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

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A Beautiful Celtic Prayer

I posted this on the Light for the Journey Facebook page this morning and thought that some of you might appreciate it too.

God to enfold me.001

A Hidden Wholeness – A Great Read by Parker Palmer

A Hidden Wholeness by Parker Palmer

A couple of days ago I mentioned how a story in Parker Palmer’s book A Hidden Wholeness changed my perspective of the seasons. This book has been very helpful in other ways too.

As many of you know, here at Mustard Seed Associates we have adapted the Quaker discernment process as the way to run our meetings. Palmer’s book is the most helpful I have read in recent years in relation to this. It is a book written for schools and businesses on the creation of circles of trust. It brings together many of Palmer’s popular themes which I will summarize here is some simple quotes.

  • the shape of an integrated life: Wholeness does not mean perfection: it means embracing brokenness as an integral part of life
  • the meaning of community: Community does not necessarily mean living face-to-face with others; rather it means never losing the awareness that we are connect to each other….we need solitude and community simultaneously; what we learn in one mode can check and balance what we learn in the other. 
  • teaching an learning for transformation: When you speak to me about your deepest questions, you do not want to be fixed or saved; you want to be seen and heard, to have your truth acknowledged and honoured. 
  • not violent social change: imagine the heart broken open into new capacity…into greater capacity to hold more of my own and the world’s suffering and joy, despair and hope…. broken open to a largeness that holds the possibility of a better future for us all.

I think this is a must read book for any follower of Christ seeking to develop healthy community minded ways of interacting with their colleagues, friends and even families (which I think should be all of us). A Hidden Wholeness  is I think my best read of 2012.

Its All A Matter of Perspective – Learning From the Eagles

Bald eagle, Tsawwassen B.C.

Bald eagle, Tsawwassen B.C.

A few days ago I walked along the beach in Tsawwassen B.C with my friend in Kim Balke. The breathtaking beauty of the mountains, the salty freshness of wind and the barrenness of the trees were all inspiring. In one tree sat 5 bald eagles, majestically surveying the morning scene. Not wanting to disturb the serenity of our walk, I decided to photograph them on the way back.

However as we headed back towards the car, the barren tree in which the eagles perched looked empty. I immediately started making fresh plans to return for a photo shoot.  As we moved closer something remarkable happened however – suddenly the eagles came into view. How they had hidden from view in that barren tree I don’t know, but they had.

How often I wondered do I make new plans because I can’t see what I hope for? How often do I mess up and get ahead of what God is doing because I think I understand? A little like Abraham trying to get a son and not seeing how God could possibly accomplish it. How often is my vision limited because I have not walked far enough along God’s path to see what is there? Impatience, limited understanding, lack of faith, they all distort my perspective and make it hard for me to see life from God’s viewpoint. How often do we all mess up what God is wanting to accomplish in our lives because we don’t trust that God is able to accomplish all that is promised?

Hebrews 11:1 reminds us: Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see. So lets all keep walking today along the path that God spreads out before us. Let’s hold onto God’s promises believing that in the right time and in the right place God’s perspective will burst in upon us and enable us to see.

Joy Together – An Interview with Lynne Baab

Joy together

Joy together

My friend Lynne Baab has just published a new book Joy Together:Spiritual Practices for Your Congregation.  I love her books on Fasting and Sabbath and am eagerly awaiting the arrival of this one. It has already received a great review from Publishers Weekly. and so I wanted to give a heads up to all of you who are looking for congregational resources. The following interview by Jana Reiss was first published on her blog here.

As you wrote your new book, why did you think it was important to emphasize communal spiritual practices?

So many excellent books stress individual spiritual practices. Some of them talk about communal practices a bit, but practical illustrations are few and far between. It’s time for a book that gives practical examples of the ways Christian can engage in spiritual practices (also called spiritual disciplines) in families, small groups and congregations.

What’s the relationship between communal and individual practices?

They flow back and forth. For example, I learned about several forms of contemplative prayer – centering prayer, examen, lectio divina – in group settings. After engaging in those prayer forms with others for a while, I found myself praying that way on my own more often. To illustrate a flow in the opposite direction, I learned breath prayer from a book, and did it on my own for more than a decade before I started teaching it to groups. The last two times I’ve been worship leader at church, I’ve led the whole congregation in breath prayer. For me, thankfulness is another interesting example. My husband and I started praying thankfulness prayers together. Then I began to notice the way my personal prayers shifted more in the direction of thankfulness. Even later, I began to encourage groups to pray thankfulness prayers more often.

What do you think are some of the strengths of your book?

It’s hard to be objective at this point, when only my wonderful editor, Jana, and a few other people (mostly the people who wrote endorsements) have read the book. I asked one friend to read the book in pdf form, before the release date, in order to have a review ready to post on amazon.com. He liked the many stories that illustrate the ways groups can engage in spiritual practices. He also liked the fact that I bring my own life into the book, my own successes and struggles with spiritual practices. One idea that intrigued him came from a section in the chapter on fasting that covers Eastern Orthodox congregations, where fasting is entirely communal, as is feasting together at the end of their many fasts.

What specific practices did you cover?

I have individual chapters on six spiritual practices: fasting, thankfulness, contemplative prayer, contemplative approaches to the Bible, hospitality and Sabbath.  I’ve written books on fasting and the Sabbath, but I decided to conduct more interviews for this book. With respect to the Sabbath, one interviewee said he believes keeping the Sabbath is one of the most challenging spiritual practices in our time. That surprised me, and I tried to address some of those difficulties in the chapter and make suggestions about how congregations can support Sabbath observance. Another chapter that surprised me as I wrote it was the one on thankfulness. My husband and I have been practicing thankfulness in our prayers together for almost 20 years, which has been transforming in the ways I mentioned above but in other ways as well. Writing the chapter was pure joy, because I long for others to grow in thankfulness and the good fruits that come from it.

Have you heard the growing concerns about spiritual practices?

William Willimon and others have spoken out about their concerns about spiritual practices. Willimon believes practices can become a way for us to attempt to take control of our relationship with God. He stresses that Jesus breaks in at unexpected times. Amen to that! I believe spiritual practices open up space and time for Jesus to do exactly that. The stories I’ve heard from people who engage in various spiritual practices certainly reinforces my perception. When we teach about spiritual practices, we need to emphasize that practices create space for God. They don’t in any way make God do something in our lives.

Willimon is also concerned that when we engage in spiritual practices, we may fall into thinking we are earning our salvation. That’s why it’s so important to teach about spiritual practices against a backdrop of God’s grace. Spiritual practices are a way to enjoy Jesus’ presence with us and spend time with the God who already loves us.

What do you think is the greatest contribution of spiritual practices in our time?

Spiritual practices nurture a posture of receptivity. In that posture, we are open to receive from God. We might receive guidance for ministry, or a sense of being loved way down deep, or relief of anxiety for the things on our mind. Or something totally unexpected. So much of life today requires us to take action and act like we’re in control. When we engage in spiritual practices, we relinquish control to God and open ourselves for God to meet us and surprise us.

How Wonderful O Lord – A Jewish Prayer for Creation

Lorikeets in Sydney

Lorikeets in Sydney

I love this prayer which I came across in David Adam’s Rhythm of Life: Celtic Daily Prayer. This book has long been a favourite of mine. I love to use it when I travel, finding that the short daily offices help to ground my spiritual practices during what can otherwise be a very disorienting journey.

How wonderful, O Lord, are the works of your hands!

The heavens declare your glory,

the arch of the sky displays your handiwork.

In your love you have given us the power

to behold the beauty of your world in all its splendour.

The sun and the stars, the valleys and the hills,

the rivers and the lakes, all disclose your presence.

The roaring breakers of the sea tell of your awesome might;

the beasts of the field and the birds of the air proclaim your wondrous will.

In your goodness you have made us able to hear the music of the world

the voices of loved ones reveal to us that you are in our midst.

A divine song sings through all creation.

For those of us who live in urban areas the music of God’s world is so often drowned out by the clatter and commotion of the world around us. This prayer reminds me of how much all of us need time amongst God’s good creation to reconnect once more to the divine song that reverberates through God’s world.

 

How God Changes Your Brain

While I was in Canada recently I started to read a fascinating book entitled How God Changes Your Brain. I enjoyed it so much that I ordered a copy and am thoroughly enjoying reading it and reflecting on its relevance. Interestingly, the authors Andrew Newberg and Mark Robert Waldman are not writing from a Christian perspective. Andrew is a neuroscientist, Mark is a therapist. They are more interested in the impact that spiritual practices have on our physical and emotional health than on our spiritual development.

That does not reduce its importance however. I think they say some wonderful things for all people of faith to think about. They provide some very practical exercises for all of us to consider.

So here is some of what they say (quoted from the back cover of the book):

Prayer and spiritual practice don’t just reduce stress, but meditation for as little as 12 minutes a day can slow down the aging process.

Contemplating a loving God rather than a punitive God reduces anxiety and depression and increases feelings of security, compassion and love.

Intense prayer and meditation lastingly change numerous structures and functions in the brain, altering your values and the way you perceive reality.

Fundamentalism can be personally beneficial, but the prejudice generated by extreme beliefs can permanently damage your brain.

I know that some people find books like this threatening because they interpret them to say that God is just a chemical reaction going on in our brain. For me however they are exciting because they confirm the activity of God in my life – if God is truly at work in our lives then we should expect that his activity in our brains should create discernable changes. What do you think,