Sunday, November 27, 2011

Some Thoughts Upon the Advent of...Advent

I am searching for silence this season.

In many people's minds, the Christmas season is ushered in by the frantic shopping, pushing, shoving, and, of course, money spending of Black Friday, now fairly beginning before the last vestiges of turkey have even been digested from Thanksgiving dinner.

But in the Liturgical tradition, the Christmas season does not even begin until Christmas Day.  Instead, it is ushered in by the four weeks of Advent, a penitential time in which Scriptures of judgment and a coming Messiah dominate the readings. 

'Tis a far cry from endless dozens of commercials set to traditional holiday songs & jolly old St. Nick on every street corner (although I dare say the original St. Nicholas would find consternation in his modern image....). 

Instead, it is a space to prepare for the wonder that is Emmanuel: God --here-- among us.

I loved decorating the Christmas tree with my two-year-old niece this year.  Her surprise and wonder amazed me, then humbled me when I thought, "And so should we all feel about Christmas."

Instead we're jaded by jangling bells and taut nerves and waving wish lists. 

We lose Christmas in our noise.

My prayer is that I can truly enter the silence, the waiting space, that is Advent.

...And that I may truly say "Merry Christmas!" this year.


Friday, August 5, 2011

Book Review: Sweet as Honey

I've always loved reading nonfiction -- I remember coming home from the library as a child with a stack of books about India or Sweden or whatever country fit my current fascination.  I read just about every children's biography that library offered and salivated over the adult biographies that I was not yet allowed to read.  I still enjoy a passionately written nonfiction book purely for the sake of seeing someone's enthusiasm bubble up from the pages, and that is truly what I found in The Honey Trail: In Pursuit of Liquid Gold and Vanishing Bees by Grace Pundyk.

I found this fascinating tome in the new books section of the library while in search of interesting reading for the beach.  The title drew me in as did the opening paragraph of the first chapter, where Pundyk describes her somewhat racy encounter with a new type of honey in Yemen.  (I won't go into anymore details here, but, trust me, you have to read it!)

Always on the lookout for new and interesting learning experiences, I decided to give this one a try.  It details the story of the author's trip around the world searching for, discovering, and falling in love with exotic honeys, various types of bees, and amazing yet ordinary people whose lives revolve around them (the honey and the bees, that is). 

Pundyk visits a variety of places (some unexpected), including Russia, China, New Zealand, and Italy.  Her description of the people and places she encounters makes this book a fascinating crossroads of genres -- a little bit of memoir criss-crossed with travel journal/documentary with a dash of informational text sprinkled with persuasive writing -- Pundyk's deft skill with the pen allows this mish-mash to come together into a cohesive and interesting read.

I learned a lot about bees, honey, and the people who work with them -- in fact, when I finished the book, I felt like I had accompanied Pundyk on her honey crusade, and I was sad to close the book on the final chapter.  In fact, I did not quite realize the impact The Honey Trail had made on me until I encountered one of the types of honey that Pundyk wrote about at our local farmers' market, and I got so excited that I, the introvert, had an extended conversation with the guy who was selling the honey. 

Now that is a good book!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Routines vs. Spontaneity (a.k.a. randomness): An INFP's Dilemma

Yes, I am an INFP according to the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator (personality test).  In otherwords, I am introverted, intuitive, and make decisions based on feelings and perceptions.  And I have a love-hate relationship with routines.

All of the Organized People in my life always preach to me upon the virtues of routines: they make your life easier, you'll be more efficient, you won't realize in June that you should have renewed your vehicle registration in January... blah, blah, blah.

It's not that I don't know they're right.  No, it's all true.  Routines do make my life easier.  I am more efficient when I use routines.  And I do remember to do important things more consistently when I am badgered by an organized to-do list.  (They also tend to keep my INFP self from Multiple-Project-Syndrome, in which I wander around the house distractedly starting, but never finishing, a variety of long and involved tasks until I get overwhelmed with the huge list of things I haven't finished, and sit down to read a book until it's time to go to bed.)

So, you may well ask, if routines are so great, why the dilemma?  Because they're, well... boring.

As an INFP, I am attracted to routines because I don't like to make decisions on the fly (I need to think them through for a good, long time first), and routines save me from having to do that.  What do I do next?  Why, wash the bathroom floor because that's the routine. 

However, also as an INFP, I eschew sameness, repetetiveness, etc. because I love living in the moment, doing something just because that's what I feel like doing right then.  Go to the store and buy an ice cream maker and ice cream ingredients, so we can make our own delicious homemade ice cream RIGHT NOW?  Why not?  It sounds like fun!

So I go back and forth -- establishing routines to make my life more organized and less stressful, and ignoring those routines because I'm tired of doing the same thing over and over again.

I suppose, like any other dilemma, the answer lies in balance.  Some routines, like planning dinner menus and making shopping lists, can bring solidity to my life without making me feel like I'm driving up and down the same street over and over again, looking for a way out.  Other things, I will probably never make a routine of, like laying my clothes out the night before for the following day.  I retain the right to make a last-minute decision change in what I want to wear!

I suppose I will continue to fall off the fence on one side or the other.  You might see me shaking my fist at routines as I spin off into spontaneity.  Or you might see my clinging to routines as to a life raft when the spontaneity makes me dizzy and sick.  Maybe someday, though, you might see me, arms outstretched, one foot in front of the other, a little shaky maybe, but slowly, carefully, finding my balance.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Procrastinate? Maybe Later...

Things I am good at:
  • Baking (Lemon meringue pie, anyone?)
  • Editing (if you have a misplaced comma, I will find it)
Things I am not good at:
  • Being clever in a conversation (my snappy comebacks always appear inconveniently in the middle of the night)
  • And, apparently, putting my clean clothes away before they've created an Everest of ridiculous proportions.
So, one more thing I'm good at -- procrastinating.  I can hardly confess it....  I mean, not putting clean clothes away sounds like something that a child would have difficulty with.

"Honey, put your clothes away before you go out to play..."

"Ok, Mom, in a minute..."

Right?  And here I am, 27 years old, and I still cannot, for the life of me, manage to just put the clothes away when they are clean.  Instead, I must somehow complete a complex ceremony of waiting until it takes me no less than twenty-nine minutes to fold, hang up, and stow said pile of clothes.

One bright spot -- folding clothes becomes reflective process, one in which I can capture spidery floating thoughts and bend them into a form that makes sense to people who do not happen to live inside my head.

And that is where I found tonights blog post, which does actually have something to do with folding clothes.  I promise!

My original intent in beginning this blog was not only to urge myself to write more, but to chronicle a bit of my mental and spiritual journey into simplicity.  This has been a heart desire of mine for a little over a year as I've peered into the shallow depths of what American culture considers merely "normal."  My desire for simplicity is to live more intentionally, to infuse meaning into what I do.

That being said, I've taken a few tiny steps towards this.  Also, a few slightly larger steps backwards.  And I'm not entirely certain that I'm further along than I was to begin with.  But, I think the intention is the important thing.

It occurred to me that procrastination, although seemingly simpler on the surface, is really a wonderfully complicating thing in my life.  A chore that begins as a two- or three- minute task becomes a half-hour labor.  And meanwhile I guilt myself through my procrastination time.  Easier?  I suppose not.

If I thought procrastination could be so easily cured by epiphany, I suppose I should give it up and be done.  But I think, like all tremulous steps into simplicity, timeliness in chores I dislike will fall into the sweat of my brow category.

Perhaps I should wait until tomorrow to begin...

Perhaps not.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Laborare est Orare (To Work is to Pray)

Three years ago, I spent a week in a Benedictine monastery for a prayer retreat.  It was a beautiful place, with years and years of prayer and service soaked into the very floorboards.

While there, I became rather fascinated with the history of the Benedictine order and St. Benedict, their founder.  I noticed some of the wall-hangings labeled with the motto "Laborare est Orare" (To Work is to Pray).  This phrase drew me in, and I've turned it over in my mind since then, keeping it with me, and wondering at it.

Work as prayer became very real to me this past Sunday as I had a chance to work with some members our church's altar guild as they prepared for the Sunday service.  (The why and wherefore is a rather long and different story, so I won't go into it here.)

So, I hung around (rather trying not to get into the way than really doing anything useful as I had not much clue what I ought to be doing), the awe of arranging the altar and wiping the sacred things with a dishcloth dawned on me.  This chalice will be a means of God ministering grace to someone today.  These linens will be a part of the Eucharist, demonstrating Christ's act of love for us today.  Somehow, doing such everyday things (washing and drying) the instruments of the altar grounded the act in its holiness as well as its ordinariness.

It amazed me.  The service was richer that day because my work and my prayer were united.  My prayer was stronger through my work, and perhaps my work was better because of my prayer.

I don't suppose every day of altar guild work will be an epiphany.  Come to think of it, I doubt every day of being a Benedictine monk or nun sees the heavens burst open, shining light on the path.  But I hope, knowing the joining of the work with the prayer, I might keep them in my awareness, my heart.  I hope my work might infiltrate my prayer, and my prayer wrap itself around my work.


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

5 (Moderately) Good Reasons to Begin Blogging

I've always been a writer.  From the plays my best friend and I co-authored at a young age through college papers that I drafted, wrote, and re-wrote, suffering with anxiety over whether or not the professor would like it.  Recently, though, for a raft of rather bad reasons, I've stopped writing entirely, except for my 2nd grade classroom's weekly newsletter, and, of course, the Dreaded Report Card Comments (I teach at a charter school, and unlike regular public schools we are required to write, if not a novel, at least a short pamphlet on each student at report card time).

This idea of self-publishing my thoughts for others to read has been popping into my consciousness lately.  I spoke of it rather sarcastically at first, then wistfully...finally, I thought, why not?  I could certainly list reasons why not, but instead, my dratted stubborn brain kept bringing up reasons why I should start a blog.  I'll not bore you with all, but here are my top five (moderately) good reasons that I will begin blogging.

1.  A Lenten Discipline.  As a former member of multiple independent-fundamental type churches recently converted to Anglicanism, I still find a strong fascination in Lent.  It strikes me as a period of slowing yourself, of stripping down to bare essentials, of setting aside distractions in favor of God.  Writing has long been a prayer for me, a way to draw closer to God.  Thus, my hope in this blog is make space for Him in a kind of soul spring houscleaning.

2.  A way to write well, but not perfectly.  Though not a first-born, I got a fair dose of perfectionism in my genes and struggle to move beyond its bonds.  Since that first teacher told me that I was good at writing, it became a contest of sorts -- ever trying to make what I wrote better, to get more applause, to get an A+, not just an A.  Fear of hitting a wall in writing was one of the bad reasons I stopped writing.  I hope this venue will be a chance for me to lighten up on the self-judgment while still honing my skill.

3.  To use a gift without coercion.  I mentioned earlier my fundamentalist upbringing.  The damage there was a continual urging, browbeating if you will, that gifts from God were not to be wasted.  If you wasted them, there would surely be consequences, etc., ad infinitum.  I wanted to use my gift, but was unsure how I might do that.  I had not leisure to pray and seek.  I felt pressure.  Solution: pretend it didn't exist.  I feel God leading me gently back to my gift and showing me how to use it.

4.  To be nor not to be -- like everyone else.  Blogs are everywhere these days, and I've gone back and forth about whether or not I have something unique to say.  I suppose I would like to try it and see.

5.  Procrastination and Lack of Commitment.  I am a queen of procrastination and will put something off until A.  Someone does it for me or B.  I come upon it in a pile of other neglected things and say to myself, "Now why did I never do that?".  I also do not like to be boxed into things that I will regret committing to later: I enjoy keeping my schedule open.  (This may sound like a reason NOT to start a blog, but bear with me).  Beginning this as a commitment for Lent only (with the possibility of carrying on afterwards) suits my lack of commitment, and knowing the short amount of time I have to work on this will hopefully remedy my procrastination (we shall see -- I set the blog up 3 days ago and am only now getting around to writing my first post).

I am intrigued by the possibilities of this -- like trying a new recipe: it may flop, or be a thing of beauty and incredibly delicious.  I shall but wait and see.