The Storm

Saturday, Shaun and I traveled north to help my brother and sister-in-law move into a new apartment.  Thunderstorms began to roll in around dinnertime.  As we started to return home, we could see that we were paralleling the edge of another front coming in.  There was clear sky to the north, on our left, and a wall of thunderclouds to the south, on our right.

We turned right, crossing the leading edge of the storm and heading straight into the mass of dark clouds.  There were a few moments of peace in the darkness, and then the rain poured down like a waterfall.  Thunder cracked and lightening flashed.  I turned the windshield wipers onto their highest setting, but after a few moments, even that wasn’t fast enough to clear the water away.  Unable to see the lines on the road, I pulled over, and after a few minutes, Shaun and I switched places so he could drive.  Just the few seconds it took to run around the car was enough to soak us both.

We continued on, Shaun steering us carefully but confidently through the deluge. The rain continued to come down hard almost the whole way home.  At times, the noise of the heavy drops pounding on the windshield made my ears hurt.  The road ahead was blurred by water.  I sat in the passenger seat and prayed, and several times suggested that we pull over and wait for the storm to pass.  I do not like thunderstorms.  But soon, my prayers for safety turned to prayers of awe.

We were driving through a corridor of storms that stretched south as far as we could see.  Away to the east, we could see the edge of its line, ragged against the a clear evening sky.  The deep blue eastern edge became purple-gray ahead of us, in the thick of the storms.  To the west, the gray clouds melted into the orange and gold sunset.  At times, through the black shadowed trees, we could see the majestic orange-red sun setting in the distance.  Lightning flashed continuously as we drove through the pelting rain, jumping from cloud to cloud and from cloud to ground.

At some point, I became more interested in the beauty of the storm than in its terrors.  I marvelled at the eerie colors and the power of the lightening.  As we passed through one of the darker areas of the storm, where neither its eastern or western edge could be seen, I spotted a dim rainbow to the east.  It was a strange rainbow, a storm-and-sunset rainbow of red and orange and green against the livid thunderclouds.  As I watched, a bolt of lightening lanced through its arc.

“Now you know why I love thunderstorms,” said Shaun, smiling as wonder edged out my fear.

After almost an hour, as we neared the end of the storm corridor, its western edge began to break apart, leaving gaping holes in the clouds.  The sunset blazed through, and I captured some very poor pictures through the rain-flecked window.

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It was a welcome sight.  The rain began to ease, and finally ceased altogether.  The clouds continued to dissolve and lost their menace, awash in the colors of the sunset.  The moon rose in the east, large on the horizon and rust-red.  As we drove home under the remnants of the storm, I pondered.  It had been frightening, and awesome, and beautiful and surreal, sometimes by turns, sometimes all at once. Now on the other side of the storm, I was glad that we drove through it, for the fear and the risk was worth the awe.

***

There is an akathist from which I have quoted before, and I will quote it again here, with new understanding:

Kontakion 5

     The storms of life are not frightening to one in whose heart shines the light of Your fire. All around the weather is bad–there is darkness, horror and the howling wind. But in the soul of such a one, there is peace and light. Christ is there!
     And the heart sings: Alleluia!

Kontakion 6

     How great You are in the power of thunderstorms, how visible is Your mighty hand in the blinding curves of lightening, amazing in Your greatness. The voice of the Lord is over the fields and in the sound of the forests; the voice of the Lord is in the birth of the thunder and rain; the voice of the Lord is over the many waters. Praise be to You in the thundering of volcanoes spitting fire. You shake the earth about like a garment. You lift up the waves of the sea into the sky. Praise be to You Who humbles human pride, drawing out the repentant cry: Alleluia!

Ikos 6

     When the palaces of earth are suddenly lit up by lightning bursting forth, how paltry seem our ordinary lights afterward. In just such a way You suddenly light up my soul during the times of deepest joy in my life. And after the brilliance of Your light, like lightning, how colorless, dark and unreal these moments seem. And my soul rushes in pursuit of You.
Glory to You, beyond the limit of the highest human dream!
Glory to You for our tireless thirst for You,
Glory to You Who has inspired in us dissatisfaction with earthly things,
Glory to You Who has enveloped us in the delicate rays of Your light,
Glory to You Who has broken the power of the spirits of darkness, and Who has doomed to annihilation every kind of evil,
Glory to You for Your revelations, for the happiness of feeling Your presence and living with You,
Glory to You, O God, unto ages of ages.

~Akathist of Thanksgiving, by Metropolitan Tryphon

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Let it Snow

I have never before dreaded the changing of the seasons, until this year.  Last winter was so long and cold and snowy.  I am not looking forward to being trapped between walls of white and stuffed inside the straightjacket of my thick winter coat for the next six months.  Here in New York, however, it is almost inevitable.  Today is the third snow of the new winter season, and it is is the first snow to stick.

It is beautiful.

Hardy roses with snowy hats.

It’s the sort of snow that is straight out of a movie or a storybook, light and soft and settling on everything in fluffy mounds.  Now that the snow is here, dread is replaced by wonder–and this, too, is inevitable.

Walking home from the library, with snow falling and clinging to my coat and gloves, I thought of this beautiful passage of prayer:

How can I give praise to You? I have not heard the songs of the cherubim. That is the gift of the highest souls. But I know how nature gives praise to You: in winter I have beheld the moonlit stillness when the whole earth quietly prays to You, clothed in white and sparkling with diamonds of
snow – I have seen how the rising sun rejoices in You and the choirs of birds resound in praise – I have heard the forest speak mysteriously of You, the waters gurgle and the choirs of stars preach of You with their harmonious movement in infinite space. But what is my praise! Nature responds to Your laws, but I do not. Yet while I am alive, I see Your love, I want to thank, to pray, to call out:

Glory to You Who has shown us light,
Glory to You Who has loved us with love immeasurable, deep, Divine,
Glory to You Who has surrounded us with light, with hosts of angels and saints,
Glory to You, O Holy Father, Who has willed us Your Kingdom,
Glory to You, Holy Spirit and life – giving sun of the future age,
Glory to You for everything, O Divine Trinity, all bountiful,
Glory to You, O God, unto ages of ages.
~ Ikos 12, Akathist of Thanksgiving by Metropolitan Tryphon

Thoughts on Conversion

Today, October 29, is the third anniversary of my baptism into the Orthodox Church.

I was twenty-two years old and converting out of a strong evangelical Protestant background.  Part of me is still amazed that I actually went through with it.  To tell the truth, I was not fully convinced of the rightness of my conversion until I emerged from the baptismal waters.  I am a champion self-doubter and second-guesser.  I don’t like taking risks, and I don’t like unknowns.  If I don’t understand something, I research it until I do.  If I make an assertion, I generally only do so if I feel well-backed by facts or a knowledgeable authority.  When deciding to convert to Orthodox Christianity, I had researched and visited and asked questions, sometimes over and over again–but still a feeling of doubtfulness remained.  It was not until my priest was anointing me with chrism that I felt a sense of peace about converting.

I realized then that sometimes you don’t truly understand why you did something until after you have already done it.  I also began to learn that sometimes this understanding comes not in a moment, but through a process.

Although the day of my baptism was the day I “officially” converted, I often feel that I am still undergoing conversion.  At the time of my baptism, I had been learning about Orthodoxy for over three years, but had only been regularly attending an Orthodox church for a few months.  Conversion was something of a culture-shock–especially in combination with getting married (a week after being baptized) and moving from New York to Texas (a week after getting married).  Where church was concerned, I struggled with fasting (did I mention that all of these changes came almost on the eve of the Advent fast?), with learning the service at a new church, with standing for so long during liturgy, and with what seemed, at times, like the overbearing patriarchal authority of the Church.  There were times when I wondered, “What have I gotten myself into?”

What I should have remembered was something my priest had said at my first confession–that the Christian life is not a sprint to the finish.  Becoming holy is a long, long marathon.  For me, conversion was only a part of the marathon–it was a beginning, not an end.  It is a process, one which wasn’t necessarily completed, wrapped-up and closed-out by the time of my baptism.

The thing that helped my early struggles was experiencing Holy Week and Pascha for the first time.  We attended as many services as we could, and as the week unfolded, I found that my fragmented understanding of Orthodoxy came together, piece by piece.  The liturgy made more sense.  Fasting made more sense.  Discipline made more sense.  I better understood the joy of my baptism as I experienced the joy of Pascha.  I took another step forward in the marathon.

So today, I joyfully remember my baptism. I am encouraged by how far I have come, and I try to be determined, not discouraged, about how far I have to go–even if it seems like it is very far indeed.  I remember that sometimes understanding only comes after the fact, and in the long-term.  I remember that I walk by faith and not by sight.  I remember that what seems like an end might really be a beginning.  And I pray for strengthened faith and greater understanding.

***

Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. 

~Romans 6:4