Saturday, March 22, 2014

thoughts on lent

This is the third year that my Lenten fast has come in the form of detaching from Facebook for 40-something days. I’ve given up caffeine before (great way to get a Lenten headache and develop latent Lenten irritability). I’ve passed up sweets, TV, and various other components of my day to day existence, but none has exposed my soul to the degree that fasting from Facebook has. That sounds odd, maybe even petty, and I’m mildly embarrassed to admit it. But it’s true.

The thing is, though my other Lenten fasts have required some measure of sacrifice (did I mention the caffeine headache?), or at least heightened awareness, none has really felt like more than an inconvenience. Knowing that the purpose of Lenten fasting is to create spaces to pause and consider God, consider what this season before Easter really signifies in our lives, I would occasionally attempt to turn a caffeine headache into a pained prayer, or a sweet tooth moment into a brief entrĂ©e for the holy into the common. If I am honest, though, my awareness of God’s presence was not heightened to any great degree during those particular Lenten seasons. Fasting from Facebook, however, brings into bold clarity something of which I am only vaguely aware most of the time:

I am deeply lonely a lot of the time, and I attempt to use Facebook to fill in my empty spaces.

Well now, that’s embarrassing. As I said, I am vaguely aware of this most of the time. That’s because if I am honest with myself, I know full well that Facebook is actually a pretty shitty antidote to loneliness. Using Facebook as a substitute for human interaction is like using Runts to fill a fruit craving (on what planet does that actually taste like a banana?). I open the page, hope for a notification, maybe scan some photos and statuses (stati?), as if that actually means I’ve had some form of interaction with someone or shared life with them in any significant way. I get a little disappointed, maybe even jaded, and close the window, only to reopen it as soon as a pang of loneliness (or boredom) hits, as if the odds of the Facebook-Fix healing my heart this time are somehow higher than they were 2 minutes ago. Unlikely, and I know it, but I twitch like an addict and type in the address again.

Enter Lent, when no matter how big the twitch is, maintaining my integrity means staying my hand and sitting with my loneliness. It isn’t a fleeting craving for sugar, or a moment before Tylenol kicks in, or a brief interlude while I figure out what to do with the TV off. It’s this huge space in me that aches more than itches. And there, in the vacuum, a space opens for God. There my awareness of my own heart is heightened, and my mind is recalled to a recognition that he has promised to fill that vacuum in a way that no one else will ever be able to do. I recall memories of times in my life when I leaned more fully into the belief that he belongs in that space. And I am keenly aware that these days I daily post a No Vacancy sign so that Facebook can promise company and stand me up again. And again. And again.

I wish I could say that I am awesome, and that Easter comes and goes and I have stopped inviting Facebook over for dinner quite as often. That would be a lie. But I can say that with each passing Lent, I become a little more aware, a little less satisfied by my box of relational Runts. My prayer is that in pausing, in being aware, I also begin to develop deeper habits of inviting God to fill those empty spaces with himself, and let Facebook take its rightful place in the periphery. Fun, but not a fix. Thank God for Lent. 

Saturday, July 20, 2013

on staying

He said ludicrous things.
Stories and snippets and zingers,
ludicrous and beautiful.
Seeds, pearls, yeast, trees.
Trash heaps and teeth gnashing
and kingdoms.
Everyone was there.
Women around the bread oven,
fisherman and farmers
rich men
And then the deal breaker.
Flesh and blood, a feast.
They all heard him, the madman.
They heard him, and most of them
did what any sane person ought to do.
They turned around,
and wandered home to the alleys,
across the fields,
back to their boats and palaces
and undisturbed consciences.

A few stayed.
As crazy as he was, I suppose,
but they trusted him.
Years later, with their crops long failed
and their fishing nets rotted through,
they ate flesh, drank blood.
They dined on redemption
like kings at the table.
They caught glimpses,
and saw within themselves
seeds, pearls, yeast, trees.

(inspired by John 6:53-69)

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

retrospect II: he called, but I wasn't home

(I came across a poem I started in March of 2012 and decided to finish it. It's the follow up to one I wrote in June of 2006, called retrospect: what I found instead.)

I've gone looking for Peace before.
One time I drove for hours,
crossed a state line, walked unfamiliar streets
where I imagined I might find him.
Peace wasn't there. 
I met his brother instead-
He sneaked up silently
and kept me company on the drive home. 
That time, it was enough for me.

Lately, though, I am missing him. 
I think of Peace's warmth,
his arm around my shoulder,
and I find myself in search of him again.
I'd drive to Cheyenne, 
but he wouldn't be there.
And I probably won't find him next week 
in the desert
on the sandstone 
in the endless expanse of sky.

So I write him letters,
I look at maps,
I meander down side streets and 
I ask others if they have seen him.
Some have
but they can't say more;
They can't say why Peace eludes me.

His brother-
His brother, Quiet, likely knows,
but I elude Quiet just as Peace eludes me.
I fidget
I search
I consult maps, friends, books.
I keep company with Noise, instead. 

I drive across state lines
again and again,
leaving Quiet
alone on my couch,
with the answers
I've gone looking for. 

Sunday, April 28, 2013

life after terror

I often hear people talk about a post 9-11 world. When I was working with elementary school students last year and would see birth dates from 2005, it would occasionally strike me that they would know of the attacks on the World Trade Center only as an historical fact. Co-workers commented about how these kids would never know what the world was like before 9-11. And honestly, I could never quite wrap my head around what that meant. Is the world really all that different, other than the fact that my odds of getting strip searched at the airport are significantly higher as time goes on? Maye it's basic for everyone else, but despite the fact that I was a junior in college in 2001 and had plenty of pre-9-11 experience, I just couldn't see the difference all that clearly.

Several months ago, there was a mini-earthquake in Lexington. Most people didn't feel it. But I was alone on the 15th floor of an office building, where a small tremor is amplified, and I felt the whole building shake. The thing is, I don't associate Kentucky with earthquakes, so it didn't cross my mind as a possible explanation. What did cross my mind was an image of the whole building tumbling down around me ala a bomb or some other attack, and I quickly left the building. In time it became clear that all was ok, and I went back to my office, but it took a while to shake the sense of terror.

A few weeks ago, I was walking out of the same office building when I heard a rumble. I still don't know what it was, but I do know that I spent most of the walk from my office to the pharmacy thinking about whether the phone lines would be tied up if I needed to tell my husband that it's ok, I wasn't in the building when "it" happened--whatever horror "it" might have been. The strange thing was that it was sort of a mundane thought process. I was casually making a contingency plan. That's when it began to sink in to me. That was when I thought, "THIS is what they mean by a post 9-11 world."

Recently, I considered asking a stranger to watch my things (mostly my backpack) while I ran to the restroom at Barnes and Noble. And then I pictured a shredded black backpack on a sidewalk in Boston, and I thought, "I don't know if that situation will feel safe to anyone anymore." A girl at the library asked the same favor of me today, and though I did it without hesitation, I was a little more antsy to see her return than I would have been a month ago. I live in a post-Boston marathon world.

Since that mini-earthquake, I have been thinking about what all this means for the life of faith. I think of John's words: "There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear." That's one of those verses that's beautiful as a platitude, perhaps an embroidered pillow or a bookmark, but completely unsettling when taken seriously. Take it in for a moment. There is a love so deep and high and long and wide that it actually eclipses fear entirely. It is the trump card of all trump cards. THAT is the love of God. It's an ocean I dip my toe in sometimes.

Faith that overcomes fear, that banks on the trump card even when the ante has been raised immeasurably--would be an astounding statement to a watching world. I'm wrestling with that today.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

watersheds and wanderings

It's been a while. And by that, I mean way, way too long. It's not that I haven't started to write a few times. There are several unfinished drafts floating around in a file on my desktop. It would appear, however, that I haven't been able to complete a thought in almost a year now. Perhaps that should worry me. Perhaps it has just been one long transition, or series of transitions, and I haven't really had my feet on the ground for a while. At some point, I suppose, if I am to retain that precious part of myself that is a writer, I will have to be content with publishing an unfinished thought or two...

I write now from Kentucky, where I have entered the arena of the social sciences at the PhD level, no small transition from my M.A. in theology. As a Christian, it has been disorienting at best. I have stepped from the world of corporate prayer, to a world where Christianity is assessed through the framework of Durkheim's collective effervescence. I wrestle. I shift in my seat. I ponder effervescence and the reality of God. At times I feel like I've lost my moorings, like I am one pinky-hold away from losing my faith. A little numb and a lot lost describes the general goings on of my heart most of the time these days. 

The wrestling. My history professor in college (shout out to you, Dr. Mullins) spoke often of "watershed moments" in history. They are the moments that redefine all the moments that come before and after: case in point, the Enlightenment. What came before is now considered mostly dark and uninformed. What comes after, is.... enlightened. What comes after is the light of positivist reason, empirical truth at last. As a student of Theology, a Christian, and an intellectual, I often find myself standing atop the watershed of the Enlightenment, looking down one side and then the other, wondering if the division is necessary, questioning assumptions about which side is closer to truth than the other.   

A post-Enlightenment world is the water we swim in, to be sure. All the more in my current studies. The age of reason. The power of science. Homo mensura: man (and all his unequivocal data) the measure. I'm not dissing rationality and empirical science. I'm all for discovering patterns in human interaction (hence, dedicating my brain in slavery to sociology for a season) and I'm a big fan of a heliocentric universe. Data is great and useful and powerful. But here's the part that troubles me. This water we swim's a blip in the grand scheme of history. A few hundred years. No much older than our country (which is given far too much watershed shed status than is deserved, I would suggest). Can it really be the measure of all that has come before? Am I really stupid to embrace mystery and a bit of divine nonsense? Paul wrote to the Corinthians, telling them that the wisdom of God would seem like foolishness to the world. The implication here, of course, is that embracing the wisdom of God will make us look like fools. In this stage of my life, I chafe against looking like a fool much more than I have before.

Talking to a friend about this, I was reminded of an experience I had in college. I remember it in detail. I remember that it wasn’t quite dark, just the dimmest shade of dusk. I was walking on a stretch of sidewalk next to married student housing, alone. It was cool but not cold. I had been wrestling with the nonsensical nature of the gospel message. It was ludicrous, really. I was restless on the inside, talking to God out loud, telling him that the whole thing was just crazy, and that I didn’t know what I thought about it anymore.

I heard it then as clearly as an audible voice. “This is where you leap.”

I literally stopped in my tracks that night. “This is where you leap” was not a reassurance that my beliefs made sense. It wasn’t even an argument against my claim that they were downright ludicrous. It was a call to faith. And I leaped into the most incredible adventure I could have asked for. Perhaps I am on the precipice again, and the decision before me is the same as it was that night on the sidewalk near married student housing.

I am realizing that, in reality, everyone is going on faith in some way or another. I mean, trusting the truth of the few hundred years of water flowing down on this side of the Enlightenment is still choosing a basket to put your eggs in and hoping it holds together.

It’s a pinky-hold, man. I’m out on the sidewalk again. I find myself longing for the listening ear of those who shared that campus with me. It's easing past the dimmest shade of dusk, and it's colder than before. "This is where you leap."

Here ends my disjointed thinking. This time, I will post it anyway.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Book Review: In Constant Prayer

I recently joined Book Sneeze, a project of Thomas Nelson, which offers readers a free copy of a book in return for posting a review. My first free book, authored by Robert Benson, is reviewed below:

In Constant Prayer addresses a topic only recently brought to the fore in many modern churches. The praying of the hours, or the Divine Office, has been used as a pattern of prayer, a unifying language of petition, for millennia. Throughout the book, Benson provides both an introduction to the practice as well as insight into its application in our 21st century lives. He boldly takes on many of the concerns and excuses commonly offered—busyness, inaccessibility, etc.—with humor and personal stories.

Though In Constant Prayer has many strong points, the fact that its key weaknesses lie within the first third of the book may prevent many readers from “hanging in there” long enough to appreciate its value. In his effort to present himself in a humble manner, proclaiming himself a non-expert in the subject, Benson goes a bit too far. Though I appreciate an author who refuses arrogance, I do expect the writer to express some level of credibility if I am going to believe his work is worth reading. Benson does not navigate this balance well. As well, some of his statements regarding the relationship between the ancient and modern church seem ill informed, especially as I come from a theology/church history background. Finally, the writing itself is often disjointed, as if Benson inserted some of his favorite quotes or brief thoughts where they simply didn’t fit in a cohesive way.

Overall, however, Benson offers excellent insight into common excuses, and does so in a way that is simultaneously gentle and bold. His humor is ever-present, and his words are consistently thought provoking and challenging. If you pick up this book, hang in there. The beginning may be rough, but the read is definitely worth it in the end.  

Saturday, February 25, 2012

letters from the waiting room

I have been antsy lately. Being restless isn’t all that strange for me, granted. I am a person of passion, and restlessness often follows close behind passion. But the trouble lately is I am antsy all the time. All the time. My days have become an unending stretch of edge-of-seat, hand-wringing antsiness. I feel like my heart has set up shop in a waiting room- waiting for news about my applications, waiting for word from a friend, waiting to know where we will be living next. Waiting for some change, some news, some salve for my unsettled insides.

It is understandable, then, that I have had a pretty hard time remaining present to anyone or anything lately. Last week, I found myself thinking that I would like to go to sleep and not wake up until I am on the far side of some of the things I am waiting for. The space between desire and fulfillment is one of great tension. I am exhausted from dwelling in it.

Thank God for weddings. In the weeks before my two friends recently tied the knot, with the big day rapidly approaching, last minute needs came to the fore (as they always do with weddings) and jobs were handed out. Despite the fact that the bride and groom are two dear friends of mine, I suddenly found myself annoyed with all talk of weddings, and I chafed at the thought of taking on any helping role. I didn’t know why, really. It isn’t like me. I tried to talk myself into a better mindset over and over, but oh man, I wanted to exit the whole scene and go sit alone in my waiting room.

The tension, the chafing persisted. Until the Tuesday preceding the wedding, when those of us at my church’s evening service somehow came around to discussing the notion that we—the body of Christ—belong to one another. I don’t even remember how we got there, or what the scripture was that week. All I know is that I heard it loud and clear on the inside: My community and I, we belong to one another- I to them, and they to me. I realized how self-centered I was becoming in my waiting room. How selfish it really is to want to go to sleep just to avoid the ache that can come with waiting. I realized that I belonged to people who needed me to be awake, to people who needed me to be present in the moment and not just on the far side of my restlessness. This included my soon-to-be-wed friends. And so, in a dual-purpose event, two people I love got married and I got a seismic shift on the inside. I entered fully into the occasion. It was an exhausting and beautiful weekend, both life-giving and full of unexpected joys.

I got a seismic shift, but not a salve. This is still a letter from the waiting room. Still waiting for news, waiting for word from a friend, waiting. And it still hurts. In the midst of it, though, I am finding life in the in-between. I am a little more aware of the present moment, a little more alert to those to whom I belong. Yes, thank God for weddings. And in the end, thank God for waiting rooms where, if I am paying attention, I will often find God himself keeping me company and speaking to my antsy heart.