Wednesday, April 11, 2018

songs of ascent and assent

"Abba, my father, will you not tell me a word by which I might save myself?"

Book 1

In my favorite ark-like chapel, there is a book whose pages are printed with illuminated psalms. If you drop in, unannounced, you fill find it lying open in the crepuscular quiet. This is a silent communal prayer, as you read the psalm the person before you did. We pray together, although at separate times.

Under the curved bow of the wooden beams (we are in the hold of the ark, with the animals and straw), I pray words given to me by others. Psalm 90 leaps off the page, golden with familiarity. It hums and leaps like a banjo melody in the height of midsummer, my toes tapping with the memory of sun-soaked morning car rides an exultant summer ice cream sunsets. Psalm 32 sings quietly the reconciliatory praise of the forgiven heart. Who flipped the pages open to Psalm 32 today? I wonder as my lips mimic the shape of theirs.

Psalm 18

Some days deplete you of your stores of energy, and you decide, definitively you have time for 0.0 person’s nonsense. Not today. No sir. There are days that demand take-no-prisoners kind of walking, a stormy confidence accompanied by firm, choleric strides in high heeled boots.

As I walk, stiff with angry frustration, toward the warm womb-like lounge, I see through the window the back of Eric’s head. As he interrupts his phone call to exchange gentle greetings and ensure I have obtained the sought-after Chrysostom sermon, a smile softens the stiffness. My heart mirrors his own warmth, which radiates throughout the room. With a face still flushed from caffeine and hot blood, I leave the lounge with a softer step and a lighter heart.

Psalm 91

I think the bank closes at 6pm and it is 5:39. Will I make it in time? I am wasting time, I think, as I feel the panic and pressure of deadlines, applications, and as-yet unwritten papers and un-filed taxes weigh down on me. The fucking light turns red, and it’s a long one. I reach for my phone. I call Denise.

I am at a red light on the way to a bank which putatively closes now in 10 minutes, she is waiting for her fiancé in the lobby of a gym. We update each other on the vital signs of our hearts which beat in tandem, even though separated by so much earth. We are both caught in the crucible of decisions—when will this end? I ask—Never, says Denise. We are always in the crosshairs of desires, of our striving to make something beautiful of the poor clay we’re given.

I dodge many cars backing out of parking spots, and the final barrier of construction in front of the bank, and arrive at 5:58, only to discover its closing time is 5pm. After all that, I yell at the universe and into the cellphone. You’ll make it to the bank tomorrow, says Denise.

The last three calls in my call log are my sister, my mother, and Denise. Is this what Benedict means by stability?

Psalm 133

In front of me, at the grammatically correct express checkout line—“twelve items or fewer”—the cashier helps the elderly man pack the grocery bags lightly enough that he will be able to carry them easily.

Her face is a sun of kindness, radiant with genuine, patient concern for this wizened old man. She repacks the milk in a separate bag, double-bagging the flimsy plastic. She double, triple checks that he can carry them. Her attentiveness is a blessing. I think that it was upon witnessing such love the scribes first wrote—the only appropriate response—barakah.

Psalm 42

Like a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul thirsts for something other than Burger Bars and faux-Korean night. But here we are. Our friendship, from the beginning, has always consisted of doing violence to our stomachs in the name of fun—Limca and cake, kati rolls from Unnayan Cabin, Dove Chocolates and Dining Hall deserts.

The living water is the new facets of our souls which constantly, shockingly surface in the roaring currents, which shine fresh light on the unsubstitutable mystery of the friend. In walking along the journey together so consistently, I forget that there is so much we don’t know still. As the world turns around us at a breakneck pace, there is a small calm here at this table, as we break pretzel buns together. A promise made, drunkenly, with the untried enthusiasm of youth at senior-year tailgates, still remains true: your people are my people. Your God: mine, too.

Psalm 150

Unsure of where to direct my steps next, I step into the chapel, re-route into a friend, open up my heart upon the sidewalk to an ear willing to ask questions in response. My open hands receive a word, and the faithful psalmist provides. You are the psalmist. And you and you and you.

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