Thursday, March 31, 2011

When You Only Have Ten Minutes

If you missed your post about a word yesterday (me) because, well, words didn't sound appealing, taste good, or appear to you asking to be read or written... if you missed the goal, missed the meeting, missed the deadline, missed that opportune moment to teach someone about fractions using a recipe... if you missed the phone call, or you missed the photograph waiting to be taken outside your window, or you missed the moment to laugh when your high heel got stuck in the grate on your way to Farragut North (oh, the number of times THAT happened to me last semester)...

Then today I write for you. Just ten minutes of quiet hoping and wondering.

We all miss it. We miss the boat at least three or four times a day, see its bright blue sails slung low over the harbor, watch it, that precious, once only moment, slink out over the open grey sea and we think to ourselves, I think to myself, there it goes. I've really done it this time.

Oh how often we whisper discouragement to ourselves! We say, I should have been, I should have done, I ought to, and then the sighing as we fold the last of the clean shirts and go around the house to distribute them, or as we finally close the computer late at night after staring at the computer screen with so much less than what we had promised ourselves and the universe we would write about Reinhold Niebuhr. And then we crawl under the covers, until the moment of feeling defeated, guilty... that we missed it. We missed it.

I sat at lunch yesterday with a good friend, a cherished mentor, who when I sighed (as I so often sigh) and appeared to be lost in thought, asked What is that sigh, Hil? What's that one about? And then the small teary answer: I can't do it.

I. can't. do it. I pause, tasting those words. The first realization. The scary one. The one that is the source of the guilt in my stomach when I miss those moments - of loving that person really well by a word of encouragement and or of finishing the paper or of going to bed earlier, working out more, taking a good picture for this blog, blogging itself...

And this is the power of Lent in our hearts. The realization that all the time, all the time we've never been able to do it. Accomplish it, win it, succeed at it, this life, this scholarship, this or that conversation... and so exhausted in Lent I come to these words, that trace a gentle pattern on my face as a few salty tears wind their way down: I can't do it.

And the words make me free. Because in the breath after them, in the intake of realization where I think, this is it, the game is up, I've been found out. There He is. There the Cross is. There is the prayer, that I pray all the time, that everything I bear is released onto that Cross and everything I have done and undone, everything I have knotted up or unraveled, everything I have missed, every moment of can't, of failing... There is the Cross. There is Easter. There is Life. There, right there, is His love.

Ten minutes I want to tell you that this is the promise. When you missed the moment, when you missed the boat, when you stood on the harbor and thought to yourself that there went the only chance to do, be, say, act, think... There He is. 


Monday, March 28, 2011

Because Beginnings are Fresh (Multitudes on Mondays)

Today I want to begin anew. I want to start Lent over - all the learning be my starting point, my new beginning. I don't want to be in the middle, in media res, the story in the mundane fourth chapter. I want newness. I want light.

And then the remembrance, as my school welcomes a new president, as I look at the crocus quivering in the harsh morning air as I head to school from my brief sojourn home, as I hear once again, in the praise song I first learned freshman year... Jesus makes all things new.

So the story is never rewritten but always written, always new ink on the pages of old, always a fresh beginning. The fourth chapter or the six or the hundreth. The first paragraph or the twentieth... it's rich with goodness, even if it feels small, even when the notes are scribbled and you think, it isn't glamorous, this chapter of working, this chapter of anonymity, this chapter where the main character doesn't do much more than drink a cup of tea while watching the wind blow through old fall leaves outside the window. I hear Rilke gently reprimand:

"If your daily life seems poor, do not blame it; blame yourself that you are not poet enough to call forth its riches; for the Creator, there is no poverty."

And the discipline is the ache of praise:

26. For the crocus pushing its head above the hard ground in the garden
27. For the words Lord, give me water.
28. For sunshine today in the window where Joanna and I sit for breakfast, stealing a moment to enjoy friendship before the day roars away from us. 
29. For my heartbeat.
30. For blood in my veins and life in its usual miracle. 


Sunday, March 27, 2011

Lord, Give Me This Water (A Reflection on the Third Sunday in Lent)

What does it mean to be thirsty? Thirst is knowledge of emptied self. Thirst is need. Thirst means the desert in my throat, my voice scratched and sandy from too much air and not enough water. When I'm thirsty, I dream of tall glasses of water, clear and cold and refreshing. And this morning, the Third Sunday in Lent, I am the Samaritan woman at the well. I want water.

I do not want to admit that I need Jesus' water, though. I want to turn my back to him sitting by the well, cup my hands in the bucket and swallow the sweet, clear water that I know comes from the well. I want to splash it on my face and feel it quench the back of my throat. I want to provide it for myself, give it to myself, go to the well of my own heart and draw enough from it to satisfy. 

I can even hear myself muttering, as the woman did in John 4.11-12, “Sir, you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?” I see me smile almost mockingly at Jesus, disbelieving that he has anything I do not have, that he has a water better than the water dripping out of my poor, thirsty, dust-filled heart. 

And behold the words of Jesus:  “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 

And the moment - another moment of annunciation, of announcing. Jesus says that whoever drinks the water He gives will never thirst. He declares to my thirsty heart that it has no water that will quench thirst. He declares that my rubble will never become a spring of water welling up to eternal life. 

And the Samaritan woman hears his words, and perhaps she, like me, hears her own heart crying out to deny, be self-sufficient, come back to this well every day, don't trust this person in front of you, don't trust that annunciation, that declaration. 

But behold her heart, thirsty, thirsty, responding: "Sir, give me this water, so that I won't get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water."She responds in trust. She responds to promise of living water. She places her doubting, skeptical, dusty heart in the hands of Jesus of Nazareth and asks for the living water. 

In The Silver Chair, Jill Pole meets Aslan by a stream. Jill is new to Narnia, and dying of thirst. She goes to the stream, and she sees Aslan, and she is terrified. And the terror meets her thirst, and she is paralyzed. And Aslan says: If you are thirsty, you may drink. The two of them look at each other, Aslan watchful, Jill frightened. The following is the passage I remember without hesitation today:

“I daren’t come and drink,” said Jill.

“Then you will die of thirst,” said the Lion.

“Oh dear!” said Jill, coming another step nearer. “I suppose I must go and look for another stream then.”

“There is no other stream,” said the Lion.

It never occurred to Jill to disbelieve the Lion – no one who had seen his stern face could do that – and her mind suddenly made itself up. It was the worst thing she had ever had to do, but she went forward to the stream, knelt down, and began scooping up water in her hand.

I am Jill often in this place. I look at the stream, and the Lion, and I know, I just know, that there is no other stream. There is no other stream. Jesus says, "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life." I dare not come and drink. But my heart is thirsty. And Jesus promises that this water will becoming a spring of living water

So I pray, kneeling at the edge of the stream with Jill and the Samaritan woman, looking through the field, looking through for the promise: Lord, give me this water. 

Lord, give me this water. 

May we thirst for Him together. 


Third Sunday in Lent
Almighty God, who seest that we have no power of ourselves
to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and
inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all
adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil
thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus
Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the
Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Preface of Lent

Friday, March 25, 2011

Waking Up (A Five Minute Post)

Lisa-Jo challenged me to write about waking up in just five minutes!

My eyelids always flutter open, never quite sure they want the day to burst in just yet, always apparently double and triple checking to be sure that in face the sun is shining through my window and casting dancing color shadows in the dark insides of my eyes. Then I stretch out down to the tips of my toes and breathe in deep the smells of home and of weighty, beautiful rest.

I sneak into my mom's bed on Saturday mornings even now, crawl into the warm space that Dad leaves behind when he gets up early to read the newspaper and warm the coffee in the mug and scribble the crossword puzzle down. I sneak in and wrap myself tight in mom's arms, in her sleepy hug, in the clean light of the early morning when all is still except the busy robins and the thumping tail of the dog downstairs and our hands tucked into the sheets. And we soak in these last moments before I live far away and no longer can patter my bare feet on the centuries-old wooden floors, avoid the customary creaks and groans of the rickety house and clamber in, limbs flailing, to be daughter with Mom, to be close and wake up all over again into the new, new morning.


Thursday, March 24, 2011

On Reading Rainer Maria Rilke in Italian on a Cold March Day

I am hiding from my homework at this moment. I want to curl up and sleep and not think about St. Thomas Aquinas, possibly ever again. But I was remembering this moment from earlier today, and I thought... I love to learn. And I should share it. 

So here is a snippet of happiness in my day, that appeared like the groundhog who pokes his head above ground promising spring. 

Let me begin by saying that I do not speak a single word of Italian beyond ciao (which is a catch all and can sound equally like the normal thing any fluent person would say, or the stupid thing that all non-native speakers learn when they tramp through beautiful Italian landscapes). I bought the book on the quick whim that it is my favorite collection of letters, the growing and poetry and love so very palpable in Rilke's words. I bought it because my stomach was full of caffé Mimi et Coco, because my eyes were glazed with later afternoon Roma sun, because as the chill of New England winter shuddered its echo in my skin, I wanted to clutch the warm of Italy a little while longer.

So I bought the book in Italian. I don't even have an Italian - English dictionary, and honestly, it wouldn't help, because I would be required to look up every single word at least twice. And so instead, as the snow clatters onto my window on the 24th of March, in this crazy journey towards spring and blossoms... I let the words I do not know feed me. I let the Italian rush headfirst into my bloodstream and without knowing it, I mouth the words loud, feel them in my vocal cords, smooth and supple like water. And I feel refreshed in their strange familiarity. And mio caro signor Kappus (my dear Mr. Kappus) - they are still who they are, carved in these letters to a giovanne poeta, and I think that even in the beautiful incomprehensible Italian, Rilke is writing to me, a young poet, and I see it and taste it, the words just as beautiful sounds without their customary weightiness:

Voi siete così giovane, così nuovo al cospetto delle cose, che vorrei pregarvi quanto posso di essere paziente di fronte a tutto quello che non è risolto nel vostro cuore. Sforzatevi di amare i vostri stessi problemi, ciascuno comme una camera che vi fosse chiusa, come un libro scritto in una lingua straniera. Non cercate per il momento delle resposte, che non possono esservi date, perché non sapreste metterle in pratica, viverle. E, precisamente, si tratta di vivere tutto. 

(Photo Credit: Ryan Groff)
I whisper thank you to the Italian coursing through my veins, for the small black and white book that promises words as sound, as music, as the very foreign language I do not understand but slip into, a dark wave over my head. Thank you to the time in my chaos for words, so tender and sweet, that breathe back the joy of learning into my day. 

(Photo Credit: Ryan Groff)

Hilary (who loves words)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Word for Wednesday: Daughter (A Series of Posts about Words)

When I was a junior in high school one of my classes was a creative writing class focused exclusively on poetry. I had no patience for poetry, I'm afraid to say. I believed that words are best when they are in the good company of many other words, strung together in sentences and contained appropriate punctuation. But after a semester (and then two more) of living in poetry, I learned to cherish words, just words, for their power and joy and unexpected meaning. So I take some time every Wednesday to think about a word with you. Glad you are here.

This post today is for Lisa-Jo, my DC mama, who taught me that being a daughter and being a mother and being a woman is all about God, being God's child, returning back into the warmth of daughterhood. I have sometimes wanted to claw my way into adult life, into the rhythm and independence of my own self, my unconnected, liberated self. I want to be self-defined, my own image of my own body and my own heart.

And then Lisa-Jo, and good food and laughter, and her face of earnest remembrance. Hilary it's about loving them, she said when I confessed that conversations were hard with some of my most beloved friends. It's just about loving them so well and letting Jesus do what He is going to do. And she said, over and over, until I could hear it in my own heart when I was back in my cold room in Massachusetts: He washes us in His love. He washes us clean in the love and the blood and the waiting and the hoping and the gift, Ann's eucharisto, the full life.

And a daughter, that precious word, has just been born. And she is so small and before the beginning, and she is the reminder that daughter is Zoe, is life. Is Grace.

So the word for today, my friends, is daughter.

Definition: Daughter means the female offspring of human parents; a female adopted child; and an atomic species that is the product of radioactive decay of a given element. Yes, the last is science's beautiful and atypical definition, an insertion into the word a whole new kind of conceiving of life.

Daughter, noun. The word for my grandmother's wrinkled hands that shake as they put paper plates in their wicker holders. My own mother, her cheerful voice ringing out from the puzzle on the card table, trips into the room and helps set out the glasses, and I put out the silverware, tucking napkins beneath forks and knives. And we three are all daughters, two of us mothers, me also a sister, and the word daughter binds and promises us to each other. I am Grammy's, Mom's - their hands smooth my hair and hold me tight and I am daughter and granddaughter and they repeat the motions of their own mothers and grandmothers.
(Photo Credit: Mandie Sodoma)

Daughter, noun. Me the day that I saw Dad in DC, saw the lines of smile and joy and sorrow around his eyes crease into recognition when I walked into the Newseum in my pink sweater and pencil skirt, my high heels clacking "I am a grownup!" And he looked so proud of me, so glad to know that I am his. Daughter is being Dad's, caught up in a hug of all the years of England and Pooh-sticks and lambs in springtime and reading out loud (always with his glasses on the end of his nose and a cup of tea cradled in his hand). I'm Dad's daughter.

Daughter, noun. The clamour of their voices, occasionally clear and harsh, occasionally soft whispers, the  other women gather round me, take me into their mama wings when my own mama is not near - and they teach and tell the truth - that I am His, really, only, always. That it is about the still more beautiful way of obedience. That I, too, am offered Mary's Annunciation (bear Me, Hilary, into the world), and I must say "Yes" to God. I am somehow their daughter too.

Daughter, noun. The look of joy when she arrives dressed exclusively in Jasmine costume, or with stripes and polka dots and flowers and a hat on her head and twirls for you. And when she plays pirates and sleds and chases puffs of milkweed through the backyard. And when she cuts her doll's hair right there in your nice bathtub, and when her sister cuts her bangs crooked, and when she barricades herself in her room because the hallway of sixth grade artwork is the first place she discovers how to have a crush on someone, and when she, flushed, hears her own voice ring clear in the solo, in that French address, and when she cries and laughs and lives. Daughter means alive. Daughter means watching her grow, and singing joy. 


Monday, March 21, 2011

Because I Feel Small (Multitudes on Mondays)

Smallness today is grace, is gratitude. I feel small.

I feel like the young spring chick still warm in mother's nest, my mom and I in the car, her warm smile and her hands on my face, as she reminds me, "Oh Hil, you're at the age where all this begins, where all the leaving and the transition and the beginning is." And she cups my chin towards her blue, blue eyes (the ones I only half-mirror in my own) and I am small again.

I am small and I'm still cracking open the egg around myself, still poking my head out of its shell on this blog and into this world, and maybe this is just the first of the days of feeling small.

And in the smallness is a little ache of praise, because when you're small the world is one of wonder. When you're small you can lace your fingers together giggling and widen your eyes with surprise that this is what the world is.

And the discipline is the ache of praise:

21. For the front seat of my car where I whisper the secret thoughts of my heart to mom
22. For lying in front of the Santa Barbara mission in the sunshine
23. For snow on the first day of spring
24. For The Low Anthem's song, [Don't] Tremble
25. For watching bluebird eggs open in a nest.

And a special thank you whispered for this poem:

Gyroscope (Ted Kooser)

I place this within the first order
of wonders: a ten-year-old girl
alone on a sunny, glass-in porch
in February, the world beyond
the windows slowly tipping forward
into spring, her thin arms held out
in the sleepwalker pose, and pinched
and stretched between her fingers,
a length of common grocery twine
upon which smoothly spins and leans
one of the smaller worlds we each
at one time learn to master, the last
to balance so lightly in our hands.

May this day, each moment, fill you with the ache to praise, the ache of praise. May peace blossom in your heart from the One who is our peace. 


For Quiet Confidence (from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer)

O God of peace, who hast taught us that in returning and
rest we shall be saved, in quietness and confidence shall be
our strength: By the might of thy Spirit lift us, we pray thee,
to thy presence, where we may be still and know that thou
 God; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Exhortation (A Reflection on the Second Sunday of Lent)

Disclaimer: Though a student of theology, though a student of Christian thought, though at the beginning of deep learning in these fields, I am not a theologian. I am not yet wise in the ways of living faithfully. But I hope in this season of Lent, of preparation and hungry patience, of running with you to the Cross, I can offer some words to reflect on, as we lean forward to Easter.

I am a crier. Inside. Outside I cry rarely, the tears only forced out of my eyes or bursting out from the inability to say it any other way. I cry inside at all sorts of things. My mouth pulls down slightly, my eyelids flutter, I look sideways, or down then up in a sort of contemplative, and somehow sad, stare. My face is a mirror of my heart, and it's been that way for as long as I can remember.

"What's that face for?" so many will ask me when they sit across from me at Starbucks, over toffee nut lattes or vanilla Ceylon tea or ginger peach decaf or as we're walking along the waterfront or 8th St or the beach. "What's going on?" they say, their eyes inquisitive, their hands open. And how do I explain it? That sometimes words and prayers and time and song and tea stroll into my heart and live there, catch flame, and I cry inside because it is so good, because the point is to bless the Lord. I cry inside because of what He's planting, and growing, and harvesting, and how my soul is becoming fertile ground for His love. 

And today my inside crier wept her way through the Exhortation read after the Lenten acclamation: Bless the Lord, who forgives all our sins. His mercy endures forever

I wish I had wise words about the Exhortation. I wish I knew something... theological or pithy or beautiful to say. But the point, I suspect, is to let my words cease. Let the inside crier cry. So I am copying part of the Exhortation, which can be found in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 316. 

Beloved in the Lord: Our Savior Christ, on the night before he suffered, instituted the Sacrament of his Body and Blood as a sign and pledge of his love, for the continual remembrance of the sacrifice of his death, and for a spiritual sharing in his risen life. For in these holy Mysteries we are made one with Christ, and Christ with us; we are made one body in him, and members of one another. 

Having in mind, therefore, his great love for us, and in obedience to his command, his Church renders unto Almighty God our heavenly Father never-ending thanks for the creation of the world, for his continual providence over us, for his love for all mankind, and for the redemption of the world by our Savior Christ, who took upon himself our flesh, and humbled himself even to death on the cross, that he might make us the children of God by the power of the Holy Spirit, and exalt us to everlasting life...

Examine your lives and conduct by the rule of God's commandments that you may perceive wherein you have offended in what you have done or left undone, whether in thought, word or deed. And acknowledge your sins before Almighty God, with full purpose of amendment of life, being ready to make restitution for all injuries and wrongs done by you to others; and also being ready to forgive those who have offended you, in order that you yourselves may be forgiven. And then, being reconciled with one another, come to the banquet of that most heavenly Food...

To Christ our Lord who loves us, and washed us in his own blood, and made us a kingdom of priests to serve his God and Father, to him be glory in the Church evermore. Through him let us offer continually the sacrifices of praise, which is our bounden duty and service, and, with faith in him, come boldly before the throne of grace [and humbly confess our sins to Almighty God].

And my inner crier cries because I hear the exhortation - come boldly before the throne of grace, and acknowledge your sins before Almighty God, with full purpose of amendment of life. And I wonder how I can do that, how I can come boldly when I am bringing in my hands the resentment, the greed, the envy, the pride, the way I snapped at a family member and shot a withering look at a friend and judged someone wrongly and assumed something untrue and gossiped. I am lugging this to the Cross, and it seems so heavy, that I can't possibly come boldly anywhere. Surely, God, you realize I'm lugging this stuff to you reluctantly? I don't want to tell you that I am sinful. I don't want to admit any of this before the throne of grace {have you ever said that, too?}. I really don't want to come with the full purpose of amendment of life. 

(Photo Credit: Ryan Groff, Italy 2011)
But there the exhortation breathes out of the priest and into me, like the wind whistling through the Italy air and I hear it over and over as if from a great distance and from right next to me: come boldly.  When you offer your heart, your weighty, full heart and its troubles and its vices... God will not give them back to you. 
(Photo Credit: Hannah Cochran)
He will not give you back your heart as you gave it to him. He will make it new. He will forge it in the glorious mercy of the Cross. He will fill it with new life, and he will tell you again - Hilary, come boldly. Come boldly. 

Second Sunday in Lent (Anglican Book of Common Prayer)

O God, whose glory it is always to have mercy: Be gracious
to all who have gone astray from thy ways, and bring them
again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and
hold fast the unchangeable truth of thy Word, Jesus Christ
thy Son; who with thee and the Holy Spirit liveth and
reigneth, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Friday, March 18, 2011

Wait! (A Five Minute Post)

Lisa-Jo challenged me to write about waiting in just five minutes!

I remember the waiting game in high school when the thin letters in thin envelopes wound their way through the postal system into my mailbox. It was late in March and the ground was muddy, daffodils poking their fragile heads and gasping for some spring air. I wanted, so badly, to see that thick pile of acceptance, embossed with the Yale College logo, or the Harvard one, or the Princeton one.

I remember the waiting was the best and worst part, because when the answer came into my teary eyed "no, Mom, I didn't get in" the waiting ended in hurt. And I wanted it back - I wanted back in limbo and back in confusion and back in a place where "yes" was still possible.

But I also remember waiting after the "no." So what now, I asked myself as I stomped through gravel walkways at Waring, into the theater for "The Kitchen" rehearsals, into the Barn for Humanities class, into the House for tea with the headmaster. What now, God? We wait on that question so often that I think we must believe that a magic answer is going to fall from the sky and hit us on the head and burst forth into our lives with all the satisfaction of a well-timed cup of tea.

(Photo Credit: Ryan Groff, Italy Trip 2011)
And in so many ways I wait still on the "what now" on the "so, where am I going?" ever since He so gently but so firmly locked the door on my Ivy covered undergraduate dreams. And I'm waiting. But the waiting now is covered with the beautiful friends He's given me, the mentors, the classes, the moments of pure joy laughing in the Atomic with Lisa and getting coffee at the Starbucks on my morning commute with Virginia.

I wait on the next miraculous surprising closing of the door because waiting holds the promise of good, and the promise of gratitude, and the promise, however small and faint and beautiful, that God intends to do wonders.


Thursday, March 17, 2011

Friendship Lives 2,664 Miles Away (A Thank You)

She is deeply absorbed in finding track 34 of the St. John Passion (by Bach) to play for me, and my feet are tucked into her couch cushions in their customary position. Our mugs are emptied of chai tea lattes (homemade with the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf vanilla powder she first introduced in travel mugs on the way to the WWII Memorial). I remember that first long 5.4 mile walk to the fountains and back, when I think the lightbulb came on in my head that this - this wrapping ourselves in warm winter coats and talking excitedly about life after college and never feeling like we had enough time at Ebenezer's or enough time at Starbucks or enough time walking through Old Town Alexandria, or enough time just sitting in your apartment eating pesto chicken with applesauce. And now, here I am, with not enough time.

We lose hours in conversation, in the rhythm of words and ideas, in the overflow of too much to say in too little time. We talk about concertos, and we talk about Amy Adams singing "Happy Working Song" (and then we sing it in the car, right there in the parking lot, and laugh and laugh and laugh).

When the day is long in cold New England you are on Skype, in your room in sunny Santa Barbara, and somehow love moves between the millions of transition lines and megabytes to keep us journeying together. Because somehow, when I stepped off that plane in the airport and you came running towards me in your blue and white striped sundress I dropped my bags and grabbed you in a huge bear hug because you are that - the best hug after many weeks of being apart, and the laughter written large in our hearts and the understanding, the trust, the joy you help me scrawl into my life in bright crayola crayon colors.
(Photo Credit: Hannah Cochran)
And I wish that there was a way to say it well, from my perch in Santa Barbara, my first time on the West Coast, looking out at the Pacific Ocean, feeling the breeze lift my red hair and tangle it around my face, watching you as you look out at the rolling blue-green ocean. Isn't that funny, that with the best things, the things most real and precious, our words (however good and beautiful and special) are not what's needed? Instead, we just need to live thankful.

So I'm leaning over to give you a hug, and say thank you. For 2,664 miles of Skype hugs and soft words, for praying and encouraging, for knowing the questions to ask and the jokes to tell. For 2,664 miles of surprise packages and phone calls and building a friendship that spans the country and snuggles me safe into your heart. Thank you, for the 2,664 miles of love. 


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A Word for Wednesday: Gentle (A Series of Posts about Words)

When I was a junior in high school one of my classes was a creative writing class focused exclusively on poetry. I had no patience for poetry, I'm afraid to say. I believed that words are best when they are in the good company of many other words, strung together in sentences and contained appropriate punctuation. But after a semester (and then two more) of living in poetry, I learned to cherish words, just words, for their power and joy and unexpected meaning. So I take some time every Wednesday to think about a word with you. Glad you are here.

Word for Today: Gentle

Definition: Gentle means free from harshness, violence or sternness. Gentle is an adjective like soft, or like quiet - it sounds like itself. The consonants roll through the word, into the world, the "t" not too sharp, but still present. The softer "g" - the quiet "l". I love this word because it sounds like what it means. Gentle means kindly, amiable, polite or refined. The words for gentle are words peacefulness and demeanor, words about approaching the world.

Gentle, adj. I remember learning that this word was important when we kept a dutch lop-sided rabbit in our backyard. Her name was Holly, and she was the softest animal my grubby seven year old hands had ever held. But she was skittish, jumping nervously from one end of the cage to another every time she felt your footsteps on the cold wintry ground. "You must be gentle," Mom would say, as we approached Holly with carrot bits or to change the hay in her sleeping area. And sometimes, when my fidgety body would want to race forward and press my nose up against her cage, and reach for her, I would remember that word. "Gentle." You must be gentle. We are so impatient that most of the time we are rough. We tumble in our grass stained sundresses or our soccer shorts and we clatter loudly down the hallways, and we aren't gentle with the world. We smash into things, into others, collide violently as we make ourselves known, our own presence felt. We must be gentle.

Gentle, adj. The word for the piano music I love. It is gentle. The notes harmonize and wander through the big house, cheerful in their presence and their silence. I love the piano because it is a gentle instrument, and because even when the notes are striking, dramatic - even when you play it fiercely and harshly, and strike a discord at every turn, you can still hear its gentleness. The black and white keys hold my quiet rendition of "Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming" the Sunday after Christmas, and they hold Ingrid Michaelson's "The Chain" (my favorite song from her newest CD - Everybody). Gentle is a word for piano.

Gentle, adj. The paradoxical bursting forth of spring. It isn't gentle, not at all in the first moments. It is wild - the colors and blossoms and the clean smell of ocean air mixed with newly warmed dirt. Springtime is the mud on your rain boots and walking with your face turned up towards the sky, and the first tulip opening its petals to the sky and the first robin in the early morning outside the kitchen window. Spring is gentle in its activity, the swift calendar movement from March into April and May like the unfurling of ferns in the forest. Gentle is all the humming activity of spring.

Gentle, adj. The word for how I want to live this new season, the wrinkly new pink skin (without makeup every morning) and my bright smile... I want to live gentle and vibrant, my words delicate and quiet and true, and with my arms full of the best-smelling flowers just for you, to fill our lives with the freshness of love and life and laughter. 

Rose Garden


Monday, March 14, 2011

Fern (Multitudes on Mondays)

The concert rings in my ears and beats in my ribcage as Emily and I wind our way back Dartmouth, Newbury, and Hereford St., back to the T, back to North Station, back to home. I buzz with Zoë's cello, but most with her love of making music. For an hour and a half, she shared her joy, her love of composition, her love of the deep earth sounds and the sounds of wind and the sounds of water - all hidden in the belly of her instrument. 

I feel my feet strike the comforting hard brick pavement of city, of Boston, of me being me whenever I walk everywhere and take public transportation and people watch by the Public Library and laugh my way through window shopping with my friend. And I know that there is gratitude here, today

And the discipline is the ache of praise:

15. For Fern, Zoë Keating's song perched in my soul and singing (without words), but never stopping. 
16. For the green-grey ocean on Thursday rustled by breezes. 
17. For book trivia and finish-the-quote and what-is-the-name-of with Dad and Joe about Harry Potter, Narnia, Sense & Sensibility, and all the best stories of childhood.
18. For that beautiful-smelling grass soap at Sabon on Newbury St. 
19. For laughing until our sides hurt at dinner out on Wednesday because the family was telling funny stories and laughing about the trials of young love. 
20. For the trip to California tomorrow morning (early - 6am!)

May this day, each moment, fill you with the ache to praise, the ache of praise. May peace blossom in your heart from the One who is our peace. 


For Quiet Confidence (from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer)

O God of peace, who hast taught us that in returning and
rest we shall be saved, in quietness and confidence shall be
our strength: By the might of thy Spirit lift us, we pray thee,
to thy presence, where we may be still and know that thou
 God; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

My Heart is... Deceitful? (A Reflection on the First Sunday of Lent)

Disclaimer: Though a student of theology, though a student of Christian thought, though at the beginning of deep learning in these fields, I am not a theologian. I am not yet wise in the ways of living faithfully. But I hope in this season of Lent, of preparation and hungry patience, of running with you to the Cross, I can offer some words to reflect on, as we lean forward to Easter.

This Sunday marks the first Sunday in Lent, and our focus turns towards Jesus' temptations. Three times we read that Satan challenges, provokes and tempts Jesus towards serving himself above God. Satan challenges - "If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread." Satan challenges - "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, 'He will command his angels concerning you.'" Satan challenges - "All these [the kingdoms of the world] I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me." 

And Jesus feels the gravity of sin. He knows what it is like to hear those challenges to self, those challenges to defy, to stake a claim for yourself, to seize the pleasure or the power or the moment. 

This morning while I yawned and sniffled my way through the silent procession and the beginning prayers, I was not thinking about how deeply Jesus knows that gravity. It is so easy, so much more convenient, to think of his divine powers as a kind of impenetrable firewall against Satan's offering. As if Jesus, because he is fully God, couldn't really know what it is like to hear the beckoning call of the fruit of disobedience. As if Jesus suffers, dies, and is resurrected all without really knowing the battles we fight with temptation. But Lent begins with this sharp reminder: Jesus knows temptation. 

Jesus knows exactly how appealing that fruit is. Jesus knows exactly how deceitful my own heart is. He knows how I eat of it, how I step close to the vortex, to the spinning gravity of sin and fall in. He peers inside me, my feeble barriers and shadowy disguises no match for his all-knowing: and he sees everything. Almighty God, unto you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid. Uh-oh. My deceitful heart is that fully known. 

Jeremiah 17.9 says, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?" 

My heart is deceitful. I think the last time I paused to reflect on that was... a year ago? Maybe more? I think I said something about my heart being deceitful when I believed I could successfully run a small group, a committee, take classes, work, and be a good friend... Maybe I said that when I figured out that, after all, the boy didn't have feelings for me? Maybe I said my heart was deceitful when I believed she would never say that about me all the way back in high school?  

Is it so easy to forget? I know that lies exist. I know that I lie to others, and other lie to me. But my heart is deceitful towards me, too. I tell myself the story that is convenient. I tell myself the story that is easier on the eyes, easier on the emotions. I tell myself that I'm not responsible, or it's not my fault, or "I'm learning how to do this..." I comfort and coddle and nestle the harsh light of the Cross in the warm lullabies of deceit. 

And all the while, I forget the tough truth of 1 Lent: my heart is deceitful. And I look around, the March sunlight twinkling in the panes of stained glass, and I hear Father Michael say, "This is the struggle to breathe under three feet of water, and the struggle for joy, and the struggle for life."

He reminds us of Hebrews 10.19-24: 

Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus,
 By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh;
 And having an high priest over the house of God;
 Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.
 Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;)
 And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works...

And in the same breath that I am whacked over the head with my deceitful heart, I am also reminded that I draw near, even in fear, with a true heart in full assurance of faith. And so begins the fight to see honestly, to provoke my deceitful, sinful heart unto love, and to good works. And so begins the journey of holding fast to the profession of faith, to the Cross, to the One who knows temptation. Who can know my deceitful heart? Jesus Christ, who came into the world for the life of the world. Who came because he knows how good that fruit looks, and how hard it is not to eat it. 

But he comes to bring us life.

So hold fast, children of the Father, and look with eagerness and reverence towards the Resurrection of Christ Jesus.

Pray with me:

First Sunday in Lent (from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer)
Almighty God, whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be
tempted of Satan; Make speed to help thy servants who are
assaulted by manifold temptations; and, as thou knowest
their several infirmities, let each one find thee mighty to save;
through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and
reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for
ever. Amen.


Friday, March 11, 2011

Exasperated Sighs, The Mug, and Laughter (A Five Minute Post)

Lisa-Jo invited me to write about when I feel the most loved in just five minutes!

It begins with the hundreds of exasperated sighs I exhale throughout the day into the office, into my heavy textbooks, into my conversations. There is always the small smile, the laughter peeking out from the corner of your mouth. I throw my hands in the air and I think, "This is all just too hard!" and I sigh.

And it never fails to make you laugh. When we're sitting in your office and my hands cradle "the" mug and I start to talk loud and rushed, the words tumbling out one after another, or when I'm quiet and unsure and I keep glancing out between the blinds on your window to avoid hearing your question - that's when I sigh and you laugh and I know, you know me. And I know, you laugh because you love me.

And there is always room for me to poke my head in and room for me to ask you a question or text you that I miss DC especially that morning, I miss the home of those brick streets and tripping over branches on my way to Eastern Market and wishing, wishing, wishing i knew when I was going to go back. You make room for me to become me.

Did I tell you this often enough? That these are some of the moments I feel the most loved, when I sigh a long exasperated or sad or angry or frustrated or this-is-the-truth-isn't-it sigh, and you laugh. You laugh and you help me remember to laugh too. And then you mention, "This is like the time that we talked about..," and I don't even need you to finish your sentence because I already know what you're talking about.

You laugh, and I laugh with you, and I feel completely loved.


Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A Word for Wednesday: Ashes (A Series of Posts about Words)

When I was a junior in high school one of my classes was a creative writing class focused exclusively on poetry. I had no patience for poetry, I'm afraid to say. I believed that words are best when they are in the good company of many other words, strung together in sentences and contained appropriate punctuation. But after a semester (and then two more) of living in poetry, I learned to cherish words, just words, for their power and joy and unexpected meaning. So I take some time every Wednesday to think about a word with you. Glad you are here. 

Word for Today: Ashes

Definition: The word ashes is a word for the remains after a fire. The grey-white or black powder left behind after burning. The mineral residue, the "particulate matter" ejected by volcanic eruption. Ashes means ruins, the remains after cremation.

Ashes, noun. A word for the fire that consumes. We talk, talk, talk all the time about being "on fire" with the Spirit, or being "on fire" for God. And the feeling of love, devotion, chasing after God is true and good. But the purifying fire consumes and leaves traces of ashes. That attitude of envy? Ashes. The grip of pride on your heart? Ashes. When we invite the flame of God to enter and purify us, it means that we will see attitudes, ideas, feelings - reduced to ashes, to particles, to mineral residue. Everything we wanted to keep safely tucked in our pockets, those convenient excuses ("I'm only cranky because I had a bad day... I was only joking... I said that because I was tired... I forgot you because...) - if we submit ourselves to becoming ashes, those things will catch fire.

Ashes, noun. A word that forces my eyes upwards to look in the mirror honestly. How much do I choose not to see about myself that needs to change? How much do I cover in shadows? For Lent this year I am, in addition to other things, giving up makeup. That means when I look in the mirror it is only my eyes that look back, only that splash of freckles (unaided by blush or bronzer), only that hint of dimples that I say all too often I wish I didn't have. I hear ashes and I think, Ash Wednesday is the invitation to self-examination. Ash Wednesday is the beginning of seeing honestly.

(Photo Credit: Mandie Sodoma)
Ashes, noun. It means the hymn "The King of Love My Shepherd Is." I was thirteen when my paternal grandfather died. We flew to England in a whirlwind of snow, and I remember the white outside the plane and on the ground, contrasted so sharply with the black of his ashes after the cremation. I remember the service in the crematorium and the song I still can't sing without it catching in my throat. The ashes seem to fill my lung, the reminder that we return to dust. A reminder that somehow, in blinding snow flurries and too many tears, this is the story of the King of Love, the Shepherd.

Ashes, noun. A new heart is being forged. I'm moldable as the white iron in the leaping flames of the blacksmith's fire, and He wants to do beautiful work. I am being made new, this Lent and beyond, in each moment if I can hold my hands open and say yes Father, yes to the molding, yes to the Grace of Your flames, to the promise of the new heart

(Photo credit: Mandie Sodoma)

I read in a devotional the other day, this question. 

O My Child, have I ever failed thee? Have I ever turned My back upon thee, or forsaken thee? Have I not been thy refuge and thy strong defense?

Ashes says, "Remember, remember He who brings victory. Remember, remember that you too might catch flame with love. Remember, remember that ashes are the promise of life

Pray with me (from the Book of Common Prayer):

 Almighty God, you have created us out of the dust of the
 earth: Grant that these ashes may be to us a sign of our
 mortality and penitence, that we may remember that it is
 only by your gracious gift that we are given everlasting life;
 through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.


Monday, March 7, 2011

The Smell of Rain (Multitudes on Mondays)

Yesterday I went for a run, winding my way through patches of warm and cold air, through the sludge of melting snow and muddy sidewalk, as the sky was dappled different shades of grey and white. I thought to myself, this air smells so good.

I'm thankful for the smells of things that make memories in our hearts - baking bread, English wind, just-made guacamole, clothes hot from the dryer, air before rain, roses, peonies, chlorine in your hair from swimming, ocean.

The discipline is the ache of praise:

6. Thank You for Letters to a Young Poet in my broken sounded out Italian
7. Thank You for cappuccino in Caffé di Siena
8. for the smell of rain and spring air
9. for the cup of good strong tea
10. for the time to sit at the messy kitchen table and talk about parents and children and life with Mom & Dad.

May this day, each moment, fill you with the ache to praise, the ache of praise. May peace blossom in your heart from the One who is our peace. 


For Quiet Confidence (from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer)

O God of peace, who hast taught us that in returning and
rest we shall be saved, in quietness and confidence shall be
our strength: By the might of thy Spirit lift us, we pray thee,
to thy presence, where we may be still and know that thou
 God; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Glorious Shadow (A Reflection on the Sunday of the Transfiguration)

Disclaimer: Though a student of theology, though a student of Christian thought, though at the beginning of deep learning in these fields, I am not a theologian. I am not yet wise in the ways of living faithfully. But I hope in this season of Lent, of preparation and hungry patience, of running with you to the Cross, I can offer some words to reflect on, as we lean forward to Easter.

I do not, in general, know what to do with praise songs. I find their musicality distracting - you have to be so concentrated on hitting the notes right with the guitars, and the drumbeats - and I find that the point soon becomes singing the song well, sounding like that beautiful recording of the song but not like myself.

I feel out of my depth. But this morning, for whatever reason, I found this song.

The David Crowder Band. "Shadow." In the Western liturgical calendar, this is the Sunday of the Transfiguration, where we hear of the glory of God that dazzles the air on Mount Sinai with Moses (Exodus 24), that transfigures the face of Jesus (Matthew 17). This Sunday is about the light of God's glory, how it shatters and illuminates, how it pierces, and triumphs, and reigns.

Have you ever thought about that? That, in the words of David Crowder, "Yet will He bring, dark to light, yet will He bring, day from night." The light is a promise. The light makes visible all things. From this light, the light of the glory of God, we can hide nothing.

We think shadows are safe. We crouch in them, dance in and out of them, imagine that our shadows are like invisibility cloaks. We scrunch our eyes tight shut, play the old game of "If I can't see you, then you can't see me." We clap our hands over our eyes, pretend that all is in darkness.

But the Sunday of the Transfiguration cracks that illusion, doesn't it? This is the Sunday we pray for light. Not for gentle, warm flashlight-under-your-blankets-so-you-can-read-late light. Not the humming glow of nightlights or the flicker of candlelight. We ask and plead and open ourselves to the blinding, transfiguring, transformative light. The light that glares with its whiteness. The light that bursts out and terrifies Peter and James and John. We are told to pray for this light to enter our hearts.

And this light is the light we remember as we enter the shadow of the Cross. And David Crowder sings, "We will not fear. We will remember. When darkness falls on us, we will not fear, we will remember... when all seems lost, when we're pulled and we're tossed, we'll remember the cost, we rest in the shadow of the Cross."

Our brilliant thesis/antithesis, our polemics, our philosophical dilemmas shudder under the weight of this paradox: the shadow of the Cross, the moment of darkness, is the moment of brightest light.

We rest in the light that pours from the shadow of Cross. The moment when all is dark - is the Light of the world. 

"It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, while the sun's light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit." Having said this, he breathed his last." (Luke 23.44 - 46). 

This Lent, we begin with the promise of light that blazes through our darkness, but light that comes from the shadow of the Cross. The journey to the light begins now. 

Pray with me:

Last Sunday after the Epiphany
This Proper is always used on the Sunday before Ash Wednesday

O God, who before the passion of thy only-begotten Son
didst reveal his glory upon the holy mount: Grant unto us
that we, beholding by faith the light of his countenance, may
be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into his
likeness from glory to glory; through Jesus Christ
our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy
Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

(taken from the Book of Common Prayer, 1979 edition)


Friday, March 4, 2011

The Mirror (A Five Minute Post)

Lisa-Jo challenged me to write myself, my mirror-image breathing self into words in just five minutes!

I see the wide smile first, the almost-can't-contain-the-good-good-day smile. It is leaking out all over this morning because God is that good, that gentle, that alive and my eyes crinkle into laughter because I'm looking at laughter full on in the face.

I see the eyes next, the ones that shift colors like the sun shifts angles in the sky. Once when I was going out to dinner in Paris with my class I wore this bright yellow sweater and my teacher said my eyes looked golden. Other times they are storm-grey and weighted down with wind. Other times ocean or oak tree green, but today they are interlocking circles of blue and emerald with flecks of grey in them, all of my many selves flickering inside my ever-dilating pupils.

And then I see nose scattered with Dad's freckles and my hands brush my face and I feel sure that this is my skin and this is my movement, my muscles tightening and stretching into the new days ahead of me and oh, how glorious it is to sit in your own skin, isn't it? And be content there?

I pull on my sweater and my coat and layer the Florence scarf through it all as if I am lacing my Italian self into my day, lacing in the expressions of rich fresh wine-and-sunlight, earth-under-my-feet, and the clean blue air of traveling into my self. I glance back in the mirror as I head out the door, and realize that Hilary means cheerful, and I see that in the mirror too.



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