Monthly Archives: November 2011

{Practicing Benedict} A reputation for holiness

Welcome to Mama:Monk’s weekly Wednesday series examining St. Benedict’s Rule and what it’s teaching me about motherhood and the praying life…

“No one should aspire to gain a reputation for holiness. First of all we must actually become holy; then there would be some truth in having a reputation for it…” (St. Benedict’s Rule, Chapter 4).

Oh, Mr. Benedict, if only you knew! If ever there were a day in the Church in which people attempt to gain a reputation for holiness, it is now. Now: when worship is most often a song about how fun it is to go to the movies with Jesus and we clasp our hands together or lift them up in semi-honest emotional response (sometimes our hearts really mean it and sometimes we’re thinking about what Mr. Hotface down the aisle thinks about our earnest hand-clasping). We are gifted people: We know what impresses the other. We know what it looks like to be “passionate” and “authentic” and “powerfully connected” to Jesus. Holiness is often a sham.

It’s not always a sham. But if we’re gauging it by performance-based worship. Yes, it’s a sham. Holiness has nothing to do with how moved we are by the music or even how happy we are about Jesus. (Can I say here that it’s wonderful and powerful to be moved by a time of musical worship…it just doesn’t define holiness?) It has nothing to do with how good we are at having spiritual conversations or how many non-churchy ways we can describe God’s movement in our lives. Holiness is not even about our apparent sacrifices of time or comfort in order to serve. Holiness doesn’t arrive through our impressive holy acts. It comes deliberately, secretly.  The truest servants are not necessarily the ones giving up their vacation time to go overseas to serve the poor for two weeks.  The greatest servant is the one who lives service, day in and day out: It’s Brother Lawrence washing pots and pans in the monastery, an unknown with unimpressive gifts. It’s the teacher in the public school system who secretly sits at every desk and prays for every kid by name each morning. It’s the man or woman in the marketplace who works, not simply because he or she can bring light into the work place, but because work is making something meaningful out of chaos, because creation is something God loves.

Holiness grows deep and narrow, a carrot in the earth, its beauty and color unseen by the passerby, its tuft of green insignificant to the eye.

“The way to become holy is faithfully to fulfill God’s commandments every day by loving chastity, by hating no one, by avoiding envy and hostile rivalry, by not becoming full of self but showing due respect for our elders and love for those who are younger, by praying in the love of Christ for those who are hostile to us, by seeking reconciliation and peace before the sun goes down whenever we have a quarrel with another, and finally by never despairing of the mercy of God” (SBR, chapter 4).

Loving chastity is more than the practice of faithfulness to your spouse or your season of celibacy. It’s the choice to love that calling, to find joy in that calling, to see it as God’s best. I had a discussion with my aunt over Thanksgiving about how many of her own pastors or those known to her over the past 40 years have been caught in extramarital affairs. The number was amazing to me (and heartbreaking). These were men of great importance, charismatic leaders. Holiness is not just the secret decisions we make: whether to click on that link, whether to sneak a longer glance, whether to consider that person in our minds. Holiness is deep and narrow. It lies even deeper than the decision. It lies in the heart’s contentedness, the heart’s belief in God’s goodness, the heart’s hope that God and the gifts he has already given are enough.

Hating no one. Forgiveness is never surface level either. It’s the daily work of kneeling at the cross, believing that the one who broke our hearts is beside us there, in need of the same dose of God’s grace, in need of the same covering of God’s mercy. Forgiveness doesn’t just happen once, especially when our hurt runs deep. It’s a choice we make every day to bow our lives at the cross, lift our heads and peek at our hurt-dealer kneeling there as well. It’s the reminder that I need the cross as much as the one I want to punish.

Avoiding envy and rivalry. Materialism always leads to envy. But sometimes we’re envious not only of the stuff but of the life of another. I’m envious of the stay at home moms who are organized and do meaningful things with their kids. I’m just trying to survive! How are these women cooking meals and working through their weeks at home with Letter themes and special snacks and the appropriate books from the library that coincide with the week’s theme? Plus, somehow they’re in shape and they run half-marathons on the weekends! And, yes, their clothes are cuter than mine.

It’s in us to hate each other. Or at least to hate ourselves. That’s because our world is broken. Avoiding envy and rivalry for me means avoiding those thoughts in my brain. (Easier said than done, Micha. I know, I know.) It’s taking every thought captive. It’s reminding myself that we are all broken and we are all aching for a better life, a more productive life, a more fulfilling life. We find that through Christ, not through success or stuff.

So we ask God to show us how to love our elders (which means we need to actually know their names in our churches, or seriously consider why they’re not in our churches…I say this to myself as well) and how to love those younger than us. We ask God to make us peace makers who do the hard mental work of praying for those who hurt us. We live as people who believe in the power of reconciliation, who love mercy and beg God to plant mercy deep in us, so that it flows out of our mouths and our hands and our daily decisions.

And we pray that holiness would overtake us, not in order that we might be beautiful to each other, a stunning lily blooming for a moment and causing each passerby to gasp. But that we might become the thick skinned carrot, bright but covered in dirt. One that takes some time under the earth to make its color vibrant, one that nourishes.

Because the holiness we need is the holiness that comes with time and labor and deep struggle.


Filed under the Praying Life

After the trip: Thankful

  • There’s no one with whom I would rather spend 20 hours in the car (Wednesday and Sunday combined, mind you) than my husband. Isn’t it amazing that I still like him so much, especially when the back seat is full of weeping children?
  • A sister-in-law who is willing to cut my boy’s hair for me. For the courage to chop off that mop of blonde hanging in his eyes. For the shock of almost brown(!) hair underneath and the reality that my 3-year-old looks like a 5-year-old. (I’m still recovering and trying not to gasp at that face with almost brown hair and those expressive eyebrows..they’ve been hidden by bangs for awhile.)
  • My nephew’s baptism and the holiness of being sealed as Christ’s.
  • The opportunity to celebrate my granddaddy who is turning 90 next week.
  • A husband who takes his turkey roasting Very Seriously.
  • A husband who plays ping-pong with my brothers into the late hours.
  • A baby who longs, LONGS to crawl. Oh, it’s so difficult! He’s so tired of scooting and sick of reaching.
  • Brooksie’s older girl cousins who are so faithful to play with him.
  • The new Muppet movie and its songs that are still stuck in my head. (So good, by the way.)
  • August’s 11-year-old boy cousin to whom he whispered during the movie: “You are my hero!”
  • August and his cousin Blythe’s new game called “Toast.” (You really don’t want to know.)
  • My grandmother Memaw rocking Brooksie and singing “By and By.” My grandmother Deenie (90 years old!) down on the floor playing peek-a-boo with my baby. Having them with my boys is such a sweet gift.
  • Actually being able to run in my family’s goofy 2-mile Thanksgiving race. I was 7 minutes slower than the boys, but this little asthmastic long-distance vomiter  was just proud to have run that far.
  • Halfway to Amarillo on Wednesday, I took over the driving after we passed Abilene (my college town). It’s more than a four-hour-drive from there and the boys were asleep most of that time. The stars in West Texas really are the brightest and biggest. The blackness of the night air really is the darkest. And the chance to drive late at night down a highway I knew so well was a gift. I love whispering with my husband in a dark car.
  • My baby sleeping in my parents’ closet in a pack-n-play (because there was no room for him anywhere else)! I love that my parents are willing to host him in their space, that my mom is willing to get up with Brooksie in the night and let me sleep, and that he got plenty of snuggles from them.
  • Chris, August and I barely squeezing in my old bedroom (still decorated with a  pink and yellow heart mural that quotes John Keats…ahh, high school) and sharing the rest of the house with my parents, grandparents and aunt. I’m so thankful that I grew up in a house where I couldn’t hide from my family, were we had to learn to share the living room and the TV. I’m thankful that I was taught from the youngest of ages that my bed belonged to my grandparents when they came to town and I slept on the couch. And I’m thankful even now that we get to squeeze our family into my parents’ house. Maybe it helps that I’m an extrovert. But it was a gift for the space to feel full.

Thanksgiving is over! And it’s Thankful Tuesday. What are you most thankful for today?

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Filed under Thankful Tuesday, Uncategorized

Thanksgiving in their words:

"Country Home" by suziebeezie (Pinterest via Andrea Duffy)


“It is impossible to give thanks and simultaneously feel fear.”

-Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts



“[The] dinner party is a true proclamation of the abundance of being–a rebuke to the thrifty little idolatries by which we lose sight of the lavish hand that made us. It is precisely because no one needs soup, fish, meat, salad, cheese, and dessert at one meal that we so badly need to sit down to them from time to time. It was largesse that made us all; we were not created to fast forever. The unnecessary is the the taproot of our being and the last key to the door of delight. Enter here, therefore, as a sovereign remedy for the narrowness of our minds and the stinginess of our souls, the formal dinner…the true convivium–the long Session that brings us nearly home.”

-Robert Farrar Capon The Supper of the Lamb: A Culinary Reflection



“What will our final perspective be on all these hours? The hours of work, the hours of wealth, the idle hours, the hours of failure and self-doubt? Who stands up and divests themselves of this body of work? Who lets go of all these accomplishments, these so-called failures? Do we look back on the wealth acquired from the acquisition, the poems published and admired, the house built and sold, the land farmed and productive, or do we see the drama of the acquisition, the beauty in the act of writing itself, the happiness the house can contain, the love of the land and the sky that nourished it?…

It is the hidden in our work that always holds the treasure. A life dedicated to the goodness in work is a life making visible all the rich invisible seams of existence hidden from others. Good work is a grateful surprise.”

-David Whyte, Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity


“Thanks be to Thee, Jesu Christ,
For the many gifts Thou has bestowed on me,
Each day and night, each sea and land,
Each weather fair, each calm, each wild.

I am giving Thee worship with my whole life,
I am giving Thee assent with my whole power,
I am giving Thee praise with my whole tongue,
I am giving Thee honour with my whole utterance.

I am giving Thee reverence with my whole understanding,
I am giving Thee offering with my whole thought,
I am giving Thee praise with my whole fervour,
I am giving Thee humility in the blood of the Lamb.

I am giving Thee love with my whole devotion,
I am giving Thee kneeling with my whole desire,
I am giving Thee love with my whole heart,
I am giving Thee affection with my whole sense;
I am giving Thee existence with my whole mind,
I am giving Thee my soul, O God of all gods.”

-taken from the Carmina Gadelica,, found in The Celtic Way of Prayer: The Recovery of the Religious imagination, by Esther De Waal


“You have survived the winter because you are, and were, and always will be very much loved,” said the sun. “For that small place deep within you that remained unfrozen and open to mystery, that is where I have made my dwelling. And long, long before you felt my warmth surrounding you, you were bing freed and formed from within in ways so deep and profound that you could not possibly know what was happening.”

-Mary Fahy, The Tree that Survived the Winter


Give thanks to the Lord for he is good,
for his love has no end.
Let the sons of Israel say:
‘His love has no end.’
Let the sons of Aaron say:
‘His love has not end.’

Psalm 118, as translated in The Benedictine Handbook




by Brooks Haxton

So will I compass thine altar, O Lord: That I may publish with the voice of thanksgiving. (Psalm 26)

Thine altar is to me this bathtub
where my four-year-old twin
girls tip back their heads.
They close their eyes.
I read their faces from above,
in trust and fear, in holiness,
heads tipped until the waterline
has touched their hairlines, cautious.
Look: their hair flows underwater
like the scrolls unfurled in heaven.

from Uproar: Antiphonies to Psalms by Brooks Haxton


Happy Thanksgiving! I’m off to enjoy mine. See you on Thankful Tuesday!
(Emphasis mine…where in bold)

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Filed under Poetry, the Praying Life

Thanksgiving Thankful Tuesday: 2 Trees, 2 Lists, and Poem

Thankful Tree via Pinterest (

Our family has been making our Thankful Tree over the past couple of weeks. This year I was inspired by the tree (above) that I found on Pinterest. So I tried to be more crafty–ribbons and real twigs–but we all know about me and craftiness. Here’s my version. (I let August cut out most of the leaves.)

It looks so scrawny! But it was a good try...

So, in honor of Thanksgiving, I’m posting to you all the things that my 3-year-old is thankful for, all of which are displayed on the tree on our kitchen table.

Here’s what the boy gives thanks for, in his words:

  • Germs
  • Cup
  • Daddy
  • Storms
  • My friend Lightning McQueen
  • Poopy in the potty
  • Toilet (it goes downhill from here, so I’ll just refrain from listing the rest)
  • Milk
  • A window
  • Cameron
  • My head
  • A door
  • Baby T-Rexy (that’s Brooksie’s other name around our home, for you newbies)
  • Mama

(Notice I saved myself for last.)

My list is long so instead of my typical list, I’ll tell you what I’ll most look forward to (and will be grateful for) this Thanksgiving weekend:

  • Early morning coffee with my mom, aunt, and grandmother
  • Thanksgiving morning: Parade on the TV, apples being peeled at the table, my Grandaddy instructing Chris in his famous turkey and dressing.
  • Chris’ attempts at establishing a Boyett family post-meal football game (with all the kids).
  • Celebrating Grandaddy’s 90th birthday with a ping-pong party (his favorite…btw, he’s scary good, just so you know).
  • Actually being in shape enough to run the 2 miles in the Boyett sibling race.
  • Dad’s apple pie

And, in honor of the holiday, a Thanksgiving poem (which I posted last year as well):


by Bruce Guernsey

The potato that ate all its carrots,
can see in the dark like a mole,

its eyes the scars
from centuries of shovels, tines.

May spelled backwards
because it hates the light,

pawing its way, padding along,
there in the catacombs.


“The potato that ate all its carrots”?! I just cannot get enough of that. Happy Thankful Tuesday in a week full of Thanksgiving! What are you thankful for?


Filed under Thankful Tuesday

What we know

There are some things that are simply born in us.

This weekend my baby found a music box train in his basket of toys. He looked at me with his 8 month old eyes and I knew his request. I wound up the toy until it began that metallic box sound of “I’ve been working on the railroad.” Brooksie smiled his wide mouthed smile (the one that takes up the whole half of his face) and began to rock back and forth looking to me for approval.

I clapped my hands. “You can dance!” I said and he continued to hold his mouth wide open in a smile, so proud of himself. It seemed he’d been planning to show me his moves for a while now.

Babies know that music is important. They know their bodies are supposed to rock back and forth to the sound. They are drawn to beauty.

In the car on Friday, August wasn’t demanding his own music, so I took the opportunity to listen to my own. August was happy with Mumford and Sons and, as usual, surprised me by how close he was listening to the lyrics when they sang: “But please don’t cry, you liar…”

“Why doesn’t he want his friend to cry?”

“Because he doesn’t want him to be sad,” I said. “You don’t want your friends to cry, right?”

“Ummm,” he thought out loud. “But why does he say: ‘You liar’?”

“Well, his friend was mean to him and lied. And it made him sad. Do your friends ever make you sad?”

“Yeah. When they’re mean.”

“Yeah, that’s how this guy feels.”

“But why did his friend lie to him?”

“Because he believed The Terrible Lie like the rest of us.” (I’ve been using the language of The Jesus Storybook Bible with him. In it, Sally Lloyd Jones describes sin as believing “The Terrible Lie” that God doesn’t really love us. Really, doesn’t all brokenness grow out of the thought that what God has said or done isn’t trustworthy, that his love is not enough?

There’s something else that’s built in to our hearts: a longing for things to be as they should be. August kept asking me that afternoon in the car, “But why? Why did his friend lie?” And all I could answer is that sometimes we don’t believe God really loves us and so we’re mean. Sin exists no matter how much our guts tell us that it shouldn’t. That’s why for people like me, the idea of individuals undone by sin is a relief. At least there’s a reason for the fracture between what my heart says the world should be and what it actually is.

Sunday morning I checked the newspaper after having spent Saturday and Friday night happily oblivious to the goings on in the world. That’s when I heard about the officers who pepper sprayed protesting students at UC Davis. Then I read the beautifully written opinion piece by Robert Hass (a poet I’ve long admired) in The New York Times. He wrote about the beatings he, his wife, and his colleague (all poets and professors at UC Berkeley) received when they showed up at the Occupy UC Berkeley site to try to protect their students from the physical response of police with clubs in their hands.

I hate watching the news. I actually stopped a couple of years ago and I only read or listen to it now. I don’t like to watch violence (especially since my kids were born). But I made myself sit through this video of the students being pepper sprayed because I felt it was important. Then I cried in my kitchen with Brooksie in his high chair. I cried spooning pureed black beans into his mouth, because whatever you believe about these protests, whatever your stance on the Occupy Movement, violence is always brutal. The bad guy is always the child of a mother and the good guy is as well. We are all broken: those of us with pepper spray aimed down our open throats and those of us making a point through another’s suffering.

And all of us know we don’t belong in either position. That’s why my grandfather has spent his whole life recovering from the violence he witnessed and suffered in World War II. That’s why we weep when the once-abused reminds us in the wake of the Penn State scandal that it’s our job to tell our children where adults can touch them and where they can’t.

This is not the way God intended our world to be. Friends are not supposed to lie. August knows that. Music is meant to be danced to. Brooks knows that. Beauty is worth directing the gaze upon. We know that. But then we believe The Terrible Lie. We believe that God is not enough. We believe that God is not good. We miss the good gifts. We miss the grace.

Thankfully, grace has always been offered to everyone broken by The Terrible Lie: good guys, bad guys and everyone searching for beauty in between.


Filed under Broken

To my Mary icon, in preparation for Advent

Theotokos of Vladimir

Mary, you’re always sad, looking at me from the corner of my desk, your son with his arms wrapped around your neck, his fingers spread and grasping your skin, his face pressed up to your cheek.

You are always sad and he is always concerned. Look how he hugs you, one tiny pre-Renaissance-little-man-hand caressing your chest. His eyes lifted toward yours, as if he knows. (Of course he knows, you say.)

You, in your robe of black, marked by two flowers, one over your heart, one over your mind and then this gold ribbon along the edge: it flows from your head covering, down along your chest and weaves itself into the robe of your child. He is dressed in gold. (Of course he is, you say.)

You, with your long pointed nose, pursed lips. That face. That face! So full of everything, eyes dark and searching me out. What do you have to say to me? Mary, I want you to smile sometimes. Your son needs to quit worrying about you and play. And you need to find something to laugh about.

Your eyes on mine, that shared fabric from your robe into his. There are moments when I know why you’re stuck there in that eternal pose: your child’s embrace, your ache that runs from face through body. Of course you have something to say to me. Your hand raised and open beside his body, offering him up. Offering him to me.

So say it now, friend. Say what it means to wait, what it is to be filled up, what it is to resolve to hold heaven in your womb. Tell me about the kind of earnestness that a girl like you holds when she says yes to this: holy pregnancy, loss, the miracles and the longing for normal, the promise of eternity and the fear of eternity.

Tell me what I need to hear today: My boys are not built of God-stuff. They are not holding my face in hopes of my finding peace. They are playing and crying and demanding food. But so was yours, wasn’t he? In every other moment but this one, he was child and you were mother. Except here, your eyes on me, his eyes on you—that cord of gold wrapping around you and weaving your lives into mystery. You want to say something to me about what it means to hold such glory.

So, say it, sweet friend. Look in my eyes and say it.

Linking up with the Extraordinary Ordinary today. Just writing…


Filed under Motherhood

Transition and Cushion

One Monday night a month, I gather all my energy to corral the chaos of my house by 6 so that I can make it to my writer’s group by 6:30. I strive to have dinner at least in process, have some sort of food in my bag, milk pumped and in the fridge, children not screaming, and plans laid out for my husband’s next hour and a half.

This past Monday, I was not too successful. Every room was an explosion of stuff: dishes in the sink, toys on the floor, laundry piled high on the couch. The meal I was planning to make consisted of ingredients sitting out but not-yet-mixed, an oven heated but not yet cooking, and two little boys crying for food. My husband rides his bike home from work 30 minutes and had left the office early to make it in time for me to leave. He’s exhausted and sweaty when he gets home and needs a couple of minutes to change his clothes, gather himself and shift from employee to Daddy. He needs transition.

I was too chaotic to help in that front on Monday night. He arrived and I talked his ear off about the day for five minutes while I mixed my salad and packed my bag and reminded him about the milk and the food and the bedtimes and the need for baths and kissed my boys’ heads and kissed my husband and yelled “I love you people!” as I fluttered from the house, giddy.

I came home to a grumpy husband, who had faced a poop incident, a frustrating boy who didn’t want to go to sleep, a crying baby who is getting two teeth at the same time. Chris was out in the back yard picking up toys I’d carelessly allowed to be left in the grass. He was frustrated.

Last week I had a discussion with a friend who explained how she attempts to allow her four kids the Crazy from 3 to 5 in the afternoon, then calm them down, clean them up, and bring peace into the house by the time her husband comes home. Though her perspective of making home inviting for her husband is much more conservative than mine, I still felt a twinge of guilt.

Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t feel guilty because I believe my job is to be Donna Reed in my apron, stirring Mr. Hohorst a martini, roast in the oven, while I rub the difficult day at the office out of his feet, the children rosy faced and smiley on the floor staring up at him. I didn’t feel guilty because Chris’ job is so much harder than mine or because he does the “work” for the family. What I felt was an acknowledgement that space is important, that moving from one space to another is difficult and requires cushion.

As I’ve embraced the liturgy and begun to recognize our needs for times of celebration and ritual, for the acknowledgment of what is significant in our years and weeks and days, I’ve come to see that space is sacred. The physical helps us shape our reaction in the spiritual.

Though our culture may stress moving quickly from work to the gym to home to social activity, I’ve beginning to think that the healthy spiritual response to stress is to transition slowly between spaces, to build room into our routines for making that shift.

I mentioned last Friday that I had the opportunity to listen to my new friend Christine talk about how she has instilled ritual into her family’s daily, weekly and yearly life. One of the things I was most taken with is that she has begun to practice “afternoon tea” with her elementary and early middle school aged kids, acknowledging that the transition from school to home is difficult, and that kids sometimes need a calm snack and a little bit of family cushion before embarking into the world of homework and extracurricular activities.

Do you remember coming home after school? The warmth of entering into that sort of safety, after the uncertainty of learning, of negotiating friendships, of struggling to understand math? Because my childhood was healthy and sweet, my memories of entering into home are comforting. I ate cookies and drank milk. I sat on the couch.

Transition is spiritual work and as a spiritual leader in my family, I have a responsibility to offer that transition with as much grace as possible. So, as much as I may want to wag my mouth at Chris and talk about how frustrating this day has been. As much as I may want to yell to the sound of the door opening, “You’re home! Somebody do something about this child!” my responsibility is for Chris’ spiritual health. I want him to come into our family space with joy. So, I want to be a friend to him. I want to offer him the same sort of grace that God gives me: a moment for rest, for quietness, for renewal; a moment to take off the work clothes and all that they represent: every frustrating conversation, every stressful deadline, and allow him to walk into our chaos with a willingness to tickle and laugh and tell stories and correct with love.

And in order to offer sacred space, I must learn to offer grace. Not Donna Reed style, but Jesus style. Not by offering the roast but offering my rights, my selfish demands, my need to have my work justified. And in doing so, I may just create a home in which everybody else offers me grace as well.


Filed under Place and Stability