On my birthday at the Leavetaking of the Feast of Theophany

Today is the turning from Theophany toward Pascha.
Though I was born on this cusp,
for the first time I see to note this as a sign,
an auspicious crossing point
of the unseen footprints in my story.
Looking either way from this signpost along my yearly way
I see the Lord busy in hell,
here crushing the heads of dragons in the waters,
there at it’s gates trampling down death by death.
So whenever I stand at this place in the road from one year to the next,
the promise–echoing the voices of prophets and kings,
of saints and monastics, and of common readers of daily prayers–
will resound in the question
“Whither shall I go from Your Spirit,
or whither shall I fllee from Your presence?…

I have been in hell this year.
The sight of it is vivid and I am trying to learn
not to avert my eyes,
or to give it a pretty face,
or to find some desperate excuse
for why I happen to be there.
This is not a cry of despair,
though at times I feel it stalking me.
You are growing in me an understanding,
incrementally, as I can bear it, of this:
“Keep your mind in hell, and despair not.”
You have descended to us:
by You all is cleansed,
by You all is sanctified,
by You all is made whole–
Now, and yet not fully, but will be finally.
What I see rarely appears so–
pain and sorrow, the rapacious fecundity of blind nature,
or human wickedness hurling oblivious toward death.
But if by Your grace, and according to your strength,
I remember Jerusalem,
I can dare to seize them burning as they fly,
to carry them, trembling and weeping, a right sacrifice,
to Your altar, on behalf of all and for all.
Whatever is the appearance,
whatever the apparitions of the darkness,
from the ages to the ages, it all belongs to You,

Do I have any big plans for my birthday?
There is at least one sort of answer that is,
I admit, beyond the purport of my friend’s question,
and yet includes it and all the other issues of the day.
Here is the answer:
I will spend the day in hell.
I will spend it there with enemies and friends–
whom I sometimes have trouble distinguishing.
I will be alongside those who are suffering,
who have died and are dying–
of diseases, of dimentia,
of desparation, of loneliness,
or just in the inevitable end of life even well-lived,
with those who are persecuted and in prison,
with the angry, addicted, deluded,
or merely annoying.
I will pray for those who have fallen into
the pits they have dug for themselves
in the secular kingdom of rationality.
Facing East, I will stand with them,
even if their backs are turned.
And I will fall on my face, and weep with them
if they weep, or for them if they cannot.
They are not mine to give to You.
We are all Yours alone,
and evenYou always suffer us to choose.
But stand with them I must.
How can I get out of here alone
If they are Yours as I am Yours?
Only together are we in You,
as You are in the Father.
How could I look you in the face and say that all this suffering
has nothing to do with me?

Together we humans have made and are still choosing this hell.
So this is where you have deigned to meet us.
You hem us in on every side,
with Your truth, with Your correction,
with the chastisement of Your perfect love,
So of all that this life is or shall be I will declare
now and unto the ages of ages,
“It is You who have done it.”

Today, remembering your descent into the dark waters of death,
I turn in my heart toward your joyous Pascha.

Martha Jane McElroy
January 11, 2007, Leavetaking of the Feast of Theophany

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