Category Archives: Projects

liberated to love

Recently, I delivered my second sermon ever to the 5pm community of St Paul’s Episcopal Church in Seattle. This community practices a shared homily, so I gave a few minutes of my own reflections and then invited the responses of the community.

Here’s the gospel text I preached on from the lectionary that Sunday, Matthew 5:21-37.

And click here for the audio of my portion of the sermon.

Let me know what you think!

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remember death

Recently, a friend sent me this piece in which Russell Banks discusses his inspiration for writing: a gravestone inscription of Remember Death that sits near his desk.

I’m reminded (as I read Banks’s words now, and often when I write) of Andrew Marvell’s line, “at my back I always hear Time’s wingéd chariot hurrying near.” For some reason it gives me the feeling of a hand lightly touching the small of my back; a feminine image, a tuxedoed man ushering me inside while holding open the door. I don’t need to look over my shoulder to know that it is no mortal, but Death’s skeletal hand, resting on the curve of my spine.

Yet death is such an abstraction, so hard to keep near. I’ve more than once tried to be decisive about killing myself, tried to pick a date, so that I could write a suicide letter about the way I experience the world. Undoubtedly, the letter would turn into an essay and then a book and maybe something worthwhile would come of it. But I can’t convince myself quite enough that I’ll actually follow through with the suicide, at least never for long enough to actually write something worthwhile. Or, the times I begin to draft such an essay in my head, I’m already so far in despair that I know—with supposed certainty—that nothing worthwhile would ever come of it, or of any work at all. Everything is meaningless, I mumble to myself, everything is vapor.
Sometimes I worry that because I don’t remember death and because I don’t write—the causation is important—I’ll be diagnosed, someday soon, with an exotic, fast-moving, incurable disease and have to scribble down just one of the dozen books I have inside me before the spirit expires.
So here I am. Anxious, unproductive. Paralyzed.
Jesus said: If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring  forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will kill you. It feels true. And I don’t now how to get it out.
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a prayer for difficult transitions

I often forget to pray. Especially the last few days, I have been struggling through both physical pain and emotional hurt. The most prayer I’ve offered in the last week is tears, and although these, too, are acceptable to God as prayer, I know more is desired. The best way to move through such difficulties is to begin to find language to specifically name what is happening. I’ve written only a couple Celtic-style prayers, both prompted by classes. Although I struggled with the assignments, I find that a part of myself is released as the words are formed and repetition enacted. So I decided to write a quick one with the hope that reading and rereading it will release some of the emotional hurt. Here’s a short prayer for difficult transitions.

As it was,

Is not.

As it is,

Will not always be.

O eternal outpouring of grace!

O eternal offering of peace!

O eternal triune of love!

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the year of the pen

Last time the year rolled over, I decided to give up my obsession over goals and achievements in favor of focusing on one thing. An ancient Greek poet wrote, “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”  I was driving myself crazy trying to be a fox and never achieving enough to meet my standards, so I decided to try being a hedgehog.

I’m naming 2013 the Year of the Pen, the year in which I commit myself to writing. I chose a specific topic and am making notes on it every day. I enrolled in fewer classes so that I have more time to dedicate to my own projects. For Christmas, my husband bought me a beautiful leather notebook that safekeeps my thoughts, observations, ranting internal monologues.

I’m nervous. This feels like a big risk, and an unstable career path. For someone who was so goal-oriented and achievement-driven, stepping back from academia feels like a failure in itself. To leave a sturdy career path with regular paychecks in order to write feels irresponsible. But I’m doing this. By the end of the year, I’ll have at least one substantive work to start sending to publishers.

photo

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looking back

For me, 2012 was the Year of the Nest. It was my first year of marriage, and I had wanted to integrate Keller’s and my belongings, get rid of towers of boxes, and create an inviting space for guests—in short, I wanted to make a home. Our first place was on the eighteenth floor of a downtown Seattle apartment building. We called it the Nest, a reference both to our newlywed nesting status and to its place among the treetops. Although I did manage unpack all our belongings, it never stopped feeling like an apartment. When we finally moved last August, we joked that it was as if we had lived in a hotel for a year and were just coming home.

In that first week at the new apartment, we painted, unpacked, and organized everything. The second week brought our first house guest, my sister (technically sister-in-law, but we call each other ‘sister’) all the way from Jordan. It was so nice to be able to put her in a room that could be hers for the stay, whereas previous guests had set up camp in the living room. A few days later, we had our first party, inviting friends to grill out and relax around a bonfire in the backyard. Since then we have hosted meals for friends, gatherings for school groups, even Thanksgiving for a dozen. Our home is known as Fort Davis, a restful sanctuary set aside from the battles of the world. A couple friends helped us decorate our tree while being warmed by hot cider and a small fire, and as we together began to anticipate Christmas, my friend said to his wife, “This just feels like home, doesn’t it?” Perhaps the best compliment an intentional homemaker could overhear; the warmth of the fireplace could not compete with the warmth in my heart.

home

The other part of my desire to nest well was to be mindful in keeping a clean home and establishing routines. Since mindfulness is a habit rather than an achievement, it doesn’t fit the easy parameters of success or failure. Some days I am attentive and aware. Folding laundry is meditative, most weeks. But there are other times when it falls apart. The paper-writing season at the end of last term meant that laundry didn’t even get done for a couple weeks, and stayed in baskets cluttering the bedroom floor for a couple more. Cultivating the memory to be mindful is a work that will continue to be in progress.

2013 is deemed the Year of the Pen, but more on that in my next post!

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writing life

Here’s my confession: I don’t love to write. Finding the right words with the proper connotations is tedious. Moving those words into a linear order to convey non-linear thoughts and emotions is frustrating. Constructing a piece so that the reader has all the needed information before arriving at the next point and the next point and, eventually, the conclusion, requires an out-of-myself-ness that’s draining. My thoughts, I find, are unwieldy. They are animals, some angry, fighting, blood-thirsty; others weak, starving, simply thirsty.

And yet, here I am. At my desk, as I aim to be every morning (but truthfully, after checking emails, I only manage to keep myself here about half my mornings). I have a mug of tea, or maybe it’s just a glass of water, my phone is face down, my everything notebook at my side in order to refer to my scribbles about my life and try to make some sense of them. I swivel in the chair, I look out the window. I wonder when the dog will interrupt me to be loved. I manage to get a sentence or two out. Swivel, stare. Where is that dog? I hope he comes by soon, to check on me, to be loved.

I’m here because, while I may not absolutely love the process of writing, I do love reading. Everything is arranged in a logical way, and after going through a well-written paper I understand the conclusions and it’s all so simple; I could explain the universe, or at least this fraction of it. For a few minutes, I feel secure in some new knowledge. Then the information gets admitted into my inner jungle of a world where it interacts with lurking creatures who live there, and this new piece quickly mutates into another unwieldy beast.

So I write something, I wrestle, I struggle, I re-phrase and re-order. I hate the piece. I hate my poor writing. I boil. This is shit!, I inwardly yell. Eventually, I decide I can’t take any more of that topic, or, as a godsend, the deadline approaches, and I stop. I call it good enough.

Some weeks go by.

Then, my hatred calmed, cooled, and stilled, I revisit the work. Perhaps I decide I’m able to work on it again, perhaps it was just returned to me from my professor. I read my own thoughts but more clearly explained. The wild beasts are tamed, the fledglings are cared for. I realize, this is really good. I second-guess myself, check the header, Did I really write this? It all seems so much more manageable in this black-and-white linear space.

And I sulk back to my desk, hoping to tame the rest of the jungle.

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summer reading list

Right now I’m in the middle of seven different books, and still with two papers to write and an exam to take. But once I finish all that, here’s my highly hopeful summer reading list. Assuming I don’t get bound into other pages.

– What is the What by Dave Eggers. I love Eggers but am way behind the times on reading him.

– Batwoman: Elegy by Greg Rucka. I need more graphic novels in my life.

– The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky. This is referenced in approximately half of my seminary readings; it must be consumed.

– Audacity of Hope by the POTUS. It’s an election year, you know.

– Mindfulness in Plain English by Bhante Henepola Gunaratana. Recommended to me by an amazing yoga instructor.

– Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell.

– Walking on Water by Madeleine L’Engle.

– Utopia by Thomas More.

– American Primitive by Mary Oliver. For a lit person, I don’t really love poetry, so I’m trying to learn.

– The Serpent Slayer & Other Stories of Strong Women by Katrin Tchana. Feel like I’ll be needing this this summer.

And my backup list, for if I actually manage to make it through those and want more. Or if I burn through one type of book (probably fiction first) and need more of that typte:

Out of Oz by Gregory Maguire. Can’t not finish a series.

– Fluke by Christopher Moore.

– Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. Although hopefully I’m writing, not reading about writing.

A Generous Orthodoxy by Brian McLaren. In preparation for Wild Goose Fest West.

– View with a Grain of Sand by Wislawa Szymborska. More poetry!

– Feminist Theory and Christian Theology by Serene Jones. Recommended by a professor at The Seattle School.

What are you reading this summer? What criteria do you use to pick your reading?

If you want reviews on any title in particular, leave a comment and I’ll make sure to write up my thoughts when I finish it. For progress updates, friend me on goodreads.

lent iv

It’s Holy Week, the last week of Lent. I’m still wearing black Tshirts, no makeup, no jewelry. Although Sundays have turned into colorful feast days, I haven’t diverged from my uniform during the week with the exception of the occasional streak of black eyeliner over each lashline.

image: jcrew.com

In some ways, it’s been much easier than I anticipated. The only moment of temptation is when I get dressed to go out; it’s not an ever-present need. At most, I feel the limitation twice a day: getting dressed in the morning, and getting ready for any social functions or events that Keller and I go to in the evening. For the former, the lenten uniform is a relief from the high-adorableness-factor fashion at school. For the latter, it is only a deep moment of longing to wear layers of color and a range of textures, followed by a moment of pressure to simultaneously blend in with the crowd’s level of formality while standing out in my choice’s unique pieces or combination. I quickly scramble for a black T, once again relieved.

At the start of this season, I had hoped that the practice would aid me in, if not loving my body, at least ceasing to loathe it. I won’t say I’ve entirely stopped the negative thoughts, but I rely less on the image in the mirror. I feel the weight in my body, and it doesn’t feel entirely healthy. And I think that’s ok to feel: it encourages me to make healthy changes, rather than attempt to motivate myself using self-hate. I’m eating a lot more vegetables, and drinking more water. I’m running, lifting weights, practicing krav maga. My muscles are vaguely sore, and the ache feels gloriously physical in ways I had forgotten.

Which is a revelation and reminder I hadn’t planned on being gifted: God took on human flesh. This is what it feels like.

lent iii

The most surprising thing of my Lent experience is realizing how narcissistic I had been. I wouldn’t wear the same shirt within ten days because I was worried someone would notice. We just passed the 5th Sunday in Lent, and no one has yet acknowledge that I’ve been wearing black v-neck Tshirts every single day. Considering my school can often feel like a fashion competition, it is incredibly freeing to know with the certainty of knowledge that comes from lived experience: no one notices, or at least, no one cares.

Although, I’ll admit it: I’m ready to be wearing color again, to be able to play through style. Originally I thought that on Sundays (or “Feast Days” as Keller and I have taken to calling them) I would wear only white or gray. This Feast Day I wore a blue dip-dyed skirt with a green T to church, and then changed into neon pink jeans, a chambray shirt, and a multi-color necklace. I may have diverged from the plan a little bit.

Which is good. Part of the season of Lent is about building anticipation, about looking forward. And I’m doing that. Not obsessively, but it will be nice to have color in my life again. The metaphor feels appropriate.

the nest

Traditionally at the start of each year, I reflect on what I would like to accomplish and break that into goals. I go through those goals each month to lay out what pieces will get done, and go through that list weekly, allotting tasks to each day. It’s effective for achievement, but it’s exhausting, and truthfully,there hasn’t been much transformation. Some things have turned into habits, but the habits I’ve most developed are checking my tasks tab and maintaining anxiety over not doing more each day. For 2012,  I needed a more life-giving system.

An amazingly energetic and energizing pastor I know gave me some advice on developing habits rather than simply setting goals (you can find his blog post on it here). He makes years into projects. For him, 2012 will forever be remembered as the Year of the Carrot, the year he and his wife went vegan. He sets out to do something for a year — a time span that you can tell yourself isn’t all that long, and yet a significant enough amount of time to really develop a habit.

So in 2012, I’m moving towards adopting this approach, although tentatively. It’s a transitional year between goal-setting and habit-forming projects.

This year, I’m nesting.

On the one hand, there are very definite tasks involved. Stop living out of boxes from moving 6 months ago, figure out a way to store our bikes in the apartment, put away all those wedding gifts. I’m starting with the bedroom, the heart of the home, and will move on to another room when it’s completed.

It’s also somewhat habit-forming, although admittedly not a singular concrete habit. I’m developing mindfulness in the way our home is and the attitude I take in maintaining it. I make the bed in the morning, and it’s becoming a spiritual practice. I close my secretary desk in the evening, a ritual that marks the end of my work for the day. I’m figuring out what works to make our home inviting and comfortable.

It feels like a good way to start marriage. The chuppah we stood under represents a home under God and open to community. I want our home to reflect that as mucha s possible.