liturgical year, reflection, yes

on the Annunciation

IMG_7932
Artwork from pen&paint via Catholic Family Crate. Icon from the inimitable Nancy O (emmanuel_studio on Instagram)

There’s a certain sameness to days right now that has me constantly checking the calendar or my phone or my watch to remind myself what day it is. I’ve been as much as two days off, even during the same day…the proverbial woman/mom/grad student who checks the calendar for the date and immediately forgets what day it is.

(If there’s not a proverb about that person, there should be.)

I’ve written so many words here about the ordinariness of my life and the beauty I see in it. Sometimes I have to look really hard into the corners to find that beauty, but I can always find it if I look hard enough. Lately, though, things seem to be spreading out into a shallow grey puddle…the kind of grey that reflects a grey sky and becomes even more grey because of it. The things that made Thursday, Thursday or Sunday, Sunday are no longer there. It all feels like the same day to me.

This isn’t necessarily alarming yet, although it could be if it goes on for too long. So I’m doing the things I know will help me keep moving forward. I’m going to bed on time. I’m getting up on time. I’m praying the Liturgy of the Hours (which helps some with distinguishing the days, since I have to find the right pages). I’m upping my water intake. I’m taking a walk outside once a day, no matter the weather. I’m listening to lots of music. I’m trying to focus on what I have, on the people in front of me, instead of what I’ve lost and the people I can’t see right now.

The irony of becoming a stay-at-home online student of theology again after having moved across the country to study in person is probably worth its own blog post. In a short time, I’ve found a little community of kindred spirits at the School of Theology, lingering over lunch and having Big Conversations about Important Things, delighting in shared discovery and mutual growth and the thrill of accompanying each other as we brush up against the mysteries of the universe.

Now, my communicating with these same amazing people has collapsed to text-length phrases punctuated by emojis, and I can’t find the exact circular yellow facial expression I need to convey how I feel about it. After half a semester of feeling more like myself than I have in a long time (maybe ever), I’m back to typing out responses in boxes to online discussion posts at my kitchen table while my kids throw their opposing armies at each other in a RISK-related squabble over whether that die was a three or a six when it landed.

It could feel like a huge mistake. What was I thinking, moving everyone out here away from our families and support system, away from our community and our friends and “my” organ and the familiar mountains and running trails I loved? No, I couldn’t have predicted a pandemic. But what kind of responsible adult changes everything about her life to pursue a long-deferred dream over a thousand miles from home?

This one does, apparently.

But how can I complain about this? This is my kitchen table, and we have a window-filled kitchen to sit in. I’m still studying the thing that makes my heart beat faster. George is working from home, which he couldn’t have done before. This house even has a downstairs, so the fallout from the RISK-related conflict is more contained than it would have been in Virginia.

I’m not here because I made One Spectacularly Bad Decision. I’m here because we said “yes,” not one time or three times, but hundreds of little times that led us down this path.

During Lent, George and I have been reading a Psalm each day and using it for lectio divina, a contemplative practice of praying with the text by reading the words slowly and intentionally to see what emerges. Today, my Psalm was the twenty-third. I actually rolled my eyes. Blah, blah, blah – still waters, cup runneth over, we’ve heard all of this before.

The thing about the Psalms, though, is that they are a living conversation with the Divine. The Psalmist speaks to God, and God speaks back. And when I read those Psalms from my heart, I make their words my own, and God speaks back to me, too.

Today, the twenty-third Psalm is all about right paths for me.

Today, I’m choosing to see that all those little yeses of the last ten or twenty years that led to the bigger yeses of the last year and a half were not a mistake. God is leading me in right paths. He has brought us this far. He will not abandon us.

That’s the miracle of the Incarnation at work in my little life today. God entered the world––a world that was not less messed up than our own, a world full of suffering and struggle and boredom and hunger and injustice and sorrow. God showed up there in human skin––not to wave a magic wand and make all the problems go away, but to be there with us in the middle of them.

This is the God we believe in––the One who occupies the same space we do just because He wants to be with us. The One who is here whether we choose to acknowledge that presence or not. Not one who is aloof, or judging our behavior, or standing to the side waiting to see what we’re going to do with this mess we’re in…but one who waded down into it on purpose to be where we are.

It’s like the opposite of social distancing, really.

So as we figure out how to be community for each other in this complicated and confusing time when we can’t sit around the same table and ponder the mysteries of the universe, I’m feeling thankful for this one Big Mystery made known in the angel’s message to Mary so long ago.

God is with us. And we really need Him right now.

I can’t be anything but grateful.

 

Lent

It’s not about my stuff (except when it is)

It’s Ash Wednesday.

I’m not going to write my annual essay about how I’m not ready for Lent yet. I didn’t expect to feel prepared or have the energy to perfectly arrange things as I’d like them to be for our family in the liturgical living department this year. Everything is upside down and completely new and different in so many ways. God is constantly surprising me in this season.

I did think of putting all the Lent and Easter things we usually use in a box marked for that purpose, but when we hit the hardest part of packing and there wasn’t room for everything in the short-term boxes that would go with the movers, that Lent/Easter box had to go in the pod for longer term storage. A lot of my books went there, too, and some sheet music I’ve very much wished I had access to right now. Some of the kids’ stuffed animals also had to go in storage, which they have begun referring to as “POD camp.” Not a day goes by that someone in our family doesn’t say, “I really wish ____ wasn’t in the pod, because I need it.”

Things I could tell you about this situation in this moment, if this was one of those blogs:

  • We’re feeling so unencumbered without our family library that from now on, we’re limiting ourselves to five books each and selling the rest to buy really beautiful bookshelves handmade from reclaimed wood that will look attractively sparse in our home! or
  • We are so grateful that we know we need fewer clothes that we are just going to live in an Airstream trailer and travel the country! or
  • We’re radical minimalists now, and we’re going to make a documentary about our decision to set the pod on fire as a statement against our consumerist society because this way is so much better!

or some variation of this.

(Surprise. I’m not going to say any of those things.)

Tradition is worth a lot, and some of our family traditions are bound up with the stuff we use to carry them out. The burlap cloth and the stones in shades of purple and grey that we brought back from Prince Edward Island are usually arranged attractively in the center of our table by now. I usually have our prayer table set up with a purple cloth and some seasonally-appropriate art and a grapevine wreath. These things appear, and that means it’s Lent.

I went by the chapel at the School of Theology last evening on my way out to practice the organ, and the guy in charge of the liturgical environment was putting the finishing touches on the altar space. It’s draped in purple, with some branches arranged simply on one side and a small pile of stones on the other. It’s striking and prayerful, and it drew me right in. It was completely different from how it had looked earlier in the day, and yet it was comfortingly familiar (even though I’d never seen it that way before) in its penitential purpleness.

That’s what we’re doing at home, too, when we print out the same Lent calendar to color that we use every year, or when we get out the same tablecloth or set of candles or icons. We are making space. This is domestic liturgy. The objects that we use to create the space for our prayer and for our family’s spiritual experience at home during this season are part of that prayer, not just accessories to make the house look nice. Seeing them in our home is an invitation for us to shift our thinking a little…to remember that it’s Lent, that we’re supposed to be thinking about sacrifice and prayer and how we can serve each other better.

So I guess it’s kind of about the stuff.

On the other hand, as I’ve frequently said around here, liturgical seasons come whether or not we are ready, and part of the purpose of the season is to remind us that it’s not about us. Praying in rhythm with the church’s liturgical year is what forms us in our identity as part of the Body of Christ. The most important thing here is our intention, not what we use to carry it out.

I recycled the purple flowers and some greens from the bouquet we’ve had on our table all week, trimmed them stuck them in a smaller pitcher, and put them in the center of the table.

My daughter walked in a few minutes later, spotted the reworked flowers, and said, “Wow, it really looks like Lent around here.”

So maybe it’s not about the stuff, after all.

Anyway, I hope you’re having an appropriately penitential day, whatever that looks like for you, and I pray you’ll have the strength to grasp whatever you need to hold onto and the grace to relinquish whatever you should do without in the coming weeks. God be with you!

Uncategorized

Minnesota nice

I’m wondering if I might need cultural competency training to live in Minnesota. I feel like I don’t come across well here.

I wouldn’t have expected to need a major adjustment to figure out how to talk to people, but I feel like I’m misunderstood about 75% of the time. I end up scrambling to correct someone’s misinterpretation while they stand there looking sort of offended, and I’m not ever sure where I’m going wrong. It is not less jarring than being misunderstood in France or Canada or Mexico or London. It might actually be more unpleasant, because it surprises me every single time.

Probably, I’ll figure it out. I’ll become an avid observer of central Minnesota culture and figure out where I’m going wrong. The biggest mistake we can make in cultural misunderstandings is thinking we have no culture of our own. Somehow, my Virginia must be getting in my way, and through a process of trial and error, I’ll hopefully be able to find out why (or at least figure out how to fake it until I do!). As George said this afternoon, if the only way to learn is through trial and error, I should be well on my way. And while I know it’s probably better to learn these things gradually, I do find myself wishing a little bit for a Matrix-style instant upload of Everything You Need to Know to Live Happily in Central Minnesota.

 

Uncategorized

Once upon a time, I had a blog.

Dear friends,
I’ve been thinking it might be time to bring back this blog.

In some ways, it seems like a weird time to start writing here again, since I have way more reading and writing to do at present than I have in recent memory. There is a stack of books half a meter high on the side table (which isn’t unusual for me) and all of them have to be read basically right now (which is a new development). I’m a fairly fast reader, but becoming a full-time grad student when I already have a full reading life is still going to be a challenge.


Maybe I need to figure out how to read while walking, like I used to do in elementary and middle school. Or maybe this wouldn’t be safe at all, since I’m also still learning how to walk on ice, which is everywhere in patches on the ground and sometimes covering entire swaths of sidewalk.

Anyway, you might start hearing from me again…probably not a lot, and certainly not in polished and witty form…but some words, anyway. I’ll try to write a bit about what I’m doing and learning, what we as a family are doing and learning, and the new places we go and discover. I’ll probably write about how much colder it is here than in Virginia. And otherwise, it will probably be kind of like it was before, when I used to write here – just with the developments of older children and more life experience and possibly a more developed theological lens.

See you around.

7 quick takes, flannery, garden

7QT: Summer Rundown Edition

I’m told that the best way to start writing again after not writing and not writing and not writing is just to write. I’m hoping this is true, because it’s what I’m going to do.

There’s no real way to catch up on everything that’s happened since I last posted something (January!), so let’s pretend you’re starting the next book in the series and some events may have transpired in the in-between, ok?

Things always transpire in the in-between.

1. Summer is still happening here, although we’ve started some school up again already because we are traveling in September. I loved our Advent School so much last year that I didn’t want to give it up. To make it all work out and still leave the weeks of Advent basically open for reading and crafting and baking, we are doing some schoolwork now, and it’s going well. Somehow, we’re beginning our sixth year as a homeschooling family, with Sam going into fifth grade and the girls into second. It doesn’t seem true when I type it.

This is my pre-reading stack from a couple of weeks ago. We’ve finally switched to Ambleside Online this year, and I’m loving it. That’s probably another blog post.

2. Sam and Nora swam on the swim team this year- Sam’s second year and Nora’s first. They both really liked it. Starting out our summer with swim team makes the first month feel a little bit crazy, but things have slowed down now and I’m so glad they had the experience.

3. We’ve been gardening better this year than ever before. I had no idea I would become this person- someone who is excited every day to see if there are any new zucchini and who spends a lot of time hunting bugs on her bean plants to keep them from being chewed upon- but I love growing our own food and I love looking at that green bean arch and thinking of how much it’s grown since I put seeds in the ground back in the spring. Plants grow. From seeds. It’s basically miraculous.

4. I’m not sure if it’s just that we live in a weirdly moth-filled spot or if I’ve just gradually become someone who notices these things, but we’ve spotted a lot of really amazing moths in our yard this summer. We currently have a Cecropia Silkmoth caterpillar hanging out in our kitchen. He’s totally amazing, even though every time I look at him I get a tiny “thrill” like Matthew Cuthbert digging up grubs in his potato patch. I learned yesterday that these caterpillars spend the winter in their cocoons and then emerge as their moth-selves in the spring. Apparently you can observe this process by overwintering them in your refrigerator.

Polyphemus Moth on our sycamore

 

Rosy Maple Moth on our arborvitae

 

“He’s kind of yuck but I also like yucky things.”

 

Cecropia Silkworm caterpillar

I think this may exceed my commitment level…but I’m actually considering it, because I really want to see how this guy turns out! They are the largest moths north of Mexico- 5 1/2″ wingspan. That’s bigger even than a Luna moth or the Polyphemus we found.

5. I’m currently in the middle of a Summer of Flannery project- reading or re-reading everything that Flannery O’Connor wrote- with my kindred spirit Katherine. (Read her beautiful blog here.) I’ve always loved Flannery’s writing, but I feel like we are really getting to know her as a person by intentionally reading all her words and discussing them. So far we’ve done just short stories and Wise Blood, one of her two novels, but it’s been a lot of fun (and has occasionally resulted in late night or early morning texts back and forth about the deeper meaning of the shaving cream dripping from a character’s chin or the potential Marian symbolism of being gored by a bull). Such good stuff.

6. We are prepping for a Great Big Roadtrip to Points North- hitting Old Town Quebec for a few days and traveling to Prince Edward Island on a trip I have always wanted to take. I’m taking car entertainment recommendations, song suggestions, and lists of your favorite audiobooks, so send them my way! Our family is currently reading Anne of Green Gables aloud in preparation for the trip, and I underestimated how delightful it would be to share this particular book with my family. George has never read it before, so I’m reading aloud, and everyone is begging for “just one more chapter!”

Dear Northeast US and Canada, especially PEI, I’m sorry I haven’t yet learned what shapes you are.

Bonus: Felix is running around saying, “Fiddlesticks!” all the time. It’s rather disarming.

7. Are any of y’all afraid of geese? Because I think I might be.
This guy looks clever here (on George’s mom’s patio), but when he puts his head down and his neck out and runs really fast at you, it’s less charming. Also, I think I will always have an issue with large groups of birds convening in one place thanks to an ill-timed viewing of Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” at a tender age.

That’s 7. That was fun. Maybe I’ll do it again sometime soon!

 

Linking up with Kelly for 7QT (and feeling so grateful for this linkup, which feels like an on-ramp for writing here again). Go visit!

books, well read mom, yarn along

New books, new projects {yarn along}

Happy New Year!

The start of a new calendar year makes me eager to start a hundred new projects. My brain is bursting with ideas. But first, I’m finding energy to finish old things…books I’d made my way partly through, knitting and sewing projects I’d started, little jobs around the house that have sat, undone, waiting for attention. I think it’s something about my desire to start a bunch of new things and realizing that my lists already have things on them and feeling like making new lists and pretending the old lists don’t exist is somehow dishonest.

As Felix has been saying lately whenever he doesn’t believe someone, “You are not TRUE.”

In the interest of being TRUE, I’m trying to whittle down my stash a bit and finish some old projects and books before I jump headlong into the new ones I really want to be doing. So, I’m using some yarn I bought a few years ago from this farm to make a quick cowl. Working with this yarn is heaven! I wish now that I had bought so much more of it. I love the weight, the feel of it- it’s spongy and springy and has the perfect amount of twist so it never splits. The little variations in color are so beautiful, too. The pattern is Sweeping Angels Neck Cowl by Ivy Brambles (Ravelry link)…and the worsted weight is working up really quickly.

I’m hoping to finish it this weekend, because my yarn is coming for the Big Life Goal project I’m going to finish this year…and I really want to be able to start on it right away! More on that next week, I hope.

We are reading On Pilgrimage by Dorothy Day for our Well-Read Mom group, and I’m really finding a lot that connects with how my life feels right now. It seems Dorothy Day and I both like to ruminate on a broad range of things while we wash dishes, clean clothes, and care for people’s needs…and her thoughts are elevating mine these days. She’s all about the holy moments in the middle of the everyday ones, which y’all know is a favorite theme of mine.

“All things are His, and all are holy.”

                                 – Dorothy Day, On Pilgrimage

I’m also working my way through The World’s First Love: Mary, Mother of God by Fulton Sheen and finding it jaw-droppingly amazing. I’ve never read any Sheen before (although I’ve always meant to) and he is wonderful. This book is Smart, Occasionally Snarky, the stuff of Light Bulbs Illuminating Inside My Brain every few pages- I really love it, but I can only take a few pages at a time or my head will explode.

In addition to finishing a few books this week, I’ve decided a few other books are not worth finishing right now and have put them aside. I never used to do this, ever, but my friend Katherine has persuaded me that a busy mama’s reading time is precious and that there is no shame in ditching a book if I really don’t like it or it isn’t speaking to me at a particular moment.

I can always go back for them later, right?

What are you reading? I’m still making my To-Read list for this year, and I’m open to suggestions- I like everything!

Linking up with Ginny Sheller’s Yarn Along…I’m so glad to see it back again as a monthly linkup.

Advent

Somehow, I almost missed it {grace in the good enough, Advent version}

There are two sticky notes sticking out of my Advent journal this morning.

That’s what sticky notes are for, to stick out- to remind me of something I’m probably going to forget otherwise. I sometimes think sticky notes are the thing that keeps me together- or, if not together, at least from falling completely apart.

The first bright pink flag in the book marks the place where I first missed a day of the journal this Advent. I meant to go back and pick it up later, but I fell further and further behind. The second note marks the place where I actually am supposed to be right now, today, but I’m not really there, either.

There is a widening gap between those two pieces of paper- the place where I ought to be and the place where I really am.

That’s the story of my Advent, actually.
Maybe it’s the story of my life.

I had such grand plans- again, because I usually do- of all the things I’d do and be and how it would all come together to create a place of spiritual readiness and material readiness and all things READY.

Somehow, I missed- again, because I usually do- that Advent isn’t about my readiness.

It’s about the Incarnation.
It’s about Jesus, who showed up in a world that was not ready to receive Him at all (but desperately needed Him, all the same!) in a place that was anything but prepared for a birth.

And yet, it was enough for Him.

Enough for Him, whom cherubim, worship night and day,
Breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels fall before,
The ox and ass and camel which adore.

 
                                          from In the Bleak Midwinter by Christina Rosetti

The reason it was enough has nothing to do with what it actually was, at all. The reason it was enough is because He was enough to make up for all of what it wasn’t.

Somehow, I missed that- again, because I almost always do.
I mistakenly took the gift of time to prepare for the Incarnation and made it about me, about all the things I could do to get ready.

Advent- this one, or any one- isn’t about what I do or about how prepared I manage to be or about how many nights we successfully light our wreath as a family or about how many symbols make it onto our Jesse Tree. It’s not about taking the links off our Advent chain in the right order or about learning enough Latin verses of Adeste Fidelis so that we can sing along at Mass without a song book. It’s not about whether we got cookies made for our neighbors and friends or about whether we mailed our cards out on time or whether we managed to squeeze in every O Antiphon this last week before Christmas.

It’s not about squeezing anything in.

It’s about opening something up- our hearts, which are all He really wanted in the first place.

And in the next few days, there’s still time to do exactly that. There’s time to open my heart, even just a little bit, and make some space for Him. Any space I make in there will just allow Him to fill it with more Love.

Come, Lord Jesus. Fill us with your Love. We won’t be ready to receive you, but we long to receive you anyway, and we need you so much. Take what we have to offer, whatever it is, and make it enough. Help us remember that without You, nothing we have will ever be enough- and with You, whatever we have will more than suffice.