Monday, April 14, 2008
Bad Girls and Princesses
Yesterday was the Sunday of Saint Mary of Egypt. She’s my patron saint. Eleven years ago I wrote a poem about her… it’s really a prayer. I wrote it when I was visiting a monastery and was there for Saint Mary of Egypt Sunday in April of 1997. I had been there all week, including the night the Life of Saint Mary was read, along with the Canon of Saint Andrew of Crete. The poem was my feeble attempt to express some of my soul's response to the Canon and to Mary's life. I’ll offer it here, and then share a conversation I had with two little girls at church yesterday, about Mary of Egypt.
Fill my soul, O Lord
As you filled the soul of Your Holy Mother;
Let there be no room in my soul
For anything but You.
Fill my belly, O Lord
As you filled blessed Mary in the desert;
Let my sustenance be only You
So that earthly food will have no taste.
Fill my heart, O lord
As you filled the searching Zosimas
Whose heart’s desire was only You
And the blessing of Your saints.
Fill my mind, O Lord
As you filled the theologians
With words to teach us Your ways
And wisdom that gives life.
Fill my mouth, O Lord
As you filled the mouth of David,
Enabling him to sing Your praise
And teaching repentance through his psalms.
Fill my days, O Lord
As you fill each moment of time
With good works appointed for our sake
Increasing us in virtues and piety.
Fill my nights, O Lord
As you filled the desert nights
With watchfulness, tears, and victory
For holy saints who sought You there.
Fill my flesh, O Lord
As you fill those who keep the fast
With your own Body and Blood
So that it becomes my only satisfaction.
Fill my eyes, O Lord
As once you filled Saint Mary’s eyes,
First with humble tears of repentance
And finally with your glorious Light.
When I wrote that, I was in a more “radical” phase of my spiritual life. As I read it now, a decade later, I can still offer that prayer, but maybe with a few adjustments. I’m not sure I want to have room in my soul only for God. Shouldn’t there be room there for love of others? And I know I don’t want earthly food to “have no taste”…. well, sometimes that would be helpful, like when I’m trying to fast or just be moderate with food. But then where would the struggle be?
After church yesterday, my five-year-old Goddaughter, Sophie, and my six-year-old “grand-Goddaughter,” Mary, asked me some questions about Mary of Egypt. We were sitting by her icon, when Sophie (that's Sophie with me, at left) asked me why she didn’t have on many clothes.
“She lived in the desert and the hot sun burned them off,” I answered.
“Why did she live in the desert?”
“Well, she went there because when she lived in the busy city, she had a hard time being good. But when she repented of being bad, she went to the desert to try to change her behavior.”
At this point, six-year-old Mary joined in to help answer Sophie’s questions. (That's Mary with me in the cowgirl hats.)
“She was a big sinner.”
Sophie misunderstood Mary and said, “she was a baby sitter?”
I was trying hard not to laugh, both at Mary’s answer and Sophie’s question.
“No, honey, a big sinner. A person who behaves badly.”
“Is she still a big sinner?”
“No, actually, she taught us how to say, ‘I’m sorry.’”
With this, Sophie looked up at the icon again, and the Prayers After Communion were winding down, so the three of us kissed the relic of Saint Mary of Egypt (which is attached to the icon) and headed downstairs for coffee hour.
Being with Mary and Sophie reminded me of the photographs I’ve been scanning for my book proposal. The Prologue and first few chapters are about some things that happened to me when I was about their ages… maybe ages four to ten. I write about my experiences having to be the Witch (that's me, the Witch) in my third grade play, when I wanted to be the Princess (that's Jan McMillan, the Princess.) But how I got to be the Queen of the Little League the summer after fourth grade, which helped. Some. But how all those longings to be a Princess get mixed up with all those witch-like behaviors… and sometimes how it all begins with a bad experience with your grandfather when you were four years old. And again, like I wrote about in my blog post on April 1, I wonder what happened to Mary of Egypt when she was a little girl. I guess it’s more important to know what she did later in life. That her tears watered the desert. And her heart was aflame with love for God. Like this painting, "Heart on Fire," that my friend, Pam (Napapon) Santirojprapai painted, using coffee and scrap paper. I saw it at a showing a couple of years ago, bought it, and met Pam. She was trying to make a living as an artist, and didn't have a lot of financial resources, so she was using whatever materials were at hand. (Interested in Pam's art? Email her at email@example.com.)