Sunday, August 31, 2014

then sings my soul

I have very recently been extremely preoccupied with things. 
This is less to do with the fact that I like to think about things, and more to do with the fact that all I did for the past several weeks (not “all” I did—I also breathed and slept and ate ice cream with my sisters and ran in the rain and cuddled with my brother’s puppy and read way too many Lord Peter Wimsey stories, and occasionally ventured out of my house to see other humans beside my family) was not only pack my things in preparation for The Big Move to NYC, but also organize all my things at home. 
Engaged in a massive re-organizing initiative, I spent my time discerning what things to throw out, recycle, donate, file away, scrapbook, store in a box, or bring with me to the City.
This organizing meant I had to wade through what seemed like massive amounts of things. Goodness, how do I have so many THINGS? was all I thought for two solid weeks straight. Having to sort through all your worldly possessions makes a vow of poverty sound highly attractive. Things are exhausting.  But here’s the thing when it comes to things. They're very tricky: it’s basically impossible to have all of the things in the world, right. Thus, when you see the things that other people have, chances are you don’t have exactly the same things they do. 
So you think to yourself: why do I not have those things? He has that thing; shouldn't I have that thing? Shoot. All my things are wrong. She has that thing. I should get that thing
All of a sudden, your things look paltry in comparison to their things. 
You don’t have any of the right things. You should have gotten THAT thing instead of THIS thing. No, wait. I have too many things. Why do I have so many things?!
And you're back to square one. Repeat ad nauseam.
Mammon is truly a dizzying, exhausting mental maze.
 The trap of trying not to want things and comparing your things to your neighbor’s things is very easy to fall into. I suppose they used to call this “coveting your neighbor’s goods” it sounds so quaint and biblical, but it’s actually a very potent sap on one's good humor and happiness. It's easy to get sucked into that bog of covetousness, and it's difficult to get out of.  
I was completely bogged down by preoccupation with all my things, when the words of this peculiar, antiquated communion hymn lifted me out of the mire like Archimedes’ lever. 
“I cannot compass all I have/ for all thou hast and art are mine.” 
Very old church hymns usually have melodies that are far from intoxicating, sometimes they are practically soporific. There’s something about the simple, steady steps they take up and down the scale, and then the leap up to that old treble E which challenges everyone in the congregation (except the shrill old ladies who are used to this sort of thing), that makes us lose our interest altogether. 
But, if you are able to actually listen to their lyrics, your heart is pierced by the sweetest notes of divine inspiration.  They unlock themselves, much like Thérèse’s words in Story of a Soul. Once you learn the secret code that unlocks Thérèse's work, all of a sudden her words open up into a cascade of love that waters all the dry parts of your soul. Her words are the sweetest ice water in the muggy, dog-days-of-summer heat. 
“I cannot compass all I have/ for all thou hast and art are mine.” 
Those words were just as refreshing as the words of Thérèse. 
As I heard them, I was taken aback. Like many of the passages in Thérèse’s Story of a Soul, these words seemed to be wrong, because they were so unabashed in their statement of the truth. 
Okay, what? I sputtered interiorly, when the first shivers of wonder had finished coursing their way through my spine. Excuse you, unidentified hymn writer, what are you saying? All that the Lord of Creation is now belongs to me? Like, his omniscience, his omnipotence, and his ability to listen to prayers in Asia while also keeping me out of harm’s way on America’s Eastern Seaboard? This did not seem to be obviously true at first, because I am not omnipotent. God certainly "hast" omnipotence and "art" omniscient, and those qualities are certainly not mine. 
And thank goodness, for I don't really want them.
But, in answer to my disbelief and askance stood the small little host that had just been placed on my tongue. Inside of me, if I dared to believe it, was indeed the Lord of the Universe. 
He was utterly at my disposal, given Himself entirely to me. I could feel His tiny and yet immeasurable presence beating inside of me.
All that He “hast and art” were in that moment, mine. Inside of me, cradled inside my esophagus, which is an utterly unromantic and inconvenient place for the Lord of the Universe to take up residence. The radical humility that would allow a being so great to enter into a space so ridiculous and unworthy as a human body is earth-shattering. I felt my dizzying maze of wants and haves and have-nots and necessities collapse under the sweetness of that presence. 
 I cannot accept, I thought. I cannot accept this gift. How could I ever dare to shelter Him who the cosmos cannot contain inside of me? How could I ever be so bold to claim that all that He is and has is now mine? But there the gift was, already inside of me. All the worries that had coiled up inside of me melted away in the presence of this gift. As this renewed understanding of what was being given to me arrived, a dizzying sense of wealth and richness passed over me. 
But not the disorienting dizziness of things; more like the blinding clarity that arrives with wonder.
So I sang those slow, steady steps up the scale, infused with a new sweetness: 
“I cannot compass all I have/ for all thou hast and art are mine.”

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