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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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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Pregnancy 30 Weeks (Self Portrait)

DSC_0565Earlier today I saw my reflection in the glass of the map of Beaufort we have hanging on the wall, and it looked nice.  So I took a picture. 10-ish weeks left to go.  Already having a little trouble bending over to fasten boots, and my coat doesn’t zip.

We had a pancake feast for lunch today, which is becoming part of our family Lent tradition. (Sundays are considered feast days during Lent, days on which to break your fast and celebrate.  So part of our celebration involves eating pancakes.)

Yesterday we went over to our friends’ house, where John and the guy bottled the batch of beer they’d started a few weeks ago.  I stayed inside and chatted over tea with the wife while she made a chocolate cake.  They had just started their maple syrup, which was simmering in the woodshed.

Last night I made a Moroccan chickpea salad (from 101 Cookbooks). With carrots and chopped up prunes, of all things.  I needed something to take to a potluck, and our fridge and pantry are getting bare, but I did have some prunes, a can of chickpeas, half a lemon, and a few carrots.  It was delicious and is my new obsession.  Everyone, make it and tell me what you think.

words for Lent

“Let no one hope to find in contemplation an escape from conflict, from anguish or from doubt. On the contrary, the deep, inexpressible certitude of the contemplative experience awakens a tragic anguish and opens many questions in the depths of the heart like wounds that cannot stop bleeding… This torment is a kind of trial by fire in which we are compelled, by the very light of invisible truth which has reached us in the dark ray of contemplation, to examine, to doubt, and finally to reject all the prejudices and conventions that we have hitherto accepted as if they were dogmas. Hence it is clear that genuine contemplation is incompatible with complacency and with smug acceptance of prejudiced opinions. It is not merely passive acceptance of the status quo, as some would like to believe– for this would reduce it to the level of spiritual anesthesia…. what a holocaust takes place in this steady burning to ashes of old worn-out words, cliches, slogans, rationalizations! The worst  of it is that even apparently holy conceptions are consumed along with all the rest. it is a terrible breaking and burning of idols, a purification of the sanctuary, so that no graven thing may occupy the place that God has commanded to be left empty…” (Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation, 13).

words for lent

“The imagination is continually at work filling up all the fissures

through which grace might pass”

–Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace, 16

Lent: A Different Kind of Fasting

One of the readings for today, Ash Wednesday, is from Isaiah 58.  It’s kind of embarrassing, really, what this passage says.  It’s awkward.  It says that religious people like to fast and perform religious rites, and in their fasting and rites, say to God, “Hey, look how great we are!  Look how much we are doing for you!” (Is. 58:3).

And then God says, “Even when you fast, you are still just living for yourself, seeking your own pleasure and oppressing the poor.” (Is. 58:3). So you can give up chocolate, or beer, or TV, but it doesn’t make things right.

The passage goes on to say: “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh… Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer… if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted?” (Is. 58: 6-7, 10).

It seems like the Bible is saying that it would be better for us to bring some homeless people into our house than to give up chocolate for a few weeks. But that’s a little crazy, right?  To think that suffering people are our own flesh and blood, that we are supposed to pour ourselves out for the hungry?  And somehow fix oppression, and save people from wickedness?  How, exactly, are we going to accomplish this?

To be honest, I don’t know what to do with this passage, but I think it’s important to talk about what it means for Christian community.  I think it’s also significant that Isaiah of breaking yokes and lifting burdens.  Because of course Jesus comes along later and says that if we come to him, he will give us rest, that his yoke is easy and his burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30). He has ultimately released us from the bonds of wickedness and the yoke of oppression.  He has fed and clothed us, taken us into his home and called us his own flesh.

And somehow, in the midst of our Lenten practices as we fast or don’t fast or whatever we do, I hope that we can move a little more toward the rest that Jesus promises for our souls, a rest that involves us also pouring out our lives for the poor, somehow.

Some ideas for A Different Kind of Fasting for Lent

* Fast from going out to eat and use the money to help establish sustainable food sources in impoverished communities

* Fast from buying new clothes and use the money to provide food, water, and medical care for a child

* Help rebuild some trailer homes or let a high school girl move in with you or adopt 14 girls or something crazy like that.

* Consider being a foster parent— the foster care system pays for day care, so you can do it even if you have a job

Lent Meditation: Psalm 3

“O LORD, how many are my foes, many are rising against me, many are saying of my soul, there is no salvation for him in God. But you, O LORD, are a shield around me, my glory, and the lifter up of my head.  I cried aloud to the LORD, and he answered me from his holy hill” Psalm 3:1-4

The Psalm begins with an honest cry, describing to God a desperate situation.  The only word of address or introduction is “O LORD”– the prayer is raw, messy, and not uttered according to formal rules or regulations.

You don’t have to get fancy and proper and have your life together when you come to God.  You come when you feel like you are surrounded on all sides by enemies, troubles, and grief.   This Psalm is attributed to David when he was fleeing from his son– who wanted to kill him.  In the face of broken relationships and possible death.  And these things that oppress us externally, they also get inside us and speak to the very inner core of who we are that there is no hope.  As the Psalm says, “there is no salvation for you in God.”  There is no remedy, no solution, no one to make things right.  You and the world you inhabit are too far gone.

But the Psalm doesn’t stop there.  The prayer continues: “But you O LORD, are a shield around me, my glory, and the lifter up of my head.”

The word for glory, kabod, literally means heaviness, weight.  It is translated variously as abundance, riches, splendor, honor, and glory (Brown-Driver-Briggs, 458).  This word, kabod, is often used to describe God’s glory (as well as the glory of kings, actual wealth, etc.).

And here the Psalmist, himself a king, radically claims that God’s glory belongs to him.  God’s honor and riches and abundance.  Or maybe rather, he is saying, “Even though I am a king and I have plenty of my own glory, when it really comes down to it, what makes my life significant, what gives me real weight and honor, what keeps me from being crushed by these circumstances is not my wealth, not my status as king, it’s God.”

And that’s what he remembers in his prayer: the glory, the kabod, the abundance and riches of God.  That is his shield and his protection from all the things that oppress him. That is what gives him the courage to pray, and the confidence that he will be answered, that his enemies do not have the final word.

Psalms for Lent

Tomorrow marks the beginning of Lent, the church season of preparation before Easter. Often, super religious folks will give up something, like chocolate.  It might seem like a silly ritual, and it can certainly be done in a way that is disconnected from much meaning.

This year for Lent I am going to read through the Psalms, the prayer book of the Bible.  I think that makes about 25 psalms per week.

Even if you’re not a Christian, the Psalms are beautiful poems about the deepest questions and anguish in life.  This book of the Bible might give you a deeper insight into what it means to be a Christian than almost anything else.  John Calvin famously described the Psalms as “the anatomy of all the parts of the human soul.”  All longing, hope, despair, and joy are contained in them.  All questions, all doubts, all fears.  And all comfort and hope.  You can find them online here, or in the very middle of any Bible.

I would love to have some company as I read through these.  Please leave a comment and let me know if you want to read through them with me during Lent!

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