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

A Holiday by the Sea

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. This essay is a repost of last summer’s reflection on her family’s holiday by the sea.

Jesus said, “Love one another as I have loved you.” –John 15:12

Brother and Sister at Twin Rocks

If you asked twenty good men today what they thought the highest of the virtues, nineteen of them would reply, Unselfishness.

But if you had asked almost any of the great Christians of old, he would have replied, Love.

You see what has happened? A negative term has been substituted for a positive, and this is of more than philological importance. The negative idea of Unselfishness carries with it the suggestions not primarily of securing good things for others, but of going without them ourselves, as if our abstinence and not their happiness was the important point. I do not think this is the Christian virtue of Love.

The New Testament has lots to say about self-denial, but not about self-denial as an end in itself. We are told to deny ourselves and to take up our crosses in order that we may follow Christ; and nearly every description of what we shall ultimately find if we do so contains an appeal to desire.

If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak.

We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mudpies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

—C.S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory”
The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses

Play is Serious Business

I think back on my Stop Slavery series earlier this year and how I almost didn’t write it. But since God was clearly nudging me in that direction, I wrote the posts. I published them.

Looking back, quite apart from the money we raised for Love 146 and IJM, I see so much joy that came out of that act of obedience. It felt good—joyfully so—to write those posts. It was joy-giving to see so many of readers of my blog rally around these girls and help end their exploitation. Many days, I came home from the coffee house after writing those posts and responding to blog comments almost giddy with happiness.

And that felt wrong. After all, these girls’ lives are hellish. Why should I be so happy simply for shining a little flashlight on their plight? It’s not about me, after all. I shouldn’t be getting anything out of this. My joy seemed to negate and make null the good I was doing. Almost as if my gaining anything by a given act automatically makes that act suspect.

Lewis would say that I have placed a priority on Unselfishness, as if my going without were what mattered. As a Christian I must be selfless. I must not seek my own good. I must take up my cross and be miserable.

But that is not what Jesus did. Yes, he took up his cross. Yes, he walked the dark road to the cross. But he did it for Joy. He did it for Love.

…for the sake of the joy that was set before him [Jesus] endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. —Hebrews 12:2

Brother and Sister 2

Parenting my four is not an act of unselfishness. It is an act of love. It is love that prompts me to feed my kids good food and read them good books. That I get to enjoy the good food and the good books, too, in no way negates the love I show in feeding and reading with them. If anything, my enjoyment enhances the love. It shows them they are not simply loved but also enjoyed and enjoyable, that they are people I delight to be with.

I want to make Love my litmus test. Not: is this unselfish? But: is this loving?

As often as not, the love I show will redound upon my own head in joy, as it did when I wrote the stop slavery posts. That’s okay. That’s better than okay; that’s good. That’s the way it’s supposed to be: like the loving and being loved within the Trinity.

Love does not count the cost, it is true. But then, it doesn’t have to—because Love is wrapped up in joy. Love sees the joy of the other and looks at that, rejoices in that, rather than focusing on its own gift or sacrifice. Love doesn’t even think of the gift in terms of sacrifice, because Love experiences the beloved’s joy as Love’s own.

Jesus, for the joy set before him, endured the cross.

When the joy of giving, of loving, far outweighs any so-called sacrifice, this, too, is the path of the cross. It’s the obedience that leads to Life. It’s the love that leads to Joy.

It’s the holiday by the sea.
Photos by Doug Ireton. Used by permission.

A repost from Kimberlee’s archives.

A Tree Planted by Water – 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 forthcoming memoir, Cracking Up: A Postpartum Faith Crisis.

Blessed is the one who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers,
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
who meditates on God’s law day and night.
Such a one is like a tree planted by streams of water,
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.

Psalm 1:1-3

Psalm1_tree

Almost three years ago now, in the throes of postpartum depression, I desperately grasped at anything that would help me channel my out-of-control thoughts away from the fear that choked me. In the midst of this darkness, my friend Susan offered me a lifeline.

She mentioned over dinner one night that she was memorizing Ephesians.

“The whole book?” I asked, incredulous.

She nodded and pulled a little black Moleskine out of her bag. Inside, the words of Ephesians were pasted, six to eight verses at a time, onto the left-hand pages. The right pages were blank. “For my notes,” Susan said. “Or for keeping track of how many times I’ve recited it.”

I paged through the little book, and something in me stirred. “May I—may I join you?” I looked at her. “I want to do this, too.”

The following Monday, Susan brought me my own little black Moleskine, its pages already pasted with every verse in Ephesians, and I began to memorize the words.

When the fear stirred, I forced myself to recite Ephesians. When I realized my thoughts were swirling chaotically, I forced them into the channel of Ephesians. These words became my prayer in a time when I had no words of my own to say, no words of my own to pray.

Week after week, I added new verses to the ones I already knew. It took me ten months, but I memorized every last word in that book. Even now, two years later, I still have them etched in my memory.

Since then, I have memorized half a dozen Psalms, part of 1 John, and large chunks of John 10 and John 17. Currently, I am beginning to memorize Colossians 3. I do this memory work slowly, a verse every week or so. But a verse a week adds up over time to a whole lot of verses.

I say all this not to boast. (Well, okay, maybe a little, which tells you just how far I’ve still to walk before I am renewed in my mind.) I say it to encourage you to memorize Scripture, too, to show you that you can.

To put on the mind of Christ, it is important, Dallas Willard writes, “to draw certain key portions of Scripture into our minds and make them a part of the permanent fixtures of our thought.” He continues, “This is the primary discipline for the thought life. We need to know them like the back of our hand…and then constantly turn them over in our minds as we go through the events and circumstances of our life.”

I came to the place of needing Scripture as the nourishment for my mind out of desperation. My mind was a dark and scary place, and I needed something other than my own frightening thoughts to fill it.

On the other side of that darkness, I continue to memorize Scripture and turn it over in my mind day after day because I want my mind to be filled with the light of Christ. I want it to be full of the thoughts and images that occupied His mind when He walked on this earth. I want to abide in Him and have His words abide in me.

And so, I continue, slowly, one verse at a time, to feed myself on the words of Scripture, to root them in my mind, so that I no longer conform myself to the patterns of the world or my own destructive thought processes, but can be transformed by the renewing of my mind.

If you feel nudged or pulled to plant the words of Scripture deep in your own mind, why not choose a favorite Psalm or Gospel or epistle passage to memorize? I have a sheet of memorization helps that you can use if you want, but the easiest way to memorize is simply to read 4-6 verses over and over again, day after day. Stick them on your computer monitor, your bathroom mirror, your kitchen sink—wherever you spend a few minutes several times a day—and read them a time or two every day. By the end of a month, you’ll have them memorized. Then, as you’re stuck in traffic or waiting in a line somewhere, say those verses, so that they affix themselves to the walls of your mind, a spot of beauty and light and peace in the midst of the anxious swirl of your thoughts.

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

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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.

Whatever Is Lovely 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. Kimberlee is a regular contributor on prayer to this blog.

“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.”

—Philippians 2:5

“Spiritual transformation in Christ moves toward the total interchange of our ideas and images for his.”

—Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart

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As I drive home across the Ballard Bridge, a new billboard advert looms large in my vision. Most of the time, this billboard’s message is tame. Annoying, but nothing that jars or upsets me.

Today, though, my eyes are bombarded with the image of a beautiful woman in a sexually suggestive position and the enormous letters of a lascivious message, both of which are trying to tell me that if I buy this particular product, I’ll be a sex goddess like the model on the billboard.

I look away quickly as I realize what I’ve seen. I feel assaulted, this image calling to mind all manner of others I’ve seen over the years, all of them clamoring for my attention. These are not the thoughts I want to occupy my mind.

As my year of prayer unfolds, I want more and more to be more like Jesus, to have the mind of Christ. In Renovation of the Heart, Dallas Willard insists that our thoughts, when captured for Christ and fed on the images and ideas that Jesus himself fed on, will transform our entire lives. But he warns that there are special dangers that we must guard against. One of the gravest is the images we admit to our minds.

Images are powerful things. They make ideas concrete and accessible. In the case of this billboard, the image elevates the idea of sexiness to an ultimate good. And because images work on us at the level of emotion, they are not under rational control.

I have long known that what I see affects me deeply. It is why I long ago stopped watching TV news and later stopped watching TV altogether. What I am learning now is that I am not alone. Images affect everyone on a level that is beyond rational control, working deep within us to shape our ideas about reality—and so shape who we are.

This, I think, is why St. Paul exhorts the Philippians to focus their thoughts on good and true and beautiful things:

Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (Phil 4:8)

Willard emphasizes that heeding St. Paul’s instructions “is a fundamental and indispensable part of our spiritual formation in Christ.” We become who we are largely because of the thoughts that fill our minds. And the thoughts that fill our minds in turn depend largely on the images we feed them.

This is why the billboard near the Ballard Bridge bugs me so much. And the thought that my six-year-old daughter and all three of my sons are seeing it, too, makes me sick to my stomach. Young as they are, that image is shaping them even more than it’s shaping me. It makes me angry.

But one thing my year of prayer is teaching me is that everything can be a call to prayer. So I take the sickness I feel in my stomach and I take my anger, and I let them direct my mind to Jesus.

Over the weeks since that billboard appeared, it has become a call to prayer. As much as possible, I studiously avoid even glancing at it as I drive across the bridge. Sometimes I forget it’s there, and I see it before I remember to look away. Either way, whether I see it or manage to avoid it imprinting on my brain again, I pray.

Mostly what I pray is the Jesus Prayer: O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. Have mercy on us, sinners all. Have mercy on the men who see that billboard and are aroused by it. Have mercy on the women who see it and are ashamed of their own bodies because of it. Have mercy on the company who thought it would be a good idea to put up this billboard.

I can’t always control the images I see, but I can control how I consciously respond to them. I can let images both beautiful and base call me to prayer—beautiful images to praise and awe of our even more beautiful God; base images to intercession for our fallen world that so desperately needs Him to save us from ourselves.

If you want to join me in getting rid of the garbage that clutters our imaginations, why not begin by eliminating from your life one magazine, TV show, or website that regularly serves up ugliness, unkindness, or smut? It’s always a good idea to replace a bad habit or thought with a good one, so make a plan: what will you do during the times that you usually engage with these images you’re eliminating? You could read or memorize Scripture, pore over a favorite art book, or listen to a favorite piece of music—something that puts images of beauty, truth, nobility, and excellence into your mind instead.

Bless Those Who Annoy You by Kimberlee Conway Ireton

Today’s post is by Kimberlee Conway Ireton, author of The Circle of Seasons: Meeting God in the Church Year.

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I’m driving on Westlake toward the south end of Lake Union, where I’m supposed to drop off my son for his sailing lesson. The lesson starts in five minutes, and he’s going to be late. I’m in the left lane, trying to get past a semi, but there’s road construction and the street narrows to one lane just ahead.

I manage to get in front of the semi, but when I look over my shoulder to see if there’s space for me to merge, the semi driver steps on his accelerator. I’m forced to slip in behind him. “Jerk!” I say out loud.

“Who’s a jerk, Mama?” my daughter asks from the back of the van.

I take a deep breath. One of the practices I’ve embraced since beginning my year of prayer is to bless those who annoy me. This occurs most often and most viscerally when I’m driving. After more than two decades of habitual screeching at the morons with whom I share the road, I have a deep groove in my brain that sends words like idiot and jerk and something that starts with A and ends in hole streaming out of my mouth when I’m sitting behind a steering wheel.

But recently, I’ve begun to realize something. Jesus, about whom I’m all gaga right now, this God-man I say I follow and want to be like—well, it’s dawning on me that he wouldn’t yell names at semi drivers who cut him off. He wouldn’t mutter miscreant or cretin under his breath, however smart such words might make him feel. No, Jesus would see that other driver as a child of God, created in the divine image, beloved.

This is a very frustrating realization. There’s something morally satisfying about feeling myself slighted or mistreated when I’m driving. It feels like I have a right to yell about it. And maybe I do. But as I draw nearer to Jesus, I find the yelling isn’t as satisfying as it used to be. As soon as the nasty name is out of my mouth, I feel myself convicted: That’s My child you’re calling a jerk.

And I recall the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus is very clear that name-calling is not okay:

Whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the fires of hell.”

Ouch.

And so I’m taking a small step toward no longer calling people fools (or other choice words). When someone annoys me while I’m driving, I pray a blessing over them—after I call them a name, of course. I’d like to get to a place where blessing is my knee-jerk response to irritation, but I’ve a long way to go in that department.

Truth is, half the time when I pray those blessings, I feel a bit self-righteous, like I’m so great that I’m praying for those who annoy me. This used to stop me from praying—I don’t want to be a hypocrite. But then I realized that not praying is exactly what the enemy would want—whatever it takes to shut me up, even if that’s a realization of my own hypocrisy.

So I pray the blessing anyway, even though I’m still annoyed. I pray the blessing even though there’s part of me that feels smug for doing so. I pray the blessing even though I don’t wholly mean it.

Because I want to wholly mean it. I want to get to a place where praying a blessing over those who annoy me is my first response. Right now, I still have to go through the name-calling to get to the blessing, but I’m trusting that with time and practice, the distance between annoyance and blessing will shrink, and that one day, I’ll be able to smile when the semi driver cuts me off and say an instantaneous and heartfelt blessing over him.

“Mama?” Jane asks again. “Who’s a jerk?”

“Oh, the guy driving that truck cut me off,” I tell her. “It’s really not a big deal.”

Then I launch into my blessing, “God, please bless the driver of this truck in front of us. Please give him peace as he drives. Please keep him safe so that he reaches his destination on time and without harm. And please let him be a blessing to other drivers on the road.”

“Amen,” Jane says.

Amen, indeed.

Jesus says “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” For those of you who, like me, aren’t yet able to do this, let me invite you to begin by simply praying for those who annoy you, whether that’s another driver on the road, a blogger with whom you disagree (anyone praying for me right now?), or a colleague who consistently rubs you the wrong way. Let’s use our annoyance and irritation as a call to prayer and so transform it into another path to the heart of God.

Prayer for My Children Part 2 by Kimberlee Conway Ireton

Today’s post is by Kimberlee Conway Ireton, author of The Circle of Seasons: Meeting God in the Church Year. This post is the second of a three-part prayer for our children, adapted from an Orthodox akathist to Mary the Mother of God. If you missed or would like to reread the first four sections of the prayer, you can do so here.

Luke_with_lion_and_lamb

A Prayer for My Children

Prelude 5

May the Morning Star, which is Our Lord Jesus Christ, shine with unfading light in the hearts of my children, that they may cry to God: Alleluia.

Song 5

Having seen my diligent supplication rising like incense to You, do not turn away Your face from my children, even if they turn away from You. Hear the cry of my lips, singing to You:

Raise my children to be poor in spirit, that they may inherit the Kingdom of Heaven.
Raise my children to weep, that they may be comforted.
Raise my children to be meek, that they may inherit the earth.
Raise my children to hunger and thirst after righteousness, that they may be filled.
Raise my children to be merciful, that they may obtain mercy.
Raise my children to be pure in heart, that they may see God.
Raise my children to be peacemakers, that they may be called the children of God.
Raise my children (names), O Christ, to be made worthy of the Kingdom of Heaven and make them heirs of eternal blessings.

Prelude 6

We proclaim that You are the defense of orphans, widows, and mothers, and of all Your children who pray and cry out to You: Alleluia.

Song 6

With rays of grace teach my children. May they be so enlightened by You, O Most High, that they see Your path leading to life eternal and follow it. May they be nourished on their journey beneath Your all-powerful protection, in the shadow of Your wings, where there is unending light. For the sake of this, hear me when I cry to You, O God:

Raise my children to be the light of the world, that their light may shine before others, and that seeing their good deeds, people will glorify their Father in Heaven.
Raise my children to be enlightened by Your Son, that in His light they may see light and direct their steps towards Him.
Raise my children always to turn the eyes of their heart to the Redeemer of all.
Raise my children to be guided to the habitation of the righteous by the Morning Star which is Your Son.
Raise my children to be meek and silent and to tremble before the word of God.
Raise my children to love You, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, not only with their minds but also with their hearts.
Raise my children (names), O Christ, to be made worthy of the Kingdom of Heaven and make them heirs of eternal blessings.

Prelude 7

Desiring for my children eternal salvation, with tears I stand before You, O God, and cry: Alleluia.

Song 7

By the wondrous and incomprehensible action of Your Son, lead my children by Your merciful hand beneath Your gracious protection. I cry to You:

Raise my children to seek first the Kingdom of God and Your righteousness.
Raise my children to walk the narrow way leading to life eternal.
Raise my children to do Your will in every place.
Raise my children to long to inherit the Kingdom of Heaven.
Raise my children to be numbered among Your chosen ones.
Raise my children (names), O Christ, to be made worthy of the Kingdom of Heaven and make them heirs of eternal blessings.

Prelude 8

Where will my children, wandering in the greatly perilous and stormy valley of the world, receive joy and consolation, if not in You, O Lord? Travel with them and teach them the true path, that they may cry to You: Alleluia.

Song 8

You are a merciful Mother to all, O Jesus, and I desire that I may become Your child. I place my children in Your hands and in humility I beg You:

Raise my children to keep vigil and pray that they may not fall into temptation.
Raise my children to be merciful so that their Father in Heaven will be merciful to them.
Raise my children in purity of childhood, for to children belongs the Kingdom of God.
Raise my children to be the least of all, that they may be great before God.
Raise my children to fulfill the Word of God, and to be partakers of the heavenly blessedness for which they came into being.
Raise my children to have good hope in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Raise my children (names), O Christ, to be made worthy of the Kingdom of Heaven and make them heirs of eternal blessings.

A Prayer for My Children by Kimberlee Conway Ireton

Today’s post is by Kimberlee Conway Ireton, mother of four and author of The Circle of Seasons: Meeting God in the Church Year. This is part of an ongoing series that Kimberlee is contributing on her year of prayer. 

After church on Sunday, I talked to another mother, her children long since flown, and I learned that one of her sons, raised in the faith like his brother, has turned away from Christ. My heart ached, for I can imagine her pain. The deepest desire of my heart is that my children come to know, love, and walk in the way of Christ.

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As I pondered this other mother’s words and her pain, I wept. But my tears were as much for myself as for her. I found myself praying with tears that night as I got ready for bed, “Grant me the souls of these children!”

Later, I remembered an Orthodox prayer that I’d read awhile back. “Akathist to the Mother of God, Nurturer of Children,” it’s called. It’s a beautiful prayer, a plea for the souls of our children, an entreaty that they know and follow Christ. It voices my yearning that my children will live a life of faith in Christ lived by the saving power of Christ.

I copied the akathist, so I could have it for my own. Then, being Protestant and all, I changed some of the words. I don’t mind asking Mary to intercede with her Son on behalf of my children, but I do mind asking her to make them devoted to her alone. It’s not devotion to Mary that I desire for my kids but devotion to God. So I fiddled with the words of the akathist, turning it into a prayer to the Triune God, updating the antiquated language of Thee and Thou, and rewording the opening prayers in each section to reflect a more contemporary idiom.

But I left the heart and soul of the akathist mostly alone. It’s theologically rich and linguistically beautiful. Over my next few posts here on Godspace, I’ll be sharing it with you (it’s long!), in the hope that you will find it as rich and meaningful as I do and, especially, that you will use it to help you pray more frequently and more fervently for the children in your life. Here then are the first few songs of the akathist.

A Prayer for My Children

Holy and victorious God, Perfect Leader and Good Nurturer of the Christian race, we your servants, delivered from evil by the saving power of Your Son, sing out our grateful thanks to You.

You have invincible might: deliver my children from all dangers, I pray. With tears I cry to You: Raise my children (names), to be made worthy of the Kingdom of Heaven, and make them heirs of eternal blessings.

***

Song 1
Holy Jesus, I pray You to send an angel from heaven to my children. I cry to You:
Raise my children to be earthly angels.
Raise my children to be heavenly people.
Raise my children to be Your servants.
Raise my children to cry out to You.
Raise my children (names), O Christ, to be made worthy of the Kingdom of Heaven and make them heirs of eternal blessings.

***

Prelude 2
Loving and powerful God, You see my maternal (paternal) entreaty for my children, begging help of You alone: take my children under the shadow of your wing. I cry to You: Alleluia.

Song 2
Holy Spirit, send my children understanding, that they may know how to serve You well; fill their hearts with heavenly wisdom and grant that they may love it alone and scorn the things of the world. Do not hinder my lips from crying such things as these:
Raise my children to be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves.
Raise my children to have knowledge of good but not of sin.
Raise my children to be wise against the snares of the devil.
Raise my children to order their lives wisely, following the examples of the saints.
Raise my children, nourishing them with the milk of the hidden wisdom of God, that they may seek it all of their lives.
Raise my children (names), O Christ, to be made worthy of the Kingdom of Heaven and make them heirs of eternal blessings.

***

Prelude 3
May Your power, O Most High, overshadow my children. May they know Your compassion towards all who run to You with faith, and may they cry to You: Alleluia.

Song 3
Having received my children from You, O Lord, I do not desire to behold them dwelling in eternal torment, but rather to see them written in the Book of Life and made inheritors of eternal life. Incline Your ear to my supplication, O God, as I cry to You:
Raise my children to flee eternal torment.
Raise my children to inherit eternal life.
Raise my children to pass the course of their life in repentance.
Raise my children to labor to acquire the grace of the Holy Spirit.
Raise my children to exert effort to attain the Kingdom of Heaven.
Raise my children to be written in the Book of Life.
Raise my children (names), O Christ, to be made worthy of the Kingdom of Heaven and make them heirs of eternal blessings.

***

Prelude 4
Having within a tempest of doubting thoughts and wanting my children to drink of eternal life, I weep. Remembering Your rich mercies, O God, I sing to Your Son with hope and with a contrite heart: Alleluia.

Song 4
I stretch out my hands and my heart towards Your loving-kindness, entreating that You will keep my children among Your servants and fulfill my petitions:
Raise my children in Your most holy inheritance.
Raise my children with all Your saints.
Raise my children to be Your servants, fulfilling all Your commands.
Raise my children to seek help from You alone.
Raise my children to inherit eternal life.
Raise my children (names), O Christ, to be made worthy of the Kingdom of Heaven and make them heirs of eternal blessings.

Stillness and Sleep by Kimberlee Conway Ireton

Today’s post by Kimberlee Conway Ireton (author of The Circle of Seasons: Meeting God in the Church Year) was inspired in part by chapter 1, “Learning to Breathe,” of Return to Our Senses: Re-imagining How We Pray. It beautifully reflects my curent theme of Practicing Resurrection.
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It’s Easter. For another five glorious weeks it’s Easter. I love that the Easter season is so long. It goes on and on and on. N.T. Wright suggests that we balance the 40 days of Lenten fasting with 40 days of Easter adding. From Easter Sunday to Ascension, he says, we should take up, embrace, include, toss our spiritual hats in the air, and celebrate.

This year for Easter, I’m embracing two much-neglected practices in my life (I think they’re much neglected in almost every American’s life, but that’s beside the point): sleep and stillness.

Sleep

As the mother of four children aged 2 to 9, I am chronically tired. My kids have more energy in their pinky toes than I have in my whole body. I run out of energy long before the day runs out of hours, long before it’s time to put my kids to bed.

So for Easter, instead of forcing myself to just. keep. going, I’m stopping. When my kids go to bed, if I feel tired (and most of the time I do), I go to bed, too. When I put my 2-year-old boys down for a nap, if I feel tired, I let myself fall asleep with them, instead of making myself get up, fold laundry, do the dishes, check email, or whatever not-so-imperative thing I think I have to do.

I am giving myself the gift of sleep for Easter.

Stillness

I am also giving myself the gift of stillness. Two books that I’ve recently read have prodded me to let myself just stop and simply be.

In Deepening the Soul for Justice, a marvelous little book by Bethany Hoang (director of the IJM Institute for Biblical Justice), Hoang writes of the IJM practice of “stillness,” a half-hour at the beginning of each work day in which all employees turn off cell phones, email, social media and stop all work (before they’ve even begun, no less!) in order to seek God in prayer and Bible reading and, well, stillness.

In my life, a half hour of stillness is hard to come by on a daily basis. Most days, at least one of my kids wakes up before I do and usually one or more is awake when I fall exhausted into bed at the end of the day. But I do have days when I can carve out a half hour during the boys’ nap…or afterward, if it’s sunny and I can send all four kids outside to play. I wish I could say I practice a half hour of stillness every day. I don’t. But it’s been such a blessing to even have it as a goal, to be able to say, this is important.

And it is important. It’s important for my mental health, but it’s also important for my physical health and crucial to my spiritual health. As Hoang points out in her book, “if our attempts to seek justice do not first begin with the work of prayer, we will be worn and weary. And our weariness will not be that deeply satisfying, joy-filled tiredness that comes from the worthy battles of justice, but rather a bone- and soul-crushing weariness.”

Boy, do I know that weariness, though it comes not from fighting for justice, but from trying to raise four children to be rational, emotionally healthy human beings and kind-hearted, whole-hearted Christ-followers. Only far too often I’m trying to do that work on my own strength, instead of starting with prayer, continuing in prayer, ending in prayer, day after day after day.

Hoang says that the work of being still (and it is work, this carving out of time and quiet in the midst of a child-full life) is a “declaration to ourselves and to God that the first work of seeking justice is the work of prayer.” In my own life, I need the reminder that the first work of parenting is the work of prayer. And so: stillness.

But legalist that I am, my practice of stillness can easily turn into just one more item on my to-do list, which is where James Bryan Smith’s gentle counsel comes in. In his book The Good and Beautiful God, Smith encourages his readers to “find five minutes each day to sit in silence. Get a cup of something warm and delicious, find a comfortable chair, and just sit quietly. That’s all.”

That’s all. Five minutes. A warm drink. Silence.

I sit in the rocking chair in our living room, so I can look out the window at the eastern sky. I sip hot tea. I keep a notebook on the sideboard beside me so I can jot down anything I don’t want to forget (like the fact that I still need to schedule a vet appointment for the cat or that there’s laundry that needs to be put in the dryer). I stare out the window, watch the clouds scud northward, the tips of the maple across the street tossing in the wind, the dance of the dangling lady-of-the-valley blossoms just outside the window.

It is amazing how this one practice of simply sitting and sipping tea and staring has come to be one of the most treasured parts of my day. If my boys keep sleeping and my older two keep playing elsewhere in the house, my five minutes sometimes stretches into ten or fifteen or thirty. I am doing nothing, just sitting and staring.

But James Bryan Smith assures me that this simple practice of just sitting “will help you slow down and become more present, more able to focus on God in your midst. It might lead you into a regular practice of developing ‘rests’ that make the notes (your actions) in your life become beautiful music.” This is what I want: a beautiful life that reflects our beautiful God.

And so I sit, declaring to myself and to God that stillness is the rock in which any work I do must be rooted because God is the Rock of stillness in whom I am rooting myself in these moments and, as Bethany Hoang avers, “God alone can move and act through us to bring about greater levels of transformation than we could even begin to dream about on our own.”

“Now to him who is able to do far more than all you can ask or imagine, according to the power at work within you, to him be glory and honor in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” —Ephesians 3:20-21

*****

It’s still Easter! There’s still plenty of time to celebrate the season. Christ, our God, died and rose again that we might have life and have it to the full. I invite you to embrace sleep or stillness (or both!) for the remainder of this season, to let the way of quiet release usher you into the marvelous reality of Christ’s resurrection, a gift of such lavish grace that all we can do is receive it.

The language of Prayer by Kimberlee Conway Ireton

Today’s post in the Lenten series Return to Our Senses is written by Kimberlee Conway Ireton who has embarked on a Year of Prayer. To help hold her accountable to this commitment to live more prayerfully, she promised herself (and her blog readers) that she’d write about (some of) her prayer experiences.
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My twins are napping, my oldest is at the pool, swimming with a friend, and my daughter and I are sharing a rare moment of just-the-two-of-us time. I make tea, while she sets out teacups and saucers, bread and jam. When the tea has steeped, I pour it into our cups, and we sit together, talking a little between sips of tea and bites of jammy bread. The late afternoon sun slants through the dining room window, falling across the table, across the tea tray, onto Jane’s dress.

It is a moment of no import. Once it has passed, I forget all about it—until days later when I meet with my spiritual director, and she asks me where God has met me this past month. We sit in silence as I wait for God to speak, to reveal to me His presence in my life these past weeks. And the image that comes to mind is of Jane and me, sitting at the dining room table, drinking tea. In my mind’s eye, the sunlight streaming into the room seems to be the very presence of God.

Later still, I re-read chapter three of Eugene Peterson’s Answering God: The Psalms as Tools for Prayer, about the language of prayer, in which he claims that prayer is, first, the language of desperation, of someone in trouble who needs help, deliverance, redemption. It is “primal language,” the language of a baby who wails or fusses so that someone will feed her or change her diaper or pick her up or rock her to sleep. (Stay with me here, okay? This will connect back to that afternoon tea, I promise!)

Peterson goes on to sketch a rough map of language, dividing it into three levels: Language 1, the language of intimacy and relationship; Language 2, the language of information; and Language 3, the language of motivation. He outlines how we move through these stages of language as we grow from Language 1 in babyhood (“mama, dada”) to Language 2 in toddlerhood (“doll, table”) to Language 3 in childhood (“give me, I want”).

Languages 2 (information) and 3 (motivation) are the languages of school, the workplace, politics, and advertising. Our culture is very good at these languages. As we grow older, Peterson says, we don’t practice Language 1 (intimacy) much, and it withers.

But Language 1 is the primary language of prayer. Prayer is relational. It is intimate. It is very much like the language of that crying baby who cannot articulate her needs and can only cry out for someone to come help her, someone to come figure out what she wants or needs and give it to her.

This language of need is, I think, a language of being. It is, Peterson says, the language of those who recognize that they are in trouble and cannot help themselves, and who hope or maybe even believe that God can. It is our first language. And it is the language of prayer.

But we are unpracticed in this primal language of prayer. Learning to pray, Peterson says, is not learning something new, but rather recovering our first language. Intimacy is at our core. Relationship is at our core. To learn to pray, we must return to this core, to the first language we ever knew, the language of need, of trust, of relationship. That is where prayer begins.

Peterson then launches into a discussion of Psalm 3 by observing that, at the very center of the prayer, after the initial cry for help, the psalmist lay down and slept and woke again (vs 4). “Three verbs,” Peterson says, “describe what everyone does each evening, night, and morning: lie down, go to sleep, get up. These actions are prayer.”

As I read those words, I thought again of that moment at the dining room table with Jane. I can’t remember what she said, or what I said. But what we said is less important than who we were—a mother and a daughter quietly enjoying one another’s company. We were living, for a moment, the intimate, relational language of prayer, a language born of trouble and need but maturing into mutual pleasure and delight and enjoyment.

Sipping tea, talking softly so as not to wake the babies, enjoying sunlight streaming through the window—these actions are prayer.