Thursday, February 26, 2009

A Prayer for Lent

In a book of Lenten devotions compiled from his writings, Henri Nouwen wrote the following prayer:

The Lenten season begins.
It is time to be with you in a special way, a time to pray, to fast,
and thus to follow you on your way to Jerusalem, to Golgotha,
and to the final victory over death.

I am still so divided. I truly want to follow you,
but I also want to follow my own desires
and lend an ear to the voices that speak
about prestige, success, human respect, pleasure, power, and influence.
Help me to become deaf to these voices and more attentive to your voice, which calls me to the narrow road to life.

I know that Lent is going to be a very hard time for me.
The choice for your way has to be made every moment of my life.
I have to choose thoughts that are your thoughts,
words that are your words, and
actions that are your actions.
There are no times or places without choices.
And I know how deeply I resist choosing you.

Please, Lord, be with me at every moment and in every place.
Give me the strength and the courage to life this season faithfully, so that, when Easter comes, I will be able to taste with joy the new life which you have prepared for me.


Lenten season has begun indeed, the lead up to the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ.

What an odd thing to celebrate, I sometimes think, as I hear the incredulous questions, sarcastic comments, and stifled giggles of my friends and neighbors who either walk a different faith walk entirely or believe in nothing apart from what can be seen and touched. I acknowledge that it is nearly impossible to explain my faith in the story of the life of Christ to someone who thinks of the Bible and its stories as foolishness, as myth.

I also acknowledge that in the name of the Christ millions of people have been and continue to be slaughtered, abused, humiliated, swindled, cheated, misled, and otherwise mistreated. Sometimes I weep when I think of the way that Christ's name and message have been misused for material profit, political gain, and military advantage - and continue to be misused to this very day.

Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy.

But the voice of Christ calling me to have compassion on others,
to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to seek peace and pursue it,
that voice calls to the deepest part of me - and I cannot and choose not to ignore it.

The call of Christ challenging me to touch the untouchable,
to love those that some call unlovable,
to eat and drink and share my life with the poor, the lonely,
the rejected, the sorrowful,
and to tell the truth of my own poverty, loneliness, rejection, and sorrow,
I cannot and will not ignore that call.

But I am divided. I want to avoid the pain around me and within me.
I want to pretend that homelessness and hunger and mental illness,
that poverty and abuse of all kinds and unjust war do not exist -
and if they do, I want to convince myself that there is nothing I can do about it.

I am divided because I know that there is something I can do.
There are choices I can make that will make a difference.
I can speak up and speak out. I can write letters and make phone calls.
I can stand with my immigrant friends and plead for immigration reform.
I can choose to not buy from certain stores or companies.
I can stand in solidarity with my poor friends
(Do I even have poor friends? Or have I completely insulated myself from poverty?)
and cry out for help and mercy and generosity.
I can empty my drawers and closets and shoe boxes and clothe the needy.
I can empty my pantry and feed the hungry.
I can stop living in fear that there isn't enough and recognize the truth that there is more than enough.
As Gandhi said decades ago: "There is enough for everyone's need, but there is not enough for everyone's greed."

I am reminded by Nouwen's prayer that it is no longer enough simply to pray or meditate.
I must choose to love, to give, to share, to work for justice and peace,
to be present to the needs and sorrows of my neighbors and friends and loved ones.
I weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice.
I choose to speak and write words of peace and grace and
forgiveness to the one who recently rejected my family,
even though we are members of the same family.
And I ask her forgiveness for any and all pain I have caused her.
(Will you forgive me and give me another chance to be a better sister and aunt? Please???)

I join Nouwen in his prayer asking Christ for the strength and courage to live out this life I have been called to live.
To pray faithfully. To live faithfully. To love deeply. To laugh heartily.
To forgive completely. To seek forgiveness truly. To not turn away from those in need.
To give, to receive, to rejoice, to weep, to be true and whole and to be at peace.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Long Pew

The cathedral in Granada, Nicaragua.

It's a new blog I discovered yesterday.
Connected to one of my favorite authors, Robert Benson.
A contemplative soul who writes what I think.
Check out the blog - it's a conversation between two men on their faith journey.
Co-travelers like the two disciples on the road to Emmaus.
Remembering and retelling their own stories, hoping that Christ will show up again.
To talk to them. To listen to them. To walk with them.

And then check out Robert's website.
More of his writing.
More about his books.
Gentle, thoughtful, wise, inquisitive.
Good stuff.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Water from a Rock

I love the house where you live, O Lord, the place where your glory dwells. Psalm 26:8

Find rest, o my soul, in God alone
my hope comes from him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation;
He is my fortress, I will not be shaken.
Psalm 62:5-6

Jesus answered, "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again,
but whoever drinks the water I give her will never thirst.
Indeed, the water I give her will become in her
a spring of water welling up to eternal life.
John 4:13-14.

O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you,
my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land
where there is no water. Psalm 63:1

Saturday, February 14, 2009

What if it's true...?

Today was a good day.
There were bagels and coffee, enjoyed in bed.
There was a long stint of reading, also in bed.
There was a necklace, a scarf, and a beautiful bouquet of flowers.
There was a basketball game, which my son's team won.
There was dinner at my mother's house.
Three of us settled in on my mother's big comfy couch.
I read while Steve and Kristiana napped on either side of me.

My daughter went to bed before 8 pm.
My husband and son are doing what they do: watching sports downstairs.
Since then I've been doing what I do: reading, once again in bed.

(The book I'm reading, The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb, is the perfect novel to escape into for hours at a time. I'm more than 200 pages into it - and I started it this morning!)

A little while ago, I put the book down.
Snuggled down under my comforter.
Started thinking again.
Asking questions again.
Mentally wandering down a few streets and across a few plazas I've explored by foot.
Remembering friends and loved ones, far and near.

And I wondered to myself:
What if it's true?
What if love is all you need?

Happy Love Day!

*All the photos are from last summer's journey to, through,
and returning from San Francisco.

Thursday, February 12, 2009


One of my favorite people in the world, Jen Lemen, is going into her cave to do some soul work for a while. I already miss her words and art work, her stories and challenges. I sooooo wish I lived closer to her so that I could be one of the lucky ones who gets to sit on her couch and hold her hand. Who gets to listen to her rich stories. Look at her detailed photos. Appreciate her paintings. And dry her tears also. I wish her and her soul much light and love as she burrows down into her cave for some deep sleep, rejuvenation, nourishment, and whatever else she needs.

But her post got me to thinking... her posts always get me to thinking, so this is not a departure from the norm.

Anyway, I started off being jealous, of course. I would LOVE to get away. To leave behind the demands of my life, the chores, the bills, the worries, the expectations that aren't met for me and the ones that I don't meet for others, the disappointments I experience and the ones I hand to others, the phone calls that I wish were longer, the phone calls that I wish were shorter, the bad news about the economy and the ongoing wars all around the world. Oh to be able to breathe with my head comfortably buried in the sand of Sunset Beach...

So I ponder the bliss of hibernation.
To go away. Take a break. Sleep.
Eat only what is necessary for survival.
Sitting quietly. Sit silently.
Ponder. Pray.
Meditate. Meander.
Dream. Imagine.
Wonder. Wander.

I got to thinking about the cave itself.
What would I want in my cave if I were to go into hibernation?
Besides my journal and markers.
A teapot and several loose leaf teas I love.
An ongoing subscription to Skirt magazine, a pair of scissors, and several glue sticks.
Thick socks, my slippers, and the ancient purple robe I cherish.
A stack of simple cotton tee shirts, two denim skirts, and my black Keens.
A denim jacket and striped scarf for cool mornings.
A fluffy down pillow and its matching comforter.
Sandalwood incense and luna candles.
Several boxes of tissues.
My camera, for when I sneak out of the cave and explore the surroundings
And a hole in the top of the cave so that I could see the full moon when it rose.

Sure, there would be food, but I wouldn't have to cook it. It would be brought to me.
There would also be running hot water for showers and foot baths.
And a flush toilet, of course. I'm not about to dig a latrine in the cave.

Okay, so this is beginning to sound a little ridiculous and a lot spoiled. I look back at the silly list above and the links to all the unnecessary loot, and I am amazing by how much of a greedy, earth-depleting consumer I really am. (In my defense, the robe I have is so old that Land's End no longer even sells it. The link provided here is the one that most resembles my robe, which is a deep, dark, royal purple... and also a little frayed and bleached out around the collar.)

If I'm gonna hibernate, I need to just go to sleep, not merely take my rather pampered life over the river and through the woods in order to take over some other creature's cave.

I guess I'm not ready to hibernate.
I guess I'm still a little too attached to my stuff.
A little too concerned with my creature comforts.
So I may as well stay here.

Perhaps someday soon I will be as evolved as Jen and figure out a way to just walk away, crawl into a hole, and hibernate. Sans overstuffed suitcases.

Of course, I have no idea what Jen is doing, where she is going, or whether or not she has embarked on an overstuffed suitcase-laden journey of her own. In any case, I wish her traveling mercies.

No matter what she does, I should probably haul myself back to the mall and return a few of these candles...

Addendum - This has nothing to do with being in a cave... I was browsing a favorite website of mine this evening, a website for women who travel. Last year, I sent a comment to the site. They included my comment in their next newsletter. At the end of the year, they published a "Best of 2008" newsletter - and my comment made it onto that list. Check it out here. Scroll down and look for "Don't feel bad if you feel bad." That's me!!!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Mundane and miraculous

Life feels rather mundane lately.
And also miraculous.
And marvelous.

Jena wrote it so well and inspired me to take a new look at my own life.

I am coming to appreciate this little life of mine in new ways.
My mellow, often unplanned days.
my unnecessarily late nights.
my bi-weekly travels to the supermarket.
my romantic movie collection.
my loopy handwriting filling countless journal pages.
my solo tea parties of Teavana favorites.
sneaking out before the kids wake up to get bagels for breakfast.
having a few close buddies, a handful of sister-friends, who listen to my travails without judging me, dismissing me, or trying to fix me immediately.

I am insatiably curious about the world and its people. I once sat with 10 immigrant friends and asked each of them to tell me how they ended up here. They loved telling their stories, and I loved hearing every single one. Unfortunately, I think I have driven some people out of my life because I asked them too many questions.

I am deeply fascinated with the lives and love and laughter of my children. They interrupt each other constantly in order to tell me their tall tales and short stories. More than once, I have awoken to find one of them standing at my side of the bed, staring down at me. As soon as they see my eyes open, they begin a story about a dream from the night before or a plan for the day just begun.

And I am extremely sad at saying farewell to a dear friend who is moving to India on Thursday. Traveling mercies, Moneesha, Anya, and Amit. I miss you already.

As I write this I am lying on the floor of my bedroom alternating between "The Biggest Loser" on tv and "The English Patient" in the DVD player. My husband and children are downstairs in the family room hanging out. Why aren't we together? Because they understand that I need time alone at the end of the day. They understand that their mundane mother finds solo time to be miraculously rejuvenating.

On the last page of the last story in her Pulitzer Prize winning book of short stories called Interpreter of Maladies, Jhumpa Lahiri wrote words of wisdom that captured my heart the first time I read them.

The main character of that story entitled "The Third and Final Continent," describes his arrival to the United States from India, his arranged marriage, and the life he and his wife establish in the Boston area. After driving his family past the house he lived in many years before, he looked at his young son's face and reflected:

"In my son's eyes I see the ambition that had first hurled me across the world. In a few years he will graduate and pave his way, alone and unprotected. But I remind myself that he has a father who is still living, a mother who is happy and strong. Whenever he is discouraged, I tell him that if I can survive on three continents, then there is no obstacle he cannot conquer. While the astronauts, heroes forever, spent mere hours on the moon, I have remained in this new world for nearly thirty years. I know that my achievement is quite ordinary. I am not the only man to seek his fortune far from home, and certainly I am not the first.

"Still, there are times I am bewildered by each mile I have traveled, each meal I have eaten, each person I have known, each room in which I have slept. As ordinary as it all appears, there are times when it is beyond my imagination

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

How to create a work of art

Start with a neat dining room. Stand in the doorway and look around you. Take a few deep breaths as you peruse this glorious sight because you realize that this room is about to be altered. It is very likely that this room will not look this neat again until Easter. After all, who really eats in the dining room anymore?

Cover the table that you have owned for more than 15 years with tablecloths and art supplies. Your husband isn't as enamored with the scratches and etches from earlier art projects as you and the children are - and he would rather avoid adding any more marks to the furniture. Whatever...

Choose a few paints in colors you like and drip them onto the 5x7 canvas you have selected for your project. Admire the polka dots. Decide whether or not you have already completed the aforementioned project. Take a photo - just in case this is the best it looks.

Stick your fingers in the paint and mix it up. Feel the cool, slippery slickness. Spread it all the way to the edges - and then panic because you haven't put newspaper beneath the canvas. Quickly, before it spreads across the tablecloth, grab some newspaper. Sit down and take a few deep, calming breathes. Then add more drops of paint. Spread it more. Get it under your fingernails. Spend the next two days admiring the paint under your fingernails. You are an artist!

Follow Leonie's advice. Go for a walk. Collect stuff. Add that stuff to your artwork. Admire it. Smile. Rejoice that you have created something. Leave that stunning piece of collectible, museum-quality artwork on the table stuck to the newspaper for at least two weeks. Someone might show up at your dining room table and want to buy it.

Then return to your dining room and look at your work of art again.
Consider how much this colorful little thing looks a lot like your life.
How neat it all looked for a while.
Think about how you pulled a few things out and spread them around in hopes of creating something beautiful.
Then things got mixed up and messy.
You had to put your hands into the mess.
You got some of the messiness stuck under your nails,
in your heart, and in your soul.
You remember the stuff you have collected along life's way.
You add it to the work in progress.
And then stand back and admire it.
You examine your life. Take photos. Journal. Reflect.
With tears flowing. With laughter billowing too.

Then you leave it out for others to check out.
Perhaps someone will put in a bid on it.
The truth is that I'd never sell it.
Whatever "it" is.