Making Sacred Memorials from Our Memories.

Rock of remembrance

Thinking about All Saints Day has, not surprisingly brought back memories of my mother. This morning images of her last illness flooded in, triggered by looking at my rock collection, which I often use as a focus for prayer. My hands moved unwaveringly to my rock of remembrance. Running my fingers over its bands of light and dark bound seamlessly together into a solid whole, made me think – joy and sorrow intertwining in my life to make me whole.

Recalling memories like this is important for our own health and healing. I see myself again back in the hospital beside her bed – laughing and crying with her, telling her I love her, reading to her about Scotland the home of her ancestors, reminiscing about our childhood, sharing photos, praying and just sitting quietly beside her my heart aching as she journeys through these last challenging days.

Other events triggered memories this last week too. At the St Francis Day celebrations at our church the vicar prayed for stuffed animals, not something I would ever have thought important. However this time it had me in tears. One of my nephews had given my mother a stuffed dog – Spot – for a previous hospital trip and Spot provided amazing comfort through her final illness. She died with it in her hands.

Memories of those we love and those who have impacted our lives last forever. We can never replace what has been lost, but as we make new connections and new meaningful relationships, these memories help shape us into a new reality. Instead of denying our feelings, our memories help us listen, change and grow into the future.

Celebrations like All Saints Day are important times not just to remember those that have gone whom we loved and who shaped our lives, but also to reflect on how they continue to shape and grow us.

All Saints Day can convert memories into sacred memorials, markers along the way of our own journey. They encourage us to remember the acts of God in our past and the intimate moments of love we have shared. This is one important way that we connect to the acts of God in the present and learn to trust and hope for the promises of God in the future.This is a good time to ask yourself: Am I living true to the character and integrity of those who challenged, mentored and shaped us? What new ways might God prompt me to change as a result of their influence?

The Holy Ordinary by Kimberlee Conway Ireton

Today’s post is by Kimberlee Conway Ireton, author of The Circle of Seasons: Meeting God in the Church Year and a newly released memoir, Cracking Up: A Postpartum Faith Crisis, from which this post it excerpted.

Figleaf2

Fig_leaf

Bee_and_Strawberries

Clover_and_bee
It’s a perfect Sunday afternoon: quiet, and I’m alone. Only I’m not alone—there are two babies doing the rumba on my bladder. I sit on the sofa, my journal open on my lap, and stare out the window. I feel restless, like I ought to be doing something, but my body won’t let me. I just got winded climbing the stairs from the basement—and that was after I’d napped for an hour.

So I got out my journal, thinking that I would write, but I’m so tired I can’t even think what to say to the page. My life feels bereft of things to write about, other than the babies and how tired they’re making me and how sad I feel that my novel is lying in the basement collecting dust. And honestly? I’m tired of writing about that day after day after day.

Last week, when I met with my spiritual director, she asked me where God’s been meeting me lately. I told her, “I feel like jotting down the grace notes is helpful, like it’s a good, important discipline for me. It helps me to not be so anxious, which is huge, but—”

I shrugged “—I wonder if it’s really enough? I mean, a lot of the time, these things I’m writing down don’t feel like grace. They feel like they could happen to anyone, you know? Which doesn’t mean it’s not grace. I know it is. But—” I shrugged again “—it just doesn’t feel like it, so I don’t feel particularly grateful for them. And I certainly don’t feel joyful, the way all those verses say you should: rejoice in the Lord always and all that. I mostly just feel tired.”

I paused for a moment. I wanted to say, “And I feel angry that because of these babies, I’m not able to write as much as I’d like.” I wanted to say, “I feel like this whole year of trying to find an agent for my novel was wasted.” But after my conversation with Laura on Holy Saturday, when she so flippantly dismissed my need to write, I hadn’t wanted to talk about that with anyone.

“And I feel—” I searched for a safer word than angry “—disappointed. And discouraged. I’m having a hard time letting go of my writing dreams, you know? And I feel like it shouldn’t be this hard, like I should just buck up and deal.”

Margie’s voice was gentle when she spoke. “Kimberlee,” she said, “you’re pregnant. With twins. Of course you’re tired. And it’s always hard to give up a dream. Don’t be too hard on yourself.” She looked out the window a second. “And you know, N.T. Wright often translates the word rejoice as celebrate. Celebrate in the Lord always. Maybe that distinction will help you.”

I gave her my best I’m-tracking-with-you look, but really, I wasn’t tracking. She waited for me to say something, so I had to say, “I’m sorry. I don’t understand what the difference is.”

“Oh, I don’t know that there’s much of a difference in what the words mean. I just think that joy sounds to our postmodern ears like an emotion, something you feel, whereas celebration is something you do. And since you can’t change how or what you feel—it’s not like you can force yourself to feel joy—it might be better to focus on what you do, on how you’re actually living, rather than what you’re feeling or not feeling.”

“So,” she continued, “how do you celebrate? How do you recognize the holiness in the ordinary?” She smiled. “Or maybe just how do you see God in the midst of your tiredness and disappointment?”

As I sit here on the sofa and stare out the window at the spirea, I ponder Margie’s questions. A bee buzzes around the tip of a spirea branch and lights on the top leaf. I know this is just a season, and a relatively short one—but I’m still frustrated by my lack of energy. I’m frustrated that given this blessed hour of silence and aloneness, all I can do is sit on the sofa and stare at a bee on a leaf.

I want to cry. It’s so frustrating to feel so stuck, so exhausted, so mentally enervated. But really, crying is too much effort. So I watch the bee. It buzzes down to a lower leaf. At least, I assume it’s buzzing. I can’t actually hear it.

Come tomorrow, I’ll have eleven weeks till I’m full-term. And eleven weeks after that to get my sea legs on this crazy voyage of parenting twins. And eleven more weeks after that before I’m able to get enough sleep to think clearly and have energy for anything other than feeding and changing these babies and loving on Jack and Jane. That’s 33 weeks—the better part of a year. It feels like an eternity from this side, but it’s not.

The bee flies away, disappearing among the fig leaves.

Still, it’s hard to be patient, to look ahead and see that it’ll be many months before I have energy and brain cells to write the way I’m used to writing. But I can keep railing against it, or I can practice patience and take good notes and pay attention and not be in a hurry. And even in this agony of waiting, I can attend to the present moment and live in it, grateful for its gifts of bees and spirea branches.

From somewhere in the fig tree, I hear a bird. I pick up my jounal and write down the bee and the birdsong. I don’t know what they mean, but they’re graces, little gifts of beauty, and I’m taking notes.

This post is an edited excerpt from Kimberlee’s new memoir,
Cracking Up: A Postpartum Faith Crisis

Holy Is the Day by Carolyn Weber – A Book Review

almost didn’t open Carolyn Weber’s new book Holy is the Day: Living in the Gift of the Present. When my copy arrived from InterVarsity Press it almost went on the I don’t think so pile. Fortunately it didn’t. And in fact I am posting this a couple of hours later than I intended because I could not put the book down. This is a delightful and in many ways challenging book.

I thought this was just the story of a young mum grappling with the unexpected gift of twins, but it isn’t. She writes as a woman emotionally and physically drained by a career in academia, writing a first book and raising three young children. She is the epitome of a person – male or female –  who wanted to “do it all” then learned the need to take time to put it down, to live in the moment and discover the wonder of God’s grace.

Each day is holy when we trace various ways of understanding the ‘present’ in relation to god’s grace in our lives, for when we are really with God we are reminded that he is with us always,” writes Carolyn. “Through looking at the everyday questions of our lives – ranging from kitchen to the crucible, the classroom to the emergency room, whether we are faced with professional upheaval or personal reflection – how do we se God’s handiwork in our lives?”

This book includes some profound hidden gems that kept me reading even when I should have turned to other things:

Giving God your all rarely has to do with actual money. Looking at the parable of the poor widow who gave her last coins to the offering I considered what it is to give God everything, to truly give him significant pieces of yourself until you have given him your all. To give so much that all that is left is to be with him. I think of how the world measures the depth of our giving by what we hand over, but Jesus measures it by what we hold on to (44)

Challenging words that I take time to ponder and hopefully respond to in my own still moments of prayer and surrender.

Trauma prepares us for resurrection (60)

So often we question heartache, pain and suffering, running away from trauma or even denying it. Yet physical trauma often uncovers hidden emotional trauma, events from our past that we have buried and thought dead. Now they emerge in God’s resurrection light. Such a profound and inspiring thought.

I love the poignant stories Carolyn shares and the ways in which she invites us to share the joy and despair of her life. This is a wonderful book for anyone who truly wants to learn how to live more consistently in the presence of God.

 

Prayers for the Journey

The weekly round up of prayers from Light for the Journey includes two that I posted as separate posts during the week. However as these have been extremely popular prayers I thought that I would include them here for those that missed them.

A blessing

John O’Donohue,

May the nourishment of the earth be yours, may the clarity of light be yours, may the fluency of the ocean be yours, may the protection of the ancestors be yours. And so may a slow wind work these words of love around you, an invisible cloak to mind your life..

Posted by Contemplative Network 

This prayer inspired by reading the various views about food stamps and who is responsible to help the poor.

God you call us your friends,
Not just one but all.
Not just the rich but the poor,
Not just the powerful but the marginalized,
Not just the vocal but the voiceless.
Befriended, made family together,
One in you, responsible to care for each other.
God we all live in the light of your goodness,
We all rely on the light of your love,
Renewed as we share the mind of Christ,
Renewed together with the abandoned and abused,
Welcomed, cherished, restored,
With transformed minds and renewed hearts.
One in you, made family together.

Christine Sine 

I love to start the day with a breathing prayer – reminding myself that I am created by the breath of God. Here is one I wrote at the beginning of this week:

Breathe in the love of God,
Let if fill you will grace and mercy.
Breathe in the life of God,
Let it empower you with truth and justice.
Breathe in the peace of God,
Let it sustain you with faith and hope.

Christine Sine

For the many who battle with dementia and feel isolated, frightened and alone, a prayer written by one who suffers with them. Let’s be the church that prays because we care and cares because we pray.

Oh dear Lord, hear my prayer,
And show me that you really care,
Trouble is I can’t remember,
All my prayers for you to tender,
Will this matter, on the day,
When we meet, what will you say?
If I didn’t have dementia
I would recall my holy Venture,
If I don’t pray, from time to time,
Remember that my minds not mine,
Please forgive me, as you know,
No matter what, I love you so.

Norman Mc Namara

Posted by The Contemplative Network 

I feel the older I get that life requires tremendous courage on behalf of every person. I came across this lovely Lutheran prayer for courage, and having prayed it myself I offer it as a prayer for each one of us.

Lord God,
you have called your servants
to ventures of which we cannot see the ending,
by paths as yet untrodden,
through perils unknown.
Give us faith to go out with good courage,
not knowing where we go,
but only that your hand is leading us
and your love supporting us;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Posted by The Contemplative Network 

Rhythm of Life.001

God you only will I serve,
Through faithfulness and righteousness.
God you only will I follow,
Through justice and in truth.
God you only will I exalt,
Through praise and worship.
For you alone are worthy,
You alone are holy,
You alone are eternal.

Christine Sine

Be still and know that I am God
Be still and know that I am
Be still and know
Be still
Be

Posted by The Contemplative Network 

God may we look to eternity,
With hope and not with fear,
With expectation and not with dread.
May we see the tree of death
on which our Saviour died ,
As a tree of life connecting heaven and earth.
May we see the wind
that whispers through the trees,
As your life giving Spirit
Breathing your life through all the earth.
Amen

Christine Sine 

Last but not least I wanted to make you aware of a resource available from John Birch, one of the regular contributors to Light for the Journey. His new book God of Compassion is currently available for download for £1 (about $1.60 U.S.) I love his prayers and have thoroughly enjoyed his previous books Heart2Heart and Prayers for the Journey

 

Soil Sacrament and Harvest

Abundant tomatoes for BLTs and salads

Abundant tomatoes for BLTs and salads

It is harvest season. I am frantically drying, preserving and freezing the abundance of apples from our trees, making green smoothies from the delicious salad greens and indulging in wonderful tomato salads and sandwiches.  It seems fitting that I am in the midst of reading Fred Bahnson’s delightful memoir Soil and SacramentI was particularly struck this morning my his comment:

Our ecological problems are a result of having forgotten who we are – soil people, inspired by the breath of God… in St Augustine’s phrase, terra animata – animated earth.

Drying apples

Drying apples

So as we contemplate this day and this season may we indeed remember who we are and who God has made us to be. Last year I wrote this liturgy for the harvest season. I decided I could not improve on it this year so add it again here as a way to draw all of us into the blessings of this season.

God we thank you for a harvest of plenty,

Small seeds that multiply to feed many,

Trees that blossom and produce abundant fruit,

Tomatoes that ripen on the vine with sweet flavour.

God we thank you for abundance overflowing,

Enough for our own needs and an abundance to share,

Enough to feed the hungry and provide for the destitute,

Enough to reach out with generosity and care. 

God we thank you for seeds you have planted in our hearts,

Seeds of righteousness yielding goodness and mercy,

Seeds of love yielding justice and peace,

Seeds of compassion yielding healing and renewal.

God we thank you for the bread of heaven,

Christ our saviour planted in our lives,

Christ our redeemer growing in our hearts,

Christ your Son making us one with you.

God we thank you for the gift of life,

Like water poured out on thirsty ground,

Spring and autumn rains that revive and bring life,

A river that flows from your heart and out into the world you love.

Amen

Preserving the harvest - Canning Tomatoes

Preserving the harvest – Canning Tomatoes

For other posts on harvest season you like might to see:

2011 I wrote this reflection: The Harvest is Plentiful But the Labourers are Few;

2010 I posted this: Praying for an Abundant Harvest

2009 I wrote this litany: God of the Bountiful – A Harvest Prayer

And my first post on this theme in 2008: The Generosity of God – Fish and Loaves for all

 

Lord Help Me To Live Simply – A Prayer

Still grappling with these words from Daniel Taylor’s book In Search of Sacred Places:

Simplicity is no great virtue unless wedded to right priorities. A desirable simplicity entails the recognition of what is important in life, coupled with the strength of will to structure one’s daily existence around that recognition. It requires minimizing the impact of one’s life of unimportant things, an extremely difficult task in an acquisitive and schedule-filled culture. (148)

My reflections inspired this prayer:

Rhythm of Life.001

Are All Christians Hedonists?

Art by Emmanuel Garibay Used with permission

Art by Emmanuel Garibay Used with permission

Last week I shared this quote from Business Secrets of the Trappist Monks:

It is as though the materialism that has a death grip on this culture has taken our spirituality as well. Most of what’s called spiritual is actually humanistic if you think about it. People don’t want the adventure of God on his own terms or for his own sake. They want a better world, a happier life, better relationships and all the trimmings that go along with it….. We’re urged to seek God because this human good will come of it. People don’t realize “because” implies that the end is the human good and Truth (God) merely the means” (19)

It keeps coming back to my mind. How often do I pray because I want something from God, rather than because my heart aches for deeper intimacy with God? How often do I use God as the excuse for my own self centred agendas?

Some prayers are so obviously hedonistic they make us squirm when we hear others talk about them – praying for a parking place, or going on a Jesus spending spree where we expect Jesus to guide us to great bargains. But others are more subtle. Even desiring healing of loved ones can have a self centred purpose, after all illness and death disrupt our lives physically, emotionally and sometimes spiritually. If God healed more frequently life would be so much easier.

Or perhaps we want to see people in Africa fed and freed from starvation. We hate those images of starving children, their pain and suffering disrupts our lives. Yes, some of our response comes from the compassion of God welling up from within, but for many the uppermost emotion is: If God would just do something I would not have to respond and I could get rid of my guilt and once more feel at easy in my comfortable materialistic lifestyle. Sometimes these emotions reside in our subconscious rather than conscious minds, and as long as we are too busy to reflect on why we want something to change we are never aware of our self centred motives.

One of the commonest excuses I use and that I hear others use for not taking adequate time for God or with others is: but I enjoy what I am doing. I love my work. Unconsciously what we are saying is – My personal need for satisfaction in my work takes priority over my need to spend time with God.

Sometimes we even rope God into the equation – there is so much need God must intend me to burn myself out by responding to that need. The underlying subconscious thought – without me God cannot answer this need. 

And then there is the excuse – But I have to feed and house my family. Again a very true statement and one that has many of us up at night consumed with anxiety. This believe it or not is one of those legitimate prayers. In the Lord’s prayer we regularly say Give us this day our daily bread. The problem is that we don’t expect God to provide bread for today we expect provision for the next 10, 15 or 20 years and we want to see where it is coming from NOW.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting that we don’t save for the future, though that is a way of life that some are called to, but sitting in the place of discernment, trusting that God will show us what we need to know now in order to provide, does not come easily to us. And we get uncomfortable because God might make it very clear that some of what we want for the future – like second homes, bigger cars and expensive vacations – may not be in God’s best plan for us. Even our desire for a bigger church, better paying job or higher profile ministry may not be in God’s plan – especially not if it takes time away from our number one priority – seeking God not for what we want but for what God wants – intimacy with us in every moment of the day.

What would our lives look like if we spent more time seeking God for God’s sake alone? How would it change our priorities, our time management, our use of resources? How would it affect our friendships? These are some of the questions I continue to grapple with. I hope you will take time to grapple with them too.

Prayers for Teachers and Their Students

Here in the Northern Hemisphere teachers and their students are preparing to go back to school. It is a stressful and busy season for many. I have reflected on this a lot since reading this beautiful back to school liturgy. I think that all teachers, and students need prayers they can say throughout the day to bring their centre back to God who sustains them.

The following prayers were written with this in mind.

Lord I breathe in life.004

 

This is the day that the Lord has made,
May we work hard
and share God’s gifts
with friends and neighbours
with colleagues and foes.
This is the day that the Lord has made,
may we work hard
and share with Jesus
in the poor and the oppressed
in the rejected and abandoned.
This is the day that the Lord has made,
May we work hard
and share with gratitude
God’s gifts generously given
Full measure overflowing like manna,
Not for us alone but for the renewal of all creation.

 

Waking to Mystery By Kimberlee Conway Ireton

Today’s post is by Kimberlee Conway Ireton, author of The Circle of Seasons: Meeting God in the Church Year and the forthcoming memoir Cracking Up: A Postpartum Faith Crisis.

It had always seemed to Emily, ever since she could remember, that she was very, very near to a world of wonderful beauty. Between it and herself hung only a thin curtain; she could never draw the curtain aside—but sometimes, just for a moment, a wind fluttered it and then it was as if she caught a glimpse of the enchanting realm beyond—only a glimpse—and heard a note of unearthly music….And always when the flash came to her Emily felt that life was a wonderful, mysterious thing of persistent beauty.

L.M. Montgomery, Emily of New Moon

The_storm_passes

Reading Emily’s story for the first time at the age of 13, I fell in love. I wanted to be Emily. I wanted her sixth sense, her mysteriousness, her appreciation of beauty, and especially her experience of what she called “the flash.” Oh how I wanted that glimpse of the transcendent, that thrill at the momentary parting of the veil between heaven and earth.

What I did not know then is that I did have these glimpses of the glory beyond. I think I did not recognize them because I did not understand that the flash is a double-edged sword. When the veil parts, and I glimpse—something—it fills me with awe and delights my soul, but it also opens in me a yearning, a deep and almost painful desire. The older I get, the stronger and more aching the longing becomes to plunge into this mysterious beauty and to live in those moments that shimmer with a radiance that is beyond what I usually see or know.

When I was younger, I would grasp at whatever ushered me into the enchanted realm beyond the veil—the sleeve of my husband’s crisply striped shirt, a bowl of roses fresh-cut from my rosebushes and sitting in a bowl on the counter, the crescendo of the organ as we sing the name of Jesus in church—in an attempt to replicate the experience and so quench my desire to live in moments of mystery.

This never works. After the moment has passed, the thing itself is a reminder of what I once saw or felt or heard, but it can no longer usher me into that other realm. Now I (mostly) know better than to pick roses with the expectation that they will open a window on mystery. I’ve learned that I can never enter that other realm by contrivance or desire. I can only try to pay attention, because I never know when or where the veil might part and mystery might unfold before me.

Transfiguration

These weeks between Pentecost and the first Sunday of Advent comprise the second cycle of Ordinary Time. Smack dab in the middle of this season, on August 6, comes the feast of the Transfiguration, one of my favorite holy days. One of the things I love most about this feast is that it falls during Ordinary Time, a profound reminder that when mystery confronts us, it is often when we least expect it—God takes the ordinary moments of our lives and transforms them into something holy.

I imagine that when Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up on Mount Tabor to pray, the disciples are not expecting to glimpse the mystery of the Incarnation. How many times had these disciples prayed with Jesus in the months or years they followed him? Dozens? Hundreds? And never before had the appearance of his face changed and his clothes become dazzling white. Never before had Moses and Elijah appeared with him in glory. So it is hardly surprising that Peter, James, and John are half-asleep as Jesus prays through the night. Only when they fully awaken do they come face to face with mystery: they see Jesus in his glory, a glory that is his from before time, but which has been veiled from their sight until this moment when they finally see him as he truly is.

As Moses and Elijah are about to leave, Peter bursts out in his impetuous way, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” (Lk 9:33). He wants this moment to last, I think, but he also, instinctively, wants to contain their glory. And no wonder—perhaps he knows that we mortals can only bear so much reality before it overwhelms our senses.

Perhaps this is why the disciples are terrified as they enter the cloud. They know that the cloud signals the presence of God, and they know that no one can look on God and live. It is not simply because we are sinful and God is holy. No, it is because God is Real, and our finite minds cannot comprehend nor our frail bodies bear the eternity and majesty—the utter Realness—of God.

I began to understand this fear of God experientially a dozen or so years ago when I took a trip to the Olympic Peninsula from my home in Seattle. As I drove up to Hurricane Ridge, I stopped along the side of the road and got out of my car to look at the mountains. I gazed at the enormous peaks and valleys that rose and fell before me in breathtaking beauty all the way to the horizon, and I began to shiver in spite of the warm August sun.

I was, in truth, terrified. In the face of such vastness, such ancient and incomprehensible substantiality, I felt my own smallness and insignificance. I tried to make myself stand there and reckon with the terror I felt in the presence of a world far older and more tremendous than the one I had known only moments before, but I could not. I turned my back on the mountains and fled to the seeming safety of my car.

In my finitude and weakness, I cannot bear to look on ultimate reality any more than I can bear to look directly at the sun. And so reality is veiled, hidden from view—at least most of the time. But every so often, like Emily and the disciples, I glimpse the enchanted realm beyond the veil. I see, for a fleeting moment, the glory of God.

These glimpses beyond the veil are what sustain me, filling me with hope that, ultimately, all will be well. For in the moments when the veil parts, I see the not-yet now, I glimpse the beauty at the heart of all that is, I see things as they really are and not as they usually appear.

It is as if I, like the disciples, am half-asleep and dreaming until the glory of transfiguration overshadows me and I wake, for a moment, to mystery.

This post is excerpted from Kimberlee’s book, The Circle of Seasons: Meeting God in the Church Year.

A Franciscan Prayer of Blessing

As you know I love to post prayers on my blog – both those by well known saints and those little known. While cleaning up a pile of what I thought was junk a few weeks ago I came across some beautiful prayers that people have sent me.  Unfortunately I do not remember who gave me the prayers or where they originally came from.  It was a good reminder to me that hidden in the midst of what we think of as junk are often nuggets of gold.  And these nuggets of gold are only unearthed when we take the time to dig deeply into a pile of junk with observant eyes and listening ears.

This Franciscan prayer of blessing is one I have posted before but its message so resounds in my soul that I find myself using it on a regular basis and I think it is worth publishing again and again:

May God bless us with discomfort at easy answers,

half-truths and superficial relationships,

so that we will live deeply in our hearts.

May God bless us with anger at injustice, oppression

and exploitation of people and the earth,

so that we will work for justice, equity and peace.

May God bless us with tears to shed for those who suffer,

so that we will reach out our hands

to comfort them and change their pain to joy.

And may God bless us with the foolishness to think that

we can make a difference in our world,

so that we will do the things which others say cannot be done.