Thank you for the unsettling of our lives

If you had told me back in March that the pandemic would still be raging, with no end in sight, in mid-August, I think I would have had a nervous breakdown. And yet here we are, pressing on like everyone else. I am anxious about the fall and winter, but I have been learning that anxiety is fruitless. So I don’t read the news; I stay off social media; I allow Guion to share one headline with me per day. In this way, I at least maintain a semblance of calm.

. . .

I am currently reading and loving Robin Wall Kimmerer’s book Braiding Sweetgrass. Many people have recommended it to me, and I am grateful that I finally made time for it: What a gem of a book! One quote to whet your appetite:

“Being naturalized to place means to live as if this is the land that feeds you, as if these are the streams from which you drink, that build your body and fill your spirit. To become naturalized is to know that your ancestors lie in this ground. Here you will give your gifts and meet your responsibilities. To become naturalized is to live as if your children’s future matters, to take care of the land as if our lives and the lives of all our relatives depend on it. Because they do.”

Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass

. . .

Moses is 15 months old and continues to be a busy little bee. He has a lot to say (although the vast majority of it isn’t English) and loves inspecting nature on our daily walks. Every parent says this, but it is so refreshing to be in the presence of a small child when outdoors. They are so rooted in wonder.

Fashion Moses, before the big chop. (Wearing one of Guion’s vintage rompers.)

We are grateful for many things, and Moses is often chief among them. He makes these long days lighter.

. . .

Almighty God, whose Mary-like beauty compels our attention, give us hearts that jump within us with the good news of your salvation. We confess that amidst the tedium of the everyday our worship of you sometimes feels like a job—just “one more thing.” Thank you for the unsettling of our lives, wherein we discover the splendor of the kingdom made possible by your Son, Jesus Christ. We pray that you will ever be here, unsettling our attempts to domesticate the wildness of your Spirit. Amen.

Stanley Hauerwas, Prayers Plainly Spoken

Already given

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Charleston in late February.

We went away to Charleston for a long weekend, a final, celebratory jaunt as a family of two. We walked miles and miles every day and ate incredible amounts of delicious food (on any holiday, walking and eating are my primary ambitions). And then we spied some of the most grand old rowhouses, cheerful dogs, a trio of dolphins, and an injured bald eagle and maimed kestrel (at the aquarium, where they somewhat incongruously reside).

After eight years of marriage, we’ve become very compatible travel companions. He knows that I will be unnecessarily anxious about the airport (not about flying, but about being in an airport, for which I reserve a special kind of loathing) and accommodates in advance to reduce my fretting. I know that he will find the best restaurants in any given city, so I don’t spend any time researching them. He knows that I will want to find some animals to admire, wherever they exist, and I know that he will want to stop and photograph unfamiliar flowers or vines or shrubs. We rarely need to even voice our desires, which frees us up to have conversations at dinner about inconsequential abstractions (gender politics, music theory, creative expression, the value of performance art, the frequency with which one should shampoo).

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If there is anything I fear, it is the dread of the unknown, the simmering concern that a new person in the family will ruin our happy relationship. Parents we trust and respect tell us that raising children will, in time, deepen our relationship. Our sorrows and joys will both be more extreme. But as an emotionally illiterate person, I can’t help but hear this reassurance as deeply troubling.

. . .

“Lord, give us what you have already given.” — A character in Ilya Kaminsky’s Dancing in Odessa

. . .

I’m feeling burnt out on baby books, so I have been reading a history of the heroin epidemic, a field guide to North American trees, and a hefty novel by Elsa Morante. I am now feeling a little bit more like myself. Baby books are stressful.

Bright with praise

Japan: Day 1
First meal in Tokyo, 2008. (c) me.

PRAYER AFTER EATING

Wendell Berry

I have taken in the light
that quickened eye and leaf.
May my brain be bright with praise
of what I eat, in the brief blaze
of motion and of thought.
May I be worthy of my meat.

Prayed heartily

Some flowering bush
Some flowering bush in our old yard.

“No man has ever prayed heartily without learning something.”

— Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Nature”

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

My family is heading into this sadder, weightier Christmas time, but my heart is gravitating toward simple expressions of faith and comfort. I suppose this is what happens to all of us when we are so nearly confronted with grief and death. Small things resonate with me, like the verses from Psalm 4 (one of my favorites, probably because of the influence of Jennifer Knapp on my teenage self) that Guion read to me one night when I could not stop crying: “In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety” (Psalm 4:8). And even silly lines from Sufjan songs: “Since it’s Christmas, let’s be glad/Even if your year’s been bad, there are presents to be had.” Hugs from friends and my boss. E-mails from people I rarely see. Lasagna with these wonderful women this week:

Left to right: Me, Audrey, Stella the terrier, Sarah, Rachel, Casey, Palmer, Kendra, and Lizzie. Photo courtesy of Lizzie.
Left to right: Me, Audrey, Stella the terrier, Sarah, Rachel, Casey, Palmer, Kendra, and Lizzie. Photo courtesy of Lizzie.

There is hope and joy. Wishing you both during this Christmas season.

You have a thousand prayers but God has one

Sunrise

NOT SO. NOT SO.

Anne Sexton

I cannot walk an inch
without trying to walk to God.
I cannot move a finger
without trying to touch God.
Perhaps it is this way:
He is in the graves of the horses.
He is in the swarm, the frenzy of the bees,
He is in the tailor mending my pantsuit.
He is in Boston, raised up by the skyscrapers.
He is in the bird, that shameless flyer.
He is in the potter who makes clay into a kiss.

Heaven replies:
Not so! Not so!

I say thus and thus
and heaven smashes my words.

Is not God in the hiss of the river?

Not so! Not so!

Is not God in the ant heap,
stepping, clutching, dying, being born?

Not so! Not so!

Where then?
I cannot move an inch.

Look to your heart
that flutters in and out like a moth.
God is not indifferent to your need.
You have a thousand prayers
but God has one.

Family love: Mike

I am writing a series of posts about why I love my immediate family. This is the fourth installment. All wedding photos courtesy of the brilliant Meredith Perdue.

Mike

One of my favorite qualities about my father-in-law is how easy it is to fall into a serious conversation with him. It’s not that he’s overly solemn; rather, it’s because he’s always ready to engage with you on a level that transcends small talk. He also knows a lot about a lot of things.
325/365Mike has taught me a lot about how to love people. And even more than taught: Mike has shown me how to love people. Since we met, he’s always shown me deep wells of compassion, even when I had done nothing to merit such merciful treatment.

Mike’s theology matches the way he lives. He knows more about Anglicanism than anyone else I’ve met, but he also lives a daily practice of grace and love toward everyone. Mike and Windy were YoungLife leaders back in the day, but Guion likes to say that they never stopped being YoungLife leaders. I think that’s probably true. Their welcoming home in Southern Pines has never stopped being “the hang-out place” for kids during the holidays. Mike is able to keep up with people with astonishing energy and accuracy. I like to think that he and Windy were gifted with an endless supply of social energy. It’s very admirable and it frequently amazes me.

He can switch from joking to serious life discussion in a minute’s time, whatever the group or mood or tone requires. His careful mix of humor and politeness has always astonished me, because, well, I grew up with Juju, whose humor is never tactful.

M. PrattAside from Angela, I think Mike has been mine and Guion’s biggest fan. His unconditional support to us while we were dating, engaged, and now married has been invaluable to us both. He often reminds me that he and Windy have been praying for me since I was born. I smile, thank him, and feel overwhelmingly grateful.

Prayers for Japan

I checked the New York Times this morning just before I headed out the door to work and I felt my heart catch in my throat when I saw the front page. The devastation in Japan is unreal right now. Some of the photographs on the NYT home page show unimaginable devastation not too far from where my host family lives. My heart and my prayers go out to the Japanese people, to all of the aid and relief efforts, and to those who are still missing loved ones. May God have great mercy on Japan now.

So Lent begins

Sunrise from our kitchen.

Well, kind of. Guion told me last night that Lent doesn’t officially start until after the Ash Wednesday service, but I’m going to get started early.

Growing up as a non-liturgical non-denom., I never knew anything about the Lenten season, which now strikes me as rather sad and depraved. I’ve loved learning about the traditions and the liturgical calendar from my new family of faith, the Episcopal church. Guion is a born and bred Episcopalian and so I’ve learned a lot from him. I started observing Lent a year before we started dating and have continued since then.

This year, these are my Lenten disciplines:

  • No consumption of synthetic sugar (*with a few exceptions. I’m still eating stuff like bread and fruit, but no more cereal, yogurt, dessert, etc. Honey and agave nectar will also be allowed, but I’m going to try to go as long as I can without using them. I feel like I might go into powerful withdrawal.)
  • Prayer and Bible study each morning. I’ve been slacking lately and I can feel the difference in my mornings when I skip out.
  • Memorize one poem and one psalm with Guion.

As you know, I like challenges, but that’s not the sole reason for me for observing Lent. I think there is something to be said for the discipline of the body that informs the discipline of the soul. (Another reason I like the Episcopal service: the constant movement–kneeling, standing, sitting, kissing, consuming–tracks with the movement of the heart toward God and toward the sacrament of the Eucharist.) All that said, I am looking forward to this season of physical and spiritual taming. Although it bums me out that Lent always falls over my birthday… sugar-free ice cream is probably really gross.

What about you? Have you ever observed Lent before? Are you going to observe it this year?