Thursday, February 23, 2012

Days of Gray 4 {Lent Begins}

I had these grandiose plans of writing several posts about the practice and growing interest or re-discovery of Lent,especially in  less orthodox circles. But as seems to be happening more often than not lately, my ideas were waylaid by travel and health concerns that needed attending too. If there is no other sign of growth in me than this though, it is enough-- that I am less bothered by my waylaid plans than I used to be.

So Lent began and I was holed up in a hospital room, but grateful still to be there. It's funny how Lent is a season of preparation, but the more that you look forward to it, the more you spend time preparing for this season of preparing! So even though I was alone with my child in a city far from home, with no church to attend and no community arround me to engage with, I was ready to begin.

Today, I want to just share a few simple reasons why I think the practice of Lent, on a personal level, can be so helpful and important. It seems like with most things that really change and affect us, time is needed. That is the first idea behind Lent, or any "season" really. It affords time to think and mull over, to give space in your life and your heart and your soul forthe weight of important things to sink in and root themselves. Often, we come to Easter Sunday and either glide through it unaware of how flippantly we've treated the greatest celebration of our faith, or we try to engage but feel disconnected and rather disappointed in ourselves for our lack of enthusiasm- though outwardly we give lip service to this most "glorious" of days.

I think Lent can be a real remedy to both of those problems. It gives us time to pepare. But more than that, it can be a transforming time in and of itself. Any time you choose to offer yourself in a posture of humility and discipline yourself for the sake of growth, a change is bound to take place.

Traditionally, Lent has included certain disciplines such as self-examination and repentance (which come about through Scripture meditation, and prayer), fasting, prayer, and meditating on specific portions of God's Word. We joke about what we are "giving up" for Lent, but the practice of fasting is a very real and practical way of limiting ourselves in some outward physical way, in order to make room for an inward spiritual humility. I have never been good at fasting. This year, I thought long and hard about some ways (being very pregnant) I could attempt to fast from things that would be meaningful enough to me to help me get in this posture of humility. One way, among a few- is what those empty coffee cups are about up at the top of the post.

Perhaps one of the often missed and significantly important parts of Lent is the action steps that are to be taken as well. It's not just about self denial and increased prayer times. There are disciplines of increased giving, acts of generosity, sacrificial caring for those in need. Often the combination of fasting from something that you spend your resources on can also be turned into ways you can increase your giving to others. This is also not an easy one for me. It takes some thought- and the idea of sacrifice, however noble is not one easily swallowed when it comes right down to it.

But all in all, I think of Lent as like a gift. We are people made for seasons. We don't live our lives on a flat line, we need the troughs and valleys, the ceelbratory times as well as the ordinary . Lent and the Easter Triduum (from Maundy Thursday to Resurrection Sunday) are one of those heightened seasons and in the pattern of Moses, Elijah, and Jesus we can walk a road that leaves our clay pots glowing brighter with the radiance of our Savior.


This year, I have thoroughly enjoyed and found helpful the book by Bobby Gross called Living the Christian Year, which gives helpful background to the different seasons and traditions of the church calendar, as well as weekly devotional guides and Scripture readings.
But to be honest, sometimes too much of a good thing is not a good thing and I try to just read out of onlyone resource per year.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Days of Gray 3 {Feelin the Love}

Pink hot chocolate, a little bit of murky sunshine, homemade cards.
Can you feel the love?

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Days of Gray 2 {He Who Builds}

"He turns rivers into a desert,
springs of water into thirsty ground,
a fruitful land into a salty waste...
He turns a desert into pools of water,
a parched land into springs of water.
And there he lets the hungry dwell,
and they establish a city to live in;

Whoever is wise, let him attend to these things;
let them consider the steadfast love of the Lord."
~from Psalm 107

It is that time of year when people start to break their news. Staying. Or going. Last year I was baffled to discover that we would have our own "we are leaving" announcement. I felt guilty and struggled to share it with our close friends-- because I know how hard it can be to be the ones who are staying, holding down the fort, continuing with the work, the vision, whatever it may be

Now here we are, listening to the announcements come out as they do in their yearly cycle. It is a part of living in this place that you brace for, almost trying to steel yourself against. Try as you might, the transience gets to you.

There are good announcements too. The ones you hoped would stay say yes, they are in for two more years. If you are incredibly lucky, you may even get the news that someone you have dreamed of joining you is in fact taking the plunge and will be arriving in the next year (such a thing has happened to us!!). When you are the one who stays, these decisions bolster you beyond words.

I watched my son beg his dad to help him build an airplane; just the simple kind, you know, the one with paper. He knows his dad can do it far better than he and he watches closely, even with a bit of awe or at least admiration as the folds and angles come together in ways he couldn't at this point in his life even dream of. And that thing soars. It crashes too. And it soars.

I love to watch them sit together, and I think of the things I can't put together on my own either: communities and staff morale and ten year plans (that are guaranteed to pan out anyway) and personal vision. It takes a bit of trust and admiration to watch someone else do it, someone bigger than you. Someone who knows just what they're doing and how to make things really soar; who has the crashes all worked out and can even pick those pieces up and make it soar again.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Days of Gray 1 {Rubberbands and Watermelons}

I began to trust the world again, not to give me what I wanted, for I saw that it could not be trusted to do that, but to give unforeseen goods and pleasures I had not thought to want.                                                ~ "Hannah Coulter" by Wendell Berry

Running at 30 weeks pregnant is no small pleasure for me. Though nearly the entire distance I am fighting with every muscle from the waist down to keep from wetting my pants, the lifting of my somewhat disproportionate body gives me a sense of lightness, mobility, strength, and release-- all of which are rapidly decreasing sensations for most of the day. I feel very much like a ball of rubber bands wound tightly around a watermelon, that slowly elongate themselves as I move down the street. I like to imagine I look like Wonder Woman, sleek and strong in full body spandex with her long hair flowing behind her and maybe a few gold cuffs to impress the bystanders. I know in reality what people see is a tall woman lumbering at a snails pace, often against the flow of pedi-cabs and scooters, wincing as though she wished a bathroom of any kind was near, but with a hint of a smile on her face.

It is funny, the things we find relief in, even joy. The uneven spacing between my children's teeth, seen when they smile or squint their eyes with belly giggles, the look of a newly washed floor and coming home to the scent of lemon and pine as I unload groceries. "What kind of meat is that?" the driver asked me, likely astounded at what looked like enough pounds of chicken to feed a large crowd for a week. It must seem strange to a man who lives in a place where you buy enough meat- if any at all- to supply the meal you are about to prepare, and that is it. He doesn't know the satisfactory feeling of comfort and pleasure it gives me to fill my small freezer, knowing I have prepared adequately for yet another week of meals.

He, the one who made me, who knows my name and walks with me the day long, always giving or taking away, leading or pulling or waiting, is present among all these griefs or joys of mine. There are times when that knowledge is barely a comfort, and I know that this is a fault that lies fully in me. Lately though, I am increasingly open, wide and accepting to His presence, and even purpose in these sorrows of mine-- and the joys he gives with grace, with patient knowing.

A sorrow too-- a world closed off to you, or one that disappoints-- is the surest way to open you up to all that is living outside of you. It is not guaranteed to do this. It can cripple you or shrink you deeper within your own cares and needs and hurts. But if you open yourself up to your sorrow, your disappointment, if you lay it before you like a bruised, even bleeding offering, and if you offer it to someone, to the Only One who can hold it and bear it and ultimately transform it or you, then you can begin to grow into the world that is outside of yourself.

Sometimes, especially of late, it has become so disturbingly clear that I shrink from living for others. I think it will be a life of losing-- what I want, what I hope for, what I simply like, what I believe will make me happy. And when I am faced with a life I think I don't want, it becomes all the more painfully obvious that I am tempted to be unwilling to live with a life I didn't ask for.

But He thunders into that kind of living. Sometimes it is a story, a small pleasure I didn't expect, a powerful word spoken from His Words, or in the quiet of my spirit. I am not sure how He is able to do it at times, those times when I feel so folded into my unwillingness. But He does it. And I find no small joy in the letting go, in the glimpse of the horizon that comes after a long climb up the ridge.

"Not where the flesh delighteth, the feet of Jesus trod." was something Amy Carmichael once wrote, and it seems like a hard word. It is funny to me, hard to understand, how that hard word can be so sweetly releasing. Like a woman running, tightly wound and wincing, yet full of joy.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Days of Gray 2012

The holidays of both east and west are over and all the festivity has been packed, or swept away. The darkness of early morning no longer holds its promises of the coming light of Advent. Routines are back in place, but the sun still hides from us. These are the long winter days in our corner of the world—the Days of Gray.
Into the cold and colorless sky walks Ash Wednesday, on February 22nd this year. It is an appropriate name for the opening day of an appropriate season because it begins us on the long march of death. Not just an aimless, depressing march, it is the Lenten walk through death and into Life-- the resurrection of the earth that has been submerged and shut up for so many months, which echoes the celebration of the Resurrected God-man, the Savior of the dying world.
It has been said somewhere by someone that we can endure anything, so long as whatever we endure has meaning. Every year, I enter these months and the challenges I face are different and the same. But if I choose to sit awhile, and let the season have its course, if I enter into the meditations and remembrances of centuries that have passed before me- step by little step the Gray Days can become infused with prismatic depth. So, increasingly the practice of Lent has become vitally important to the yearly rhythm of my mind and soul, and beyond that the practice of seeing through the Gray has become a living necessity.
The seeing for me cannot be merely about finding a photo each day that expresses some hint of color magically found in the bleakness of midwinter weather, or about naming three things I found to enjoy and offer thanks for. But neither can it be a singular Scripture or quote floating rapturously through my mind but untethered to the muddy footprints of my day, the ones I am pounding out in the flesh and bone of hours and minutes. *
Somehow, the two practices of seeing with the eyes and seeing with the soul must connect, weave, wrap their existential and physical arms around each other and whether in harmony or discord- they must meet. They must feed off of and into one another so that they can do what they were always meant to do—keep us whole, keep us healthy with Image-bearing humanity.
This is the daily challenge for me as a person- at once both an earth dweller and heaven-seeker as a floundering Jesus-follower. This is my meager explanation for an artistic little exercise called, Days of Gray. Words and thought and image—it is all combined—and if you like you can try to follow (or join) along as I post bits and pieces here.

*I don't mean to sound pretentious, or high and mighty in some sort of way that says I am a deeper thinker than mere thank-you lists, or posting a photo a day... but more am trying to express that any one of these things alone has not helped me much in the recent year, and I want to leave the boundaries open to include a variety of all of them- which is more the way my mind, and I think most people's minds, works anyway.