Tag Archives: religion

A New Sabbath Day

I want and need a Sabbath, one day each week that I can count on to be strictly my time to spend with God, family, writing, and art, so the one day I said I wouldn’t work at Caribou is Sunday. Fortunately, Caribou eases you in to a full schedule, so I had yesterday and tomorrow off as well. Today we tried out our new Sunday thing, plan, routine, whatever you want to call it. Since Bec and I have radically different ideas about what we like in church, we’ve decided to have the best of both worlds and just attend two services. First, we get up early and head to St. John the Evangelist Episcopal Church in St. Paul, and then we head to Awaken Community in Lilydale. It’s a nice balance and nice way to start the Sabbath. And we get to see the children and grandchildren at Awaken, so that’s a pretty nice bonus. After church today, we came home, had lunch, and then napped. We’re exciting, I know.

We (Bec, Ann, and I) spent yesterday going to the Uptown and Powderhorn Art Fairs. We walked forever and looked at lots of amazing arts and crafts. I bought a card for my mom, a birthday gift for my brother, and an anniversary gift for the Combers. And if any of them read this, I just spoiled the surprise for them all. As we walked, I kept thinking about how God has honored my heart’s desire to have time off of work and to have a job I don’t bring home with me. I couldn’t get the image of myself, sitting in one of those booths and selling my own artwork, out of my mind. Even if it’s only a dream for now, since I have just begun sketching, it’s the freest I’ve felt in a long, long time.

For my first little venture back into the art world, I plan to create a set of prints based on this poem by Wallace Stevens. There have been several interpretations of this poem created by several artists in a few diverse cultures. Artist Joan Colbert hand pulled my favorite set of linoleum block prints that is currently in existence. You can see them here. However, I think there is still room for me to add my voice into the mix, because my style of block printing has a bit more texture in the white spaces, and I plan to print both black and white on brown paper, adding some pastel work into the final prints.

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I got to Minnesota about three weeks ago. Today is August 3, and I arrived on July 11. Just after I got here, or more specifically on my 40th birthday, I made some simple goals, things I’d like to improve upon in my life. Here they are (again): quit smoking and drink only on weekends or not at all; eat primal with one “cheat” day a week; no ice cream; get a job; capitalize on quiet time (read, write, art); and run/walk, bike, swim. Since setting these goals, I’ve accomplished several and am still working on others. I struggle with the ice cream thing. It gives me joy. I’m going to keep eating ice cream for a while. I’ve started adding a brief bit of meditation into my morning routine, and I hope to add it into my evening routine as well. Meditation helps me to quiet my busy mind in a way that nothing else does; I can release my anger and sadness and cultivate compassion and joy through the simple act of breathing.

I’ve created one new goal in all of this, which I mentioned before, but I am going to mention again, and probably keep mentioning. I want to finish the Muncie 70.3 for my second time next July. I want to do it again to prove to myself that I can and to get a better time than last and to just be healthy again. I’ve been running and biking, and I will start swimming later this month, so I know I can do it. I just need to stay focused and remember that I am doing all of this to take care of myself and be well.

New Beginning(s): “This is the first day of the rest of your life . . . “

I feel like I am constantly starting over. Personally, starting over feels good to me, and I wake up nearly every day with the bridge of one of my favorite songs stuck in my head: “This is the first day of the rest of your life.” Sometimes, though, I think this might get draining for my friends. I think they sit around thinking, What is she going to try to do this time, and how long will it last? You know, I think the same thing. But instead of feeling like a flake or feeling defeated by my inability to “stick to it,” I feel invigorated by it. This may be wishful thinking, but I think starting new again and again and looking at every day as the first day of the rest of my life is actually a very healthy place for me to be in. I never get stuck in a rut, unless it is a rut of starting over. This constant change of focus, however, might mean that I never really finish what I start, which is a signal or indicator of failure in American culture that places so much emphasis on the completion of tasks, even at the face of incredible boredom or monotony. I, however, vow that each day is the first day of the rest of my life, and I retain the right to change my mind and to act out those changes in my little corner of the world.

How will this work out, you ask, in the facets of my life I hold most dear? Well, Friend, here’s today’s new and improved me (with a smattering of the old me for good measure, and a touch of the same old topics being knocked around again).

Anyone who’s read this blog before knows that one of my largest areas of struggle is spirituality. I reason with my analytical self and contemplate inside my mystic self, I wrestle with the (many understandings of) the Judeo-Christian God and, lately, I’ve been conversing with Buddhism. I’m also looking for ways intentionally fit in some meditation and prayer throughout my day. Providentially, I happened upon the Daily Examen, which is an Ignatian practice. I think this short simple prayer exercise will complement the other meditation I have started, “Breathing in, I calm my body. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in the present moment, I know this is a wonderful moment,” which I read about in Living Buddha, Living Christ by Thich Nhat Hanh. Thay, as his students call him, seems to be onto something that resonates inside of me when he compares mindfulness and meditation to the presence of the Holy Spirit and prayer. Never does he claim that they are one and the same, but he carefully describes the ways in which they can exist side-by-side to bring a further understanding of ourselves in line with a further understanding of the world and its spiritual realm. His writing is so beautiful and his spirit so kind and peaceful, it makes me want to visit Plum Village. I’m thinking about going there next summer if I can find the funding. I need a bit of renewed-ness in my life. Summer seems pretty far away, but I know it will be here before I know it.

Looking toward summer probably isn’t what a teacher should be doing while she sits at her desk spending time on personal writing before beginning to plan two first, six-week units for classes, but it’s what I am doing, and it’s necessary and good work, and looking toward summer is natural for me. However, the school year is here and brings with it many, many changes to our school. Most important to me is the change that enabled me to move to the high school. I am very sad to leave my middle school students and some of my middle school colleagues, but I am excited to embark on a new journey, “This is the first day . . ..” This year I am teaching two sections of British literature, which is new for me. I never imagined I’d teach British literature. I never thought I’d want to, but it’s part of the bargain of moving up to high school. I’m finding that I really enjoy planning for the class and thinking about something new and different to me. I’m also enjoying three sections of American literature, which is, of course, why I made the decision to move to high school. I love American literature. I love everything about it, and now I can restructure the course into thematic units and teach it in a more holistic, well-rounded way, giving more voice to those groups which are currently under-represented. At Burris, we’ve always taught it chronologically by literary movements, which is entirely the easiest way to teach it when two teachers are sharing the classes. However, it’s my own gig now, and I plan to switch things up for next year. This year, because I only have two preps and because we’ve been released from many of our committee requirements, I feel like I can squeeze in a few things that I thought might get squeezed out of my life.

One of the things I’m putting back into my life is my dissertation. This, I think, might be the thing that makes me seem the most flakey. To most, it likely seems that I don’t know what I am doing and I’m flighty and not very serious about this piece of my education, but I am. Very. Serious. I want to finish my PhD, but I don’t want my ideas, my paper, my writing to suck. I don’t want to be subpar, and that’s where I was headed. I’ve taken an entire summer off, rested, and refocused, and I am ready now to a superstar! (That was a little too much, eh?) At any rate, I have a plan this time, and it might actually work. I plan to get up and get to school by 5:30 every morning, giving myself two hours to work on my dissertation every day before school starts. My mind is the freshest at this time of day, and theoretical concepts make the most sense before I’ve intermingled with my students. I’m not a morning person in the way of being with people that early, but I can surely write and read before the chaos of the day clutters my brain. I have two hours of prep time to get things ready for classes throughout the day, and our lesson plans are due on Monday by 4PM anyway. I am really excited about this prospect, and now I can’t, simply can’t, fall on my face, or I will look like a real tool.

I’m also going to start taking piano lessons every other Friday, and, as of now, I’m a little nervous about that bit of exploration and learning!

What does this do for my swimming and running, my athletic endeavors, you might wonder. I’m canceling the rest of the races I had planned for this year, in favor of being a bit more low-key and doing some 5Ks as they come up. I’ve decided to put a hold on my morning swims. It’s going to be two school years of sacrifice, and then I can swim again. I doubt I’ll forget in that time. As far as biking goes, the season is almost over for it, and I don’t plan to bike on my trainer until spring. Until it is over, though, I plan to go on long rides on Saturday with Bec, and I ride my bike to school every day anyway. In order to sort of rein in my extra energy and balance my moods, I plan to combine the prayer and mediation I mentioned above with an evening run to wind down from and reconsider my day. It’s my goal, Monday through Thursday, to walk over to the lookout by Minnetrista and do the smiling and mindful meditation, then run two miles. When I return to the overlook, I will then complete the daily examen and walk home. There is no reason that I can’t have an hour to myself to be contemplative before going home to cook.

I plan to continue to cook delicious—I’d even say gourmet (sometimes)—paleo meals. We feel better and look better in just the nine months we’ve been eating grain-free. I hope to keep it that way. Also, my brother and I want to eventually open a paleo gastro pub with our own home-brewed hard ciders. We’re going to start brewing the ciders this fall, I think, and we’re hoping to make some pear cider next fall. One thing we both love is trying new foods and drinks, so I think it’s a bonus that we found paleo eating when did!

Cheers! (Raising a hard cider): here’s to starting over. Here’s to rethinking. Here’s to new beginnings. Here’s to exploration, and growth. Here’s to future hopes, past failures and success, and present moments to savor. Here’s to “the first day of the rest of your life. Even in the darkness you can still see the light.”

Lent Day 19: Well Just Like That

My spring break is over. I have never understood why Ball State’s spring break is the first full week of March, nor will I ever. It was mostly cold and yucky, and now this week it’s supposed to be in the 70s all week. My brother’s school doesn’t have spring break until the first week of April! I’m not complaining. I just don’t get it, nor will I ever.  Now, as far as I’m concerned, summer can’t get here fast enough.

I don’t really have anything to say today. Well, I have a lot to say, but I’m old, I’m tired, and I still have a lot of grading left to do before tomorrow. So instead of writing my own reflection, I’m going to send you over to my friend Kimberly’s site to read her post on baptism. It’s beautifully written and it touched my heart. Baptism is one of my biggest theological interests, so I was pleased to read such an interesting take on it. And, since I recently wrote about it, I was especially intrigued when I saw the title, “Beaches, Bikinis, and Baptism.” Seriously, go there. Read it. You won’t be sorry. And, while you’re there, nose around. There are too few women who write some decent feminist theology, or who share their specifically female spiritual thoughts. Not to knock you men out there, but sometimes women just have a different row to hoe. We sometimes need to speak to, and for, our own, as do you.

Lent Day 17: Nearing the Death of Little Blue

Today on my way to Anderson to meet my brother, I noticed that the temperature gauge on my dashboard was way up at the red line above the H. This compounds the problem that Little Blue’s engine has had recently. When I idle at a stop light or sign, the engine revs and slows, revs and slows, and I worry that my little car may just decide to stop right then and there, leaving me stranded wherever I am. I’m not afraid to have my car die in the street and have to walk, but for some reason I have become afraid of the idea of being car-less.

I forget that having a car is a privilege for me, not a necessity. I live less than two miles from my place of employment, and there are three different bus routes that go within a quarter of a mile of my house. Not having a car is not a hardship for me, but over the past couple of years, I have become accustomed to being able to go on small trips at my own will. I know I will get used to having no car again, but I also just bought my super cool Indiana Youth Group license plate, so having my car break down is a little heartbreaking.

On my way home from Anderson, I had to pull over at a gas station to let my car cool down before I could continue the trip home. I was sitting there feeling pretty sorry for myself about my car, when I decided to listen to my voice mails. A friend of mine had called to tell me that these reflections were meaningful for her this Lent, and I immediately began to think about how blessed I am, and about how for the first time in a while, I actually feel as if I am allowing God to use all of my gifts and talents. I am teaching English, which I love, and I am spending a considerable amount of time thinking about spirituality and theology, which fills me.

I live under no delusions, though. Just because my spiritual life has taken a drastic turn for the better within the past few weeks, I know that doesn’t mean that everything is coming up roses all the time. I know it doesn’t mean that every time I feel sad or doubtful, God will send an affirmation that I’m doing the right things. And, it doesn’t mean that everything will always work out the right way. But I know it does mean that I have a much better perspective about how to deal with adversity, or at least I am in a better head space. Being in this better place helps me have an assurance that God is with me.

I feel like Asaph in Psalm 73:

When my heart was grieved
and my spirit embittered,

I was senseless and ignorant;
I was a brute beast before you.

Yet I am always with you;
you hold me by my right hand.

You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will take me into glory.

Whom have I in heaven but you?
And earth has nothing I desire besides you.

My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever.

This Psalm resonates with me in so many ways. I want to be continually in a place where I think the “earth has nothing I desire besides [God].” I want to be confident that “God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” This sort of goes along with what I was saying yesterday, but it’s a bit different. This struggle of knowing I should desire God constantly is bound by my ability to do so, because I am human. I am bound by my body, by my place in culture, by the necessity to live in the world. My desire should be for the best for my neighbor and the best for my God. I mean, there’s a reason that Jesus said there are only really two commandments: “To love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and to love your neighbor as yourself.” And, of course, these two commandments sum up my every struggle, everything I’ve ever written about here or anywhere else. How can we, bound by our earthly bodies, focus so heavily on entities outside of ourselves? To love God with our whole heart and to still have love left over for our neighbors as much as ourselves? Honestly, it wears me out. Sometimes it wears me out even to think about it, let alone do it. Peace.

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This is how I woke up today with a cat in my face:

Spazabella: The Disgruntled Cat

After morning prayer, I went downstairs for breakfast:

Bacon, Eggs, Strawberries, and Rooibos Tea with Raw Honey

I spent the rest of the day with my super-amazing little brother:

At BD's Mongolian Grill

We went shopping at Old Navy (again with the unethical practices), and I bought some smaller-size clothes, down two sizes from the last time I bought clothes there. We also went to TJ Maxx and Whole Foods. I can’t help myself. I love Whole Foods.

Lent Day 15: Healing and Learning

During my morning prayers, I am also reading Reluctant Pilgrim. In the chapter I read this morning, Okoro writes about a man she was in love with, and unless her words betray her, I would say still deeply loves, or at the very least remembers fondly. She writes about his addiction in these words: “God’s light shines especially bright through the multiple and endless fragmented slices that exist in broken people. And the more rays of light, the more people are touched. But no one expects such light to come from a broken image. I learned to understand the radical beauty of God through Michael’s shards. I learned to acknowledge the beauty of God through my own brokenness” (77). When I read this beautiful description of brokenness, I realized why I have always loved that churches use stained glass to tell the biblical narrative.

Maybe the early stained glass artists were onto more than simply reappropriating the technique of mosaic with a new technology. The multicolored shards of glass work together to not only reflect and refract light, but they tell one cohesive story of beauty and grace. Each piece of art, carefully rendered with fragmented pieces of glass held together by that thin lead casing, each piece of art tells a beautiful story and needs each small fragment to tell it. I should look toward the stained glass to tell me about more than a biblical narrative; I should ask the stained glass to tell my own narrative, and to remind me that we all work together to form the body Christ, as weird and multicolored as it can be.

A few pages later Okoro writes: “I want to find a church that teaches me something about carrying each other’s burdens, about living into the gift of God’s grace so we are free to be the persons and community God calls us to be. […] Maybe I love the image of U2’s ‘Grace’ because it reminds me that God our mother eternally supports and nourishes us and, most importantly, does not punish us for being the needy creatures God created us to be. […] I don’t imagine that I extended grace to Michael. That would be presumptuous. Rather we both got caught up in the delicate but strong grip of God’s grace, that sense of divine love extending outside of God’s self and demanding humility from whoever falls into its arms” (80). I love this idea that we don’t extend grace to each other, and I never thought about how presumptuous it is to assume that we know anything about grace at all.

The idea that we just get caught up together in God’s grace is a profound one for me. I have always thought about giving grace to people, but not about mutually receiving grace, thought that’s exactly what happens. In fact, once I read this passage, I thought about Jesus saying that it’s better to give than receive. Why? Because when we give, we are simultaneously receiving. We can never only give grace, because what enables us to give grace is God’s giving of grace to us. We are inextricably caught up with others in giving and receiving grace.

In addition, maybe a lesson I am supposed to learn this Lent is one of humility. In the argument with my friend, humility was a learning point. In chapel yesterday, denial is a form of humility. Here, today, I learn that grace requires, no demands, our humility. How beautiful! If simply keep asking, God, what do you want with me? I have no doubt that I will eventually learn what it is God desires. I have no doubt that I am supposed to be a shard in the stained glass body of Christ.

Click the arrow below to listen to Nichole Nordeman’s cover of “Grace” by U2. You’ll also have to click the same arrow on the MySpace Music Player.

Grace (In The Name Of Love Album Version)