Tag Archives: rest

{Practicing Benedict} Work and Prayer and Rest

“Idleness is the enemy of the soul. Therefore all the community must be occupied at definite times in manual labour and at other times in lectio divina.” (The Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 48)

One of the things that makes St. Benedict’s Rule so significant in the canon of ancient Christian writings, is that he had an unusual sense of balance and gentleness. He wrote at a time (7th century) when many believers were burdening themselves under a weight of self-induced abuse (as a way of worshipping and feeling Christ’s pain) and were choosing to sacrifice community for the sake of enlightenment (a lifestyle that Benedict saw as unhealthy and unbiblical). He wrote against the life of the hermit. He wrote with a practical understanding of holistic worship. He understood that our bodies need care as much as our souls need nourishing. And he wrote with grace offered.

What I loved about the small amount of time I’ve spent at monasteries was the opportunity to see monks in their daily living. Yes, there was the liturgy of the hours and the eating and the time alone for prayer. But there was also the morning work because somebody has to fix the stopped-up toilet and somebody has to make a living around there. At St. Andrews in Valleyrmo, there was a ceramics shop and several monks worked daily crafting and creating. At the monastery in Pecos, New Mexico, a nun was well known for her weaving. It was her work. She wove and she sold it and she prayed.

We often define ourselves by separate categories. We are spiritual and physical and emotional and relational. And those layers are not separated into tidy sections. The spiritual is shaped by the physical. The relational forms the emotional. To care for another, to offer water to a thirsty child, is to worship.

So, yes to St. Benedict and his simple message: “Idleness is the enemy of the soul.” We pray and we work. We study scripture because in it we find the word of life, and then we live and engage and serve.

Don’t be mistaken. There is a difference between idleness and rest. There’s a difference between blind striving and hard work. How do we know where one stops and the other begins? We know who we are in Christ. We believe in grace and in God’s deep love for us. We work out of a healthy knowledge of our own value because we know it is not a result of our accomplishments. We work knowing that our hope is in the one who offers rest at the end of the day, at the end of the week.

Work and prayer. Work and prayer. Always knowing who gives work, who calls us to work, who equips us for work, who brings the day to a close and calls us back to the candle burning in the window of the stone chapel, where the monks chant the Psalms…

Return to your rest, my soul,
for the Lord has been good to you.

Psalm 116:7

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Poem-a-Day Friday: Sarah C. Harwell

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I haven’t been reading my poem-a-day this week. But I’ve been thinking about a poem by my friend Sarah Harwell. She wrote this poem back when we studied together at Syracuse. When I first read it, I loved it. But it hasn’t been until now, years later, where I’ve come to understand the ritual and struggle of begging a child into sleep: the pushing toward and holding on all at once.

The past three nights in my parents’ house have been ridiculous attempts at swaying my son to close his eyes. “But Mom! I sleep with my eyes open!” It hasn’t been pretty. And so, I hear this poem in my head while I sit on the edge of his bed, pushing him toward the sleep realm, listening to his whining, telling him one more story…

(“Dead” was first published in Poetry magazine and then in a collection of poems called “Three New Poets,” which featured Sarah, along with two other genius poet-friends of mine, Courtney Queeney and Farah Marklevits. I love all three of them. The book is worth picking up. Read Mary Karr’s recommendation of this poem for a Washington Post series here.)

Dead

for Hannah

The way my daughter sleeps it’s as if she’s talking
to the dead. Now she is one. I watch her eyes roll
backwards in her head, her senses fold

one by one, and then her breathing quiets to a beat.
Every night she fights this silent way of being
with all the whining ammunition that she has.

She wins a tired story, a smothered song, the small
and willful links to life that carry her away.
Welcome to the Egyptian burial. She’s gone to Hades

with her stuffed animals. When she wakes,
the sad circles disappeared, she blinks
before she knows me. I have listened

to one million breaths of her. And every night
my body seizes when she leaves to go
where I am not, and yet every night I urge her, go.

Sarah C. Harwell

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Sweet Monday Morning Goodness

I read this words in bed yesterday morning, in my Christmas pajama pants (yes, I’m still wearing them). And I lifted my face up to the blank white ceiling and half prayed/ half sighed “Yes, Yes, Yes.” Oh, these words, friends. I pray they are just what you need to hear today as well…

“If I am appreciated for what I do, what I achieve, I am not in fact unique since someone else can do the same, and probably do it better than I. When my estimation and value of myself depends on what I can produce with my hands or with my mind, then in Henri Nouwen’s words I have allowed myself to be ‘a victim of the fear tactics of the world’. This is the self that so often leads me into activity to prove my value. But if productivity becomes my main way of overcoming self-doubt I lay myself open to rejection and criticism, and so to inner anxiety or depression. I am constantly checking myself and my achievements. So my productivity really only reveals how much I am driven by fear of not being up to standard and by an insatiable desire to justify myself. It is only when I am loved not for I do but for who I am that I can become myself, unique and irreplaceable.”

-Esther de Waal, Living with Contradiction: An Introduction to Benedictine Spirituality

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{Practicing Benedict} On rising immediately

“All should be prepared to rise immediately without any delay as soon as the signal to get up is given; then they should hurry to see who can get first to the oratory for the work of God, but of course they should do this with due dignity and restraint. The young should not have their beds next to each other but they should be placed among those of the seniors. In the morning, as they are getting up for the work of God, they should quietly give encouragement to those who are sleepy and given to making excuses for being late” (The Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 22).

Two years ago when I started this blog, I wrote a post on trying to get out of bed in the morning to pray and failing to “quietly give encouragement” to my husband (I wasn’t quiet or encouraging) so we could both get up for the “work of God.”

Isn’t it amazing that I’m still struggling with the getting out of bed for prayer thing? The truth is that getting up before 7 in the morning is just not an easy task for me. It may sound lazy and sloth-y (is that a word?) but I’ve come to accept that I am not a morning person. I know that responsible people go to bed at 10 and are up doing yoga at 5:30, but 10 pm is not when my body wants to sleep. My mind lights up at 10:30 and fires off ideas into my computer while I drink decaf tea. I love the late night checking off of lists and I love even more the late night reading of a good book.

But there’s a problem: I’m also a woman who loves the quiet of morning. In fact, the house at 6 am in the semi-darkness is my favorite time of day. I love getting to the couch with my coffee in hand. I have sweet memories in every place I ever lived of where I sat with my coffee for early morning prayer. Our last apartment in San Francisco had this view of the city that always made me gasp a little. And I could stand in the bay window and watch the sun rise toward me, like God was on route, heading my direction.

I want both. I want to stay up late and get up early. I want to spend all day with my babies and still have meaningful work. I want to use my time with my kids to develop  relationships with other women and still keep the house clean. I want to live everywhere and no where all at once. I want to be super human.

I want ease.

But my body demands rest, whether I like it or not. I have to make decisions about the way I spend my days and nights. Often making time for relationships calls for delayed toilet scrubbing. I cannot be both fully present to my work and fully present to my kids. Choices have to be made. When I chose to be stay-at-home mom, I chose the daily living with babies and this past fall, when I chose to hire a babysitter a few hours a week so I could write, I chose to give up those hours with my babies.

I’ve learned a secret that has been a long time coming: There is exactly enough time in each day. God designed our days for rest and play and work and prayer*. We are simply called to divide that time and rescue it, either from laziness or worthless striving.

Do you want to know what has changed the most in my life in the past two years? It’s simple really. I realized that I am God’s beloved. I learned to let God love me.

The greatest enemy of my life has been time. I’m a striver. (When I was in 4th grade, I carried around an egg timer every morning to make sure I only brushed my teeth for two minutes and got my shoes on in three. By the way, I failed and cried…a lot.) When my kids came into the picture, I felt out of control.

I wanted to be remarkable but I barely got my hair into a ponytail in those early days of August’s toddlerhood. Then I hated myself: for not praying, for not writing, for not exercising, for not cleaning the house, for not returning my friends’ phone calls and emails.      I didn’t love myself for loving August. Loving my son was too easy, I thought, too normal.

What is different now?   It’s a miracle really, but I think I am actually beginning to believe that Jesus loves me and that he redeems the places that I can’t reach. I’m actually believing that when I pray, Jesus is in love with me and when I don’t, Jesus in love with me. I’m actually believing that the moments I’m on the floor with my kids are miracles and the moments I’m not are blessings to my sanity.

And so, when I read St. Benedict’s words about rising immediately when I’m woken up, I most resonate with the quiet encouragement he calls on his monks to give to the ones who can’t get out of bed. I used to fear that God was waiting for me in those early mornings, stamping his feet, sick of my slothiness, marking my name in the “unremarkable” category. Now, when I wake, I believe God loves me like I’m loving the people in my home: the baby who comes into my bed for his morning milk, sleepy and cozy and moving from night into wakefulness; my husband who snoozes three times until I trick him into turning on the light. Mornings are for sweetness, despite our sticky eyes. Waking is a process we can either embrace or battle.

I’m learning that I make choices about the way my 24 hours will span out. So, I leave room in my day for an hour of dishes and spaces of time between lunch and nap time and when the boys and I need to be somewhere else. I know that if I want to make it out of bed for the miraculous hour between 6 and 7, I have to set the coffee the night before and I have to go to bed by 11, no matter how brilliant I think my thoughts are or how good the book is.

But, mostly, I’ve learned that the Spirit who calls me to “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” is also the Spirit who treats me with the same kindness, the same gentleness. Time is sacred and so is the One who gathers time into the cup of 24 hours and pours it out for us.

So, yes, wake up early and rise immediately. Yes, get your body to the place of prayer because the “work of God” matters. But remember that your God draws you in with cords of kindness. Live as the beloved you are.

*A little shout-out to Kathleen Norris who first put that idea in my head in the preface to The Cloister Walk.

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‘The hours illuminated and celebrated’: Thankful Tuesday

“Cast out from the luxuriant friendship and ease of the hours, we feel a blankness, a sameness, an aloneness, a lack of sense to all our doings and even our accomplishments. We attend the hushed memorial service for a dead friend and find the list of his achievements moves no one in the assembly, but the atmosphere does quicken in the crowded room when his daughter speaks of all the many things he loved and everything and everyone he held in his affections. The dogs, the chopping of wood, the homemade telescopes, the sunsets from the porch, his daughter’s children, the jokes that enlivened the long meetings at work. There is laughter surprise, revelation. Suddenly we know who we have lost, as if identity in the great measuring moment of its loss is based on on what we have loved and held in our affections and all the rest is chaff to be blown away by the arrival of death. Love is the measure of identity because in love is the timeless and untrammeled, the presence of things, the hours illuminated and celebrated like the steeple bell across the fields, filling the hollows and the hot afternoon to the brim…Death is not impressed by what we have done, unless what we have done leaves a legacy of life; death’s tide washes over everything we have taken so long to write in the sand…” (David Whyte, Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity)

  • A Sunday to sit outside on the porch in the barely cool breeze (or at least attempt to sit. There’s this baby who kept trying to dive head-first down the two steps off the deck).
  • For the t-shirt my friend Cat sent August last week in celebration of his hometown. “In West Philadelphia born and raised, on the playground is where I spent most of my days,” it says, honestly.
  • For days where I accomplish nothing because my baby is getting both front teeth at once. For hugs and songs and a stubborn boy who can’t stand that he doesn’t yet know how to walk.
  • For all four of us eating the same meal for dinner and liking it!
  • Clean dishes and clean laundry
  • Feeling the need to sing Jon Secada with my husband in the kitchen, the plastic toy rolling pin our shared microphone, our three year old begging us to stop. (Oh, this is just the beginning, honey.)
  • Clean white sheets on a bed
  • My college girls being back in town, Sunday night dinner with them at the diner
  • Today: a Tuesday night date night…Sushi!!!
  • A husband who wants to buy me cute new shoes
  • Candles and cloth napkins on a Monday night family dinner
  • The reminder that my day is not valuable because of what I can accomplish, but by the “illuminated hours” David Whyte speaks of. Those moments we hold up as beautiful in the midst of scratched off to-do lists and important correspondence.
  • Reading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to August before nap time. The joyful longing of a good chapter story…
  • That August goes to a school that celebrates Chinese New Year. That he came home from school saying: “Gung Hay Fat Choy!” carrying a hand-made paper dragon. (So thankful that some traditions we experienced in San Francisco are carrying over…)

It’s Thankful Tuesday. List them! Come on, you know you want to…

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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.

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Katniss, Katy Perry and my cat: a Thankful Tuesday list

  • Post-church Hohorst-famous pancakes with friends.
  • Realizing on the way home from Writer’s Group last night that I was alone in the car and I should definitely roll the window down, turn the radio up as loud as I could stand, and sing along to Cobra Starship (“You Make Me Feel…“).
  • A tired 3- year-old in tears at bedtime Sunday night. A husband who asks: “What do you need? What’s the matter?” The boy’s answer: “I just want to have a dance party before bed!” Do you think this mama can say no to a pre-bed dance party? Never. Hi Katy Perry. Let’s dance.
  • Two baby teeth pushing through my baby boy’s bright red gums and the little champ who hardly complains about his difficult lot.
  • That feeling when you know the Lord has been directing every aspect of your move: including the friendships waiting for you at this church you’ve found and love. I believe I’ve been steered toward these people and I’m grateful.
  • This trailer for The Hunger Games movie. Oh, yes, I love The Hunger Games. (I have a secret favorite genre and it involves post-apocalyptic, young adult fiction…judge me if you dare!)
  • Watching August and Chris spread peanut butter and jelly on bread, pack an apple and chips into a bag of food for the “man who doesn’t have a home” because August said we should. Really, could I be more thankful for anything this week?
  • A baby who has slept from 7 pm to 7 am WITHOUT WAKING twice this week. Anyone who knew our sleeping issues two months ago would do a little dance with me right now.
  •  A little boy who has finally forgotten about his imaginary friend GinGin (who told him not to poop in the potty) and who has become an fully potty trained child! He’s proud, we’re proud. You internet people are proud…
  • I didn’t think I would get to see any color on the trees here in Austin. But every once in a while I catch a dash of red popping out. It’s 80 in November and I’m still grateful every time I’m out at night without a scarf.
  • A husband who cleans the bathroom without being asked.
  • The miraculous wonder of cleaning with vinegar! How did I clean my home for so long with a lot of junk when all I needed was vinegar???
  • Early evenings and the joy of playing outside until the sun goes down.
  • A washing machine and a dryer. I hope I never forget how difficult it used to be and how good I’ve got it.
  • Advent is coming! Soon! I cannot wait for the start of the church year and the seasons of Advent through Epiphany. Yay yay yay.
  • How I’ve been thinking about time and transition and ritual and routine. And I’ve been feeling so grateful that God gives us the cushion of transition between major changes. That cushion seems to me to be a relative of rest. And I want to understand what that means. So, I’m grateful for grace in time. Maybe I’ll write about that sometime this week.
  • Ezra the cat who is sitting in my lap on his back with his legs spread. He looks like an old man in a recliner. And that makes me thankful.

It’s Thankful Tuesday! Tell us what you’re thankful for in the comments. Seriously. I’m going to be really sad if you just read this but don’t list what you’re thankful for! You’re my friend and I want to be thankful with you! I mean it.

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