the liturgy of ordinary time

I am keeping track of time, barely. Sweat drops and slices of fruit and sips from iced cold brew. Molasses and moonshine; slow, fast, strong, fragrant.

My fingers tickle the contours of her face. Feather soft eyebrows, a tender dip in the bridge of her nose, a jaw line that hides under squishy cheeks, and her little jut of a chin with a bumpy, brave scar. We started the tickle when she was tiny. Maybe it was one of those long car rides from Iowa to New York when I realized she loved all kinds of soft touch. Then it got bundled up with her night and nap routines and now she makes specific requests. “Tickle my hands, Mama.” 

Most days, I count it a privilege and the tickle is sweet and slow and savored. Every once in a while, I wrestle the inner voices arguing about my being subject to the tickle whims of a two year old as images of ‘real work’ roll through my mind. And then the tickles are rushed and tired and phoned in.

One night, mind drifting to our guests on the other side of the door, I rolled my eyes as my fingers flicked past nose, ears and cheeks hoping for a fast sleepfall. Then, she reached out her pudgy fingers and started her own tracing. “Tickle Mama’s eyebowwwws.” I didn’t know my shoulders were tense until they relaxed completely at her touch. “Tickle Mama’s nooooohs.” I hid my surprise behind the early summer darkness and gloried in the generous mind of my girl. And so, she traced my face and I felt the sweet and savored slowness of a rightly executed tickle. 

She fell asleep eventually. And we are still in Ordinary Time.

Ordinary Time – that long and feastless stretch following Advent and Pentecost on the church calendar where there is nothing to anchor or move us like the drama of the seasons before. I’ve been waking up for more of the ordinary minutes – the slower, silent ticks of the clock before the day feels fast forward.  The sun reaches its bright, Eastern arms through our bedroom window at 5 and 6 am and my mind will not stay tucked in sleep.

C.S. Lewis and Martin Laird meet somewhere in my mind now, as I pick up the remains of coloring projects and a trail of books leading back to a disheveled bottom shelf. That passage from The Weight of Glory muddles into view: 

War makes death real to us, and that would have been regarded as one of its blessings by most of the great Christians of the past. They thought it good for us to be always aware of our mortality. I am inclined to think they were right.
― C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

When I first devoured these pages in college (oof, years ago), I felt lazy and disengaged in my slow moments. I prayed – Lord, please never find me inactive in the serious work of the Christian life. It is somber like war and I don’t want to be a mere civilian.

I wanted death to be real – all the awkward and cold angles of it – because I thought that meant I would do better at living.

Yesterday, I was bad at being alive. I transmorphed after those early, solitary moments of apartment sunshine into a turtle snail, a snurtle… or something that could escape inside itself without explanation. Except that I was in almost constant motion – in my mind and with my hands. I jostled household chores early and made plans for midday, but everything played like a private concert of dischord – all the notes were wrong and only I could hear the sound. 

I guess that was death – the awkward and cold angles of it – keeping me aware of my mortality and making me a human I did not recognize.

Because “aware of my mortality” means sin and demons and a herd of wolves looking like sheep – and all of that buried deep in my chest where the discordant symphony played its miserable song. This is who you are, human – short-tempered, impulsive, ungrateful, cynical, distressed. Living aware of my mortality is the real pits.

I read “A Grief Observed” after my brother died. Yesterday marked three years since that terrible phone call collapsed me on our apartment floor. I crawled inside the broken tenderness of C.S. Lewis’s grieving heart that pushed against death and all its agony for the living. Confused, angered, depleted, desperate, tired… not exactly motivated to greater motion, greater purpose. Just paralyzed by an invisible, writhing pain monster I could sometimes see. 

Your problem is, you don’t know who you are. Let me tell you who you are. You are a ray of God’s own light. You say you seek God, but a ray of light doesn’t seek the sun; it’s coming from the sun. You are a branch on the vine of God. A branch doesn’t seek the vine; it’s already part of the vine. A wave doesn’t look for the ocean; it’s already full of ocean.

Martin Laird, Into the Silent Land

My eyes stung when I woke this morning, evidence of what I couldn’t keep inside yesterday. I am still wearing the shirt that was soaked in snot less than 12 hours ago. We read the morning Psalm together and prayed as directed, “In the depths of our isolation we cry to you, Lord God; give light in our darkness and bring us out of the prison of our despair through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

And this small, crawling motion. This, rhythm of entering the Lord’s presence with my fickle humanity and asking impossible things, is my mortal pace. I am trapped, bound in this body and darkness, but God – completely outside this constraint – shares His glory and shines His light.

Lord, I have called daily upon you; 
I have stretched out my hands to you.
Do you work wonders for the dead?
Will the shades stand up and praise you?
Shall your loving-kindness be declared in the grave,
your faithfulness in the land of destruction?
Shall your wonders be known in the dark
or your righteous deeds in the land where all is forgotten?
 
But as for me, O Lord, I will cry to you;
early in the morning my prayer shall come before you.

I paused and read again Psalm 88 – about wonders and darkness and the forgotten land. I don’t have an exegesis hiding in my head, but I know my heart wonders often if the Light can reach all the dark – even the places I don’t understand, the places language fails and nothing is right. I am tempted to filter the verses with a simpler, safer tone in my reading with Zella. But God’s Word does not allow it. The darkness is too stark to be sweet, ever. And His light is too glorious to be anything less than complete.

My mortality is not going away, but neither is God’s eternity. And He has somehow mysteriously linked the two in the death of His Son. And that somehow mysteriously informs my identity – yesterday in my transmorphed paralysis and today in my Light-infused slow motion. And that all somehow makes sense in His economy.

I most hated that yesterday felt ordinary. I hated that oatmeal still cooked the same and the stroller was still cumbersome and the storm still changed plans. I hated forgetfulness and poorly timed naps and the innocence that was attached at my hip and in my belly. I hated the ordinary-ness so thoroughly I could not think of anything else.

Because death is not ordinary.

But, here we are – positioned still inside those dreadfully unimpressive words – Ordinary Time. Like the stretch of time after a dramatic Pentecost… the clock creeps on and the days stretch without celebration and I am mortal. But, God in His great mercy, reminds me I am His and He has conquered death and dark and despair in the kingdom come. He is Light and His mystery brings the morning sun that dried my puffy eyes in ordinary time.

dear little one | dirty feet and flushed cheeks

Dear Little One,

You are not so little anymore and I am sorry for all the crowding – I’ll take most of the credit for that. “Petite” runs on both sides of your mama’s family, so there was really no way to escape it. Your great grandmas Avonell and Phyllis are firecrackers (and their daughters, too), so it’s fair to say height is never a good measurement of energy or character or spunk.

The tingle of Spring finally turned into bare shoulders, ice cream cones and a long riverside walk on Sunday afternoon. Did you feel the sunshine by the Hudson? Did you hear our laughter?

I forgot about everything productive I meant to accomplish over the weekend. Sometimes that is okay.

Conversation or adventures or that amazing patch of afternoon light on the kitchen floor are more important than lists sometimes. I won’t need to teach you that, in the beginning. I think you’ll come out knowing already. Is that the eternity in you?

Sunday church stretched into brunch and brunch stretched into ice cream and ice cream stretched into Joel asking questions in our living room about how to love people better.

When your daddy pulled me aside earlier in the afternoon to see if we could have company later, I thought about all those productive things I needed to do – the laundry and the dishes and the floors with those grey, fuzzy monsters in the corners – all those things that take a backseat when the sun comes out… (when you get here, that list will be much longer they say).

I love your daddy for pulling me aside like he does – giving me time to prepare, even if I can’t actually clean anything up. I said “yes” knowing we would all walk into the apartment at the same time. But Joel brushed aside any apologies I had about the dishes in the sink and the socks on the floor, because we all share homes and lives and french press coffee.

People say this will change when you come, little one, but we are praying you get swept up in it, too. Or maybe we are praying that, for you, family and church and neighbors and home are all words with open doors and welcome mats. I pray this kind of thing over you while I rub the little basketball you live inside. Do you hear these prayers?

The sun was setting when Joel rummaged for some towels. I thought he was offering to help clean because your dad was knee deep in sawdust in the middle of the living room after re-purposing a table into a bench (so handy – I can’t wait for the two of you to be knee deep in projects together). But, instead he cleared his throat and said, “I felt convicted today in the sermon that, I … should wash your feet.”

I immediately thought about my feet.

I thought about sweet Joel and all his good intentions, but I mostly thought about my unpainted toenails and the last time I could reach over this basketball belly to give my heels some TLC. I fluttered around for a dish to put water in and your daddy and I sat next to each other on the new bench he just made. I squirmed and felt roses color my cheeks as Joel read about a man named Jesus washing his friends’ feet.

Joel knelt down on his knees, washed our feet, and then prayed over us. And all the time I was praying for a heart to receive this gift. Your mama can be is proud and receiving love can be hard. But this is the lesson of dirty feet and flushed cheeks, little one:

if we are ever too proud, we will always stay dirty.

We will grow up together – you and me and Daddy and hopefully some siblings. We will learn from you and you will learn from us and we will hopefully all be distracted by the right things. And we’ll all get dirty – sometimes with dirt and sawdust and toejam, but sometimes with invisible things like jealousy and selfishness and greed. There will be people who look like that man named Jesus, who help expose the ugly – to wash it and to remind us of the great and humble love of our Father who sees all the dirty things in our lives and still bends down to make us clean. These kinds of people are very special.

Anyway, these are my thoughts and I’ve rambled too long. There was a man named C.S. Lewis and he wrote about a boy who woke up as a scaly dragon and could only shed the skin if he jumped in a pool. Maybe I’ll read that story to you soon. It’s a very good story.

We miss you, little one. It feels like you are everywhere with us, but not quite close enough. I still think about your wrinkly knees.

all my love,

mama


Read more letters to my little one here.

an empty seat where I should sit

He said it so casually I didn’t realize why I was smiling.

“….don’t mean to sound curmudgeonly…”

I think my brain giggled with delight a bit and when I went back to retrieve a reason, there sat “curmudgeonly.” It was more than just that word, but it could have been just that word as well that tickled my imagination like the first sprinkles of a storm. The conversation rolled on and the excitement came like waves on waves.

What is this? This thing that doesn’t make sense and doesn’t make money and doesn’t return anything but bubbling delight that wells up from my innermost soul? And how can I get more of it?

C.S. Lewis spoke of the unique chemistry of friendship that exceeds our efforts to manipulate a similar result.

“In friendship…we think we have chosen our peers. In reality a few years’ difference in the dates of our births, a few more miles between certain houses, the choice of one university instead of another…the accident of a topic being raised or not raised at a first meeting–any of these chances might have kept us apart. But, for a Christian, there are, strictly speaking no chances. A secret master of ceremonies has been at work. Christ, who said to the disciples, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you,” can truly say to every group of Christian friends, “Ye have not chosen one another but I have chosen you for one another.” The friendship is not a reward for our discriminating and good taste in finding one another out. It is the instrument by which God reveals to each of us the beauties of others.” ― C.S. LewisThe Four Loves

This man on the phone is still a stranger, but I can confidently say his words were no accident – even if just to wake up a part of my imagination that should not have been sleeping. As we talked about writing and creativity and living slowly to savor the beauty, it was like seeds scattering on freshly wintered Spring soil.

This one silly, long-syllabled word was that dusty ray of light peeking through a crack in the door to salute the sun outside. After I hung up, I stopped pacing the floor to look at my scribbled notes. What a beautiful and funny thing, language. It is reminding me there is an empty seat where I should sit among those who act as instruments through which God reveals His beauty.

This. I need to do more of this and talk with people who bring out the beauty of God’s fingerprints in me while I watch God reveal His fingerprints on them. 

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

further up and further in you go

Lucy Pevensie is a teacher of the sweetest kind because she leads the way in innocent and curious discovery. I can almost hear her gasps as she uncovers truths and mysteries, walking boldly toward light inside dark.

Have you ever watched the face of a little one building with blocks? The careful consideration and slow motions always surprise me. You would think (I would) that children are impatient and impulsive when it comes to block building, but it is not so. They must have reasons in their little minds for going slowly, considering thoroughly, and placing thoughtfully every piece.

Last week, I watched a little one put one block on top of another and each time he would look around and squeal with arched eyebrows as if to say, “Look! Can you believe this tower?”

I couldn’t help it. My response was always in kind with a gasp for effect, “Wow! Look at that! What a great tower!” I was legitimately impressed with the height he achieved before it toppled over and he started again – the same exclamations each time he placed a block on top of a block.

Oh, Lucy Pevensie would be proud, I think, of the way the little one is teaching me a lesson about depth and joy and mystery. In The Last Battle, Lucy was talking with her friend Tumnus the Faun as they overlooked the garden wall.

“I see,” she said at last, thoughtfully. “I see now. This garden is like the Stable. It is far bigger inside than it was outside.”

“Of course, Daughter of Eve,” said the Faun. “The further up and the further in you go, the bigger everything gets. The inside is larger than the outside.”

“I see,” she said. “This is still Narnia, and, more real and more beautiful than the Narnia down below, just as it was more real and more beautiful than the Narnia outside the Stable door! I see … world within world, Narnia within Narnia…”

Do we see the world this way, believing a million little dazzling mysteries are tucked inside mysteries? And do we live like these mysteries change the shape of our hearts, the expressions on our faces, and the excitement of discovery?

Oh, the answer always has to be “No” because the mystery of endless depths is that they are endless. But, the discovery that these depths are worth the dive begs the question: will you dive?

Even if (and because surely) you will never reach the bottom – will you dive into the endless depths to discover they just keep going?

My answer to this, I hope, is always “Yes!” with the expression of the little one who wonders at blocks balancing on top of blocks and with the determination of Lucy who is not afraid to believe that a bigger world can fit within a smaller world.

“Further up and further in you go, my child.”

I imagine God saying this as I follow Him into the grace upon grace (John 1:16) I received from the fullness of Christ.

“Yes! Further up and further in I go!” I want to respond.

Each glorious mystery appears to be the most deserving of superlatives, but then there is more and deeper and greater and another most beautiful.

This post was inspired in my reading of Jared C. Wilson’s book, Gospel Deeps where he shares the same excerpt from C.S. Lewis’s classic The Last Battle. Well, that and my amazing little clients. 

wise words about Christmas

When thoughts ring true years after they are spoken, they deserve a listen. I found this story via A Blog of Hope.

“Xmas and Christmas: A Lost Chapter from Herodotus,” by C.S. Lewis

And beyond this there lies in the ocean, turned towards the west and north, the island of Niatirb which Hecataeus indeed declares to be the same size and shape as Sicily, but it is larger, though in calling it triangular a man would not miss the mark. It is densely inhabited by men who wear clothes not very different from the other barbarians who occupy the north western parts of Europe though they do not agree with them in language. These islanders, surpassing all the men of whom we know in patience and endurance, use the following customs.

In the middle of winter when fogs and rains most abound they have a great festival which they callExmas and for fifty days they prepare for it in the fashion I shall describe. First of all, every citizen is obliged to send to each of his friends and relations a square piece of hard paper stamped with a picture, which in their speech is called an Exmas-card. But the pictures represent birds sitting on branches, or trees with a dark green prickly leaf, or else men in such garments as the Niatirbians believe that their ancestors wore two hundred years ago riding in coaches such as their ancestors used, or houses with snow on their roofs. And the Niatirbians are unwilling to say what these pictures have to do with the festival; guarding (as I suppose) some sacred mystery. And because all men must send these cards the marketplace is filled with the crowd of those buying them, so that there is great labour and weariness.

But having bought as many as they suppose to be sufficient, they return to their houses and find there the like cards which others have sent to them. And when they find cards from any to whom they also have sent cards, they throw them away and give thanks to the gods that this labour at least is over for another year. But when they find cards from any to whom they have not sent, then they beat their breasts and wail and utter curses against the sender; and, having sufficiently lamented their misfortune, they put on their boots again and go out into the fog and rain and buy a card for him also. And let this account suffice about Exmas-cards.

They also send gifts to one another, suffering the same things about the gifts as about the cards, or even worse. For every citizen has to guess the value of the gift which every friend will send to him so that he may send one of equal value, whether he can afford it or not. And they buy as gifts for one another such things as no man ever bought for himself. For the sellers, understanding the custom, put forth all kinds of trumpery, and whatever, being useless and ridiculous, they have been unable to sell throughout the year they now sell as an Exmas gift. And though the Niatirbians profess themselves to lack sufficient necessary things, such as metal, leather, wood and paper, yet an incredible quantity of these things is wasted every year, being made into the gifts.

But during these fifty days the oldest, poorest, and most miserable of the citizens put on false beards and red robes and walk about the market-place; being disguised (in my opinion) as Cronos. And the sellers of gifts no less than the purchaser’s become pale and weary, because of the crowds and the fog, so that any man who came into a Niatirbian city at this season would think some great public calamity had fallen on Niatirb. This fifty days of preparation is called in their barbarian speech the Exmas Rush.

But when the day of the festival comes, then most of the citizens, being exhausted with the Rush, lie in bed till noon. But in the evening they eat five times as much supper as on other days and, crowning themselves with crowns of paper, they become intoxicated. And on the day after Exmas they are very grave, being internally disordered by the supper and the drinking and reckoning how much they have spent on gifts and on the wine. For wine is so dear among the Niatirbians that a man must swallow the worth of a talent before he is well intoxicated.

Such, then, are their customs about the Exmas. But the few among the Niatirbians have also a festival, separate and to themselves, called Crissmas, which is on the same day as Exmas. And those who keep Crissmas, doing the opposite to the majority of the Niatirbians, rise early on that day with shining faces and go before sunrise to certain temples where they partake of a sacred feast. And in most of the temples they set out images of a fair woman with a new-born Child on her knees and certain animals and shepherds adoring the Child. (The reason of these images is given in a certain sacred story which I know but do not repeat.)

But I myself conversed with a priest in one of these temples and asked him why they kept Crissmas on the same day as Exmas; for it appeared to me inconvenient. But the priest replied, “It is not lawful, O stranger, for us to change the date of Chrissmas, but would that Zeus would put it into the minds of the Niatirbians to keep Exmas at some other time or not to keep it at all. For Exmas and the Rush distract the minds even of the few from sacred things. And we indeed are glad that men should make merry at Crissmas; but in Exmas there is no merriment left.” And when I asked him why they endured the Rush, he replied, “It is, O Stranger, a racket”; using (as I suppose) the words of some oracle and speaking unintelligibly to me (for a racket is an instrument which the barbarians use in a game called tennis).

But what Hecataeus says, that Exmas and Crissmas are the same, is not credible. For first, the pictures which are stamped on the Exmas-cards have nothing to do with the sacred story which the priests tell about Crissmas. And secondly, the most part of the Niatirbians, not believing the religion of the few, nevertheless send the gifts and cards and participate in the Rush and drink, wearing paper caps. But it is not likely that men, even being barbarians, should suffer so many and great things in honour of a god they do not believe in. And now, enough about Niatirb.

 

doing what we ought = freedom

More than a little ink spilled recently in Iowa over an administrator’s questionable email etiquette. That’s a nice way of saying she used her work email to do some pretty dirty things. In fact, her behavior motivated the powers that be in Des Moines public schools to implement a morality clause.

Morality clause? Aren’t we living in a relativistic culture? Who has the right to implement a moral standard?

Seems like our culture’s digging her own grave, though we hate to admit it. If we all make our own moral standard, how can we say someone else’s is inferior?

C.S. Lewis differentiates moral law from the law of nature in that it is what we “ought” to do, not what we simply do. Trees fall when cut and grass grows in response to rain and sunshine. Nature does those things, but there is not another layer of “ought.” Trees aren’t looked down on if they don’t fall at the feller’s ax. Grass isn’t more supremely regarded if it grows than if it wilts. Nature simply does things and we observe these characteristics.

People, on the other hand, get angry when someone steps in front of the shopping line or if someone steals the family car. We get angry because they “ought” not do such a thing. It’s wrong.

Everyone has their own version of “ought” – the place they draw the line in the sand where relativity fades and objectivity says, “you can’t do that to me.”

I struggle with the controversy in Des Moines because we are clamoring to say this woman “ought not” do what she did, yet we told her all along (as she gained experience and degrees in our system) that she needn’t bother with someone else’s morality. We told her that hers would do just fine.

How many people implementing the city’s new ‘morality clause’ could stand under its inspection? Are some positions more ‘moral’ than others because they are more public?

I race around these questions in my head and wish that C.S. Lewis was giving a lecture next week on a public campus. Jesus would obviously be the first choice, but C.S. Lewis seems more within reach (is that bad?). Honestly, I imagine the same response following a lecture by Lewis and a sermon by Jesus – a bunch of people filing out of a sterile auditorium mumbling their disagreement or support as they walk to their next engagement.

It hurts to hear the high-browed arguments about what should or shouldn’t be done in the public eye. Moral rules outside of divine wisdom are like walking on railroad tracks to an unknown destination.

The excitement and joy of doing what we “ought” is in knowing that in doing so we are free. It is not a morality clause that keeps us behaving as we ought, but a love that can’t imagine behaving any other way.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

this & that

How was your thanksgiving?

I could barely catch my breath, I was so thankful. Every time I turned around, there was a new reason.

Whew. Now, I’m back in the swing (if you call couch hopping and random working and disorganized packing for a move a “swing”) and I wanted to give you a few things to read.

  • C.S. Lewis was born yesterday. One of the most amazing people I never knew… well, except in a literary sense. I imagine I’ll hang out with him one day in heaven, though. Here’s a little article about the man over at Desiring God.
  • I’m sure I’ve talked about Ann Voskamp before, no? Well, now you are officially introduced. She has a book “a thousand gifts” that I’ve started and it is beautiful! She also has a blog and this showed up a couple days ago – like words I might pen about Losing our Language. Check it out (and also her book)!
  • I don’t ever feel the need to make to make the topics of “Christians” and “Alcohol” the center of debate, but if it finds its way there on its own – I’ll bite. This article, “Christians and Alcohol” by Challies is an interesting take.
  • This last one isn’t a link as much as an idea that I can’t wait to see develop. It’s not a new idea, just one I shared with my good friend Alejandra over Thanksgiving and she is equally excited about it. We had some of the most amazing conversations about how we can encourage men to be real men – those who pursue after God with their whole heart. Since we parted, we’ve been updating on new ways that have opened for us to do just that. I’m pumped to see how God will send us opportunities for encouragement!

I know this isn’t extensive, but I had to get SOMETHING up before the piles in my mind didn’t make any sense.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy