in empty spaces where a scattered people once gathered
in uncertainty, unknowing, and unprepared how-in-the-world-did-we-get-here unsureness.
And this one is made in keeping each other company within the silence of our hearts as we go through the motions we can while mourning the ones we can’t.
That first Easter was made in darkness…
in stumbling together on the way to a tomb that contained everything they thought they’d been living for.
And this one is made in walking together-while-apart, virtual companions on a path we can’t even see yet.
That first Easter was made in grief…
in crushing sadness over what was lost and with no idea how anything could ever be the same again.
And this one is made in admitting that no, things are not the same…
but also in reminding each other that in these parallel Easter stories, we have the advantage.
We know already how this Story will end.
My friend says, “It’s the Lentiest Lent that ever lented.” I repeat her words in the kitchen and wonder aloud––what’s Easter if your cross is just as heavy when you wake up Sunday morning as it was on Friday afternoon?
My husband, still quick with a sermon title after all these years, reminds me: not all Easter Alleluias come easily. The first ones certainly didn’t. But Alleluia, anyway.
Christ isn’t in that tomb, or in any other one––
except as the One who never lets Death have the last word.
Where he is present isn’t in the stillness of defeat––
except to whisper, “This isn’t over yet.”
Some Easters are made of Alleluias borne on golden, soaring chords toward heaven, carried by the singing of children and the scent of lilies, effortless, effervescent.
This one is made of Alleluias murmured through tears, pressed out from between clenched teeth, spoken with a full knowledge of what we’ve lost but without knowing just how much more we’ve got to let go.
Some Alleluias are hard-fought.
Yes, it’s the Lentiest Lent we’ve ever lived. And when the first morning light begins to shift the sky from black toward grey this Easter, our penances won’t all dissolve
our sorrow won’t evaporate with the night
our losses won’t be magically restored as the sun rises.
He is still risen.
We are still His Body––fingers, eyes, ears––all still connected whether we feel it or not.
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 therewith 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.
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!
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.
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.
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 readingAnne 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!
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 readingOn 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.