Tag Archives: church calendar

Loyalty and Longing: My March Confession

Every Easter morning I can remember, my father would be singing up from the grave He aroooooossssse! purposefully, mischeviously even, as he poured pancake batter over the griddle and we scrambled to get ready for church. It was a family joke of sorts, sung sometimes on other mornings, tying the resurrection to the daily difficulty of getting out of bed. But I knew he sang the words with a deep reverence too. I knew that being made new was central to his theology.

Easter is almost here again. The bulbs we planted last fall are shooting up out of the ground, the temperature outside is slowly creeping upward, and I’m optimistically packing away the heavier coats and scarves. There is warm rain falling outside, and it smells earthy when I step out of the front door. With these changes come a fresh energy, an ease of work. I’m cleaning, brightening, sorting. This is how things are supposed to be.

It’s been a year of quiet, of going inward, of letting go. The years that led up to this year were louder, angrier, heavier with emotion. But this year–from one Easter Sunday to another– has been mostly, mercifully, quiet. Perhaps, after all this anger and frustration (which is to say, anger) and impatience and sadness and whatever else it has been, comes a longing.

Barbara Brown Taylor writes this of belief and faith:

Religion, faith and belief are not the same thing, he [James Fowler] says, though often we speak of them as if they were. In the sixteenth century, “to believe” meant “to set the heart upon” or “to give the heart to” as in, “I believe in love.” But in the centuries following the Enlightenment, secular use of the words “belief’ and “believe” began to change until they said less about the disposition of one’s heart than the furniture in one’s mind. By the nineteenth century, when knowledge about almost anything consisted chiefly of empirical facts, belief became the opposite of knowledge. A person’s belief in God was reduced to his or her belief system–the unprovable statements of faith that person judged to be true. The great pity of this conflation, Fowler says, is that when faith is reduced to creeds and doctrines, plenty of thoughful people are going to decide they no longer have faith. They might hang on if they heard the word used to describe trust or loyalty in something beyond the self, but when they hear “faith” used to signify belief in a set formula of theological truths, the light in their eyes goes out. When I listen to college students talk about faith, beliefs are what interest them most: Do you believe in the virgin birth? Do you believe that Jesus died for your sins? Do you believe that only Christians go to heaven? No one asks, “On what is your heart set?” No one asks, “What powers do you most rely on? What is the hope that gives meaning to your life?” Those are questions of faith, not belief. The answers to them are not written down in any book, and they have a way of shifting in the dark.

Learning to Walk in the Dark, p. 143-144, emphasis mine

I knew as a child that my parents’ actions–my father’s prayers, my mother’s devotion to reading and reciting scripture, and their focus on passing these things down to us– stemmed from a faith that was larger than they could fully express, though they tried. It truly was something they had “set their hearts upon”. I want to honor their reverence, while making a more open space for my own.

Last Easter I sang Christ the Lord is Risen Today with so much gladness in my heart, after eating breakfast with a kind community of people and sharing in the fun of watching children hunt eggs in their pastel frocks and button ups. I had the glorious luxury of singing the words without dwelling on whether I believed them–I simply sang, loud and happy, because the song is beautiful and because it is familiar. I felt a loyalty to it. I still do. It’s of those homesickness things, Easter.

Right after that beautiful Sunday it all just fell apart. I let it. I didn’t return to any sort of church until late November, using Sunday mornings to try to heal myself instead. It wasn’t because of that welcoming and anciently forward-thinking congregation at all, and it wasn’t because of the genuine outpouring of faith my parents gifted me as a child, or the many beautiful people of faith I’ve known over the years. It was because of other elements of American Christianity I’d observed as I paid more attention–the anti-intellectual attitude, the refusal to see other points of view, the rigid insistence that one interpretation of Scripture is the only one possible, the demand to be served, to maintain rights and status and privilege–all behavior that makes no sense for people who claim to follow the ultimate servant. This was not something I wanted to align myself or my children with, and so I started picking it apart. I think I understand now why people can be so resistant to questioning–once you start it’s nearly impossible to stop.

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My religion of birth, Christianity, was given to me as absolute truth. I do not see it this way. I see it as a useful and beautiful story, one of many that the people of this Earth have assembled over long periods of time. The question inevitably, eventually, must follow: if this is merely a story, useful and beautiful yes, but just a story, is it worthwhile? I say, and choose to believe, that any beautiful story is worthwhile. The beauty I find, in Christianity or elsewhere, informs my daily actions and in turn what my children will find important. This is the hope that gives meaning to my life. It is enough.

My parents, in their own way, taught me to pay attention, and that’s the same thing I am doing, just in my own way. I believe in ritual and beauty and metaphor. I am trying to be brave enough to let my children believe in some things in a literal sense so that later they can know it was a foundation for something else. I will always protect. I cannot control. They will draw their own conclusions, when they are ready.

Perhaps it is a gift that can’t quite be understood before its right time comes: to lose one thing in order to find another.

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Glitter, Green Converse and How to Get Red Wine out of White Linen: Things I’ve Learned Since Becoming Episcopalian

It’s been awhile since I’ve shared a guest post; a whole lot of life has happened. But, today I get to host my friend Deborah Stambaugh, and that is a very exciting thing. I met Deborah officially when we were college freshmen–but I probably should have met her many years before that. We went to the same church camp every summer in Mountainair, NM (some of you know exactly what I’m talking about) and I remember seeing her and her three sisters and thinking how beautiful and cool they were (I was right–they are).  Deborah might be part of the reason I married who I did–I do know she saw the potential for our relationship long before I did. So thanks for that tremendous gift, Deb. And thanks for helping me laugh at myself, for modeling bravery, for glasses of “water” to drink around bonfires and glasses of iced coffee to drink in boring classes. I’ve always learned from your generosity.  

Hope you all enjoy her words today, and can find a way to breathe deep and trust the process you’re in. I’ll be doing the same. Happy almost Easter!

When James led us to the Episcopal tradition, many friends and relatives asked why.  His answer always started with the church calendar.  That was boring (and certainly the last topic that could ever be blog-worthy) so I often interjected my own response.  After many cycles of the calendar, I am beginning to understand.

It all started in Advent.  Looking for coffee in the great hall at St. John’s Cathedral, I found the smell of cut pine, families bustling to assemble their advent wreaths, glitter and cut ribbon all over the floor, and bystanders drinking coffee and enjoying the hubbub.

“You should make one,” James (my husband) offered.  He drank coffee and chatted instead of helping me.  So, I vindictively put glitter ribbon all over it.  He hates glitter.   He said it was beautiful.  I thought, “There must be something to this Advent thing if it can make him like glitter.”  Inspired by the wreath, James invited our neighbors to our house.  He said a short, but lovely, prayer and cooked a beautiful meal, which we enjoyed by the light of the first candle–a tradition we continue.

I paid no attention to the calendar until Lent approached and people asked what would be my Lenten discipline.  I retorted that I would stop “walking Central” and smoking cigarettes, but only for Lent, and that I would not give up the pole dancing gig!  Secretly, or not so secretly, I was repulsed by the idea of Lent.  Sometime during that first Lent I do remember thinking that Rev. Goodman was finally preaching proper sermons—about abstaining from sin and committing your life to God because Jesus sacrificed so much for you.

On my first Pentecost it seemed every woman at church wore a red hat, except me.

There are colors to coincide with each season of the church calendar.  Ordinary time is green.  James likes to wear Converse All-stars to match the color of the season.  Ordinary time is the longest season, so his feet smell awful by the end of it.

The glitter wreath, my abstinence from abstaining, my black dress in a sea of red, and James’ stinky feet were all I truly understood during that first cycle of the church calendar.

When Lent came around a second time, Rev. Goodman’s sermons sounded familiar (like real church) again.  This time, equipped with the experience of feeling (though in a rudimentary way) other seasons, I understood why the sermons were familiar—because it was Lent.  Then I realized, “I hate Lent because I’ve done 20 years of it.”  An evangelical emphasis on holiness combined with my own religious ambition resulted in a continuous effort to memorize scripture, pray, abstain, and otherwise improve myself so that I could be the best Christian possible and obtain a lofty status in the Kingdom of God.  It exhausted me.  Instead of becoming more Christ-like, abstinence made me judgmental and proud.

I gave myself several years of ordinary time.  Thankfully the Cathedral completely and utterly welcomed me in spite of my lack of enthusiasm.  Slowly a thirst for renewed spirituality burgeoned within me.

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James was assigned to help at a small parish that did not have volunteers to prepare and clean up communion.  After service he wetted the wine-stained church linens, put them in a plastic bag, brought them home, and left them on the counter to rot.  Three days passed.  Then four.  My options were to throw out the whole mess or attempt to salvage it.  I dug out my Oxyclean and an old tooth brush.  While working on the linens, it dawned on me that I was participating in an ancient tradition.  Though separated by 2,000 years of time, I was working together (in a symbolic or possibly more than symbolic way) with the people who performed the most honorable task of preparing the corpse of Christ for burial.  I thought about them.  I participated in their grief.  I wondered what thoughts they had as they tended the vacant and mutilated body, whether they were mad at him, knowing he didn’t even put up a fight.  Were they mad at the authorities who caused his death?  Did they dare hope for a resurrection?   How horrible it must have been to grieve without the hope I have in the resurrection.  Luckily it was only three days.  I wished I could share my Oxyclean and washing machine with them.

Somehow cleaning linens made Christ and his people more real to me.  I understood the value of early church traditions, and decided to participate.  Each year as we circle around the calendar, I gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of the celebrations.  Each year my participation is seasoned by my own life experiences.

This year we celebrated Advent right after I experienced the longing and anticipation of waiting for the birth of my own child.  I thought about all of the people who shared with me in the joy of anticipating my daughter’s birth.  I considered the Virgin Mary’s anticipation as she felt the Child quicken in her womb, as she waited to meet him, to introduce him to the world.  I felt anticipation of Christ’s return and longing for His presence in my daily life.  Advent is “the fast that feels like you’re just too excited to eat.”

Jane, the Cathedral’s former Christian Education director, hung a bell on my son Edmund’s wrist the year he had the role of Jesus in the Christmas play.  Nora, my daughter, had that honor last Christmas, and I stole a bell from the Cathedral to put on her wrist.  I will hang those bells on my Christmas tree every year until I die, and remember with joy the births of my children and THE BIRTH we used the bells to celebrate.

When we started planning our move to Virginia, I desperately needed reassurance that God would guide.  Epiphany provided great comfort.  Epiphany is “a star from God to guide the Magi.”

Last Sunday we waved palm branches and processed around the neighborhood.  I told Edmund about Jesus coming to Jerusalem 2,000 years ago, and about how everyone was so excited they put palm branches on the ground for his colt to walk upon.  I refrained from sharing the rest of the story.  He will hear it in due season in accordance with the calendar.

My mom celebrated Easter (in the Protestant tradition Easter is death, burial, and resurrection all on the same Sunday instead of breaking it apart over Lent and Holy Week) by hand-sewing dresses for each of her four daughters every year.  As a child, I knew Easter was important because of the way mom prepared for it, and because I felt beautiful on that day.  I wonder if Mom’s tradition came from my great-grandmother and her Anglican/Episcopal ancestors.  I share the colors with the children in my life because I think dressing in accordance with the season is a way of preparing to understand what is happening at church.  I have dismal sewing skills, but I enjoy buying purple dresses for my niece, Ella, during Advent, and talking about why we wear purple. (I am sure someone in the family will correct all of the misinformation I’m probably giving her.)

I will probably wear jeans on Pentecost as a way to welcome others who don’t know about the red hat thing.  But you can rest assured I will have a beautiful green hat for ordinary time…and maybe some Oxyclean for those nasty green shoes.

DebandNoraPalmSunday2014

Deb is a wife of nine years, a mother of two small children, and an attorney in Albuquerque, New Mexico who drinks way too much coffee.  She enjoys estate sale shopping with her husband and long walks.

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feasting, fasting, and dreaming of bread

Ricky and I are almost finished with our Whole30–an elimination diet that cuts out all grains, dairy, legumes, sugar, alcohol, and anything processed for thirty days. The idea is to reduce inflammation and discover if any of those foods are making you sick, and for us, it’s also a way to shed some holiday pounds and detox from sugar. In case you’d like to know, our Valentine’s Day dessert was a roasted sweet potato with ghee, strawberries, blueberries, and a sprinkle of nutmeg–which is actually quite delicious–but it was hard for me to focus on that after smelling the warm, cotton-candy aroma of fresh-out-of-the-oven red velvet cupcakes I’d baked with the kids. But–lest you think we’re noble or anything like that, know that we’ve both cheated. Ricky ate a fish sandwich when a friend came to town and I took a big bite of Silas’ peanut butter and honey sandwich one day when no one was around (it was an awesome moment). We discovered that our trail mix has sugar in it and ate it anyway, I’ve drizzled  honey into my coffee a time or two, and last night we seriously considered making it a Whole25 so we could be done before the weekend.

Also, every Sunday we gladly accept a broken piece of bread and a sip of wine. Our pastor sometimes gives out very large pieces of bread, noting that it’s a habit he formed during his prison ministry days, from wanting to offer the inmates as much nourishment as possible. We don’t complain.

Since I’ve confessed, I feel justified in bragging that we sat and watched our kids eat McDonald’s at the Air and Space Museum (it was the only food choice available, it was dinnertime, and they were about to stage a mutiny) and did not eat a single fry. I was totally having a battle in my mind. We then drove an hour back home and picked up some Chipotle bowls–green salad, steak, grilled peppers and onions, pico de gallo, and a gigantic scoop of guacamole. It tasted like heaven, and victory. That was a high point.

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A few other high points: whipping olive oil, and egg, and some lemon juice into mayonnaise that’s better than anything you can buy, better skin from our increased avocado consumption, and making Paleo spaghetti with our friend Adam, who came to visit us right in the middle of our Whole30 and jumped right in with us. Roasted brussels sprouts and bacon. Coffee with a sprinkle of cinnamon and plain almond milk. Sparkling water (Silas calls it spicy water) with a squeeze of fresh lime. Berries with a dollop of whipped coconut cream, no sugar necessary. A new appreciation for the beauty and versatility of whole foods.

A low point: discovering I’m allergic to plaintains. What the what.

It may seem like unnecessary self-torture, but I’ve also been reading Shauna Niequist’s luscious book Bread and Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table during our Whole30. It was just too beautiful of a book to put down until February 25th (oh yes, I’m counting down at this point.) The book is full of mouth-watering recipes like blueberry crisp, breakfast cookies, and risotto, but there’s also a chapter called Feasting and Fasting that strengthened my resolve. She writes:

I love the feasting part of life. I don’t want Thanksgiving without stuffing or Christmas without cookies and champagne. I don’t want to give up our family tradition of deep-frying everything we can think of on New Year’s Eve. But I’m learning that feasting can only exist healthfully–physically, spiritually, and emotionally–in a life that also includes fasting.

And:

Fasting gives me a chance to practice the discipline of not having what I want at every moment, of limiting my consumption, making space in my body and in my spirit for a new year, one that’s not driven by my mouth, by wanting, by consuming. (both quotes from Kindle edition, p. 133)

On days when I’m home with my children, my life seems to revolve around food. Ricky and I alternate making breakfast, then there’s a morning snack, then lunch, then dinner planning mid-afternoon if I’m on top of things, then making said dinner while handing hungry children slices of clementine oranges to tide them over, then a steaming cup of reward-tea after all littles are tucked into bed. I don’t go more than two hours without thinking about food, and sometimes it feels like a burden. It makes me think of some nursing shifts, when I would run like mad from 7 AM until 2 or 3 in the afternoon, and suddenly realize I hadn’t eaten anything, find some food to inhale, and get back to running. There was something freeing about it, in a way–being too busy to think about food very much.

Fasting is different, though. Fasting is when you’re thinking of food but intentionally moving those thoughts elsewhere. That’s more like what this Whole30 has felt like–spanning lots of cooped-up, snowy days and the holiday of chocolate and sugar. I feel a new sturdiness inside. I have more energy. I really, really want to eat the things I can’t have, simply because I’ve told myself I can’t have them.

There’s a space in my life that isn’t being immediately filled. That, I think, is the point of all this.

I’m fascinated by the parallels between my relationship to food and my spiritual well-being. Our church foremothers and fathers were onto something big as they observed the church calendar, which is essentially a series of feasts and fasts.  I’m in Church Calendar Kindergarten right now, but I’m loving the guidelines I find there.  They help as we try to settle into a rhythm of enjoying the bounty of the earth and caring for our bodies,  holding ourselves back from having all things at all times, making the days of fasting worth it, and the days of feasting a true reward.

Those are kind of lofty words for a cheater-pants, I know. Fasting is about humility, too. Let’s just hope we can make it five more days.

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