Monks and artists (and a 2 Book Giveaway!)

Sacred and mundane

 Finding joy in a not-so-mundane rainbow

Finding joy in a not-so-mundane rainbow

I’ve written before about the tension I’ve felt as the primary caregiver of four young children while also being drawn to the thoughts and lives of the contemplatives, the mystics, the monks, and the cloistered. I’ve wondered often: how it is possible to live a contemplative life and also be present to the needs, distractions, cares, and joys of raising four children?

This tension is not, of course, unique to mothers and fathers. We all get distracted from spiritual practices (not that children are a distraction).

But authors like Joan Chittister, Kathleen Norris, and Henri Nouwen nudge against this tension, reforming it into something else altogether. Instead of feeling as though our spiritual lives will never measure up to that of the monks, Norris’ Quotidian Mysteries reminds us that even the seemingly boring or mundane parts of our day are actually opportunities to capture mystical connections. The more I’ve tried to be present with my kids, the more I understand that it is these very moments that are sacred.

Christine Valters Painter’s book The Artist’s Rule: Nurturing your creative soul with monastic wisdom offers a well of imaginative, monkish, artistic exercises in what sometimes feels like a creative slump. In twelve chapters, she offers creative practices that touch our spiritual hearts. In a chapter about the sacrament of daily life, she quotes the great Catholic writer Joan Chittister: “All of life is sacred. All of life is holy. All of life is to be held in anointed hands.” Every moment is an gift in which we can engage with God, whether that be in the savored bite of food, the clip of a piece of laundry on a clothesline, the kitchen dance with a child, or a conversation with someone in the home.

And we all have the opportunity, like the monks, to find the sacred in the mundane.

My own recent writings, interviews, and a book review:

  • At Good Letters: The lost goodbye in which I write about grief and the power of a good song.

  • An interview with Clint Sabom of Contemplative Light: in which we have a fun conversation about intentional community, the mystics, and, yes, vampire books.

  • Contemplative Light’s Marc Shaw also wrote one of my favorite reviews of my book. Check it out here.

Some things I’ve been reading or listening to from other people:

  • Laurus, a novel by Russian author Evgenij Vodolazkin is the strange and heartbreaking mystical journey of a holy fool.

  • Howard Thurman’s Deep River and the Negro Spiritual Speaks of Life and Death. I can’t even begin to unpack Thurman’s wisdom and mystical insight. I’m still thinking about his way of talking about death.

  • A Blade so Black by L.L McKinney is a YA modern reimagining of Alice in Wonderland. Angie Thomas, the author of the powerful YA novel The Hate U Give says of McKinney’s book: "Alice is Black Girl Magic personified."

  • Muse of Nightmares is Laini Taylor’s follow-up to her fantastical YA novel Strange the Dreamer about an orphan who lives through his books until he is allowed to journey to a city that he’s only dreamed of. Laini Taylor is one of my very favorite YA authors. Her novels are always beautifully imagined worlds that explore timeless themes.

  • Sister Sinjin’s Daughter of Jerusalem is the most beautiful and moving album. I mention their song “Goodbye” in my Good Letters piece, The Lost Goodbye (see above). Their melodies are wise, haunting, and mystical.

  • Ellie Holcomb’s Sing. I’ve been a fan of Holcomb’s music for a while now, and this album—written in tandem with a children’s book—is already beloved by my children, especially my preschooler. You know a true artist when she can write children’s music that parents also love listening to.

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Book Giveaway!

Last week my book turned six months old! To celebrate this milestone, I’m going giving away two books:

  • A signed copy of my book Mystics and Misfits: Meeting God Through St. Francis and Other Unlikely Saints (with a fun bookmark)

    AND

  • Christine Valters Painter’s The Artist’s Rule, a “twelve-week book journey” that encourages its readers into creative work that is both tangible and spiritual.

To Enter the Giveaway:

  • Share this blog post on your social media (twitter, instagram, Facebook) with something like: “I’ve just entered a contest for a book giveaway of #mysticsandmisfits. To enter the contest and win 2 books, visit christiananpeterson.com/blog/2018/10/16/monks-and-artists-and-2-book-giveaways.” Tag me on twitter or instagram @christiananpete.

  • Come back to this post and leave a message in the comments below that you’ve shared this post.

  • Be sure to include your name and an email address in the comments below so I can contact the winner. (If you aren’t comfortable leaving your email address here, you can also email it to me at christiananoelwrites@gmail.com).

  • Make sure you’re already subscribed to my blog.

Contest ends November 1, 2018 at which time, I’ll randomly select a winner and email you. (Only available in the U.S. and Cananda, I’m afraid).

Summer favorites

I plan to continue writing about more mystics in the coming months but it's too darn hot right now. Instead here are some fun, informative, and interesting things I'm into this summer. 

Books: 

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My life is proof of the saying, "So many books, so many children climbing on me"...but I've managed to read a few good ones this summer.

1. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas: a tough narrative about a girl who is a witness to a police shooting. The story digs deep into the lives of those affected by racism and police brutality. It's hard but worthy read that asks us all to empathize and understand. 

2. Passenger by Alexandra Bracken was one of my favorite reads of the summer so far. It has romance, pirates, and spans several centuries, asking the question: what would time travel be like for an African American man who wouldn't be accepted in every period and country?

3. And finally, I wrote a book review of one of my other favorite reads for the summer: Birthing Hope by Rachel Marie Stone. I'll send you to the book review to understand why I loved it so much. 

Podcast episodes:

1. America Ferrera and John Paul Lederach speak to Krista Tippett at an On Being conference. They discuss how to remain hopeful in a climate of fear, how to balance self-righteous anger with kindness, and how art is essential in informing and influencing social change. 

2. Richard Beck, a professor at my alma mater Abilene Christian University, gives a talk at a Lectureship series at Pepperdine. The theme of the Lectureship is the Holy Spirit. This might sound like a normal topic for a Christian/Bible conference but for the Church of Christ tradition (the one I was raised in), the Holy Spirit is the silent member of the Trinity, only stirring a Christian in very quiet and Biblical ways. Beck's topic "Disenchantment with Disenchantment" is appropriate then, as he talks about how many Christians have lost a mysterious and sacred view of God. Here come the mystics....

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3. I recently sat down with Lisa Delay of the podcast Spark My Muse. Her questions were so thoughtful and our discussion so delightful that I have to sing her praises. She's a fabulous interviewer and a kind person. I will post our conversation in a few weeks when it comes out but until then, check out some of her other episodes

4. Last month, I did a short interview with the Ohio Mennonite Conference podcast hosts Bill Seymour and Thomas Dunn. If you want a brief introduction to my book and our life, listen to it here.

Music: 

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I love music but the truth is, if you look at what's on heavy rotation on my Apple music, you'll see the soundtrack to Trolls, Nursery Rhymes, and Peanut Butter Jelly Time. Guess who's been in charge of my music lately?

So what music is left for me? Lately I've been listening to the Beninese singer Angelique Kidjo, to the Indigo Girls, and to 70s folk . But the true soundtrack of our family life right now is our friend and songwriter Bryan Moyer Suderman whose profoundly simple lyrics and singable melodies are beloved by our kids and by us. 

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Other things: 

Sarah Quezada is a fellow Herald Press author whose book Love Undocumented is very timely. We are in a crisis with immigration policies, border policies and ICE raids that have separated children from their families. Quezada's book "wrestles with the Christian response to immigration...She calls on the church to educate their congregations and address the uncomfortable question: What will we do if Christlike behavior becomes criminalized? Quezada challenges readers to overcome barriers and welcome strangers, regardless of their immigration status."

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Besides recommending her book, I've really enjoyed receiving Sarah's email newsletter "The Road Map" in which she offers all kinds of news and information about immigration. You can sign up for it here: https://www.sarahquezada.com 

What books, music, and podcasts are keeping you sane this summer?

 

More Mystics: The Beguines

In the coming weeks, I'm planning a series of posts about mystics I've discovered since I wrote Mystics and Misfits. Today, I'm writing about my discovery of the Beguine women. 

 Some of the writing in this book is by Beguine women.

Some of the writing in this book is by Beguine women.

God: Thou huntest sore for thy love/ What bring’st thou Me, my Queen?

Soul: Lord! I bring Thee my treasure...It outweighs the whole earth!

--Mechthild of Magdeburg, Beguine

My husband Matthew and I stumbled upon the Beguines within weeks of each other. He was researching a seminary paper on Michael Sattler, a 16th century Benedictine monk turned early Anabaptist leader who was later tortured and martyred. Matthew discovered that Sattler was married to a former Beguine named Margaretha. A few days after her husband was executed, Margaretha refused to recant and was drowned.

Like my husband, I was also reading about the Beguine women just as we were re-entering American life. That sounds as if we were returning from overseas missions. No, the eight years my family and I spent in a rural intentional community in Illinois sometimes felt like living in a foreign country. Seeking simplicity in a quirky community and practicing radical ways of following Jesus was a way of life that felt alien even in the spaces just outside our acreage. Sometimes it felt as though we inhabited a terra-formed community on another planet, protected by an atmospheric dome.

About the time the community reached its end, my husband was called to be a pastor at a Mennonite church a few states away. We drove through the metaphorical barrier of that dome and left behind our somewhat radical life. We bought a house in Ohio and put our kids in public school.

That radical, unique way of living tugs at me sometimes, usually when I’m silent enough to feel it, outmaneuvering distractions to grasp at the solitude. There I found the Beguines.

Even among the deeply pious, the Beguines were an odd group of women. Scattered about 13th and 14th century France, Germany and England, they behaved like cloistered women with their plain dress and works of mercy, but they remained untethered to any specific religious order. They often lived in settlements, sometimes consisting of many of the amenities necessary to life: houses, hospitals, and even cemeteries.  But they were always free to leave. And many—like Margaretha—did leave, getting married and starting families.

At first, the religious authorities couldn’t decide what to do with these misfits. They composed poetry and lyrical writings with images of God that evoked courtly and sometimes erotic love.  

But as some of these women wrote of the soul’s freedom, the church authorities began to condemn them. This message of freedom, of the individual’s connection with God, threatened the authority of a Church, which often sought to dictate and mediate the soul’s relationship with God. With a fortitude that could only be born of a glimpse of this union with God, some Beguine women faced imprisonment, condemnation, and even death for their beliefs and writings.

Though I found them inspiring in the months after our move to Middle America, reading about the Beguines also started to make me feel angsty. I wondered frantically how I was supposed to have a mystical faith in a place where over-consumption, idolization of country, addiction to technology, and isolation from neighbors is a given.

Also, it’s a little exhausting when your spiritual examples are all martyrs and saints.

So it was a relief to discover Joan Chittister’s Wisdom Distilled from the Daily, a guideline for drawing the Rule of St. Benedict into everyday life. Even though Benedict himself was a mystic, Chittister claims that St. Benedict’s Rule isn’t for “priests or mystics or hermits or ascetics.” The Rule is for “ordinary people who live ordinary lives.”

Though the mystics appeal to me because I don’t like the idea of being ordinary, I was drawn to the idea of bringing the Rule of St. Benedict into our home life, creating our own sort of Rule of Life. But I was also turned off by what I’d heard of The Benedict Option, Rod Dreher’s treatise to Christians who are worried by the threat of modernism.

It’s interesting to have left a community that Dreher would perhaps have pushed for. Though there are many healthy intentional communities, ours died in part because we became too isolated and too enmeshed in our own challenges.

As I read Chittister’s book, I find so many positive things that remind me of our life in community: the focus on scripture reading, on hospitality, on peace, on the goodness of work, and of course, on the importance of community. But what I appreciate about Chittister’s take on the Rule of St. Benedict is the possibilities it offers to our life now. Chittister says that for Benedict, “community was the place in which we worked out our own responsibility to continue the task of creating a just a gentle world.” Instead of curling in on ourselves, expecting a broken world to persecute and oppress us, we go out to the hurts of the world and offer the love of Christ.

Maybe the Beguine women, like Margaretha who left their way of life, appeal to me because they were exiting an intense way of life and they needed to find a way to bring those ideals into their families. I’m not itching to be a martyr like Margaretha. But I would like to draw something from the Beguines and the Benedictine mystics: maybe it’s in the continued pursuit and desire for God that all of this will come together.

Though perhaps we learn the most when it all falls apart. 

***

Mystics and Misfits around the web:

1. Publisher's Weekly gave my book a positive review. Although it called my narrative "oddly organized," it also said it was "cannily" crafted. I'll take that as a good thing. I don't mind being odd.

2. One of my favorite reviews so far is from Bryan Borger who co-owns the bookstore Hearts and Minds with his wife. I loved this paragraph. Borger says Mystics and Misfits "is so very interesting, so soulful, so moving, that we truly want to tell everyone who loves good books about it. Writer and editor and Francis fanboy Jon Sweeny himself says it is “achingly beautiful” – a blurb which drew me in wondering if that could be true, prose approaching the sublime. Another review called it “gorgeous and quirky.” Richard Rohr observes that it is “so well written” and promises that it is also “filled with gems.” Mystics and Misfits: Meeting God…, like others we’ve mentioned in this list, is a work of art, a wonderful read, an expertly crafted, fabulous book."

3. I also did two author interviews in the last few weeks: one at SheLoves and another at Jola Naibi's blog.

Mystics and Misfits around the web

Book news:

Well, it's been a week since Mystics and Misfits officially entered the world. This week has been full of delightful and moving conversations with readers and friends who have read the book and felt it resonated with them. When you do this kind of thing, you never know what people will think, and I'm honored by the support I've received. 

Mystics and Misfits has already made it to a few places around the web but stay tuned for more interviews, podcasts, and reviews posted here:

1. Fellow writer and blogger, Cara Meredith graciously interviewed me for her Author Tuesday series.

2. My new friend (and fellow Herald Press author) Leslie Verner reviewed the book on her blog.

3. Tara Owens is running an excerpt from the book as well as offering a giveaway of Mystics and Misfits at Anam Cara.

3. Englewood Review of Books mentioned the book in its New Releases section.

If you've read the book and haven't made it over to Amazon or Goodreads to write a review, please consider doing so, even if it's painfully honest. The more reviews the book receives, the more the book comes up in searches so other people are able to find and read my book! And if you haven't read the book but you use Goodreads, consider putting Mystics and Misfits on your "To-read" list as well. 

Reading news:

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I've just begun reading Joan Chittister's Wisdom Distilled from the Daily: Living the Rule of St. Benedict Today. As my family and I try to live out a mystical faith in a new context (we moved in August from an intentional community to a small town in Ohio), I long for this kind of wisdom. Chittister, a former Benedictine nun herself, writes about how this ancient text, the Rule of Benedict, is not actually a set of rules but a guide for a life. The Rule is "designed for ordinary people who live ordinary lives." That's not to say that aren't times to make huge changes in our lives in order to follow Jesus but using this ancient guide is a way to see what changes Jesus might be calling us to in our lives. This week, I hope to do another post on the first section of her book: "Listening: The Key to Spiritual Growth."

 

Today is the Day!

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An embarrassment of riches: Today, my book officially launches into the world!

Technically, books are written in isolation: a writer alone in a dusty basement office, in a library study room crying her eyes out, in brief quiet moments in the lazy boy while the babies are sleeping...okay maybe that's just me. But books cannot truly be created, gestated, and birthed alone. You need the midwives, the muses, the mothers, the mystics, misfits, and moments that surround you, encourage you, and tell you to just breathe in a paper bag, it's going to be alright.

I cannot fully number those who helped me (I tried valiantly in my acknowledgments). But I am so grateful for them all.

In the coming weeks, I will be posting links to places that are hosting my words in their generous spaces. How appropriate that Good Letters, the first place to receive my writing on the mystics, has an excerpt today from my book. 

Also Cara Meredith, a fellow writer I got to meet briefly at the Festival of Faith and Writing, is posting an interview today about Mystics and Misfits on her Author Tuesday series.

 A book launch gift from my writers group

A book launch gift from my writers group

Okay, now for the practical, boring, but essential parts about promoting a book (and ways you can help). Here are some simple ways you can help today and this week (and the coming weeks as you read the book):

1. Share your own photo of the book with a link to the book TODAY (amazon or mennomedia) on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Use the hashtag #mysticsandmisfits.

2. Write reviews! Write reviews! Write reviews! This might sound silly but it really helps the book (algorithms and such) to have reviews on places like Amazon and Goodreads. I have 6 reviews from you lovely folks on Amazon and 5 on Goodreads. Can we get that up to 20 or even 50? They can be honest just as long as they are there. 

3. Word of mouth: Tell your friends about the book. Ask your library or local bookstores if they will carry it.

I've been so humbled by the ways Mystics and Misfits has already resonated with readers. I'd love to hear from you if you've read it. Leave a comment below or email me at christiananoelwrites@gmail.com. And stay tuned here for more post-launch day posts about mystics I've discovered since I wrote the book, music that helps me write and contemplate, and other places that have discovered the book. 

Thank you!

The Festival and a Book Giveaway

This morning my three year old noticed a box outside one of our three front doors. Let me explain: our house was built in 1850 and someone suggested that two of the three front doors were to aid foot traffic during a wake. I'm skeptical mostly because that means dead bodies might've been laid out where our dining table is. But I digress...

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The box was full of author copies of my book. What a gift to see them laid out, embossed and shiny, baby new. Of course it didn't take ten minutes for my crawler to come upon one that fell on the floor and bend that shiny new cover into a crease. That will obviously be my own personal copy now. 

My life is now an odd mix of wiping snotty noses, picking up children from the school nurse (my three oldest just happened to end up there in the same week with three unique sets of symptoms), preparing to lead music at church, and trying to launch a book. I'm not sure which one I'm succeeding at, if any. But they all certainly bring lots of challenges and joys. 

This coming week, I will be able to launch my book at the Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College. It was just two years ago that I brought my book proposal (titled Mother Mystic at the time) to the same Festival and connected with Amy Gingerich, then the acquisitions editor for and now the executive director and publisher at MennoMedia/Herald Press. Two weeks later, I was offered a contract. And here we are now, two YEARS later, releasing that book--with fledgling wings--into the ether. 

Here's where I'll be at the Festival: 

Friday morning at 8:30am at Calvin College Chapel, Undercroft--Against Scarcity: Generosity and Writing Communities. My panelists will be members of my own writing group: Jessica Goudeau, Stina Kielsmeier-Cook, D. L. Mayfield, Kelley Nikondeha, and Amy Peterson.  

Friday morning at 10:30am, I'll be signing copies of my book in the Exhibition Hall at the Herald Press table. Come join me and say hello. Copies of my book will be for sale there. 

Saturday afternoon at 2:30pm at Prince Conference Center, Willow Room--Sentiment without Sentimentality: Women Writers Who Won’t Stay in Their (Inspirational) Lane
with Karen Gonzalez, Jessica Mesman Griffith, Lyz Lenz, and D. L. Mayfield

Though Mystics and Misfits doesn't officially launch until April 17, by some quirks of the online publishing trade, it is now available for purchase at Amazon and MennoMedia. And to celebrate, I'd love to do a book giveaway, available to one of you, my dear blog subscribers. 

Giveaway: If you'd like to have a chance to win a copy signed by me, make sure you are subscribed to the blog here. Then leave your email address in the comments of this blog post or email me at christiananoelwrites@gmail.com with subject line: giveaway. I'll leave the giveaway open until Monday at 8:00am. Then, I'll choose one of you at random. 

Thanks for reading!

 

A weak start to Lent

Our Ash Wednesday begins a little weakly. Between a sick baby, a bloody nose, and a bathroom break, all four of my children end up in our bedroom at some point the night before. Sleep largely eludes me and I feel rundown and fuzzy getting the kids off to school. 

I wanted to be more prepared to celebrate Lent, to be alert and ready for these 40 days before Easter. But perhaps feeling weak and exhausted is a more appropriate way to begin this season anyway.  

When my husband, our baby, and I join the small Presbyterian church down the street for an Ash Wednesday service, the pastor reads from Joel 2: 

"Yet even now, says the Lord,
return to me with all your heart,

with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
rend your hearts and not your clothing.

Return to the Lord, your God,
for he is gracious and merciful,

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slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love,
and relents from punishing...

call a solemn assembly;
gather the people.

Sanctify the congregation;
assemble the aged;

gather the children,
even infants at the breast."

He points to our child with that last line and smiles. He imposes the ashes, whispering: "Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return." Even my baby has the ashen cross marked on his smooth, soft forehead. He looks around at the other parishioners, smiling and clapping, his eyes drawn to their faces and to the lights on the ceiling.

Remember you are fragile like this baby. Remember you are weak.

Remember. Remember. Remember. You are going to die. 

***

In Kate Bowler's new book Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I've Loved about her struggle with Stage Four cancer, she recalls a peace and deep sense of love that descends upon her at her most fragile moments. In an interview on Fresh Air Bowler says that in this proximity to death, she suddenly recognizes how fragile every one of us is: the exhausted mother at the checkout line with screaming children, the other cancer patients in chemo, her own family members. 

Bowler's body will not let her forget that she is fragile. But the rest of us don't always remember.

Lent asks us to remember our own mortality. But these forty days ask us for something else. We are to simmer in the reality of Jesus' suffering. When we hope to sneak around the Crucifixion and bolt straight to Resurrection, Lent tells us to go back. Go back to the suffering and lean into it. 

What can we hope to gain from leaning into the suffering of Jesus? 

In Bowler's book, a friend who has just been diagnosed with cancer herself, says to Kate: "'I have known Christ in so many good times...And now I will know Him better in His sufferings."'

When we lean into Lent, we are participating more in the suffering of Jesus. But when we ourselves suffer, God isn't crying tears in heaven for us. No, God is among us, knowing what it feels like to be exhausted from sleepless nights, to be anxious and depressed, to grieve those who have died, and to even to suffer through painful chemo treatments.

If we aren't already going through trials--and many of us are--Lent sweeps us back this community of suffering with Christ, who is always with us in our breathing, our pain, our life and our death.

Lent asks us to gather together, the young and the old, the fragile and the strong, and remember that God is present with us and we ought to be present with one another too. 

"Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return."

 

Some January writing and a few favorite things

Here in the Midwest, we are cheering on the end of January as it edges us closer to spring every blessed moment.

We all have our winter coping skills. This year, mine has centered around our new wood stove, which I wrote about for Good Letters last week. Other coping skills include spending time with a friend from church who invites me and my two littles to her house to lavish us with coffee and delicious breakfast treats, YA novels, singing songs with my family in the evening, and solitary walks around the local cemetery.

 Cemetery, snow, solitude.

Cemetery, snow, solitude.

What are your winter coping skills?

Another piece of mine was published this month. I wrote a review for Christian Century about a book called Living Sustainably. Check out my review here.

As we close out the month, I thought I'd share a few books and some music that have soothed my winter blues.

Books

No heavy reading this month (there is enough in the daily newspaper). I find Jane Austen to be very comforting. But instead of revisiting my favorite Austen titles, I read a few Austen inspired books this month. 

1. Unequal Affections by Lara S. Ormiston is a slant retelling of Pride and Prejudice: what would've happened between Darcy and Elizabeth (and therefore the rest of the Bennets) if Lizzy had accepted Darcy's first proposal? A light and fun read. 

2. Dear Mr. Knightly by Katherine Reay is a story told largely in letter form. A young woman, who survived a troubled childhood by immersing herself in Austen novels, writes letters to the benefactor who is paying for her education. I wasn't completely sold on the ending but I enjoyed the reading of it.

3. Longbourn by Jo Baker. Though I actually read this in September, it is in the same Austen category. Although this is set in the Bennet house, this is not the story of our beloved Lizzy and Jane. Instead, this novel follows the servants of the Bennet house, their love stories, their painful secrets, their fears, and their joys. It is a grittier view of the Bennet household, and from the view downstairs, the sisters don't always look quite as lovely. I really enjoyed it!

4. I've just started this one: Lizzy and Jane, another Austen retelling by Katherine Reay, follows Lizzy, a high-powered chef. When her career hits a wall, Lizzy returns to the home she hasn't visited in the 15 years since her mother died. 

And any fiction list of mine wouldn't be complete without a YA novel. This month I read The Speaker, the second book in a fantasy series by Traci Chee. Set in a world where all books and words have been hidden or destroyed, this second book continues to follow Sefia and Archer, a pair of young people on the run from the Guard who hunt them for their power and the secrets they could reveal.

Music:

The Porter's Gate Worship Project, Vol 1, Work Songs

This album is a creative project that grew out of a community of artists, part of a "sacred arts collective" combining the talents of artists like Liz Vice, Audrey Assad, David Gungor, and Josh Garrels to bring a dynamic collection of songs. My favorites: We Labor Unto Glory, Father Let Your Kingdom Come, and In the Fields of the Lord.

Sergio Mendes

I've been dancing around the house to Mendes' Brasiliero for decades. But I've introduced my kids to it and we get a kick out of twisting our heels to make dinnertime and cleanup a little more interesting. 

Advent: The third Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday

I'm not going to lie to you: I'm writing this at 11:00pm on my bedroom floor in the dark while my three year old is asleep in my bed and my six month old is screaming in the next room, refusing to go to sleep despite having his every need fulfilled. No doubt, my nine year old will come stumbling in soon to tell me she can't sleep because the baby is crying and she has a school program tomorrow. My seven year old threatened to puke as he got in bed...and he just might follow through. 

 Photo by  Alex Gindin  on  Unsplash

Photo by Alex Gindin on Unsplash

Why do I share this? Partly because I don't have much else to share as an Advent reflection. And partly because it helps me to get my weariness out in writing and then put everything in perspective. My perspective has come in the last few weeks through Mary, the "theotokos" or God-bearer. I have no doubt she would understand my late-night weariness. And her suffering would give me a little perspective.

Yesterday, I preached a meditation about Mary, about how important it is for us to never lose a deep understanding of her as the God-bearer. Hopefully, I will have a link to that in a future post. In the meantime, here is a piece I wrote for Good Letters about Mary, the Mystical Rose. 

Mary reminds me of all the mothers who are suffering much worse agonies than I can imagine and how strong they are in the face of such suffering.

Song:

Mary consoles Eve by Rain for Roots

*Update: Here is a link to my sermon, titled Mary, God-bearer. My portion starts at about 23:40. 

 

 

 

Advent: The second Friday

 Photo by  Orlova Maria  on  Unsplash

Photo by Orlova Maria on Unsplash

It was a cold but lovely scene when my husband took me and our two littlest children on a hike. In celebration of my fortieth birthday, we drove to a state park a short way from our new home. On one side of the trail, tall trees, white and bare, were evenly situated and you could see the landscape of the forest floor in way that wouldn't be possible in the spring when foliage would fill out all the empty spaces. On the other side, a river ran cold and brown along the campground. 

Whenever things are aesthetically cold, I sometimes feel frightened. Coldness, darkness, and wintertime remind me of the ending of things. And usually, that makes me afraid, anxious, and slightly desperate for a change of scene.  

As we walked, Ecclesiastes began to play through my head and I said to my husband, "Everything is meaningless."

What a thought for a birthday celebration, right? 

My husband, used to my melancholy and a little melancholy himself, only nodded. But the thing is, I wasn't sad this time. I was actually a little relieved. It's not that I really think everything is meaningless. But I do get a sense sometimes, when the veil of life is pierced through, if only momentarily, that the things we strive for and hope to accomplish, our daily worries and tasks, all attempts to give our life more meaning, will be only a flash in time when we are gone.

And, it might sounds slightly dramatic, but this year, I've been coming to peace with that. Forty places me squarely in the middle of life (or less, because there are no guarantees) and I envision the years rolling out before me quickly. Every year comes faster and I imagine they will eventually leave me breathless with their pace. 

Yes, there is a time for everything, as the writer of Ecclesiastes says. Perhaps, this Advent is a time for tears and mourning, for grief and tearing down. For waiting. 

But as I continue to wait, in the middle of Advent, and in the middle of my life, I am also filled with a sense of great joy. Maybe this is the time to ponder, the time to enjoy my work, the time to enjoy my babies and my husband, and the time to enjoy hikes in the woods, even if they are fleeting. 

Song:

Great Rejoicing by Rain for Roots

Advent: The second Sunday

Perhaps you noticed (or maybe you were relieved) that I missed doing an Advent post yesterday. By way of apology, I will say that the struggle is real for a mom of four when her husband is away doing pastor-type training on a Saturday. Though I'm not sure how much longer I can use the "mom of four" excuse. Can I have it at least until they are all in school, please?

Back to Advent.

 Photo by  Caleb Steele  on  Unsplash

Photo by Caleb Steele on Unsplash

Today, we are introduced to the hairy dude whose Dad went mute for nine months while this dude was growing in his elderly mother's womb. What a way to enter the world! No wonder he wasn't like all the others, this Baptizer who drew crowds to the desert, just so they could repent. Today, my husband Matthew compared those crowds to the technology gurus who are now being drawn to retreat centers to mourn the harm that their work has done in the world. These retreat centers though, are serving Kombucha tea, not locusts and honey.

The repentant masses in the desert were welcomed with "You brood of vipers!" not "Enjoy your stay." These words, "brood of vipers" sometimes give us a laugh, or perhaps a shock. And that was the point. This prophet, this misfit, was trying to shock his listeners. And he is meant to shock us as well.

John would be the perfect prophet, not only for the tech industry gurus, but for those of us sitting in front of our screens, searching mindlessly through the internet rabbit-hole from a New York times article to a link to buzzfeed article to another link to a video about a celebrity feud. John the Baptist is our electric shock. He is meant to snap us out of our numbness, to take stock of our lives, and--as my husband said today--to reorient our lives to follow a different narrative, a different story.

And what is that story? 

A story of freedom. We are offered freedom from our burdens. We are offered healing for our wounds. We are offered comfort for our griefs and love for our shame. This story is Good News.

And that Good News is coming. Just hold on and follow that hairy dude.

Song

Longing for Light

Advent: The first Friday

I have to admit that when I first read a biography of St. Catherine of Siena, she was not my favorite mystic. She was everything I feel that I'm not: extreme, audacious, certain, rigid, and unflinching in her view of the truth. For someone who tends to be uncertain about a lot of things, who takes a long time to make a decision or avoids anything that will significantly rock the boat, Catherine made me uncomfortable.

 Photo by  Tim Mossholder  on  Unsplash

Catherine was a 14th century Italian woman who, as is true for many saints, died young. Marriage or convent were the only options for a young woman of her day who wanted to remain in good standing. To the great horror of her family, Catherine had no interest in marriage. She held out stubbornly for years until her parents eventually relented and let her pursue the life she wished, which wasn't exactly the convent either.

Though she lived like a nun in piety, simplicity, and chastity, her convent was not in cloistered walls with other women but in a cell in her own home, a closet under the stairs that seemed somehow more sparse and pitiful than even the one Harry Potter occupied. In this cell, she saw visions of Jesus and was tormented by demons. She wrote letters to Popes and vowed to eat little except the Lord's Supper (upon eating the Eucharist, she would often fall into a trance or ecstatic vision...perhaps because of a mystical connection to God but maybe also because she was really hungry).

When I first read her biography, I grumbled under my breath and occasionally rolled my eyes at her extreme devotion and seeming arrogance. After all, she held audience with Pope Gregory to try to get the him to move the papacy from Avignon to Rome. At one point, Catherine wrote a scathing and patronizing letter to the Pope saying: "I beg of you, on behalf of Christ crucified, that you be not a timorous child but manly. Open your mouth and swallow down the bitter for the sweet.” Catherine threw shade at the Pope, calling him a baby! And the thing is, she was successful! He listened to her and moved the papacy to Rome. And she became one of the most influential Catholics (of both men and women) of her day.

***

The Scriptures for today in Advent talk about two people who encountered Jesus: the two blind men in Matthew 9:27-31 who were healed by him. Afterwards, they didn't listen to Jesus' warning for them to be silent...no, they went out and boasted all over the countryside. 

I guess when you have encountered Jesus like Catherine of Siena and the blind men, you cannot be silent. And you might make a lot of people uncomfortable. This truth-telling might look like Catherine's, who was so confident in her message and pious in her life that even the patriarchy of the day sat down and listened to her. 

As I approach 40 this week, I am learning that speaking and living the truth can have consequences even more extreme than making people uncomfortable. Several Christian leaders were arrested this week after peacefully standing up for undocumented immigrants. And Christians all over the world face more serious bodily harm and even death for sharing their faith. 

This Advent, I hope to encounter Jesus, and respond the blind men did, unable to keep my mouth shut about the healing Jesus offers and the love God longs to show us. May we all be people who know God's love so deeply that we can't shut up about it. 

Song:

Today I read an interview with Sister Sinjin by Jessica Mesman Griffith at Sick Pilgrim. Their music, particularly In the Virgin's Womb He Lay and their version of O Come O Come Emmanuel, were just what I needed today: three women boldly boasting of the Good News of the Incarnation, one lovely melody at a time.

Advent: The first Thursday

 Photo by  Clem Onojeghuo  on  Unsplash

Today, I'm going to link to a newsletter that my writing group puts out once a month. I wrote the post at the end of the newsletter (in "The Good Stuff" section) and it is partly about Advent. But it is also about finding inspiration as a writer, particularly a writer who is engaged with the mostly beautiful and occasionally mundane tasks of daily life as a mother. 

Here is the newsletter from the Mutual Admiration Society (for background info on the name--it's a literary reference--check out a link in the newsletter): http://mailchi.mp/9e0fdeefb6a9/dec-2017 

If you like what you read and want to subscribe to our monthly newsletter, follow this link and join us.  

Song:

Hail to the Lord's Anointed by The Welcome Wagon

 

Advent: The first Wednesday

 Photo by  Michael Heuss  on  Unsplash

Photo by Michael Heuss on Unsplash

Today, in reading a meditation from "Watch the Light," (an Advent book that I mentioned a few days ago on the blog), Loretta Ross-Gotta uses the word "recollection." (1) At first, I thought she was using it the way most of us understand the word--as the act of recalling or remembering. But recollection is a type of prayer, similar to what some of us understand as contemplative or Centering prayer. (2) Her experience of recollection is a lot like my own experience of Centering prayer: it sounds lovely but it can be strangely harrowing to practice such open prayers, where we attempt to lay aside our own expectations and agendas and ask for God to be present with us. (3)

In trying to research the differences between various kinds of prayer (and there are many...follow St. Teresa of Avila's levels of prayer rabbit-hole and just see for yourself), I found this description from Contemplative Outreach helpful: 

There are many levels of relation with God that can be manifested by the way we pray. There is vocal prayer (the saying of your prayer), there is meditation (the thinking about and reflecting on your prayer), there is affective prayer (responding from your heart), there is centering prayer (a receptive silent prayer of consenting, which also can express a desire to be gifted with contemplation), and there is contemplative prayer (the gift of resting in the Lord). Another way of expressing it is: meditation is thinking about God, Centering Prayer is consenting to God and contemplative prayer is loving God.

What does all of this have to do with Advent? 

I think Advent is a season that prepares us to approach and know God in ways that we can approach and know him in all seasons. When we pray, there are many ways that we, as mortal creatures, can make things happen of our own volition. We may speak these vocal prayers, decide to meditate, and even contemplate. But in mystical prayer it is God who does the moving, the choosing, and the acting. Many mystics, like Teresa of Avila, experience God in these ways after a lot of contemplative prayer. But, even with all that preparation, mystics can never make a mystical act happen. That is God's choosing. 

That, you might already guess, is what all of this has to do with Advent. Advent reminds us once again that God acted and still acts. Our actions are important as we choose to reach out to God in relationship through spiritual disciplines of prayer, bible reading, singing, and worshipping in community. But ultimately, it is still God who does the work. It is God who chooses us, who offers us grace and healing, who gives us wholeness and love. It is God who descends to earth as a baby, giving up power for vulnerability, comfort for suffering, security for an embracing love.

Even if feeble and minuscule, all God asks of us is a turning toward Jesus. God has already done the rest. 

Song

Oh Light by Gungor 

1. Ross-Gotta's whole meditation is also online here.

2. There are many types of prayer that I'm still learning about. A robust prayer life should consist of many types of prayer. If you pray a lot, you're probably already doing more than one type without knowing it. Quiet contemplation, vocal prayer, praying a Scripture, etc. 

3.  It can be harrowing because it is in the quiet that we are often confronted with ourselves and our own darkness. This is necessary, though, in order to ask for Jesus to heal us. 

Advent: The first Tuesday

 Photo by  Josh Adamski  on  Unsplash

Photo by Josh Adamski on Unsplash

The holidays are opportunities for cheer, yes. But for many of us, they are also a time of painful firsts or difficult memories. When so many families are gathering with joy and laughter, this may be the first Christmas for some of us without a loved one who has died or perhaps we are returning to unhealthy family dynamics from our childhood. The good news is that Advent can hold all of this tension together as it reminds us that we are not going to be alone in our grief.

On her blog, my friend Shannon writes poignantly about the grief many of us must face into at this time of year. But she also finds a comfort, a spark of hope, in going through the motions of the season. She says: "I am feeling the loss and loneliness that the ancient Israelites felt. I am the one mourning, seeking to make sense of the losses that are heavy on my heart. And just like those ancient children of God, I too can find hope and joy again." Check it out here

And as usual, here is a song for your day:

The Weight of the World (feat. Katy Bowser) by Rain for Roots

Advent: The first Monday

St. Madeleine L'Engle, whose wisdom and words swirl through my own writing, speaks of the great mystery of Advent: that the Greatest Power in the universe became the weakest, just to be with us. This is the image of love: 

"Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity, Christ, the Maker of the universe or perhaps many universes, willingly and lovingly leaving all that power and coming to this poor, sin-filled planet to live with us for a few years to show us what we ought to be and could be." 

Mystic Angela of Foligno witnessed and experienced this mystery in her encounters with God. In poetry written by Scott Cairns, Angela learns that the coming of Jesus is a like a burning embrace of God:

"You won’t get used to it, nor will you know its scope."

 Photo by  Chris Rhoads  on  Unsplash

Photo by Chris Rhoads on Unsplash

So, let us never get accustomed to this flaming embrace of God or the mystery of God's arrival.

Song:

A Light by The Brilliance