Sunday, December 16, 2012

Why I Celebrate Advent

Today I was surprised to read someone's prickly remarks about Advent.  Their remarks watered the sacred tradition of Advent, its candles and liturgy and reflections, into the spiritual equivalent of weak tea.  I was startled.  And confused.  And I felt myself burn with the malevolent wish to offer some prickly comments in return. 

Once my boiling brew of anger had settled down to a slightly less agitated simmer I asked myself the obvious question: "Why do I celebrate Advent?" 

I celebrate Advent because I believe this crazy story that an angel came to Mary and told her she was going to have a tiny, helpless baby, God's baby, whose name was to be called
Wonderful Counselor
Mighty God
Everlasting Father
Prince of Peace

I celebrate Advent because I believe this crazy story that angels lit up an inky black sky in tiny Bethlehem and proclaimed to some scared, gaping shepherds, "Do not be afraid.  I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord."

I celebrate Advent because I believe this crazy promise from Isaiah long ago:
"Unto us a Child is born."
I love the sacredness of Advent.  Amidst the crazy shopping malls and hopped up frenzy of a so-called "War on Christmas," I love Advent's quiet waiting, its muted anticipation.  I don't need to shout "Merry Christmas!" over the beeping of a cash register to fulfill my duty to Jesus during Advent. 
I need to play Handel's "Messiah" over and over and over again. 
I need to buy coats for cold children and gloves for frigid fingers and food for hungry bellies and soft blankets for the chilly laps of nursing home residents.
I need to gather around my piano with my husband and children and play and sing the beautiful hymns celebrating this season of anticipation. 
I need to sit in the quiet morning stillness with my cup of coffee and my Bible and my book of liturgical Advent prayers and my thin book of thick Advent essays. 
I need to sit around my dinner table in the evening with my family and light our Advent candles, our candles of promise, of light, of hope, of love. 
I need to lie in bed at night and rest my hand on my belly and imagine what it must have been like for Mary as she waited for this baby, this promised one. 
Tonight, I wish for you, I pray for you, the quiet longing, the aching joy, of Advent.  As these days unfold I will light my candle of promise, my candle of light, my candle of love,  my candle of hope. And I will pray that you, too, will feel the warmth of promise, of light, of love, and of hope.
For unto this world, this world that is creaking under the weight of its grief, this world that is heavy with sorrow, this world that is splintered with evil...unto this world, a Child is born.
Unto me, a Child is born.
Unto you, a Child is born.


Wednesday, October 31, 2012



disembodied from spirit, passion, love

con(n)stricted to the convex of soul outside of life

I stole this post from my old blog. 
And I am not sure what else to say about it. 
Except to say that my play on words has lately been my playbook on life. 
I haven't been blogging.
I haven't been journaling as much as I need to journal to keep my soul connected to my body. 
I have squirreled myself away in hiding a bit. 
I decided to take an October break from my project of disciplines.
This morning I have no idea where my book of liturgical prayers is tucked away.
My therapy this month has been good books: I re-read The Great Gatsby and for the first time treated myself to Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451, and Catch-22. 
I just feel a bit disjointed, is all, as perhaps you can tell by my disjointed, flowless (is that even a word?) collection of words. 
Tomorrow is November 1.  A new month.  A new discipline?
I am not sure.  I am not sure what it would be. 
Perhaps I should swallow my snarky disdain for clichés and make my project a month of gratitude.  Perhaps gratitude could be my reset button.  I shake my head even as I type. 
It's not that I am not grateful.
But sometimes I just want to wallow a bit. 
And I don't want to be grateful in November when everyone else is spouting gratefulness.  (Go ahead and roll your eyes at me.  I am rolling my eyes at me, too.)  But I want to be grateful in March or something, when I am convinced that spring is never, ever going to appear.
But gratefulness would be good for me. 


Saturday, October 13, 2012

In the words of the person I am not voting for this election season...


..."Hope is not a strategy."

I have been obsessed with this quote for the past week.  If you have had a conversation with me, there is a good chance that I used this quote in our conversation.  If I did not use the quote, then I was probably thinking it at some point while we were talking.

But here's the thing:

If hope is not a strategy, then I have neither hope...
nor a strategy.
hope is my only strategy. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


This is a picture from inside my compost this morning.  It isn't very pretty. :)  The reason there are whole apples in there is because Matt thought that the bag of apples I had on the counter, with which I was going to make a second batch of apple butter today, was compost, so he dumped it in there.  (I-love-him-I'm-going-to-kill-him-I-love-him-I'm-going-to-kill-him).  And while I might consider pulling them out of the compost, what you can't see in this picture is that my compost is teeming with what appears to be...ugh...maggots. 
This is an essay I wrote for my church a couple of years ago, and I posted it on my old blog way back then.  I am re-posting it, however, because I used this essay as the basis of a talk I did last week, and some people requested that I posted it here.  It's good for me to re-visit this idea anyway, especially in light of the maggots that are currently teeming in my own soul's compost. 

I am slightly obsessed with my compost. A few moments ago, I trekked out in the steamy heat to the Darth Vader-looking compost bin beside my house, and I dumped in a fresh bucket of rotting food. Sometimes the discarded food looks almost pretty. Some days I have bright green watermelon rinds, purple-stained onion peel, or bits of green and red strawberry hulls. Today, though, the food I dumped wasn’t really that pretty at all. There were brown egg shells, white cauliflower stems, some slimy peach pits, and a few yellow, wilting parsley leaves. As I stood over the bin and emptied my bucket, a sour smell arose from the bin’s acrid depths, and gnats and flies, disturbed from feeding on the rotting carnage, buzzed in annoyance around my head.
I suppose I can’t say that my experience of dumping compost was particularly pleasant, but it was immensely satisfying, and it was also comforting, for reasons I didn’t fully understand until a few weeks ago when I spent a little time meditating on my compost obsession.

Compost, as I am sure you all know, is rotting food. It’s the stuff that is discarded, ugly, smelly, moldy, decomposing. Most of us stuff our compostable food down the garbage disposal or scrape it off of our plates and into the trash. Some of us, though, are slightly obsessed with our compostable food, perhaps because we feel some affinity to it.
Compost is, to me, a bit of a miracle. The bacteria present in the rotting flesh of a bruised strawberry can nourish next year’s strawberry patch. The vitamins in those discarded green edamame pods will break down into rich, black dirt that will make next year’s tomatoes that much sweeter. I know this, which is why, every couple of days year-round, I lug out wilted spring greens, bright watermelon rinds, orange pumpkin shells, and the leafy tops of winter root vegetables. And then, in the spring, I watch as Matt tills the compost into our garden.

It’s amazing, really. Our trash becomes a treasure. This year, with the rotten food we have tilled beneath the ground’s warm surface, we our nourishing watermelon, cantaloupe, sugar snap peas, peppers, tomatoes, basil and various other herbs, lettuce, beets, beans, corn, sweet potatoes, eggplant, and onion.
This is life. Extracted from death.

I feel such affinity with my compost because my soul is just like that compost. It is life. Extracted from death.
The compost bin of my soul is even more unsightly than the Darth Vader version we have in our back yard. It’s ghoulish, really. Monstrous. There is so much that is rotten that I have tossed into my soul’s compost bin.

Honestly, I don’t want to tell you what is there. If I tell you, you might not want to visit my garden. You might assume that the garden of my soul is as wretched and putrid as that very same soul’s compost bin.
But if I don’t tell you, then you won’t truly understand the miracle that is compost. You won’t understand how something so rotten can become so beautiful.

Let’s open the lid and poke around a little.
Almost daily I toss in some insecurity and impatience and snarkiness. Sometimes I dump in a lie or a handful of pride or a sprinkling of gossip. There’s some big stuff in there, too, that is going to take awhile to break down. There’s the mold of perfectionism I press myself into. Many days I wonder if it will ever really break down into rich soil. There is also a large pile of ugly things I have said and ugly things that have been said to me. Then there are some things too painful to talk about here, really. If you dig deep enough you will find more grief and shame than I really care to sift through.

It’s ugly in there.
But here’s the thing: I can take that putrid mess, and I can dump it in my trash, where it will then go compost in a landfill, but it will not nourish anything but the trash around it.

Or, I can take that compost in all of its rottenness and ugliness and stench, and I can work it back into the soil of my soul, where it can nourish my soul and become something beautiful. I choose to believe that God, as the gardener of my soul, will help me till the soil and tenderly nourish the fruit that is all the sweeter for the garbage that has mixed with the sun and the rain.
Today, I invite you to visit my garden. Feel free to poke around in my compost, but also please enjoy the ripe offering I hand you, the sweet fruit nourished not only by the sun and the rain, but also by the tears, the sadness, and the shame. And when you go home, take care of your own rotting compost. Work it into your soul and into the souls of the community surrounding you, and know that you and God can turn all that is bruised, rotting, and ugly into something truly beautiful.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

To rest, go to the woods...

You know, I would love to write a blog post today.  I would love to sit out on my porch, soaking up the sun, with a cup of coffee beside me.  But today, I don't think that's possible.  Today, I can't finish a complete sentence, a complete thought, a complete anything.  I just sent an email that was two days overdue.  I don't really know what I said.  I don't know that it was coherent.  I don't know that the flippin' thing was even in English. 

But it is a new month, a new discipline, so I need to reflect on last month and tell you what I am doing this month.  Thankfully, on Sunday evening, I managed to escape onto my porch and actually wrote something that was in complete sentences.  That's what you get from me today.  Here you go:

Here I find myself at the end of another month.  I think I need to repeat the Sabbath.  Or at least try to continue it.  It's been hard to feel close to God on the Sabbath, because it's been hard to feel close to God.  Period.  But that's my fault.  I have failed at fixed-hour prayer and sometimes at solitude and mostly at Sabbath.

I'm burning incense right now.  That's something.

Today I have been mostly cranky.  But I did play under the blankets this morning with the kids and Leia.  And I connected with God during Eric's sermon.  And I exchanged out my summer and winter clothes.  And I spent nearly two hours, alone, working on my talk for MOPS on Thursday, and that is mostly crappy but I think it's a tiny bit OK.  And now I am journaling.  Tonight I can believe, at least partly, that God loves me.

Tomorrow is October 1, and I think I will focus on nature.  I think I will read Wendell Berry and spend thirty minutes outside a day.  Um, yeah.  Let's see how this works.  I claim to love nature, but I hole myself up inside.  How am I going to pull this off?  I guess I will take afternoon walks with the kids.  And maybe take them to the park.  And maybe try to hit up Kansas City's nature centers and trails.  Does the zoo count?  I just remembered that I spend 40 minutes outside every weekday morning walking to and from kindergarten.  Does that count?  Probably not.  I don't know.  I'd rather not think about it. 

So October's focus is on nature, because I sure do not want to spend the winter focusing on nature, what with my crazy aversion to cold and gray days and all.

One of my favorite poems is taped to my great grandma's buffet in my dining room.  My graduate-school-therapist-turned-friend sent me this poem several years ago for my birthday.  I love it still.

To rest, go to the woods
Where what is made is made
Without your thought or work.
sit down; begin the wait
For small trees to grow big,
Feeding on earth and light.
Their good result is song
The winds must bring, the trees
Must wait to sing, and sing
Longer than you can wait.
Soon you must go.  The trees,
Your seniors, standing thus
Acknowledged in your eyes,
Stand as your praise and prayer.
Your rest is in this praise
Of what you cannot be
And what you cannot do.
  ~Wendell Berry, "The Farm," IX, A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems: 1979-1997


Friday, September 28, 2012

A Shot in the Arm

We (I use the word "we" loosely) give Amélie an allergy shot twice a week.  She hates them.  I hate it that she has to endure them, but her allergies are wretched, and I know how wretched they are because I watch her in her absolutely misery and empathize on a level that I wish I didn't know.  I endured allergy shots for 10 years.  Ten years.  I honestly don't think my allergies ever got any better, but apparently, in the past few years, allergy shots have come a long, long way.  Apparently, allergy shots now have a 95% success rate.

(I know some of you out there are wanting to hand poor Amélie a glass of elderberry juice and tablespoonfuls of raw, local honey rather than these poisonous shots.  I know.  I know.  I know.  I tried that.) 

There is always a significant amount of serum left when it is time to move on to the next vial.  Matt had this brilliant idea that he should give me shots of Amélie's leftovers.  I thought that was a good idea, too.*

Until tonight, our first experiment with Amélie's allergic leftovers.

I was actually taking a bath in Jack's bath water (Yes, I did this.  I just added another 6 inches of really hot water to kill any little boy germs.).  Matt walked in the bathroom with a drink in one hand and a syringe in the other.**  He shot me in the arm, it didn't hurt a bit, and then I sipped my drink, read my book, finished up my bath  and headed up to bed. 

When I had allergy shots from 3rd grade until the end of my first year of college, I always had to stay for 20 minutes in the doctor's office and make sure that I didn't have a reaction.  I never did.  Until tonight. 

My arm isn't sore.  I don't think it is even red.***  But I am an absolute wreck.

My nose is running.  Tiny needles feel like they are pricking my throat.  I am wheezing.  My eyes are itchy.  My ears itch.  My gums feel incredibly sensitive, and the only thing that brings them relief is if I actually jab my fingernails into the tissue between my gums and teeth.  ???!!!  My palms itch.  My palms itch!?!?  I was miserably sitting in bed a little bit ago assessing my situation.  I sat plopped upon my mattress with disheveled hair and dirty tissues surrounding me.  My sheets were sneezed upon.  My breathing was labored.  I alternated between pressing my fingernails into my gums and itching my palms with my teeth.  My teeth!?!? 
And I had an epiphany.
Crazy people aren't really crazy.
They just have allergies. 

*Matt actually asked the nurse if we could do this.  She said yes.
**I realized this morning that Matt gave me a shot from the vial of the SECOND round of shots.  Good thing I'm still alive.
***Oh, what a night will do!  This morning I have a 4" red, hot, hard welt on my arm.  Lovely!!! 

Sunday, September 23, 2012

This picture has nothing to do with my post, except that I am a little proud of myself for spitting coffee onto a book.  That feat was an accomplishment, despite the fact that I didn't know I was being watched while performing this little assignment until I heard my husband and daughter laughing at me.

I am making a wreck out of Sabbath.  I am bad at it.  Well, I am good at parts of it.  I like saying to myself and to my family, "Today is my Sabbath.  I cannot cook or pick up after anyone or touch that mountain of clothes in the laundry basket."  But other than that, I am not doing Sabbath well.  Last week's Sabbath was particularly horrendous.  I went to church, but that's as close as my Sabbath got me to God.  I did not do even one of the daily offices.  I do not even know that I said one word to God the whole day.  I did nothing on Sunday, true, and I spent nearly the whole day reading, but I may or may not have spent the day finishing a book about a girl who bears the daughter's name of the last czar of Russia, but is not, in fact, even remotely about Russian history.  (Do I dare even admit that I have read that book, especially since I spent my Sabbath reading that book?  Matt asked me at one point in the day what I was reading. I told him the Bible.  He got up and moved away from me.  I asked him where he was going.  He said that any moment God was going to strike me with lightning.)

So I suck at Sabbath. 

I am not reading my books about the Sabbath, either.  I am reading books about creativity.  And rather compelling books about girl who is the namesake of a long-dead czar's daughter.  And another book about a girl who works at a used bookstore.  And to perhaps raise me up from your estimation of me which has now plummeted into the mires of lechery, I feel like I should tell you that I lust after her and her life surrounded by dusty books much than I do about that other girl and her life with Mr. _ _ _ _ (you know, the color you get when you mix black and white). 

In the midst of all this muddled confusion about Sabbath is a muddled confusion about life in general.  And sometimes, my confusion gets mixed up with despair. 

I had a conversation with Matt this week that began, "I hate to have hope, but..."

And then I stopped. 

And we both laughed. 

But it wasn't really funny.

I hate to have hope, but...

...but, I must hope. 

I must hope, even as I sit on my side porch this afternoon awash in melancholy. 

What is wrong with me?

I'm OK, really, I feel like I must rush to tell you.

I am fine.

I am fine.

When you see me, I will be smiling, of course.

And my smile will be mostly genuine.

How did this blog post go this direction?  I didn't mean for it to.

Because I am fine.

I really am.

I hate to have hope, but...

Wednesday, September 12, 2012


For the past few days I have felt off-kilter.  I have been stumbling through my funhouse, clutching at the tilted walls, scrambling across the undulating floors, peering in the distorted mirrors. 
It's a little disconcerting. 
It's a little dizzying. 
I don't remember exactly when or why I handed over two carnival tickets and walked through that dark door. 
I hope I find the Exit soon.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Sabbath-Rules: From No Technology to No To-Do List, How I Am Structuring (and Failing at) Sabbath

I could tell you that I chose this picture because it is peaceful and Sabbath-like, but the real reason I stole this photograph from Matt is because it is a picture of the Walnut Valley River, in Winfield, where I was a year ago today, where I am NOT today, which makes me sad.  Ah Winfield bluegrass, I will miss you! 

Is it lawful to blog on the Sabbath* day?  :)

I've decided to be all Jesus-ish about my Sabbath rules rather than Pharisee-ish.  Jesus healed on the Sabbath.  I am healing on the Sabbath, too.  If I were Jesus I would be healing other people.  Since I am not Jesus, I am healing me, which, as I type those words, sounds incredibly selfish.  However, I am quite sure that I will not be able to gift myself to others until  I have gifted myself with space for Sabbath. 

I meant to write last week about my Sabbath rules.  Today I am going to address that subject, and I would be further along in that post right now if I had not broken Rule #1:

Rule #1: No Technology, with the exception of blogging.  I broke Rule #1 first thing this morning when I automatically sat at my computer as soon as I materialized out from under the red and blue glow of Jack's Spiderman sheets where he and I had been playing Storm Trooper.  I didn't even think about how I had broken Sabbath Rule #1 until I was sitting in church singing a hymn.  I think that remembering the broken rule was my punishment for giggling when I read the typo on the screen during "Holy Holy Moly""Holy Holy Holy."  (That was funny, though.)  Right before I started blogging I checked my email, peeked at Facebook, and sent a chat message to a friend who wasn't even online.  Just this second I hopped into my email account to see if I could figure out the date we went to the bluegrass festival in Winfield last year (Aside: I know it's not the right decision for us to go this year, but my heart has been waxing melancholy and nostalgic the past few days for camping, for the donut truck, for hippies, for music, for taking a shower under an open sky in the back of a semi trailer.  OK, not that last one.  I won't miss Winfield's bathing conditions.)

Rule #2:  No to-do list.  What a security blanket is to some 3-year-olds my to-do list is to me.  I carry my to-do list around with me everywhere.  I panic if I lose it.  I have multiple blank notebooks  scattered about so that I always have paper upon which to scribble my list (or, lately, write out my list in cursive, as I have re-discovered the beauty of script since teaching cursive to Amélie).  If it were socially acceptable for a 38-year old woman to lovingly stroke her cheek with her list or suck on its tattered corners, I would probably do so.   

Rule #3:  Feed my soul.  I read.  I play Storm Trooper under the sheets with Jack.  I sit out on my deck and talk deeply with Matt.  I journal.  I am quiet.

Rule #4: Do all of the day's liturgical prayers, which includes the morning office, the mid-day office, vespers, and compline.  I have been sorely failing at liturgical prayer.  I have been doing, on average, one office a day.  I have noted an increase in the hollowness of my soul as I have slacked in the discipline of liturgical prayer. 

Rule #5: Move slowly.  If you are my neighbor, just pretend that you didn't hear Slave Driver Mama herding her husband and children into the car at 11:20 this morning to make it to church by 11:30.  Moving slowly is incredibly difficult for me.  I am always moving, always striving, always doing.  The faster the better.  Only, faster is not better.  The faster I move the more frayed at the edges I get.  Today I move slowly and hope to stitch back together some of those tattered edges. 

Rule #6: Don't work.  My Sabbath is a day for sweeping up the dusty corners on the inside of my soul, and as such, I need to ignore any dusty corners on the outside of my soul. 

I think those are all my rules.  I feel a little unsettled because I worry that my Sabbath is selfish.  I feel like it needs to be more spiritual or more altruistic or more giving or more...something.  As I sit alone outside on my deck I can hear Matt and the kids inside.  They have just been creating music on a Native American flute and a keyboard.  Now they are sitting on the floor surrounded by watercolors and colored pencils and thick sketch paper and paintbrushes and cups of pigment-stained water.  And I wonder if I should join in their Sabbath.  Is it selfish of me, is it un-Sabbath-like of me, to close the door to their group creativity and create on my own?  Honestly, I don't know.  I think I will ponder and struggle through that worry as I create a Sabbath.  I'm new at this.  I suppose I don't need to be perfect. 

I have a stack of books to read this month, of course.  Here is my list:

The Sabbath World: Glimpses of a Different Order of Time by Judity Shulevitz
Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth by Richard J. Foster
Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives by Wayne Muller

Here are some other books in my stack this month:
In Pursuit of Silence: Listening for Meaning in a World of Noise by George Prochnik (this is a leftover from last month's venture into silence and solitude)
Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis by Lauren Winner (This is an amazing book.  Amazing.  Quite frankly, I am reading nothing else until I finish this one.  And I may have to re-read it again, because I have a library copy, and this book begs to be underlined and written in.)
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett.  Beautiful writing.  Lovely book.
Imagine:  How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer (So far I have concluded that in order to be creative I need to smoke pot, lay off the coffee, and be bi-polar.)


I am finishing up this post, now, at 9:21 p.m. (although I won't post it until tomorrow because...well, I don't know exactly why).  I am feeling a bit panicky.  My Sabbath is over. 
I need more Sabbath. 
I need more rest. 
Instead of feeling rested and ready for a new week, I am feeling sluggish and worried and anxious.  I am sticking my heels into the last few moments of my Sabbath day and grinding them stubbornly into the earth.  There is something I am not quite doing right in this Sabbath thing, because instead of filling me up and satisfying me it creates a craving for more. 
I wish that a different day of the week besides Monday would ease me out of my Sabbath Sunday. 
I wish I were heading up to bed soon with a peaceful heart rather than a heavy, unsettled one. 
I wonder how to create Sabbath on a Monday. 

*I am of course aware that the traditional Jewish Sabbath is from sundown Friday until sundown Saturday.  While I may consider a sundown to sundown approach,  I think that Sunday is the best day for me to practice Sabbath.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012


I actually wrote this post on Monday (hence the reference to September 3rd), but my Galaxy wouldn't transfer the pictures I had taken for the post, so I am stealing a picture from Matt, instead. 

Today is both the third of September and the beginning of my third month of...hmmmm....what is it I am doing, exactly? 
I am pursuing spiritual disciplines.
I am poking around in my soul. 
I am acquainting myself with the art of stopping, of breathing, of praying, of being. 
It's a tall order.

This month I have decided to flounder around in the idea of keeping a Sabbath day.  I say "flounder around in" because, as I discovered yesterday, I'm going to be doing a lot of floundering.  I am not at all adept at the heart of Sabbath-keeping--rest.  I have this evil stepmother of sorts who sits on my shoulder, smiles wickedly at me, and assures me in her coldly alluring voice that of course I can sit and rest and keep the Sabbath, dearie, just as soon as you
put away that laundry
sweep those floors
feed your family
clean up the kitchen
tidy up that clutter
and on...
and on...
and on it goes.

The evil stepmother doesn't like me to blame her, so I blame others.  Matt, for example, spent a really long time just doing his own thing yesterday morning, and helped me out not one iota (that my slightly clouded brain remembers anyway).  I spent the morning before church putting away laundry and straightening and cleaning and feeling a teeny, tiny bit resentful. 

I went to church and my soul untangled for a bit.  During the music, anyway.  I loved holding Matt's hand and singing with him from our church pew.  We sang and harmonized and I forgot I was mad at him, and as my spirit lifted in song I also forgot about the evil stepmother sitting on my shoulder, who had fallen asleep, I think, because she gets bored in church. 

Then Eric preached a sermon about the "party parable" in Luke 14.  And I thought that it would be nice to hear a sermon about a party parable, only I didn't remember exactly what this particular "party parable" was about, and I spent the sermon squirming a bit, and, when things got a little too uncomfortable, meticulously mapping out my schedule for the week.  Normally in such a desperate circumstance I would write out my to-do list, but I wasn't supposed to have a to-do list yesterday, since it was my Sabbath and all. 

Yesterday afternoon, then, Matt had the audacity to take a nap.  I spent his nap-time sitting on the loveseat with Jack, answering his 5-year-old brain-inspired questions while simultaneously trying to soak in the lyrical prose of Ann Patchett's novel Bel Canto.  I tried.  I did.  I failed. 

Then, yesterday evening we went to my grandparents' to celebrate my grandpa's 81st birthday.  I ate pizza and cake and gifted my grandpa with a tub of caramel, cinnamon, and cheese popcorn from Velvet Creme Popcorn.  The Sabbath part of that visit, aside from melting into family love, was first singing, a capella, "As I Went Down to the River to Pray" with my Amélie, and then gathering around the piano and singing beautiful, soul-nourishing hymns.  My mom, Matt, Amélie, and I circled around the piano and harmonized our way through "Abide with Me," "Blessed Assurance," "Day by Day" (which is, incidentally, both my grandpa's favorite song and the lullaby I sang to Jack), and "Victory in Jesus."  It was lovely.  It was Sabbath.

So, yesterday I managed to knit together a Sabbath of sorts, but I had to pull at least as many stitches as I linked together.  I think that I need some help.  Perhaps an intervention is in order.  (I mean, if any of you want to kidnap me and take me away to a remote little cabin in the woods somewhere and force Sabbath upon me, far be it from me to stop you).  Because I doubt that the intervention will take place, I will plead for second-best--books.  Any book on the Sabbath that you might recommend?

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

My body has resorted to odd ways to try to get me to wake up and not miss this time of solitude.  Last week, on a morning when my alarm was accidentally not set, I actually heard an alarm in my head.  And it kept going off.  Over and over.  I finally realized that there was no real alarm but that my brain had created a short little song to wake me up.  How sweet.

This morning I had purposely set my alarm a little later because this is my exercise "off" morning.  At around 5:00, when my alarm is normally going off, I was having this dream that we were in Indonesia for a reality show.  We were not going to be in the reality show--I have no idea why we were there.  The six people actually participating in the show were all coming to Indonesia because the country had some tie to their past.  They were American, and were, in fact, gray and overweight and 60-ish.  The women participating had tightly permed hair.  The men were bald.  I happened to know, from watching the previews for the show, that two of these people would die, presumably of natural causes, and one would be murdered, presumably by another reality show contestant.  How I had managed to watch the previews of a show that I was actually living out in my dream is just one of those things you can know in a dream that you can't know in real life.  We made it to our destination, and while Amélie and Jack were settling themselves into their room I heard Amélie cry out with a horrific, blood-chilling scream.  I rushed to her room, but frankly I wasn't too worried, because I figured this was the part where someone must have gotten murdered, and I guessed that the body had been stuffed in her closet.  Alas, this was not the case.  Another little girl was hiding behind the clothes in her closet, and all Amélie could see was that her clothes were moving but could not see why.  I reassured her.  But that scream, though..........
That woke me up.  My heart was beating fast.  My legs were twitching.  My palms were sweaty.  I cursed my creative internal alarm clock and willed myself back to sleep, but it was too late.  I did, however, stubbornly lie there in bed until the phone alarm went off at 5:30.

This is the closest picture I could find that was like the raft in my dream, only there were no bikes on the raft (and the occupants in my dream were not quite this fit, either). 

Anyway, I tell you that dream because I thought it was funny, but also because I feel like my soul is going to creative lengths to get me out of bed to spend time in solitude.  I have had enough days with solitude and a smattering of days without to note a significant difference in how I feel when I have time alone and when I do not.  When I do not have time alone I am cranky, disorganized, and absolutely exhausted.  My day has no rhythm.  My body feels like my bones have been weighted with lead.  Despair seeps into the leaky places in my soul.  Solitude, I think, is necessary for my survival.    It is my soul's food, its drink. 

Tomorrow morning my alarm will be set once again to 5:00, so hopefully I won't find myself at 4:50 on a raft with reality show participants, because really...that was just kind of weird. 

Friday, August 24, 2012


It's August 24th, and I feel like my month of solitude is ending too soon.  I had this romantic idea, I suppose, of wandering quietly through the lovely labyrinth of solitude.  I created a fantasy of solitude that was ethereal and elegant.  I think that in my silly little head I was wearing a 19th century gown and going on a little walk through the trees to sit on a patch of grass and read poetry or gaze meaningfully into a reflective pond at my feet. 

Reality is a bit more jarring and much less romantic.

It is 6:10 in the morning as I sit here at my dining room table.  I am gulping my coffee out of a brown mug.  My hair is a mess.  I am wearing an old pink t-shirt and Nike running shorts from high school.  I pretend I am alone, but my little white dog is sitting at my feet whining, with a shameful cone around her head and a leg both broken and sporting a gaping, raw wound.  There is no patch of grass upon which to sit, no poetry book beside me, no reflective pond at my feet, and certainly no lovely gown.  I am alone, yes, but I feel ugly and bleary-eyed-tired and slightly disillusioned. 

Yet, I soldier on through my shattered fantasy castle-in-the-sky.  I have managed to squeeze in solitude most days, but I have had to settle with the idea that I can sequester myself away just thirty minutes in the morning before everyone wakes up.  I long for the whole hour, but that would mean a either giving up exercise or a 4:45 alarm, and I am not sure that even solitude is worth that early of a morning.  The thirty minutes that I settle my soul into, while not perfect, is healing.

I feel like I am finally coming to a place in my life where I am allowing myself to nurture myself for myself as I am, not as I think I should be.  This month I read the books Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain and Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place  in an Extroverted Culture by Adam McHugh.  I resonated with these books in a very deep and stirring way.  I worried that reading these books would pigeonhole me with a label--introvert--and then the weight that the word carries.  Instead, I feel like a little bird who has been set free to be myself.  I love people--I do.  While sometimes I fling out an extroverted persona that exhausts me, I do love the intimacy that is woven in the threads of connecting and listening and sharing.  However, I cannot connect and listen and share unless I have recharged alone.  It doesn't really make sense to me.  Many times it is incredibly frustrating to me.  But that's who I am.  Therefore, it is absolutely imperative that I carve that time to myself.  Alone.  And I struggle against it.  I fight it.  I actually find that I thrust myself, on crazy purpose, into situations that tap out every ounce of energy.  But I have been doing this less, lately, and so the seamstress of my soul has had a little more time to perch on her stool and sew me up a bit.  I find myself more present, less impatient, calmer.  I note and enjoy the world around me while I walk Jack to school.  I hold Amélie's hand and walk slower, without purpose, while the two of us walk back home.  I bury my nose into Jack's sweet head and just breathe when he sleepily curves himself into my lap.  I taste the coffee I am sipping.  I hear the baby cardinals chirping outside of Jack's window.  I soak in the pink-stained morning sky and smell the faint promise of rain. 

The truth is--I'm a mess.  But I am trying to create around me and within me and through me a beautiful mess, and I can only do that if I sit before the easel of my soul, dip my brush into the soft colors of solitude, and paint. 

Friday, August 17, 2012

This week, in which Jack starts kindergarten, Amélie starts 4th grade, and my coffee consumption increases by astronomical proportions.

My Jack Jack started kindergarten.

He's such a big boy.

My Amélie Grace started 4th grade. 

They are growing up so fast....

As I wrote on my Facebook page, "Somehow my heart managed both to shatter in itty bitty pieces of sadness and to burst with love and pride."
I am back to waking up at 5:00 (or, more honestly, hitting snooze until 5:15). 

I workout.
Make coffee.

Say the morning’s liturgy.
Drink coffee.

Spend some time alone journaling or reading or blogging or just sitting on my front porch (drinking coffee) and watching and listening to the world wake up. 
Wake children up.

Get ready for school.
Walk to school.

Walk home.
Start school with Amélie. 

Continue coffee comsumption.
Try to fit in as many subjects as possible while Jack is in kindergarten. 

This year, by the way, Amélie and I are studying
Poetry (This week’s poem was Emily Dickinson’s “She Sweeps with Many-Colored Brooms”)
Grammar (using Michael Clay Thompson’s curriculum)
Shakespeare (in a week or two we will start reading A Midsummer Night’s Dream)
Science (Astronomy)
Math (Life of Fred)
Nature Study
World History (Medieval)
American History (Civil War)
Picture Study (Medieval and Civil War art)
Music Study (Medieval sacred and folk music, Civil War songs)

Did I miss something?  We don’t do all of these subjects every day, but still…
My voice gets tired.
My spirit lags.
My brain aches.

I am spent. 
More coffee consumption.

I am exhausted.
More coffee consumption.

I feel like I could sleep for weeks.

More coffee consumption.

I will get used to this new schedule.  I always end up learning how to cope.  But until then, if you need me, you will probably find me sitting on my porch with sleepy eyes, most likely with a book of medieval British history in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other. 

Friday, August 10, 2012

thoughts on a solitude that perhaps isn't truly solitude

I don't know if you have noticed this or not, but I have not really chronicled here about my experience the past ten days with solitude.  I have shared words from others, and I have scribbled words to myself in my journal, but when I perch myself before my computer to tap out my thoughts, nothing comes to fill the terrifying white space space before me. 

I sit here on my porch on this cool morning with a blanket tucked up under me and a cup of coffee in an earthy green mug beside me and a little white dog perched on my lap.

And I fear that I have nothing to say to you.

My fear partly stems from squirming in the uncomfortable space of belief that I am doing this solitude thing all wrong.

You might reassure me that as long as I am spending time alone, I can't be doing it wrong.

But I am not so sure.

I have spent my moments in solitude, yes, but I am never really alone.  This early morning, for example, there is a tug within me to shut my laptop, lean against the back of the couch on my enclosed porch, wrap my chilly fingers around my warm mug of coffee, and watch the world wake up.  I could do this.  Matt is gone to work.  It is 6:30 in the morning and my two children are still asleep.  The crickets are chirping their early morning song.  The trees are waking up against the backdrop of a sleepy, watery blue morning sky.  No one needs me right now to pour a cup of ice water or kiss a bonked head or soothe an injured heart.  I could stop clicking keys, snap my laptop shut.  And just be.

Yet I resist. 

I have been resisting.

Instead of just being, in my moments of solitude I have filled the space with words.  They are good words.  I have lingered over beautiful sentences, puzzled over confusing thoughts, and penciled in my own meandering ruminations.  I literally have seven pounds of alphabetically-listed words sitting right beside me, just in case I don't know what a word means or my own words don't capture my thoughts just right. 

Technically, I am spending those hours in solitude.  But is it really solitude? 

If I sneak down to the basement with a spoon and fill my stomach with the strawberry ice cream in our deep freeze, does that mean I am not eating just because I am consuming it alone?
Likewise, if I spend my hour of alone-time in the morning hungrily filling the empty space inside of me with words, am I truly in a space of solitude just because I am ingesting those words alone? 

I don't know.
I feel the call to sit and simply be.
I answer that call by opening a book and shaking out its words into that terrifying, empty space. 
It doesn't feel quite right.

I have 25 minutes left of solitude this morning.
Perhaps I will be courageous enough to close the lid of my laptop, pour myself another cup of coffee, and just be.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Words Lifted from Terry Tempest Williams' _When Women Were Birds: Fifty-Four Variations on Voice_

Yet again, I am writing a post with words that are not my own.  I promise that my blog has not become a blog of quotes rather than my own thoughts.  However, some words just must be remembered, and as the Thomas Merton words and, today, the words from Terry Tempest Williams are from library books (i.e., I can't write in them), they must be recorded.  Today's quotes from Terry Tempest Williams are lifted from her book When Women Were Birds: Fifty-Four Variations on Voice.  I am fairly certain that I am going to have to buy this lyrical and haunting book for myself.  I have been adding to this post for a few days, never quite knowing if I will post them for others to read or keep these words to myself.  This morning, though, as I finished the book with tears dripping onto the pages of this book that is not even my own, I realized I had to share them.  You can decide whether or not to read them.  Honestly, I would encourage you not to read these words lifted out of context here on my blog, but to read them nestled inside the poetry of the book itself.  But if you want a taste of the beauty of her words, here are some to enjoy:

Actually, I lied.  First, here are some words from Tillie Olsen that she quotes:  :)

"Literary history and the present are dark with silences . . . I have had special need to learn all I could of this over the years, myself so nearly remaining mute and having to let writing die over and over again in me.  These are not natural silences--what Keats called agonie ennuyeuse (the tedious agony)--that necessary time for renewal, lying fallow, gestation, in the natural cycle of creation.  The silences I speak of here are unnatural: the unnatural thwarting of what struggles to come into being, but cannot" (18).

And now the words of Williams:

"When silence is a choice, it is an unnerving presence.  When silence is imposed, it is censorship" (25). 

"Beauty and bravery meet--within the chambers of a quivering heart" (37).

"I fear silence because it leads me to myself, a self I may not wish to confront.  It asks that I listen.  And in listening, I am taken to an unknown place.  Silence leaves me alone in a place of feeling.  It is not necessarily a place of comfort" (57). 

"Silence introduced in a society that worships noise is like the moon exposing the night.  Behind darkness is our fear.  Within silence our voice dwells.  What is required from both is that we be still.  We focus.  We listen.  We see and we hear.  The unexpected emerges" (58).

"Finding one's voice is a process of finding one's passion" (80).

"Perfection is a flaw disguised as control" (89).

Discussing her powerful reaction after seeing L'Origine du monde by Gustave Courbet at the Musée d'Orsay:
"We come into the world through women, a woman who is spent, broken open, in awe.  No wonder women have been feared and worshipped ever since man first saw the crowning of a human head here, legs spread, a brushstroke of light.
"We are Fire.  We are Water.  We are Earth.  We are Air.
"We are all things elemental" (91).

"When we don't listen to our intuition, we abandon our souls.  And we abandon our souls because we are afraid if we don't, others will abandon us.  We've been raised to question what we know, to discount and discredit the authority of our gut.
"I want to know why.  I regret whenever I abandon myself.  But harboring regrets is making love to the past, and there is no movement here.  It's not the lips of a prince that will save us, but our own lips speaking. 
"I am breaking beyond my own conditioning, breaking set with what was breaking me" (114-15). 

"The courage to continue before the face of despair is the recognition that in those eyes of darkness we find our own night vision" (119).

"We borrow.  We steal.  We purchase what we need and buy what we don't.  We acquire things, people, places, all in the process of losing ourselves.  Busyness if the religion of distraction.  I cannot talk to you, because I have too much to do.
"I cannot do what I want, because I am doing what I must.  Must I forever walk away from what is real and true and hard" (154-55)?

"'How is your shadow--your honorable shadow?' This was a customary greeting between friends in Japan, a recognition that what we reject is as important as what we embrace.
I walk with my shadow behind me, sometimes ahead, and often to the side.  It is my capricious companion: visible, then hidden, amorphous.  A shadow is never created in darkness.  It is born of light.  We can be blind to it and blinded by it.  Our shadow asks us to look at what we don't want to see.  If we refuse to face our shadow, it will project itself on someone else so we have no choice but to engage" (174). 

"I am a woman wedded to words.  Words cast a shadow.  Without a shadow there is no depth.  Without a shadow there is no substance.  If we have no shadow, it means we are invisible.
"As long as I have a shadow, I am alive" (189). 

"I want to feel both the beauty and the pain of the age we are living in.  I want to survive my life without becoming numb.  I want to speak and comprehend words of wounding without having these words become the landscape where I dwell. I want to possess a light touch that can elevate darkness to the realm of stars" (204).

"Once upon a time, when women were birds, there was the simple understanding that to sing at dawn and to sing at dusk was to heal the world through joy.  The birds still remember what we have forgotten, that the world is meant to be celebrated" (205).

Friday, August 3, 2012

Morning Thoughts from Thomas Merton

I started to write these quotes in my journal but it was taking too long, so I decided to copy them here.  I copied them really more for me, since I am guessing not too many people want to read a string of quotes.  However, if you are into string-of-quote reading, these are some beautiful and moving quotes to read. 

From Thoughts in Solitude by Thomas Merton

The desert is the home of despair.  And despair, now, is everywhere.  Let us not think that our interior solitude consists in the acceptance of defeat. We cannot escape anything by consenting tacitly to be defeated.  Despair is an abyss without bottom.  Do not think to close it by consenting to it and trying to forget you have consented. 
This, then, is our desert: to live facing despair, but not to consent.  To trample it down under hope in the Cross.  To wage war against despair unceasingly.  That war is our wilderness.  If we wage it courageously, we will find Christ at our side.  If we cannot face it, we will never find Him (8).

It would be absurd to suppose that because emotion sometimes interferes with reason, that it therefore has no place in the spiritual life.  Christianity is not stoicism.  The Cross does not sanctify us by destroying human feeling.  Detachment is not insensibility.  Too many ascetics fail to become great saints precisely because their rules and ascetic practices have merely deadened their humanity instead of setting it free to develop richly, in all its capacities, under the influence of grace (12).

Living is not thinking.  Thought is formed and guided by objective reality outside us. Living is the constant adjustment of thought to life and life to thought in such a way that we are always growing, always experiencing new things in the old and old things in the new.  Thus life is always new (17). 

Without courage we can never attain true simplicity.  Cowardice keeps us "double-minded"--hesitating between the world and God.  In this hesitation, there is not true faith--faith remains an opinion.  We are never certain, because we never quite give into the authority of an invisible God.  This hesitation is the death of hope.  We never let go of those visible supports which, we well know, must one day surely fail us.  And this hesitation  makes true prayer impossible--it never quite dares to ask for anything, or if it asks, it is so uncertain of being heard that in the very act of asking, it surreptitiously seeks by human prudence to construct a make-shift answer (cf James 1:5-8).
What is the use of praying if at the very moment of prayer, we have so little confidence in God that we are busy planning our own kind of answer to our prayer (24)? 

There is no neutrality between gratitude and ingratitude.  Those who are not grateful soon begin to complain of everything.  Those who do not love, hate.  In the spiritual life there is no such thing as an indifference to love or hate.  That is why tepidity (which seems to be indifferent) is so detestable.  It is hate disguised as love (32).

Gratitude [...] is more than a mental exercise, more than  formula of words.  We cannot be satisfied to make a mental note of things which God has done for us and then perfunctorily thank Him for favors received.
To be grateful is to recognize the Love of God in everything He has given us--and He has given us everything.  Every breath we draw is a gift of His love, every moment of existence is a grace, for it brings with it immense graces from Him.  Gratitude therefore takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, is constantly awakening to new wonder and to praise of the goodness of God.  For the grateful man knows that God is good, not by hearsay but by experience.  And that is what makes all the difference (33).

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Thoughts on a month of seeking solitude (upon which I lose any extroverted reader I might have had)

It's Day 1.  It's early morning.  I am sitting out on my side porch.  I hear the cicadas humming and some poor bird that sounds like a dying squeaky toy.  Unfortunately, when I look outside I see my side garden, which is producing lovely tomatoes but nothing else, and because we have abandoned taking care of everything but the tomatoes, it is looking quite sad and overgrown and rather shameful.  I am sipping coffee, of course.  My poor Leia with her broken leg is lying beside me, her hopes dashed because yet another morning went by when she did not get to go chase her frisbee.  I have done the morning office.  I have written in my journal.  And here I am.

Now what?  How do I use this precious time?  Last night I had sushi with my dear friend Kelly, and she asked me what I was going to be doing this month.  I had no idea.  I mean, I had a sketchy idea in my head, but not a very good one.  I thought I would figure it out this morning.  Unfortunately, I had much of the night to think about it, because I didn't sleep very well (thanks to an unsettling letter from our Amish friends yesterday--sometimes the cultural and spiritual divide is so deep between us I worry that it is a chasm into which our relationship might fatally fall).  I have also already spent 30 minutes this morning journaling my hopes for this month. 

First, the logistics.  I am committing to an hour of solitude a day.  This means getting up earlier than usual, and once school starts, this means getting up at a godforsaken time that should leave me utterly despairing and ready for bed by 7:00 a.m.  We will see.  I know I could spend my time in the evenings, and once school starts I may do that--or I may divide my time up with 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the evening.  We'll see.  I just love morning, once I get past the whole getting out of bed part. 

This morning I asked myself what I was supposed to do for this solitude experiment, and the answer came back to me: "whatever you want."  Well, that's a lovely thought, isn't it???  I do think I need to impose the restriction that my hour of solitude cannot involve technology, unless I am writing a blog post.  This will require utmost resistance to temptation, as "writing a blog post" does not involve checking Facebook or the JoCo library page to see if a book has come in or that article I clicked from PBS this morning about iDisorders (I did actually just re-check that article to see if it was written idisorders or iDisorders, but I didn't actually read the article, so I don't think that counts as cheating).  Never fear, I am sure that cheating will be involved at some point. 

So, what to do?  Here is my list so far.  I fear that it is a treacherously boring list.  To some, this list might be included in a blog post entitled, "How I Spell Torture," but for me...this is bliss.  (Really, though, I hesitate to share this list.  Perhaps you will truly realize what you have always suspected, that I am created from cells that are exceptionally dull, insipid, and uninteresting.)  Anyway, here it is.  Judge away:
  • Praying the Liturgy of the Hours.  I think I will include this time.  I did this morning.  It doesn't take very long, but I don't want to become resentful.
  • Journaling
  • Writing blog entries
  • Reading (both books on solitude AND books for pleasure.  Someone please remind me of this one.  I NEED to allow myself time to read for pleasure, for the beautiful ache of a lovely sentence).
  • Walking (this would have to be in the evenings or on a weekend, and not for exercise)
  • Visiting a coffee shop (again, an evening or weekend thing)
  • Visiting a museum (again, an evening or weekend thing)
Am I missing something else?  Obviously I am not adept in the pursuit of solitude, which is silly since I seem to have such a primal need to breathe it, drink it, and taste it.

Since I am just coming off of my month of praying the offices, I feel like I need to put something spiritual on my list like "pray" or "read the Bible."  Quite frankly, however, that is not how I want to spend my hour of solitude.  The last thing I need to do is make this hour duty-oriented.  That would evaporate any joy or healing right out of it. 

I do have a booklist for the month, of course.  Here's to hoping I make time to read all of these (plus something truly delicious and lovely in the not-reading-for-education department). 
  • Thoughts in Solitude by Thomas Merton
  • The Power of Solitude: Discovering Your True Self in a World of Nonsense and Noise by Annemarie S Kidder
  • The Call of Solitude: Alonetime in a World of Attachment by Ester Schater Buchholz
  • Fifty Days of Solitude by Doris Grumbach
  • Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain
I think another idea would be to pursue mini solitude breaks during the day.  However, my children have a radar for such things.  They intuitively know when I take a load of dirty clothes down to the basement or shut myself in on the other side of the bathroom door or sneak up to the attic to put away laundry.  It's uncanny, really.  However, if I seek those tiny moments to myself, maybe I can create the space for them. 

So...I raise my coffee cup to you this morning and say, "Here's to solitude."  Happy August. 

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Reflections on my month of fixed-hour prayer and a sneak peek at next month's project

Today marks the end of my month-long project of praying the Liturgy of the Hours.  I must admit that I am proud of myself.  As I said in a previous post, I am an idea person, not so much an implementation person.  I love ideas that are lofty and grand, but when it comes down to executing those ideas, when my romantic notions of those ideas die a brutal death in the nitty-gritty of real life, I often just give up. 

But this month, I didn't give up.  I wasn't perfect.  Absolutely not.  I tend to be able to pray three out of the four offices a day.  The one I usually miss is vespers, which is unfortunate, because that one usually involves singing a hymn.  There were a few times when there was just too much ugliness inside of me, and I just could not pray.  And I didn't.  However, there were other times when there was just too much ugliness inside of me, and I just could not pray.  And I did it anyway.  There were also times when I was too tired to pray, too busy to pray, too distracted to pray.  And during those times I either consciously or subconsciously forgot to go sit down with my book, The Divine Hours.  And there were also those times when I was too tired to pray, too busy to pray, too distracted to pray.  And sometimes I sat down and prayed anyway.

I started this Amish-hippie project with the hope that it would make me more mindful, and instead of starting on all the outward Jill-improvement projects, I decided to start with the core of me, my soul.  I feel like I started the project with this idea that I was standing awkwardly on the earth and staring up at the sky with a rope in my hand trying to lasso God into my daily life.  What I found is that I didn't need to lasso God into my life.  Instead, God lowered a rope to me and He hung on with me as I swung wildly about desperately trying not to fall into an abyss of despair.  Quite frankly, I didn't realize how often I hovered over the dangerous precipice of despair.  I seem to be able to avoid that precipice when I never stop running.  But when I stop, I realize I am not running at all, but dangling, hanging on by a thread.  And I feel like I'm still dangling, but the rope I am clinging to is a little thicker, a little stronger, a little more secure, and my grip is a little tighter.

I sit here with wonder and realize that I am a different person than I was 31 days ago.  Fixed-hour prayer has changed me. 

Fixed hour prayer has taught me to stop. stop cleaning up the kitchen to pray for my daughter's confidence on her karate test. stop grating ginger to chat with a friend who needs me. stop listening to the radio and just chop the ginger. stop staring at the stupid computer screen and look my children in the eye when they talk to me. stop my endless battle with my to-do list in order to spend the evening with Matt. stop and just be present in the melancholy fog that has lately wrapped its tendrils on my soul. stop my impatience right in its well-worn tracks when I am trying to write a blog entry and Jack is asking me questions about the mystery of sticky things (not that that is happening right this second and probably causing me to write a completely incomprehensible blog post).

I have no intention of wrapping up this month of praying the offices by closing my book tonight after compline and not looking back.  I hope (I pray) that tomorrow morning, when it is August 1st, that I will still open my book and pray the morning's liturgy.  I feel like fixed-hour prayer has been a seed that has planted itself into my soul, and I hope that I continue to water and nourish and weed around that fledgling plant. 

Tomorrow, however, is a new month, a new discipline.  I wanted to write more about what next month's project will be, and maybe I will have more time later, but for now I will just tell you what I am going to pursue:

The art of being alone, of nourishing my soul with its desperate need to be alone.
Once again, I look forward to this month with both excitement and trepidation, with both hope and fear.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

hope is the thing with feathers...

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune--without the words,
And never stops at all.
                              ~Emily Dickinson

This morning the first stanza of the above Emily Dickinson poem danced through my scattered thoughts.  I love this poem.  I love the bird imagery.  Birds are, for some mysterious reason, incredibly meaningful to me.
They are free. 
They are fragile. 
They are strong. 
They soar. 
They nest. 
They sing. 
They hope.

Lately, I have felt a bit like a bird with an injured wing.  I am feeling a bit fragile.  I have protectively tucked my brood up under me in my nest.  And I also crave the healing melancholy of solitude. 

There are moments, too, when I am free.  When I am strong.  When I soar.  When I sing.  When I hope. 

And it's OK, right now, that I am a bit fragile, and that I feel the need to stay close to my nest and wrap myself up in solitude. 

And it's OK that sometimes I can see the light of hope, but it's a bit far away.

And it's OK to rest in those moments when Hope is right in front of me, when I can read it, I can feel it, and I can venture out of the shadows and into its light. 

Hope is a bird.
Hope is light.
I hope. 

My incredible husband, Matt, who keeps me tethered to hope, took all of the pictures in this post.