Monthly Archives: April 2012

Guest Post: The Creaking, Squeaking Altar that Moves

I’m thrilled to interrupt our regularly scheduled Thankful Tuesday to bring you some words from one of my favorite bloggers, Megan Tietz at SortaCrunchy. I consider Megan a kindred spirit and I have been so moved by her story of those early months of motherhood, which she is sharing (along with her co-writer, Laura Oyer) in their new book Spirit-Led Parenting. We are honored to be a sweet little stop in their Spirit-Led Parenting blog tour.

It’s battered and squeaky and hopelessly un-chic, but still I can’t bear to part with it.

It sits by itself all day, hardly touched and rarely sat upon, keeping a watchful eye over the playroom. That old gliding rocker and I go way, way back, and to most everyone else, it’s just a piece of furniture past its prime, but to me, it is a holy place.

My altar from long ago.

When I was pregnant with my oldest daughter, Dacey, I would sit in that rocker in her room, reading my Bible and praying out loud and covering my ever-growing expanse with words of prayer and hope. It was during her pregnancy that something nearly unbearable happened in my family of origin, and that was the first time I knelt in front of that chair (knees and ankles creaking more loudly than the joints of the glider) and poured my heart out to God.

That was the first of many times that plain old rocking chair with the country blue upholstered fabric transformed into a holy place, a quiet sanctuary where I met with God.

Time passed and she was born and then I began to view that chair with a growing sense of distrust. Less and less often was I pouring over pages of Scripture and more and more often I was studying the pages of parenting books, and consistently they were warning me to stay away from the rocking chair if I ever hoped to have a baby who displayed perfectly independent sleep habits.

No matter how much I studied, I just couldn’t get my baby on the program. I couldn’t get myself on the program because the program required me to leave her alone in her crib, even if she cried. And I just couldn’t. I would gather her up in my arms, collapse down into the waiting arms of the rocking chair, and apologize to God for failing Him and her once again.

And so continued my long sleep walk shuffle through the earliest weeks and months of motherhood. I could keep it together during the day – most days – but at night, I was awful. She would awaken to nurse and I would slam down the crib rail before I lifted her out. I was so furious that she wasn’t sleeping through the night and I was furious at myself for not being strong enough to get her sleep trained.

But one night, He rescued me. He rescued both of us, really. God stepped into my pain and hopelessness and despair and lifted my chin.

If you are up anyway, why not pray?

Isn’t it amazing how we try to make things so complicated? Isn’t it incredible how His Voice is always so clear?

And so that rocking chair became a long-term altar, a standing appointment set by my infant daughter that allowed me to know God in the deepest, darkest hours of the night. I would hold her, nurse her, rock her, and pray. Miles and miles we rocked and words tumbled out and in the still, still quiet, I would listen.

I am Southern Baptist from conception until now, so it never occurred to me that I was dipping my toes into the pool of monasticism. I didn’t consider it a ritual at the time – hardly! It was more of a lifeline, a sliver of redemption for my perceived failures. And it was the time I spent with God in that rocking altar that prepared my heart for the message of Spirit-Led Parenting.

It took me nearly a month to write the chapter on infant sleep, so close to my heart and so scarred in my mind are my thoughts on the matter. The passage of time allows me the clarity to know that if it weren’t for those sacred meetings with God in the night, this book would never have been written. And so I want to share with you a short passage from the book that captures, in some small way, what I learned in that season of life:

For in the practice of nighttime parenting, we allowed ourselves to be molded by God’s ever-present hand. We believe the specific reason God led us to view nighttime with our babies differently is because as our Father, He wanted to attend to our specific needs in that moment in life. In the stillness of the night, as we fed our babies, He nourished us with His presence and His word. By the subtle glow of the night light as we changed diapers, He changed us, allowing us to see that through Him, we could be more than we ever thought we could be. As our feet tread miles of footfalls, muffled by carpet and shhhhhhhh, He sang over us words of comfort, hope and surrender.

Thank you so much for allowing us to share our hearts and message with you today. Please join us as we continue our blog tour in the upcoming weeks:

Spirit-Led Parenting is the first release from authors Megan Tietz and Laura Oyer. Megan writes about faith, family and natural living at SortaCrunchy and lives in western Oklahoma with her husband and two daughters. Laura blogs her reflections on the real and ridiculous things of life at In The Backyard, and makes her home in Indiana with her husband, daughter, and son.

rocking chair image via TranceMist


Filed under Guest Post, Motherhood

Easter Sunday

"Testimony" Copyright © 2012 Jan Richardson Images. All Rights Reserved.

From  Girl Meets God:

The Last Battle, the final volume of Lewis’s Narnia chronicles, pictures the end of time. Aslan—the lion who represents Jesus—has returned, folding all of culture and humanity into his kingdom. In the novel’s lasts pages, he tells Lucy, a child from London, that everyone she knew back in Blighty is dead and raised to new life. And as Aslan spoke, writes Lewis, “the things that began to happen…were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beninning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were begining Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better that the one before.”:>


On Easter, we glimpse the beginning of Chapter One.

-Lauren F. Winner, Girl Meets God (193-194)

Descending Theology: The Resurrection

by Mary Karr

From the far star points of his pinned extremities,
cold inched in–black ice and blood ink–
till the hung flesh was empty. Lonely in that void
even for pain, he missed his splintered feet,
the human stare buried in his face.
He ached for two hands made of meat
he could reach to the end of.
In the corpse’s core, the stone fist of his heart

began to bang on the stiff chest’s door,
and breath spilled back into that battered shape. Now
it’s your limbs he longs to flow into–
from the sunflower center in your chest
outward–as warm water
shatters at birth, rivering every way.

“Descending Theology: The Resurrection” by Mary Karr, Sinners WelcomeHarperCollins, 2006.

Joy is radically different from happiness, for it does not depennd up on the “ups” and “downs” of our existence. It is the constant moving away from the static places of death toward the house of God, where the abundant life can be recognized and celebrated.

Lifesigns, Henri Nouwen (102)

For more from Jan Richardson, find her website here and be sure to visit the Lenten series on her blog.


Filed under Beautiful, the Praying Life

Holy Saturday

"Buried" Copyright © 2012 Jan Richardson Images. All Rights Reserved.

The Last of the Brooding Miserables

by Mary Karr

Lord, you maybe know me best
by my odd laments: My friend
drew the garage door tight,
lay flat on the cold cement, then
sucked off the family muffler
to stop the voices in his head.
And Logan stabbed in a fight, and Coleman shot,
and the bright girl who pulled a blade
the width of her own soft throat,
and Tom from the virus and Dad
from drink–Lord, the many-headed
hurts I mind.

I study each death
hard that death not catch me
unprepared. For help I read Aurelius,
that Stoic emperor who composed
fine Meditations in his battle tent.

Surely he overheard at night
the surgeons chopping through his wounded soldiers’ bones
and shovels of earth flung down
on blue faces, and near dawn,
the barbarian horses athunder.

Still, he judged the young man’s death
no worse than the old’s: each losing
just one breath. I would have waded
the death pits wailing
till I ruined good boots with lime–
a vulture for my dead too long,
or half a corpse myself.

Lord, let me enter now
your world, my face,
dig deep in the gloves
of these hands formed
to sow or reap or stroke
a living face. Let me rise

to your unfamiliar light,
love, without which the dying wouldn’t bother me one whit.

Please, if you will, bless also
this thick head I finally bow. In thanks.

for James Laughlin

-Mary Karr, from Viper Rum, Penguin Poets, 1994


“Today we think about Jesus lying dead in the tomb. His bruised and lacerated body, hastily wrapped, rests on a stone slab, cold and stiff in the darkness. Correspondingly, our hearts remain quiet. Yet in the spiritual realm, all is not quiet. A doctrinal tradition going back to the earliest era of the church declares that Christ, in the time between his death and his resurrection, descended to the dead, that is, to the precints of hell itself, in order to liberate a throng of people. The “harrowing of hell,’ it is sometimes called. This doctrine is stated in the creeds–“He descended into hell”–and depicted in icons. Many Protestants dispute or downplay it because of the ambiguity of the scriptural texts. But whether Christ “recaptures” captives (see Eph 4:7-10) or simply proclaims the victory of the cross, some momentous event in the grand drama of God’s redemption takes place on this holy sabbath. Christ’s redemptive power plumbs the darkest depths before ascending to the brightest heighs. Holy Saturday recognizes this wondrous mystery and invites us, quietly, to enter it.”

-Bobby Gross, Living the Christian Year (182)

Psalm 31:1-5

In you, O Lord, do I take refuge;
let me never be put to shame;
in your righteousness deliver me!
Incline your ear to me;
rescue me speedily!
Be a rock of refuge for me,
a strong fortress to save me!

For you are my rock and my fortress;
and for your name’s sake you lead me and guide me;
you take me out of the net they have hidden for me,
for you are my refuge.
Into your hands I commit my spirit;
you have redeemed me, O Lord,
faithful God.

On Holy Saturday, I walk up the hill to the cemetery and I meet old Fr. Gall walking stiffly toward me, dressed in a black suit, a narrow, European cut decades out of fashion. He twirls his walking stick and says, brightly, “Ah, you have come to visit those who are in heaven? You have come to seek the living among the dead!” The air is full of the anticipation of snow, a howling wind. Words will not let me be: In cold and silence you are born, from the womb of earth, the cloud of snow yet to fall. And from somewhere in the liturgy: What has been prepared for me?

From The Cloister Walk  by Kathleen Norris (181)

“In the end, no white light shines out from the wounds of Christ to bathe me in His glory. Faith is a choice like any other. If you’re picking a career or a husband–or deciding whether to have a baby–there are feelings and reasons pro and con out the wazzoo. But thinking it through is–at the final hour–horse dookey. You can only try it out. Not choosing baptism would make me feel half-assed somehow, like a dilettante–scared to commit to praising a force I do feel is divine–a reluctance grown from pride or because the mysteries are too unfathomable.

In the back of a dark church on Holy Saturday, I sit between Dev and Toby. In the pews, everybody holds an unlit candle, and the priest comes in with the altar’s mega-candle. Stopping at the back row, he touches its taper to the charred filament on either side of the aisle. The flame’s passed one to another until we’re all holding fire in our hands.”

From Lit by Mary Karr, HarperCollins, 2010 (351)

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Filed under Broken, the Praying Life

Good Friday: Christ’s cross over this throat

"No Between" Copyright © 2012 Jan Richardson Images. All Rights Reserved.

From the 8th century Irish monastic poet, Blathma

…The sun concealed its proper light; it lamented its lord. A swift cloud went across the blue sky, the great stormy sea roared.

The whole world became dark, great trembling came on the earth; at the death of noble Jesus great rocks burst open.

Jerusalem suddenly cast up the dead from ancient burial; in the hour in which Jesus suffered death the veil of the temple was rent.

A fierce stream of blood boiled until the bark of the every tree was red; there was blood throughout the world in the tops of every great wood.

It would have been fitting for God’s elements–the fair sea, the blue sky, the earth–to have changed their appearance, lamenting their calamity.

The body of Christ exposed to the spear-thrust demanded harsh lamentation–that they should have mourned more grievously the Man by whom they were created.

From The Celtic Way of Prayer by Esther de Waal, Doubleday, 1997 (154)

Christ’s Passion

Sure we’re trained to his suffering, sure
the nine-inch nails, and so forth.
And the cross raised up invoked

the body’s weight so each wound tore,
and from his abdomen a length of gut
dangled down, longing towards earth.

He was a god, after all.
An eternal light swarmed in his rib cage
no less strong than the weaving nebulae that haul

this dirt-speck planet through its course.
Surely his flesh mattered less somehow, less
than yours to you. He hung against steel rods

with his whole being, and though the pain
was very pure, he only cried out once.
All that was writ down. But what if his flesh

felt more than ours, knew each breath
was a gift, and thus saw
beyond each instant into all others.

So a morsel of bread conjured up
the undulating field of wheat from whence it came,
and the farmer’s back muscles

growing specific under this shirt
and the sad, resigned pace of the mule
whose opinion no one sought.

Think of all we don’t see
in an instant. Cage that in one skull.
If Christ saw in each

pair of terrified eyes he met
every creature’s gauzy soul
then he must have looked down from that bare hill

and watched the tapestry teem
till that poor carcass he borrowed
wept tears of real blood before they

unhooked it and oiled it and bound it
round with linen and hid it under a stone,
to rise again or not, I can only hope.

-Mary Karr Viper RumPenguin, 1994

“The promise is not that we shall escape the hard things but that we shall be given grace to face them, to enter into them, and to come through them. The promise is not that we shall not be afraid. It is that we need not fear fear.”

Esther de Waal, Living with Contradiction (116)

A Continuation of the lorica (St. Patrick’s Breastplate prayer)

Christ’s Cross over this face, and thus over my ear. Christ’s Cross over these eyes…this mouth…this throat…the back of this head…this side…to accompany before me…to accompany behind me…Christ’s cross to meet every difficulty both on hollow and on hill…Christ’s Cross over my community. Christ’s Cross over my church. Christ’s Cross in the next world. Christ’s Cross in this world.

From The Celtic Way of Prayer by Esther de Waal (155)

For more from Jan Richardson, find her website here and be sure to visit the Lenten series on her blog.


Filed under Beautiful, Poetry, the Praying Life

Maundy Thursday

"Holy Thursday" Copyright © 2012 Jan Richardson Images. All Rights Reserved.

Descending Theology: The Garden

by Mary Karr

We know he was a man because, once doomed,
he begged for reprieve. See him
grieving on his rock under olive trees,
his companions asleep
on the hard ground around him
wrapped in old hides.
Not one stayed awake as he’d asked.
That went through him like a sword.
He wished with all his being to stay
but gave up
bargaining at the sky. He knew
it was all mercy anyhow,
unearned as breath. The Father couldn’t intervene,
though that gaze was never
not rapt, a mantle around him. This
was our doing, our death.
The dark prince had poured the vial of poison
into the betrayer’s ear,
and it was done. Around the oasis where Jesus wept,
the cracked earth radiated out for miles.
In the green center, Jesus prayed for the pardon
of Judas, who was approaching
with soldiers, glancing up–as Christ was–into
the punctured sky till his neck bones
ached. Here is his tear-riven face come
to press a kiss on his brother.

-Mary Karr, Sinners Welcome, HarperCollins, 2006

Untitled (An ancient Celtic prayer for sleep)

O Jesu without sin,
King of the poor,
Who were sorely subdued
Under the ban of the wicked,
Shield Thou me this night
From Judas.

My soul on Thine own arm, O Christ,
Thou the King of the City of Heaven,
Thou it was who bought’st my soul O Jesu,
Thou it was who didst sacrifice Thy life for me.

Protect Thou me because of my sorrow,
For the sake of Thy passion, Thy wounds, and Thy blood,
And take me in safety to-night
Near to the City of God.

From The Celtic Way of Prayer by Esther de Waal, Doubleday, 1997.

For more from Jan Richardson, find her website here and be sure to visit the Lenten series on her blog.


Filed under the Praying Life

Holy Wednesday: Abiding Places

Throughout Holy Week I’ll be directing you with artwork, words, and poems that are working themselves out in me. I’m thrilled to be sharing Jan Richardson‘s images with you each day. Her work is influenced by the liturgy and the contemplative life and it speaks so boldly to me. She has been gracious enough to allow us to have access to them. (Also, if you’re looking for more from her, she has a wonderful Lenten series on her blog, The Painted Prayerbook, right now.)

"Many Rooms" Copyright © 2012 Jan Richardson Images. All Rights Reserved.

On John 13:36 – 14:7

…They have just been told that one of their company is a traitor. They have seen Judas go out into the night. They have heard Peter warned that he will deny his master. It is therefore to a very deeply troubled group that Jesus says: “Let not your hearts be troubled.”

How could they fail to be troubled? Jesus himself was “troubled in spirit” (13:21) by the presence of treachery in his company. But now he gives them a command which echoes the repeated words of the earlier Jesus (Joshua) to the children of Israel as they faced the crossing of the Jordan and the entry to the promised land: “Be strong and of a good courage” (Joshua 1:6, 7, 9, 18)…The great Joshua is about to cross a deeper and wider Jordan to open a way by which the children of God may follow. The way is the way of faith—faith in God, and faith in him who leads us through the dark waters as the “pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (Heb 12:2). Jesus had begun his ministry by a baptism in the Jordan. Now he is to complete his baptism by a total immersion in which all the powers of darkness will roll over him

Now, at the outset and as the ground for their reassurance, he tells them that there are many “abiding places” and all of them “in my Father’s house.” The Father’s house…is not a building made with hands. Nor is it another world beyond death. It is that new dwelling place of God in the Spirit which is constituted by the resurrection of Jesus from the dead…The death and resurrection of Jesus will inaugurate a new possibility–namely, that while we are still on the way, we shall have “a place” where we can already taste the joy of journey’s end, the joy of lovers’ meeting, the joy of being “with the Lord” (I Thess. 4:17)…He is going to preapre a place for them where they may abide with him and he with them…there are many “abiding places” on the way, but they are all within the Father’s house.

-Leslie Newbigin, The Light has Come: An Exposition of the Fourth Gospel (178-179), emphasis mine

Isaiah 49:1-6 (ESV)

“Listen to me, O coastlands,
and give attention, you peoples from afar.
The Lord called me from the womb,
from the body of my mother he named my name.
He made my mouth like a sharp sword;
in the shadow of his hand he hid me;
he made me a polished arrow;
in his quiver he hid me away.
And he said to me, ‘You are my servant,
Israel, in whom I will be glorified…’
And now the Lord says,
he who formed me from the womb to be his servant,
to bring Jacob back to him;
and that Israel might be gathered to him–
for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord,
and my God has become my strength–
he says;
‘It is too light a thing that you should
be my servant
to raise up the tribes of Jacob
and to bring back the preserved of Israel;
I will make you as a light for the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

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Filed under the Praying Life

Holy Tuesday: ‘For What Binds Us’

Throughout Holy Week I’ll be directing you with artwork, words, and poems that are working themselves out in me. I’m thrilled to be sharing Jan Richardson‘s images with you each day. Her work is influenced by the liturgy and the contemplative life and it speaks so boldly to me. She has been gracious enough to allow us to have access to them. (Also, if you’re looking for more from her, she has a wonderful Lenten series on her blog, The Painted Prayerbook, right now.)

"For What Binds Us" Copyright © 2012 Jan Richardson Images. All Rights Reserved.

The Binding

by Cathy Song

We love them more than life,
these children who are born to us.

How did Mary endure it?
It was more than she bargained for,
the white lily light,
the passive acceptance of the sacred seed.
For the daughter of the well at dusk,
it was a moment of vanity.
He had taken notice.

He was like the stranger
who rides into town,
who in his worldliness
sees the gullible girl
and sweeps her off her feet.
He takes her by storm,
there is nothing subtle about Him,
the whirlwind courtship,
the messengers trumpeting exotic flowers.

The night she opened the window,
it was raining flowers,
as she knew it would be,
and it covered her,
like a wedding dress,
like snow.

But the child in her arms was real.
The weight of him was real.
And in her diligence–
the setting of the evening bread upon the table,
the terror any mother feels
in a crowded marketplace
when for an instant
she thinks her child is missing–
she thought
He might relent, choose another,
and she could live anonymously with her son
among the dwellers of the earth,
the carpenters, the fishermen, and the thieves.

Once she held him, she was lost.
Her body turned against her,
was made maternal
so that she saw nothing else
but the child who walked further each day into light.
How could she have known this?
That the son would resist her
every attempt to bind him,
that in his loneliness he would belong
to everyone and to no one,
forfeit what welled within her
in order to save the nameless, the cripple, the unspeakable.

She was duped into thinking
when the time came
she could give the child up,
and in exchange for the son, her sacrifice,
she could receive the heavenly reward:
candles and cathedrals,
inexhaustible light–
the thousand statues of herself.

Who would want such eternal life?
Better the grunt and toil,
the hog’s blissful sleep,
a child who needed her.
She prayed that He might forget the pact.
And then the praying stopped.
Why call attention to herself?
Let silence be her accomplice
and with the less devout she could slip
unnoticed with her son toward a simpler destiny.
Like fugitives, always under the cover of night.

In the son’s greatest hour,
he loved her
not more, not less
than he loved the soldier who wept at his feet.
It was cruel to ask that of her,
of any woman allowed to bear that weight.

from Cathy Song’s Frameless Windows, Squares of Light, 1988, Penguin Books.

But the eyes of Christ which see the splendor of God’s light are the same eyes which have seen the lowliness of God’s people. The same eyes that penetrate God’s eternal mystery have also seen into the innermost being of men and women, who are created in God’s image. They saw Simon, Andrew, James, Philip, Nathaniel and Levi and called them to dicipleship. They saw Mary of Magdala, the widow of Naim, the lame, the lepers and the hungry crowd and offered the healing and new life. They saw the sadness of the rich young ruler, the fear of the disciples on the lake, the loneliness of his own mother under the cross and the sorrow of the women at the tomb…

From Behold the Beauty of the Lord, Henry Nouwen (55-56)

“Present therefore in their daily celebration of the eucharist and at the saying of their offices is this reminder that death is part of life. It is of course a vivid visual statement of what St Benedict is saying in the Rule, ‘Keep death daily before your eyes’ (4.47). But he is also simultaneously saying, ‘Look forward to holy Easter with joy and spiritual longing’ (49.7). So once again he expects us to hold two things in tension. Death and life are inseparable. Dying and behold we live. Here is the ultimate in contradiction. Here is utter foolishness to the point of absurdity. We lose our life to gain it.”

Living with Contradiction by Esther de Waal (113-114)


Filed under the Praying Life