquering Son. is where I first saw my husband in the midst of being deeply and irrevocably in love with God. This is where I learned that there are ways of being traditional that sing spirituals and pray for the Spirit to come and fall upon us. This is, in short, where I relearned how to encounter the Lord Jesus.

On Sunday the pastor preached on fear.

On Sunday, Jesus came and sat down beside me.

We sat together, my eyes on my hands, hearing what by now feels so familiar – that anxiety is not our nature, that we are fearful from the first moment of disobedience, that perfect love, who is the person of Jesus, casts out fear. And you all know, in your journey with this rambling heart, that I am acquainted with fear. I’ve lived and wandered inside it often. It’s the kind of dark where my eyes adjust quickly, my adrenaline kicks in, I feel my way through the blackness and so often think I’m doing just fine.

And you all know that I’ve been thinking about that a lot. I keep writing about it. I’d say it was some kind of theme or meditation for the season, but I think it’s more likely that God is content to dwell with us where our hearts most often go to hide from Him, and so He waits for us, comes out into the dark after us, beckons us into the midst of His very self.

So here we are, me and Jesus, and I’m counting the invisible threads in my skirt and I’m hearing again that Jesus will cast out fear, I am hearing that the Holy Spirit lives in me, I am hearing, I am hearing… Jesus, just the stillness of Jesus, is near me.

Then the pastor says, “I cannot believe this for you.”

I bristle at the thought. Aren’t we carrying each other? When the road is long and we are weary aren’t we leaning hard on the faith of each other, on the promises kept generation to generation, of the stories others tell us when we cannot tell ourselves?

But then there is this moment, where I think about it again. I close my eyes, stop counting the threads.

Jesus desires relationship with me. Me, without helpful scaffolding or hiding behind the true things someone else has said. And having faith isn’t just assenting to what someone smarter has said. Jesus doesn’t desire my agreement with someone else. He is too in love with the being of me to want less than my self. My whole self. My whole self, believing.

I do believe we should lean on each other. I believe we should carry each other. Oh, but how we must believe this without hiding from the nearness of God to each of us, in the just-us-ness of our being?

I told my mother once I was doing something because of the lightness of me. I think God’s answer to that question, the one we keep asking, the one we keep hiding from, the one not about God’s goodness or qualities or cosmic salvation or any of that, but just the one about how God loves -

because of the being of you. 

Because of the you that is so gorgeously alive. And you are enough of a reason for all the nearness of God. It is our whole self that must believe. It is our whole self, believing, that God is desperately in love with.

That kind of love is so particular, no one else can believe it for us. We have to believe it, too.

Love,
hilary