Monday, November 30, 2009
"I am waiting for the grace to endure my wilderness. Come quickly, Lord Jesus."
So, last night I was preparing the Advent prayers I'm praying at Prayer Plain and Simple on Beliefnet. I began the first week's batch by focusing on the annunciation and infancy Gospel narratives, and for the second week I progressed to Jesus' life on earth.
I was really moved by the Lord's temptation. You've gotta love Jesus for taking the identification thing far enough to become man. But he totally rawks for being a man subject to temptation.
“Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days He was tempted by the devil.” Luke 4:1-2 NRSV
I'm not sure I've ever seen it quite the way it hit me last night. There's Jesus, right after his baptism. The Holy Spirit takes on a bodily form and descends on him like a dove. God's big, audible voice resounds from heaven, "YOU ARE MY SON, THE BELOVED. IN YOU I AM WELL PLEASED." And everybody hears it. You'd think he'd be totally hyped, and from there start preaching, hanging around questionable people, turning water to wine, healing, loving, driving out money changers, raising the dead, and getting his feet washed. I would have. That was a heckuva endorsement!
But instead he was led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness. Now that is curious, and it certainly softened my ideas about what the wilderness experience is meant to be. I always thought they were arid, difficult places full of temptation, and screeching of my soul's wild beasts. I hated the wilderness! But maybe I've had it all wrong. Perhaps, the wilderness is one of the best places to meet God, because it's so uninhibited, untamed, undomesticated. The wilderness can be down right majestic and beautiful. Sure, the tempter is there. And my personal wild beasts, but God has to show up in some pretty "wild" ways, too.
I began Advent full of zeal. And... um... the next day, I'm in the wilderness. I'm bothered that I can't sleep at all at night, and how it disorders my entire day. I'm a little snappy and irritable, and Lord! I feel so busy. Yet, Jesus is revealing himself to me with such lovely tenderness. Maybe it's time for me to embrace the insomnia, and fatigue, and irritability as if they were friends that reveal my constant need to be on my knees, watching and waiting in wonder. And just maybe, embracing Christ in this wild place is the very thing that will prepare me for the ministry.
I guess we'll see.
"Come, Lord Jesus. Do not delay."
Sunday, November 29, 2009
Sunday, First Day of Advent
Keeping the Night Watch
A few years ago, I had no idea what Advent was, but something inside of me longed for it. I remember the joy I felt making my first Advent wreath. But I felt guilty. I was Eastern Orthodox at the time, and many of our beloved brothers and sisters in the Eastern Church do not watch for Christ in the same ways, using the same language as the Western beloved of God. I never used that wreath. Besides, I was deadly combination of ignorant and legalistic. That year my Advent was doomed by my personality.
A few years later I was a little brassier, and purchased an Advent wreath from off the net. It was inexpensive--I didn't have much money--and oh my! It was an itty-bitty thing. Much smaller than I thought it would be from the picture. I think I laughed when I saw it. Sometimes you really do get what you pay for. Thank goodness I have an itty-bitty house now. If only I knew where it was--the Advent wreath, that is. Most days I'm clear on the location of the house.
Anyhoo, in a way I'm glad I can't find my itty-bitty Advent wreath. The lack of it urges me toward greater creativity and simplicity. Y'all know I am known for my excesses, especially when I'm beginning a journey. I lose steam rather quickly, then, if I'm really showing out, wheeze my way to the finish line. That is, if I run the full course at all. I tend to drop out in the middle of the race--same old, same old. But I'm learning, y'all, and very slowly, I'm changing. Most of all, I'm praying most urgently that God will give me regularity.
I know that sounds like I may need more fiber in my diet, but that's not the kind of regularity I'm thinking of. I mean the strength and fortitude to carry out the devotionals most meaningful to me, regularly. With the 'd' word: discipline. As I prepare to begin working on the new monastic rule of life for the Beloved Community, I've been reading a bit of the rule of St. Benedict. I so admire him. He stressed moderation and said his rule was for beginners. I love that it's okay with St. Benedict to be a beginner, even if you think you're an old veteran. But I am truly a beginner, lovies. How few steps I've really taken on this journey to Christ's eternal embrace.
One book I read was by Joan Chittister, and it was in those pages that I began to absorb so much about being consistent in my spiritual practices. I'm generally a sprinter, not a marathon runner. But marathon runners, by necessity, have to pace themselves. This makes them a little more prepared for the hard things, like "hitting a wall." I seem to have a lot of walls in my spiritual life. And I do hit them. Hard. So, I'm learning to go easy, and do what I can do, without making all kinds of excuses for my failures that are just plain lazy.
So, I'm having a very stripped down Advent this year. No making ornaments. I just don't have it in me. No Jesse Tree. I'm not even pressed about the missing Advent wreath, but a few things are vital--non-negotiable, in fact.
First of all, I'm not going to ignore the holy longing I feel to be with Christ. Oh sure, it may be that winter is dawning, but I'm going to accept whatever is causing this deep need in me to spend quality time with my Beloved, be it Holy Spirit, or brain chemistry driven, as a gift. Yesterday, the temperatures were in the fifties and sunny. I stood outside in the backyard amid the naked trees in my bare feet. I've never done that in November in Michigan. That sure took the sting off any fear of winter I may have. What a gift that experience was. It was if Christ were saying, I will be your warmth and sun, even in this sparse, brown season.
Second, I'm really looking deep within. Too much of my behavior is my perception about what I think other people expect of me, which is more than a little arrogant. I mean, seriously, who's sitting around thinking about what they want me to do, other than me? I don't even think my family does cares what I do. So, I'm putting all of my desire to please people aside, and asking myself what devotions am I truly drawn to. What makes my soul sing? What gives me peace? What is so compelling I can no longer ignore it?
What am I pregnant in my soul with?
A few answers come to mind immediately.
I don't care how Christ urges me to seek Him, I can't seem to get away from my desire to pray the Liturgy of Hours. Oh, but my sweet winsome Christ is telling me to be gentle with my soul. Nothing harsh, as St. Benedict affirms. So, I'm going back to my private praying of the hours, but in simple ways. Seven sacred pauses during my day. With an itty bitty baby step start. No beating myself up, or fumbling all over complicated prayer books. It's simply a matter of being intentional--something I desperately need in several areas of my life. But what if this awareness, this ability to pause and listen for the holy, were to begin here, this Advent? Wouldn't that be grand? St. Teresa of Avila says, "prayer is a matter of love." I'm going to let that one rest in my soul womb awhile, too. Can you imagine what prayer as a matter of love looks like?
Finally, the only other Advent devotion I'm going to practice, is watching and waiting in wonder. Anyone can do this. You need no candles, or particular prayers, or special devotions. You can do it anyway you wish. This year, I'm doing this devotion here on Blogger and on Facebook and Twitter, and I'm inviting you to join me. Once a day--more if I'd like--I'm going to quiet myself, go within and find my most naked intention and honest prayers, and post them the blog entry for that day, or on my status line on Facebook and Twitter, as I await the hope of Christ to come and grant me my request. For example:
Step 1: Take a few deep, cleansing breaths: in and out; in and out; in and out.
Step 2: Look within. Ask yourself: what am I longing for Christ to do right now?
Sit with that need for a bit.
Step three: Offer it to God by praying as follows:
"I am waiting for the peace of body and mind that brings sound sleep. Come, Lord Jesus, do not delay."
I think that's is a great intention for an insomniac like me.
On Christmas Day, I will post:
"I am thankful that Jesus Christ Has come; He is the hope of my peace of body and mind, that brings sound sleep." This will go along with any other intentions I've put out there during the four week period. Don't worry, you can totally cut and paste.
Okay, it's almost 5:30 a.m. Usually, if I'm not asleep by five, I stay home from Mass, because I'm way too tired to get up a few hours later. I don't think I'll do that this morning though. I need to be with my soul family, as we sit together, waiting for the Lord.
My beloved friends, may this Advent fill you with holy longing, that only Jesus satisfies, and may God grant you peace.
Watching and waiting in wonder,
photo by Larry LaBonte, "Waiting."
Sunday, November 22, 2009
I have to admit, I'm a huge fan of Thomas Merton. Not just a fan, I'm a groupie. A lover. Practically a fiend.
Today I went to the big Central library in Lexington to get some reference materials to prepare for the Advent prayers for Beliefnet I'll be writing until we welcome the Christ Child. But don't make me think about that assignment, due tomorrow, smack dab in the middle of my deadline Monday--yes, the day after tomorrow--for The Exorsistah 3. Anyway, I picked up an Advent book of some of his writings: Advent and Christmas with Thomas Merton. How could I resist?
I have another confession to make. I've spent several days beating back fear, literally, for the love of God. It's something I think all of us believers have to do in this treacherous world. And these weren't big ticket item fears. I wasn't terrified that something would happen to Ken or the kids, or my Beloved Community members. Or even any of you. It's easy for me to entrust you all into God's hands. No, I'm afraid I was feeling a little sorry for myself, and somewhat lost. X3 is the last book I'm contracted for. I want to say I won't be a writer anymore after that, but that doesn't have the ring of truth to it, or love; for I love to write. Maybe I just won't be published. I'm not sure what I'll be, if publishing opportunities will continue, if I'll just run the Living Room, or what.
You may know that on Wednesday I turned in the book about St. Teresa of Avila to my lovely editor and friend, Jon Sweeney. Even that I've had to release to God's care not knowing how it's going to play out. I mean, will I ever do another book for them. I LOVE that house. But I have no idea. I love all my publishing houses. None of them are necessarily clamoring to have me back. And I understand. Publishing is a numbers game, and my numbers are poor. At least the last I heard from Jon was, "It's looking good, my dear." My dear has to be hopeful, right? "It's looking good" ain't bad either.
Anyway, in these last few days, never have I needed Teresa words, God alone is enough, more. But I've found beginning to trust God with everything, to believe He's enough for the whole enchilada that's my life... well, it's got a heckuva learning curve. It's disorienting some times to tell you the truth, because on this journey I can't see too far ahead on the road. Those of you who are old enough may remember back in the day a wildly popular slogan was weirdly, "God is my co-pilot." And yes, even as a child I thought it sounded crazy. No way I'd make Him the co-pilot for my journey. He's totally the Pilot, and I'm hanging on for dear life, often screeching because, I'm not going to lie, God is a crazy driver sometimes. He trusts Himself waaaay more than I do.
But sometimes the ride is as smooth as a cruise down Winchester Road in Lisa's convertible. This is what I know and really, really believe: I'm going to be some kind of spiritual director. Stop laughing, I'm serious. It's the cry of my heart! I just want to walk with folks as a soul friend. Who's going to finance that you ask? That's a good question. I've asked the same thing. It's one of those mysteries God will have to reveal to both of us. If he tells you before He tells me, let a sistah know.
I've already wrestled with the writing thing, so I know I'm going to continue, published or not. But don't think it's easy to release being published when I've made my living this way for the last four years. And that leaves an important question in my mind:
Who will I write for now? It's a good question, right?
So, just after I finish the last chapter for the night, and started trying to wind down--so hard after a story starts flowing--I grabbed the Merton book and fell right into this lovely, amazing quote that has nothing to do with Advent. But oh, how it echoes the yearning of my heart. Tom says:
"I don't want to speak to you as an author, or a narrator, not even a philosopher, but simply as a friend. I would like to speak to you as your alternative self....If you listen you will hear things that will be said that perhaps aren't written in [my] book. And that will be coming, not from me, but from the One who lives and speaks inside both of us."
You have no idea how much pressure that takes off me.
In Church, at my old parish, we frequently sang a certain hymn. I mean we sang it a lot, like Emergent churches used to sing "I Can Sing of Your Love Forever" and "Shout to the Lord." I'm serious. And I miss the song I heard in my parish so often. It's called, "The Table of Plenty."
"Come to the feast of heaven and earth.
Come to the table of plenty.
God will provide for all that we need,
here at this table of plenty."
The next verses are an invitation of sorts, to eat without money, to drink without price and sit where saint and sinner are friends, as we partake of a feast of gladness which will ultimately sustain us. The song assures me that my fields will flower in fullness and my home will flourish in peace. As I type, I'm a little astounded at the beginnings of this harvest in my life, book contracts, or no book contracts.
But I still have my bad days, and the last few were notably difficult emotionally.
I've decided to trust. God really will provide for all that I need; He's done it before, and He'll do it again. For one who's endured so many falls, I always seem to tumble onto a soft landing pad. And it won't be so hard now because, once again, Tom has given me my answer. I have to be a friend, and trust God with the rest.
It certainly won't hurt to try things this way.
Proverbs 17:17, "A friend loves at all times."
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
I'm in the Twilight Zone. Read about it Here:
and may God grant you peace!
Monday, November 16, 2009
Everything is harder for me in November. I have Seasonal Affective Disorder, so much of this has to do with the shortening of days. Unfortunately, I don't usually benefits from the gift of the morning sun daylight savings time offers, either. In November it's common for me to go to sleep around sunrise. If God passes out new mercies with the rising of the sun, I tuck them into bed with me; they're my best chance for rest and a modicum of relief from pain.
The rest of why this particular November has been hard has to do with my nagging anxiety that despite the huge amount of rewrites I've done--it's taken me more time to revise God Alone is Enough than it took to write the first draft--I still won't be turning it in until later today. And every day past my deadline--weeks ago--has felt like an albatross around my neck.. I couldn't stop myself from worrying: about the deadline; about the work; about whether or not Paraclete Press, or anyone else for that matter, will ever want me to do another book. And I've been crushed by unrelenting sorrow. Y'all know what I do when I'm sad: eat and languish. So, yeah. I look and feel, like a beached whale.
I just wanted to do well. I want God Alone is Enough to be witty and insightful, and draw people to Jesus, but I haven't been sure I've accomplished that at all. Often Teresa's ever shifting terminology confused me, or concepts that are just plain hard to describe refused to yield to my efforts to simplify them. The stuff in her books are totally counter cultural, too, Christian culture included! I've had moments in which I begged Jesus to help me, and I've earnestly asked Teresa for her intercession. But more than a few times I've collapsed into bed with my personals vices, sweets and despair. I don't know how many times I've asked myself, why I'm doing such a crazy thing as writing a book about St. Teresa. What have I, a 45 year old, sick, tired, black woman to do with a sixteenth century mystic?
Do you ever wonder why you were chosen to do some task that soars about your head? And believe me, I was chosen. This book deal dropped out of the sky and landed on me. Sometimes I think Teresa hand-picked me.
She was part Jewish, you know, and knew all about racial discrimination. She was also chronically ill. Amid persecution, she clung to the knowledge that Christ was her Beloved, and at times, no one took her seriously for this. She was a woman, writing in a man's world. Hmmm. Looking at all that makes me wonder if maybe it was God who threw us together after all.
But that doesn't the work easier.
So, the night before last I went to sleep at a wicked early hour, only to awaken to the sounds of an argument that had no business happening in a house full of love. I confess my response was less than charitable to, which gave me another reason to feel bad. My rule is, if I don't get to sleep before 5 a.m. I don't go to Mass, but despite this, and the fact that I resembled an angry zombie ready to eat the brains of the family members I had to referee, I got my stormy pair back to their respective corners and fled to Mass.
Oh, but lovies! The sun shined so very brightly yesterday. Temps were in the upper sixties, and the walk warmed me so I had to shed my lightweight coat. Because I moved slowly, however, I missed some of Mass. St. Peter Claver's is growing exponentially. Unless you like to sit in the back, you don't want to get there late. But I dutifully sat where the usher led me: a chair behind the back pew, right beside a magnificent stained glass window.
We have several stunning stained glass windows at St. Peter Claver's, which represent the usual suspects. There's Jesus, St. Peter Claver, St. Martin de Porres, and a few I haven't figured out yet. I happened to sit at the feet of one I didn't know, a nun, based on her clothing. But her face was radiant, and so beautiful, and strangely, sitting so close to her made me feel like I was in the comforting presence of a motherly ally. It felt as if she were hugging me.
Mass was lovely. We really have a great parish and remarkable priest. Somewhere after communion, at the time when my soul is happiest, I glanced at the window again. And that's when I noticed something about my new friend. In her right hand was a feathery quill pen. In her left was a book. There's only one saint I know of who is always pictured with a pen and a book. My new friend was St. Teresa of Avila.
God is kind to give us little signs all around us to let us know we're exactly where we should be. If only we had eyes to see them. I my "coincidence" was His providence letting me know that He'd indeed placed me in the circle of her prayers, and as she was fond of sayings, I was to let nothing upset me.
I'm going with God this morning, and turning the book in with radical trust. May you too see signpost that point you to the grace you've been given, and you have been given it, in your own day.
P.S. Here's a little Teresa for inspiration today:
Let nothing upset you,
let nothing startle you.
All things pass;
God does not change.
Patience wins all it seeks.
Whoever has God lacks nothing:
God alone is enough.