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

advent 4 (how to delight)

The lights dim just as the couple and their two boys, bedecked in Fair Isle sweaters and tiny yellow rimmed glasses, settled next to us. The boys can’t be over four or five years old, and they beam out their excitement when the first tiny dancers, the street urchins, appear onstage. The costumes are new this year, the set is new, the people, perhaps, are new too. Somehow, in this matinée theater, we are all being made new, made children again by this familiar music.

I love the ballet for a thousand reasons. I love the delicacy and the strength it requires. I love how joy is captured in movement, but perhaps it is a gift of joy as much as the joy for the dancer, the knowledge that the audience behind the lights is receiving something from the watching. I love the way that the story is ours to imagine with the music, with those onstage. I love the way this story in particular is about so much and yet is so simple. I love how ballet reminds me about the truth of balance:

everything pulling in the right direction, tension that produces harmony unlike any other, a stillness that, underneath, is held by tremendous strength

and how to desire it.

And in this matinée, the day before the final Sunday in Advent, when the word is joy, when Christ is near to us, when we are anxious with the anticipation of what will come, I sit with  my mother and celebrate what it means to be childlike in our unabashed delight: the costumes, the Arabian section of the second act, the costumes, the Snow Queen and King, the Sugar Plum Fairy. We lean forward in our seats, marveling, and the boys next to us, our faces are mirrors of each other. We wonder what it would be like to be at the Boston Ballet School. We lose ourselves in the setting and the thousand pairs of shoes that the dancers go through each performance. We almost float out of the theater, humming and singing the melodies, now well-worn in our minds, but somehow, again, new.

And isn’t this the promise and work of Advent? That we must be ever more familiar with the coming of Jesus, and yet be as delighted as the first time we heard such news? We must learn the rhythms of a life lived before the Lord, and yet we must discover that such a life will make us as free to wonder and delight as the first time we ever hear God say, “I know you.”

And so I dance my way out of the Opera House, marveling at the ballet, making my posture straighter to mirror those dancers, moving a bit lighter on my feet all the way back to the car, and next to me, my mother does the same.

What is truly good and beautiful must always make us new.

Love,
hilary

advent 3 (the glorious music)

My brother and I love the Messiah. We sang the Hallelujah Chorus in high school together, our voices beaming out those waves of joy, our faces alive in the light that shines in the midst of the darkness of winter. Later, in February or March, when the snow was melting, I’d find myself humming it as I went along the winding roads towards school. There was something in the music, I said.

So a few years ago, when I realized that the music was beloved by many more than just me and my brother, I bought us tickets. We dressed up, took a train in the freezing cold to Symphony Hall. It was a 3pm performance, that first time, I think, and the first Sunday in Advent. Our seats were student rush seats, nothing special, but somehow the feeling that we were grown ups, going into the city to see something, walking up the cool steps with ladies in fur coats and men in tweed jackets with elbow patches, meant something. We were learning to be us, we were learning to love the us that we were.

And then the music began, and over and over again the words and sounds crashed around our ears, Comfort, comfort ye my people, saith your God. The tenor that first year was beaming, I remember, and though his body was calm, it was as if his voice left his body, to come to each of us, tapping us on the shoulder. Did you hear me? It whispered. I am singing to you, thus saith your God. I have loved choral music ever since I sang Rudolph and Holly Jolly Christmas in my elementary school gym/cafeteria/auditorium/multi-purpose room. I have loved to sing. But then, in that first Sunday, when the waiting had just begun? Then I loved music for the first time.

We went back this year. A new night, a new concert hall, a new choir, a new tenor opening God’s words to us and proclaiming the comfort of God’s people, the coming of the Messiah. A new feeling, sitting in what I think was the same outfit I had worn two years ago, leaning forward in my seat for two hours while I cling to each word like the manna God once sent to the unruly people Israel.

And I heard, again and again, not just that we are comforted, but that line from the Hallelujah chorus I sang all those years ago -

the kingdom of this world, is become the kingdom of our Lord, and of his Christ, and of his Christ.

I have been unruly this Advent, anxious for God’s coming but perhaps not for what it will bring to me. Anxious to celebrate, but not to prepare. I have been hungry for the good news but when it begins, as it must begin, in the reminder that we are a people hindered by our sins, in the knowledge of how we have wronged each other and this world, how we have gone astray, how we have fallen apart from God – then I do not want to know the good news. Then I do not want to face the manger, the angels in that field, the Christ child.

But the kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord, and of his Christ. And of his Christ.

And he shall reign.

However unruly our hearts, however we fear the goodness of the news, the light it shines on us – can there be better music than this? That he shall reign forever and ever.

Love,
hilary

advent 2 (maranatha)

I only know the word as an Advent word. I only hear it as a crying out, a prayer, desperate and true -

Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus.

There is a holy impatience in the word. Perhaps, a holy impatience in Advent altogether. It is the impatience of a people who, though not ready, want to be made ready, a people who cry out prepare the way even as our hearts falter and fumble. Even as we still say the unkind or ungenerous thing (oh, how many of those I have said and thought), even as we still forget to open our homes, even as we treat each other without the care of a people walking in the light, even then -

we want Jesus to come.

Maranatha. Lord Jesus, I long for you.

I used to ache to light the second candle on the Advent wreath. I used to long for nothing but to be old enough to read out to the congregation – “Today we light the second candle of Advent,” – I used to bounce around these old walls and floors with the knowledge that we were closer to Christmas. My child self knows how to be impatient for the wonder of Jesus better than I do. And though perhaps the impatience was mingled with a few hopeful glances at my stocking (I have it still, decorated with my name in felt and a bear holding a present), though perhaps I was easily caught in the swirl of the season -

even then, I was longing for him.

Maranatha, maranatha.

Is it so soon that I have forgotten how words are whole prayers? I have sat here this afternoon wondering about whether I can, or should, or even know how to write in this space anymore. I have asked God, didn’t I know how to pray here, once?

But only the word is sometimes the widest prayer. A clatter of syllables on a thirsty, impatient heart.

Maranatha.

Come, Lord Jesus.

Pray it with me?

Love,
hilary

all that christmas music

Preston and I were driving to the airport this week (the not fun kind of drive, where we know it’ll be a little while before we can see each other again), and he was playing a CD of Advent and Christmas music. It doesn’t surprise me that much anymore to discover the things that this man knows and loves are close to my heart – old hymns set to new sound, simple melodies that whisper through the cold drive that we are waiting for the Messiah, that we are anxious for him, that we are hopeful, that we are preparing the way.

But since that drive, I’ve been listening to all that Christmas music – the kind that plays in the Gap and on the Michael Buble Holiday Pandora station, the music that surrounds us with dancing sugarplums and dreams of warm fires and friends and falling in love.

And a dear friend was talking on Wednesday about how couple-y Christmas can feel. How that can be hard.

All those images of ice-skating on Frog Pond, you know? And the way that the TV seems to tell us Christmas is really about love, and love is really about romantic love, and romantic love is really about Kay Jewelry, and the logic twists and turns around us and we feel trapped in a story we were never writing ourselves, left to ourselves.

Last winter I wrote this post for Lisa-Jo, about how I wondered if my skinny jeans would still fit while I ate my way through a bag of peppermint bark looking at all the heart shaped icons on Facebook. How I felt sitting in those jeans and how I didn’t believe it would happen, how I told God that it would not happen, how God said, “I have named your life beautiful,” and how desperately and deeply that has changed me.

This year is the first year I’ll have ever had someone to call mine on Christmas.

The first year I’ll have the chance of kissing anyone under any kind of hanging plant at a holiday party, or clinking champagne glasses with. And I sing along with the holiday stations thinking about love, how to keep it safe from too many commercials telling stories to us in our skinny jeans or our pjs eating our peppermint bark watching hearts pop up on Facebook or another rerun of the holiday love movies.

And while I love the Christmas music, the warmth and familiarity of it, while I play the Pandora stations and you might even catch me swaying my hips in time to Lady Antebellum in a store this weekend -

I want to tell you that the love I love most this Christmas is the love of the man who took me to Panera and to see Frozen because he knew I would like it. The way he catches my eye and does the dishes and tucks my feet under the blanket on the couch because he knows I get cold. The way he kisses my forehead, just because.

And the love I love most is not less than this: the love of my mother, who laughs with me as we curl up under the covers. The love of my father, who wraps me tight in hugs sometimes for no apparent reason, other than he loves me and wants to remind me, right there in front of the stove. The love of my brothers, with their fiercely handsome hearts, the way that they teach me to give more of myself, to listen better, to drink Dunkin’ Donuts and watch Despicable Me. The love of my sister, our FaceTimes with the baby nephew, the love of my brother-in-law and laughter over sausage pizza and the quiet of the family gathered together. The love of the friends that call and text and write and give of themselves in the way that teaches me how – the love that teaches me how to love.

That’s the love I want to sing about, in between Justin Bieber’s “Mistletoe” and Michael’s “Cold December Night” and someone else’s something else that tells us Christmas is only one picture of love.

Because Love comes down this Christmas, because Jesus becomes known in the hugs and laughter and making space for each other, passing around the peppermint bark.

Because I want the fullness of love for us this Christmas.

Love,
hilary