#HolyLens, Advent

Light…with heart.

“I hate this stupid church.”

With this pronouncement, my two year old beam of sunshine cast his board book onto the stone floor and proceeded to kick the back of the pew in front of us with all his might.

Meanwhile, the bishop was sealing the door of mercy a few hundred yards away.

All I could think was that I needed to walk through that door a few hundred more times before he closed it up.

*  *  *  *  *  *  * 

After the solemn Mass at the Basilica, my family drove back through Washington, D.C. on our way home. As we passed the Capitol, I noticed that the scaffolding had been removed since I had last seen it. I had two thoughts about this: 1) maybe the prayers I hurled at the building as we drove past will be able to penetrate more deeply into the walls than before, and 2) maybe the whole thing will just crumble and fall down now.

*  *  *  *  *  *  * 

As we enter this week of liturgical no-man’s land between the Solemnity of Christ the King of the Universe, which ends the Church year, and the beginning of Advent next Sunday, I feel a little lost. There is no playlist or devotional guide or special set of prayers for this week, for the in-between, for the days in which we must wait to begin our official season of waiting for the birth of Christ.

There’s Thanksgiving, of course, and there are things to do to be ready for Advent, too. Normally, this trips me up- I have to hurry up and get ready! so much to do ahead of time to prepare so that I can prepare properly!- but this year, I’m not anxious about preparation. There are a thousand more important things to be anxious about than whether I can find the wreath form I usually use for our Advent candles and whether anyone will give me any magnolia leaves for decorating.

The fact is, I can’t wait to start lighting those candles. I don’t care if they are just sitting on a paper plate on the kitchen table this year. I am just so done with sitting around in the dark and twiddling my thumbs. I am done with reading the news and feeling my pulse quicken and my blood pressure go up. I am done with scrolling through Twitter and Facebook, clicking hearts over here and a sad face over there and an occasional angry face on a story about a billboard in Mississippi.

I am so done with all this useless activity that passes for doing something.

Being informed is good. It’s good to know what’s going on. It might even be good to know how other people feel about it. What’s not good is feeling compelled to read four stories about the same issue to be sure I’m getting all the perspectives, then cross-checking those perspectives with the ones I follow on Twitter (which are different from the ones I follow on Facebook, so I have to check those, too). What’s not good is feeling so emotionally affected by the news stories I’m reading that I can’t muster the energy to actually get up and do anything about it.

The time for scrolling passively, if there ever was such a time, has passed. What’s needed now is prayerful contemplation of the depth of the darkness in which we find ourselves. What’s needed now is careful conversation, talking and listening with open minds and hearts in a genuine exchange of thoughts and perspectives. What’s needed now is to ask God, “What are you requiring of me?”

Things I am pretty sure God is not requiring of me:

  • a perfectly cleaned and decorated house
  • more time spent on my phone finding out what other people think about the issues of the day
  • more time reacting to those other people’s thoughts by clicking on emoticons
  • more time reading about the negative impacts the incoming administration might have on the country
  • more time reading rebuttals of those articles about the potential negative impacts
  • more time hitting “refresh” to see if there are any articles I haven’t read yet

Things I wonder if God is requiring of me:

  • deliberate steps taken to remind us that we committed to keep Jesus at the center of our family life
  • more attention to the places He is already present, casting light, restoring brokenness, making things new
  • more careful words that promote a climate of kindness in our home (instead of snappish words that spread around the anxiety I have been feeling)
  • more time spent in actual conversations with people whose perspectives and life experiences are different than mine, even if I have to go to some trouble to find those folks

I think what I’ve been lacking lately is focus.

With that in mind, I’m going to take a break from all the scrolling during Advent. I’m going to stop reading so many news stories and start looking for God in the little things that are actually in front of me in real life again. I’m going to try to find concrete ways to be Christ to my brothers and sisters, whether they live in my house, on my street or on the other side of the globe. I’m going to light candles with all my heart…because I think candles lit with heart are a good first step in battling darkness.

Candles (regardless of the amount of heart with which they are lit) do not fix problems, especially overwhelming, centuries-old injustices with complicated history and huge emotional entanglements- but they do keep us from sinking into the darkness of despair. Candles lit with heart are a rallying cry. Pick yourself up. The darkness doesn’t win unless you let it. Go out with your light and do something to make the darkness less dark.

Meanwhile, the Light of the World is still coming. All the darkness in the universe can’t stop Him. Take heart. And in the meantime, do your part to make things a little brighter.

If you’re looking for a way to focus and make things a bit brighter, come join us on Instagram for #HolyLens. Daily photo prompts based on the scripture readings for the day will start next Sunday, November 27. Take a photo as a way to find the holy in the middle of the ordinary, and share it with our community as a way to push back the darkness a little bit.

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#HolyLens, 100 days project, radio silence, writing

On radio silence, life overwhelm, and dormant creativity

I sometimes think that consistency will elude me forever.

Is it impossible for me to blog properly and post at regular intervals? Probably not. Maybe I lack focus or am too undisciplined. Maybe I just have too many interests to plug away at one constantly. Maybe my time is too limited to justify pouring all my energy into one thing when there are so many things I could be doing.

Maybe I’ve just been struggling a little under the sadness of losing two of the most important people in my life so close together.

Whatever the reason, I haven’t had the energy to write and publish here in a while. I’m grateful for those of you who checked on me to see if I was okay. I’m also grateful for those of you who will come back and read my words again now that they are starting to flow. Thank you.

The hardest thing about being a writer is that when one does not write, neither does one fully live. Although I sometimes don’t feel like writing, the side effects are unpleasant. Without the lens of words helping me to make sense of my days and thoughts and feelings, things get jumbled up and are hard to untangle. I haven’t found the words yet to write about my grandmother’s death and the pain of having to miss her funeral. I expect those words might come. In the meantime, though, I need to be writing again…and I’d like to be sharing here with you.

To get things started, I’m joining in the #100daysproject. This project is an effort to do creative work for 100 days in a row. While I won’t be publishing here for 100 days in a row, I am going to post a photo on Instagram and share some thoughts there with the hashtag #100daysofholylens. Photography as a spiritual discipline works for me as a way to remind myself that ordinary life is beautiful. Even when things feel pretty terrible, God is with us, and His fingerprints are everywhere. We only need to look for them in the tiny, beautiful, holy moments of our days.

If you want to join me, even if you can’t post every day, you’re welcome to share my hashtag so we can find each other.

#HolyLens, five minute Friday

Five-Minute Friday: FOCUS.

Even the toughest days have beautiful moments.

I collect them, carefully preserving each one the way I did with my Lisa Frank stickers in elementary school: Sam, blowing out his birthday candles on an R2-D2 cake, Felix, swinging in our backyard with a gleeful grin, Lucy and Nora, giggly and soapy with bubble-covered hair in our bathtub; the way the sun slants through the kitchen window in the late afternoons when the day first starts becoming the evening.

They’re tiny moments when things look brighter, somehow…minutes when I realize how good things really are…places where the veil is thin and I notice that God is constantly leaving His fingerprints all over my life. In these moments, the lens of a camera is the most clarifying thing I know.

When things are hard, like they are right now, I scroll through these images in my mind or look at them on my phone, and I can almost see the thread of grace that runs through them. My life is blessed- not because it’s easy, but because no matter how hard it is, I am never alone.

I can’t preserve these moments forever or freeze time when everyone is smiling…but looking at those photos helps me focus on the grace. Focusing on grace leads to gratitude. And practicing gratitude, even in hard times, is how we keep going.

This Lent, I’m offering the HolyLens Lent-stagram project again- daily photo prompts as a spiritual practice of seeing the holy in the midst of the everyday. Each week, I will post prompts on my blog drawn from the scripture readings for the day. Take a photo and share it with the hashtag #HolyLens, and we can all support each other in looking for those holy moments in our lives (and focusing on ways God is present in them) as we prepare for Easter. You can find out more about the project here or follow our page on Facebook. I hope you will join us!

For more Five-Minute Friday, head over to Kate’s blog, Heading Home.
#HolyLens, Advent, Nora

Theme Thursday: Advent, Week 3

This long blogging silence has been brought to you by copious list-making, cookie baking, crafting, reading, sewing, decorating and laundering. I’ve been really productive, just not in publishable ways. More on that some other time.

Today, I had the gift of time to spend a few minutes wrapping gifts with Nora. Of all my children, she’s the most likely to be a successful present wrapper. I’ve been waiting for a moment when the other two big kids were busy and the littler one was sleeping, and today, I got it.

We knelt together on the kitchen floor. I showed her how to measure the paper, tape the box, fold and crease the ends neatly, just the way my Gram and my mother taught me. By the time we got to the second gift, she was flying solo except for the cutting. I was so proud- she measured, she trimmed, she folded and creased like a pro. Her tongue stuck out of the corner of her mouth just like mine does when I’m concentrating. Her cheeks flushed pink as she chose just the right bow and tag for each gift. Her enjoyment was all over her face.

On the fifth package, Nora cut before she was ready, and the paper was a bit too short. We turned it both ways and couldn’t quite make it fit. Dismayed, she bit her nails, wondering what I would say about the waste of paper.

I hate that she has reason to wonder if I’ll be upset about something like that.

I’ve always loved wrapping gifts, partly because it rewards perfectionism. My sister and I used to do all of them for Gram at family birthdays and Christmas. That feels so long ago- those hours we shared in Gram’s back bedroom, piles of boxes and tape and rolls of paper scattered around the room, giggling as we worked together, setting up “assembly lines,” feeling important to be the guardians of Big Important Secrets until Christmas Day.

Sharing this time with my daughter today was more than just a sweet reminder of days past. It felt like the handing on of a shared knowledge from generation to generation. “It’s worth doing it right,” Gram used to tell me as she held the end closed for me to place the tape. “Measure twice, cut once.”

It is worth doing things right, but people’s feelings are always more important than perfect packages. Because of Gram, I know just how to line up the paper to camouflage a seam if I forget her advice and cut before I’ve measured carefully enough.

Now Nora knows, too. As we piled the packages under the tree, she smoothed out some bows and breathed, “They look almost wonderful.”

Squeezing her with both arms, I told her they were my favorite packages ever…and I meant it.

Linking up with Micaela at California to Korea for Advent, Week 3.

#HolyLens, Advent

Advent: Unready.

By the tender mercy of our God,
    the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
    to guide our feet into the way of peace. 
                               
            Luke 1:78-79, NRSV

Tomorrow is the first Sunday of Advent.

I woke up this morning to a sky streaked red and gold from the top to the bottom corners of my bedroom window, and I felt it…a dreadful, heavy sense of not being ready.

I’m not ready.

And because Advent is the new Christmas, the internet wants me to be ready. All my favorite bloggers have been discussing their Advent plans and what books they are reading and what prayers they are using and what crafts they are doing with their kids. There are recipes and book studies and so many wonderful options I can choose to make this our holiest Advent yet.

I could have already hurried up and finished my shopping, my Christmas cards, even have already made and frozen my cookies ahead of time. Today, I could have everything planned and packaged and ready to go so that I could just sit back and wait for the real miracle, the One who is the reason behind all the preparations, the baby Jesus, whose birth is still a month away.

But I haven’t. I haven’t done any of that yet.

All day today, as I continue the slow clean up and take down of our fall and Thanksgiving decorations, I keep telling myself I have a whole month to get ready for Christmas. That’s what Advent is for, right?

But getting ready for Advent? That’s another story. And for who I am, for the person God made me to be, feeling unready and unprepared and not-entirely-on-top-of-it doesn’t feel good. I’m crabby. I don’t handle my own unpreparedness with grace.

On some level, yes, we are ready. I know where the wreath is that we used last year, and I even ordered a box of appropriately-colored candles ahead of time. I hosted Thanksgiving dinner this year, and I knew I’d be ready for a break after that was over (and not ready to launch into a new season of checklists and planning just yet).

Thanksgiving was wonderful. The food was delicious. The company was dear. The post-dinner football game was the first one of its kind ever played in our yard, and everyone had a great time tackling and laughing and enjoying one another. I loved our flowers and the candles and the place cards. It was a beautiful day. And it was fulfilling for me in my checklist-loving, INFJ way- I planned, I executed, and I enjoyed.

But I’m not ready for Advent.

Maybe for some of us, maybe for me, the call to living in rhythm with the Church’s seasons is not about being ready at all. Maybe it’s about being shaped and formed, gradually, into the image of Christ…the image of the One whose Light is coming into the world, the kind of Light we need so much more than all the most beautiful strings of twinkling ones we can imagine.

Maybe Advent is not about having everything prepared ahead of time so I can focus on being holy. Maybe Advent is a gift of days, of time given to focus on how un-ready and unholy we all are, perpetually, and how much in need of grace and Light and a salvation that can never be earned but is a gift from God, so that no one can boast. Whether I am actually boasting about my salvation or just about my exquisitely decorated front door doesn’t matter. It’s shifting the focus in my heart from the One on whom it should be focused.

It’s a good dose of humility for me to realize that I’m not the most prepared, most organized person this year.

My kids are ready to jump into Christmas, to put up our tree and start listening to Christmas music. And I’m not. I’m not expectant, hopeful, or filled with joy. Instead, I’m struggling this year. I miss my Gramp, and I know my Gram won’t be putting up her tree this year, that their house will be vacant, that she’ll be entirely unaware of Christmas at all except when we show up and tell her. I’m brokenhearted because people continue to be killed every day around the world, in bombings and shootings and accidents, and I feel powerless to help. I’m incredulous because people mustered all the moral outrage to freak out about corporate coffee cups but can’t find any compassion for poor ones wandering the earth without a country or a home or a place to lay their heads. I’m weary and worn and sad because our world needs something very powerful to save it. 

Unfortunately, twinkling lights and festive cocktail recipes are not going to improve our situation.

This, this is the world into which Christ came to save us.
We don’t need that grace any less today than we did then.
And that’s what Advent is for, actually.

So, I won’t apologize for the late start over here this year, nor for the much-needed silence while I worked this stuff out in my brain. I’m just going to start Advent on Sunday. And I’m going to use Advent to get ready for Christmas.

Tomorrow, gather up in the dark. Notice how early it comes, how it fills the corners of the room, how it coats everything quietly. Sit there a while. Then, light a candle in the dark. Push it back a little if you can with your tiny ring of light. Sit some more around the light and feel how much we need Christ. And then wait for Him to show up.

Come, Emmanuel. We’re not ready, but we’re waiting.

Ready or not, Advent is here, and I’m going to be posting photo prompts on Instagram again for #HolyLens this year. I’d love it if you joined us. The little community of intrepid photographers seeking the sacred in the everyday as we prepare for Christ’s coming has been such a blessing to me each year. Look for the prompts posted here on the blog on Saturdays during Advent, and join us on Instagram and Facebook. We’re excited to be sharing prompts with the Blessed is She community this year using the hashtag #projectblessed.

#HolyLens, Lent

#HolyLens, Lent 2015

Well, I changed my mind.

I’m allowed to do that, right?

I realized that I was going to miss seeing the #HolyLens posts on Instagram and sharing about our days and bearing witness to the little holy moments in each other’s lives. I remembered that taking tiny snapshots of those moments isn’t a burden- it’s a spiritual discipline. These photos (for me) are more than just photos. They are signposts of God’s grace in my life. I think I need them.

So, just in case that’s true for anyone else, I’m putting up some prompts for Lent.

Here are the prompts for this week. (They will be posted on Sundays for the week ahead.)

I hope you’ll join me. I know there are lots of other photo-a-day projects out there. The important thing isn’t to do this one. The important thing is to remind ourselves that God is always working, even in the most ordinary, mundane moments. This project helps me to do that. If it helps you, too, then please post your photos on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter with the hashtag #HolyLens. Let’s keep each other company as we look for the places God is present with us…even if we happen to find him sometimes between the forks and the spoons in the drawer or between the mismatched socks in the hamper.

Have a blessed Lent.

Previous weeks’ prompts:

#HolyLens, Advent, feasts and seasons

Welcome to #HolyLens for Advent 2014

Welcome to the home of #HolyLens. We are focused on seeing the sacred in the everyday by taking a photo every day during Advent. This is where the weekly photo prompts will be posted. I’ll be posting the photo prompts daily on our HolyLens facebook page starting the first Sunday of Advent.

This project is about more than just taking photos. It’s a spiritual discipline, designed to help us notice the places in our ordinary lives that God is already at work. It’s inviting Christ’s presence with intention. It’s building a moment of reflection each day into an otherwise busy time of year. It is holy work.

If this sounds like something you need this year, please join us on our journey. You can share your photos on Instagram with the hashtag #HolyLens or our facebook pageour Facebook page.. Be sure to like the facebook page so you won’t miss any updates. 

Thanks for being part of our community of photo-taking pilgrims on our way to Bethlehem. Our shared experience is richer because you are a part of it.

(Prompts from previous weeks are below.)