Category Archives: Lent

Break Me Off a Piece of That Kit Kat Bar

Give me a break. Give me a break.

I’m taking a break. I’ve been way too sick for way too many months this winter. I’m tired. My body isn’t cooperating. And I’m giving her the rest she desires.

There will be no previously set goals accomplished this year, nor anymore¬†set. Possibly next year will be the year I run a 50K and swim a 5K. We’ll see. This year, though, will be set aside for leisurely walking and hiking, and I’ll be doing some occasional swimming and weightlifting.

I’m going to focus my energies on non-digital methods of creativity and communication, so I’ll not be posting here either. I am hoping to spend some of the many hours I spend in front of my computer in front of some art supplies and writing pages.

Here’s to a healthy 2017.

Until then: peace, grace, love, and joy.

Prayer and Meditation

This may be the strangest thing I’ve said in a while, but this Lent was really good for me. While Lent is supposed to be a period of suffering and wandering, I’ve always viewed the liturgical season as a time of renewal and deep thought. Since I’d been in a period of serious self-evaluation for a few months prior to Ash Wednesday this year, I decided to add something to my life rather than to take something away. Quite frankly, I’d had enough suffering. I’d grown tired of contemplating my humanity, and I didn’t want to focus for one more minute on giving up some earthly pleasure.

I decided, since my church attendance had been pretty hit or miss for about 9 months, to add in going to the 8AM service at St. John the Evangelist Episcopal Church. No matter what I decided, at the Ash Wednesday service as I was reminded that I’d come from dust and I’d return to dust, I would attend every Sunday morning, even if it meant getting up early on the only day I had to sleep in.

As usually happens when we obey the nudging of God, I was blessed in my obedience. I look back and recognize how the small act of going to church every Sunday helped me move from a place of hopelessness to a place of hope. Was the 40 days some sort of mystical balm for my aching heart? No. Has my transition from hopelessness to hopefulness been easy? No. But I can say that today, the Monday after the third Sunday of Easter, that I have a strong hope that my life has changed for the better.

One positive thing to come from the 40-day Lenten season was my recognition of how self-centered I had become. I had spent so much time wallowing in my own misery and just clinging to my own concerns, that I failed to realize how shallow and internally focused I’d become. I suppose you could say that I had fallen into survival mode where I was focused on my own getting by, so much so that I was unable to see how people around me were suffering. And there’s a lot of suffering in this world.

In light of that, I’ve decided to cut everything out of my life that seems like work to me, things that feel like they go against my ethic or against my conscience. I’m cutting out racing and getting back to the pleasure of exercise, trail running, swimming, and disc golfing with no particular goal or destination in mind. I’m decreasing the pain I bring into this world by being vegetarian. I’m consciously trying to relax and breathe through situations that might cause me stress or where I might say or do something that doesn’t bring peace to this place.

Most importantly, however, I am trying to focus my energy toward helping others in whatever ways I can, which could include just helping folks out, not talking about people (which I try to avoid anyway), being alongside people when they need me, and just loving folks no matter who they are. The biggest way I see to put other people first is to pray for people and when you pray for them, you’re really changing yourself through those prayers. This idea is wholly embraced by the writers of Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals.

I typically believe that whenever I think of someone, those thoughts are similar to praying for them, but during Lent, I felt moved to have a more concerted prayer time wherein I conscientiously pray for the needs of my friends. I’ve decided to visit either St. Paul’s Cathedral or St. Mary’s Basilica on one of my days off each week, and I’ll simply put aside some time to pray for people by name, along with praying for whatever concerns I know are on their hearts or whatever they share with me to pray for. Is there a better way to spend time off than in prayer for family and friends surrounded by beautiful art and architecture?

I’ve learned that if I am more concerned for others, my concerns work themselves out on their own.

Writing and Art; Cranes; 70.3; Eating Vegetables

I spent this past weekend with my friend Sarah A. Chavez while she was up here in the Cities for AWP 2015, and I sort of hung around the conference wishing I’d have spent the money for admission to it. I was thankful I was able to attend so many offsite events, since the readings are really the best part anyway. Sarah and I met and had breakfast with our friend Ahyicodae (Ico), who lives up here, and with whom I get the pleasure to have writing and workshop days now that we’ve made that connection. For me, these connections are the writing equivalent of my artistic connections with Lyn and Tish.

I get all fired up and excited about writing and art when I am around other people who are passionate about being creative, so once again the creative fire is lit under my smoldering and lackadaisical behind. I’m not making excuses, but it’s easy for me to become complacent about art and writing (they are a lot of work!) when I am not making art, not talking about art, and not feeling inspired. I am blessed to have many, many creative friends, both writers and artists. I am blessed to continually meet folks (like Nell, who was one of the first non-work people I met up here) who make the world more beautiful through their creativity.

I know I am flash-in-the-pan and have almost zero stick-to-it-ive-ness (what a word!), but I wrote a rough draft of a poem today and I started a short creative nonfiction piece this morning as well. I have the ideas for some artwork, and I know I just need to do it. The theme I am currently stuck on, and I blame the liturgical calendar and where I am in my life, is resurrection, rebirth, and reconciliation. I feel like I’ve died and come back to life, like a cliche little phoenix.

*

Here’s part of the CNF piece I started this morning: “Whenever I wash the dishes, I always look out the window toward the Mississippi River, which is about two blocks west of our house. Sometimes if I strain, I can hear the barges pushing their freight, and sometimes if I pay close attention, I can see interesting water fowl low in flight as they land or take off from the water, even though I can’t really see the river. Today I was standing by the back window in front of the sink washing the dishes from last night’s culinary success while thinking about everything I wanted to accomplish today. I noticed a hawk and a couple of other birds flying in an odd pattern over the neighbor’s house. I wondered why the birds were behaving so sporadically and scoured the ground for the neighbor’s dog, which sometimes runs along the street in front of their house. No dog. I traced the flight pattern up into the sky and was humbled by what was making the local birds behave so strangely. The sky was marked with the unmistakable giant white bodies and long, black-tipped wings of the whooping crane, a cast of about 50 of them in fact. My day became glorious in that minute of awe, and I continue to thank God that I am still here and that I am so blessed.

*

The thing I am struggling with the most in my life right now is the desire and energy to train for this half-marathon in June and the 70.3 in July. Neither race is going to be pretty. In fact, I think they are going to be very, very ugly. More factually, I think I’ll be lucky to finish them both. I am having a difficult time with running. I have the desire. I can remember what it felt like to be able to run 9 miles at a stretch with virtually no difficulty and no soreness the next day. I can remember what it was like to run 15 miles on a Saturday, being sore the next day, but not dying from it. My body wants to be there again, but with everything is so psychological. My mind says, “Remember how bad your legs and feet hurt after work and standing for 8 hours at a time. You can’t run after that. You need to go home and put your feet up and watch 97 hours of Murder, She Wrote. You don’t need to write or do art or run or swim or do anything but be a slug. You’ve earned it by working so hard.” I’m trying to focus my meditation and prayer, now that Lent is over, on positive self-talk in regards to triathlon-related and creativity-related pursuits. Today, I am going for a three-mile walk. Tomorrow, I am going for a swim and run. My goal is to never turn on the TV or open a book until I’ve accomplished my goals for the day. That sort of relaxing is my reward. I don’t read for a living anymore.

*

I’ve been vegetarian again for two weeks now. Psychologically, I feel 100% better. I always forget how clear my mind becomes when my life isn’t held in a balance based on killing creatures for sustenance. Physically, I feel about the same. My body is still store from work, and I still think I need to just lay about (see above). I think it’s worth being a kind-hearted eater to not have dreams about dying animals, and I think it’s worth it to be adventurous in the kitchen again. We’d gotten in the rut of eating the same five or six meals over and over again, but we’re shaking it up a bit these past few days. Yesterday, I made my first batch of saag paneer, and it was delightful and filling. And, I am mostly past a point in my life where I am willing to do pretty much anything to lose weight. I’m not. I’m more interested in living a consistent ethic of life, and a life lived well and not on the backs of innocents.

*

Now I am off to buy a cheap table to use for my printmaking lair upstairs in the attic.

Sunday, Sunday: Some Thoughts About Lent

WARNING: This post is very disjointed. Sorry about the hop, skip, jumpiness of it. In the words of Nehemiah: “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down.” Apparently, I can’t write today either. Ha!

I sat in church today thinking about the purpose of Lent. I noticed a couple of things that I’d like to find out more about. We didn’t do the confessional part of the liturgy, I suspect because Lent is supposed to be focused on being confessional. Our retired Rector, Fr. Charlie, unintentionally spilled the water that is hidden under the lectern for the speaker or preacher of the day, I suspect to remind us all in a hilariously accidental way of our baptisms and of our own humanity. I learned a new term: Ember Day. With a quick Internet search, I found that ember days are for prayer and fasting, and they are days that mark the quarters of the Christian calendar. I still would like to learn more about this new liturgical observation.

For me Lent has always been a time in the liturgical calendar to pray, fast, and re-find myself in the face of Christ. This year for me Lent is the most wilderness it has been for a long time. Mind you, I have been so far from Christ for a few years that I haven’t really paid any attention to Lent other than it being a season in the calendar. For a couple of years, we haven’t really regularly attended church, so Lent was just the thing that lead up to Easter. There’s this idea that the way we understand ideas or concepts is by gaining a better understanding of the opposite, and I am pretty sure I fully understand the beauty that is Christ because of my propensity to wallow in the opposite. I know the wilderness. I know the desert. At points in my life, I’ve known the barren lands so well that I never thought I’d find my way back, or want to.

But now I am here. In the symbolic wilderness of Lent. I feel the sadness. I feel the temptation. I feel the loneliness. I feel this in juxtaposition to the joy, the warmth, the holiness, and the grace I have felt in Christ since the first Sunday of Advent. I feel like I have been called home only to be cast back into the dark. The cross is covered. The baptismal font is gone. The confessions are removed form the liturgy. We are in utter theological darkness. This concept, as I tried (but poorly) to articulate in my post about the road trip, has never been so clear to me in my life as it is in this particular Lent season.

Because of our impending move, this Lent season brings for me lots of last moments. Yesterday when we were at the Mounds, I said to Bec, “Later this spring, I’ll bring you back and we can walk the route of the race I just ran, because it’s beautiful.” Only I won’t, because she’ll be in Minnesota. Later in the say I said to my brother, “Next year when we run this Shamrock Beer Run, we’ll know to get here really early or really late to avoid the horrible bottle neck at the start line.” He said back to me, “Only you won’t be here next year, you’ll be in Minnesota.” True. My parents brought Bec and me a few dozen eggs, and I thought to myself that pretty soon I’d not be getting delicious farm fresh eggs every week, nor would I be able to just call them up for a coffee or to see me run a race. So far this Lent I’ve had the intense pain and pleasure of having many lengthy conversations with both friends and family to help me discern my future.

Who am I? Who is God? Where do I find my worth? What makes me live? What is my calling? What brings me joy? What vexes me? How can I reconcile the various facets of my life? What the fuck am I doing? Why? Am I seeking God’s will? These are just a few of the questions I’ve wrestled with over the past few weeks.

At church this morning, the Eucharist had a different meaning for me, and I can assume for Bec, since we both shed a few tears when we went back to the pew to kneel and contemplate the mystery of Jesus’ body and blood. She carefully thread her arm through mine and held my hand tightly. I am not sure if it was for my benefit or hers. We both know this time of transition will be more difficult and longer than we’d like. At any rate, the Eucharist today gave me an intense hope in the future. The Eucharist has a beautiful of doing that: reminding me that God is bigger than the wilderness. No matter the darkness, no matter my lostness or helplessness, God is there. Christ is real and present in my friends and family. I am not alone in this journey. Jesus is there. With me. In the wilderness.

I love the season of Lent, because I allow myself time to think about the darker more mysterious parts of my Christian faith. And I hate the season of Lent for the same reasons. Perhaps this is why Easter brings such joy. I cling to this hope. I cling to the promise of a risen Christ.

What I Ate Wednesday: Ash Wednesday

Today instead of providing you pictures of my food, I am simply going to tell you what I ate and then discuss a bit about Ash Wednesday, which seems a wee bit more important than food.

Breakfast: Greek yogurt with oats, a banana, some blackberries, raw honey, and some cinnamon

Lunch: an orange and a snickers bar

Snack: some Cowboy bark from Trader Joe’s

Dinner: chicken bacon bites, broccoli, and a Wee Mac

As you can tell it was a very healthy way to welcome the Lenten season. Ha! Not really, but I am focusing on clean eating for the duration of Lent.

Today was the first time I have ever been to an actual Ash Wednesday service at a church that actually marked people’s foreheads with ashes, and I must say that the liturgy for Ash Wednesday is beautiful. Tragic and sad and penitential, but beautiful. For today, not realizing it was Ash Wednesday, I had assigned my Bible as literature students the story of David and Bathsheba and Psalm 51. I also didn’t realize when I assigned those texts that Psalm 51 would be used in today’s liturgy. I bring this forward simply because I love Psalm 51 and I pray it whenever I need a moment of recentering or reconnection with God, so it is especially meaningful for me. “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” Those words, spoken by the priest before preparing the wine and the bread every Sunday and spoken by the tiny congregation today in penitence, are especially meaningful in my life. I’ve had so many moments when I just want a redo. I just want to go back and go over those things I didn’t do right the first time. I want to offer a broken and contrite heart, because I know that is the offering that my Lord seeks. Today,¬† I was pleasantly surprised when we made it through the liturgy to the Psalm reading and there it was after I had just read and prepared to discuss it with my students. And, as a special bonus, my students had the best discussion about that Psalm and the David story. They truly did an excellent job.

I was moved by the Eucharist today, as I usually am. I don’t know if it’s my oversensitivity right now, or if I have finally reconnected with my faith, but I nearly cried at the presence of Jesus in the wine and bread today. If that is my response to Ash Wednesday, I can’t wait for Holy Friday this year. I’ll be a blubbering mess! I never know what God is up to in my life, but I always just take for granted that it’s something good. I’m just resting in the fact that God brought me to the Episcopal Church at this time in my life for a reason, because I feel comfortably challenged there. And I feel God’s presence, most importantly.

I do have to say that it was a little awkward walking around with an ash cross on my forehead, considering that I had never done it before. While I don’t mind evangelizing or discussing faith or theology, obviously, I was a bit concerned about doing it at school. Everything worked out fine, but one student thought I had gotten a new tattoo. Odd.