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Archive for November, 2010

Bad Weather

Rain is like a balm.  It’s raining hard right now.  The sky has grown dark.  And for the first time all day, I can breathe easy.  It’s cleansing and refreshing, and just what my soul needs.

I’m often perplexed when I hear complaints about “bad weather.”  I seem to relish bad weather.  Extreme fog – oh, yeah.  Blizzards – bring ‘em on.  Thunder and lighting – wahoo!  I draw the line at death and destruction – that’s not what I’m talking about here.

The main concern in these complaints seems to be that it makes travel hard.  Dangerous, even.  True.  But I confess that that’s part of what I love so much.  Last year we had what seemed like a series of blizzards in the northeast.  The only enthusiasm I ever hear surrounding bad weather is the cancellation of school or work.  Fair enough.

But more than that, I love what feels like a creation-imposed Sabbath.  Everything stops, and no one has any choice about it.  Of course it is ideal if one is stuck at home, as opposed to an airport.  But still.

I love that the weather is something that we have absolutely no ability to control.  It is what it is.  It stops us.  And sometimes we really need to be stopped.  If only in that stopping we could also be still.  And if we could be still we might really hear, and we might really see.

Sunshine is all well and good.  It has its proper place in the matrix of weather systems and patterns.  But all sunshine all the time is blinding.  Just give me some bad weather some of the time, and teach me how to feel, how to be human, and what my place is in the midst of it all.

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Grinch-Mode

my Advent wreath

I have been in a foul mood for days.  I have been struggling and straining to piece and patch together a meaningful experience of these ‘holiday’ times that have been, are currently, and are yet to be upon us.  But it’s been a miserable failure.  I feel like the Grinch when I see tables laden with food and glittering trees.  I cringe when I hear holiday music.

Generally speaking (not only at holiday times) I am pleasant and cheerful enough when in the presence of others.  But left to my own devices I tend toward melancholy and brooding.  I am constantly analyzing my life, my behaviors, and my beliefs in an attempt to live an authentic, consistent life.  In some kind of leftover Puritanical strain that I have yet to rid myself of, I find I am constantly coming up short.

Normally I enjoy finding the sacred in the profane, but I’m feeling resentful about finding the profane in my sacred holidays.  It seems like that isn’t fair.  But I’m grumpy, grouchy, and disgruntled enough to say it.

The thing is, it’s not Christmas yet, it’s Advent.  The second day of Advent to be precise.  And I don’t know how to experience the joy of Christmas, the in-breaking of the divine into the world, if I haven’t spent some time in preparation and reflection.  Advent is more of a time of fasting and withholding, in order to make room to experience the joy of Christmas – which lasts for twelve days beginning on Christmas day and ending with Epiphany.  And in my life and within myself, there is so much junk and gunk that I really need that time to clear out some space.

This first week of Advent, the watch-word is “hope.”  The only thing giving me hope right now, as I thrash around in a culture that doesn’t always make sense to me, is something from Eugene Peterson in “God With Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Christmas”.  It’s a book with art, prayers, and daily reflections from Advent through Epiphany.  I read it every year.  At the end of the introduction he says, “Christmas forces us to deal with all the mess of our humanity in the context of God who has already entered that mess in the glorious birth of Jesus.”

The mess of humanity – now that’s a reality that really makes sense to me.

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For the past couple of years, it has been my joy and pleasure to host Thanksgiving.  For a person who loves to cook, and loves to have folks over for dinner, Thanksgiving is the holiday.  And for the most part, a person can get away with shamelessly making it all about the food.  Yes, yes, there’s the bit about gratitude, but that doesn’t usually get in the way.

 

Just to give you a sense of what I’m talking about here, this is my menu from last year:

 

 

slow-roasted turkey (from the Amish Farmer’s Market)
mole (Oaxacan chile-chocolate sauce, pronounced “mo-lay”)
corn tortillas
creamed corn
cream-braised Brussels sprouts
rice & nut loaf (vegetarian entree)
vegetarian brown gravy
kale & olive oil mashed potatoes
caramelized onion & cornbread stuffing
fresh cranberry sauce
Hindes garlic & artichoke dip

 

 

This doesn’t even include all of the wonderful contributions from our guests.  Needless to say, there was a TON of food.  A ridiculous amount.  But honestly, it was hard for me to share – not to share the food, mind you, that’s the easy part.  It was hard to share the work, to let others contribute.

 

As the hostess, I wanted everyone to come and relax and have a wonderful time.  If there was work to be done, I wanted to shoulder it all. Was I wanting to be the object of everyone’s gratitude?  Ugh.  Probably.  Oh, the things a person does for affirmation and love.

 

Knowing this about myself, I do typically allow others to help out and bring their own contributions.  It keeps me from fully exercising whatever savior/martyr complex I have.  And that, that is what I am most grateful for.  Allowing others to help me, and accepting the generosity of others, keeps me from veering off in unhealthy directions.

 

We’re spending this Thanksgiving with our neighbors.  It will be just four of us, and will be the most unique Thanksgiving I’ve ever experienced.  And I have a suspicion that there will be much for me to learn.  The first lesson, in accepting the gracious invitation of a friend, has already begun.

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The Girl You Love to Hate

 

 

She’s the girl with the perfect figure who turns the head of every man she walks by.  She’s smart and sexy, but low-maintenance and full of self-confidence.  She’s not threatened by anyone or anything.  And I really hate her.

 

Fortunately (or maybe sadly) she’s a character on the television show Bones.  She’s Hannah, Booth’s new girlfriend.  As any follower of the show knows, it’s Booth and Bones who are supposed to be together.  In television time (i.e., between seasons) Booth and Bones go their separate ways for a while.  When Booth reappears at the beginning of this season, he’s got this hot new girlfriend.

 

I’m sure there are all kinds of things going on here.  I’m sure the writers or producers or whoever want me to hate her.  Maybe there’s something “irrational” (Bones’s favorite word) about hating her.  Hannah is wonderful, Booth is happy, and Bones herself seems to be okay with it.  Maybe there’s even some sort of social or gender question about why we hate beautiful, intelligent, sexy women.  Or maybe that’s just me.

 

The thing is, I’m terribly jealous of her.  And I don’t like it.  It’s ugly.  And it seems so… so… irrational!  It’s not like I myself want to be with Booth in some weird fantasy where I can’t distinguish television from reality.  I want Bones to be with Booth.  So what’s my deal?

 

I wish I had some clear answers here.  I’m aware that these visceral reactions of jealousy are indications of my own insecurities.  And I’m well aware of what those insecurities are.  I’m just not quite sure what to do about them.  I know that just telling myself not to think or feel a certain way doesn’t work very well.  My “self” can be very stubborn.  I do, however, have a hunch that those subterranean issues are among the many things that regular practice of centering prayer chips away at over time.

 

For the present and immediate future, I am reminded to be more cautious in my attitude toward others in real life, and that my dislike of someone may not really be about them at all.  They just happen to be the one’s who are holding up the mirror.  When I project feelings of hate onto someone else, I have to ask what it is that I’m hating about myself.

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How to Cook a Wolf

from the book of the same title, by M.F.K. Fisher

Today I’d like to take you on a field trip over to PeaceSigns, a free e-zine of the Mennonite Church USA, Peace and Justice Support Network.  This is the first article in my new, regular column “Living from the Center“.

It’s called “How to cook a wolf — it’s not just for wartime and recessions“.

If you have other suggestions for how to cook a wolf, I’d love to hear them!

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New Dishwasher

Last week our dishwasher died.  I went to empty it in the morning and it was full of water.  I called the property mangers who immediately came out and pronounced it D.O.A.  The report was that we’d get a new one, no sooner than Monday.

Yesterday, I came home and there was no new dishwasher.

This morning I was preparing for an important presentation in the afternoon.  And because this is the way these things usually work for me, I just knew that the new dishwasher would appear at the most critical moment.  So I did something completely uncharacteristic for me; I called the office and asked what the status was on the new dishwasher.  The kind woman on the other end of the phone said someone was just outside who would handle that and she would check with him and call me back.

A few minutes later she called and said the dishwasher was on its way this morning.  And that’s where I really had to be brave.  I asked if it would be possible to wait to install it until this afternoon when I would be gone.

You have to understand that I am a chicken.  I don’t want to upset the apple cart.  I don’t want to inconvenience anyone.  I don’t want to get in anyone’s way.  For me to assert myself in that way takes more guts than I typically have.  But I was more nervous about my presentation, giving me the gumption I needed to ask for a delay.

But of course she said it was no problem.  I don’t know what I was so afraid of.

I went to my presentation, which went perfectly fine, and made a stop by the grocery store on the way home for a rotisserie chicken.  I was starving (not having eaten a proper lunch), and had some garlic aioli that was nearing the end of its prime.  I couldn’t wait to get home and make a chicken sandwich with my homemade aioli.

Again though, because this is the way things tend to go, as I was pulling into the driveway I saw the truck with the dishwasher in the back, snug in its cardboard box – a clear sign that they had just arrived themselves.

I was so irritated.  I was in serious need of food – a garlic aioli chicken sandwich, to be precise – and I was exhausted.  I wanted to put on my most comfy, most non-public attire, plop myself down in front of a movie, and chill.

Instead, I sat in the sun room and worked.  In my non-comfy clothes.  For almost two hours.

Just as they were leaving, one of the men said that he noticed an icon of Mary that I had, but called it by an unfamiliar name.  Stupidly I asked which one.  Stupidly, that is, because we only have one icon of Mary.  Scanning the room, he found the one he was referring to.  Then he pulled out his wallet and showed me the same icon, just a different rendering.  A friend brought us the one we have from Russia.  Though I didn’t know what it was called in the Russian Orthodox tradition, I said that in the Greek Orthodox tradition this icon is known as The Virgin of Tenderness, where Mary and Jesus’ cheeks are always touching.

He said he was Catholic.  Curious about his accent, I asked where he was from.  Haiti.  Oh, my.  Did he still have family there?  Yes, but his town, St. Mark, has so far not been touched by the cholera outbreak.  But it was only a matter of time, as people were migrating to that part of the island.  His mother wants to go home, and doesn’t understand that at 89 years old, it’s not safe for her.

We chatted for a while longer, and he mentioned that he noticed we didn’t have a washer and dryer.  I thought I was busted.  The “laundry room” off the kitchen, which houses our breaker panel, along with the hot water heater and some other big metal thing, has been turned into our panty, with two enormous shelving units.

To my surprise, he started telling me about all the things people either throw away or leave when they move out.  Having a heart for things that get thrown away prematurely, my ears perked right up.  And then he told me that the next time he sees a washer and dryer that has been abandoned (a perfectly good one, mind you) that he will come knock on my door.  He even said he’d help me rearrange the shelves or install new ones if I needed them.

I’m still amazed by this sequence of events – about dreading the sudden coming of the new dishwasher (on top of which was embarrassment about the tower of dishes that had piled up), working up the nerve to call the office and tell them what I needed to happen, being irritated that it came right when I needed to relax most, connecting with another human being and affirming that I would be praying for his family and his town and that we would pray for them all at church, and finally the possibility of a washer and dryer that we couldn’t afford to buy.

Sometimes when things don’t work out, they really do.

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The Prayer of the Goat

illustration by Jean Primrose

 

Among the things I’ve swiped from my dad (which include, but are not limited to: a bundt pan, a glass meatloaf pan that I don’t use for meatloaf, and a big solid wood bookcase) is a book called Prayers from the Ark, written by Carmen Bernos de Gasztold and translated by Rumer Godden.

 

On the inside, in my dad’s handwriting, is written “from Dorothy & Ken”.  I really like that.

 

It looks exactly like this.

 

It is a collection of prayers from the perspective of various animals that may have been on the ark, including Noah himself.  On the one hand, it seems to represent prayers from different personality types.  But as I think about it more carefully, I can identify with most of them, depending on my mood and particular circumstance.

 

Beyond that, it reminds me to be careful about judging others, and to be respectful of their perspectives.  It also reminds me of the attributes of personalities that may be very different from my own, but no less important or meaningful.

 

Today, I want to share  The Prayer of the Goat, the one that most resonates with me at this point in my life:

 

Lord,

let me live as I will!

I need a little wild freedom,

a little giddiness of heart,

the strange taste of unknown flowers.

For whom else are Your mountains?

Your snow wind?  These springs?

The sheep do not understand.

They graze and graze,

all of them, and always in the same direction,

and then eternally,

chew the cud of their insipid routine.

But I – I love to bound to the heart of it all

Your marvels,

leap Your chasms,

and, my mouth stuffed with intoxicating grasses,

quiver with an adventurer’s delight

on the summit of the world!

Amen.

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