We are freshly back from the coast and celebrating the Feast of the Annunciation by making menu plans, doing laundry, pulling weeds, practicing piano. The house is blessedly clean and supporting all this work as we look forward to Holy Week.
Tonight we will make pizza together and maybe watch The Passion of Joan of Arc.
Utterly everyday. But that’s really the heart of the incarnation. God coming into our everyday. Startling!
We’ve lived in this neighborhood for 13 years now. The neighborhood is in flux, older houses being torn down, apartments and condos filling in empty lots. In the time that we’ve lived here, nearly all of our neighbors have moved. We’re now a part of the old guard.
A few years ago Jospeh moved out. He had lived in his house for over 60 years. He raised his six children there, and then nursed his wife, Phyllis until she died. It was time and past time that he not be in the house alone. He was unsteady on his feet, and he took the cell phone his children had gotten him and threw it in the toilet!
Joseph had the best raspberry bushes and a grape arbor that covered most of the backyard. In the summer, we could help ourselves to this bounty. After his wife died, his kids got him a kitten to keep him company. One more excellent reason for us to visit!
He loved Snickers and kept a stash hidden. He wasn’t supposed to eat them. But he always made sure our pockets were full when we left.
After he moved to a care facility, his children emptied out the house. They gave me a philodendron that had lived in a window box on the upstairs landing. It’s happily growing on our sunporch now, trailing across the windows above my desk, blessing me every morning when I get up to write.
Universal basic income–have you heard of this idea? Some people think it might be a help. This interview with Bernadette Mayer brings up questions of right livelihood, just compensation, and a living wage. And all in a poet’s voice–give everyone everything.
After I listened to the interview two times, I fell down the Bernadette rabbit hole. Here she is reading on her birthday:
Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift. –Revelation 22.17
It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Well, on the beach in late July celebrating my birthday is pretty wonderful too. But really? It’s hard to beat carols and twinkle lights and trees inside your house all to celebrate a baby being born!
This season also comes with a good bit of pressure to make things magical. But what if the magic and wonder are a part of the deal? It’s not something we can make or will to happen. What if the magic of Christmas is something to receive?
Lower Your Expectations
William Stafford says that if you’re writing and you get stuck, lower your expectations and keep going. Keep going. Everything in our culture tries to ratchet up our expectations. If you feel you aren’t measuring up, they can sell you something! But if the magic of the season isn’t dependent on us, things don’t have to be perfect to make a memory. Ma Ingalls says that enough is as good as a feast. What if your Advent celebrations were enough? What would it look like for you to lower your expectations in anticipation of receiving the gifts of the season?
Take Your Time
The world is full to bursting with beautiful, worthy, life-giving Advent practices. There’s Jesse Trees, saint days, Advent wreaths, and picture books everyday! But you can’t cram any of these into an already full day. Something has to go. Make room in the school schedule. Plan less than you think you need–good opportunities will present themselves! In our homeschool, we put our history and science spines on hold until the new year. It changes our routine and makes space for the extras that aren’t really extras. You have almost the entire month of December. Take it slow.
Even if you are lowering your expectations and taking your time, there’s still plenty to do to get ready! What if you took this coming week to do a little prep work? Clear out the library basket so there’s a place to put seasonal books. Double a meal or two this week.You can eat one, and stash the other in the freezer for a busy night later in the month. Declutter or spend 15 minutes each day working down the list from Apartment Therapy. You can’t do all these things–remember we’re taking our time and lowering our expectations! Take a deep breath, get quiet, and think about which one will make the most difference?
Look for a new series called Open Advent coming during each week of December. And in the meantime, a few favorites from the archives.
I was looking for something else entirely and foundthis description of what the University offerswritten by Brian Doyle: “creativity and innovation and epiphany and camaraderie and discovery and enlightenment and laughter and love, and of those things there is no end.” I was smitten with his words, loved the overflowing list, the way his prose always tips over into prayer.
About the same time I was thinking about our homeschool days together based on a frameworkcreated by Melissa Wiley. Many moons ago, she began reviewing her days with her children by asking if their days had included
encounters with beauty
ideas to ponder + discuss
To create our Rule of Six, I used most of Brian Doyle’s list and added some poems because our days always include poems.
It was just after midnight and I had been laboring for 24 hours. Things had stalled out and frankly I was glad for the respite. As far as I was concerned, I could do for a good rest. But the midwives knew that we needed to get things moving again and get that baby born. I laid my head down on the dresser when I overheard the midwife ask Andy to put on some music. She wanted something that we could dance to, something to raise the energy, and get labor moving again. She told Andy to play something I’d like.
I lay with my head down and smiled to myself. The midwife had set Andy on an impossible task. Let’s just say that I’m not known for my expansive taste in music–especially danceable music. I waited to see what he would put on, knowing there was no way he was going to get this right. And then I heard the opening song from Traveling Wilburys Vol I, Handle Me with Care.
Everybody’s got somebody to lean on
Put your body next to mine, and dream on
I straightened up and smiled. I never would have picked this album, but it was just what I needed to hear. All five of us started dancing around our tiny two room apartment. I got so warm I opened the front door. By now it was nearly 1 in the morning. I can’t imagine what our neighbors thought! And contractions started up again. Soon enough we were in the birth pool and I could feel the bag of waters swell with every push.
Brian Doyle says “that everything that ever happened to you is resident in your body if you can find the key.” Last night Andy was listening to music on Youtube, clicking from link to link as different songs were suggested–listen to this duet with George Harrison and Paul Simon.And then the Wilburys came on. And an over the hill supergroup tumbled open the locks of memory and brought that night right back to me.
One of the promises of Sabbath keeping is a re-ordering of time. In our culture we are told that time is money and if the return on investment isn’t high enough we should invest elsewhere. But Sabbath takes a step away from the always productive, always on, 24/7 model.
One way that I am living into this invitation is to observe Sabbath from evening to evening. And the best part of this simple shift? It makes sleep a part of the equation! It hallows the least productive time of our day and makes rest sacred. What a gift!
I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep: for thou, LORD, only makest me dwell in safety. –Psalm 4.8
This shift has also let me reimagine the time that’s available. It’s added a measure of spaciousness to the 24 hours.
There’s the evening of Saturday–where we sometimes make a leisurely, more celebratory meal together.
There’s night–where I might say compline before I go to sleep.
There’s Sunday morning–where I might make muffins or waffles or go for a run.
There’s church and a quick lunch before naps.
And there’s the open afternoon.
It’s so restorative to have these chunks of time creating space for a deep breath. Abraham Joshua Heschel says that Sabbath is an architecture in time. Instead of a holy place or pilgrimage site located in a particular place, Sabbath creates that same beauty and awe in time.
Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly. –Matthew 11.28-30
Sounds good right? Maybe even a little too good to be true. How in the midst of full and mostly happy lives are regular people supposed to get away?
Last year I wanted to go on a retreat but couldn’t find my way to actually planning it. The longing didn’t go away, and it wasn’t any easier to block out time to go this year. But Aimee Kollmansberger wrote a lovely guide called Creating Your One WomanRetreat that spurred me on to actually take the plunge and get away for a night. She talks about why we need time away and walks you through common roadblocks. She also pointed me to Jennifer Louden’s book The Woman’s Retreat Book. Both are excellent resources that helped energize and inspire me to move past the resistance and claim this time away.
Finding the Space
I spent my retreat at the Franciscan Spiritual Center. Can you believe that I’ve known about this place for 25 years, and this is the first time I’ve been there? It’s a lovely old house that’s an hour and a half away from my house on the bus–away from my normal routines and places but still very accessible. Aimee offers many specific suggestions for finding the right space for your retreat even if money is tight.
Food to Eat
When I arrived in the little town where I was staying, I walked to a cafe and got a fancy sandwich to take with me for dinner. I also brought tea and cookies and trail mix to snack on, plus boiled eggs for breakfast protein. The next morning I ended up getting an americano and a scone. I had access to a kitchen, but I knew that I didn’t want to be cooking. So the purchased food let me have a break from that aspect of my work and still get to eat yummy food!
Filling Up the Time
As soon as I arrived, I opened the windows and took a nap! When I woke up, it was time for my spiritual direction appointment. That meeting left me with a few pages of notes to think about but no other obligations or appointments. What a good feeling! I went for a walk, ate dinner, looked out the window, read, and even colored!
I wanted the time to feel spacious–a word that Sister Mary Jo used during spiritual direction. But I also knew that a loose plan would help anchor my time. I was guided by Macrina Wiederkehr’s Seven Sacred Pauses, a gem of a book that’s been singing to me for the past year. I wanted to say all seven of the hours of the monastic day. Structure, but no pressure to get things done. I also ended up reading two short books related to my vocation–19 Apps and Teaching from Rest. I had loaded the pdfs onto my phone and read the books that way. Worked great!
The next morning I walked down to the river. It was lovely to be on the water as the sun rose. I sat quietly at the end of the dock and watched the birds come and go till I finally decided that it was time for some coffee!
The quiet, the space, the time away from my daily work was a balm. I really can’t wait to go again and encourage you to take the first step of signing up for Aimee’s course. It will help you think through why you might be longing for retreat and give you ways to think through the sticking points.
I can’t let a whole month pass by without a post here. That will never do!
AP and I are celebrating the long, hot summer with a few challenges. We are aiming to write every day and run every other day. All sorts of things can count for my writing–found poems, haiku, very short blog posts promising more very short blog posts. And probably any sort of movement will count for me too. Though I really do want to keep improving my running game.
The thunder moon is coming full. I’m coming hard up on 43. We’re expecting visits from far away friends and a trip to the beach. So there’s going to be a little more activity this summer. Got to be a good thing, right?
February’s Snow Moon has come full, and March is marching on. We’ve got a trio of amazing feast days coming up–Patrick on the 17th, Joseph on the 19th, and the Annunciation on the 25th. But how will we mark these days? What small shifts can we make in the daily routine to mark this time as sacred?
The Magic of Simplicity
Some people create elaborate themed saints teas. For us in this season of family life, that’s just not realistic. We keep things very simple. Often we brew a pot of tea and read aloud from a book. We might add in a cookie; it’s a celebration after all. If the stars align, we might color together. A story shared aloud over a cup of tea. Simple. But the magic of simplicity is that it can happen in a reliable way. Through the goodness of the church calendar, we can remember again. We can make space for wonder and contemplation to happen.
The key to actually keeping things simple is to create a collection of trusted resources that you can return to over time. It’s great to have a basket full of seasonal picture books. But if I don’t happen to be on top of upcoming celebrations, the basket can be empty. We use The Loyola Treasury of Saints and Around the Year: Once Upon a Time Saints.
We love the Loyola collection for it’s luminous illustrations. It’s also organized by historical time period instead of the church year. It’s enlightening to realize who was a contemporary of a given saint. Around the Year is a treasure of a book. Ethel Pochocki’s writing voice is a blessing to read…and Ben Hatke’s drawings make us all so happy!
We love Paper Dalifor coloring inspiration! Here’s Vee’s amazing St Francis to get you started! This year for St Joseph’s Day we’ll be playing the memory game from Shower of Roses. These images of Joseph and his boy just sing to me! I’m also going to be praying these prayers from the Seven Sundays of Saint Joseph all week. Join me?
Ash Wednesday falls on March 1st this year. We have slowly been figuring out how we will keep the fast this year, the way coming clear among out of town travel and saint day celebrations. Here’s my four fold plan.
North :: Prayer
I’m going to read Pilgrim Principlesby Lacy Clark Ellman this year. Lacy’s blog and podcast have been such an encouragement to me these past couple of years. I can’t wait to dig into her book–even though my pilgrimages are rather local these days!
South :: Remembering
I’m using the free printable that Ann Voskamp created years and years ago. Seven gifts each day. Seven chances to come awake again the the wonder of this life.
East :: Community
As the days grow longer, I want to return to evensong. I know I won’t make it every week, but it does me such good to pray with that small and mighty group of people.
West :: Fast
Giving up liquor…again. It keeps being difficult and I keep trying.
During Morning Time, we’ll be creating a Jesus Tree using these new printables from Nancy at Do Small Things with Love. I love the simple, graphic illustrations. And all of the readings are from the book of Matthew. We are working on the Beatitudes for our Lenten Memory Work, so that ties in perfectly!
And Mary at SQUILT has created a listening calendar featuring a piece of sacred music for every day during Lent.