In a blur of diapers and spit up, we packed our bags and our child to escape for a long wine-tasting weekend in the Finger Lakes. Soon after, we sold our house, packed all our belongings, and moved our life to upstate New York.
It was autumn when we landed, and the beginning of winter when we moved into our house in a little village outside of Ithaca.
I don’t know what we were looking for, but somewhere between the waterfalls, the organic farms, and Ithaca’s fanatical commitment to composting, we found ourselves home.
Ithaca is a special place. We always feel a little funny whenever we have to do the “how did you end up here?” dance without an answer that mentions anything conventional like, “grad school at Cornell,” or a “teaching job at IC.”
We landed here by accident but also by choice, unsure of what we were looking for – but somehow finding it in the rhythm of a year marked by seasonal produce, school schedules, and the gray of winter that can last well beyond the time we used to trade in our sweaters for short sleeves.
Even from the beginning, the pace felt different. Seasons felt like events. Canning fresh produce grown down the street was something to be celebrated. So were the early crocuses and daffodils, bravely fighting their way through the snow every spring.
We joined a CSA. I learned to knit. We became friends with our neighbors.
Somewhere along the path, while not particularly looking, we found our way out of the “nones” column and into a church.
There is a thoughtful series this week on NPR called “Losing Our Religion” about why Americans are choosing to leave organized religion – even if they might believe in God or consider themselves spiritual. They call this group the “nones” in demographic research, as they are a group who doesn’t identify as atheist, but as having “no religion.” The report is multi-faceted, approaching this group from a bunch of different directions: addressing familiar and important questions about evil and suffering, frustrations with the entanglement of religion and politics, questions about the role of women and homosexuality, concerns about justice and serving the poor, questions about doubt, and the cruelty of unanswered prayers.
I hear myself in the voices of these people. I hear questions that I still have - questions that have only intensified the more I search for answers; and I hear the echoes of words I used to say all the time: “I wish I could believe in God, but I just can’t.”
We’ve been out of this group of “nones” for a few years now, and when I get up to go to work in the morning, my work is serving in a church.
It’s good work with good people who are humble and loving, and many days I come home and feel I have found what my life is supposed to be about; but I still find the label of “Christian” clunky to wear, and I struggle everyday to find words to talk about my faith in a way that feels as real as my reasons for not-believing.
I struggle to find words as real as the God I found in the midst of my doubts.
I never thought that this would be my future.
But here I am learning how to talk about where here is and why changing my whole life around for this feels important, albeit tension full.
And in the middle, if what I write sound like the ramblings of a teenager’s love letter, bear with me. This has been nothing if not a love story.
(to be continued…)
On our own, we conclude:
that there is not enough to go around
we are going to run short
we should seize the day
seize the goods
seize our neighbor’s goods
because there is not enough to go around.
And here in the midst of our perceived deficit:
You come giving bread in the wilderness
You come giving children in the 11th hour
You come giving homes to the exiles
You come giving futures to the shut-down
You come giving Easter joy to the dead
You come – fleshed in Jesus.
And we watch while
the blind receive their sight
the lame walk
the lepers are cleansed
the deaf hear
the dead are raised
the poor dance and sing.
and we take food we did not grow and
life we did not invent and
future that is gift and gift and gift and
families and neighbors who sustain us
when we do not deserve it.
It dawns on us – late rather than soon -
that “you give food in due season
you open your hand
and satisfy the desire of every living thing.”
By your giving, break our cycles of imagined scarcity
override our presumed deficits
quiet our anxieties of lack
transform our perceptual field to see
the abundance…mercy upon mercy
Sink your generosity deep into our lives
that your muchness may expose our false lack
that endlessly receiving, we may endlessly give,
so that the world may be made Easter new,
without greedy lack, but only wonder
without coercive need, but only love
without destructive greed, but only praise
without aggression and invasiveness…
all things Easter new…
all around us, toward us, and by us
all things Easter new.
Finish your creation…in wonder, love, and praise.
This week has been busy with preparations for advent. Buying trees, cutting out ornaments and gluing them to bits of burlap, cleaning our house and making room for the Christmas decorations, painting our living room – which is not necessarily tied to preparing for Christmas other than I wanted to have a Christmas party, but I am still counting it as preparing.
And finding readings to accompany the count down.
I am not very good at maintaining daily regimented anything. Somehow I have managed to observe “daily offices” for sometime (if at times it means only once a day), but I look at this as somewhat of an anomaly and it baffles me how I have stuck with it so long.
But during this advent season, I find myself with three different sources for daily readings, and a couple other books as resources, and I am pretty excited to start the ones that have already begun, and read the ones yet to come.
For me as well as my family, celebrating advent is still fairly new to us. I have distant and fuzzy memories of wreaths, poinsettia, and pastel candles lit every Sunday leading to the lighting of the giant center candle on Christmas Eve – which we lit while singing carols, holding candles and wearing velvet dresses.
Those memories feel warm and innocent, and any waiting I felt had more to do with what was waiting for me under the tree on Christmas morning, rather than anything else.
My husband is new to advent too, so in some ways it feels like we are just kind of winging it, and I am grateful that we have found these resources to help us in our waiting.
1. The Jesse Tree: This year our family is making a Jesse Tree. Our church is actually going through this as a community. We’re using Ann Voskamp’s Jesse Tree Journey that can be found on her blog, and so far (we started on the 29th), the readings are great.
The booklet comes with these charming ornament cutouts, a passage and a reading for everyday, and a next step where you can do something in response to that day’s reading. Our family cut out the ornaments, glued them to some burlap, and we are going to hide the remaining ornaments on our Christmas tree today. Each day one of our boys will find that day’s ornament on the tree, we’ll read together as a family, and put the ornament on our smaller Jesse tree.
2. 25 Days of Christmas: Another great resource out there is a .99 e-book , 25 Days of Christmas – A Devotional for Incredibly Busy People by Ray Hollenbach, who writes one of my favorite blogs, Students of Jesus. The great thing about his e-book is that each of the daily readings are short. I am assuming (as I have not started reading yet) that they will be as insightful and challenging as I find his blog to be, plus, as I mentioned, they are short and not long.
3. Embracing Hope: The last readings I was not expecting and I could not be more excited. Embracing Hope Ethiopia is non-profit that comes alongside women in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and offers them childcare and a safe and loving place to leave their children so they can work and provide for their families. Jerry Shannon is one of the overseers of Embracing Hope Ethiopia (there is a great video here, and more info about the cool stuff they are doing with family and church partnerships on their website) and he will be sending out daily advent readings talking about poverty, mercy and justice during this season. Here is an intro to the readings and you can sign up here.
In addition, there are some great essays and excerpts in Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas, and God Is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas that we will be reading this season as well.
Hope you find these resources helpful, and we’re looking forward to embracing the waiting this season.
In the meantime, Jason has just brought in our Christmas tree, and the preparations continue…
“The whole meaning of the Christian community lies in offering a space in which we wait for that which we have already seen. Christian community is the place where we keep the flame alive among us and take it seriously, so that it can grow and become stronger in us. In this way we can live with courage, trusting that there is a spiritual power in us that allows us to live in this world without being seduced constantly by despair, lostness, and darkness. That is how we dare to say that God is a God of love even when we see hatred all around us. That is why we can claim that God is a God of life even when we see death and destruction and agony all around us. We say it together. We affirm it in one another. Waiting together, nurturing what is already begun, expecting its fulfillment – that is the meaning of marriage, friendship, community, and the Christian life”
“The Spirituality of Waiting”
It is a paradox of human life that in worship, as in human love, it is in the routine and the everyday that we find the possibilities for the greatest transformation. Both worship and housework often seem perfunctory. And both, by the grace of God, may be anything but. At its Latin root, perfunctory means “to get through with,” and we can easily see how liturgy, laundry and what has traditionally been conceived of as “women’s work” can be done in that indifferent spirit. But the joke is on us: what we think we are only “getting through” has the power to change us, just as we have the power to transform what seems meaningless – the endless repetitions of a litany or the motions of vacuuming a floor. What we dread as mindless activity can free us, mind and heart, for the workings of the Holy Spirit, and the repetitive motions are conducive to the devotions such as the Jesus Prayer or the rosary. Anything is fair game for prayer, anything or anyone who pops into mind can be included.
A year ago I was a different person.
Ok, that sounds a bit melodramatic. A year ago I was a person about to go through a transition and experience a whole bunch of heartache and joy. I was going to cry a lot in front of other people, frequently feel like picking up my family and everything we owned and run away, confront pain in my past I never wanted to deal with, and find a peace that I never imagined.
I think these are called “growth years.”
In fact, last summer I remember sitting in a friend and mentor’s office, listening to her tell me that this was going to be a big growth year for me. I nodded, and tried to understand what that meant as best as I could, but I was clueless.
In my head, when she said “growth,” I imagined this to mean that at the end of this year I would have more answers, less questions, and more certainty in what is true. I would have less doubts, and much more clarity about the right way forward – and I would have a clearer direction for my life. In short, I thought it meant I would know more.
None of this really happened – in fact, for the most part, it has been the opposite. There was much more gray added to my black and white. I stopped knowing how I should respond to situations. I stopped knowing which new developments were good and which were bad (and how I should respond). It has been learning how to be comfortable with uncertainty.
But it has also been a really exciting year. And I feel far more comfortable in my own skin lately, which is a great thing.
I haven’t written much on this blog since I’ve started it. Every time I sit down to write I felt unable to be honest enough to write anything worth reading. I also had no idea what I wanted to write about. I just didn’t have that much to say.
But this has been an exciting summer on top of a dense year and I feel compelled to unpack some of the things that have been on my mind lately.
Jason and I had the chance to attend two great conferences, and from both we walked away with lots to process about what it means to follow Jesus – complete with Venn diagrams
I have also been reading some books about St. Ignatius and the Jesuits that have gripped my heart lately (and taken hold of my conversations – sorry to anyone who has been in my path). But during this time of self-reflection, I suppose Ignatius is a worthy companion.
In all honesty, sometimes I forget that a few years ago, I didn’t believe I had any need for God or his church, and here I am completely in debt for a whole lot of goodness He has sent my way.
Perhaps some years of growth, as well as stagnation are to be expected as we work it all out.