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.
...to stop cleaning up the kitchen to pray for my daughter's confidence on her karate test.
...to stop grating ginger to chat with a friend who needs me.
...to stop listening to the radio and just chop the ginger.
...to stop staring at the stupid computer screen and look my children in the eye when they talk to me.
...to stop my endless battle with my to-do list in order to spend the evening with Matt.
...to stop and just be present in the melancholy fog that has lately wrapped its tendrils on my soul.
...to 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.

Monday, July 23, 2012

on broken bones and just plain brokenness

On Saturday our Jack Russell, Leia, broke her leg.  This new little development in our family is going to complicate my life a bit, I think.  Those who know Leia know that she is a little white and brown bundle of endless energy.  She wants to play.  All the time.  She is now forbidden from playing.  For six weeks.  Would you like to know how I am spelling torture these days?  s.i.x.w.e.e.k.s.  I seriously don't know how we are all going to survive it.  Leia has a prescription for sedatives.  I do believe I am going to need one as well.  We will survive it, though.  Her leg is broken.  Her eyes are kind of sad and confused (except when she forgets she has a broken leg and brings me her rope or ball and looks up at me with those limpid brown eyes and begs, begs, begs me to throw her toy).  But her leg is all wrapped up, and she will heal, and the day will come when I will wish I could refill her sedative prescription just so I don't have to throw that ball one.more.time. 

I wish I could get an x-ray of my soul, because if I had one, I think a doctor might tell me that my soul is a little broken right now, and that I need to wrap it up and nurture it and be nice to myself for six weeks or so until it heals again.  Soul x-rays just don't exist, however, and besides, I can't point to a specific event that fractured my soul, like we can with Leia.  Maybe I have a stress fracture of the soul?  That is more like it, I think.

This past week the image that has kept flashing into my mind is of me in some sort of freefall.  For some strange reason I have been fighting against despair, and I don't really know why.  I have no real reason, which is frustrating to me.  (Not that I am wanting a legitimate reason to despair, of course, but if I don't know what is causing it, how can I fix it?)  It's interesting, because while I don't think that doing the Liturgy of the Hours seems to be making a significant difference in how I am feeling emotionally, I do think that each time I stop to do the morning office or midday office or vespers or compline, it feels like a rope is lowered down to me that I can grasp hold of and hang on to for a bit before starting to fall again. 

Yesterday morning I had a very unexpected rope handed to me.  Matt was supposed to be the liturgist yesterday and read the Call to Worship and the morning's Scripture reading.  I must say I am a bit jealous of this role.  For some reason reading aloud the Call to Worship or the scripture for the day at church always tugs at something inside me way down deep, and I find it incredibly meaningful.  Yesterday Matt needed to take Leia to the vet, so I volunteered to do his reading for him. 

And then I looked over Matt's shoulder at his computer to see what the Call to Worship would be.  And this is what it was:

Ring the bells that still can ring.
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything.
That's how the light gets in.

Those lines by Leonard Cohen are so often my mantra when I tend to lurk in the shadows of chiaroscuro and shy away from the light that those shadows are making.  And yesterday, I got to stand in front of the church that I love and speak those words of truth to others who were lurking in the shadows, and to myself. 

Ring the bells that still can ring.
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything.
That's how the light gets in.  Amen. 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

stitches of grace

Today is my 19th day of attempting to go through the liturgy of the hours each day. Here's what I have discovered in the past week: fixed-hour prayer is a discipline. I technically knew that, of course. At first, however, it was all easy-peasy and simple and pretty and baptized in the happy chirping of early-morning birds or the steaming comfort of an evening cup of tea. But now I see what I knew to be true but did not understand: fixed-hour prayer is a discipline, and sometimes it's really, really hard. 

What about those days when I don't want to pray?
What about those dark moments when I fight hard against shadowy despair and the last thing I want to do is read a Psalm that praises God?
What about when I am comfortably nursing a little grudge and then have to pray, "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us"?
What about when I just want to sleep?

And the answer is.........
I trudge on. I do it anyway.
There have been days that I did skip an office or two. But usually, I have discovered that while there is not necessarily joy in such a discipline, there is something about the discipline of the liturgy that stirs me way down deep. When I sit still long enough God has some time to stitch me up in His grace a little more. And even if I don't feel better when I close my book and go about my day, I think that those tiny stitches of grace are healing me in some raggedly torn places.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Untangling Myself from Devil's Snare: Thoughts on Harry Potter and Grace

This week, I'll admit, has been rough.  I allowed some tendrils of despair to wind their way into my soul and start to choke the life out of me. 

I don't think there was one day this week that I did all four offices. 
I ended up in the emergency room with my daughter. 
I was smeared with ugliness from someone whose acceptance I crave. 
I started to feel embarrassed about this blog and worried that it was perceived as some poorly written, pointless, narcissistic venture. 

Truthfully, that's where I so often get stuck--in the vice-like grip of failure and fear and rejection and embarrassment. 

Failure.  Fear.  Rejection.  Embarrassment. 

Have you read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone?  There's this part at the end where Harry, Hermione, and Ron are trying to get to the Sorcerer's Stone, and they have to go through this series of traps to get to it, and one such trap is the Devil's Snare.  I couldn't remember the name of the plant this morning, so I looked it up on http://harrypotter.wikia.com/wiki/.  This is what that site says about Devil's Snare:  "Devil's Snare is a plant with the magical ability to constrict or strangle anything in it surrounding environment or something that happens to touch it.  Struggling or resistance to Devil's Snare will cause the plant to exert a greater force of constriction.  [. . .] The harder a person struggles against Devil's Snare, the faster and more tightly it binds them; if they relax, it will not kill them as quickly.  Devil's Snare prefers a dark, damp environment.  It will stop movement in the environment in front of bright light and will recoil away from the heat of fire." 

Failure, Fear, Rejection, and Embarrassment are my Devil's Snare.  And the more I fight them and struggle against them when my soul is especially dark and damp, the more they strangle, the faster and more tightly they bind me. 

I haven't spent the week completely tangled up.  There have been moments when my Devil's Snare has recoiled away from light, moments when I stopped struggling and turned toward some light and felt free.

When I actually did the offices I felt free.  Usually.  Sometimes, the words seemed far away and I didn't connect with them.  But often some words were able to wind their way into my soul and untangle things a bit.

Then, yesterday I received the following email from a friend from church:
"I've been feeling the need to re-establish some disciplines, so I started yesterday with the book of hours that you are using. I'm looking forward to it!"
That encouraging email was certainly a bright lantern that loosened the grip of the Devil's Snare. 

My most poignant moment of light was on Wednesday night, which was when, for whatever reason, I was fighting most against despair.  I had gone to bed to read, and I was sleepy, but then Rachel and I had a funny texting conversation, and I was actually able to laugh a little.  After awhile I realized that if I was going to stay awake through Compline that I needed to stop texting. I texted her I needed to go say my evening prayers, and she texted back that her alarm just went off for Compline, so she needed to go, too.  I opened The Divine Hours and started to pray,
May the Lord Almighty grant me and those I love a peaceful night and a perfect end.  Amen.
And then I started to cry.  Because my dear Rachel was praying those words at her home in Manhattan while I was praying those same words at my home here in Kansas City.  I understood, for a magical moment, the depth of meaning behind that cascade of prayer to God that I talked about in another blog post.  I can't explain it, exactly, but at that moment I felt connected to God and connected to Rachel and connected to the many people in this world, or at least in my time zone, who were offering up those same words to God at that same time.  It was a beautiful moment.  It was a holy moment.  It was a moment where my soul lay free in the lap of grace instead of the choking grip of Devil's Snare.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Amish House-Sitting Diaries

First, an order of business: I didn't realize that I had yet to set up the "follow by email" button until someone asked me about it.  I have added one now. 

Some people have wondered if I ever put any sort of diaries up about our Amish farm-sitting trip.  I thought that every once in awhile I will copy part of my journal here.  I wasn't planning on doing this, so I'm not sure how interesting it will be, and obviously I will leave out anything both incredibly boring or incredibly personal, but here you go....  :)  I think I will add any additional commentary in italics. 

Thursday, 5/24/12
12:15 p.m.
We are on our way to the F____'s!  Can't believe this day is finally here!  I hope this ends up being a wonderful experience. 
We have so much stuff packed.  I know I overpacked, probably compensating for my insecurity about what we are going to have to do without.
We just ate at Freddy's.  I had a bacon blue cheese burger and fries.  It was way, way, way too much food, but it was super yummy.  I felt like I had to load up on food because who knows what we will be eating!  (i.e., I may very well end up starving myself and my family for the next five days!!!)

Friday, 5/25/12
11:45 a.m., porch swing
We made it!  And we are surviving.  Maybe not quite thriving...but definitely surviving.

I felt so weird when we got here yesterday.  It was like the ghosts of the F____'s were still here, and I felt a little unsetttled.  The kids immediately started playing with the one kitten we found in the barn (we didn't find the others until today--by the woodshed.  I was so afraid that the other had died and that we were responsible for this life of this one little white kitten!!  Then last night she disappeared!  And we had a storm!  And I knew she was dead.  Thankfully we now have 4 kittens accounted for).

Matt and I wandered around a bit.  I snooped around a bit (nothing very exciting!).  Then I persued cookbooks.  That was overwhelming.  I checked out the canning cellar in the basement and scouted out my options.  There is a  lot down there--just I'm not sure what to do with what I have!  Let's see what I remember: beets, green beans, applesauce, pickled peppers, chicken broth, chicken, pork chunks, ground venison, venison chunks sausage, pureed winter squash, tomato squash, tomato juice, ketchup, meatballs in tomato sauce, broccoli, apples, peaches, milk.
So--today I finally came up with my meal plan:
  • chicken stir-fry over rice (with broccoli, sugar snap peas, and broccoli from the garden)
  • meatballs in tomato sauce (we are going to Hy-Vee later--hoping they have gluten-free noodles) We went to the grocery store once on this trip, because it is amazing the things that I consider "staples" that they do not--like peanut butter and brown sugar and soy sauce, for example. 
  • sweet and sour pork over rice (with broccoli, sugar snap peas, and asparagus from the garden)
  • egg, cheese, and sausage casserole (I never actually ended up making this--I am trying to remember what I made instead)
  • Breakfast: oatmeal and eggs
  • Lunch: egg salad, I brought some deli meat and cheese and crackers
(I should mention here that we drank A LOT of milkWe got 4 gallons of milk a day from Juniper the cow, so whenever the kids would tell me they were hungry I would try just handing them a glass of milk.)

We sat by the pond for awhile, and then we started the chores!

We started with the cow.  Matt and I stared at the empty field.  He called--HI-YUP!  HI YUP! and she came!  Miracle!  We got her in her spot and then started to milk.  (Last night I made sure we had clean hands and that we washed off her udders.  This morning I didn't care so much.)  We got 2 gallons of milk!  Hooray!  Before that I guess we took care of the horses--just had to feed them and set them out to fresh pasture.  We gathered the eggs before we did the other chores (obviously I am not remembering things in order).  Amélie gathered the eggs, except one hen was still sitting on her egg.  Matt and Amélie were a little afraid to stick their hands under her--she did have piercing, disapproving orange eyes--but finally I did it and she didn't peck at me.
When we were doing the chores in the barn it started to rain.  We had a nice thunderstorm.  Then, we looked outside the barn door and there was a full rainbow!! It was amazing!  It gave us hope!

Finally, at around 8:00, we started on dinner.  We had had a big lunch, so I decided to make egg salad.  We had egg salad, lettuce, sugar snap peas, cottage cheese, milk, and bread that they had made for us.  We left the mess (We were SO TIRED).  We cleaned it up a bit, but it's an ordeal to heat the water, and they had left their breakfast dishes, so we decided to clean up in the morning.  We were tired.  We put the kids to bed in the basement.  Then Matt and I sat out on the porch and talked a bit.  It was so nice.  Would have been nicer if we weren't so tired. 

We found out in a note they left that another couple is going to ask us over on Sunday.  Ugh.  I don't want to do that!!  I just want to be here and not get stressed about talking to people or helping fix and clean up a meal (this especially makes me nervous because I feel so inept).  I should mention here that it is not that I am a wretched guest who doesn't like to help when I am at someone's house.  It is just incredibly stressful for me to help out in their kitchens.  They are so incredibly deft and efficient at everything they do, and I feel clumsy and insecure.  They are always very gracious--it's me, not them.  Not sure what to do.  I fear we would be rude not to go.  Ack!  Not sure how to handle the situation.  Am living in fear a bit about when they come calling.

Last night we slept in M_______ and J_______'s bed.  Now that felt a little weird.  We fell asleep to the sound of bull frogs (and coyotes).  I woke up several times but really slept quite well. 

It was nice to do things by kerosene lamplight last night.

Jack is having the hardest time adjusting.  He misses orange juice.  And games. 

Chores were trickier this a.m., because the cow came in the barn and then trotted (do cows trot?) right back out!  I could see milk squirting out of her udders.  Poor Matt had to go way down by the field to get her back in!  I was worried that we wouldn't get enough milk, but we got another 2 gallons.

After chores I fixed breakfast.  We have the propane tank hooked up to the stove for now so I had to do 3 separate cookings--oatmeal for Matt, Jack, and me; then oatmeal for Amélie (gluten-free), then eggs.

The kitchen kind of always smells like milk.

We all helped clean up.  It took at least an hour to wash all the dishes and get the floors swept and put everything away.  We sang songs, though.  That was nice. 

Then I got ready.  Not sure when we are going to brave the bath.  I cleaned up.  Poured water over my head.  Got ready. 

To be continued another day! :)

Monday, July 9, 2012

morning mercies
Day 8

Wow!  Day 8!  I officially have one week of liturgical prayer behind me.  I think I would give myself an "almost-A" for my efforts this week (can't bring myself to give me an actual "B," although I am not sure what else an "almost-A" would be).  First, it's time for confession.  On Saturday I missed midday prayers because I was out shopping with my mom.  I had actually planned ahead for being gone.  I even made copies of both midday prayers and vespers that morning and planned to tuck those copies into my purse to murmur to myself in the bathroom or something (I wasn't sure how I was going to pull that off yet, and I am just not ready to be weird enough to whip out my prayers and inform my mom over lunch in a public restaurant that we are going to do the midday office together.  Apparently, I am a closet liturgical pray-er.).  But, I accidentally left the copies neatly folded on top of the stereo receiver, and therefore I was off the hook.  I promise it was an accident, although I have absolutely no control over what my subconscious helps me conveniently forget.  Then, I guess I was out of practice, because on Saturday night I was reading The Cloister Walk before bed, and despite the fact that the book is about Kathleen Norris's stay in a monastery and frequently mentions liturgical prayer, I finished my chapter, closed my book, and went to sleep.  Compline never even entered my thoughts until the next morning. 

Obviously fixed-hour prayer isn't exactly a habit yet.  I am finding that if it is within the two- to three-house allotted prayer time, I should probably go ahead and stop what I am doing and read and pray when I think about it, because I may not remember until hours later.  And actually, I would do well to transfer this wisdom to other areas of my life.  I am, apparently, the queen of "I'll do it later," and then it doesn't get done, and then I get frustrated and feel bad about myself and spend so much time feeling bad about myself that I forget to do the next important thing.  It's a vicious cycle. 

One unexpectedly uncomfortable side effect of liturgical prayer is that stopping to pray four times a day is like stopping to look into my soul's mirror four times a day.  I think that that sort of peering was rather easier when I was just doing the morning office, because it was a new day, and while I may have uttered a PG-13 word while Jillian Michaels was torturing me, my kids weren't even up yet, so I was still in the good graces of God's morning mercies.  But by midday I am sometimes I mess. 

Actually, yesterday I was a mess for the morning office, but that was because it was a Sunday morning, and I slept in a bit, and while Matt blissfully slept on (as he had every right to do) I had bathed Jack and fixed him breakfast and gotten ready and assembled my grocery list for a mad, pre-church dash to Natural Grocers before I even sat down on the porch for morning prayers.  In fact, I was halfway to my car before I stomped--I mean, walked--by up the deck stairs, flung open the door, snatched up the Divine Hours, and plunked myself onto a chair with my stinky bad attitude wafting up to God like some truly unacceptable burnt offering.  Then I prayed the "prayer appointed for the week," which is a prayer said during the morning office, the midday office, and at vespers:

O God, you have taught me to keep all your commandments by loving you and my neighbor: Grant me the grace of your Holy Spirit, that I may be devoted to you with my whole heart, and united to others with pure affection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen" (Tickle 192).

Well, fine.  So maybe my neighbor technically includes my demanding 5-year-old and my snoozing husband.  And maybe I needed a teeny tiny grace transfusion.  And maybe my heart was too cluttered with frustration and stress and annoyance to consider myself devoted with my whole heart.  And maybe I wasn't exactly feeling "united to others with pure affection," especially during yesterday's evening hours when I obsessed over the injustice of a snarky comment I convinced myself was lobbed my direction.
Ouch.  Ouch.  Ouch.  Ouch.  Ouch.

It's not like I feel like God is shoving his words or these prayers into my face and yelling at me.  It's more like He is sitting beside me on this porch, and he is completing ignoring both my bedhead and the cup of coffee I am offering Him to distract Him, and He is saying very gently, "OK, Jill.  You have some yucky stuff festering in this heart of yours.  Let me just peel back that bandaid over your heart a second and take a peek."  [And this is where I start yelping, "Ouch!  Ouch!  Ouch!  Ouch!  Ouch!"]  And he very kindly looks at that ugly heart-wound, and I only see compassion on his face, not judgment.  Then he adds a little more ointment, covers my heart back up with a fresh bandage, and He pats my hand and says, "Yes, there is still an infection, and it's bad, but all that icky stuff has to be drawn to the surface before your heart can heal.  You're coming along just fine."  And then I believe that maybe, just maybe, I could swallow that tincture of grace today and accept God's morning mercies and move a little bit further towards whole-hearted devotion and pure affection.  At least, I'm going to try.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Day 6

Good morning!

It is Friday morning, my sixth day into practicing The Liturgy of the Hours (I still have to flip through the introduction to my book each time I write that, because the terminology still feels a bit awkward, like I am trying to make words trip easily off my tongue and then they get stuck there instead and I stutter). 

Last night I did finish my Anne Lamott book, so I am back into the land of liturgy study.  I did happen to check my library account this morning, and another book I desperately want to read is on hold, but I am going to refrain from picking it up until Monday.  This noble feat has everything to do with my admirable self-discipline and absolutely nothing to do with the fact that my library is closed on Friday and that I will be gone all day tomorrow and unable to check out the book until Monday anyway. 

My studies are sparse and limited, and quite truthfully, I don't want to miss out on the beauty of the simplicity of keeping the hours by making it an intellectual venture.  However, my ignorance is staggering, so a little education for me is in order. 

First, in my glaring ignorance, I honestly thought that praying the hours was something invented by the ritual-oriented Catholic church.  I suppose it makes sense that I would think that, since what little I knew about fixed-hour prayer was the vague idea of what I believed happened at monasteries.  I don't even know that I realized that people could be wrapped in their own solitude and not a monk's cowl in order to practice the ritual.  But in fact, the beauty of fixed-hour prayer is that it is both a solitary and a communal event.  The idea, which I am sure everyone else knows except me, is to be part of "a cascade of prayer being lifted ceaselessly by Christians around the world" (Tickle, The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime, xii).  Much of this prayer is praise: "I will confess you among the people, O Lord; I will sing praises to you among the nations. For your loving-kindness is greater than the heavens, and your faithfulness reaches to the clouds" (Psalm 103:3-4).  Even desperate pleas to God include some praise: "In your righteousness, deliver and set me free; incline your ear to me and save me" (Psalm 71:2).  This paradigm of prayer is starkly different than my paraphrase of this prayer, which is usually more like, "Listen to me and help me.  Now."  No praise involved.  Instead of "a cascade of prayer being lifted ceaselessly," I offer more along the lines of a cascade of whining being lifted ceaselessly.  I think God's ears must be hurting a little less these past six days, because I have been whining at him less.  You're welcome, God. 

Because Macrina Weiderkehr, in her book Seven Sacred Pauses, can say it much better than I can, and also because Jack is hungry and talking to me about zombies so now my brain space is too cluttered to create my own thoughts or even paraphrase another's, I am going to leave you with some of Wiederkehr's wise and beautiful words about the act of pausing throughout the day to pray:

"We practice pausing to remember the sacredness of our names, who we are, and what we plan on doing with the incredible gift of our lives--and how we can learn go be in the midst of so much doing.  We have to practice loving and forgiving.  We practice breathing and being careful with one another's life.  We practice nonviolence.  We practice enjoying what we have rather than storing up possessions.  We practice silence.
"Our being is often crowded out by our doing.  Each day we are summoned to be creators of the present moment.  Artists know the value of white space.  Sometimes what isn't there enables us to see what is.  Perhaps you are being called to the spiritual practice of bringing a little of the white space--of nada--into your workday.  There in that white space you will find your soul waiting for you.  Allow the anointing rhythm of the hours to touch and teach you each day" (14).

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Day 5

My morning ritual.

As I typed the caption to the above photo, I realized how in just five days reading through the hours has become a ritual.  My morning ritual isn't so different, except that so far I have been much less likely to skip the Morning Office and peruse Facebook instead.  But I never did the Midday Office or Vespers and rarely did Compline.  Now I do.  And I love it. 

I love it that I am carving out time to write about my experience, too.  Right now, for example, I am sitting on my side porch with my coffee and laptop, watching a mama sparrow feeding her noisy and demanding babies.  She also seems to be interested in mating again, which, if she were to ask me my opinion, I might suggest she wait until her current babies are out of the nest.  Maybe she just needs a release from the daily grind of feeding hungry babies all the time.  I guess I understand that feeling. 

My goal for this week was to do some research on fixed-hour prayer, but what actually happened is that when I went to the library on Monday the new Anne Lamott book was on hold for me, and I abandoned all study of fixed-hour prayer to read her book.  No worries, though, because I am spending an inordinate amount of time reading through the book so I can soon buckle down to serious study.  Unless another really, really, really interesting book happens to come in for me at the library.  I am the queen of literary distraction. 

Since yesterday was 4th of July and all, I am going to leave you today with this morning's Concluding Prayer of the Church, an apt prayer for our nation and all nations and we the people within those nations who should be working for justice and for peace:

Lord God Almighty, you have made all the peoples of the earth for your glory, to serve you in freedom and in peace: Give to the people of our country a zeal for justice and the strength of forbearance, that we may use our liberty in accordance with your gracious will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
(from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle)

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Day 2

Yesterday I failed.  Yesterday, now that I think about it, I failed in a lot of ways (ugh), but the failure in relation to this project and this blog is that I didn't do the Midday Office.  I just totally forgot.  Actually, that's not true.  I remembered before lunch.  And then I remembered around 1:00, when I told myself I had a whole hour to remember, so I was fine, fine, fine with lots of time, time, time.  And then I remembered again at 4:00.  Oops. 

So, it took me until the second day of my project to fail.  I suppose I shouldn't be surprised.  It was good for me, though.  I didn't immediately consider abandoning the project.  I didn't immediately chalk myself up as a total failure.  I did sort of make up for my negligence by combining the Midday Office with Vespers yesterday evening while everyone else was at karate. 

I don't know that I was all about doing the make-up homework so much, though, as seeking some sort of desperate heart-change.  My household yesterday was grumpy.  Super grumpy.  The kids picked at each other.  They picked at me.  Perhaps I picked at them a (teeny tiny) bit.  I medicated at dinner with an egregious portion of summer sweet corn pasta (and no, of course I didn't spend half of the clean-up time after dinner picking out those savory pieces of bacon in that pasta salad that had delicious bits of parmesan, ricotta, and basil stuck to it).  We don't eat a lot of pasta in this household anymore since Amélie has a wheat allergy and since I have done enough research to suspect that wheat may, in fact, be a bit evil.  We ate quinoa/corn pasta last night, but it was close enough to wheat to resemble a medicinal dose of exorphin-producing carbohydrates. 


I combined the Midday Office and Vespers basically because medicating myself with carbs didn't help.  I am glad I combined the readings, because a salve for my soul much more effective than a carb fix was the simple, desperate "Cry of the Church" from the Midday Office: 
Lord, have mercy on us.  Christ, have mercy on us.  Lord, have mercy on us.

So today, when Jack intuitively calls for me as soon as I sneak downstairs to breathe a moment without interruption and to throw in a load of laundry, I will pray...
Lord, have mercy on us. Christ, have mercy on us. Lord, have mercy on us.

And when Amélie bossily "mothers" her brother and incites his rage:
Lord, have mercy on us. Christ, have mercy on us. Lord, have mercy on us.

And when Matt comes home and doesn't display appropriate sympathy about my icky day:
Lord, have mercy on us. Christ, have mercy on us. Lord, have mercy on us.

And when Matt comes home and I forget to ask him about his day because I am too busy whining about my own:
Lord, have mercy on us. Christ, have mercy on us. Lord, have mercy on us.

And if I forget the Midday Office or Vespers or Compline:
Lord, have mercy on us. Christ, have mercy on us. Lord, have mercy on us.

And for those moments when you fail today, too:
Lord, have mercy on us. Christ, have mercy on us. Lord, have mercy on us.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Day 1

Yesterday was my first attempt at doing all four offices: The Morning Office, The Midday Office, Vespers, and The Night Office, using Phyllis Tickle's The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime. I managed to fit in all of them, and truthfully, it wasn't very hard.  It isn't a major time commitment, actually.  The experience, and perhaps at some point the difficulty of doing the offices, is the discipline of stopping, just stopping, to read and to pray.  I imagine that scheduling will be difficult sometimes, too.  Yesterday, for example, I realized that The Midday Office is supposed to be done between 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m.  I knew that I would be gone from 11-ish - 4-ish, but when we left for church at 11:10 I just read through The Midday Office in the car while pretending to be deaf so that I could get it read during the 10-minute drive to church.  Worked just fine.  Especially the pretending to be deaf part. I should mention here that I am supposed to do each office on the hour or half hour.  I am not even going to try to attempt that.  Not even try. That just isn't do-able.  I will fail at that goal at least 87% of the time, and then I will quit.  I think God was OK with hearing morning prayers at 6:36 this morning.  I certainly hope so anyway.
I journaled a bit last night about my experience yesterday, and I will share some of that here:
First, about the fact that I even have a blog...
I started a blog.  I posted my first entry last night.  I feel excited and exposed and vulnerable and defiant and scared and hopeful.  We'll see.
And then I moved on to share about the day's experience...
It has gone well.  I was excited to get up this morning to read and pray.  I wanted to do this right away, but then, of course, Jack wanted breakfast, and coffee had yet to be made, and Matt was playing music that was a bit irking and distracting, and it took me a while to get outside with my book.  I decided that instead of doing The Morning Office while seething about the fact that Matt was playing annoying music that I would just ask him if we could pause his music for a few minutes.  He said "yes," of course.  That was difficult.  Why can't he be a little more accommodating?  ;)  But then when I went outside to our front porch he followed me with his journal.  I started to read to myself, and then he asked me to read aloud, so I did.  I spent much of the time being preoccupied at what Matt was thinking and wishing that the reading seemed a little less traditional and a little more profound.  I feared that he wasn't impressed.  It was fine, though.
I did Vespers at around 5:00 this evening.  I had just returned from my Aunt May's 100th birthday party, and I was spent.  It was nice to see everyone today, but it wore me out.  After I got home I decided to unload the dishwasher, and I was kind of cranky about it, but then I decided I would do Vespers instead.  So I sat out here on my side porch in the heat and read through the Vespers reading.  I could hear Jack having problems with the video game he was playing on the computer, and I didn't want to help him.  I didn't want to be interrupted!!!  I wanted to be left alone so that I could pray--damn it!!!  Lovely.  Anyway, so I finished.  As I sat there I figured that Vespers was going to change me and that I would probably go back into the house and be more peaceful and wouldn't it be nice to blog about that?  Only I wasn't more peaceful.  I was, if possible, crankier.
However, I would still count today as a success.
I will try not to bore you to death with journal entries, but I thought yesterday's was a better description of my day than I might be able to concoct this morning. 
Today I am going to take the kids to library, where I hope to sit there and read a bit about the history of liturgical prayer.  What is, in fact, going to happen is that I will help Jack with his strange book requests and play the game he likes to play of using the library's approximately thirteen magnetic letters to spell words for him.  (They seriously need to invest in more magnetic letters.  Perhaps I should request when I contribute my next library fine check that they use my donation to purchase a complete set of letters.  Two sets would be nice.)  But maybe I will get to soak up five minutes worth of reading on the history of liturgical prayer.  I have a feeling that I have much to learn.  I just sort of threw myself into this experiment with absolutely no knowledge. 
Oh!  But I do have something exciting I want to share.  I made a wishy-washy promise early in the summer that I was going to do a 48-hour retreat at Conception Abbey.  And it hit me yesterday this is the month to do that, of course!  I'm scared to death!  But excited too.  I suppose the best way for me to learn about liturigcal prayer might just be to live it! 
I will finish today with the prayer that concludes every Morning Office:
Lord God, almighty and everlasting Father, you have brought me in safety to this new day: Preserve me with your mighty power, that I may not fall into sin, nor be overcome by adversity; and in all I do direct me to the fulfilling of your purpose; through Jesus Christ my Lord, Amen.