Free Jesuit Retreat for Lent

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Have I written about Pray As You Go at all here?  It’s basically one of the true joys of my life right now. Produced by some Jesuits out of England, it’s a podcast that walks prayerfully through one of the day’s lectionary readings and offers some questions for guided prayer. Along with the most beautiful music.  There is also an app and a website by the same name that contain some longer meditations and guided scripture readings/prayers. I just opened it up, looking for something to listen to as I try to slowly bring a bit of order to the chaos of our kitchen while the two imps are sleeping. And oh what a gift, there is a Lent Retreat, based on the last words of Christ. I’m out of fancy candles, but I’m going to light some tea lights and make a cup of tea and start listening. (Calling it a retreat is a bit generous, but there is something that feels good and luxurious about calling it that, something nurturing and sustaining.  I’ve taken to having in-home retreats when John has to travel for work, which is often, but maybe more about that later. Anyway, here’s to creating little spaces to breathe right in the middle of dreary March days when everything is messy and things aren’t going quite as brightly as they maybe could, bringing some calmness and joy into the work of dishes and laundry, and for tending to one’s soul in the midst of the “howling waste of the wilderness,” to quote Anne of Green Gables and the book of Deuteronomy.)

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Glimmers of Light on Dark Days (Candlemas)

Today is Candlemas. A mass for the blessing of candles. The day we remember the presentation of Jesus in the temple. It is a feast day in the church, a day of white vestments and (if one is fasting) a break from the fast. In France they eat crepes & in Mexico there is a tradition of hot chocolate and tamales. And while most of us are probably not going to bring homemade candles to a priest to be blessed (do they still even do that?) it is a day to remember, I think, that all the ordinary things are blessed. The pillows and brooms and dishes and the toys strewn on the floor. The ordinary parts of our day shine with the glory and beauty that radiates from the countenance of the Lord as he bends towards us. The rest of this post is copied and pasted from what I wrote last year. (I can do that, right?)

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(Last year I wrote this the day after actual Candlemas.)

Yesterday was Candlemas. I wanted to write all about how people used to take their candles to churches to have them blessed for the coming year, wanting the very light in their homes to be flickers of holy church-light. How in France they celebrate with crepes. How it’s the Holy Day that commemorates Jesus being brought to the temple when he was a baby and placed into the waiting arms of old Simeon, and how Anna the ancient widow beheld the face of her Redeemer. How Candlemas is probably rooted in wild pagan festivals to celebrate the ending of winter and the lightening of days, but how maybe we need all the wild festivals we can get our hands on when the world is so dark and so, so cold.

And I wanted to write about how this small, unnoticed holiday is maybe a holiday for the people who are waiting. Huddling under blankets, crying eyes out in the dark or in the car on the way to work. Waiting for things to change, waiting the long days of every month for a baby to get conceived, or for a husband, or to get healed, or for something to make this cold world feel not quite so broken.

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And then by the time I realized I wanted to write all of this, the day was waning and it was warm (40 degrees! In February!) so we all went outside and I played baseball with Will while Margaret sat in her carseat draped with a blanket, and then it was dinner time and the house was a mess and I was trying to cut up cabbage to sauté and dropping most of it on the floor because I was so hungry that my hands were shaking and then all the crying and screaming and bedtime drama, and then after the children were in bed I pretty much huddled under a fleece blanket in a state of shock or something. Drinking tea and reading My Mother’s Sabbath Dayscoughing piteously, like the rose in The Little Prince.

So I didn’t write what I wanted to write, which is this:

That we don’t sing songs about Anna and Simeon in Sunday school. We learn about the ark-builders, the giant-slayers, the ones swallowed by fish or walking through parted seas. We hear about the women who get babies: Hannah, Mary, Elizabeth. And all the miracles and angel choruses, and they are grand and we need every story of the dead being raised and the oil lasting and the bread being multiplied and the angels singing over fields of sheep.

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We don’t sing songs about the quiet old folks who sat in the temple and waited all those long, aching days.  But maybe we should. Maybe we need the unremarkable story of this old priest who served in the temple, doing ordinary things every single day, just “waiting for the consolation of Israel.”

And the old prophetess Anna who was at least 84 years old and had lived most of her years as a widow. She was single. “She did not depart from the temple, worshipping with fasting and prayer night and day.” (Luke 2:37). Her entire life was a prayer. She prayed; that’s who she was.

Anna and Simeon, they lived quiet days. Days of longing and ache and somehow of trusting and worshipping God in the midst of the longing and ache.

And then Mary and Joseph bring this tiny baby in and lay him in Simeon’s hopeful arms. And Simeon took the baby up in his arms and blessed God. Took the Consolation of Israel into his empty arms and thanked God. And Anna after all her unremarkable years or prayer, of inhabiting God’s house with no husband, no miracles, no displays of glory. Just being faithful in ordinary days. I like to think that when she saw the baby she knew instantly Who he was, picked up the folds of her dress, and ran over to him with the abandon and glee of a little girl. I picture her and Simeon passing the tiny baby back and forth, just laughing and dancing with joy.

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And maybe Isaiah was right when he wrote that the children of the desolate one will be more than the children of her who is married (54:1). Maybe the ones who wait the longest with the least will one day be blessed just a bit more? And maybe Saint John was praying the best prayer of all when he wrote the last prayer of the Bible: Even so, Come Lord Jesus. A prayer of longing for Jesus to return.

So until He does & until our desperate prayers are answered, we light candles against the darkness and eat crepes to makes us happy and read poems by Gerard Manly Hopkins and sing hymns and keep telling each other the good stories from the Good Book. We keep sweeping the floor and washing dishes and driving to work, doing ordinary things over and over again in the midst of our ordinary days. With broken hearts or broken bodies.  Waiting maybe for angels or manna or honey from a rock, but maybe it will only be the Messiah.

Untitled, for Loss of Words

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It has been the most beautiful fall imaginable here, the hills all aglow with scattered patches of bright green farmland and little specks of barns in the distance.  And we are only just now entering the slow decrescendo: the trees letting go of their leaves, letting them fall like flakes of gold or maybe like so many beautiful tears. Standing tall and strong as they lose their treasure, teaching us the grace of loss. A whole winter-long to learn and re-learn this lesson from them. I keep saying the Hopkins poem over and over in my head, “Margaret, are you grieving over Goldengrove unleaving?…” And then, the other one, this morning: “The Holy Ghost over the bent world broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

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Today all I can think is this, that the true ruler is a Prince of Peace, who leads by gentleness and grace. A King who turns swords into plows and speaks with dignity and courtesy to women and outsiders. May he return soon and make All Things Well. Until then, lighting all the candles I can find as flickering specks of hope, reading all the good Poems in the Good Book, and taking lots and lots of really deep breaths.  All shall be well and all manner of things shall be well:

For to us a child is born,

to us a son is given;

and the government shall be upon his shoulder,

and his name shall be called

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,

Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Of the increase of his government and of peace

there will be no end,

on the throne of David and over his kingdom,

to establish it and to uphold it

with justice and with righteousness

from this time forth and forevermore.

Isaiah 9

Valentine’s Day & Good poems for Lonely Hearts

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John was out of town for work all of last week. My mom came monday night, just in time for Ithaca to get cold again. The temperature was in the negatives this morning. She brought heart-shaped cookie cutters and we’ve made cookies and heart pancakes and oh lots of things.

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John came back & he and will made this heart garland (above) for me. (Based on this little Valentine’s Day book we’ve checked out from the library to read with Will. Kind of a deep book about how a little mouse makes a huge valentine and wants to find someone to give it to, but it’s too big for anyone else so he and the little girl mouse cut it up into smaller valentine’s to give to lots of people. I mean, that’s really deep for a children’s Valentine’s Day book, right?)

On these cold days we need all the strung up hearts and little honey-spice cookies and treats we can get. My toes refuse to warm up, even in thick wool socks and shearling-lined slippers. I vowed last year that I would never do another winter here, and well, here we are.

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(Above: Will and my mom doing one of many baking projects together; Will eating raw batter. Below: Keeping things classy with orange paper plates.)

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And maybe it’s just me and my enneagram type or my idealism or having read too many Jane Austen and L. M. Montgomery novels at an impressionable age, but even with all these babies and this really, really good man (and the sweetest parents ever and friends far beyond what I ever deserved) my heart still feels so lonely and so sad sometimes. And I wanted to write a whole thing about this, about Simone Weil and Augustine and the void and our hearts being empty and restless and all that, but I just am so exhausted from babies and toddlers not sleeping that I can’t.

But just very briefly. I wanted to say, especially on this particular day, that our hearts are made with this infinite empty space and this space aches so much sometimes. Even when you’re married. Even when you have little darling babies who are latched onto you 24 hours a day.

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And I wish I knew how to make it stop, but pretty much everything from Jesus to Anne Lamott seems to suggest that we just have to sit with the emptiness and let it be a little empty, without trying to stuff it down with all the chocolate in the world, cough, cough. not me, other people, I mean. Other people do that.

But Jesus, annoyingly, showed us that sometimes we have to sit in a garden and cry. Sometimes we have to pray, “God, why have you left me completely forsaken and alone?” And that is a hard prayer to pray. There is nothing fun or easy or cute about that prayer.  But maybe one of the main reasons I believe the Bible to be true is that the longest book in the whole thing is a book of poems.Poems for empty hearts. Poems for the betrayed, poems for the angry, poems for the soul-starved. Ok, so they are poem-prayers. And ok, the first and second ones are a little austere, if you’re starting from the beginning. You can skip around. 3, 4, 13, 16, 18, 22, 23, 27, 30, 31, 32, 40, 42, 46, 56, 62, 63, 69, 73, 84, 90, 91, 121, 130, and 143 are some particularly good ones.

And the beautiful thing about these particular poems is that they don’t leave us in our misery. There is plenty of room for wallowing and languishing and angst in these poems. They say that every single one of our tears is counted. Matters. But these poems carry us through the ache and into the holy, shining radiant love of God. They gently teach us that our own empty heart is not the center of all things but that the beautiful Home of God is the center of all things. And that that dwelling place, that lovely home, is what our hearts long for (Psalm 84).

And the other beautiful thing is that Jesus prayed all of these poems for us. He became the loneliest and most forsaken for us. And there are no depths we feel that he has not felt. And he is just gathering us all up &  oh so soon will mend all the broken hearts & wipe all the tears from the saddest faces and bring us all home. (speaking of which, pleasepleaseplease listen to this song.) Anyway, happy valentine’s day, y’all.

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Stories and Light for The Ones Who Are Waiting (It was Candlemas)

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Yesterday was Candlemas. I wanted to write all about how people used to take their candles to churches to have them blessed for the coming year, wanting the very light in their homes to be flickers of holy church-light. How in France they celebrate with crepes. How it’s the Holy Day that commemorates Jesus being brought to the temple when he was a baby and placed into the waiting arms of old Simeon, and how Anna the ancient widow beheld the face of her Redeemer. How Candlemas is probably rooted in wild pagan festivals to celebrate the ending of winter and the lightening of days, but how maybe we need all the wild festivals we can get our hands on when the world is so dark and so, so cold.

And I wanted to write about how this small, unnoticed holiday is maybe a holiday for the people who are waiting. Huddling under blankets, crying eyes out in the dark or in the car on the way to work. Waiting for things to change, waiting the long days of every month for a baby to get conceived, or for a husband or for something to make this cold world feel not quite so broken.

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And then by the time I realized I wanted to write all of this, the day was waning and it was warm (40 degrees! In February!) so we all went outside and I played baseball with Will while Margaret sat in her carseat draped with a blanket, and then it was dinner time and the house was a mess and I was trying to cut up cabbage to sauté and dropping most of it on the floor because I was so hungry that my hands were shaking and then all the crying and screaming and bedtime drama, and then after the children were in bed I pretty much huddled under a fleece blanket in a state of shock or something. Drinking tea and reading My Mother’s Sabbath Days, coughing piteously, like the rose in The Little Prince.

So I didn’t write what I wanted to write, which is this:

That we don’t sing songs about Anna and Simeon in Sunday school. We learn about the ark-builders, the giant-slayers, the ones swallowed by fish or walking through parted seas. We hear about the women who get babies: Hannah, Mary, Elizabeth. And all the miracles and angel choruses, and they are grand and we need every story of the dead being raised and the oil lasting and the bread being multiplied and the angels singing over fields of sheep.

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We don’t sing songs about the quiet old folks who sat in the temple and waited all those long, aching days.  But maybe we should. Maybe we need the unremarkable story of this old priest who served in the temple, doing ordinary things every single day, just “waiting for the consolation of Israel.”

And the old prophetess Anna who was at least 84 years old and had lived most of her years as a widow. She was single. “She did not depart from the temple, worshipping with fasting and prayer night and day.” (Luke 2:37). Her entire life was a prayer. She prayed; that’s who she was.

Anna and Simeon, they lived quiet days. Days of longing and ache and somehow of trusting and worshipping God in the midst of the longing and ache.

And then Mary and Joseph bring this tiny baby in and lay him in Simeon’s hopeful arms. And Simeon took the baby up in his arms and blessed God. Took the Consolation of Israel into his empty arms and thanked God. And Anna after all her unremarkable years or prayer, of inhabiting God’s house with no husband, no miracles, no displays of glory. Just being faithful in ordinary days. I like to think that when she saw the baby she knew instantly Who he was, picked up the folds of her dress, and ran over to him with the abandon and glee of a little girl. I picture her and Simeon passing the tiny baby back and forth, just laughing and dancing with joy.

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And maybe Isaiah was right when he wrote that the children of the desolate one will be more than the children of her who is married (54:1). Maybe the ones who wait the longest with the least will one day be blessed just a bit more? And maybe Saint John was praying the best prayer of all when he wrote the last prayer of the Bible: Even so, Come Lord Jesus. A prayer of longing for Jesus to return.

So until He does & until our desperate prayers are answered, we light candles against the darkness and eat crepes to makes us happy and read poems by Gerard Manly Hopkins and sing hymns and keep telling each other the good stories from the Good Book. We keep sweeping the floor and washing dishes and driving to work, doing ordinary things over and over again in the midst of our ordinary days. With broken hearts or broken bodies.  Waiting maybe for angels or manna or honey from a rock, but maybe it will only be the Messiah.

Goodbye, Baby. Part II

I finally heard from DSS yesterday.  They found a place for the girls with some relatives who live about an hour away.  I took Little Girl there yesterday to visit them and to see her sister (who is already there).  They have a pretty house on a quiet street with neatly mowed lawns.  They have dogs and cats which will keep Little Girl endlessly entertained.  The family seems really wonderful.  I didn’t expect to feel good about letting Little Girl go someplace else, but I truly think it’s going to be a good place for her.  Of course as soon as I saw her big sister, with her big solemn eyes, my heart fell for her, too, and I wanted to take her home with me right then and there.

My mom had sent a box with some clothes and a baby doll for Little Girl, but she didn’t take to the doll (kept biting its head and throwing it to the ground) so I gave the doll to her sister yesterday, and she instantly cradled the doll and didn’t let it out of her arms the whole time we were there.

So anyway, last night was my last night of putting the pink pajamas with monkeys on her and putting her sleepy self into the crib (well, it’s a pack & play). Last night of checking on her before going to bed and seeing her all squinched up in some cute position.

I’ve packed up all her things, we visited with some other relatives in the park this morning, and then I rode with the case worker and Little Girl to her new home.   When we left, I kissed her goodbye and told her I loved her, but she didn’t seem to notice that I was leaving, which was hard.  She’s already lived in 4 or 5 homes that I know of, so I think she has already developed some pretty thick skin when it comes to trusting grown-ups.  She already knows that the people who take care of you either hurt or neglect you, or send you to another home for some reason.  So, so sad.

Not really sure what to do now.  I ate pretty much a whole box of Annie’s Mac and Cheese and now my stomach hurts and I need to find a place for her booster seat and some other things and I just don’t know where to start or what to do.

Right now I have to trust what I believe to be true, that Jesus, in dying on the cross, descended into the depths of human suffering and misery and took all of it into himself and reigns over it and is present in the midst of it and is going to fix it all One Day.  But also right now, I am only believing that in the thinnest, hanging on by a thread kind of way, and it doesn’t seem real or true.  On the drive home, while I tried not to sob like a baby in front of the case worker, I kept scanning the rolling hills and looking up at the blue horizon, hoping for some sign that maybe God would peel open the sky, send an army of angels or something, and start to fix this broken world, right now.  I didn’t see anything, no blazes of light or glory, and I didn’t feel any ounce of comfort or even hope,  but that doesn’t mean that the Holy Ghost wasn’t brooding over those hills– and over the Little Girls– “with warm breast and with ah! bright wings,” as Hopkins says.  Even so, come Lord Jesus.

Saying Goodbye Already

Little Girl slept 13 whole hours last night.  She ate some carrots with hummus tonight for dinner, which was the cutest thing I’ve ever seen.  She saw a dandelion tonight when we went for a walk and stooped down to blow the white fluff off.  I helped her, and she just laughed hysterically.

There is so much more I want to write about how precious she is, how smart she is, how much she makes me laugh, how I love her even though she’s been hitting me some the past 2 days and scratched me pretty hard tonight.  But for some reason I can’t think of what to say.

DSS called and they have found a family that can take both her and her older sister (who is elsewhere right now).  So they said tomorrow or Friday will be her last day with us.  I don’t know how to process this at all.  Because as soon as I saw her I couldn’t hold back any amount of love toward her.  I couldn’t hold back and love her just enough for a few days or a few weeks, the kind of measured and cautious sort of love that one should feel for a child who you know will be leaving you at some point.  I just loved her completely, and so did John.  She instantly became our baby, and we just wanted to hope that somehow she would stay our baby forever.

So anyway.  I don’t know if it will be tomorrow or the next day when she will go to her new family.  We knew that this would happen, and I am glad that she will get to be with her sister.  But damn, I didn’t think it would be this hard.

How Things Changed, Very Quickly

Last Wednesday I got a call from DSS.  There was a 1 year old little girl they needed to place.  I guess this is as good a time as any to mention that John and I got certified to be foster parents a couple of weeks ago.  I’ve kept my phone right next to me every second of every day, waiting for that call.  And finally they called.  We* said yes.  The case worker said that they would bring her over.

I waited a few hours, scrambling to find anything that might resemble something close to a toy for a 1 year old, starting some pancake batter since we don’t have any good toddler food, and scribbling down lists of what we would need to buy.   After a few hours, I called the case worker back to see what the status was, and he said that someone else was supposed to have called me, and that they were going to bring the little girl over the next day instead.

Which was good.  That gave me time to run to Mama Goose to buy a couple of outfits and a little doll, to Target to buy diapers and a cup and those little plastic things to put over outlets, and then to Wegmans to buy some cheese and whole milk and blueberries and then to Green Star to buy some unscented Dr. Bronner’s soap and some bread.

I didn’t unpack anything from the Target bags, just in case.  I didn’t take the tags off the clothes, just in case.  You never know what will happen, and there’s always the chance that a relative might be found to watch her or something.

But sure enough, the next day they called and asked if I could come pick her up.  I filled a little sippy cup with water and headed over.  I got there, waited in the lobby for about 10 minutes, and then was taken to the back, where a social worker was holding the cutest little year and a half year old girl.  After a few minutes of conversation and paperwork, they helped me bring her out to my car.  I had gotten a parking ticket (I didn’t have any quarters for the meter and had crossed my fingers– I filled out an appeal form today, so we’ll see how that goes!).  But I didn’t (and don’t) care about the ticket.

Because in the back seat of my car was a tiny little girl with the cutest dark curly hair, and I was now in charge of her.  So that’s why I haven’t written in ages.  I don’t have time to write much more because it’s almost 7:00 and I am about to fall asleep.  Little Girl went to bed at 6:30 tonight (she usually goes down at 8) and every night so far she has slept exactly 11 hours, so it looks like I might be waking up at 5:30 tomorrow.

More soon.

* I say “we” but I actually wasn’t able to get John on the phone before I made the decision.  He wanted to be a foster parent, obviously, but we had assumed that we would get to sit down and have a nice, long chat about the child, the situation, and make the decision circumspectly, together.  Instead, after I realized that I might not be able to talk with John on the phone for a few more hours, I called DSS back and said yes.  I was a little worried that John would be slightly freaked out by the hasty addition of a baby to his family, but he was just as excited as I was and instantly became the most amazing foster father ever.

while washing the many dishes

“The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the blessed sacrament” (Brother Lawrence quoted in Richard Foster’s Prayer, p. 124).

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