Monthly Archives: July 2010

Because we need a poem about summer rain.

It’s not raining here. But perhaps one of you somewhere is reading this in a warm town while rain falls romantically on your tin roof. And the air is warm enough that you could walk outside for a little splash in your flip flops. Perhaps I’m nostalgic because this is my first “summer” in San Francisco where it’s constantly in the 60s and I keep forgetting it’s July.  But I just needed to read this poem today and be reminded of that metallic feeling of rain coming on a 90 degree day. So, wherever you are, rain-appreciator, this one’s for you. (P.S.  Sorry the poem’s a little sad.)

Heavy Summer Rain

by Jane Kenyon

The grasses in the field have toppled,
and in places it seems that a large, now
absent, animal must have passed the night.
The hay will right itself if the day

turns dry. I miss you steadily, painfully.
None of your blustering entrances
or exits, doors swinging wildly
on their hinges, or your huge unconscious
sighs when you read something sad,
like Henry Adam’s letters from Japan,
where he traveled after Clover died.

Everything blooming bows down in the rain:
white irises, red peonies; and the poppies
with their black and secret centers
lie shattered on the lawn.

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Bedtime Thankful

Last month I  complained about my son’s sleep issues. I can’t complain anymore. He’s happily floating on his metaphorical dream cloud as I type this. He no longer cries when it’s time for us to leave the room (thanks Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child!). Instead, in the middle of Chris’ prayer for him tonight, he said, “Bye, Mommy.”

I said, “Do you just want Daddy to sing you a song tonight?”

“Yep,” he said. Well, okay then.

Chris was out of the room two minutes later. Turns out that once the praying was done, August wanted him to leave as well. And not a word from that room since.

This new sleeping life has made for very sweet going-to-bed moments. Usually before we pray for August, we ask him if there’s anyone he wants to pray for. In the past, maybe one or two grandparents or his friend at the park would come to mind. Since our trip to Texas, his prayer list has grown exponentially. He usually says a couple of people he wants to pray for when we ask. Tonight it was Mommy, Daddy, and Ezra (the cat). But since his recent bedtime sweetness, he adds to the prayer outloud. This is what he prayed tonight:

Chris: We pray for Mommy and Daddy and Ezra…

August: And my space ship. And Karsen, and Ellie, and Luke. And my couch. And Owen, and Blythe, and Brooks, and Sunny. And airplanes. And Aimee, and JoJo, and Pops, and Basia, and Owen, and Jason, and Grama Sue. And the couch, and Grampa, and ChaCha, and Owen.

First of all, he doesn’t have a spaceship. But, I’m so happy he’s thankful for it. Second, I love that kind of praying. Those names were not said quickly. Each one took some thinking on his part.  He came to them deliberately, with zero pressure. No fear. Just letting the people (and things) he loves come to his mind (even if Owen was prayed for three times) and letting his heart feel big for them.

So, for this Thankful Tuesday, my prayer is for a fullness of heart that can’t help but spill over with gratefulness. I’m praying I’ll be thankful for the spaceship I don’t even have, because, hey, somebody has a spaceship. And that’s awesome.

What’s your heart full for?

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Come, Holy Ghost

This morning in our worship service, I opened my leaflet and got all giddy for an 9th century hymn we were singing. (Of course, translated into English and given a modern melody in 2005). I’ve only learned of “Come, Holy Ghost” since we began worshiping at City Church, but I can never get enough of it. Its chorus is everything a weak-faithed, self obsessed, anxious mother needs to hear the Lord sing to her on a Sunday morning.

The chorus says: Be not afraid, where you go there I am with you.

It says it over and over so that by the time I’m done singing the haunting melody, I’ve heard God remind me that I’m not alone eight times. That’s almost enough times for me to believe it. Thankfully, the hymn never seems to leave my head all day once we’ve sung it, so I’ve actually been hearing the truth of it all day long. And maybe that means by the time I fall asleep tonight, I’ll be braver and calmer and prayerful.

What I didn’t know until I did a little research this afternoon is that its author, Rabanus Maurus, was a 9th century Benedictine monk. (I knew I loved those guys.)  He lived from 776-856 and the hymn, “Veni, Creator Spirtus,” was written sometime around 800. After he took his vows, he went to study theology, eventually becoming a beloved teacher and then head master a monastic school in Fulda. He later became an abbot. He wrote plenty, mostly commentaries, but some poetry. And this hymn is probably his greatest known poem.

Listen to Bruce Benedict and Ray Mill’s version of the hymn here. (I can’t find an easier link. So you’ll have to click on track 12.)

Come, Holy Ghost

Come, Holy Ghost, Creator blest,
And in our souls take up thy rest;
Come with thy grace and heavenly aid
To fill the hearts which thou has made.

Be not afraid, where you go there I am with you.
Be not afraid, where you go there I am with you
.

O Comforter, to thee we cry,
Thou heavenly gift of God Most High,
Thou fount of life and fire of love,
And sweet anointing from above.

Be not afraid, where you go there I am with you.
Be not afraid, where you go there I am with you.

O Holy Ghost, thorough thee alone,
Know we the Father and the Son;
Be this our firm, unchanging creed,
That thou dost from them both proceed.

Be not afraid, where you go there I am with you.
Be not afraid, where you go there I am with you.

Praise we the Lord, Father and Son,
And Holy Spirit with them one;
And may the Son on us bestow
All gifts that from the Spirit flow,

Be not afraid, where you go there I am with you.
Be not afraid, where you go there I am with you.

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A Route of Evanescence

Last Thursday morning, after the Office of Vigils and before Morning Praise at the monastery, I joined the community in a personal time of Lectio Divina. The Benedictines have been practicing this act of deliberate scripture study for 1500 years.

It was a beautiful morning—bright, barely crisp, just cool enough in the mountains to require a sweatshirt. I’d borrowed my mom’s bright pink Young Life sweatshirt for the trip. It was big. It was cozy.

We had thirty minutes for prayer before the morning worship service would begin. So I hadn’t gone far, just out the side door to a porch swing. It was the fifteenth, so I followed my secret five Psalms a day rule and opened to Psalm 15: “O Lord, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill?” I laughed. Of course, this was the same Psalm I wrote to you about last month, how it had spoken to me about sojourning versus dwelling, and what it could mean to faithfully dwell on God’s hill and sometimes sojourn up to his tent.

While I meditated on those words, I closed my eyes. I must have been sitting still as plant life, because at some point into my praying moment, I felt a vibrating sensation near my cheek. I opened my eyes from prayer to find a hummingbird’s beady eyes gazing lovingly in my face. The moment was surreal. I remember it in slow motion: its beak coming in for some human nectar, my scream in reaction, how my arms flailed in an attempt to save myself from becoming hummingbird food.

It was only after my scream that I (still in slow motion) could turn and watch that hummingbird fly away, that I could even register in my mind how I had looked a hummingbird (what has always been one my favorite creatures to catch sight of) in the eye, that I had a moment of savoring what bird lovers everywhere would dream of experiencing. If only I had been more Snow White and less me, I would have held out my hand and sung it a calming song. It would have perched with me and whispered secrets of scripture into my ear.

Instead, I was a disappointment, a bright pink flower with a scream attached.

So, hummingbird wherever you went that day, I hope you had success. I hope you found a flower that didn’t have a human brain, and I hope you know that I loved you, even if I didn’t get to say so in the midst of my nose-protecting.

In honor of my hummingbird, I’ll end with Emily Dickinson’s poem about her. I won’t comment on the poem. I find that anything I think is worthy of saying about my girl Dickinson adds nothing to her beauty. (Micha talking about Dickinson is like screaming in a hummingbird’s face.)

A Route of Evanescence

With a revolving Wheel—

A Resonance of Emerald—

A Rush of Cochineal—

And every Blossom on the Bush

Adjusts its tumbled Head—

The Mail from Tunis, probably,

An easy Morning’s Ride—

(circa 1879)

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What’s gonna work? TEAMWORK!

If you don’t automatically start singing the theme song to Wonder Pets when you read the above words, you either 1) Don’t have a toddler or 2) Are a much better parent than I am and don’t allow your toddler near the brain sucking powers of Nick Jr.

But, alas, I’m a TV girl. I always have been, no matter how much smarter I know I’d be if I just turned the TV off and read in the evening. So, despite my attempts at “no TV before the age of 2!” it just didn’t happen. Now, that doesn’t mean we’re an all TV all the time kind of family. My goal is no more than an hour a day for August…a show in the morning and one the afternoon. Sometimes I fail at that. Rarely I shock myself and we make it through a day with only 30 minutes worth of mind warping.

And I’d have to say that if there’s a marital parenting issue between my husband and I, it’s the TV thing. Chris doesn’t like that August watches TV. It’s not like I disagree. I don’t like it either. I feel serious guilt when I see his perfectly still body engrossed in the mesmerizing glitter of Yo Gabba Gabba. Toddlers aren’t supposed to sit still, eyes transfixed for thirty minutes at a time. They’re supposed to run and crash and build towers and make grown-ups beg for silence.

That’s why I let August watch TV: The need for silence.  I’ve got to take a shower. Or I need a break. Or I’ve got to get my post up and he’s crying every time I open my computer. For thousands of years, mothers have begged their toddlers to just sit still for half an hour so they can get something done. And here, in this moment of history, we actually have a tool that will silence our children! Too bad it also leads to ADHD and poorer performance in school.

So, when the subject comes up, I know where my husband stands on the issue. He knows where I stand: somewhere between guilt and relief that I could wash my hair today. And he chooses to submit to my need for a break, since I’m the one at home and he’s the one in work-ville. He submits out of love and also out of a desire for my sanity.

Today I came across two different pieces detailing the same sort of crisis, except much more extreme in terms of parental disagreement. Yesterday, a NYTimes blog Motherlode posted about a mother whose parenting style is so different from her spouse’s that it’s breaking apart their marriage. Parents magazine recently ran an article titled “How to Fight in Front of Your Kids,” which was basically the tale of one uptight Give-the-kids-a-healthy-breakfast-and-get-them-outside-mama versus her Sit-in-front-of-the-laptop-while-the-kids-watch-TV-husband.

Those articles have made me think today about what it means for husbands and wives to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ,” especially when it comes to the passionate, craze-inducing issues of child-rearing.

What do you think? Do you and your spouse usually agree on issues of parenting? What do you do when you can’t agree?

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Great Silence

Making the shift from normal life into a Benedictine monastery is shocking. It’s frightening. It stuns. I’d driven four and half hours from my parent’s home to get to the monastery last week, music on, a couple of sermons talking at me. And then I pushed through those thick wooden doors. I’d expected the quiet; I’d even longed for it. But the shock of monastic life is exactly that. Its reality is scary in the way that being thrown into another culture is scary. It felt like everyone around me was speaking a language I’d never heard before.

I’ve always considered myself a bit of a contemplative. Though I’m an extrovert through and through, I’ve had my secret side: the writer. That writer girl hid in the closet with a pillow as a 7th grader and journaled long, detailed entries about boys and my miserable teeth. I’ve always gone through phases: weeks of intense people time and then a social checking out, a commitment to reading one novel in two days.

But as much as I’m happy alone and excited to shut my mouth and watch, being at a monastery is difficult. I suddenly feel like I’ve been transported back to an ancient life. My new friend Barbara (who I met during my stay last week) told me she always feels uneasy for the first 24 hours. After that, she can settle into the rhythm of an ancient way of living.

Last week at the monastery, we ate dinner in silence, we worshipped as the church has worshipped for centuries: reciting prayers, chanting Psalms, reflecting on scripture.  And we did as all Benedictines do after their evening prayers (a service known as Compline), we entered the Great Silence: exactly what its name says it is. From Compline to Morning Worship the next day, the air is sacred and noiseless.

In that quiet, I walked last Wednesday night from the chapel to my room where pages from what I’d been writing were spread all over the floor around the desk. It was 8 o’clock and I had an evening to spend.

Sometimes I imagine what life was like for families before the invention of the radio, when they gathered after dinner and talked or read or did whatever small needlework that could be done by candle light. Last Wednesday night, I worked. I wrote and revised and reread on my seriously cozy monastic guest bed. And then I turned out the light at 10 o’clock.

There’s a lack of ease in silence. That’s why we change the song when conversation gets slow in the car, why we run on the treadmill with buds in our ears, why we long for a soundtrack to our lives. Lying in that bed, in a hallway of silence, in a building of silence, I felt the fear in me settle, felt the freedom gather in its place.

Was two days of it enough? No. If I were a real monk, it would take me decades to smooth out the part of me that needs to talk so I’ll be heard, so I’ll be seen, appreciated. It would take decades to work through those kinks in me that scream for entertainment, that longing to sit on the couch and be amused by the talking screen. I’ve seen the depth in those old monks, bent over their walkers. They’ve learned slowly, deliberately, how to live at peace with the sound their brains make when everything else is turned off. They know how to work and how to rest and they’ve learned it through silence.

What I need to know now is how to foster that silence in my life of noise. Tomorrow I’ll wake to a toddler crying at 5:30, still adjusting to Pacific Time. I’ll build train tracks and August will make Percy and Thomas talk to each other in toddler language and those wooden trains will crash and zoom and choochoo. I’ll listen to NPR while I spread peanut butter and jelly. I’ll talk on the phone. I’ll watch Dinosaur Train. I’ll play in the sand at the park. I’ll catch up with my husband when he gets home. I’ll throw the latest Netflix in and watch it with my man.

Is two days of the Great Silence enough? No. So, then, what does it mean? What does it really look like to practice silence when you’re a mom? When you’re a woman? When you’re a human living in 2010? That’s what I’m pondering this morning. Let me know if you have an answer…or even just a hope.

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Why I’m thankful for Brother Shawn.

It is Thankful Tuesday and I, after having been MIA for almost a week, am back in San Francisco (along with the post-family-visit-blues). This past week has been wonderful, packed with some amazing niece and nephew time, one good steak, one smothered fajita (I’ve got to stop eating like a 20 year old. Seriously. It’s over.), one daring drowning rescue in the baby pool (special thanks to my brother Brooks for snatching my son out while I sprinted in slow motion through water while cussing at the top of my lungs), and two slow, restful days at a Benedictine monastery in the mountains of New Mexico.

And in honor of Thankful Tuesday, I want to focus on the sweetness of my time with the brothers (and sisters!) and their dear monastic home where I was welcomed as a guest in last week. I spent two days at a monastery once before. It was last December for an Advent retreat. I drove by myself around seven hours south towards Los Angeles and stayed at a large beautiful monastery in the desert. The monks I met there were generous and deliberate. Many were academic types: quiet and thoughtful. Though all thirty or so I came across were kind and intentional about our (the guests) comfort and welcome, I never felt pursued. My time there felt as though I were welcome on the periphery of something already happening. And watching the monks in their lives and worship was meaningful.

But what I found last week was a more tender, less reasoned response to hospitality. The monastery I experienced was a bit more raw, more obvious in its needs. It was a third the size of the monastery I visited before. Its monks were aging. The need for youth was obvious. And in the midst of that reality, there was Brother Shawn, a tender hearted, middle-aged man, who never failed to recall the name of every guest there. Brother Shawn was always nearby, always willing to share his life. I was there two days. He hiked with four of us guests after dinner the first night I was there, browsed books with us in the bookstore the second. He shared stories with us.

Brother Shawn would not win any cool awards. He’s the kind of guy who can easily be written off as awkward. But his ability to love in the most simplistic, joyful way was inspiring to me. During breakfast, I’d grabbed myself a cup of decaf at a side table before hopping in line for eggs. Ten minutes later he was at my table with coffee pots in hand refilling. When he got to me, he lifted up the green-rimmed handle pot and whispered, “Decaf, right?”

“Yes,” I said. “How’d you know?”

“Oh, I just noticed.”

That is the kind of hospitality I long to practice. The noticing.

So this Thankful Tuesday, I’m thankful for Brother Shawn for noticing the need, the joy, the details of the people who come into his life. I’m thankful that he has taken his calling to hospitality seriously. And my prayer is that today in the midst of my simple day of post-vacation errands and a play date at the park, I would live out my calling to notice.  Who knows who or what I’ll see if I simply look…

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