Monday, August 02, 2010

Bread and Gnarled Hands

A song I've loved for over half my short life:

"Old ain't a word that I'm fond of," he said.
"And these days I've begun to lose count."
Mumbling she rolls in her wheelchair, and says,
"I'm afraid that they've closed my account."

There's a blur that occurs in the line of their life
That decays the whole notion of sense
And they call to the past, insisting that it last,
While they're climbing down reality's fence
Singing with me

Take me
Take me
Write my name in the most Holy Tome
And when it's my time
To assume the sublime,
Take me to my promised home

And their hands aren't gnarled, they're in love with the earth
And they're dying to go there again
We say the essence of life is strong in our youth,
Slowly buried under wrinkles of skin
But there's God in the way that life comes to an end,
In the way that it draws to a close,
In the saying of soul to the house of the skin,
You're too weak now to really oppose


Lyrics found HERE (p. 10 in the pdf)

I remember my grandmother, with whom I lived for most of my childhood and who, during my high school years, succumbed to emphysema and congestive heart failure. She had been a heavy smoker earlier in life and, in keeping with the history of women in that branch of the family, had a stroke because of it. Therapy helped her, but in those last years her body simply would not keep up with the damage already done. She knew, the night before she died, that she was slipping away. I remember being called out of an assembly the next day. I remember picking up my aunt at the airport not an hour later. I remember reading Rev. 21.1-4 over her body as the heartbeat slowed to zero, while her chest continued to rise and fall. We always told her, "Keep breathing, Ma-Gram," when she'd complain about a breathing treatment. She showed us. I remember nothing else from that day.

There are things the body knows, things it must learn, that the mind can't grasp. In today's world this type of statement is often used to push a sort of libertine sentimentality meant to justify debauchery in the face of natural law or the like. What I refer to is chastity and sobriety. Today we begin a countdown of sorts to the day when the "Crown of continence," as the Akathist refers to her, folds into the earth peacefully and silently. It is this quietness and stillness, this learned obedience to the Word that feeds what food cannot, that the mind cannot understand yet which the body must learn.

We heard today, on the celebration of the Procession of the Cross, that some demons only go out by prayer and fasting. St. Innocent (Veniaminov) of Alaska reminds us that "the goal and intent of fasting are to humble and lighten the body, thereby rendering it more obedient to the soul, for a well-satisfied and fattened body requires peace and comfort; its disposition to laziness interferes with thinking about God. It binds and constricts the soul like a self-willed, spoiled and capricious woman who rules her husband." Primarily, however, fasting for St. Innocent means "abstinence and strict moderation in the use of food," although "while fasting bodily you must also fast spiritually. That is, you must refrain from speaking evil."1 There is a type of bodily asceticism associated with Orthodox fasting that ultimately amounts to a self-inflicted "creeping pain that gnaws and fumbles and caresses one and never hurts quite enough," to borrow a phrase from Sartre's work No Exit, though it is interesting that the slight gnawing at the stomach is the suffering that, when combined with prayer, leads to the exit the Mother of God found in Ephesus but which eluded Jean-Paul (and, I would say, most men today who live by bread alone which, they insist, must be bread alone if they are to justify living as they do).

Fasting as a cross is, of course, not a major suffering--especially in our context of Veggie-Meat crumbles and whole-food, organic substitutionary tendencies. What's meant in our eating fewer types of things and less of that is a slight stretch into that breaking down of the body that must and will happen, a reminder of that against which our entertainment-addled minds scream yet which our bodies will one day obey. Audra said several years ago that the total fasting from her charismatic upbringing (which did not happen often, but was a part of her parents' spiritual regimen from time to time) was actually easier than the Orthodox practice of abstinence and fasting; this constant feeding of the body just enough to keep going while still remaining hungry was something that grated on her. And rightly so.

For the bread of earth is simply Argon's chalk delusion that, when the light of Thabor rains in, will evaporate, bringing us a judgement of whether or not we've made the counterintuitive leap from bread of earth to Bread of Heaven, from clawing for oneself to open hands for others. She who held the one who condescended to be the Man from Heaven is now preparing to be held by the One who will take her, the New Eve, to be the Queen of Heaven, the sword which pierced her soul having done its work, having found nothing but a cherished, hidden, quiet, small, εὐαγγέλιον which will pick up her body which was pure and true and made more spacious than the heavens "with the Archangel's voice," breath Life into it (again), and set it--set her--free.

[1] Oleksa, Fr. Michael. Alaskan Missionary Sprituality. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 2010, p. 111.

1 comment:

elizabeth said...

enjoyed this post; thank you.

Memory Eternal for your Grandmother...