Our dinner-table conversations with the kids seem to pivot between the ridiculous and the ultra serious. There is no in-between. Either, there are jokes about Thomas the Train crossing the road or there are existential complaints about prayer.
Why do you say we should listen to God when I can’t hear him? even the four-year-old wants to know.
I Don’t Know what His voice sounds like! another child chimes in.
In all honesty, even our serious conversations collapse toward the ridiculous until I, utterly exasperated, announce:
“Let those who have ears to hear, hear! Now clear the table.”
Snow is falling again. The world outside my window is dusted in silence, but I am listening. I am waiting for the wind to “shake a thousand whispers from the yew,” as T.S. Eliot writes in “Ash Wednesday.” Specifically, I want to hear a whisper about Lent. It is nearly here, and I don’t yet know how to set the time apart.
I still believe in sacred time, though I live in a world of Sunday-morning swim meets and Sunday-afternoon birthday parties. I know that, without some effort on my part, all time looks the same whether or not it is the same.
And yet, every year I seem to arrive at Ash Wednesday utterly emptied. Without even the energy to give up chocolate or add in more prayer or commit to some act of service. Whereas Advent fills me to overflowing with words and ideas and inspiration (so much so that I have blogged every day of Advent for three years running), Lent finds me spent. Dry.
Lent finds me listening to silence, desperately hoping that silence has something to say. That it isn’t the absence it sometimes seems to be.
When I picture that forehead smudge of ash, I hear the words of one of our oldest Christian hymns: “Let all mortal flesh keep silence.” I am dust and dust I will be again, and there seems nothing else to say. I will keep silence.
But I am a reader and a writer, and what it means to keep silence is complicated. Perhaps, it is always complicated, for each of us.
Silence might be the fruit of humility, but I can remember using it as a weapon. When I was a girl with two younger sisters I wielded my ability to hold my tongue like a sword. I may have been just as responsible for the argument, but if I whispered while she yelled, I would appear innocent when our parents doled out punishment. I was the evil queen of silence.
For years I told myself I would never write on the internet – I would keep silence – but my reasons were selfish. I was afraid to be that vulnerable. I was afraid to risk looking like a fool. Silence as shield. Silence as upper hand.
I seek an invisible God, and I must not forget that. Of course, there is little danger of this thanks to my small dinner companions. Even the four-year-old cries Why can’t I SEE Him? Why can’t I HEAR Him?
Why, indeed, dear one.
To remember his invisibility and his silence is not to keep him at a distance. Far from it. It is the reminder I need to look hardest from the corner of my eye. To observe closely the spaces between those things right in front of my face.
He hides, but he hides in plain sight.
He is silent, but He is the Word.
This is what I want my children to know: Believe that He can be found, and you will find Him.
Suddenly, my calendar is overfull. I said yes, and yes, and yes, and now I am staring down a Lenten gauntlet of circled dates and fiercely scribbled reminders.
But I think it will turn out fine. The trick, I am learning, is to focus on the spaces between. The gaps. The pauses. The moments that leak silence.
Ash Wednesday is the first rupture, the first crack in the usual order of things, and I will welcome it. I may have no plan. I may have no energy to implement even the plan I do not have. But these forty days are set apart.
Sacred days for seeking.
Sacred days for finding.
These last awe-full days of Lent are upon us.
To be honest, the past few weeks seem to me like a blur of pictures and noise. The world is spinning faster now than it was just a month ago (something the poets know even if the scientists haven’t yet discovered it), and I feel the need to stop and steady myself.
And then … the headlong rush into a world made new.
I want to be ready. Or more precisely – I want to notice where it is already springing up.
I don’t want to miss any of it.
I’ll be opening my laptop a little less and stepping outside a little more.
Look for me in this space after Easter.
Thanks to our Photographer Kelli Campbell for this image of
my daughter on one of the most beautiful spring days I can remember.
Find more of Kelli’s photography here.
Today is the day for a miracle …
Today the calendar says spring, but when has the calendar ever told us anything true?
As I write, darkness has dropped, the wind is howling, and the hanging porch lights are twisting like terrified animals on their chains.
The sound of this wild March wind does not make me feel cozy. It sounds too much like someone in pain.
Today is the day for a miracle …
I keep telling myself spring is already here. I’ve known for days that it was time to plant. Peas, lettuce, radishes, beets, spinach, swiss chard … so much needs to be in the ground.
But who has faith for gardening in the midst of snow flurries and sleet?
Today is the day for a miracle …
The apple trees we ordered months ago have arrived. They look like apple sticks. The children do not believe me when I tell them we’ll bake pies. I’m not sure I believe myself.
But I’ve seen more winters than my children, and I do know this: the day when daffodils emerge is not the day for hope. The day when seedlings show the bright green of new life is not the day for faith. That day came and went.
This is the day for a miracle. This day. The dark day. The cold day. The day when all you can see is mud and broken things, like so many toys strewn across the backyard.
Easter Sunday is not the day for miracles. It is the day for praise.
Every miracle we ever needed, every miracle we ever wanted begins on Good Friday.
“See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?”
*Today I am listening to this song by Hans Kraenzlin
I thought it would be hard to fit Good Friday into Spring Break. I thought it would be difficult to clear space for the cross in a week devoted to beach, pool, and mother-daughter shopping.
I was wrong.
In the car, on our way to the dollhouse store, her voice pipes up from the back seat. It’s hard to hear, the radio too loud, but I know she’s just said something about Daniel. I want her to stop talking. I can’t bear to hear any more about Daniel.
“That’s where Daniel lived.”
“Daniel is gone now.”
“Daniel is the first kid my age to die.”
Then she repeats the words I’ve heard so many times these past few weeks: “I wish I knew what happened.”
My daughter wants to understand how her second-grade classmate died. She wants to know how his little brother died. And how his mother died. We’ve talked about it a lot, but when it comes to the details, I’ve been vague. I’ve spoken of mental illness and accidents. I’ve never spoken the word murder. I can’t bear for her to know how dark the darkness really is.
It’s amazing, really, that she doesn’t know. With all the television cameras camped in front of her school, the grief counselors gathering the children into circles on the floor, the adults whispering at the bus stop, and me, trying to turn the tv off, the radio off, whenever she walked into the room, it’s a wonder that we managed to protect her from the full story. Because, of course, the full story only leads to an unanswerable question: why?
Why did this happen to these beautiful boys? God, why did you let this happen?
The small voice from the backseat says, “Daniel is in the ground now.” With these words, I find my voice again, and I tell her what I believe.
I tell her about Good Friday. I share the word gospel, and I explain that it is so much bigger, so much more beautiful than I understood when I was her age.
When I was a child, growing up in the church, I thought the gospel was this: “I am a sinner so Jesus died and rose again to reconcile me to God. Now I can have a relationship with God.” But I only understood a small part of the story.
My personal salvation is precious to me, but it is only one, small part of the Easter story. When I face evil, like the darkness which led to Daniel’s death, my personal salvation starts to look small. Insufficient. Sometimes, I even dare to whisper this dreadful doubt: “Do I want to be in relationship with a God who allows such things?”
Confronted by the brokenness of our world, I want more … so much more.
On Good Friday, God gave more. He entered history at one, specific moment and he bore on that cross all the brokenness which came before and all the brokenness that comes after. Including Daniel’s murder.
When God’s own son, Israel’s righteous King, chose to suffer and die he unleashed rivers of justice and peace that will one day flood all of creation. This is a kingdom flood. A flood of living water. A flood to make all that is broken whole again.
When Jesus spoke his final words, he meant not only that his ministry on earth was complete, he meant that death, sin, and all the brokenness of creation were ended.
It is finished.
Can we trust him when evil continues to rear its head? Should we turn to him when our questions push us towards despair?
We know that God gave his own son to suffer and die. We know that God did not abandon his son to the grave. I am convinced that he has not abandoned Daniel. He will not abandon me.
He has not abandoned his creation. He is making it new.
Sometimes we see only a trickling fountain. Sometimes we glimpse the roaring river, but we who have pledged ourselves to this King have been given living water.
For now we share that water with our thirsty neighbors, and we look forward to the day promised each Easter, the day when there will be no more desert. No more thirst.
“Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.”
(photo by yours truly)
(photos by yours truly)
It’s Holy Week. It’s also – in our house – Spring Break.
Which means there are fewer quiet prayers and meditations, more picnics at the park and kids screaming in the car. In other words, the holy is not hard to find. It’s in my face, and it’s ringing in my ears (quite literally).
My Bible has stayed mostly closed, and I’m not sure if Friday’s Tenebrae service is appropriate for my eight-year-old, but this may all be for the best.
There has been time, after all, to cross one item off of my most important to-do list
Flowers for the Doll Family.
(the dollhouse dining room prepared for Easter brunch)
Things have been a little quiet around here. A little empty. On the blog and in my heart. This Lent I find myself in a waiting, resting mode. Waiting for my lungs to heal. Waiting for a little boy’s fever to break. Waiting for God to reveal something of what’s next.
I’m waiting on big things and small and holding on to the hope that there will be much to share and much to say on this blog in the months ahead.
Last night, awake at 3 am and waiting for sleep to return, I noticed the moonglow in my bedroom. There’s a full moon tonight, but I have been thinking of new moons. This blog began with my thoughts on a new moon. I’m posting them again in case any of you are finding Lent to be a dark season.
Just remember … darkness is never the end of the story. To paraphrase the writer Anne Lamott, we may be living in a Good Friday world, but we are an Easter people.
Do you know what a new moon looks like? Of course, I do, you’re probably thinking. Until two days ago, I would have thought exactly the same, but I wouldn’t really have been seeing a new moon in my head.
Because I have been in the middle of one book (or six) pretty much ever since I picked up my first kindergarten reader, many of the ideas floating around in my head are attached to letters but not pictures. For example, having read a towering stack of nineteenth-century British novels, I have the word rookery firmly planted in my head. However, I have no solid picture to go along with it. Instead, when I happen upon this word, maybe in Jane Eyre, I see the letters r-o-o-k-e-r-y with a vague image of big black birds sitting on rocks. Which is funny, really, because a rookery shares nothing with rocks but “r,” “o,” and “k.” Though, I had to look it up in wikipedia to be sure even of that.
So, new moon. Two days ago, I googled the phases of the moon. If you’re following a train of thought and sitting in front of a computer (or smartphone, I suppose) it’s amazing how far you can follow said train. My thought began with a complaint and a worry.
I have a two-year-old, and he is a terrible sleeper. Always has been. Which means that my husband and I haven’t slept well in more than two years (because those last few months of pregnancy are never great for sleep, either). Lately, this boy has taken to creeping into our bedroom several times each night and trying to sleep on the floor beside our bed. It’s a little sad and a little cute, but, mostly, it’s exhausting because the two-year-old can’t actually fall back to sleep on our floor, and we can’t fall back to sleep with the loud sucking sounds of his pacifier. Also, I’ve been worried that I’ll get up in the night, not realize he’s there, and step on him. Did I mention that our bedroom has been very, very dark lately? We have transom windows that let in a lot of moonlight, but recently there’s been no light at all and why has there been no light? . . . well, I started googling. The first page that popped up had a huge image of Wednesday night’s moon. A new moon.
This is what a new moon looks like: black, empty, nothing. Somewhere in my head I suppose I knew that. However, it’s the word new that throws me off. New suggests promise, possibility, beginnings. New things should be light, bright, and shimmery. Shouldn’t they? Yet a new moon looks like a black hole. The opposite of promising. The opposite of fresh. The opposite of, well, new.
Staring at that shadowy, black circle where a moon should be, I felt both surprised and encouraged. I’ve been waiting and watching and longing for new things. Months ago, I read these words and felt a promise for my own life: “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43: 19). Some days, I did perceive it. Lately, not so much. I read David’s confession that God lifted him “out of the mud and mire” and “put a new song” in his mouth. I too want a “new song,” but I’ve seen so few signs of it. The landscape of my life looks a little dark. Mostly empty.
Seeing rightly what a new moon is, I recall what I do know: new things start out small. New things begin growing in darkness. In their earliest days, new things look a lot like nothing.
Today, I am choosing to believe that what looks like emptiness and nothingness to me is actually the most promising sign of something new. It is fertile ground for the new thing I choose to believe that God is doing.
I’m afraid I’m mixing metaphors here (from sky to earth), but the new moon reminds me of nothing more than a bed of fertile soil. It looks like absolutely nothing. It looks like darkness and emptiness. It isn’t.
“Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him” (Psalm 126: 5,6).