I have been quiet lately.
I have still taught my children, talked to acquaintances, worked, laughed and argued with my husband… but inside I have been slipping down into stillness so that I can hear. I sit here tonight as the joyful din of Christmas subsides, the lights twinkle wordlessly and I wonder what is there to say.
I’m probing the depths by sinking quiet into them. I’m letting down line and lead and it’s falling farther than I could imagine. I wanted to chart a course and so I thought I would take soundings along the way, a rope let down and drawn back up to show how deep the sea is. But the spool spun heavy out of my hands, a continual letting down, a line just drifting out into forever. And I have gotten curious, gotten desperate. I have sent cries into the void, into the darkness. Suprisingly they do not go on forever, but they come back quick and sure, a whisper in my ear. Devoid of answers and full of love. I thought there could be a map, a course, a path through the waters, and I thought maybe there was no one left to speak. Maybe the God of my childhood couldn’t stand before what we grow into. Maybe death and heartache had shrunk Him down to a size less than immortal, less than personal, less than named. But I was wrong. There’s no perfectly charted course, if there was I would have found it by now; the waters wash away every trace of a trail and we distort the maps when we try to lay them flat, splitting apart continents to hang them on our walls.
But there is a voice.
I read some books, and stole minutes to lay on my yoga mat day after day. In the quiet I asked for a mantra, a meaning to breath in and out. Because I’m just here on the edge between life and death. It’s a waiting place. Each morning I wake up to cereal, toast, orange juice and bouncing little boys. Life life life. But I’ve held death over and over, my head on my Grandmother’s chest as she gasped ragged last breaths, my friend’s hand in mine as she slept while the tumor took her mind, three children passing through my body, the gateway into existence, life then death for them. We’re all in this waiting place, right on the edge, with simple joys and daily disappointments. And the edge looks so fearsome that I wanted my faith to be mystical and magic. I wanted a mantra to sink me right into the center of meaning, but more than that I wanted to be created, heard, held, wanted, protected. Known. More than anything I want a hand to hold, not a universe to sink into.
And then at Christmas this year the most unlikely of teachers shared with me how the baby that we place in our nativity scenes and celebrate with advent wreaths and carols is the same God that from ancient times has been called Yahweh. He told us how the ancient Jewish people pronounced this sacred name of the uncreated one in a way that sounded something like yod hey va hey, and they believed that each time we breath we are saying his name as uncontrollable and regularly as our hearts beat.
A mantra, a prayer. In, out, in, out, the name of God on our very breath.
His signature because our Father never stops speaking, and He can’t get close enough to His beloved. And with that knowledge my heart let out a sigh and I relaxed into this new mantra that I have been living from birth. Jesus in my very breath. A hand to hold because His is a story that walked where I do, through pain and death, small beginnings, and heartbreaking endings that were no endings at all, but redemption in disguise. I don’t need to understand where I am or control where I’m going when it is enough to just be, my very breath worship. The baby we sing of round our twinkling Christmas tree is the God that tells us I am that I am. I run down to the ocean the day after we rip through gifts and share meals on a bright red tablecloth. The water stretches out, governed by a moon and sun pulling its swaying waves, and this can’t be an accident – that moon and sun hurled into orbit and millions more beyond them while we snuggle close in our homes and feel a universe of love and bittersweet loss surge through this holiday. I want to walk into my Grandmothers’ houses one more time to see big colored bulb lights strung round the ceiling and a white Christmas tree with sparkling brass ornaments. I want to reach out and scoop my lost children into our fold, all gathered round stockings and cocoa. I want the ache for all that’s lost to stop, and I want its weight to be fully felt. But I can’t do any of this, just like I can’t set the boundaries of the sea or cause my heart to beat.
Because I am a child.
A child of God, and this is the greatest gift to rest as my son does and let my life be parented. To grow still on my Father’s lap, in my Father’s house and breathe communion. As quiet as an inhale, exhale and again. Every act worship when we breath Him in and out, my hands kneading bread, tying shoes and tucking children into bed.
This silent, holy night and all the rest to come.