Posts Tagged ‘holidays’

This is a reflection on Lent that I was asked to give this morning at our church’s Easter sunrise service, and it seemed like maybe I should share it here, too:



I didn’t give up anything for Lent this year and I didn’t adopt any practices to focus my attention.  Honestly, the last year has afforded me plenty of faith-stretching and faith-testing experiences, and I really wasn’t in the mood.

At some point during Lent, I was drawn to reading through all of the lenten lectionary texts.  If this was a conscious decision, I didn’t tell myself.  I didn’t want to “decide” to do something and then fail; I’ve had enough of that, too.

The first reading of Psalm 51 on Ash Wednesday utterly captivated me “in your great tenderness wipe away my offences” (New Jerusalem Bible).  Why should this be so surprising to a life-long, deeply devoted Christian?  Somehow, in my imagination, I had construed Lent as a time of spiritual self-flagellation.  Reading this Psalm, rather than tightening the chains of mortification, began a process of loosing those chains and setting me on a journey to a freedom I have never known before.

On and on, in text after text, the same life-giving refrain was repeated:  where I expected judgment, there was mercy; where I expected criticism, there was loving kindness.  And the more I read, the more I craved reading and experienced in fresh ways the great khesed, or loving kindness, of God.

Given that I spent seven years teaching Bible at a university, I find it sometimes ironic, sometimes sad, and sometimes comical how often I forget and find myself in need of reminding about these things.  The witness of scripture can be especially powerful if one suffers from the same know-it-all syndrome that I do.

I am also reminded that Lent is a journey — an opportunity to create space for the presence of God, within oneself and within the world.  And as it seems that I forget so easily, I’m glad that it is a journey that we have the opportunity to take every year  – for Christ is risen!


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It’s Holy Week, which means Maundy Thursday foot-washings, Good Friday extinguishing of candles, and just before Easter… Earth Day.  I love that Earth Day gets to be in this mix this year, which helps us to think about new life in so many ways.  This is my offering for this month’s issue of PeaceSigns:

Once upon a time (but seriously, this really happened) I stepped out of my office to walk to the corner café for a cup of tea. Then I remembered the mug sitting on my desk that I meant to take with me to save a paper cup. I went back and got the mug and, puffed full of virtuous feelings, headed toward the café.

At that time I had been experiencing a sort of environmental enlightenment and was becoming aware of how so many of my lifestyle choices contribute to the decay of our world. Honestly, there were times when it was quite paralyzing; I agonized over things like flipping on the light switch.

{Click here to read the rest of the story…}

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O Christmas Tree!


‘Tis the season where more and more Christmas trees can be found lying on curbsides and garbage piles.  It makes me so sad, this mass purging of trees from homes.  I’m not sure if it feels like Christmas has been all used up and tossed out with the rest of the torn wrapping paper and trash, or if it’s that the tree is still so green, so alive looking that makes me sad.


I want to collect them all and make a little forest.  I want to bring them into my home during the whole season of winter and let their greenness say daily that this is not the end.  There will be green days again.  There will be a spring.


Once upon a time I was a youth pastor, and I was thinking about the trees and about symbols and Christmas and Easter.  I found a tree and brought it into our youth room during Advent.  After Christmas, when it began to shed its needles, we took it outside and gave it some dignity, letting it stay standing.  It turned fully brown, and its branches began to droop, but did not drop all its needles.  We put a sign on it: “Do Not Throw Away”.


At the beginning of Lent we sawed off all the branches and wired them together in one long piece.  I’d intended it to be straight, but the branches sagged and dried that way, so it ended up being more of an arc.  When we finished we attached it perpendicular to the now-bare trunk, made a cross, and brought it back inside.  Our Christmas tree cross was so ugly, and so beautiful.  The sagging cross section looked like tired, limp arms as they hung there.


I don’t remember what happened to the tree after Easter, but that was the only time I can remember feeling satisfied and at peace about the lifecycle of the Christmas tree.  I hope someone took it home and used it for firewood, to kindle the flame of the Advent wreath candle on the first day Advent the following year.



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The truth is, I’m a bit disappointed.  Things haven’t gone exactly as I’d hoped.  For years now, I’ve been doing a mostly Buy Nothing Christmas, buying only the minimum amount of things I need in order to make all my Christmas presents.  I love spending time crafting gifts for my loved ones – whether a pair of knitted socks for my husband, or a pair of earrings for my mom.  I love all the moodling time spent thinking about these gifts – which yarn, which bead – would best fit the intended recipient.

But I’m feeling especially guilty because yesterday my December article for PeaceSigns came out.  In that article, I write about gifts and how we hope that they will bring us love and fulfillment – not in receiving a gift from someone else – but in giving a gift, we hope that we will get love in return.

As you must know with articles like that, it was written before Advent even started.  I relied on past memories of making gifts and projected hopes for this current season of gift-making.  Maybe there was no “out of control buying and spending” for me this year, but there was certainly more than enough “running in circles”.  It makes me cringe just to read those words of mine.

A surprising dimension of my gift-making this year is how inadequate I felt making them.  In previous years, it was a choice to not spend money.  And it felt good to detach myself from the world of retail consumerism.  I felt like I was taking a stand and doing something noble.

But this year, there was no choice.  I made gifts with what I had, was forced abort some ideas because it would mean buying extra supplies, and agonized over every single thing I made.  “Buying nothing” out of necessity made me feel like nothing I made was good enough.  All my high-minded ideas were turned on their heads and had their feet put to the fire as the war against consumerism raged within me.

In the end, just because I didn’t spend a lot of money doesn’t mean that I succeeded in having a better attitude about Christmas and gifts than someone who spent thousands of dollars at the mall.  That’s humbling.  One might hope I would learn some valuable lesson here.  But let’s not trust too much in my ability to be consistent.

Remind me sometime to tell you the truth about Thanksgiving after writing my November article for PeaceSigns.  Ugh.

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Last week I dog-sat for a few days.  Lucy is amazing – she’s accustomed to having her paws and her — uh, other parts — wiped when she comes in from a walk and waits patiently during this routine.


My husband and I are dog people.  I like cats, too, but my husband and my gato are not on speaking terms.  We look forward to getting a dog one day, but there’s a major prerequisite to that addition to our family: a house.  Lots of people who live in apartments as we do manage to have a dog and find ways for it to work within their lifestyle.  But we’re not there yet.


I’ve often wondered if having a dog in an apartment might not bring a helpful discipline to my daily living.  When I’m home alone all day, it could be nice to have a reason – one of necessity – to get me out of the apartment a few times a day.  (Certainly I could just get up and go for a walk, but that’s not currently part of my modus operandi.)  I enjoy a good deal of alone time, but too much can take me from constructive, productive reflection, to turning against myself and becoming destructive.  Getting outside almost always provides immediate relief.


On my walks with Lucy, I thought a fair bit about the Benedictines and the beautiful rhythm of life through which they move.  I’ve often thought I would have made a good Benedictine.  If I wasn’t Mennonite, that is.  Maybe it’s because my dad used to tell my sisters and I that he was going to send us to live in a nunnery in Siberia until we were 35, and that we couldn’t date until we were married.  Okay, that’s probably not the reason.  I’m not very good at maintaining a disciplined and ordered lifestyle by relying on my own inner wherewithal or wherever-that-whatever comes from.  But I do tend to respond positively to rhythms around me.  The ones that are not forced upon me, but are just there, like open invitations.


At times I’ve tried to adopt various practices and disciplines in order to bring both rhythm and balance into my life.  It usually goes like this: discover really cool practice; get really excited; think about how it might actually work out in my life; decide in what way it could be squeezed in; ignore how unrealistic this is; zealously begin practice; maintain practice rigidly for a few weeks until failing to do it one day, at which point I will feel like a miserable failure and berate myself for the next several weeks when I should have just picked up again the next day without all the self-destruction.  Or else, never start in the first place when it is apparent how unrealistic it is.


But I’m very good about discipline when it comes to other living beings.  When another creature’s wellbeing is on the line, I step up and get over my I-don’t-want-to-you-can’t-make-me attitude.  So getting a dog would be different, right?  I might be moping around the apartment, but when the poocher needs to go out, I would most certainly rise to the occasion, especially when the alternative is a mess to clean up.


One morning, after we’d been out in the below-freezing cold for 45 minutes, Lucy still hadn’t done her business. And I realized that while it was easy to take care of her for a few days, this wasn’t something I was ready for.  Babysitting is way different than parenthood.


These things, as so many things in life, really can’t be forced, or rushed, or timed, or scheduled.  The life we think we should have, or person we think we should be, takes time.  Even in the spiritual life, things must run their course.  I do my part, and God does God’s part – and oh! how adventian it all is – all this waiting and hoping and expecting.  Yet, my friend Jim reminds me that pining away for an “alternative plan” can be impious.  And I think he’s right.  There’s waiting and hoping while trusting in what is present, and there’s pining away for something else because of distrust in what is.  The one is faith-full, the other faith-less.


There’s no recipe for an instant, ready-made saint, and I can’t push a button to save the world.  Sometimes dogs won’t poop, but I can and should, enjoy the walk anyway.

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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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